ECW’s Character Transformation
Behind the tables, steel chairs, barbed wire, and women who spiced up storylines, there was strong character work in ECW. The following wrestlers rewrote their history when they came to the Land of Extreme!
1 – Shane Douglas
As the wrestler who was more or less responsible for Eastern Championship Wrestling transitioning to Extreme Championship Wrestling, the transition of Shane Douglas between runs in the WWF and WCW was a drastic but necessary change.
Douglas had previously wrestled as a white-meat babyface in both the WWF and WCW as a young, promising talent even if his character was undeveloped.
Shane formed teams with Johnny Ace and Ricky Steamboat during his WCW run and even won the combined WCW/NWA tag gold alongside "The Dragon."
After jumping to ECW, the then-ECW champion also won a tournament for the NWA World Championship, where he beat The Tazmaniac, Dean Malenko, and 2 Cold Scorpio before memorably trashing the historic NWA World Title.
Douglas recited the names of iconic holders of the strap over the near-five decades it had been around, such as Harley Race, Lou Thesz, and Barry Windham, before throwing the belt, stating, "They can all kiss my ***!"
This unexpected and shocking shoot displeased then-NWA President Dennis Coralluzzo, and soon after, ECW broke away from the NWA, rebranding the "E" from "Eastern" to "Extreme."
The Birth of “The Franchise” in ECW
From here, Douglas would become "The Franchise," and arguably the hottest heel in wrestling was formed.
He was an angry, aggressive, and red-hot heel that was a force of nature on the mic.
Holding the ECW title four times and for a combined 874 days, he was the top guy in the company for years with his stranglehold aided by manager Francine and his Triple Threat faction.
It was not exactly a new gimmick, but Douglas was there to help the company flourish during its peak in popularity.
Douglas used this new no-nonsense, hard-as-nails character wherever he went thereafter, including WCW and TNA.
2 – Al Snow
One of the most memorable mid-card gimmicks of the Attitude Era, Al Snow was another bit of genius to come out of ECW.
As Leif Cassidy and Avatar in the WWF, Snow had remarkably little success in the promotion and was mainly used as enhancement talent.
When he left for Smoky Mountain, he had more success in The Dynamic Duo alongside Mike Unabomb (later known as Kane). Garnering national exposure, however, would come after arriving in the "Land of Extreme."
Snow’s character was that of a journeyman whose jobbing had driven him to insanity.
Post-mental breakdown, he started carrying a mannequin head to the ring, had a knack for laughing frantically, and had the letters "HELP!" tattooed across his forehead. Snow created this schizophrenic-esque character after reading up on abnormal psychology.
Al Snow’s Rise and Near ECW Championship Win
Resonating with the ECW audience, his character soon became one of the most over characters in the company in the early months of 1998.
Snow scored a pinfall victory over then-ECW Champion "The Franchise" Shane Douglas at the Living Dangerously pay-per-view in a tag match, setting up Al to main-event the following month’s pay-per-view.
With fans on his side — rocking to the entrance music of The Prodigy’s "Breathe" and rubbing their Styrofoam Heads together — Snow competed against Douglas for the ECW World Championship but would be unsuccessful in his bid for the strap.
He would soon be rehired by WWE, moving there at the peak of his popularity. It was Snow’s character work that got the then WWF to use their former wrestler very differently.
3 – Steve Austin
Steve Austin was a drastically different wrestler before he became the Budweiser-swigging, stunner-delivering "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
During Austin’s time with World Championship Wrestling, "Stunning" Steve became one of the premier workhorses in the company and a favorite of the more passionate viewers.
In mid-1995, while healing from injury, Austin was fired from WCW via FedEx by Eric Bischoff — who saw him as unmarketable.
Contacted by his old Dangerous Alliance manager Paul E Dangerously (Heyman) soon after, "Superstar" Steve Austin made his ECW debut at the Gangstas Paradise event.
At this show, Austin memorably impersonated Hulk Hogan – then WCW’s top star.
With new anger and defiance, the once-blonde locked grappler now had his hair buzzed short, and he cut savage promos on WCW co-president Eric Bischoff.
