ECW's 25 most must-see matches

It began in a bingo hall in an industrial section of southern Philadelphia and soon spread across the globe. It was an antidote to the stale sports-entertainment wrestling fans had grown tired of. It was aggressive. It was lewd. It was Extreme Championship Wrestling.

A relatively small promotion with a fiercely loyal following, ECW launched the careers of future legends like Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero and Rob Van Dam while changing the trends in professional wrestling through innovations like Tables Matches. More than a decade since the company closed down, WWE is opening up the vault to showcase some of ECW’s greatest unseen matches with ECW Unreleased Volume 1, available now on DVD and Blu-ray. To celebrate this release, WWE Classics sat down with ECW’s announcer Joey Styles to discuss the 25 matches that defined Extreme Championship Wrestling.

Think The Extreme Announcer missed a classic? Let us hear about it on the WWE Classics Facebook page.

Sabu vs. Cactus Jack: Hostile City Showdown (June 24, 1994)

Sabu shows why he's ECW's Evel Knievel with a suicidal moonsault over the guardrail in a brutal battle against Cactus Jack at Hostile City Showdown 1994.

“We thought that a dream match for hardcore wrestling fans was Sabu versus Cactus Jack,” former ECW commentator Joey Styles told WWE.com when asked about this 1994 brawl between Arabian terror Sabu and The Hardcore Legend from Truth or Consequences, N.M. “Sabu was arguably the top star of (ECW precursor) Eastern Championship Wrestling in Philadelphia, because nobody had ever seen anything like him before. Some of the things he did people still don’t do. And Cactus Jack was world-renowned for his willingness to sacrifice his own well-being. The whole point was we really just wanted to see how far these two wrestlers were willing to go to punish their opponent and they certainly didn’t let us down.”

Cactus Jack vs. Terry Funk: Hardcore Heaven 1994 (Aug. 13, 1994)

Terry Funk, Cactus Jack and Public Enemy get chairs thrown at them.

“ECW was unique because the fans were as much a part of the show as any of the wrestlers or myself or the ring announcer,” Joey Styles said of the rowdy Philly fans who piled into the ECW Arena once a month. “In this case, I believe it was Terry Funk who called for a chair, so a fan tossed him a chair. Well, all hell broke loose. The next thing you know there had to be at least 100 chairs thrown into the ring. You go back and watch it and one of them smacks Terry Funk in the back of the head. Luckily, the chair had turned in the air and it was the flat side. Had it come in perpendicular to Terry’s head, this would not be a fun story. It was just wild.”

Shane Douglas vs. 2 Cold Scorpio (Aug. 27, 1994)

"The Franchise" Shane Douglas ushers in an innovative era by declaring himself the new ECW World Heavyweight Champion after beating 2 Cold Scorpio on August 27, 1994.

“We didn’t know that Shane Douglas was going to throw down the title. Neither did the NWA,” Joey Styles said of the night when "The Franchise" won the NWA Title and then proceeded to reject the championship in the name of ECW. “The deal was that ECW was going to help the NWA return to its former glory, because we were planning on expanding to national television and we’d take the NWA with us. But there had been a lot of problems between us and NWA New Jersey where they called the fire marshal over us packing the ECW Arena and ran shows against us. Basically, (ECW owner) Paul (Heyman) came up with this plan. Now I know the NWA still exists, but whatever was left of the NWA was finished when Shane Douglas threw down the title and said the organization died seven years ago and proclaimed himself the ECW Champion of the world.”

The Public Enemy vs. Sabu & The Tazmaniac: Double Tables (Feb. 4, 1995)

Public Enemy defends their Tag Team Titles against Sabu & Tazz.

“The Public Enemy was the first act that Paul created,” Joey Styles revealed about the team of “Flyboy” Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge — two husky high flyers who embraced hip hop culture. “I don’t think there were Tables Matches before the original ECW and I could be wrong. But I think what was most special about the match was the fact that Paul Heyman had to make Sabu and Tazz work together. At the time, The Tazmaniac persona was similar to Sabu in that he didn’t speak — he was an animal. They did not like one another. They were very competitive. It made for a great team.”

Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko (Aug. 26, 1995)

Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko get a standing ovation after their dazzling exchange of technical maneuvers leads to a draw on August 26, 1995.

“I think the greatest match I ever called is Eddie Guerrero versus Dean Malenko in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match from the ECW Arena,” The Extreme Announcer said of the bout, which was the final showdown between the two ring greats in the Philadelphia promotion before their exit to WCW. “I think the match exemplifies the original ECW because so many people mistakenly think ECW was all about hardcore wresting and barbed wire. While that was part of it, ECW was also willing to take the best wrestlers in the world — many of whom were considered not big enough to be in WWE or WCW at the time — and made them main eventers. I think it’s a shame we didn’t have better production values, because I think it’s a match that stands up against any match I’ve seen since then. I love this match.”

Rey Mysterio vs. Psychosis: Gangstas Paradise (Aug. 16, 1995)

Rey Mysterio and Psicosis make their ECW debuts.

“When WCW hired Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko, we needed to replenish our roster and make our own stars, so we made the call to bring in the luchadores,” Joey Styles said of ECW’s 1995 acquisition of such masked Mexican standouts as Juventud Guerrera, Psychosis and the amazing Rey Mysterio. “Rey Mysterio, from minute one, proved what a star he was. But I did have to be on my game (for this match). I actually watched VHS tapes of lucha libre to learn what some of the moves were called. You know, I believe I was the first American wresting announcer to call a hurricanrana. Until then, it was only a word you saw printed in a wrestling newsletter.”

Mikey Whipwreck vs. Steve Austin: November to Remember 1995 (Nov. 18, 1995)

Mikey Whipwreck scores a major upset when he defeats Steve Austin at November to Remember on November 18, 1995.

“Paul Heyman had been interviewed about Steve Austin and said that we only had Austin available to us for two matches, but he wished it had been 2000,” Styles remembered about the WWE Hall of Famer’s brief run with ECW in 1995. “Had he not come to terms with WWE, ECW was going to be built around Steve Austin. But I think Austin’s short time in ECW is important, because it’s where the “Stone Cold” persona was first seen. Whoever hired him at WWE had obviously never watched him in ECW, because WWE made Steve Austin into The Ringmaster, didn’t let him speak and made "The Million Dollar Man" his mouthpiece. When he finally became “Stone Cold,” while many were shocked, it’s what we already saw him doing in ECW and that’s being himself.”

The Sandman vs. Raven: CyberSlam 1996 (Feb. 17, 1996)

Raven's ragtag group of reinforcements come to his aid when Sandman appears to have the ECW Champion cornered at CyberSlam on February 17, 1996.

“The story with Sandman versus Raven was that Raven had stolen The Sandman’s wife, Lori, and was living in The Sandman’s house. And The Sandman’s young son, Tyler, who I believe was seven at the time, was actually treating Raven as his stepfather and dressing like Raven,” Styles recalled about one of ECW’s more controversial battles. “The fact that we did such an uncomfortable, unnerving rivalry and the way we shot it on home video instead of overproducing it is what I think makes this a must-see moment in ECW history.”

Chris Jericho vs. Cactus Jack (March 8, 1996)

Chris Jericho flashes his "Lionheart" determination as he takes a hardcore licking and keeps on ticking against Cactus Jack on March 8, 1996.

“I was a fan of Chris Jericho’s because I had seen his work with Lance Storm. They were The Thrillseekers in Smoky Mountain Wrestling,” Joey Styles revealed about the WWE Superstar’s early days in sports-entertainment. “Chris was only in ECW for a short time. I think he knew that coming to work for ECW was a way to get noticed by either WWE or WCW and he was right. He was with us very quickly and got a lucrative offer very quickly and was gone as quickly as he came. There may have been simmering heat between ECW and WCW before, but with Jericho, WCW made it clear that they were watching our show to pick people off. We knew we were under siege.”

Sabu vs. Rob Van Dam: Hardcore Heaven 1996 (June 22, 1996)

Sabu and Rob Van Dam nearly tear each other apart.

