Wrestling is always changing and what’s popular in society will tend to dictate what becomes successful in wrestling. Throughout its history, wrestling has seen many different eras from the territory days to the glory days of the 80s and Hulkamania. The 90s saw an edgy product that mainstream America loved in the Attitude Era until that type of television went out of style and WWE switched to the Ruthless Aggression before slowly transitioning into a PG product again. Today, there’s still the PG element involved in WWE but there’s a bit more of a desire to see a fast paced ring style with reality aspects in storylines.
Not all successful wrestlers in a specific time period would have thrived in another and that’s not a slight to their work, as some strengths were better suited for the 90s and some are better for today’s fan. For example, many of the strengths of the Attitude Era were a program aimed towards the culture of sex, violence and obscene language being what America gravitated towards at the time. If a new fan watched an episode of Raw or a PPV from the late 90s in WWE, there’s a great chance they would be offended or disinterested, but fans at the time ate it up.
Today, society and American culture is not as into edgy content in the mainstream and there’s more of a reality factor involved in wrestling. Social media has dominated the entertainment industry and fans of wrestling basically get to find out everything about who a wrestler is in real life, what he or she likes or dislikes and their relationships with other wrestlers and fans. That plays a role in fan support as seen recently with Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns at the 2015 Royal Rumble. With the changes in today’s wrestling industry, these are 15 Attitude Era stars that wouldn’t have succeeded as much today.
One of the most popular female wrestlers of the Attitude Era, Lita was simply adored by the fan base. Lita’s risk taking style won over many fans, particularly with her finisher of a Moonsault off the top rope. One fatal flaw of Lita’s work that was overlooked back then due to the lack of depth of good female wrestlers was that she was quite sloppy and couldn’t have good matches without better opponents leading her. In today’s wrestling world, Lita would likely be overshadowed by Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Nikki Bella, Alicia Fox and a few others in ring work.
The leader of “The Brood” with future stars Edge and Christian, Gangrel looked like a convincing vampire, so he was a perfect fit to lead a vampiric group. Despite his role with two of the most promising stars in the company and living the gimmick quite well, Gangrel’s lackluster in-ring work just didn’t cut it. If Gangrel was to debut in the current era of WWE, the fan base would reject him immediately and he would be off of television within a month or two. An apt comparison would be The Ascension who recently debuted and tanked instantly, and these guys are way more athletic than Gangrel was.
13 Shane McMahon
If you were a big fan during the Attitude Era, there’s a very good chance you loved Shane McMahon. Between his likable personality and his knack for jumping off of very high things in his matches, Shane had you wondering if he was really a McMahon given the lack of skill his dad showed when he wrestled. With today’s wrestlers doing such graceful and athletic moves during their matches every single episode of Raw, Shane wouldn’t be able to rely on his big move and there would be significantly less excitement involving his matches because of it.
12 The Big Boss Man
While he debuted and made his name in the late 80s/early 90s, The Big Boss Man returned to the WWE during the Attitude Era as the enforcer of The Corporation and basically as Vince McMahon’s personal security guard. WWE wanted him to have a big push as a legitimate threat to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin but no one took him seriously so he was a midcarder during his stint back in the WWE. Boss Man would lose ratings during his matches if his career took place in the current era because quite frankly, he was boring. Matches with 90% headlocks don’t translate as well in 2015.
11 Al Snow
After failed stints in WWE as Shinobi and Leif Cassidy, Al Snow was sent to ECW where he came up with his new gimmick of an insane person who talks to a mannequin head for direction. The character took a life of its own and became a cult favorite in ECW and then eventually in WWE as a very successful midcarder. A gimmick like that would not work well today and Snow’s talent was adequate but never special enough to warrant anyone going out of their way to see him. With just his wrestling, Snow would not have been able to adapt well enough to succeed in the current era.
Currently an announcer and a celebrated former WWE Champion with a Hall of Fame career, Bradshaw was known mostly as the guy who kept getting opportunities in WWE because he was a locker room enforcer. Bradshaw would physically threaten those he felt were a hindrance to the WWE atmosphere and Vince McMahon liked having his presence. After many failed gimmicks, Bradshaw finally succeeded teaming with Ron Simmons in the APA before his eventual run as JBL. In the current wrestling world, Bradshaw’s locker room tactics would have been a negative instead of a positive and his lackluster in ring work would have prevented his extra opportunities.
