Four years ago this month, WWE’s ECW brand was permanently shut down. It was announced by Vince McMahon in early February 2010 that the show would cease to exist and would be replaced by a new revolutionary concept called NXT, which has now become the company’s developmental territory.
Many fans are quick to point out that ECW wasn’t extreme at all in its later years following the departures of ECW originals such as Tommy Dreamer, Sabu, Sandman and others. However, they often forget that the brand featured some of the best wrestling of any other WWE show at the time.
From 2006 to 2010, a number of Superstars got their start in the Land of Extreme and eventually went on to become some of the company’s biggest names. Other established veterans such as Mark Henry, Christian and Matt Hardy used ECW as a place to rejuvenate their characters and embark on title reigns they otherwise wouldn’t have had on either of the main shows.
Here, in the debut of my new weekly ranking column entitled Smark My Words, I will list the top 10 names that benefited the most from their time on ECW and have had successful careers since their debut. Ranking criteria will include the Superstar’s list of accolades upon graduating from ECW, what they accomplished during their time on the show, lasting power in WWE and more.
10. Evan Bourne
Debuting in June 2008, Evan Bourne immediately got himself noticed with his spectacular Shooting Star Press finishing maneuver. Although he didn’t embark on much of a winning streak while on ECW, he engaged in feuded with the likes of Mike Knox, Matt Hardy and Mark Henry.
Bourne jumped ship to Raw a year later, competing in his first match for the brand against then-WWE Champion Randy Orton. From there, Bourne would score various victories and challenge for the United States Championship on several occasions.
During the summer of 2010, Bourne received the biggest push of his career, teaming with John Cena to defeat Edge and Sheamus on the May 31 edition of Raw. He would go on to defeat Chris Jericho at the Fatal 4-Way pay-per-view and have a show-stealing performance in the Raw Money in the Bank Ladder match.
The former ECW Superstar received his first taste of gold in WWE when he and Kofi Kingston won the WWE Tag Team Championships in August 2011. As Air Boom, the two reignited the tag team division and reigned as champs for the remainder of the year.
Although he has been out of action since March 2012 due to suffering a serious foot injury, Bourne is due back any time now and should make an splash upon his return.
9. Tyson Kidd
Tyson Kidd arrived on ECW on the Feb. 10, 2009 episode, defeating a local athlete. He was accompanied by his real-life girlfriend Natalya and was later joined by the returning David Hart Smith, forming The Hart Dynasty.
Although Kidd’s time in ECW was brief, he made a name for himself in matches against Evan Bourne, Christian and Finlay. As The Hart Dynasty built more momentum, they were moved to the SmackDown brand that summer and immediately began chasing the WWE Tag Team Championships.
He and Smith finally won the twin titles in April 2010 and embarked on a lengthy reign for the better part of the year. They went their separate ways that November and Kidd was back to being a singles competitor for the first time since his ECW tenure.
Kidd switched to the SmackDown brand the following year, but spent most of his time on NXT: Redemption feuding with Yoshi Tatsu and Michael McGillicutty and having great matches. He joined forces with Justin Gabriel in the spring of 2012 and lit the tag team division on fire before being sidelined with an injury in early 2013.
The former tag team champion returned this past November, but has sparingly appeared on wWE TV since then. Here’s hoping WWE comes to their senses soon and reunites him with Gabriel in the tag team division.
8. Zack Ryder
Zack Ryder made his WWE debut on the ECW brand in May 2007 alongside Curt Hawkins. The two jumped ship to SmackDown a few short months later and were placed in a high profile program with then-World Heavyweight Champion Edge.
Competing as The Edgeheads, Ryder and Hawkins were prominently featured on SmackDown for most of 2008 and even captured the WWE Tag Team Championships in their hometown of Long Island that July. Once they parted ways in April 2009, Ryder was sent back to his stomping grounds of ECW.
Ryder resurfaced on ECW the following month, sporting an all-new look and gimmick. Now known as The Long Island Iced Z, Ryder reinvented himself and made 2009 his year, challenging for the ECW Championship on multiple occasions and ending the career of Tommy Dreamer.
Upon the closure of the ECW brand in early 2010, Ryder floundered on Raw for the remainder of the year. In an attempt to get himself noticed, he debuted his “Z! True Long Island Story” web series on YouTube in February 2011, and sure enough, he succeeded.
In the months that followed, Ryder built a major social media following and was leader of what he referred to as the “Ryder Revolution”. He finally became a mainstay on the flagship show that July before moving into a feud with Dolph Ziggler over the United States Championship in the final few months of the year.
Ryder reached the pinacle of his career at December’s TLC pay-per-view, winning the United States Championship to a massive ovation. WWE killed all of his momentum in the new year by having him drop the star-spangled prize relatively quickly and feeding him to Kane.
