WWE hasn't become the juggernaut that it is today and remained relevant for decades by sticking with the same continued game plan. Like any sport or form of entertainment, or a combination of the two as Vince McMahon likes to refer to it as, it has had to adapt through time. We've witnessed Hulkamania, The Attitude Era, Ruthless Aggression and the social media based WWE Universe Era that we currently find ourselves in among others. What has changed most about the product is where it lies on the scale between being rated R or rated PG. Throughout most of the 1990s and in to the early 2000s WWE would have very much been considered a more adult product. Following that however and right up until the present day the more racy side of the business has been toned down so that what's aired on Raw and SmackDown each week can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.
Of course as the company evolves and gradually evokes these changes, if the Superstars under their employ at the time want to stick around then they must adapt too. There are certain names who have been with the company that haven't managed to transition from one to the other while staying as popular as they were before, while in turn there are others who are much more suited to the PG feel than the Rated R one. While a lot of Superstars thrive in organized chaos, many of their peers much prefer being role models and keeping the child fans entertained. This following list is a definitive run down of those who wished they could have always been allowed to do and say what they like, and conversely those who don't need to be enjoyed under adult supervision.
15 15. Kane: Rated R
Back during the late 1990s we were introduced to Kane. The Undertaker's younger brother who was supposedly to blame for burning down their family home as a child and killing their parents. A pretty dark background for a character but one that made The Big Red Machine the monster that he was. Kane looked terrifying, intimidating and struck fear into the hearts of his opponents and the fans. Following the removal of his mask in 2003 Kane's mystique began to wane. To begin with he was still mostly the monster he had been before as the fury of having to remove his mask drove him to do some awful things. Not much of that was PG though, and modern day Kane simply can't be the monster that made him such a feared figure 15 to 20 years ago.
14 14. Triple H: PG
While part of D-Generation X Triple H made a very significant impact in WWE prior to the product turning PG, and without giving away too much don't worry, we'll get to that. As a singles star however it's hard to argue that The Game hasn't been more of a hit without the use of top shelf material. What instantly springs to mind is The Cerebral Assassin's early 00s feud with The Big Red Machine, Kane. During their rivalry Triple H insinuated that Kane had a hand in the death of a young woman named Katie Vick. Then in one of the most infamous segments in WWE history The Game donned a Kane mask and proceeded to simulate having sex with a mannequin in a coffin that was meant to be the deceased Vick. Unsurprising that the 14 time champion has been much less Rated R ever since.
13 13. Big Show: Rated R
Big Show and Kane's WWE careers have more or less paralleled each other. They were both introduced to us towards the end of the 1990s and both portrayed at the time as almost unstoppable monsters. Really why wouldn't you with Show? He's over seven feet tall and those fans familiar with him from WCW had witnessed his run as a World Champion. For the first few years of his WWE tenure that dominance continued. Then when the violence and such began to be toned down in WWE, naturally Big Show suffered. Despite his monstrous size he began to be used as a joke by the company, wheeled out to do the jobs no one else wanted to. Less than two years after defeating Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship, Show found himself in a nappy at WrestleMania 21. Not much doubt which era he preferred performing in.
12 12. Mickie James: PG
Six time WWE Women's Champion Mickie James burst on to the pro wrestling scene back in 2005. It was a time when WWE was not fully PG just yet, but it was on its way there. James's first feud came against Trish Stratus and it's surprising that she managed to have such a successful career after the puzzling nature of that first rivalry. The underlying story line was basically that Mickie lusted after Trish. The feud culminated at WrestleMania 22 but not before it got even stranger. Towards the end of the match James grabbed Trish's crotch before making a vulgar gesture towards the camera suggesting a sexual act she wanted to perform on the then Women's Champion. Safe to say that it's definitely a good thing she hasn't brought that aspect of her persona back with her during her second run with the company.
11 11. Goldust: Rated R
As you will have probably assumed before starting to read this list, most of the entries featured will focus on wrestlers who have been with WWE for a pretty long time. Superstars who have been around long enough to have had to make both Rated R and PG personas work, or at least attempt to. Goldust is most definitely one of those stars. What made Goldust so interesting during the '90s was his overt sexuality. He was portrayed as a pretty strange guy and that's what made him popular. He even held the Intercontinental Championship and would have been at the forefront of some fans minds for a WWE Title run. The sexual being he was back then most definitely did not fit in to a PG world though. Since the WWE product has become more child friendly Goldust has been relegated to a comedy act. Randomly drifting from tag partner to tag partner, rarely winning and without any real purpose.
10 10. Mark Henry: PG
The World's Strongest Man, Mark Henry has seen a lot of stuff in WWE over the years. Unfortunately for him he's been a focal part of some of the worst of it. Despite attracting the attention of WWE because of his impressive size and feats of strength, it didn't take Vince McMahon long to have him involved in some pretty dubious stuff. For starters they labelled him Sexual Chocolate, which is bad enough in itself. While entertaining this gimmick the former World Champion infamously fathered a hand with Mae Young. It wasn't until much later in his career that they billed Henry as the monstrous force that he should have been all along and had him competing for the company's top titles.
9 9. Randy Orton: Rated R
Randy Orton very much has the business of professional wrestling coursing through his veins. He's a third generation Superstar and is perhaps more at home in the ring than almost anybody. When he first broke away from Evolution and began competing for and winning World Championships, he was a force to be reckoned with. He earned the moniker of Legend Killer not just by beating big names, but violently putting them out of action. His feud with Mick Foley in 2004 was gory and graphic to say the least. Orton threw an already struggling Foley down a flight of stairs then the pair beat each other to bloody pulps at Backlash. Nowadays without that vicious streak Randy is a more methodical wrestler who seems to be going through the motions, not a patch on the unpredictable Viper of old.
