When it comes to pro wrestling in the 1990s, there were only three American promotions that mattered. On the top, Vince McMahon’s WWE Universe and Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling battled it out for brand supremacy, but the biggest wrestling fans around were arguably more interested in the third option: the hardcore Philadelphia known as Extreme Championship Wrestling. The brainchild of future Brock Lesnar’s manager, Paul Heyman, ECW took the violence up to 11 and created gritty, realistic storylines that fans couldn’t see anywhere else.
Although the company never came anywhere near WWE or WCW’s heights, ECW superstars were unquestionably popular, as evidenced every time one of them would jump from Heyman’s company to one of the big ones. Unfortunately for Paul E., this proof presented itself far too often, eventually leaving him with almost no roster. That’s just one of several reasons ECW went out of business, with financial issues plaguing the company from beginning to end.
Things were so bad for so long that most wrestlers who remained with ECW to the very end essentially did so for free. Maybe they had a contract or agreement of some sort with Heyman, but he had long since stopped paying them, making each passing appearance an essential loan from the wrestler to their boss. While the biggest superstars in the company obviously felt this blow the hardest, every single employee of ECW in 2001 was owed at least a few hundred bucks when Heyman declared bankruptcy, with the sole exceptions of Sabu and Steve Corino. We’re not sure how they escaped the problem, but we do know who suffered from it. Keep reading to learn about how Paul Heyman owed Rob Van Dam $150,000, plus 14 other wrestlers who lost money working for ECW.
15. New Jack — Undisclosed Amount
Unhinged and violent to the point he was genuinely terrifying, New Jack took the insanity of ECW to the furthest extent imaginable without actually killing anyone. Perhaps because of his untrustworthy nature, New Jack never rose to the heights of ECW World Champion, though he did reign as Tag Team Champ three times with Mustafa Saed and John Kronus.
Jack also didn’t necessarily need any titles to remain popular with ECW fans, earning huge applause for his reckless antics alone.
Unlike most other ECW stars, neither WWE nor WCW ever gave much thought to hiring Jack due to his insane nature, allowing him to stick with ECW to the very end. Because Jack was such a relatively big star with years of loyalty to his name, his contract was presumably one of the better ones left. However, like almost everyone else on the roster, it didn’t really matter, because he wasn’t getting paid a dime.
14. The Sandman — Undisclosed Amount
On a steady diet of blood, sweat, and beers, The Sandman was amongst the most popular superstars in ECW history. Initially, the violent boozing was supposed to make Sandman a villain, but to the hardcore mutants in Philadelphia, it made him a relatable, everyman icon who would win a record five ECW World Championships. The last of those reigns began and ended at the final ECW Pay-Per-View, showing just how long Sandman stuck it out.
For whatever reason, though, Sandman’s name was among the few on Heyman’s bankruptcy papers who didn’t have an exact number attached to it.
There’s almost no way the freewheeling Sandman had the same deal as the more contentious Steve Corino or Sabu, and his status in the company suggests Heyman should have been paying him a lot, and probably wasn’t. The only guess we have is that Heyman paid Sandman directly in beer, and they didn’t know how to quantify it.
13. Justin Credible — $7,990
Retrospect hasn’t been all that kind to Justin Credible, with some critics going so far as to claim his lengthy reign as ECW World Champion directly contributed to fans losing interest in the company. In fairness, though, Credible was a decent enough performer, and his time in the tag division as half of The Impact Players with Lance Storm produced some of the rare bright spots in the company’s later period. It also can’t be denied Credible stayed with Paul Heyman until ECW’s very last Pay-Per-View, usually playing a major role and participating in main events.
Even if Credible wasn’t that great, he deserved a decent wage for his work, and perhaps a little something extra in likeness rights, since his face was all over ECW advertising at the time.
12. Dawn Marie — $9,000
Bubbly, lightheaded, and always dancing around like a cheerleader while half-naked, Dawn Marie was essentially the woman of every man in the ECW audience’s dreams. She was also extremely supportive of her men, be they original client Lance Storm, his future partner Justin Credible in the Impact Players, or her then-real boyfriend Simon Diamond. In fact, when Storm jumped from ECW to WCW, Dawn was offered a contract as well, but she chose to stick with Paul Heyman so she could remain close to Diamond. Its also possible ECW gave Dawn more freedom than WCW ever would have, allowing her to occasionally perform color commentary and experiment as a talent.
Noble as that is, it’s somewhat hard to understand, because WCW would have at least paid the poor woman, which was something Heyman wouldn’t even try to do.
