That sums up the influence and legacy left by ECW, whose 2001 demise as a standalone promotion has done nothing to mute the memories. While WCW and their best pay per views are certainly still cherished today, the attitude toward ECW sparks a different set of emotions. ECW tapped into our primal sides like nothing before or after it.
Between 1997 and 2001, Extreme Championship Wrestling, admittedly my sentimental favourite promotion, held 21 pay per views - some truly special, and some that were "extreme" in the sense of being "extremely (insert your favourite pejorative descriptor here)". Nonetheless, the world was a better place with ECW around, in my estimation. There aren't enough promotions otherwise that soundtrack their shows with enough Metallica and Alice in Chains for my liking.
And just a heads up, this list does not include any of the "WWECW" productions. Otherwise, the One Night Stands would be fighting for the best view from the top, while December to Dismember would be cellar-dwelling with...well, you'll see in a moment. Away we go.
21. Wrestlepalooza 1998
Paul Heyman has intimated that the reason why Barely Legal was never again used as a pay per view name was because he wanted the show, as ECW's maiden pay per view, to stand out from the pack as one-of-a-kind. There were two other ECW pay per view names that would only be used one time each, and Wrestlepalooza was one of them. And it wasn't because it was as lofty as Barely Legal.
You know it's a rough night when during a disappointing, oddly-tedious Rob Van Dam-Sabu match, fans begin chanting "JYD!" (Junkyard Dog had made a guest appearance earlier in the show, just four weeks before his tragic death). The Shane Douglas-Al Snow main event for the ECW Championship would be the only defence of the belt on pay per view that year due to Douglas' lingering injuries, and the match reflected his present condition.
20. Living Dangerously 1998
Well, it was certainly better than Wrestlepalooza, and going from 21 to 20 doesn't properly convey the distance between the two shows. And it did give us the enduring visual of Bam Bam Bigelow killing Taz by sending him backward through the canvas, so there is that. Otherwise, the show was mediocre at best.
Matches like Taz/Bigelow, the Three Way Tag, and Tommy Dreamer/Justin Credible were fine, but others dragged the event down. The mystery partner main event in which Al Snow pinned Shane Douglas was muddled and rushed (and compromised by the broken ring). Masato Tanaka vs. Doug Furnas was truly bad, with miscommunications galore. And you'd think Rob Van Dam vs. 2 Cold Scorpio would be an awesome 22-minute match, but you would be very wrong.
19. November To Remember 1998
If Usain Bolt ran a 100-yard dash with any three Cultaholic personalities, one of us three less-athletic schlubs would have to finish second, right? That's your metaphor for ECW pay per views in 1998 - Usain Bolt is Heat Wave, while one of us (probably Adam, he seems rather sprightly) would have to be November to Remember. You know, second best by default, but not even remotely in contention for the win.
Aside from a very good Jerry Lynn/Lance Storm match and a pretty decent six-man main event that helped position Taz as "The Guy" going forward, the show was just a mess. Jake Roberts was Tommy Dreamer's mystery partner in a match with Justin Credible and Jack Victory, and in fairness, this wasn't a banner period in Jake's career. A potentially fun throwback match between Tracy Smothers and Tommy Rogers was marred by waaaay too much needless interference. Still, it was the second-least bad ECW pay per view of 1998, so, yay?
18. November To Remember 1997
Perhaps you're noticing a bit of a pattern. With only a couple exceptions, the first year or so of ECW pay per views did not reflect the rabid cult-love that the promotion had been getting. Sabu and The Sandman are justifiably two of the most beloved and revered icons of the world of hardcore wrestling, but that Tables and Ladders match they had that night in Pittsburgh....well, let's just say any chants of "holy s**t" would not be of the positive sort.
Like Living Dangerously in the previous example, there were some enjoyable bouts (Tommy Dreamer vs. Rob Van Dam, with the damnedest piledriver ever, coming to mind), but those were offset by rather lackluster fare, like the disastrous Sabu/Sandman match, and an overwrought Shane Douglas-Bam Bam Bigelow finale, in which Douglas regained the belt in his hometown of Pittsburgh. So at least the crowd got a storybook ending out of it.
17. Living Dangerously 2000
A little birdie from those days once explained to me how ECW pay-per-views would come together. At times, there would only be three or four announced matches come show day, and Paul Heyman would sit in the locker room, eyeballing the roster before finally saying, "Okay, you....vs. you...." The 2000 Living Dangerously felt like precisely one of those events.
