Some of the biggest names in WWE history once walked the corridors of violence and the hardcore halls of ECW. The popular 1990s wrestling promotion made a huge impact during the Monday Night Wars era of WWE vs WCW where it popularized an alternative product to mainstream promotions. Catering to an adult audience, the use of foul language and blood were weekly features, along with a mixture of traditional wrestling, strong style, and completely unhinged violence.
ECW changed wrestling, there's no question, and throughout the history of the promotion and even after its demise in 2001, many ECW wrestlers made the jump to WWE. While wrestling fans will likely be familiar with most of the names on this list, some of these wrestlers you may have completely forgotten got their start in the Land of Extreme. Without further ado, here are some ECW stars who went to the WWE, ranked by success.
10 The Sandman
The hugely popular Sandman could pop any arena in the world from his entrance alone. Coming to the ring through the crowd to the sound of "Enter Sandman" by Metallica with every fan in attendance singing along, drinking beer after beer, and smoking like a chimney, this was a wrestler who lived and breathed the extreme air of the ECW arena, and he eventually made his way to the WWE for the One Night Stand pay per view in 2005.
Sandman's time in the WWE would be lackluster compared to his success in ECW and many would argue that it was a changing of the times that ruined his run. Receiving one of the biggest pops of the night at One Night Stand, Sandman teamed with Tommy Dreamer in a losing effort against The Dudley Boyz in the show's main event. From there, he took part in ECW's revived brand in 2006 and his WWE career went nowhere, and he eventually left the company in 2007.
Sandman spoke recently in a 2022 interview with WSI that the WWE took his beer-drinking gimmick away from him when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was due to return to the company. "When they bought him back, they took the beer away from me, when they did that SummerSlam." - The Sandman, WSI 2022.
The homicidal, suicidal, genocidal, death-defying extreme icon. It can only be Sabu. Putting his body on the line every week with death-defying stunts and often leaving the ring a crimson canvas of blood and gore, it was nothing short of a guarantee that Sabu would one day join the big leagues of WWE, but that's where it all went wrong.
Like many other former ECW wrestlers, Sabu signed with the WWE initially at the reunion show, One Night Stand, where he went on to defeat Rhino. With a reignited popularity, Sabu joined the revived ECW brand when it was relaunched under the WWE banner and went on to wrestle Rey Mysterio for the World Heavyweight Championship at One Night Stand 2006. Sabu even had a match against WWE legend John Cena at Vengeance 2006. Sabu left the company in 2007 but remains semi-active in the industry today, recently appearing at AEW's Double Or Nothing 2023 PPV event.
One of the most charismatic superstars to come out of the ECW promotion was none other than Raven. A master of the microphone and a star who wasn't afraid to put his body on the line for the benefit of storytelling, Raven, no surprise, went on to compete for all the major promotions in the 1990s.
Becoming one of ECW's biggest stars and winning their flagship championship twice, Raven would bring his most famous character to the WWE in 2000 where he became a mainstay in the hardcore division, going on to win the Hardcore Championship a record 26 times before leaving the WWE in 2003. Raven went on to have a very successful career in TNA where he was finally allowed to shine, becoming NWA World Champion and having many great matches. For his contributions to TNA and wrestling in general, he was inducted into the Impact Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2022, but his time in the WWE is undeniably a huge "what if".
First joining ECW in 1999, the intense and hard-hitting meaty man-beast, Rhino, would endure constant success throughout his tenure in the company, and would even go on to be the final ECW World Champion and ECW TV Champion when the company finally closed its doors in 2001. Rhino's contract was instantly snapped up by WWE who clearly saw potential in this talented young man, and he was featured prominently during the Invasion angle in WWE throughout 2001 before a neck injury put him on the sidelines.
Rhino would eventually return to the WWE during the brand-split era as a member of SmackDown, and a very popular one at that. Fitting in nicely, Rhino would continue to be a featured member of the brand until he joined RAW in 2004, but seemingly got lost in the vast depths of the roster. Rhino would leave the WWE and join TNA in 2005 where he would become their world champion before once again finding his way back to WWE in 2016 as a member of the NXT roster and later, the SmackDown roster where he won the first-ever Smackdown Tag Team Championship alongside his partner, Heath Slater.
6 Mick Foley
Mrs. Foley's baby boy made it, and boy, did he make it big! Leaving it all in the ring in every match, Foley would find his first successes in WCW where he would even literally lose an ear in a battle with Big Van Vader. The parts of Foley that they could find eventually joined ECW, where his hardcore style was finally allowed to be showcased, and it was here that wrestling fans would truly first witness the hardcore legend in his prime.
In 1996, Foley joined WWE with a new character that allowed him to put his incredible microphone skills on display, and it was only a matter of time before Mankind would be in the main event. He feuded with the likes of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Triple H, and of course, The Undertaker, where Foley would famously take a huge fall from the top of the cage in a Hell in a Cell match. Foley would go on to win his first world championship after defeating The Rock.