As for matches, Austin had very few but was in top-billing ECW World Heavyweight Championship bouts against Mikey Whipwreck and The Sandman.
Steve Austin has later attributed Paul Heyman as the guy who taught him promos and let his creativity go wild – more or less planting the seeds for the "Stone Cold" character to come.
Stone Cold’s Transformation from “The Ringmaster” to Iconic WWF Figure
Austin would soon enough jump to the WWF, albeit originally as "The Ringmaster." However, it wouldn’t be long before his brash, rowdy, and rebellious ECW character cropped up on WWE television.
With this, he became perhaps the most profitable wrestler of all time, being a constant top guy during the WWF’s boom period. He would remain their most prominent wrestler even when not active — and all of this came out of his brief ECW run.
4 – Matt Borne
Perhaps forgotten as an ECW star, Matt Borne spent a few months in the company in 1994, adding another dimension to his previous character — Doink The Clown.
As Doink in the WWF, he portrayed the role of the evil, tenacious joker from 1992-1993.
A twisted and dark character, the man behind the paint, would soon be replaced by Ray Apollo after the Oregon-native Borne was released after personal demons plagued his professional and personal career.
When Borne left, the former Mid-South standout moved to NWA’s ECW, creating an epic yet short-lived Borne Again character.
Initially debuting as Doink in ECW, fans rejected this make-believe character in the supposed grittier company. After losing to ECW titleholder Shane Douglas, the wear of a talented wrestler becoming a wacky character became evident.
Still wearing the clown attire, he evolved into a depressed interpretation of the gimmick adorn with patchy and worn-off facepaint, unkempt hair, and an unshaven face.
A messy, imposter of the trickster of his recent past, Borne cut truly chilling promos that showed the real man behind the guise.
Borne would even dress up his defeated opponents in his costume as a stark symbol of the insanity of this warped, unhinged madman.
Borne’s run in ECW was brief due to his real-life personal problems. His most significant moment would come from a loss to 911 in the quarter-finals of an NWA title tournament — a tournament that went on to revolutionize ECW after "The Franchise" cut his famous shoot promo.
5 – Raven
Before becoming the Edgar Allan Poe-reading, Pearl Jam-inspired Raven, Scott Levy held down other roles such as Scotty Flamingo and Johnny Polo.
Scotty Flamingo was a short-lived WCW gimmick in which Levy portrayed a Floridian surfer. During this time, the surfboard-wielding character won the Light Heavyweight Championship from Brian Pillman.
After spending time in The Diamond Mine stable, he would leave WCW after hostilities with Bill Watts.
Upon joining the WWF, he became Scotty Polo — a snobby, rich person, often donning some snazzy clothing and a polo stick.
The Evolution of the Raven Character in ECW
Levy would later develop the Raven character in ECW. With a moody, dark, and whiny nature with a specific fascination with Tommy Dreamer, he was a manipulative leader of a stable of followers referred to as his "Nest."
The malicious Raven would often brainwash people to become pilgrims of his, and this often extended to the allies and even families of his rivals.
A multi-time ECW champion, he even managed to become the first person to pin "Dr Death" "Dr Death" Steve Williams in the US in a decade.
Yet, in an interview with Title Match Wrestling, Raven recalls the difficulties he faced maintaining a distinct line between kayfabe and real life.
"I didn’t realize how personal it was gonna become," Raven opened up. "Then, the character became so personal, so art imitated life.
Then, life started to imitate art when I started to become a bigger, and you know, getting worse involved with drugs and alcohol."
He continued, "I was trying to stay true to who I created and that’s when things went downhill."
One of the most iconic ECW characters, Raven’s time in ECW provided a sudden and drastic change that heavily aided his career. It’s just a shame what happened to him once he went back to the WWE.
6 – The Sandman
The Sandman initially wrestled as Mr. Sandman in Tri-State Wrestling (the precursor to NWA ECW).
In Eastern Championship Wrestling, he became The Sandman – a neon-colored surfer named after the song by The Chordettes. He would even appear on the first episode of ECW TV when he was the world champion.
It was in ECW’s heyday that he really peaked and became much more explicit. Now with 10-minuted entrances to the tune of Metallica’s "Enter Sandman," slugging multiple cans of suds, sometimes smoking and beating up his opponents with a Singapore cane, he indeed seemed like a completely different person.
