A large contributor to ECW rising to prominence was its ability to mix various professional wrestling styles, ranging from Lucha Libre to puroresu to hardcore while offering an array of diverse talents. Everyone from Stan Hansen to Rey Mysterio, Rick Rude to Tito Santana, and Steve Austin to Jerry Lawler cropped up in the company alongside the ECW originals. However, you might be surprised by some of these big names who popped up in the Land of Extreme!
1. Nikolai Volkoff
Wrestling fans likely remember Nikolai Volkoff as either the ruthless strongman who challenged for the WWWF title against Bruno Sammartino or the evil brute who sang the USSR national anthem before each of his matches.
Born in Croatia (then Yugoslavia), this Canadian immigrant would play a reviled Russian…naturally. After donning the villainous foreigner gimmick in the WWF/WWWF for twenty years off-and-on, the WWF turned him into a pro-American in 1990. With little use for him after he had been turned face and after the Cold War finished, Volkoff officially left the pastures of WWF in 1992.
At this time, ECW was just another small, independent promotion in Philadelphia with no established identity.
Volkoff wrestled five matches for Eastern Championship Wrestling in both singles and tag affairs. He feuded with Vladimir Markoff as well as a challenge to the world champion, coming up short against Don Muraco in October of 1992. This would be his last match in the company for over a year before returning in a losing fashion to Jimmy Snuka in 1993.
Recommended reading: Nikolai Volkoff: A Hero, a Legend, and My Friend
2. King Kong Bundy
Despite making only one solitary ECW appearance, King Kong Bundy had a very significant role in the promotion.
Bundy had made his name in Mid-South Wrestling, demanding the referee count to 5 instead of 3 during his pinfalls in order to show his dominance. He further raised his stock upon joining the WWF in 1985, memorably squashing S.D. Jones in quick time at the inaugural WrestleMania event.
Although he may not have the cross-over appeal as André The Giant, he, along with manager Bobby Heenan, was one of the most memorable rivals to Hulk Hogan in the ’80s. He stayed a constant threat and presence in the company up until leaving in February of 1988.
At the first November to Remember supercard produced by Eastern Championship Wrestling on November 13th, 1993, Bundy made his shock debut as the tag team partner of Terry Funk. Taking on Sabu and Road Warrior Hawk, this was a unification bout with the winner earning both Sabu’s ECW World Title and Terry Funk’s ECW Television Title.
In the end, the mammoth Bundy hit his own partner with the avalanche splash, allowing Sabu to get the pinfall and both titles in KKB’s only match for the company. Bundy would be back in the WWF the following year.
Recommended reading: King Kong Bundy and Larry Sharpe – The Lost Tapes
3. Arn Anderson
A bonus to booker Paul E. Dangerously’s previous work in the wrestling industry was his ability to call on former colleagues for paydays in ECW. One case in point – Arn Anderson.
Already firmly established as one of the greatest technical wrestlers globally, Arn would not particularly be someone you would picture as a competitor in the extreme world of ECW. However, the former Four Horsemen member would team with Terry Funk for a one-and-done tag affair against another surprise wrestler in fellow Dangerous Alliance member and former Midnight Express member Bobby Eaton, as well as Sabu in a tag team bout on May 14th, 1994.
This tag bout at ‘When Worlds Collide’ was chockful of star power and was seen by 1,500 onlookers in a stand-only arena.
In the end, the Arabian and ‘Beautiful’ Bobby left with the win after Sabu made Funk submit. Double-A left the bout unsuccessful after having only one match in the Philly-based promotion.
Recommended reading: Arn Anderson on the nWo Spoof That Hurt His Family
4. Ron Simmons
In between runs in WCW and WWF, Ron Simmons made a pit-stop in the Extreme Zone.
A month after NWA’s Eastern Championship Wrestling was rechristened as Extreme Championship Wrestling, WCW’s first recognized African-American world champion debuted in the company in back-to-back losses to Sabu in September 1994.
‘The All-American’ would challenge for the company’s top belt on two different occasions, never quite managing to topple Shane Douglas as well as a shot at ‘The Franchise’’s World Heavyweight title. This was even at November To Remember, the company’s flagship annual event. Additionally, Simmons challenged for the tag titles alongside 2 Cold Scorpio, going up against Public Enemy.
Simmons spent over half a year in ECW, rubbing shoulders with a who’s who of wrestling at the time. Facing the likes of Dean Malenko, Mr. Hughes, and Mikey Whipwreck, Simmons’s most significant win was a battle royal in Hamburg in late ‘94. His time in ECW may not be the most memorable, but he helped the upstart promotion in their attempt to get off the ground.
Simmons left ECW in mid-1995 and would crop up in the WWF as Faarooq Asaad in a year’s time. Throughout his near-decade WWF/E run, he only had one world title match, compared to his two in ECW.
Recommended reading: Ron Simmons – The Historical Night He Became WCW Champion
5. Héctor Guerrero
However, Eddie’s brother has carved out a lengthy career in wrestling outside the gobbling bird, including work in the NWA, Smoky Mountain Wrestling, WCW, and most memorably as a Spanish announcer in TNA.
On February 24th, 1995, Héctor took on the then-ECW World Champion Shane Douglas for the title. He also wrestled 2 Cold Scorpio the following night at the Return of the Funker pay-per-view but came up short on both occasions.
Recommended reading: Gobbledy Gooker – WWE’s Memorable Thanksgiving Fail
6. Marty Jannetty
The night after Héctor Guerrero made his first appearance in ECW, another talent made their ECW debut – Marty Jannetty.
Known best as a member of The Midnight Rockers in the AWA, and The Rockers in the WWF, Marty had made a name for himself as the tag team partner of Shawn Michaels.
