I was in a bookstore last week flipping through the latest issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated when I came across a unique headline. I can’t remember what it said verbatim, but it was along the lines of, “Has Ring of Honor meant more to professional wrestling than Extreme Championship Wrestling?” I quickly browsed the story and it made me think of a few things. Soon, I really began to wonder if that statement was true.
Let’s examine some similarities about both companies. ECW was the third major wrestling promotion during its ’90s-’00s heyday. It competed against the much larger and lucrative World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) and World Championship Wrestling. ROH is the third major promotion in a very different wrestling world with WWE and Total Nonstop Action (TNA).
Both would be considered independent Northeast promotions with their own niche audience. ECW heavily catered towards hardcore wrestling, whereas ROH heavily caters towards technical, or scientific, wrestling. As far as their longevity in the business, ROH wins out. ECW lasted from 1993-2001. ROH began in 2002 and is still going strong.
There are many more similarities that I could list, but the key question/difference between the two is to determine which one made more of an impact on the future of the business. On the surface, and in actuality, it appears that ECW wins the argument. They were the little promotion that battled two financial juggernauts with far more established star power, revenue streams and production values. At times it seemed foolish for them to even insinuate competing against WWE and WCW. Yet, they eked out a cult following that has lasted unto this very day. Many of their innovations and concepts were either stolen or perfected on the bigger stage.
Would WCW have ever had a successful cruiserweight division without the exposure of Rey Mysterio, Juventud Guerrera, Dean Malenko and Eddie Guererro in ECW? Would triple threat and fatal four way matches be the norm? Would there ever have been tables, ladders, and chairs matches? Would many of the dangerous and over the top antics of the ‘90s wrestling boom period in North America existed without ECW? These are serious questions to ponder since they each describe a significant piece of the evolution of wrestling over the last 15 years.
ECW had many homegrown stars, but which ones really achieved genuine success after leaving for the greener pastures of WWE or WCW. To be fair, you really shouldn’t include WCW since they went out of business shortly after ECW died. So the question is which ECW stars made it in the WWE? Making it would be defined as becoming significantly bigger stars, winning major titles and having memorable matches in the promotion. I will not include wrestlers such as Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Chris Jericho, Guererro or Mysterio. Each of them are amongst the biggest stars in WWE history and all passed through the doors of ECW. They shouldn’t be included because each was only in ECW for a brief period of time and made their reputations in other promotions before joining WWE. Plus they weren’t around when ECW began to attain its biggest level of mainstream notoriety.
The only ECW acts that fit into this criteria were the Dudleys and Rob Van Dam. The Dudleys were arguably the greatest team in ECW history and went on to have a stellar career in WWE. They were part of the hot three-way tag team feud with Edge & Christian and the Hardys that produced numerous classic matches during the Attitude Era. They also won a slew of WWE tag titles when the belts meant alot more than they do today. RVD was always one of the most popular guys in WWE from his debut in 2001 until his departure in 2007. He held the WWE Heavyweight, Intercontinental and tag team titles and had some very memorable matches (his 2002 ladder match with Guererro and his 2006 title win over John Cena stand out). I’d say his WWE career exceeded the expectations of many.
Currently, two ROH alumni are two of the biggest stars in WWE. CM Punk is the current WWE champion and has held the title since last November. He’s been a major star since debuting in 2006, but he truly came into his own as a main event level performer over the last nine months having major programs with Cena, HHH, Alberto Del Rio and Chris Jericho.
Daniel Bryan, who along with Punk would have to be considered as one of the five biggest names in ROH history, is also currently in the process of cementing his stardom. Bryan’s WWE career got off to a rocky start as he was actually fired for his role in the controversial Nexus angle in the summer of 2010. He was hired back in time to be apart of the main event elimination tag match of that year’s Summerslam. From there he fluctuated in the midcard and won the Smackdown Money in the Bank match last year. He won the world title at the TLC PPV in December and had an impressive 3 ½ month run until losing the belt at Wrestlemania. He performed so well in his role as champion that he’s actually become amongst the most popular wrestlers in the company, despite the fact he lost the belt in a mere 18 seconds!
Many of their longtime followers would’ve never imagined the day that Punk and Bryan would simultaneously hold the major titles in WWE. In addition to those two, there have been several other ROH alumni who’ve passed through the doors of WWE over the years. Former ROH standouts Claudio Castagnoli (Antonio Cessaro), Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno) and Tyler Black (Seth Rollins) are currently working in the company’s developmental territory and are sure to be a part of the main roster in the near future.
At the end of the day, I must admit that ECW has made a substantially bigger long-term impact on professional wrestling. After all, WWE re-launched the ECW brand from 2006-2010 and held two PPVs in their namesake from 2005-06. The upcoming Extreme Rules PPV is another lasting reminder to the legacy ECW left behind, but in a few years will we be able to say that the vast majority of present WWE titleholders and main event stars came from ROH? I think so.
Former ROH star CM Punk as ECW champion in WWE. Sounds confusing huh?