Since then, Ryder has been largely been utilized as an enhancement talent, but there is no denying that his time in ECW helped him score as much success as he did in becoming one of the most popular wrestlers of 2011.
7. Bobby Lashley
Initially, Bobby Lashley was a SmackDown Superstar in 2005, but didn’t make a true splash in WWE until making his way over to ECW in late 2006. In his first match for the ECW brand, Lashley won an Extreme Elimination Chamber match at New Year’s Revolution to win the ECW Championship.
Lashley built major momentum by defending the strap on a regular basis and becoming a force to be reckonwed with. He received mainstream media attention when he aligned with Donald Trump to feud with Vince McMahon and Umaga, defeating the Samoan Bulldozer in a Battle of the Billionaires match on the grand stage of WrestleMania 23.
A few short months later, Lashley moved over to Raw and became the No. 1 contender to John Cena’s WWE Championship. Although he ultimately came up short of capturing the gold, competing in the main event of a pay-per-view against the face of the company is still an impressive accomplishment.
Lashley’s hot streak came to a screeching halt shortly thereafter when he suffered a injury that kept him out of action for six months. He was released from his WWE contract in February 2008 before he could make his return to television.
6. John Morrison
Similar to Bobby Lashley, John Morrison was originally property of Raw and SmackDown early on in his career a part of MNM and during his run as Intercontinental champion. However, it wasn’t until his move to ECW in June 2007 that the former Johnny Nitro solidified himself as a singles star.
Repackaged as John Morrison, he won his first match for the brand at Vengeance against CM Punk to become the new ECW Champion. He reigned as champ for the next three months before dropping the strap to Punk in September.
It was also during his time on ECW that he formed a tag team with The Miz and quickly captured the WWE Tag Team Championships that November. He and Miz became the one most entertaining acts in the WWE and maintained possession of the twin titles for a whopping eight months. They would also enjoy a reign as World Tag Team champions in early 2009.
Following his split from Miz in April 2009, Morrison was set to be pushed to the top of the SmackDown brand as one of its top stars. He defeated CM Punk multiple times and even contended for the World Heavyweight Championship against Jeff Hardy on one occasion.
He won the Intercontinental Championship that September and held the title for the remainder of the year. He was moved to the Raw brand in April 2010 and wasn’t featured much at all until the the fall, where he feuded with Sheamus and defeated him at Survivor Series and TLC.
Morrison competed for the WWE Championship for the first time in his career on the premiere episode of Raw in 2011 against his former friend Miz, but came up short. He would have strong showings at Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber before emerging victorious in a six-person tag team match at WrestleMania 27.
The Shaman of Sexy challenged for the WWE title once again in the main event of Extreme Rules in May, but was unsuccessful. WWE dropping the ball on his push upon his return from injury that summer was a factor in his departure from the company that November.
Although he had success long before joining ECW, The Land of Extreme definitely aided Morrison in giving him an all-new image and a persona that fans could connect with, making him into a likable babyface down the line.
5. Jack Swagger
During Teddy Long’s reign as ECW General Manager, he implemented the New Superstar Initiative that brought fresh faces to the brand. Among the names brought in was Jack Swagger, who immediately made an impact by going undefeated in singles competition for five straight months.
In the midst of his undefeated streak, Swagger captured the ECW Championship and proclaimed himself a “prodigy”. With wins over Matt Hardy, Finlay, Tommy Dreamer and Christian, it was hard to argue with him.
Following his loss of the ECW title in April, Swagger was moved to the Raw brand where he worked a brief feud with MVP, who he lost to at SummerSlam. The rest of his tenure on the flagship show was lackluster, but it wasn’t until he jumped ship to SmackDown where he found success as a Money in the Bank winner and World Heavyweight champion.
Since then, Swagger’s career has floundered for the most part, but he still maintains a presence on WWE TV to this day. He is currently one half of The Real Americans and one of the best all-around athletes in the company.
4. Kofi Kingston
Based off the vignettes that aired prior to his debut, many fans expected Kofi Kingston to be nothing more than a smiley babyface that was saddled with a stereotypical Jamaican gimmick. Although that was the case at first, he quickly proved that he would be much more than just that.
Kingston officially debuted on ECW in January 2008 and entered a feud with Shelton Benjamin, culminating in an excellent Extreme Rules match that June. From there, Kingston was drafted to Raw and won his first match as a member of the roster at Night of Champions for the Intercontinental Championship against Chris Jericho.
Over the course of the next five years, Kingston would capture another three Intercontinental titles, three United States Championships and three WWE Tag Team Championships. To say he has had a successful career in WWE would be understatement, as his long list of accolades basically speak for themselves.
While I don’t ever expect Kingston to be a main event player in WWE, he has had a tremendous run thus far and it all started with his debut in The Land of Extreme.