11. Mikey Whipwreck — $12,000
Forget about James Ellsworth, Rey Mysterio, or anyone else WWE tried to sell as an “underdog.” No one in wrestling history looked more like a born loser than the small, scrawny, uncoordinated Mikey Whipwreck, and yet the power of perseverance turned the kid into an ECW Triple Crown Champion. The transformation was possible because Whipwreck was genuinely a huge hardcore wrestling fan, involved with ECW from the very beginning as a stagehand who helped set up the ring. His fandom paid off when Mick Foley offered to train him, after which Mikey became one of the most consistently popular names in ECW.
A brief stint to WCW didn’t quite take, so Mikey spent almost his entire career working for Paul Heyman.
He remained a big deal near the end, teaming with Yoshihiro Tajiri as the Unholy Alliance and earning one last Tag Team Championship reign. Too bad Paul Heyman had long since stopped paying him to do so.
10. Roadkill — $21,250
Those who don’t remember ECW that well are probably wondering what a plus-sized Amish man is doing on this list — and that’s before learning all he ever did was yell the word “CHICKENS” in a gruff manner. Quite frankly, even knowing the full story behind Roadkill, the answer is a little confusing. Even stranger is the fact Paul Heyman managed to rack up a fairly considerable with Roadkill, despite the wrestler only spending a few short years in the company, and breaking out as a star just before ECW went under. That said, the breakout did happen, and the Angry Amish Chicken Plucker as he was known, did indeed become a minor star as half of the final ECW Tag Team Champions with Danny Doring. Oddly, Doring was owed a mere $2,100 when Heyman declared bankruptcy, suggesting his partner’s Amish kindness may have seriously screwed himself over.
9. Little Guido — $25,000
Given how Little Guido, better known as Nunzio, was used in the WWE Universe, it may be a surprise to some younger fans that he was actually a moderately big deal in ECW. Believe it or not, Guido was actually one of the longest-tenured employees in ECW history, making appearances as a jobber in the company’s first year and lasting all the way to the final Pay-Per-View. Along the way, he also evolved into a solid mid-card tag team performer and the leader of the Full Blooded Italians. With this group, Guido won the ECW Tag Team Championships twice, first with old-school wrestler Tracy Smothers and then with cruiserweight Tony Mamaluke.
With or without gold, Guido was always the FBI’s standout and most entertaining member, making him an extremely memorable face to ECW fans.
8. Francine — $47,275
Foxy, sultry, and dare we say, just a little bit trashy, Francine was the sort of woman most ECW fans only got to read about in magazines. Her initial appearances as a bubbly Stevie Richards super fan didn’t quite set the world on fire, but by the time she dug into her inner witch and stood beside Shane Douglas as his “Head Cheerleader,” Francine was a force to be reckoned with all on her own.
Regardless of her output, it’s also noteworthy that Francine was the longest-tenured female employee in the company, starting when she hopped out of the crowd to fawn over Richards and lasting until the final Pay-Per-View.
She also managed more ECW World Champions than anyone else, with Douglas, Justin Credible, and Tommy Dreamer. Amazingly, though, not even Francine’s unique beauty could get Paul Heyman to actually sign her paychecks.
7. Shane Douglas — $48,000
Love him or hate him, no one wrestler did more to make the letters “ECW” mainstream than “The Franchise” Shane Douglas. Despite the company having already existed for two full years, most people cite the true birth of extreme as the moment Douglas threw down his newly won NWA World Championship and declared himself the Champion of EC F’N W instead. Douglas went on to hold that title for nearly a full year, before making an ill-advised and short-lived jump to WWE. When the Franchise returned, he quickly earned an equally lengthy reign as ECW TV Champion, followed by second and third ECW World title reigns, the latter of which lasted even longer than his first. Shortly after Douglas’s last reign was over, he decided to leave the company for good, choosing to work for the similarly doomed WCW instead. Despite WCW’s dire straits, it’s hard to blame Shane for this choice, considering Paul Heyman apparently hadn’t paid him for months prior to his departure.
6. Rhino — $50,000
A far cry from the Southern-fried comedy character he plays today, Rhino was arguably Paul Heyman’s last true monster, and at a mere 25 years old when ECW went out of business, a genuine rookie sensation. When the company officially closed its doors, Rhino was both the ECW World and TV Champion, unquestionably making him Paul Heyman’s top star. While he didn’t entertain quite the same winning streak, Rhino was in some respects ECW’s Goldberg, a force of nature that couldn’t be stopped, destroying everything in sight.
