Since the return of Shane McMahon prior to WrestleMania and the flurry of new superstars arriving from NXT and Japan, WWE has attempted to usher in a ‘New Era’ (in typical WWE form where they have to push the phrase on everyone so it’s more forced than natural like the ‘Diva’s Revolution’), which involved pushing stars based on fan support and work rate, rather than a pre determined pick, with one big exception (I don’t need to specify, we all know who that is). After much vocal criticism of previous WWE management selections to be the top guy, this new ideology, led by Triple H’s new vision for NXT, has been so far met with joy and relief by the IWC, but the pushing of these new guys has yet to completely take place, as Cesaro, AJ Styles, Sami Zayn and Bray Wyatt have all yet to win major titles, and therefore the idea of the next generation can not be properly judged yet, as old faces like Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns and the Big Show all remain on the main roster.
In the past, due to Vince McMahon's idea for sports entertainment, there have been countless guys who have been held back due to the idea that this is a ‘big man’s world’, and only the biggest guys get over, and this has frustrated performers and fans alike for generations. Superstars who should have gone above and beyond were held down at the expense of beating the same horse into the ground by keeping guys like Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Randy Orton and John Cena at the top of the card, leading to many being released because they couldn’t find a spot, when they should have found themselves in the main event scene.
With this idea in mind, assuming that we truly have entered a new era and performers will be judged on work rate and match quality, these are the top 19 superstars who in their prime would have been amazing candidates to assist in the success of this new era, to keep it from falling flat on its face in the eyes of fans, experts and management alike.
19 Justin Gabriel
The now PJ Black in Lucha Underground, Gabriel was never really given a chance to show off his personality after the split from Nexus, and was eventually released much to the dismay of the WWE Universe who enjoyed watching his high flying exploits. The “Darewolf” is showing both fantastic personality and in ring work since leaving, all around the independent scene and Lucha Underground, and being a young guy, could make his way back to WWE and shine again, as he is still in his prime, making match ups with Neville, Sami Zayn and Seth Rollins mouth watering prospects for wrestling fans.
18 Brian Kendrick
The tag team partner of Paul London, Kendrick was a versatile performer who could not only perform in the ring, but showed great personality when he was tasked with being a comedy character by the name of “Spanky” (the gimmick he also used on the independent circuit.) His charisma and wrestling ability would make him ideal for the new era within WWE, as he would no doubt become a huge part of a revamped cruiserweight division, against opponents like Kevin Owens, Cesaro or Neville, as he had the ability to wrestle different styles of opponents.
17 Lance Storm
Ah Lance Storm, one of the best in ring competitors of his time, who also trained many in ring technicians we see in the WWE today, could not quite get over due to how completely bland and boring he was as a character, especially in a time with The Rock, Evolution and a young John Cena on the roster. While this lack of over whelming character or personality would still hinder him in the new era, he would find a way into the mid card scene, and no doubt become a valuable player, with the ability to tell fantastic stories in the ring, and would work well with good characters such as Bray Wyatt, Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins.
While X-Pac is usually most remembered for his debut against Razor Ramon and his time in DX/the Kliq, his wrestling ability is often over shadowed, as he was one of the finer in ring competitors of the Attitude Era. With Triple H in charge of NXT and gaining more and more influence on the main roster, there is no doubt that X-Pac in his Attitude Era prime would find a significant spot on the roster, and would no doubt put on great matches with a variety of opponents. He would stand out with his personality if given freedom, which many superstars these days are not afforded.
15 Hurricane Helms
Whether competing as comedy character the Hurricane or ultra serious cruiserweight Gregory Helms, the man was talented and knew how to get it done in the ring, and this diverse ability would make him a key player in the mid card of the new era, as he could offer a baby face hero to the crowd or be a vital heat seeker against perennial crowd favourites Sami Zayn or Neville. While never seen as the best in his division or the best comedy character in the WWE, Helms would fill a nice spot in the mid card, which is definitely needed if guys like Kevin Owens, Cesaro and Bray Wyatt are to ascend to the top of the card.
The homicidal, suicidal, genocidal, death defying Sabu may not completely work in the new era due to the PG rating, but a move towards TV-14 and a little more focus on the sport aspect of wrestling would bode well for the ECW legend, as he was known to do anything, and take any risk for the entertainment of the fans, which endeared him to the audience whenever he competed in ECW or WWE. While not a technical master like others on this list by any stretch, Sabu would offer something different to the crowds, which is always a positive for the WWE, as the product often risks getting stale with the over exposure, as Sabu could surely put on some extreme classics with anyone he steps in the ring with.
13 John Morrison
The Shaman of Sexy was always a stand out performer in his time in WWE, from the tag team MnM to his time as John Morrison, he was never gifted the championship opportunities many feel he deserved, and was surprisingly released, and has only resurfaced lately in Lucha Underground where he competes as Johnny Mundo.
12 Rey Mysterio
While Mysterio in WWE was never the incredible high flying cruiserweight he was in WCW, he wowed fans with his in ring prowess and the story telling ability that made him the biggest little man in WWE history. While he slowed significantly and got pushed down the card in his later WWE years, a Mysterio in his WCW prime would be perfect to lead the charge of a new era, as his high flying exploits, specifically against Eddie Guerrero at the time were legendary, and no doubt if he competed in this era his popularity would soar to new heights, with match ups against more guys his style, rather than what WWE did with matching him mainly up against bigger opponents.
11 Jeff Hardy
The Charismatic Enigma is one of the most popular superstars in WWE history, making a name for himself in the early TLC matches, and for being one of the most death defying superstars ever, taking every risk imaginable for the sake of the fans. Jeff still competes in TNA, and while a return to the new era now would no doubt help WWE with star power, and he would put on good matches, he may disappoint many fans as he has slowed over the course of time, and the risks he now takes have to be minimal, but Hardy from the early 2000s would make an incredible addition to this bright future.