“Sabu and RVD trained together with Sabu’s uncle, The Original Sheik,” Joey Styles revealed about two ECW icons who were both rivals and allies. “They learned all that high-flying wrestling when The Sheik wasn’t looking. The Sheik hated it. He wanted them to work on headlocks and shoulder blocks. Two guys that close who know everything about each other and learned everything together made for great opponents and they made for great tag team partners. I just think the athletic ability in both of them and the fact that what both of them did still can’t be duplicated in the industry today more than 10 years later makes their matches must-see matches.”

Tommy Dreamer vs. Brian Lee: High Incident (Oct. 26, 1996)

Tommy Dreamer and Brian Lee battle on a scaffold above a plethora of tables.

“When WWE does any sort of specialty match, we have a professional named Ellis Edwards who owns his own stunt company and helps us build all these apparatuses. ECW had the drunken Sandman build that scaffold!” Joey Styles howled when remembering the infamous Scaffold Match between ECW icon Tommy Dreamer and the dangerous Brian Lee. “It was a piece of wood hanging from the top of the arena from ropes and chains! It was not very stable. Brian Lee looked like a pinball (when he fell from the scaffold) and was legitimately knocked out and unconscious by the time he hit the canvas. God, he was so tough. Looking back, I’m just happy it wasn’t Tommy losing that match, because he’s a friend of mine and I’ve watched him take so many horrific falls. I still have a hard time watching them.”

Tazz vs. Sabu: Barely Legal 1997 (April 13, 1997)

After not touching each other for nearly a year, Tazz and Sabu finally lock up at Barely Legal 1997.

“I think Tazz versus Sabu at Barely Legal stands out, because it was one-half of the double main event of our first pay-per-view,” Styles said. “It was built-up for an entire year without them even touching. The next time after that I can remember any one match being built up for an entire year before it happened was John Cena versus The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII. And they did touch. We built Sabu and Tazz for an entire year without having them touch and that’s what made it special. Granted, we only had 1,200 people in that building for a main event, but when they finally locked up it sounded like a hell of a lot more than 1,200 people. And that’s because we waited for a year just to make them touch. It’s not done enough today.”

Stevie Richards vs. Terry Funk vs. The Sandman; Raven vs. Terry Funk: Barely Legal 1997 (April 13, 1997)

Terry Funk, The Sandman and Stevie Richards compete for an immediate shot at Raven's ECW Title.

“I know it’s technically two matches, but I’ve always considered it one match,” Joey Styles said of the two consecutive bouts that served as the main event of ECW’s inaugural pay-per-view, Barely Legal. “I think the star of that first match wound up being Stevie Richards. Everyone knew that Terry Funk was a star and The Sandman was already established. That 3-Way Dance was designed to see if Stevie Richards could hang with those guys, and he did. Looking back, it was a shame that Stevie was wearing a half shirt and daisy dukes, because it’s hard to take him seriously, but I think he proved himself to be able to go with anyone in the ring that night. Then Terry Funk won the ECW Title from Raven against all odds — everything just went right. Even the power going out didn’t happen until 15 seconds after we went off the air.”

The Eliminators vs. Sabu & Rob Van Dam: CyberSlam 1997 (Feb. 21, 1997)

Order ECW Unreleased Vol 1. to see this match!

“I thought The Eliminators were the best tag team in the world from the standpoint that they were the most exciting to watch,” Styles said of the classic pairing of John Kronus & Perry Saturn who held the ECW Tag Team Titles on three occasions. “Nobody else could do what they did — especially John Kronus, who weighed 265 pounds. When you get two men who are that explosive and that athletic against two guys like Rob Van Dam and Sabu, you probably have four of the most athletic people on the planet in the ring at the same time. You knew it was going to look like a highlight reel.”

Tommy Dreamer vs. Raven: Wrestlepalooza 1997 (June 6, 1997)

Tommy Dreamer finally gets the best of his archrival, Raven, despite interference from Louie Spicolli at Wrestlepalooza on June 7, 1997.

