What wrestling fans think of the “Attitude Era” nearly 20 years after it first appeared on World Wrestling Federation television varies per person. Some see that time as the golden age of pro wrestling North America, which was the case as it pertained to television ratings and overall national interest in a product that has earned its share of criticisms over the years. Others, however, look back and believe that those old shows do not live up decades after they first aired. Whatever your opinion, there is no question that the Attitude Era changed the face of pro wrestling forever, and it is something that will likely never be repeated by a company such as World Wrestling Entertainment.
Some of the biggest draws in the history of the business made their names and fortunes working during the Attitude Era. Steve Austin was nothing more than a midcard performer before he was linked with the “Stone Cold” gimmick that helped make him the top act in the World Wrestling Federation. He was followed by all-time greats such as The Rock and Triple H. Meanwhile, World Championship Wrestling was responsible for the New World Order storyline that managed to both boost and ultimately sink that organization all within a matter of five years after Hulk Hogan turned heel in the summer of 1996.
Not all of the acts that were featured in main event feuds during that time would become superstars in today’s pro wrestling environment. That list includes a man who was given the opportunity to become of the top babyface characters in the WWF, an individual who lived his dream and won the world championship during an edition of Raw. That title change is one that has been relived time and time again on WWE television and via the WWE Network, and it is a moment that very well may have turned the tide in the real-life battle that was known as the Monday Night Wars.
10. Big Show
Big Show gets filed under the “maybe” category regarding this list due to what we now know about his early days in the WWF. As The Giant in WCW, the big man had one of the best rookie years you will ever see a wrestler have in a national promotion. He got out of shape after getting big-time WWF money, however, so much so that the company sent him down to developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling so that he could shed the extra pounds and work on his cardiovascular conditioning. It is believable, in the WWE of today, that the Big Show would struggle to get out of NXT.
9. Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels was a once-in-a-generation talent who would be able to fit in during any era of pro wrestling. What one has to remember about the “Heartbreak Kid” during the first couple of years of the Attitude Era is that he was known to be kind of a pain for the WWF behind the scenes: Read up on “The Montreal Screwjob” for more information. The WWF let the likes of Michaels get away with certain antics during a time when there were fears that performers would leave for WCW. With no real competition for the WWE to be had in 2015, the Attitude Era Shawn Michaels would have to take a backseat to the man who made a return to the company in 2002 in order to make it today.
8. “Road Dogg” Jesse James
One of the best overall talkers in the WWF during the Attitude Era and a member of D-Generation-X, “Road Dogg” Jesse James along with Billy Gunn found great success in the company as the tag team the New Age Outlaws. Of the members of that incarnation of DX, it is James who would be the most likely to have difficulties making it in the WWE today. He never had the supposed “look” that the company supposedly looks for in performers, and James was never a worker capable of putting together five-star matches. James was an ideal tag-team worker for his time, but he would possibly be just another guy in 2015.
7. Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy and his brother Matt went from being forgettable jobbers in the WWF to main event acts in the Attitude Era as Team Xtreme. While Jeff proved that he was capable of developing into a top babyface as a singles act, his inability to follow the WWE Wellness Policy resulted in the company cutting ties with the performer. Hardy would likely be working for the organization today if the WWE trusted that he would follow the company’s rules regarding the use of certain substances. That he is not doing so is a testament to why he would not make it in the WWE today.
6. Scott Hall
Scott Hall was, in his day, a skilled in-ring worker who had unique abilities to click with fans via his promo work, and he was placed front and center in what was the hottest storyline in all of pro wrestling during the early days of the Attitude Era. The performer who made the jump from WCW to the WWF en route to being a key opponent of the New World Order “invasion” feud also had his personal demons, problems that were allowed to be ignored for far too long. That would not occur in the WWE today, and thus Hall would have to go through a serious life change in order to make it in the business in 2015.
There are two hurdles that are standing between the Goldberg who was turned into the top babyface character in all of WCW from making it in the pro wrestling world today: He was somewhat of a clunky worker at times, and he was not great on the microphone. Goldberg legitimately injured Bret “Hitman” Hart during a WCW match to the point that he is often “credited” with ending Hart’s career. Such a worker would be relegated to NXT duties if not cut entirely by the WWE today, and he certainly would not be trusted to have matches with the highest-paid wrestlers in the company.
The Goldust character went through multiple shifts during the Attitude Era, each one a bit weirder and more bizarre than the one before it. The WWF was more than willing to push the envelope with Goldust and with other characters during the Attitude Era, but it is now a different time for the company. The WWE is concerned, maybe even a little too concerned, about offending sponsors who pay to advertise during shows such as Raw. Those companies would probably be not at all pleased to see the Goldust character of the Attitude Era appearing on nationally televised programs.
3. Rob Van Dam
One does not have to speculate on if the former legend of Extreme Championship Wrestling would be given a fair chance to today’s WWE. Rob Van Dam has, for years, lived his life his way regarding what he would and would not put into his body, and doing so cost him a main event run in the WWE last decade when the company resurrected the ECW brand. That version of Van Dam who eventually headed to Total Nonstop Action Wrestling would struggle to get off a suspension list let alone make it as a WWE champion in the wrestling industry today.
2. Steve Austin
Steve Austin was an underrated performer as a wrestler and as a talker when he was shown the door by WCW in the 1990s, and the WWF wisely gave him the “Stone Cold” gimmick that helped the company overtake WCW in the Monday Night Wars. That was a different era for the wrestling business, however, and that character would not be given a chance to even feature on television in today’s PG WWE Universe as it did all those years ago. Austin may have managed to get himself over another way, but it is a certainty that Stone Cold would not fly on WWE TV in 2015.
1. Mick Foley
One way that the wrestling business has improved since the Attitude Era is that the health of the athletes is more seriously monitored than it was two decades ago. While that is nothing but a positive for everybody involved, it also limits who may get a shot in the WWE today. Mick Foley was a hardcore icon who had sacrificed his body and years of his life to the pro wrestling business before he was given an opportunity to become a true superstar in the WWE. Would that individual who is a legend of the business even pass a WWE physical in 2015? It is a good thing that we’ll never have to learn the answer to that question.
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