30 Years of Violence: Tommy Dreamer Marks 30 Years As a Wrestler

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The Innovator of Violence. The spiritual leader of ECW. A legend of American hardcore. It was 30 years ago that Tommy Dreamer first stepped into the squared circle to begin a life long journey into the world of independent wrestling to becoming an international superstar.

From Yonkers, New York, Tommy Dreamer began his journey in 1989, training under WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Rodz in New York City. Originally starting out as T.D Madison and teaming with his “brother” G.T. Madison, he was an early tag team specialist in the early 90s with International World Class Championship Wrestling (IWCCW), capturing the IWCCW Tag Team titles three times. After a move to New England’s Century Wrestling Alliance (CWA) in 1992, he changed his name to Tommy Dreamer – his last name a tribute to his hero, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes – and became the inaugural CWA Heavyweight Champion.

In 1993, he jumped to another promotion, Philadelphia’s Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW). Once there, he began to wear gaudy clothing and acted as a pretty boy heel amongst a cast that featured former WWE Superstars like Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Terry Funk, and Don Muraco, as well as new faces like Shane Douglas, The Tazmaniac, and The Sandman. Dreamer was hated for his aloof character, and the audience’s disdain only grew when he became the first man to ever kick out of Snuka’s Superfly Splash. But at ECW Hardcore Heaven in August of 1994, Dreamer finally got the approval of the ECW audience when he faced Sandman in a Singapore Cane Match – the loser was to suffer 10 lashes as a penalty. Sandman won and delivered the 10 required lashes from the Singapore cane, but in an act of defiance, Dreamer demanded more and more lashes. The resulting toughness portrayed won over the hearts of the ECW crowd.


Two weeks later, the landscape was changed forever, when Shane Douglas captured the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship and famously threw it down, announcing ECW’s withdrawal from the NWA and rebranding as Extreme Championship Wrestling. With Paul Heyman now firmly in control of ECW, it fully embraced the hardcore style that was becoming more prevalent with every ECW card. And thus, “The Innovator of Violence” emerged.

Until ECW closed down its doors for good in 2001, Tommy Dreamer remained in ECW through all its hardships. While other ECW stars like Raven, Shane Douglas, Taz, Mike Awesome, and more would find their way to WWF or WCW, Dreamer remained loyal to ECW. Throughout his career, he was featured in some of ECW’s greatest rivalries, including bloody wars against Raven and Sandman. He finished his ECW career as an ECW World Heavyweight Champion and 3x ECW World Tag Team Champion.

Following the collapse of both ECW and WCW in 2001, Dreamer finally made the jump to one of the other majors, when he joined WWE as part of the WCW/ECW Invasion storyline. He would remain a part of the WWE for the next eight years, where he became a 14x WWE Hardcore Champion. In 2005, he was assigned the task of writing, producing and being lead agent for an ECW reunion show under the WWE banner. ECW One Night Stand has become one of the most beloved WWE PPVs of the 2000s, as Dreamer magnificently recaptured the ECW vibe within a WWE aesthetic.

The success of One Night Stand led the WWE to revisit ECW, rebooting the franchise as WWE’s third brand during the first brand split, that had Raw and SmackDown as separate brands. In many ways, the WWECW was a forerunner to NXT, as it featured many emerging young stars entering the company, like CM Punk, Bobby Lashley, and others. From 2006 through 2010, Dreamer remained the heart and soul of WWE’s version of ECW, even capturing his second ECW World title in 2009. But when his WWE contract expired at the end of 2009, he left the company.

He resurfaced in Total Nonstop Action (TNA) in 2010, where he remained active until 2012. Following his departure, he became the ultimate freelancer. One of the most respected men in the business, it wasn’t uncommon to see Dreamer appear with multiple promotions throughout the year, be it WWE or TNA, as he continued to wrestle for multiple indies, from the US like Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW), House of Glory (HOG), International Wrestling Cartel (IWC), and more, to touring the UK indie scene. He even rejoined his former ECW buddy Bully Ray in Ring of Honor in 2017.

Following his departure from TNA in 2012, Dreamer finally began his own promotion, House of Hardcore (HOH) based out of his home in New York. Combining the spirit of the original ECW with the intensity of the modern US indie scene, it featured former ECW Superstars like Rhino, Jazz, 2 Cold Scorpio, and The Dudley Boyz, mixed in with emerging indie talents like The Young Bucks, Kevin Steen (WWE’s Kevin Owens), Drew Gulak, Tony Nese, and more.

It’s now 2019, thirty years since that young 18-year old from Yonkers, New York first stepped into the ring, and Dreamer is still a prominent face in the current wrestling scene. A frequent regular with IMPACT Wrestling, he’s also appeared for Major League Wrestling (MLW) and All Elite Wrestling (AEW), while maintaining a healthy presence in the US indie scene with the likes of DEFY Wrestling, Bar Wrestling, HOG, Limitless Wrestling, and more, not to mention maintaining HOH.

It’s hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t a Tommy Dreamer, but it’s fantastic to see such genuine love and passion for the industry continue to find relevance in the world of pro wrestling in 2019, helping out younger talent and providing leadership to all who will listen.

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