WWE was better in the Attitude Era. At least, that’s what a lot of fans will say when prompted. The Attitude Era was such an intensely interesting time in wrestling history, due to the Monday Night Wars fueling a creative renaissance in the biggest promotion in the world, the World Wrestling Federation (Later becoming WWE). Since then, the product has stagnated. Whether you like it or not (personally I still love it), it’s hard to deny that there’s hardly been as much innovation in the industry in the last few years.
The current roster (not including injuries) is probably one of the best it’s been for a long time. When you consider the amount of talent in that locker room it’s hard to imagine that the current era could ever be considered a lull. But 2015 was probably one of the worst years for a long long time. It felt like the heavyweight championship was on hold for half a year while the WWE tried to get Roman over, with Rollins entering several feuds that went nowhere. Meanwhile, fan favorite Dean Ambrose was relegated to “Roman’s friend”, while other popular stars like Cesaro and Neville stewed in the mid-card without ever doing anything supremely noteworthy (not counting Cesaro’s tag run with Kidd at the beginning of the year).
But the strangest thing about wrestling right now is how much of the Attitude Era I see in the current stars. When the ball gets going and WWE is good, it brings back vague memories of WWF Monday Night Raw is War, though with less blood and suggestive themes.
So, with Fastlane coming…uh, fast, and Wrestlemania right around the corner, it’s definitely a good time to compare some of the stars of today to the stars of the era we hold so close to our hearts.
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15 Braun Strowman - The Big Show
I’ll start with an obvious one. Even the WWE has fully recognized this and have started pushing the two together. Their recent three-on-three tag match at Fastlane is expected to lead into a one-on-one at WrestleMania, and it's clear Strowman is being groomed to be the next giant in the WWE.
Do you remember The Big Show’s debut? It was a cage match between Stone Cold and Vince McMahon. Show tore his way through the bottom of the ring and threw Stone Cold out like he was a ragdoll. It was shocking, out of nowhere, and an intimidating showing for this behemoth, not unlike how Braun Strowman debuted last year. With NXT’s popularity, it’s not exactly a mystery when a new guy debuts in WWE. We’ve seen them in NXT for months, sometimes years. But Braun was a complete unknown. The Big Show was known from WCW when he showed up, but the feeling of a shock debuting giant definitely feels the same.
14 Adam Rose - The Godfather
Okay, I admit this seems tenuous at first, but trust me, this comparison gets fun. Adam Rose first debuted under Leo Kruger, a creepy character that delivered promos like he was a serial killer. Well, The Godfather was actually Papa Shango before the Attitude Era got into its full swing, an equally creepy character who would put curses on people to make them submit.
Both of them left behind their creepy personas and instead became dancing party lovers who came out with a group of partyers while proclaiming their love of having a good time. Admittedly, the name 'Rosebud' is more respectful than 'Ho', but still.
They both gave up their gimmick and became staunchly against it as well. Adam Rose became the “party pooper” while The Godfather became The Goodfather. And then, as a result of campaigns (social and political respectfully), they ended up in groups.
13 Dean Ambrose - Mick Foley
This is another comparison that the company has given small nods to, mostly in the case of them sharing a finishing maneuver. But it’s not just a Double-Arm DDT that these two share, but a heavy history in the hardcore wrestling scene. Both guys have tortured their bodies with all sorts of weapons to the delight of fans, while retaining an extremely likable persona.
Mankind was the ultimate underdog in the Attitude Era, the insane guy you always wanted to see do well because he was so nice, but the complete opposite of what the company wanted. Dean Ambrose feels the same a lot of the time, only without a mask on.
12 Kalisto - Jeff Hardy
Speaking of masks, Kalisto is currently one of the more over wrestlers on the roster, with WWE giving him a U.S. Title run to capitalize on his popularity. Like Sin Cara, it’s very easy to see that WWE sees him as a replacement for Rey Mysterio, the incredibly lucrative luchador who was one of the top guys in the company. While Mysterio came after the acquisition of WCW, and in my eyes falls more into the Ruthless Aggression era than the Attitude, I feel there’s a good comparison here to Jeff Hardy.
Both came from high flying tag teams that were popular with crowds, and perhaps more importantly, they both got over purely by their incredible, death-defying stunts in the ring. People loved Jeff because he was willing to do the craziest and most dangerous stunts, and it was Kalisto’s Salida del Sol off the top of the ladder that pushed him to where he is now. He may be seen as the next Mysterio, but he’s gotten over like the charismatic enigma did.
