Shane Douglas christened Extreme Championship Wrestling on August 27, 1994, when he dramatically threw down the NWA World Championship in favor of the extreme. The company technically existed for about two years before that, when Tod Gordon created NWA: Eastern Championship Wrestling in 1992. ECW would air its final show in 2001, officially closing in April of that year when new owner Paul Heyman declared bankruptcy. At its worst, ECW was just a bunch of violent crap, outright endangering the well being of the wrestlers and even the fans for ultimately meaningless reactions. At its best, ECW produced the absolute greatest wrestling of the 1990’s.
ECW was the third most successful wrestling promotion in America while it existed, but it still distantly trailed behind WWE and WCW. They eventually held a national TV deal for about a year, and aired Pay-Per-Views for about four, but the majority of their output came in the form of an hour-long syndicated recap show called Hardcore TV. Thanks to the WWE Network, the majority of these matches can be viewed in full for the first time in years as they aired on that show, without spending months trying to track down rare VHS tapes. If you’re a younger fan or maybe you just missed the ECW boat, these 15 matches should prove how important, influence, and of course, extreme, the company that helped launched the Attitude Era could regularly get.
15 Jerry Lynn vs. Rob Van Dam - Hardcore Heaven, 1999
Rob Van Dam held the ECW Television Championship for nearly two years, and the only person to even come close to taking it away from him was Jerry Lynn. In an earlier match, Lynn actually took RVD to the limit and a match ended in a time limit draw, something Mr. Pay-Per-View could hardly even believe. Jim Ross has often said wrestling isn’t ballet, but the start of this match doesn’t come far off, with Lynn and Van Dam so effortlessly flowing with each other they glide through the ring. The story sees Van Dam’s showboating grow to a fever pitch until he finally has to accept Lynn is perhaps his most skilled opponent and stop celebrating himself for long enough to keep Lynn down. RVD does eventually defeat Lynn after a Five Star Frog Splash, but even the Whole F’n Show needs to offer a high five of respect to his fallen foe.
14 Sabu vs. Too Cold Scorpio - CyberSlam, 1996
Sabu is regarded as one of the primary legends of ECW, but Too Cold Scorpio rarely gets his full due. At CyberSlam 1996, the two of them absolutely stole the show, with a 30-minute time limit draw that left the crowd begging for “5 more minutes” while they gave the match a standing ovation. Scorpio was in his fourth and final ECW Television title reign and Sabu was receiving his first title shot since returning to the company after a year-long hiatus, making the crowd ravenous for high flying, death defying action. Both men repeatedly make daring leaps into the crowd, sometimes holding chairs or crashing through tables. Sabu’s resilience never dies, though, and Scorpio’s ego won’t let him lose, so although Too Cold got to keep the title, both men walked out looking stronger than ever.
13 Rey Mysterio, Jr. vs Juventud Guerrera - Big Ass Extreme Bash, 1996
WCW gets all the credit for the cruiserweight revolution of the late 1990’s, but as with many innovations of the ‘90’s, it actually began in ECW. Like in WCW, the standout star was always Rey Mysterio, Jr., who debuted as a protégé of Konnan and quickly wowed fans with his matches against Psicosis. He kept stunning worldwide audiences in a series of matches with Juventud Guerrera the next year. This Two-Out-of-Three Falls match is our pick for the best of the lot, adding lightning quick luchadore touches to the classic formats already popular in American wrestling. Mysterio won the match with two consecutive falls despite losing the first one, and virtually every luchadore to appear in ECW would end up in WCW before the year was over.
12 Terry Funk vs. Bret Hart - Wrestle Fest, 1997
ECW truly mastered the feeling that you never knew who might show up, so it is likely both shocking and completely understandable that Bret Hart would have wrestled on a show they promoted while he was WWE World Champion. Funk was nearing the end of his run in ECW, and obviously this was Bret’s only match with the company, but both wrestled with the conviction of hungry newcomers. The match is as wild and hardcore as anything the two had been known for and kept the crowd on their feet cheering for the Funker in what would be his final ECW bout. Hart won after a double pin where only he got his shoulder up, and though upset at first to see their hero lose, the crowd gave both men a loud ovation when they shook hands after the match.