Feeling the effects of his violent career, Foley originally retired from full-time in-ring action in 2000, but he did return for various feuds and matches over the years including two big bloodbaths, one against Randy Orton at Backlash 2004, and another against Ric Flair at SummerSlam 2006, and he even had a run as TNA World Champion in 2009.
5 The Dudley Boyz
When it comes to tag-team wrestling, there are very few teams that could ever do it better than Bubba Ray and D-Von, The Dudley Boyz. Teaming together for over 20 years, the team not only started out in ECW but also carried that extreme wrestling style on their backs all over the world and for countless promotions to the point where hardcore wrestling became synonymous with the devastating duo. Becoming eight-time ECW World Tag Team Champions during their time in the company and setting the stage for becoming one of the greatest teams of all time, The Dudleys would join the WWE in 1999.
Almost instantly, Bubba Ray and D-Von became hugely popular with the fans, and this only escalated further throughout their championship pursuits in 2000 where they engaged in a legendary TLC match against Matt and Jeff Hardy and Edge and Christian at SummerSlam. The match was so over that the WWE booked it again, this time at WrestleMania, and TLC 2 became the stuff of legend that is still talked about today. The Dudleys won the world tag titles nine times under the WWE banner, then went on to leave the company and endure global success, including an amazing run in TNA, until they returned for one final run in the company in 2015.
4 Rob Van Dam
From the time that Rob Van Dam stepped foot into the ECW Arena for the first time in 1996, he truly was "The Whole F'n Show". Freakishly athletic and possessing one of the most unique, unorthodox move-sets in all pro wrestling, the cool, calm, and charismatic Van Dam became an instant hit with wrestling audiences and the longest-reigning ECW World Television Champion went on to join the WWE in 2001 as part of the Invasion angle.
While Rob Van Dam was a member of The Alliance, a faction of invading heels from WCW and ECW, the fans simply refused to boo him. Years later, in 2006, Van Dam finally climbed to the top of the mountain at WWE's ECW One Night Stand pay per view where he defeated John Cena to win the WWE championship. Van Dam was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as part of the 2021 class of inductees, and most recently appeared as a special guest on a May 2023 edition of WWE Raw. Could "Mr. Monday Night" have one last run in him before he hangs the boots up for good?
3 Chris Jericho
Very few wrestlers have been able to continually evolve and adapt to the changing scenes of professional wrestling better than Chris Jericho. A guaranteed future Hall of Famer, Jericho first began to demand attention in ECW in 1996 where the talented, young, and up-and-coming blue chipper went on to win the ECW TV Championship. After a stint in WCW, he would eventually join the WWE in 1999.
A hugely popular heel and a naturally talented performer, Jericho could do it all, and this culminated in him becoming Undisputed WWE Champion at Vengeance in 2001 where he defeated "Stone Cold" Steve Austinand The Rock on the same night. While he finally left the WWE in 2018, Jericho continued to reinvent himself in Japan and is currently a main-event star in All Elite Wrestling. It remains to be seen if Jericho has one last WWE run in him in the future when his time in AEW comes to an end.
2 Eddie Guerrero
A hugely important surname helped the man who became known as "Latino Heat" make his first baby steps in professional wrestling in the late 1980s, but it wasn't until Eddie Guerrero arrived in ECW in 1995 after enjoying success in Mexico and Japan that the Western audience first took notice of this future world heavyweight champion. In an era that was dominated by big men and veterans, the young Guerrero was poised to break down barriers in America, and he found himself enjoying a five-year run in WCW's Cruiserweight division. Although, by 2000, Guerrero was beginning to come into his own, and he joined WWE that same year.
After taking a break away from the company, Eddie Guerrero would return in 2002 and the rest, as they say, is history. A new fire had been lit, and Latino Heat was about to become the biggest babyface in the company, despite his use of trademark heel tactics. The fans couldn't get enough of Guerrero and his lovable antics and his unmatchable passion and charisma. Everything came full circle for Guerrero when he won the WWE Championship in an absolutely incredible match against Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 20. Guerrero would sadly pass away at only the age of 38 in 2005, leaving behind one of the greatest WWE success stories of all time.
1 "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
When wrestling fans of all ages think of WWE, one of the wrestlers that instantly comes to mind is the legendary "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. A multiple-time world champion, a pop-culture icon, and a true household name, Austin completely dominated the world of professional wrestling during his time spent in the WWE in the 1990s and early 2000s. After a stint in WCW, Austin befriended Paul Heyman, who worked for WCW as a manager and even managed Austin during his WCW tenure. Heyman of course went on to be the owner of ECW and when Heyman learned that Austin was a free agent, he jumped at the chance to snap the future Hall of Famer to a contract.
It was in ECW that Austin was given a microphone and a platform to develop himself and truly find his character and that of course landed him in the WWE in 1995. Then, in 1996, he was rebranded as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, a smash-mouth brawler with an uncensored attitude to his promos who popped arenas whenever he would show up. Austin retired from active in-ring competition at WrestleMania 19, giving fans the final closing chapter to the storybook rivalry between "Stone Cold" and The Rock. Austin did, however, return for one more match in 2022 against Kevin Owens at WrestleMania 38, and hasn't closed the door on wrestling for WWE again in the future.