While the disorganized card was really only good for Super Crazy winning the TV title in the main event, more notable was the fact that New Jack and Vic Grimes nearly died on a scaffold dive gone horribly awry. New Jack suffered brain damage and was blinded in his right eye from the impact of the bulky Grimes landing on his head. Two title changes and Dusty Rhodes working in a bullrope match (the only match of the show that went 10+ minutes, incredibly) all took a backseat.
16. Massacre On 34th Street
We are now out of the hideous pay per views, and cruising pleasantly enough into the rather decent ones. The fact that this show took place on 3 December 2000 makes it the best wrestling pay per view to ever occur on that date (hello again, December to Dismember, you bubbling puddle of goat's bile). It wasn't a great show, but in ECW's terminal days, it was fine.
The better matches of the night were of the tag team variety. Danny Doring and Roadkill's title win over the Full Blooded Italians was a very good match with a satisfying ending (check out Tony Mamaluke's final kamikaze bump, if you wanna see nucking futs). Mikey Whipwreck and Yoshihiro Tajiri's match with Super Crazy and Kid Kash was the sort of spotty insanity that fans covet, and was probably tops for the night. It was an agreeable show: nothing mind-blowing, but nothing awful, either.
15. Hardcore Heaven 1997
Trying to match the specialness of Barely Legal wasn't going to be easy, although ECW compiled a card that had potential to do just that. Sadly, the Fort Lauderdale War Memorial wasn't exactly the ECW Arena. Say what you will about the world's most famous bingo hall, but the War Memorial felt even more indy-ish, like the ring crew had to have everything cleared out by midnight so the rave could start.
The recreation of the Three Way Dance from the seminal Night The Line Was Crossed (Terry Funk vs. Sabu vs. Shane Douglas) made for an enjoyable-enough conclusion, preceded by Tommy Dreamer turning back Jerry Lawler and a collection of WWE-related run-ins. The undercard was solid enough up and down, including a good Rob Van Dam-Al Snow match, but something fundamental was lacking overall.
14. Guilty As Charged 2001
The final ECW pay per view promised a monumental surprise, which most fans were hoping was a new national TV deal. Instead, it was Rob Van Dam making his first appearance in months, sitting out due to money owed to him. The writing was on the wall for ECW by this time, and the company's third last show ever (prior to two house shows the following weekend) at least delivered some solid action before the lights were turned off.
The other major occurrence from the night was Rhino capturing the ECW Championship in an impromptu victory over The Sandman. Best match honours go to Tommy Dreamer's victory in a very underrated I Quit match over CW Anderson, just an old-fashioned hard-hitting brawl with plenty of sadism. As for Van Dam, he and Jerry Lynn sent everyone home with a very good match, the final televised ECW bout.
13. Heat Wave 1999
Go figure that all six of the 1999 pay per views made the top 13. While the company was treading into financial peril that year, the combination of the TNN TV deal and the return of some major names (Raven, The Sandman, and Mike Awesome each as summer turned to fall) lent a renewed flair to the promotion that didn't exist in 1998. Heat Wave may have been the worst of the six shows from 1999, then there's no shame in that.
You have to love any show in which Danny Doring places a condom on Lita's finger, and Bubba Ray Dudley nearly induces a riot with his pre-match spiel. The wrestling on the show was mostly solid, including a great main event in which Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn defeated The Impact Players, as well as a solid Super Crazy/Little Guido match. Taz choking out Tajiri with barbed wire over his face and neck would've made a great visual if the cameras didn't pan to a wide shot.
12. Guilty As Charged 2000
Can't really fault the effort here. Even with a few shortcomings (Sandman missing the show due to an emergency, some overbooking in the undercard), what we got was a show that still managed to over-deliver. ECW at times could get by on smoke and mirrors, but when their better performers shined, it rang through clearly.
From ECW Champion Mike Awesome ripping Spike Dudley apart like a chew toy (just a wild match), to Tajiri and nemesis Super Crazy putting together a quality wrestling match with Jerry Lynn and Little Guido, Guilty as Charged registered well in various styles. The Impact Players' Tag Team title win over frienemies Tommy Dreamer and Raven was also a highlight, a mix of old school tag wrestling and the boundless ECW template. A vastly underappreciated show.