11 Beulah McGillicutty vs. Bill Alfonso - As Good As It Gets, 1997
ECW has an unfortunate track record with misogyny, but this match was the rare intergender match that doesn’t even come close to the concept, because Mrs. Tommy Dreamer beats the hell out of Bill Alfonso. She starts by busting Fonzie open, and continues hitting him in his wound so powerfully and repeatedly they would both be completely covered in his blood before the match was over. Neither of the two are trained mat wrestlers, so it’s hardly a technical classic, but the match is everything ECW could be, with years worth of storylines paying off in the most violently satisfying manner possible. Beulah pinned Fonzie after debuting the Beulah-carana.
10 Steve Corino vs. Yoshihiro Tajiri - Hardcore Heaven, 2000
ECW lost lots of big name stars to WWE and WCW, but great wrestlers kept sticking around until the end, including Steve Corino and Yoshihiro Tajiri. This match is somewhat controversial as a direct result of Corino making openly and obviously racist comments to Tajiri immediately before it, which then lead to the Japanese Buzzsaw absolutely beating the hell out of Corino for the better part of ten minutes. Racism is one of a few touchy subjects that should never really be used in wrestling, but we’ll accept it in this one case for inspiring such an incredible, hard-hitting, violent match. The crowd loudly support Tajiri the whole time, too, so there’s no embarrassing undertones watching it in hindsight. The match reaches its legendary status after Corino gets a cut on his forehead and Tajiri slides into him with a kick, splattering Corino’s blood onto the camera. Eight minutes of increasingly stiff kicks later, Tajiri pinned Corino for the win.
9 The Great Sasuke, Gran Hamada and Masato Yukushiji vs. bWo Japan - Barely Legal, 1997
Most people remember ECW for redefining hardcore, and most of the matches on this list are why, but ECW also regularly featured the best wrestling of virtually every style on the planet. They defined brawling for the new era, and helped usher in the Mexican luchadore style to America, but somehow it’s often forgotten they also featured one of the greatest Japanese style matches of the ‘90’s on their first Pay-Per-View. It’s kind of a strange match, with Taka Michinoku, Dick Togo and Terry Boy creating the weird parody of nWo Japan that was bWo Japan, but the technical skill and incredible energy all six men bring to the bout can’t be ignored. bWo Japan lost after Sasuke pinned Taka, continuing a feud that would span multiple countries and promotions.
8 The Unholy Alliance vs. Kid Kash and Super Crazy - Massacre on 34th Street, 2000
The best matches in the final year of ECW featured cruiserweights reliving the wild, hardcore luchador matches Rey Mysterio, Jr. and company made famous in the company five years earlier. Super Crazy and Tajiri were the two true standouts, and Mikey Whipwreck and Kid Kash were no slags at the style, either. This match saw Super Crazy allowed to pick a partner of his choice against his former teammates, and the crowd loudly approved of his choice in Kid Kash. Everyone in the match in some way or another flies through a few tables, until ultimately Yoshihiro manages to Stomp on Super Crazy enough times he stays down for a three count.
7 Al Snow vs. Chris Benoit - Double Tables, 1995
Many would prefer to forget anything and everything dealing with Chris Benoit, but allowing this match to go ignored would be a huge disservice to the work of Al Snow. Benoit was a well-known name gaining traction based on his performances in NJPW and WCW, slowly taking over ECW as The Crippler. This match was only Snow’s second in ECW, although he, too, was building a reputation in independent promotions as a solid ring technician. For this match, Snow would mostly portray his skills as a solid bump machine, taking endless suplexes, landing on his head and getting back up countless times over the span of the 15 minute onslaught. Benoit won the match and had the better reputation in wrestling (at least for the next decade), but it was The Snowman who made it memorable.
6 Too Cold Scorpio vs. Shane Douglas vs. Pitbull #2 vs. Chris Jericho - Heat Wave, 1996
ECW often had far more talent than it knew what to do with, and almost no time to use it before promotions with more money signed wrestlers away to big contracts. To fight this, they would occasionally rush as many wrestlers as possible into the ring at once, combining feuds and angles together as necessary in order to make sense of it. One of the finest examples of this was this Four-Way Elimination Match for the ECW Television title. Jericho came into the match as champion, despite spending by far the least time in the company. He was also eliminated first, but not until 25 minutes went by. Scorpio lasted about five minutes longer, and Pitbull #2 and the Franchise pulled off a solid 10-minute solo match after that first half-hour of carnage. Douglas held the ECW World title for over a year before switching it up to challenge for the TV belt, and matches like this show how that was in no way a downgrade.