11 Heath Slater - Road Dogg
Oh, you didn’t know? Both of these guys come out like they’re rock stars, despite being rather low down on the card. They act like they’re the top guys, when really they’re mostly there to support the top guys. Both of them were in smaller tag teams and went on to be part of popular stables.
But most of all, they both have the ability to be incredibly annoying and also lovable at the same time.
Heath Slater is one of the most annoying guys on the roster, and yet whenever his theme (or the Social Outcasts) hits, I get a little bit excited. That's because I like seeing him being annoying. I felt the same with Road Dogg. He couldn’t rhyme very well but kept trying, and I loved every minute of it. Also, “outlaw” and “outcast” both start the same, so there’s that.
10 Jason Jordan - Kurt Angle
You could easily put Jordan’s tag partner, Chad Gable, in this position, but I’m going with Jordan as I believe he just edges it in similarities. Both are very gifted technical wrestlers, and can pull a suplex out of seemingly any situation. I daresay Gable is more of a match for Angle in the chain-wrestling department, but Jordan’s look and physique just echoes Kurt so much it’s hard to not compare them.
Adding to that is their general in-ring charisma. Jordan moves like Angle. He acts like Angle. They both took off the straps on their wrestling gear when they hyped up, and they both have the same smile.
On paper, I would say Chad Gable is more Angle. Hell, they even both competed at Olympic level in wrestling. But Jason Jordan provides a certain je ne sais quoi that gives him the nod, though both athletes have the potential to bigger and better than their comparison sake.
9 Dolph Ziggler - Billy Gunn
The obvious comparison for Ziggler is Shawn Michaels, with Dolph’s constant referencing to him in the ring. But when you think about it, isn’t he so much more Ass-Man? They both use the Famouser for one, but more importantly their careers headed in similar directions.
Billy Gunn was destined to be one of the big stars in the Attitude Era. He had the look, charisma and drive to be the very best. But it all changed when after a few tough losses, a gimmick change and an injury. He became a midcard star who deserved to be in the main event, but due to luck and poor booking, he stagnated until leaving.
If you were to assign a current star that description, Dolph Ziggler is the obvious choice. He’s hugely popular with casuals and smarks alike, and was so close to becoming a main eventer. But like Billy Gunn, poor handling has left him as the face of 50/50 booking.
8 AJ Styles - Chris Jericho
This one is definitely fun, seeing as they actually just concluded a feud. Chris Jericho was a rising star in WCW when he made the switch the WWE. Him coming to interrupt The Rock was one of the all-time greatest moments in Raw history, and generated one of the biggest pops ever heard. There he was, one of the golden boys of WCW tearing it up against The Rock. It was surreal to see, but also felt so natural.
AJ Styles is very much in the same vein. He was one of the top guys in TNA (and later, NJPW and ROH) before making the surprise jump to WWE. Him coming out at the Royal Rumble had a cheer just as loud as when Jericho came out, and they both started out against their era’s top wrestler of the Anoa’I wrestling family. For them to wind up facing each other is perfect – their starts in the company are perfect parallels and they’re both very gifted technical wrestlers.
7 The New Day - Edge & Christian
Edge & Christian were one of the holy trifecta of tag teams during the Attitude era along with The Dudley Boys and The Hardy Boyz. E&C were the designated heels of the three, but they managed to still get popular with fans due to their hilarious antics. At times, it seemed like the WWE just let them do whatever they wanted. They even started playing people's themes on kazoos because…why not? They took the act of being heel and ran with it, making some of the funniest television that WWE had to offer.
Swap out those kazoos for a trombone and you have the New Day. No one can touch them in popularity (except, according to the Slammys, The Usos) despite them being heels (now faces, presumably) because they’re so hilarious. Their backstage antics are funny and make me smile, just like every time Edge and Christian showed up. Hopefully, when the sun sets on The New Day, they can all go on to brilliant singles runs like Edge did and Christian sort of did.
6 Triple H - Mr. McMahon
The WWE hasn’t really been without an authority figure since the Attitude Era. From Eric Bischoff to Vickie Guerrero, there’s always been a boss at the top for the plucky babyfaces to fight. Currently, it’s Triple H, one of the greatest competitors of all time, and son-in-law to Vince McMahon. Vince was the original authority, being the constant thorn in Stone Cold Steve Austin’s side in one of the best rivalries of all time.
Currently, it’s something they’re trying to emulate with Roman Reigns and Triple H, making the comparison between the original boss and the current even easier. Admittedly, Mr. McMahon has made a return recently, but over the last year we’ve seen Triple H talk about what’s best for business while disregarding the babyfaces in the same vein Vince did all those years ago. Just like in real life, he’s been groomed to sit at the head of the company, and he’s beginning to look pretty comfortable there.