He became a cult favorite of the ECW audience, mainly depending on crazy stunts and extreme violence to get over.
A five-time ECW World Heavyweight Champion, he was always a hugely popular star – often getting a massive pop for just showing up after a match and pursuing a short caning.
The Sandman’s Impact Beyond ECW
More proof of the chaotic adult-oriented character’s popularity includes his return to ECW being one of the company’s most memorable moments.
Even having the Re-Enter Sandman event named after him, his blacked-out return after time in WCW was perhaps the most raucous crowd reaction in the Philadelphia promotion’s history.
Runs in XPW, TNA, and WWE all came after ECW’s closure, and it is probably fair to say, had The Sandman not adapted from surfer to badass, he would not be as popular as an attraction.
Further proof of his successful ECW renovation includes The Sandman’s WWE run in 2007. Such is often considered a flop due to his toned-down drinking and smoking, new non-Enter Sandman theme, and conservative offense.
7 – Taz
Taz was initially in ECW from its early NWA days until the company started going downhill in terms of financial issues.
After some dates in Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling, The Tazmaniac debuted in NWA ECW in an eponymous tag team with Joe Chetti.
The Tazmaniac’s character was that of a single-strap singlet-donning, barefoot, face-painted native of Tasmania who often had to be led to the ring via chain as he was insinuated to be an unconsenting slave.
After being a one-time Television Champion, competing in the NWA World Championship tournament, and gaining the services of Paul E. Dangerously, Taz was revamped entirely and became one of ECW’s biggest names.
While small in stature, Taz became a legitimate star as a tough-as-nails New Yorker.
The Human Suplex Machine in ECW
The number 13 is closely associated with him, and he wore orange and black singlets and became renowned for his various executions of suplexes.
"The Human Suplex Machine" was not only a Triple Crown Champion (as a two-time ECW Champion, two-time Television Champion, and three-time World Tag Team Champion) but also patented his own belt: the FTW title.
Feuding with top stars like Sabu, Shane Douglas, and Tommy Dreamer — the master of the Tazmission was made one of ECW’s brightest talents when he altered his gimmick.
8 – Cactus Jack
Mick Foley left WCW in 1994 due to frustrations with how he was being perceived – annoyed at the lack of focus put on him after losing an ear in a feud with Vader.
In ECW, Foley would initially form alliances with old friends and rivals but was perhaps most noted for his alliance with Mikey Whipwreck, where he became a two-time ECW World Tag Team Champion alongside him.
Behind the scenes, Foley was getting more apprehensive about wrestling in ECW. Although a natural fit for his style of wrestling, he was angered by the hostile crowds, often crude ECW storylines, and by two particular events.
The first of these was the infamous "Cane Dewey" sign – a reference to Mick Foley’s son, advocating a whipping of his young child.
The other was a botched top rope move from JT Smith, causing him to concuss himself, landing head-first on concrete, to which the fans responded with "You ****** up!" chants.
Heel Turn and Unusual Alliance in ECW
Feeling the fans were asking too much of him and were savages with lusts for pain, he turned on his partner Tommy Dreamer and joined Raven’s Nest.
Now showing vast support of WCW and WWF in kayfabe, his shirts donned Bischoff’s face, and he made promos showing admiration for Vince McMahon and hated of the hardcore ECW crowd.
He would soon defeat the previously unbeaten 911 and, although a heel, he was cheered on his way out due to being such a massive part of the promotion at that time.
Foley would, for a short period, renew this character in WWE’s ECW in 2006.
9 – Terry Funk
Although having made a name for himself long before joining ECW, as a crazy, blood-lusting, middle-aged veteran who enjoyed competing in matches with barbed wire and fire, ECW was a perfect for him.
When the cowboy from the Double Cross Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in 1975, he was a relatively traditional southern ‘rassler.
Slowly, Funk would develop a more unhinged, outlandish character that would not become fully revealed to a commercial worldwide audience until his ECW days.
Terry Funk’s Journey from WWF to ECW Hardcore Icon
Funk spent time in the WWF in the mid-’80s, proving his rabid nature by beating up ring staff and spitting chewing tobacco.