11. Living Dangerously 1999
The event took place in the same Asbury Park Convention Hall that Living Dangerously occurred in one year earlier, although the difference in overall quality was night and day. Sometimes all you need out of a pay per view is for its more heavily-hyped title matches to deliver, and that's something Living Dangerously can say happened.
The Taz-Sabu ECW-FTW unification match was perhaps the best match that the two ever had with one another, topping their long-built dream match at Barely Legal. Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn's TV title marathon, bizarre referee decision at one juncture aside, was the harbinger to even more great matches between the two, and was quite superb in its own right. The show had its misses (New Jack vs. Mustafa, Dreamer and Douglas vs. The Impact Players), but what was good was really good.
10. November To Remember 2000
A few of the usual suspects didn't wrestle on the show, including Rob Van Dam (filming a movie, and on bad terms with Heyman) and Tommy Dreamer (on hand, but inactive). The show lacked anything truly memorable outside of a flaming tables match, but it was one of those nights where everybody worked their asses off to deliver something enjoyable.
The best match of the show was an undercard bout pitting Kid Kash against CW Anderson that was all action and excitement, some fresher faces shining in ECW's dying days. The event was filled with gimmick matches like the aforementioned flaming tables match (Balls Mahoney and Chilly Willy vs. The Baldies), a loser-leaves match (Nova vs. former partner Chris Chetti), and a "Double Jeopardy" match for the ECW title (a four-way with specific pinfall rules), which was interesting because ECW rarely did gimmick bouts as time went on. Variety added to an already-fun show.
9. November To Remember 1999
The best of the pay per view Novembers to Remember featured a number of performers that would finish up shortly after, including Taz and Chris Candido (their final pay per view with the company), Sabu (next-to-last pay per view), and would mark the final Masato Tanaka-Mike Awesome pay per view singles bout in ECW. It also marked The Sandman's first pay per view back since his WCW exit, so the event has kind of a One Night Stand feel, in terms of bringing a ton of heavy hitters together on one show.
Awesome and Tanaka for the ECW title was the bone-rattling showcase you'd expect from the two (even earning an unbleeped faecal slur from Joey Styles). The Jerry Lynn/Super Crazy/Yoshihiro Tajiri three-way was their usual high-level of pizzazz and panache, while Sabu and Candido, in something of a throwaway bout, turned out be quite a sleeper.
8. Anarchy Rulz 2000
Felt weird to see ECW in old AWA territory, St. Paul, MN to be exact, but it had a reason - Jerry Lynn was set to capture the company's belt in his native Twin Cities region. He and then-champion Justin Credible have had some excellent bouts with each other over the years, but Lynn's victory on this night may have been the best of their lengthy series that spanned several promotions.
The event also marked one of Rob Van Dam's final matches for three months, as he lost to TV Champion Rhino in another enjoyable clash. The highlight of the show might have been Kid Kash's reversal of EZ Money's top rope powerbomb into a mid-air Hurracanrana. And it was a great match to boot. When looking at the most underrated wrestlers of the previous decade, ECW original and X Division pioneer Kash makes the cut.
7. Guilty As Charged 1999
After a disappointing 1998 dragged to its close, 1999 opened with what was ECW's third-best pay per view to date, and it was actually compromised with some notable no-shows - Masato Tanaka wasn't able to wrestle Rob Van Dam for the TV title due to frigid ECW-FMW relations, and Jerry Lynn was pulled with an injury, so original Lynn opponent Lance Storm got the shot at RVD instead. That worked out well - the match was quite good.
Really, the show is notable for two other occurrences - Taz ending the 13 month World title reign from hell of Shane Douglas, capturing the belt for the first time in a lengthy brawl that got better as it went on, and the ECW debut of Sid, who mauled John Kronus in about 90 seconds (and getting rock star-like adulation all the while). Coupled with a Crazy/Tajiri showcase and a decent Dreamer/Credible Stairway to Hell match, and it was a well-rounded card on the whole.
6. Hardcore Heaven 2000
Disarray was becoming more apparent in ECW by this time, as the World title scene saw frequent changes due to Mike Awesome's publicized walkout the previous month. Justin Credible got the gold in roundabout fashion, and ended facing former partner Lance Storm in the main event of this show. It would be Storm's last night with the company, as he, too, was sick of being unpaid. The match was originally a Triple Threat that included Tommy Dreamer, who was hastily pulled as part of a somewhat-muddled angle the day of the show.