“This is a big match because it took so long for Tommy to finally get a victory over Raven,” Styles revealed. “Of course, he finally beats Raven and then it goes to this horrific moment where Jerry Lawler comes in and invades ECW and cracks Tommy Dreamer with a kendo stick. God, the blood curdling scream that came out of Tommy’s mouth was nothing like anything I’ve heard come out of a grown man only because I’ve never seen anyone tortured. Tommy had to be rushed to the emergency room. But Tommy loved being the martyr. Tommy never wanted to win, because fans would just get behind him more and more (when he lost).”

Sabu vs. Terry Funk: Born to be Wired (Aug. 9, 1997)

“I don’t like gory movies. I think it’s even worse when it’s real,” Joey Styles admitted before discussing what has been called the most brutal match in sports-entertainment history. “Terry Funk and Sabu wrestled in real barbed wire. If you look at the end of the match, there really isn’t a pinfall, because Terry Funk’s shoulders really aren’t on the mat, because the two had become so intertwined in the barbed wire that they were just entangled in this giant ball that was just piercing both of them. Terry Funk was very lucky, because there was one piece of barbed wire that was sticking out that was very close to his eyeball. We had to cut them free from one another with wire cutters and get them both to the emergency room. That was the most atrocious thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Everyone who did a barbed wire match before that realized that they had been topped.”

Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Spike Dudley: As Good as it Gets (Sept. 20, 1997)

Bam Bam Bigelow shockingly launches Spike Dudley into the crowd, but the ECW faithful are right there to brace the little guy's fall on September 20, 1997.

“What makes this a must-see moment is not the insanity of one Superstar throwing another Superstar into the crowd. It’s the fact that we trusted our fans would catch Spike,” The Extreme Announcer said of the night Bam Bam Bigelow launched Spike Dudley into the front row of the ECW Arena. “We absolutely knew that our crazy fans would catch Spike, but we didn’t know they would body surf him all over the place. That was just fantastic. If you were going to do something like that in any other organization, the entire audience would have to be filled with paid actors. There are a lot of insurance issues involved. None of that happened in ECW. Those were real fans and for whatever reason we just went on good faith that none of them would sue us.”

Sabu vs. The Sandman: House Party 1998 (Jan. 10, 1998)

Sabu and The Sandman must climb a ladder to get the chance to use the dangeours barbed wire.

“You know why I remember this match? I’m standing on the stage with Paul Heyman, facing the ring and Sandman tumbles off the ladder and does a somersault completely to the floor,” Joey Styles remembered with disbelief. “So I think The Sandman has free fallen 20 feet to the concrete floor and I start screaming at Paul about how out of control this all is and he’s screaming at me for overreacting. He’s saying, ‘Why don’t you go down there and stop the match in front of all these people?’ And I’m calling him irresponsible. It’s all a misunderstanding, because I can’t see the tables! I guess there were two tables set up there, which actually broke his fall so he didn’t splat on the concrete floor. They weren’t pleasant to go through, but it’s better than hitting the concrete floor.”

Tazz vs. Bam Bam Bigelow: Living Dangerously 1998 (March 1, 1998); Tazz vs. Bam Bam Bigelow: Heat Wave 1998 (Aug. 2, 1998)

ECW fans are left speechless as Bam Bam Bigelow drops the boom on Tazz and creates a gaping hole in the ring canvas at Living Dangerously on March 1, 1998.

“There had been moments in wrestling where people came up through the ring to snatch somebody and pull them down, but I think we were the first ones to drive somebody through the ring,” Style said about the Living Dangerously ’98 brawl between ECW Television Champion Tazz and legendary big man Bam Bam Bigelow, which ended when Bigelow jumped backwards with The Human Suplex Machine on his neck, sending both men crashing through the canvas. “What broke out among the fans there in Asbury Park, N.J., is what I like to call a “fecal chant.” Absolutely nobody saw it coming. Then we had Tazz and Bam Bam Bigelow go through the ramp in their rematch. They were just awesome moments.”

Rob Van Dam vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (April 4, 1998)

Rob Van Dam takes flight on not one, but two unbelievable leaps into the crowd area during an ECW World TV Title Match against Bam Bam Bigelow on April 4, 1998.