5 Sabu & Bobby Eaton vs. Terry Funk & Arn Anderson - When Worlds Collide, 1994
One of the trademarks of early ECW was the “dream partner” tag match. Two feuding ECW wrestlers would get their choice of a “dream partner” from any promotion in the world, made possible due to strong relationships with both WCW and WWE. In this early example, ECW rivals Sabu and Terry Funk were pitted against one another with partners of their choice. Sabu went with Bobby Eaton and The Funker went with Arn Anderson. The match is as hard hitting and technical as fans would expect, ending in a perhaps unsurprising manner as well: proving one more time that you never trust a Horseman. Arn turned on the Funker. Combined with interference from the Public Enemy, the 5-on-1 onslaught was far too much for even Terry Funk, allowing Sabu and Eaton an easy win.
4 Cactus Jack vs. Mikey Whipwreck - Big Ass Extreme Bash, 1996
Mikey Whipwreck was in many ways the purest fan avatar any wrestling promotion has ever created, and this match served as his and ECW’s way to say goodbye to Cactus Jack. Cactus was a heel for a long time in ECW, but he was always respected for being the embodiment of hardcore, a stigma that would stick with him his entire career. Mikey was his trainee, friend, and tag team partner, who stuck with him even when he turned heel to join Raven’s evil schemes against Tommy Dreamer. Mikey finally got fed up with Cactus just prior to this match, and gave his mentor everything he had as a way to tell Cactus he taught Mikey everything he needed to know about being a hardcore wrestler. In both of their cases, that means taking one hell of an ass kicking and surviving, which Mikey does for some time, until one piledriver too many gives Cactus the win. The icing on the cake is the match ending the only way Foley knows how to say goodbye in return: giving Mikey a big hug.
3 Dean Malenko vs. Eddie Guerrero - Hostile City Showdown, 1995
Our top two picks will explain there’s more to wrestling than pure, technical acumen, but this match proves there really doesn’t need to be (and forcing it doesn’t always turn out that great, anyway). Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko had a gloriously endless series of matches for the ECW Television title in 1995, feuding over an extremely simple concept. Malenko believed he was the greatest wrestler in the world, but no matter what he did, he couldn’t beat Eddie Guerrero. Their first match was an outstanding showcase of every major style of wrestling that existed at the time, with both men proving they absolutely were the best two wrestlers on the planet at the time. Like many of their battles in the future, this one would end in a time limit draw. Although the bell sounded, both men were clearly ready to keep going at it against each other, which they would for the rest of their careers.
2 The Pitbulls vs. Raven and Stevie Richards - Gangstas Paradise, 1995
The appeal of pro wrestling extends far beyond the matches. The storylines, the characters, and the motivations behind them: these are what draws fans in and entertains millions of people. This is why although it isn’t much of a “match” in the technical sense, the 2/3 Falls Double Dog Collar match for the ECW Tag Team titles between the Pitbulls and the team of Raven and Stevie Richards is considered one of the best matches ECW had to offer, and one of our favorites. It’s a reasonably normal match for the first fall, but rapidly descends into chaos shortly thereafter, starting with Pitbull #2 being replaced by Tommy Dreamer. Referee Bill Alfonso accurately calls this unfair and restarts the match after it seems Dreamer won, but he also seems pretty okay with the fact Raven used an ether-soaked rag a few moments earlier. On top of that, almost every single Dudley interferes to help Raven, but with the help of Dreamer and 911, the Pitbulls rally back and manage to win the titles.
1 Raven and Cactus Jack vs. Terry Funk and Tommy Dreamer, November To Remember, 1995
ECW didn’t last long enough to build their own WrestleMania, but the closest thing they had was November to Remember. As this list has shown, 1995 was probably the best year for the company, both in the ring and in terms of interviews and storylines, at the main event of their biggest show naturally was the climax of the era. Amazingly, the first highlight of the match is as simple as the clothing, with Cactus Jack wearing a Dungeon of Doom t-shirt he eventually takes off in favor of one reading “Forgive Me, Uncle Eric,” calling out the man who fired him from WCW.
Outside of sartorial choices, the match is a bloody, violent classic, with all four men bleeding for their art before the end. It isn’t the technical masterpiece as some other matches we may not have ranked as high, but it’s a top-notch brawl, and that’s what ECW was all about. Terry Funk won the match by pinning Raven, but all four men kept fighting until the show went off the air, while the crowd screamed three letters: ECW! ECW! ECW!