Only three matches were known going in - the Triple Threat that was ultimately changed, along with Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn and ECW TV Champion Rhino vs. Sandman. While tumult reigned, the show overachieved, as the scheduled matches all delivered to varying degrees, while matches like Balls Mahoney vs. Masato Tanaka and Yoshihiro Tajiri vs. Steve Corino (with Corino taking a serious beating) vied for best of the night.
5. Heat Wave 2000
The real-life drama here was more fascinating than any of the wrestling, as members of the XPW promotion (based in Los Angeles, where Heat Wave took place) showed up to cause a scene in the front row just before the main event. This led to a reported brawl between promotions outside the building, and many fascinating first-hand accounts over the years.
As for the matches themselves, Heat Wave followed the prior Hardcore Heaven example of abundant goodness in the face of a barely-organized product. A four-way match that included the returning Psicosis may have been the tops of the show, while Jerry Lynn's sadistic mauling of Steve Corino (complete with using Corino's blood to fashion war paint on himself in a twisted visual) made for quite a spectacle. The chaos both in and out of the ring makes this worth a look.
4. Hardcore Heaven 1999
Some have called it a very overrated match. Others will tell you that it's one of the best matches in ECW's nine-year history. Somewhere in the happy middle, it can at least be agreed that ECW's portrait isn't complete without mentioning Rob Van Dam's TV title defense against Jerry Lynn in Poughkeepsie, NY, in which Lynn suffered a serious head injury early in the match, but manages to work feverishly with Van Dam the rest of the way. It's at the very least an ideal primer for a viewer new to ECW.
Hardcore Heaven itself had its clunkiness (jobbing World title challenger Chris Candido in the opener, for one thing, a Shane Douglas/Justin Credible match not happening due to Douglas leaving), but matches like Tommy Dreamer vs. Lance Storm, Super Crazy vs. Taka Michinoku, and Yoshihiro Tajiri vs. Little Guido pull it out of the muck. The Van Dam/Lynn bout was the sort of Match of the Year Candidate that an ECW show desperately needed, and it carried plenty of weight.
3. Anarchy Rulz 1999
Self-indulgent fact: 15-year-old me stayed up all night the night before the PPV in an AOL People Connection chatroom with like 12 insomniac ECW fans, chatting excitably about the company and the show. I slept from roughly 10 AM to 2 PM Sunday, and was no good for paying attention in school the next day. Ahh, the life of a listless mark.
Turns out I picked a helluva show to get hyped for. From Mike Awesome's surprise return, to Taz's hasty ECW title loss on his way out, to above-average matches like Jerry Lynn vs. Lance Storm and Sabu vs. Justin Credible, Anarchy Rulz was a damn good card with a white-hot Chicago crowd as the soundtrack. The Awesome-Taz-Masato Tanaka impromptu three-way match hit on plenty of emotions (the crowd goes from "screw Taz for leaving" to "we'll miss you Taz" in 20 minutes), and was an excellent brawl to boot.
2. Barely Legal
There are those who say the original ECW pay-per-view hasn't aged well. Perhaps the novelty of the ECW style on pay-per-view in 1997 doesn't hold up as much in 2018, but the night was still a magically seminal one. More than 100,000 fans bought a show bearing the number three promotion in the US, so that in itself was a major win.
Perhaps Taz/Sabu wasn't the ****1/2 match that the hype seemed to promise, but it was a vicious-looking fight in its own right. The Michinoku Pro six-man tag is probably among the three or four best matches in company history, and is still staggering today. Iconic moments like Rob Van Dam's self-serving speeches and Terry Funk's dramatic and sentimental final World title win put Barely Legal over the top as a remarkable show. Watch it with more heart than cynicism, and you'll agree.
1. Heat Wave 1998
Kind of appropriate given ECW's unconventional nature that the best pay per view in company history was one where neither recognized singles title was defended. As mentioned before, there were four pay per views in 1998 for ECW, and three were relative junk. This was the exception. That's like WrestleMania X-Seven (not saying this show is on *that* level) sharing a calendar with three Backlash 2018s.
While the Tag Team title match was disappointing and disjointed, everything else delivers. Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka's 12-minute war may have been their best work together, while the Dudleyville Street Fight was a nice combination of brutality and comedy. Another match that doesn't get the credit it deserves is Taz and Bam Bam Bigelow's Falls Count Anywhere match for the unofficial FTW title, far better than even their Living Dangerously match. Add some purer matches like Lynn vs. Credible and Candido vs. Storm, and it's easy to see why this was ECW's crown jewel.