10 Rob Van Dam
“Mr. Monday Night”, “The Whole F’N Show”, RVD was one of the most innovative and extreme wrestlers in history, and was one of the true stars who made the jump from the land of extreme to the WWE successfully, as his overwhelming ability made him one of the best wrestlers in the Ruthless Aggression era, and still gets amazing pops upon return, as late as 2014. Though RVD would still be an amazing asset to the new era as it is, him in his prime from 2002-2003 or 2006 would light the WWE on fire against Cesaro, Seth Rollins, Neville or anyone else, due to his unpredictable and breath taking offense.
9 Daniel Bryan
Unfortunately for the American Dragon, he was forced to retire due to neck problems just before this new era and ideology began to manifest on the main roster, as he was one of the few smaller guys who truly got over with the fans, forcing management to take notice, due to being the best wrestler on the independent circuit for over a decade before making it to WWE. While Bryan wrestled all kinds of styles against any comers in his ascension to the top of the card, it would have been a dream for fans to see him wrestle long time indy wrestlers like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and AJ Styles.
8 Bret Hart
The best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be was always a stand out technician in his WWF run, and if not for Hulk Hogan and HBK politicking back stage, would have been the face of a new era in WWF back in his time, so it makes sense that Hart in his prime would be a great candidate to lead this new era into the future successfully. His technical prowess would be welcome under the new ideology and coming from one of the most influential wrestling families of all time doesn’t hurt. Hart vs. Zayn, Owens, Balor, Styles would do great business for the WWE.
7 Owen Hart
Perhaps the greatest loss of potential in WWE history after his tragic passing in 1999, Owen Hart was widely considered the best wrestler to come out of the Hart family, and is cited by many who knew him as one of the most charismatic and funny wrestlers in the locker room, as he had a great future ahead of him. If he was gifted character freedom, there is no doubt Owen would work his way to the top of the new era card in his prime, as evidenced by fantastic matches against Bret, he would shine when given the opportunity in the spot light against Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and many more.
The Rated-R Superstar is one of the most decorated performers in WWE history, accumulating over 30 championships in his time, and becoming one of the most innovative and beloved wrestlers to ever step foot in the squared circle, as evidenced by the heart wrenching, emotional retirement speech he delivered on Monday Night RAW. Not only would he be a genuine main event level talent, with the ability to play baby face or heel as the top guy in the company, he would put on some amazing matches with the new, fresh talent in the company, and wouldn’t it be great to see Edge wrestle again, if not just once?
5 Chris Jericho
While Jericho in 2016 remains an entertaining heel, putting over new talent like AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose, the WCW Jericho of 1998-99 would have been an incredible fit in the ‘new era’, whether it be in a main event role or with the cruiserweights, as he could wrestle with the best of them, and play an antagonizing, easy to hate heel in the process. As soon as he stepped foot in the WWF however, he was thrust straight into the main event, with his first night interrupting the Rock, which indicates he would be a true main event player in 2016, with the ability to put on different styles of matches with different opponents, and the ability to play both an effective heel/face.
4 Kurt Angle
One competitor who could realistically make a come back in the near future is Kurt Angle, despite taking time off from wrestling to heal his mind and his injured neck. After he left TNA, many fans were salivating at the idea of Kurt Angle vs. Rusev, or Del Rio or to be the manager of American Alpha, yet it was not to be just yet, as Kurt and the WWE could not come to an agreement. Angle in his prime was one of the best performers to ever lace up a pair of boots, as he showed an uncanny ability to be a heat magnet drawing deafening “you suck” chants, or as a loveable comedy baby face, who also backed it up in the ring, and would fit perfectly with the wrestling ability in the ‘new era’, as well as having the personality and charisma to fill a main event slot.
3 Eddie Guerrero
Part of one of the greatest wrestling families in history, Eddie was the cream of the crop, finally getting over the Beast and winning his first WWE Championship in 2004, he was the most well rounded and respected performer in WWE, and truly earned his way to championship gold. Eddie had the personality, the flashy entrance, and the diverse ability in the ring, to be one of the best technical wrestlers and high fliers in wrestling, which gave him the opportunity to compete successfully against almost any performer the business has to offer. Unfortunately he tragically passed in 2005, leaving us with many dream rivalries at the time, but most wrestling fans dream of a world where Eddie in his prime is matched up against Finn Balor, AJ Styles and Sami Zayn.
2 Shawn Michaels
Widely regarded as the greatest in ring performer of all time, HBK would be perfect in this new era with the focus on just that, wrestling ability, as he is one of the few smaller guys in WWE history to truly get over with fans and management alike, and hold multiple WWE Championships. “Mr. WrestleMania” put his heart and soul into every match, whether it be a live event or WrestleMania, and for this became one of the most beloved superstars in wrestling history, a pioneer for smaller, more athletic competitors, it would be amazing to see Michaels against any of the newer NXT debutants or even some of the older guys he didn’t compete against in his time, due to the fact that he is such a fantastic story teller in the ring, to go along with the in ring ability.
1 CM Punk
His name still gets loudly chanted at most WWE events around the world, a sign of his popularity during his time, despite being held back by management for the most part. Despite being the hottest commodity in wrestling in 2011 following the pipe bomb speech, he was still not treated like a true main eventer, despite having incredible in ring ability, being one of the best talkers in all of WWE, and the first and only guy in years to out sell John Cena in merchandise, he was never treated with respect and given the WrestleMania main event which he, and the majority of the WWE universe feel he deserved. Punk is one of the only competitors on this list who could genuinely make a return to the ‘new era’, and if he did he would be greeted with multiple wrestling fans dream matches against AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and more.
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