8 8. Trish Stratus: PG
Before recently WWE, and pro wrestling in general to be fair, was not the best place to be if you were a woman. Nowadays we may be in the midst of a women's revolution and the female side of the business is better than it's ever been, but only a handful of years ago WWE's women were objectified beyond belief. Hired based on looks rather than wrestling ability. Trish Stratus was a rare breed from that bygone era that was given the chance to exhibit her in ring talent. She was great. But before she got the chance to show that she was treated just like all the rest, subjected to bra and panties matches and judged on looks alone. A particular low point for Stratus came during a story line with Vince McMahon where the chairman had her get on all fours in the ring and pretend to be a dog. Thankfully women being treated like that in the business is a trait that has been left far behind.
7 7. Edge: Rated R
Edge was never a wrestler who was particularly PG, but it would be remiss to leave him absent from a list like this one considering he was The Rated R Superstar. When Edge split from Christian and went it alone as a singles star his career reached heights that I don't think anyone had envisioned. He earned the Rated R moniker for a number of things he did during his run at the top. His barbaric WrestleMania match with Mick Foley saw Edge spear the former Raw General Manager through a flaming table. Plus of course there's the infamous Live Sex Celebration he and Lita (almost) performed in the middle of the ring on Raw. While before that he may not have been PG per se, he was certainly not Rated R like he would later become and hence nowhere near the top of his game.
6 6. Kurt Angle: PG
Kurt Angle, the now well deserved WWE Hall of Famer. The reason Kurt was always a shoe in to one day make it to the Hall of Fame was in large part down to his sheer versatility. The man is an Olympic gold medalist, so when WWE needed him to be he could be a bonafide ass kicker and legitimate bad ass. A lot more surprising was Kurt's flip side. His ability to lend himself to the business in a much more family friendly way when called upon. As demonstrated during his Hall of Fame induction speech it's those more PG moments that Angle is most fondly remembered for. Spraying The Alliance with milk, singing Jimmy Cracked Corn with Stone Cold. He may be a legit shoot wrestler but no one does comedy in WWE quite like Kurt Angle.
5 5. Stone Cold Steve Austin: Rated R
Speaking of Stone Cold Steve Austin, time to make a judgement call on arguably the greatest Superstar the wrestling business has ever produced. Austin is most fondly remembered for his time as a beer swilling, foul mouthed pain in Vince McMahon's neck. During most of his WWE tenure that's who he was. It most certainly was not PG and in turn was in very large part responsible for one of the most popular periods in WWE history. As mentioned above he also ventured into the more comedic, family friendly side of things with Kurt Angle. While that act worked for Kurt, it didn't so much for good old Stone Cold. Nothing he did as a comedy act compared to his work as The Texas Rattlesnake.
4 4. The Undertaker: PG
At WrestleMania 33 the wrestling world bid an emotional farewell to The Undertaker (or did we?). The Deadman has seen more WWE eras come and go than almost anybody else. Even more impressive is how long his gimmick has lasted and how he's tweaked it over the years to keep himself relevant. Not everything The Phenom did was a home run however. While most of his work during The Attitude Era is remembered fondly, it's arguably out done by his work in the past 15 years. We suspended our disbelief to see him buried and burned alive only to return, but as The Streak became more prominent we saw a better side of Undertaker. A side focused on his in ring ability as opposed to the 'magic' surrounding his feuds. The highlight of Taker in the PG Era being his incredible WrestleMania matches with Shawn Michaels. No special effects needed.
3 3. Mick Foley: Rated R
When it comes to the violent side of a more liberal WWE, there's no one quite like Mick Foley. Foley was so hardcore in his hey day that it couldn't be contained by just one gimmick. While Dude Love was a little more PG, Mankind and Cactus Jack most certainly were not. There was nothing Mick wouldn't do to entertain the fans and in turn test the limits of the human body. His violent career took quite a toll on his body though and by 2000 Foley had semi-retired from the business. As an authority figure he took on more of a comedy role and while still beloved by the fans, he would never reach the heights he once did while putting his body on the line every night.
2 2. John Cena: PG
We've already covered a lot of incredibly successful names on this list. However love him or hate him, none have had as long a career atop the business than John Cena. What many fans forget though is that Big Match John was not always the Make-A-Wish granting super hero that he is now. At the beginning of Cena's WWE career he was certainly not someone parents would have wanted their children idolizing. As the Doctor of Thuganomics Cena would spout rhymes each week that were rarely PG, and that's putting it lightly. He would mock his opponents and pull absolutely no punches. The majority of Cena's success has come since he hung up that gimmick. Ever since becoming the role model that he is today he has been WWE's unchallenged number one guy.
1 1. D-Generation X: Rated R
D-Generation X are the ultimate example of an act that worked when the boundaries were a lot less strict. Stone Cold may have done a lot for WWE during the Attitude Era but so did Triple H, Shawn Michaels and co. When they went out to that ring each and every Monday night they were given free reign. They could pretty much do or say whatever they wanted to and it made for unmissable TV. About a decade later WWE decided to get the old band back together, but times had changed. DX attempted to push the boundaries but they simply couldn't like they had done during the '90s. WWE was no longer trying to primarily appeal to young adults and had begun making their product more child friendly. The return of DX helped with our need for nostalgia but it didn't take long for us to realize it wasn't going to be the same.
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