5 Bray Wyatt - The Undertaker
The Undertaker set a precedent in the WWE just like Mr. McMahon did with boss characters – creepy supernatural characters. Sure, the company experimented with wrestlers like this before, but it was The Undertaker that made the supernatural element such a vital part of the company. It added a sense of wonder and drama to everything, and made sure you were never quite sure what was going to happen next.
Wyatt brings that in spades. As far as torches go, the spooky one is being passed right to Bray Wyatt, and he and his family of fireflies are poised to become a major team in the company.
There may be a small case of copying what worked for Undertaker. When ‘Taker does a sit-up, Wyatt does the spider walk. With the Phenom you got “he’s here”, with the Eater of Worlds you get “We’re here.” It does feel like at times that WWE saw what worked for The Undertaker and are trying to apply it to Bray, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Wyatt is proving he can handle it, and that he is capable of holding a main event status while doing such a bizarre gimmick. Like ‘Taker, he’s the only one on Earth who could make it work.
4 Seth Rollins - Triple H
The story line for this is laid on thick. Triple H instructs Rollins to turn on his team-mates the Shield, just like he did with DX years ago. He then gifts Rollins the championship he himself had clung to throughout his career, before ultimately giving him his finishing move The Pedigree.
But looking at the landscape of the company, there’s a lot more tying the two together than what the story’s given us. Triple H was the corporate champion in the year 2000, allying himself with the McMahons and winning the WWE Title. From then on, he held onto that belt through many feuds, with his stature at the top only ending due to an injury to his quadriceps.
Likewise, Rollins found himself in an almost identical situation. A corporate champion allied with The Authority, the only reason he’s not in the main event scene right now is because of his MCL and ACL tear.
Just like Triple H, it’s expected Rollins will return as a babyface and return to the main event, meaning there may be more comparisons to make down the line.
3 Roman Reigns - The Rock
Roman’s first few years is identical The Rock's, just slightly out of order.
The Rock debuted as Rocky Maivia. The company was very hot on him, and wanted him to be the next big thing. He was a face character, and despite not having as much wrestling experience as everyone else, was constantly referred to as being great. He was pushed hard and was booed a lot, with death threats even being hurled at him. No-one liked Rocky, or that the company was so insistent on pushing him.
He did get over by being a cocky heel during his Nation of Domination stable run. He was really hateable guy, and after a few years as a heel, made a transition into being the babyface the company wanted him as all along.
Now let’s look at Reigns. He started off in the stable as a quiet bad-ass, and was pretty over despite his lack of experience. But rather than running with that and using heel heat to eventually make him a top babyface, they instead instantly gave him a huge push immediately. They had Nation of Domination Rock, and turned him into Rocky Maivia. It’s hardly surprising Roman is getting the reactions he does.
2 Daniel Bryan - Shawn Michaels
Here we have two guys that are undersized by the standards of most of the bosses at the company, but due to their sheer athletic ability, their inspired in-ring storytelling and just lovable personalities, they became impossible to ignore as top card draws.
After proving himself and becoming the top guy, Michaels suffered a bad injury in 1998 that spelled his retirement, cutting it short midway through the Attitude Era. Now, here we are, midway through the modern era and Daniel Bryan finds himself also retiring due to injury. Both guys wowed the fans with their daring styles, and found a way to get themselves over. It probably helps that Michaels trained Bryan, as well.
Whether Bryan makes the same return as Michaels did is to be seen, but one thing's for sure. Shawn Michaels changed the industry when he came in, and that’s something we didn’t realize for a few years. Daniel Bryan is very much the same. He will go down to carry a legacy as brilliant as Shawn’s, and there’s no greater comparison than that.
1 Dean Ambrose is (also) Stone Cold Steve Austin
Ambrose being compared to Foley is fine. But honestly? Ambrose is the beer-drinking, ass-kicking, toughest SOB on the current roster. He’s like Foley, sure, but Ambrose IS the modern day Stone Cold. And just like Austin, he could be the top face of the company if booked right.
During his feud with Rollins in 2015, Ambrose was kayfabe arrested during an episode of Raw, and told he would only get a title shot if he could make it to a contract signing at the end of the episode. A challenge Dean meets head-on, as he turns up at the end of Raw after commandeering a police van, driving it down the ramp while wearing a policeman’s hat. If that scene didn’t instantly remind you of Attitude Era Stone Cold, then you need to go back and watch more of that era. But what’s great about Ambrose is that he doesn’t feel like a carbon copy. Dean is his own beast, his own person. He carries the same attitude of an unhinged working man who hates his boss, but just like Austin, he’s one of a kind.
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