3. The Miz
Being from The Real World, no one expected Mike “The Miz” Mizanin to make it far in WWE, much less make it all. However, he soon proved all the naysayers wrong by having one of the most decorated careers in modern memory.
He was another Superstar who started off on SmackDown that didn’t find his niche until moving to ECW in June 2007. As the newly repacked Chick Magnet, The Miz made himself one of the most hated heels in all of the WWE with his above average mic skills.
With John Morrison, Miz beaome a two-time tag team champion on ECW and defeated a long list of wrestlers on both Raw and SmackDown. Many people saw him falling off the face of the earth once his partnership with John Morrison dissolved, but it was quite the opposite.
Once he left ECW for Raw in April 2009, Miz immediately entered a feud with John Cena. This set the stage for what else was to come during his time on the flagship show including a reign as Unified Tag Team champion, two reigns as Intercontinental champion, two reigns as United States champion and even a reign as WWE champion.
During his time at the top of WWE, Miz headlined WrestleMania 27 with Cena, defeating him in the middle of the ring to retain his title on The Grandest Stage of Them All. Everything he has accomplished since then has paled in comparison to that moment, but without the Chick Magnet persona he debuted in ECW, there’s no telling where he would have gone in WWE if anywhere at all.
In the first half of 2009, I heard quite a bit of rumblings regarding Sheamus O’Shaunessy, who at the time was making a name for himself down in Florida Championship Wrestling. So, I figured it was only a matter of time before he was called up to the main roster.
Sure enough, he made his official WWE debut on the June 30 edition of ECW a part of the New Superstar Initiative. He said he was there to claim ECW as his own, but as time would tell, Sheamus would go on to dominate more than just the ECW brand.
After spending only four months in The Land of Extreme, Sheamus jumped ship to Raw in October. In his second ever match for the brand, he ended the in-ring career of Jamie Noble.
In subsequent weeks, Sheamus won would a Survivor Series elimination tag team match, kick the head of Jerry Lawler off and attack Mark Cuban. It all led to Sheamus shockingly capturing the WWE Championship from John Cena in a Tables match at TLC in December.
From there, Sheamus would go on to have an incredible amount of success in WWE, enjoying reigns as WWE champion, United States champion, and World Heavyweight champion. He’d also engage in memorable feuds with the likes of Triple H, Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton and others.
As a face, Sheamus is currently one of the most popular Superstars in the company. Say what you will about his lack of direction at the moment, but there is no denying that he can flat out go in the ring and make his opponent look even better in the process.
Granted, The Celtic Warrior’s time in ECW was brief, but it was there that he first started out and make a proclamation that he would take the WWE by storm. As it turned out, he was right.
1. CM Punk
When ECW was first brought back in June 2006, the brand mostly consisted of ECW originals such as Tommy Dreamer, Rob Van Dam, and Sandman. When wrestlers from Raw and SmackDown competed on the Tuesday night program, they were largely resented (see: Batista vs. Big Show).
However, there was one newcomer that was immediately embraced by the hardcore fans of ECW. While he was straightedge, he claimed to have only one addiction: wrestling. His name was CM Punk.
The video packages promoting Punk all led up to his in-ring debut on the Aug. 1 edition of ECW, where he defeated Justin Credible. He’d remain undefeated in singles competition for another number of months.
Despite his growing popularity in ECW, Punk hadn’t won the ECW Championship yet. He chased John Morrison for the strap for all of summer 2007, but was unsuccessful.
It wasn’t until the Sept. 4 episode that Punk finally won the top prize in The Land of Extreme, only a small sign of what was to come in his illustrious career. It also during his time on ECW that he won the Money in the Bank Ladder match at WrestleMania 24, where he solidified himself as a future main event player in WWE.
Once he moved to Raw that June and successfully cashed in his contract to become the World Heavyweight champion, Punk became an instant star. Although he was lost in the shuffle on Raw during his world title reign, he would travel to SmackDown and engage in one of the best feuds in the last five years with Jeff Hardy.
Since then, Punk has had quite the career in WWE as a former three-time world champion, an Intercontinental champion and World Tag Team champion. He is also the only Superstar in history that can claim that he won two Money in the Bank Ladder matches back-to-back in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
While he may not be currently in the WWE (or at least for now), there is no questioning that Punk was by far the best thing to come out of WWE’s reboot of ECW. He was the focal point of the show for nearly two years before being promoted to the main shows and taking advantage of the opportunities he was presented with.
Similar to every other wrestler mentioned in the list, ECW served as the stomping grounds for Punk before he became what is today. The brand may not have been as “extreme” as many people wanted it to be, but it surely played a part in the careers of many, helping form the foundation for the future.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham “GSM” Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website at Next Era Wrestling and “like” his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.