Doctor's Orders: The Top 100 WWE Stars Of The Post-Attitude Era (#61-#65) – Stone Cold! Stone Cold…?

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Doctor’s Orders: The Top 100 WWE Stars Of The Post-Attitude Era (#61-#65) – Stone Cold! Stone Cold…?
By The Doc
Jul 10, 2016 – 2:26:14 PM

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About a year ago, a frequent collaborator on “The Doc Says” podcast – David Fenichel – suggested to me a column series that would begin to turn our historical attention toward that which came after the vaunted Attitude Era. With an eye on something fresh, he suggested that we identify the most accomplished wrestlers of the “post-Attitude Era” – from present day back to the night after WrestleMania X-8 as we have defined it. So, welcome to a labor of pro wrestling love roughly one year in the making.

We ranked our top 100 wrestlers based on a point system that involved headlining matches for WrestleMania, Summerslam, Survivor Series, The Royal Rumble, and all other PPVs, combined with a points formula based on titles won and length of reigns. While it was more difficult to ascertain the status of certain members of the WWE – namely tag teams, divas and legends w/ short tenures during this era, we believe that this is as unbiased of a countdown as you are going to find. Chad and I did a tremendous amount of work putting this together for you, so we hope that you enjoy the ride.

70. The Bella Twins
69. Hardcore Holly
68. Luke Harper
67. Paul London and Brian Kendrick
66. AJ Lee
65. Big E
64. William Regal
63. Finlay
62. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
61. Lita

Doc: The Bellas are another female act that I just don’t know how to rank. Yes, Nikki is the longest reigning Divas Champion ever. Yes, Brie headlined a Summerslam. Yes, the sisters have been the stars of an underrated WWE Universe-expanding venture with reality TV. However, their association with the return of the women’s match to potty break status is well documented among the internet circle. Is that fair? To an extent. The bottom line is that, unlike the women of NXT or the Trish-Lita-Victoria (etc) group from a decade ago, the Bellas and the other women in their camp never did anything to stimulate interest in women’s wrestling, either from fans or the people in charge of booking them on TV. All we can do as historians is evaluate what we see and what we largely saw from the Bellas was forgettable. They’re here because of Total Divas.

Dave: Chad let his internet fandom get the best of him regarding the Bellas. He glossed over their incredible accomplishments as if they were nothing. Nikki being the longest reigning Divas champion is an enormous accomplishment. That alone should get The Bella ranked amongst the best females of this era. Additionally, Brie Bella was involved in the best hyped female match ever. Stephanie McMahon was one of the biggest focal points of Summerslam 2014. It is the ONLY Divas’ match to ever occupy a headlining spot on a Big 4 Pay Per View. These are accomplishments that cannot be ignored. The Bellas are crossover mainstream stars because of Total Divas. I argue that they are the most recognizable current wrestlers not named John Cena. Their overall impact cannot be taken lightly. I think we probably undersold them here, and they should be ranked higher on our countdown.

What do Hardcore Holly and the Bella Twins have in common? They both stuck around long enough that the more talented people consistently pushed ahead of them moved on, giving them opportunities to shine during fairly inconsequential periods of their divisions in the WWE hierarchy, consequently inflating their place in history. Truth be told, I don’t mind Holly any less than I mind the Bellas, but make no mistake that he was a lengthy Tag Team Title reign with Cody Rhodes subtracted and a broken neck suffered at the hands of someone not named Brock Lesnar away from being left off this list entirely. His marginal skills, like Nikki and Brie’s, probably don’t justify as high a position in a historical rankings discussion, but when you statistically analyze anything, there are going to be outliers. With the personality of a guard dog and only marginal wrestling talent, Holly is one of the biggest outliers on our list.

While it is a lot more fun to argue with Chad, I’m going to have to agree with him here. Unlike the Bella Twins, Hardcore Holly was a complete waste of space. He couldn’t wrestle, couldn’t talk, had the charisma of a dead moose, and was an absolute garbage fire behind the scenes. Chad correctly pointed out that his accomplishments were the type to score well in our criteria, making him an outlier on the countdown. I think that while all that is correct, it’s his longevity that allowed him such a prominent ranking here. Truth be told, Bob Holly might be one of the biggest overachievers in the era. He’s a guy who lacked talent in any of the areas that generally determine success and parlayed that into headlining a Royal Rumble and carving out a 10 plus year career. There is something admirable about that.

