The Attitude Era was about as different from our current era of WWE wrestling as it is possible to be while still both being wrestling products. The audience was different, the way television and gimmicks were used was different, and the things that were necessary to become a top star were very, very different indeed. With that said, it has been said by many people that the collection of talent on the roster today may be the greatest assembly of pure skill ever in the industry. So what the hell, let's chuck someone in the time machine, send them back to 1996 and answer the question...
The coin toss dictates that BGMaverick will go first.
Steve Austin has cut his 3:16 promo, the Outsiders are going to change the landscape over on Nitro, the rise of dX is on the horizon, edgy promos are being eaten up by the audience while the core fan base still consists of those from an earlier era who want escapist action, the Attitude Era was a time of change, of opportunity a time when TALENT really, mattered.
The opportunities were there in and out of the ring, wrestlers like HBK and Jericho flourished for that reason, Austin became a legend not just because of his ability on the mic, but because he was an exceptional talent between the ropes, during the Attitude Era the real all round stars shone.
We want someone who can talk, who can cut a promo that can get the crowd on their feet, heat or cheers, someone who can play heel or face, and that all important middle ground, let's remember this Era moves fast so he better be quick witted.
Talking’s important but our guy needs to really ‘go’ between the ropes, he needs to inspire belief and sell like a king, this is a time when kayfabe was still hanging in so this guy needs to make us believe in his offence, and his suffering.
And desire, we need hunger, the Era is hard there's a war on and we need someone who is prepared to work.
Charisma, in-ring talent, hunger, reliability.
One man has it all.
The Attitude Era has long been hailed as one of the greatest eras in all of professional wrestling. Some may argue the actual quality, but there's no denying it was the greatest era financially for all involved, as it was when profits were the highest and all eyes were on the product. And while this era had its fair share of pure in-ring greatness, this era was truly marked by memorable stories and characters, no-holds-barred language, and gritty wrestling that was more akin to a bar brawl than a choreographed trading of holds. In general, this combination achieved a product that was edgy, violent, and captivating, and it was seen in every facet from the graphical presentation, to the promos, and yes, to the actual wrestling.
And one man would not only encapsulate all of that, but would also wholly benefit from being in the Attitude Era.
Are you surprised? Dean Ambrose was made for the Attitude Era. His witty, comical banter and quick-thinking skills would carry him to glory when paired on the mic against the likes of Austin or Rock. His character evokes high emotion as a babyface or heel - his selling and ability to sink into character creating deeper crowd immersion.
But most notable of all is the side of Dean Ambrose we have not properly seen in WWE. The side that brought him to the dance and made many fans fear the day he would make it. The REAL Lunatic, Jon Moxley.
My opponent makes an excellent choice, one I almost made myself.
Let’s look at the two wrestlers side by side;
Both similar age, both fans from an early age, both former multiple champions, both former MITB winners, both have been top ten PWI wrestlers, both Rollin Stone award winners. In fairness Ambrose has experience in the Indys whereas at high school, Ziggler wrestled for St. Edward High School in Cleveland and holds the school record for pins then went to Kent State and was a three-time All-Mid American Conference selection and is No. 2 in career wins with 121.
Now lets see them face to face;
The two have faced off in recent times, so it would have been remiss not to bring this to the table, both men have the opportunity to showcase their mic skills here, Dolph for me wins the exchange with his charisma and ability to connect edging out Ambrose with his willingness to allow the fans ‘in’.
Ambrose is, by his own admission, wary of these platforms, he is intensely private and, sadly this comes across when he is interviewed ‘out of character’ and he often comes across awkward and closed off. Dolph is a consummate showman, he is comfortable with mainstream attention, he is charismatic, witty and very media savvy, he has a good grasp of social media and embraces the opportunity to connect with fans on every level, so when he talks we believe him, we care...
Dolph's ability to connect hands him the edge, every time.
Ziggler might have tugged at more heart strings with his promo against Ambrose. But a strong babyface is not what the Attitude Era calls for. In fact, most babyfaces during that era were morally closer to heels. The crowd grew to love them not for doing what's right, but for their...what's the word?...
Stone Cold, The Rock, DX, Edge & Christian, Jericho - these were not men who stood for what was morally right or even believed in a clean match. They told you exactly what they thought of you, and the crowd ate it up. Dean Ambrose fits that mold to a tee. He's the member of The Shield they kept building to a heel turn, only to be forced to have him run as a babyface because the crowd loved him too much. The "Attitude" of that era is exactly what we see from Dean in that promo against Ziggler that you so graciously posted, and it's great.
Ziggler can cut it sometimes, but he usually misses the mark in his promos. Your examples are rare occasions where he grabbed the crowd, whereas Dean Ambrose has a treasure trove of promo gold. In an Attitude Era environment, Dolph would be eaten alive the minute he was given a microphone. Then WWE would hardly give him screen time, like modern WWE.
But don't let me fool you. Dean Ambrose can touch your heart on the mic if needed, too. Letting you in, as Rip would put it:
My opponent is clever, by challenging my choice on grounds of promo, which is a highly subjective area, he seeks to distract from the real question.
The important issue here is how our choice would fit into the Attitude Era;
So let's look at the opportunities available;
Ziggler vs the Rock, both excellent workers and two of the best talkers in the business, imagine Ziggler representing the fans as they voiced their displeasure at having the young Rock shoved down their throats, or Ziggler standing against the Nation, his ability to sell drawing in the fans as he takes punishment from the fearsome faction, leading to the eruption of emotion as he defeats them one by one concluding in an epic cage match against Rocky for the Intercontinental title.
Ziggler vs dX, HBK takes exception to the upstart, perhaps after initially taking him under his wing, after a severe beating Dolph comes back, cutting a scathing promo on the degenerates calling them out on wasting their talents and treating the fans and talent with disrespect, aligning with Stone Cold to face down the rampant faction.
Dolph vs Foley, after Mick gets his win, with the fans firmly behind Foley Ziggler stalks out the next night ripping into Foley, insulting his look, his style, everything about him, heel Ziggler dumps on the fans for supporting such a worthless champion, when they could have him.
Dolph vs the Corporation, or with them, vs Eddie, vs Bret, and, of course vs Austin.
While Dean offers us Mick 2.0, Dolph brings so much more.
The possibilities are simply mouthwatering.
My points about promos are very important in fitting into the Attitude Era, because they would need to be able to hang. I think I've proven on the mic, Dean would hang with the best of them. But I'm glad you brought up how they'd fit with the roster.
Comparing Ziggler on the mic to The Rock is laughable, and while the matches would be fine, imagine The Lunatic tearing Rocky apart across the arena.
How about Ambrose aligning with Stone Cold to wreak havoc on DX, or Ambrose also being entertaining with goofy antics to match the degenerates?
And it's funny that you mention Foley, because these two once came across each other in 2012, only cut short by Foley's health:
With their two creative minds colliding in their prime, just imagine the magic they could have created in the Attitude Era. Ziggler would have a nice moment here and there, but would ultimately drown in the talent pool surrounding him whereas Dean Ambrose would thrive.
Most importantly, The Attitude Era is not limtied to WWF/E. The prominent style of the era was no-disqualification wrestling, all fueled by a certain promotion that is a key influence on the creative direction of WWF and WCW. ECW was edgy, dark, and filled with hardcore wrestling, and yet again, Dean Ambrose would thrive. All avenues where he could fully unleash the dark, violent, twisted side that we love and crave, where Dolph anywhere would still be Dolph now: Talented, but overshadowed.