This sheer destruction, combined with Heyman’s clear faith in the guy, meant Rhino was immediately given a pretty hefty contract despite not spending much time in ECW.
Maybe Paul E.’s thought process was that the inexperienced rookie wouldn’t realize companies are actually supposed to pay employees what their contracts say they had to. The plus side is that the double gold also made Rhino a key player for ECW during the Invasion, and Vince McMahon would actually pay him well for serving that role.
5. Joey Styles — $50,480
From a technical standpoint, it might be said no one talked about ECW more than the company’s lead announcer, Joey Styles. Aside from a few months in the company’s first year on TV, Styles was often the sole voice calling the action for almost every video release ECW would create. Near the end, he occasionally had a co-host like Rick Rude, Dawn Marie, or Joel Gertner, yet even then, Styles did 80 per cent of the talking, with the others generally just offering jokes and innuendo.
Styles did this entirely out of love for wrestling and a genuine belief that ECW was the best in the world at providing sports entertainment, but the man still had to eat and make a decent living.
Because of this, he actually left the company fairly early on to try and work elsewhere, only for Heyman to talk him back with a slightly better contract. This worked for a few years, until Heyman did what Heyman does and stopped paying it, forcing Styles to work for free during the last few months of ECW’s life.
4. Tommy Dreamer — $100,000
Aside from Paul Heyman, no person worked harder to keep ECW in business than Tommy Dreamer. In fact, by the time it was all said and done, “the heart and soul” of ECW may have been doing even more than Heyman to try and keep ECW alive. Whenever Paul E. left Philadelphia to meet with investors or perform outside business, Dreamer would take up his executive duties, booking the show and putting together its television shows and Pay-Per-Views. Dreamer also remained a steady performer inside the ring, wrestling shockingly hardcore matches on a nightly basis and upholding his status as the “Innovator of Violence.”
This allowed Tommy to remain one of the most popular wrestlers in the company, a status he held practically the entire time it was in business.
3. Rob Van Dam — $150,000
Despite never winning the ECW World Championship during the company’s original run, there’s almost no denying Rob Van Dam was the most popular wrestler it produced. Much of his fame and popularity was attained in the years 1998 to 2000, when he reigned as ECW TV Champion for almost two straight years before being forced to vacate the title due to injury. Proudly calling himself Mr. Monday Night, part of RVD’s gimmick suggested he constantly received offers from WWE and WCW, which was at least a little bit true, meaning Paul Heyman had to offer him a pretty sweet deal to stay in the smaller promotion.
Clearly, he did, but in classic Paul E. fashion, it was an entirely empty gesture, because ECW couldn’t pay RVD any part of his six-figure contract.
2. Vince McMahon — $587,500
Wait, what? No, but really. And hey, it’s not that surprising — after all, Vince McMahon is a former ECW World Champion.
Of course, that didn’t happen until the real ECW had been out of business for a few years, long after the WWE CEO learned he would never get back the half a million dollars he had loaned Paul Heyman in the time his company was still around.
Once one really stops and thinks about it, though, it’s not all that surprising McMahon would let Heyman “borrow” his money. Before the days of NXT, companies like WWE and WCW didn’t really have any training grounds where go-to talent learned how to perform on live or semi-live television. ECW provided such a place, and it made minor stars out of people Vince wasn’t sure about promoting yet, giving him an idea of what they could do. All that said, a half million bucks is nonetheless a massive amount of money to give a company that couldn’t stay afloat on its own. Perhaps Vince only brought the brand back and made himself champion to show who was really in charge all along.
1. Paul Heyman — $7.5 Million+
In all fairness, this list has been incredibly hard on Paul Heyman over the fact he never paid his wrestlers the large amounts of money they were promised. While there’s no denying Heyman has some culpability in promising that which he couldn’t give, it’s not like he was withholding pay for greedy or nefarious reasons. The fact was, Heyman simply couldn’t possibly pay any of his employee’s contracts, because ECW cost him more money personally than it did every wrestler he employed combined.
When declaring bankruptcy, Heyman claimed he had just under $1.4 million in the bank, which sounds like a pretty penny on paper. However, his combined contracts and business deals added up to nearly $8.9 million, leaving him a cool $7.5 million in debt.
Of course, the whole point of declaring bankruptcy is that Heyman never actually paid any of this money, but there’s no doubt he had already poured millions into his failed investment on the extreme.
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