A former Intercontinental Champion, he was a fixture of the tag division by 1994, having recently been a titleholder alongside the 1-2-3 Kid. However, before WrestleMania X, Charles Austin – an enhancement talent Jannetty had accidentally paralyzed a few years earlier – decided to take legal action, so WWF seemingly cut ties with the master of the Rocker Dropper.
Jannetty did not show up again on a major scale until rearing his head in ECW in 1995.
Whilst his former tag partner was quickly taking over the wrestling world, Jannetty took on Shane Douglas in his ECW debut in an unsuccessful challenge for the ECW World Title.
At the Enter The Sandman pay-per-view a few months later, Jannetty challenged for the ECW TV strap but lost out to Eddie Guerrero (a substitute for Chris Benoit, who missed the event due to his wife being involved in a car accident).
In June of ’95, he again challenged for the company’s top prize against The Sandman.
Marty Jannetty actually had multiple matches for the promotion throughout July, with his last bout being a double DQ result against Jim Neidhart. A tag match appearance in 1997 and a one-off match in 2000 would mark his final appearances in the birthplace of hardcore.
Recommended reading: Marty Jannetty – His Turbulent Life After The Rockers
7. “Dr. Death” Steve Williams
A massively successful Gaijin (Japanese for foreigners and/or non-Japanese national), Steve Williams is regarded as one of the toughest wrestlers, in no small part due to his athletic pedigree.
As well as being a dominant solo force, the former collegiate football player made waves in imposing tag teams with Ted DiBiase, Vader, and most significantly Terry Gordy in the Miracle Violence Connection.
After collecting eight NJPW tag titles, two UWF world titles, three World’s Strongest Tag Determination Leagues, an AJPW Triple Crown World Title, and many awards from PWI and Wrestling Observer, Williams jumped over to ECW.
Debuting at The Doctor Is In pay-per-view in 1997, he and partner Tommy Dreamer lost the bout to Taz and ‘Prime Time’ Brian Lee.
After impressive wins over the 2 Cold Scorpio, Balls Mahoney, and Axl Rotten, Williams got a shot at Raven’s world title at Crossing The Line Again. Showing how protected ‘Dr. Death’ was, this was his first pinfall loss in the US in nearly a decade.
Williams’s time in ECW may not be as successful as his run in AJPW or as memorable as his run in WCW, but it was certainly more dignified than getting legit knocked-out by a cowboy in the second round of the WWF’s Brawl For All. Steve’s short time in the company gave legitimacy and credibility to the promotion as it was quickly growing with popularity.
Recommended reading: Brawl For All – The WWE Failure at WrestleMania 15
Darren ‘Puke’ Drozdov’s gimmick in the WWF was that of a wrestler who could vomit on command, as his name implies. However, upon first viewing of Droz, the WWF deemed that he needed more seasoning, so he was sent to ECW under a WWF contract.
Part of a small-scale WWF invasion angle and flanked with Brakkus, Doug Furnas, Phil Lafon, and Lance Wright, Droz never made a huge impact in the company nor won a significant match. Droz did, however, challenge Taz for the ECW TV Title in February 1998.
Droz would not last much longer, losing to Al Snow and New Jack in the coming weeks.
By 1998, Droz had moved over to the WWF.
Many fans may remember Darren Drozdov for the disastrous paralyzing injury he sustained in a dark match in 1999. However, like the true professional and good man that he is, he never blamed D’Lo Brown for the life-changing injury.
Recommended reading: Droz and D’Lo Brown – How A Disastrous Moment Brought on Strength
9. Scott Hall
Still with WCW at the time, Scott Hall made some appearances in ECW at the turn of the century.
By 2000, the former Razor Ramon was persona non grata in WCW, having had personal issues dragging him down. Additionally, Hall had a troubled relationship with TNT president Brad Siegel – which drove Scott out of the company in early 2000, leading the ‘Bad Guy’ to start taking a paycheck in ECW.
The former 4-time Intercontinental Champion wrestled three non-televised matches for the Philly-based promotion in late 2000.
On November 10th in Schenectady, New York, Hall was on the winning side of a tag match with Jerry Lynn against Justin Credible and Rhino.
Hall lost the following night in the opening match to the FBI’s 500+ pound big man – Sal E. Graziano in Poughkeepsie. This would be the last night of both men’s careers in ECW. Hall wrestled the last match of the show as well, beating former world champion Justin Credible.
Hall was advertised for ECW Guilty As Charged 2001 but no-showed the event. At the time, Scott Hall may not have been at the peak of his popularity, but his name value was more than enough to draw interest.
Recommended reading: Scott Hall and the Time He Beat Up a Sleeping Marty Jannetty
10. Joey Mercury
Like AJ Styles in WCW, Joey Mercury did not join ECW until its last few months and would not make it on a grand stage until years later.
Already a big name in the North Carolinian indies, Mercury – then known as Joey Matthews – was signed to ECW as a member of the Bad Street Boys alongside Christian York in late 2000. Matthews had previously been under a WCW contract but was released from it without making a single televised appearance.
The two competed at multiple pay-per-view events as a duo, including facing off against Danny Doring and Roadkill at Anarchy Rulz and Simon Diamond and Johnny Swinger at 2000’s November to Remember event.
At the promotion’s final-ever pay-per-view, Guilty As Charged 2001, Matthews and York lost out in the opening bout quickly and decisively to Jerry Lynn and Cyrus (Don Callis).
After not making a huge splash in ECW, Joey Matthews moved on to work in TNA and ROH before his most memorable run in WWE as a member of both MNM and J&J Security, as well as being a significant backstage agent.
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