Furthermore, his stint in the NWA/WCW in the late ’80s and early ’90s saw him trying to suffocate Ric Flair and brand people with an iron.
To date, his most extreme content took place in Japan’s IWA in the King Of The Deathmatch tournament against Mick Foley.
Fighting in barbed wire and explosives matches, he would soon expose this character to the ECW audience.
Now under the gimmick of a "Middle-Aged And Crazy" hardcore icon, he would prove his hardcore abilities to the ECW faithful by moonsaulting off ladders, getting wrapped up in barbed wire, and being put through tables – even in his 50s.
For fans of a younger generation, this ECW character is how many reflect on Funk’s historic career. Funk produced this impressive run deep into his run in what would be the twilight of their career for many other wrestlers.
10 – Justin Credible
Before he was ever a member of The Impact Players or ECW World Champion, Credible was a long-time enhancement talent, including multiple gimmicks in the WWF.
As PJ Walker, he was initially quite an unremarkable journeyman in the early ’90s on shows like WWF Raw, Superstars, and Wrestling Challenge, taking on stars such as Lex Luger, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Mr. Perfect.
During this run, his most notable moment came when he upset Irwin R. Schyster, pinning the former five-time WWF World Tag Team Champion via the aid of a Razor Ramon distraction.
This caused one of the biggest upsets on the same show where The 1-2-3 Kid defeated "The Bad Guy" himself.
Talking about the real-life Scott Hall, Walker was one of few to get on the good side of The Kliq. This likely helped him maintain a job in the WWF as he soon became Aldo Montoya in the New Generation Era in the mid-’90s.
As "The Portuguese Man O’War," he was a lower mid-card talent who dressed in bright yellow all over with a mask featuring a pronounced nose section.
Justin Credible’s Transformation in ECW
After being released from WWF with the condition he could not work for WCW, he ventured for ECW, where he was repackaged at As Good As It Gets 1997 as Justin Credible.
He initially had a long-running undefeated streak in ECW until it was snapped by Mikey Whipwreck.
As a brash, bald egomaniac character, Credible almost always sees himself aligned with an entourage such as Lance Storm, Dawn Marie, Jason, Francine, Cyrus The Virus, Nicole Bass, Chastity, etc or Steve Corino throughout his time in ECW.
Although the idea of a vain, preening heel is nothing new in wrestling, it did bag him a run on top in what was then likely the second-biggest wrestling promotion in the world.
It seems no coincidence he sees the Credible gimmick as his best work, still wrestling under that specific guise to this day, harkening back memories of his clashes with Tommy Dreamer, Jerry Lynn, and Sabu, amongst others.
Rick Rude: A Ravishing Man with a Tragic End
“He refused to budge.”
Rick Rude was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime kind of wrestler. He went by the nickname “Ravishing” — and rightfully so. He had a solid moveset, great looks, and unbridled arrogance with the in-ring skill to back it up. He played hard in the ring but even harder out of it.
Mr Perfect Curt Hennig – A Great Life with an Unfortunate End
On camera, Curt Hennig was arrogant, and he backed up his Mr. Perfect persona brilliantly. However, outside of the ring, it was a different story.
Doink The Clown – A Troubled Life For the Man Behind the Paint
Doink the Clown found fame in early 1990s WWE, but there was, unfortunately, trouble along the way for Matt Borne, the man behind the paint.
Secret Life and Tragic Passing of WWE Wrestler “Crush” Brian Adams
Hailing from Kona, Hawaii, “Crush” Brian Adams was a dominant force who underwent many striking transformations over his 17-year career.
After retiring from the ring, he worked as a bodyguard for “Macho Man” Randy Savage and was excited about opening a fitness spa alongside Marc Mero in Florida. Instead, sadly, tragedy struck.
Owen Hart’s Death: What Really Happened, From Those There
VINCE McMAHON: “Earlier that day, I was shocked and surprised by what Owen said.”
On May 23rd, 1999, the wrestling world mourned the loss of Owen Hart. People behind the scenes on this unthinkable day reflect on the tragedy, answering the all-important questions.
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