Luke Harper is interesting case to me. He is one of the most underrated talents in the WWE. He’s an absolute monster and can bring it in the ring. His look may limit his long term success, but he is one of my personal favorites. Just like Erick Rowan, he earns his place on the countdown for being a member of the Wyatt Family. He gets a higher ranking due to his noteworthy Intercontinental Title run. I really enjoyed his ladder match against Dolph Ziggler, and I consider that to be one of the better matches of that gimmick in recent memory. Unlike surefire superstars like Kevin Owens, it will be interesting to revisit Luke Harper’s career in ten years to see if he ever breaks out of his current role as a background player. The talent is there, but I’m not sure the pieces will fall together for him.

Interesting that Dave should bring up the idea of revisiting Harper’s career in ten years, as that’s the closing statement to just about every conversation about Harper’s long-term prospects that I have had. I agree with my colleague; Harper is a personal favorite. He blew me away in the classic series between The Wyatt Family and The S.H.I.E.L.D. two years ago and, with each opportunity he’s had to shine since, he has maintained the sterling reputation he has among fans and peers alike. Harper is what the modern “big man” should be. The world of pro wrestling has shrunk; calling it “the land of giants” is silly to me in 2016. The longest reigning World Champion of the last 25 years looked like the short order cook at Waffle House and the biggest star of the Reality Era made Chris Jericho look huge. Harper is the ideal kind of talent to lead the redefinition of the larger wrestler.

Paul London and Brian Kendrick are the next in the growing list of talents on our list who I have a hard time placing in proper historical context. Their biggest claim to fame? They hold the distinction as the 2nd longest reigning champions in the lineage of the current Tag Team Titles. I wish not to beat a dead horse, but the knock against that accomplishment is that the period in which that accomplishment was achieved was not exactly a sterling period in the division’s history. Considering that said reign was mostly responsible for their ranking, though, I think it’s fair to reassert the primary argument against them. It’s what makes these discussions interesting to me, at day’s end. All that talk aside, I was a big fan of their tandem because I knew what I’d get from them – a 3-star tag team match and maybe an occasional classic (see the 4-team Ladder match at Armageddon ’06).

I enjoyed London and Kendrick as a tag team, but was surprised at the teams they ended up ahead of in our rankings. Truth be told, having the 2nd longest WWE tag title reign of the measurable period held a tremendous amount of weight in our scoring criteria. Chad is correct. London and Kendrick did thrive in an era where tag team wrestling was not at its peak. However, I am confident that they would have been successful in the current era as well. They were both fantastic workers, had great team chemistry, and were over with the fans. It should also be noted that they had individual success, including cruiserweight titles reigns, competing for a world title on Pay Per View, and arguably the most memorable Royal Rumble elimination ever. While not world beaters by any stretch of the imagination, they most certainly earned their spot on our countdown.

It is without question that AJ Lee is one of the top ranking Divas’ of this era. While Nikki Bella may have the longest reign as Diva’s champion, you will be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn’t think AJ Lee had the best title reign. Not only was her title reign lengthy, but it was filled with excellent matches and important title defenses. More importantly, AJ had the best character of any Diva during this time period. She played the crazy persona to a T that allowed her to participate in main-event storylines involving Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, and Kane. She was a great wrestler, a phenomenal valet, and an entertaining General Manager. A big part of me wishes that AJ had not retired along with CM Punk, as she would be thriving in the current landscape of physically dominant female wrestlers.

Though I do share Dave’s overall opinion of AJ Lee, I do not share his sentiments that her title reign was vastly superior to any other from this or late last decade. It started off promising with the best women’s match to that point since Trish’s retirement match; three months later, she cut the Pipette Bomb to separate herself from the Total Divas, but it never went anywhere. Her defenses were mostly inconsequential. However, when she came back for her twilight run, she helped establish a higher standard for main roster women’s matches with Paige. For both her standout character and for her role in establishing the kind of culture for females in WWE that morphed into the Diva’s Revolution, she should be applauded. Someone asked me months ago, “Is AJ a Hall of Famer?” In my view, she absolutely deserves to get that nod some day.