9 Val Venis
Val Venis was one of the more memorable midcarders during the Attitude Era due to his ridiculous gimmick of portraying an adult entertainer. As entertaining as it was at the time, Venis was basically made from the gimmick as the rest of his career was dictated by the silliness of the gimmick and he eventually evolved into a toned down ladies’ man rather than an adult film actor. If Val Venis had to start from scratch in his prime today, he would just be a solid wrestler that barely made television at best, in the Adam Rose and Bo Dallas stratosphere.
8 Road Dogg
One of the best promo men in the Attitude Era, “Road Dogg” Jesse James made his money forming a very successful tag team in the New Age Outlaws with Billy Gunn in D-Generation X. Road Dogg would introduce himself and Gunn while cutting a highly entertaining promo every night and was loved because of it. However, his wrestling work was very limited and for a wrestler to succeed today, fans demand a higher level of action whether it be fast paced like a Daniel Bryan or more intense like a Kevin Owens. Road Dogg would be similar to an Enzo Amore, a fun niche act likely to stay in developmental.
While he is still very successful today, Kane is getting by on his reputation and tenure after making it in the Attitude Era. “The Big Red Monster” debuted as The Undertaker’s demonic brother and was as terrifying to young fans and as riveting to older fans as Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger. Kane was the closest thing to a horror film villain setting opponents on fire and striking fear into the live audience. Can you imagine the Kane character debuting today? The crowd would heckle him with chants and it would become comedy rather than horror.
6 Hardcore Holly
Similar to JBL, Hardcore Holly was a locker room enforcer that provided a strict leadership role to keep any new or young wrestlers in check. While some may argue the power was abused at times, it was enough to keep a job despite never being that much of a star on television. Holly’s biggest success came after many failures when he branded himself as “Hardcore.” At the time, fans loved violent matches, so WWE introduced a hardcore division and Holly would just beat down his opponents with weapons. Anyone could have done it and in today’s climate, hardcore wrestling is less desired by undercard acts, so Holly would be obsolete.
5 Stone Cold Steve Austin
Here’s an incredibly controversial one. Possibly the biggest star in wrestling history, how would Steve Austin have performed today? Austin was always a great worker and would have definitely made a lot of money for himself in any era but his character work didn’t come up to par until he delved into his persona as a loudmouth Texan. During the edgy time, Austin could get away with swearing and drinking beer to help fans identify and live through him. Today, those acts wouldn’t be as welcomed and Austin would struggle to become “the guy” in the company. Austin would likely be an upper midcarder/lower main event act like where a Sheamus or Dean Ambrose is.
4 The Godfather
One of the least talented Intercontinental Champions of all time, The Godfather achieved fame in the Attitude Era with the gimmick of a pimp, as he would literally walk to the ring with his group of “hos.” The Godfather was the most basic wrestler possible with no memorable matches, so it's easy to assume his success was all due to his gimmick. Obviously, there would be no chance today of a gimmick like that working. USA TV would throw Raw off the air and there would be social media movements to boycott WWE if “hos” were a regular act in 2015.
The most recent and quite possibly most undeserving Hall of Fame inductee, Rikishi had a successful career in WWE during the 90s. His moost noteworthy moment was the formation of Too Cool and Rikishi getting over by dancing and performing a move known as “the stink face” where he would rub his large butt into other wrestler's faces. For a wrestler the size of Rikishi to work today, he would have to be more intense and intimidating and the big man just couldn’t pull that off as seen during his failed heel run vs. Steve Austin. There is no scenario where Rikishi would have excelled into today’s WWE.
2 The Dudley Boyz
Many would argue that Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley are the greatest tag team of all time due to their immense success in WWE, ECW and TNA. The Dudley Boyz started their path to greatness by utilizing two staples of the 90s era of wrestling – violence and vulgarity. In WWE, their popularity grew as Bubba began to put female wrestling personalities through tables, including an elderly Mae Young. Acts like that clearly would be banned today in WWE and while the two had great chemistry, their most successful wrestling matches came thanks to the help of weapons and that would not be available to bail them out now. While The Dudley Boyz have recently returned, it appears to be a more watered down version of themselves.
Something that fans of the Attitude Era didn’t realize at the time but come to terms with any time they watch an old show is that Chyna was terrible. After her time in DX, WWE decided to push Chyna as the only female performer to wrestle against men in intergender matches. Despite the impressive use of her, Chyna’s matches were always terrible and even though she had a unique look, it wouldn’t be that special today. WWE invests in more athletic female wrestlers today who can give great performances. If they wanted a stronger woman to wrestle against men, Chyna wouldn’t have compared to someone like Awesome Kong aka Kharma, thus removing her only strength.