“This match is a must-see match, because of the dive that Rob took,” Joey Styles said of the 1998 showdown between ECW TV Champion Bam Bam Bigelow and Rob Van Dam in Buffalo, N.Y. “Rob went up to the top turnbuckle and did a somersault dive onto Bam Bam Bigelow (who was in the crowd). Rob cleared the ringside area, Rob cleared the guardrail, Rob easily used those massive quadriceps of his to launch himself five rows deep onto Bam Bam. It’s just phenomenal to watch. It started RVD’s 23-month run as ECW TV Champion, which only came to an end because he broke his ankle and was stripped of the title. It really solidified Rob as the man to watch. To this day, Rob is now 41 and I don’t think he’s lost a step.”

Tazz vs. Shane Douglas: Guilty as Charged 1999 (Jan. 10, 1999)

Order ECW Unreleased Vol 1. to see this match!

“This match between Shane Douglas and Tazz is a must-see, because it was the one real passing of the torch we had,” Styles said about the long-awaited ECW Title bout between The Franchise and The Human Suplex Machine. “Shane was our top guy, especially at the very beginning. Coming out of WCW, he had the matinee idol looks, the physique and he was phenomenal on the microphone. Shane was the perfect champion for us. At the same time, it was obvious Tazz was ready to be the guy. In ECW, he had gone from being The Tazmaniac to being the first wrestler to use an MMA persona, the first wrestler to use an ankle lock, the first wrestler to make his opponents tap out. If you look at our two greatest champions, it’s Shane Douglas and Tazz. And Tazz defeating Shane Douglas was the passing of the torch.”

Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn: Hardcore Heaven 1999 (May 16, 1999)

ECW's finest athletes battle for the prestegious ECW Television Title.

“I loved calling (matches between) Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn,” Joey Styles admitted when recalling one of ECW’s most noted rivalries. “What I did during those matches was exactly what WWE didn’t want me to do when I got here, which is call play-by-play. The reason I did that is because Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn moved so quickly that for me to call every single hold, counter hold, reversal, switch and move meant I had to speak as quickly and as clearly as the Micro Machines pitchman. I did it to prove that I could. I think it got to the point where they were going as fast as possible just to get a chuckle out of me trying to keep up. But Jerry and Rob had chemistry that I think may have even been better than (Dean) Malenko and (Eddie) Guerrero.”

The Dudley Boyz vs. Tommy Dreamer & Raven (Aug. 26, 1999)

Raven returns to help his long time nemesis Tommy Dreamer to fight off The Dudleys.

“One thing ECW always did is when someone was going away we’d bring in someone else,” Joey Styles revealed. “The night that The Dudleys left in Queens, N.Y., they made it very clear they were leaving with the ECW Tag Team Titles to WWE to lay these titles at the feet of Vince McMahon. They said the one thing they needed to do before they left was rid ECW of Tommy Dreamer. So, of course, Tommy is about to be hurt and in comes Raven, who returns the same night The Dudleys are leaving. Paul (Heyman) always tried to bring in someone new on the night we were losing somebody. It’s something that still works. If you look at the night after WrestleMania this year, the first segment was The Rock coming in to talk about his victory over John Cena. Later in the show, John Cena comes out and he’s attacked by Brock Lesnar. It’s a technique that still works.”

Tommy Dreamer vs. Tazz: CyberSlam 2000 (April 22, 2000)

Order ECW Unreleased Vol 1. to see this match!

“Tommy never wanted to be champion. Tommy wanted to be the martyr, but in this case, we had to have one of our own win that title back from Tazz,” Joey Styles said while explaining the complicated turn of events that led to this bout. In the wake of then-ECW Champion Mike Awesome’s exodus to WCW with the ECW Title, a legal injunction from Paul Heyman’s father and a working relationship with WWE led to a match where WWE competitor Tazz beat WCW competitor Mike Awesome for the ECW Championship. One week later, The Human Suplex Machine lost the title to Dreamer. “Of course, Tommy Dreamer never even got to wear the title, because right afterward he was challenged by Justin Credible, had victory stolen from him and lost the championship. But WWE wouldn’t let us show this match on TV, so the home video release now is the first time we can see this match.”

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