The modern era of WWE wrestling has been criticized many times for lacking personality, even while the actual in ring product is head and shoulders above anything we've ever seen before. The demands on talent have skyrocketed with all the different shows, ventures, and opportunities, as well as having to deal with the omnipresence of social media and a renaissance of the smart fan. Frankly, we have never been more lacking in big name stars, or people who could simply cut a compelling promo. Recently, i've seen people hearkening back to the days of the Attitude Era, which gives us an opportunity to have some fun. So hop in that time machine, grab somebody, and get ready to unleash them on the modern era as we answer the question...
The coin toss dictates that Honey Badger will go first.
This answer is so simple, it hurts. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
In a modern era dominated by social media, advertising, television appearances, marketing, merchandise sales and public appearances, no one had the unique ability to adapt to their environment and cater to the masses then The Rock.
The Rock embodies entertainment. The Rock recently topped the list of highest paid actors in Hollywood, bringing in $64.5 Million a year. Business Insider ranked him the #2 most powerful star in Hollywood. The Rock has 83.4 million Instagram followers alone, not including his entire social media network.
The WWE continues to lose viewers at record rates. They rely on social media and marketing to promote their Network, a centerfold of their modern day success. Who better to lean on in a time of turmoil then a man like The Rock? A man who can singlehandedly bring millions, and millions, of viewers to your product through cross-promotion and mainstream attention? Hell, even 14 years removed from his time, when The Rock appeared on WWE television in 2015m viewership surged by 18% from prior weeks.
Lastly, in an era highly relied upon by blood and violence, The Rock always brought something different to the table, and that was shear entertainment. He didn’t rely on blood to drive his popularity, better yet, he relied on what the WWE pushes harder than anything today, and that is sheer ENTERTAINMENT.
This is a difficult question (albeit a fun one) to answer, since there were just as many things wrong with the Attitude Era as there were right.
Superstars got over and remained relevant thanks to vulgarity, being obscene, being overtly sexual, or insanely violent. Those Superstars would never fit into today's landscape as the reason why they became so popular would be cut off from them. You also had Superstars with behavioral issues, addictions, a myriad of injuries, and those who became more focused on outside projects as time marched on. For the slim who didn't fall into these categories, you already have seem them return to the current product in some form over the last 3 years.
However, what would happen if we brought someone - in their prime - from the Attitude Era to take the place of their current self in the Modern Era?
This is why I have chosen Attitude Undertaker to replace Modern Undertaker... healthy enough to do more than just a once-a-year appearance, strong and agile enough to hang with the best on the roster today, and harnessing a character unlike any that has come AFTER him who was able to get us to suspend disbelief and wait with baited breath for the gong of his entrance. The mark of a true larger than life character and an undisputed leader, something WWE desperately needs today.
While your choice is an interesting one, it comes with many issues. Undertaker was a character built around mystique, magic and a sense of “out-of-this-world” ability. Modern day WWE is embarked on a reality rollercoaster, where kayfabe is all but dead, and social media and marketing rule the industry. A character like The Undertaker falls short, struggling to fit into this new age WWE. The Undertaker relied on his magical presence while performing fictional abilities like shooting lightning bolts, coming back from the dead, etc. In modern WWE, that doesn’t work. A perfect example is Bray Wyatt.
Wyatt is a modern version, or attempt, at The Undertaker, and he has failed tremendously. When you eliminate his groupies, he is nothing but a fictional character trying to survive in a reality era. The attempts of magic and superhuman abilities fall short for the audience, and people just see past it.
Attitude era Undertaker was also limited in the ring, never delivering “5-star matches.” Technical wrestling in today’s WWE is constantly critiqued, much more than in the Attitude Era, and I just can’t imagine a guy like The Undertaker fitting in with a limited move set.
Summerslam 1998, Royal Rumble 1999, Backlash 99, Judgement Day 2000, No Mercy 2000 – what do these events all have in common? The featured match of the night included The Rock, a technically sound wrestler who could not only entertain, but also outperform the roster, making him a perfect fit for modern day WWE.
A man with a limited moveset wouldn't make it in today's WWE? Um, ever hear of John Cena?
The attempts of magic and superhuman abilities fall short for the audience? You do realize that the crowd still continued to pop for the Dead Man every time he called upon his supernatural elements no matter how blurred the line between reality and fantasy became, right? We're not talking about Bray, we're talking about Undertaker... and it still works for him, and even then, you forget that Taker was also the American Bad Ass during the tail-end of the Attitude Era... a reality-based character that ALSO worked, proving that his work rate was just as good as Rocky's if he was able to pull off a mystical character and a reality-driven one.
You don't have to be a technical wizard to put on entertaining matches or to become memorable. Undertaker resonated with people, even back then, and was unique. As you stated with Bray, no one can do what Undertaker in his prime was capable of: making us suspend disbelief. A healthy and younger Taker in the modern era would completely work considering modern Taker continued doing everything he did back then, and is beloved for it.
Meanwhile, in regards to social media, Attitude Rocky didn't have social media and shouldn't be a factor as a result; Undertaker drew people in because not everyone knew his business because he kept an aura of mystery around his character and still does.
You make a wonderful point, attitude Rocky did not have social media, and he was still a mainstream draw. However, the question is not what they did in their era, better yet what era superstar would fit into modern WWE with all differences considered, including social media.
The Undertaker didn’t possess the ability, like The Rock, to captivate an audience and hold them in the palm of their hands while not only delivering an epic promo, but also captivating the masses of not only WWE fans, but also the world. His popularity and captivation led him to roles on That 70’s Show, starring in music videos, hosting SNL and landing a starring role in a major Hollywood flick, all while being named a top 200 pop culture icon by VH1 in 2003, and People Magazine #13 favorite top 50 TV stars. Again, in a WWE landscape driven by mainstream crossover marketability, The Rock would thrive.
Undertaker thrived in an era where kayfabe was a centerpiece, and social media and access to information didn't water down the character. Undertaker would not possess those advantages in the modern WWE landscape. He would be a one-dimensional, fairy tale driven character fueled through disbelief. You mentioned Undertaker in the last few years was successful using the same character... false. He transformed his character into a more respect driven, old school, father of the WWE character. He didn’t rely on tricks to engage the audience.
There is one obvious answer here, The Rock.
Incorrect. Undertaker utilized tricks in his arsenal in the last few years of his career, from the importance of the urn against CM Punk, appearing out of "thin air" when the lights would go out in the arena, and summoning lightning. Crossover marketability seems to be your main focus, and if that were truly THE only test to see who'd fit into the current landscape, by that argument, Austin, Sable, and Chyna would fit in as well (and we all know that they would NOT thrive in this new era like their own).
Undertaker's main focus always seemed to be wrestling over Hollywood. He didn't abandon WWE for stretches at a time to focus on another career. Again, he had his biker character - not centered on the mystical - during the Attitude Era, proving he could work a more real character, one that STILL saw him get the treatment of a leader among the locker room no matter where he was placed on the card.
Just because Rocky could cut a promo doesn't mean that Taker was lacking in that ability, still getting people to listen when he spoke fewer words because when he spoke, it ALWAYS mattered.
Fans WANT to be entertained. Everything's become so "real" that something different is needed. Even without social media, fans STILL want to see Undertaker, so I have no doubt the audience today would appreciate having what they love about Undertaker accompanied by a maximized bill of health.