Big E is an intriguing long-term prospect. I said last summer on “The Doc Says” that I think he could become one of the Top 5 most important players in WWE someday. There’s a certain amount of luck involved in pro wrestling success, but E has the charisma and the unique look to make it very high up the figurative ladder. The New Day has been a God-send for him, as the role of the generic babyface mid-card champion didn’t suit him (though he did grow as an in-ring performer from that experience, in my opinion). Having Kofi and Xavier to play off of has shown us a very entertaining side of him. They’ve also added the longest WWE Tag Team Championship (Smackdown lineage) reign in history to his resume to compliment a multi-month run as the Intercontinental Champion. Watch out for Big E in the next few years…

There is nothing that I enjoy more about the current product than Big E telling whatever city they are in not to be sour. Big E has everything it takes to be a huge superstar. He’s massive with a unique look. He’s physically impressive in the ring. He’s wildly entertaining on the microphone. Lastly, he provides the WWE with an opportunity to reach a segment of their audience that they speak to far too little. An African American champion in this day and age can bring a lot of new fans to the table. Big E’s spot on this countdown was well earned. He had a solid run as Intercontinental Champion, and is in the middle of an extremely impressive tag team title run as part of The New Day. Big E is another guy that could easily skyrocket up this list a few years from now.

You will be hard pressed to find a guy in the locker room more respected than William Regal. His place on this countdown is without question, with runs as Intercontinental and Tag Team champion to his credit. Regal was so damn good on so many levels. First, he had a knack for taking absolutely terrible storylines and turning them into comedic gold. Second, you won’t find anyone more accomplished or respected for his in-ring work. He has thrived in the role of mentor, and is the one guy that people like Daniel Bryan cite as their biggest influence in the industry. As great as William Regal’s in-ring accomplishments were, it will be his off the screen role as a teacher that will be his lasting legacy. As long as there are men like William Regal around, NXT, and the future of the WWE, are in good hands.

William Regal carved an interesting niche for himself in the post-Attitude Era as a utility wrestler who could be used on each of the three brands in whatever role was needed of him. He could be blessed with “The Power of the Punch” and be successful; he could form an anti-American tag team and be successful; he could mentor a mentally handicapped character and successfully relate to the audience just how much that young man had grown to mean to him; he could successfully engage the top stars of the era in the ring and on the microphone; he could provide stylistically unique (and brilliant) matches with great success that nobody else could perform; he could act as a member of a fictitious king’s court successfully; he could successfully portray an authority figure; he could be a successful top heel. There’s nothing Regal couldn’t do; and that is his legacy.

Finlay started actively wrestling for WWE in late 2005 after spending the previous several years as one of their trainers. As a trainer, he was largely responsible for the renaissance of the women’s division led by Trish Stratus, Lita, Mickie James, and others, who credit him for teaching them how to be pro wrestlers. When he returned to the ring, he excelled in a variety of roles, becoming a model for character consistency all the while; heel, babyface, upper-tier star or mid-card role player, he was true to his persona. Short of winning the World Title, there wasn’t much that he didn’t do during his five year run. He headlined a few PPVs, he was consistently featured on major events, he won the United States Championship, he competed in all the major multi-man gimmick matches (Money in the Bank, Elimination Chamber, Royal Rumble). He’s an underrated success story of the last 15 years.

The WWE needs a guy like Finlay during every era. He’s a good but not great wrestler. He can talk but doesn’t have fantastic mic skills. His look is nothing special. He isn’t particularly charismatic. Nonetheless, Finlay was the guy that the WWE could elevate up and down the card at a moment’s notice whenever they needed a credible opponent for a star they wanted to spotlight. He could work as a heel or face, and while his feuds and matches might not be the blockbusters that people look back on with fond memories, you always knew that he was going to make the person he worked with come out better than before their feud. As odd as this may sound, I view Finlay as the 2005-2010 version of The Big Show of the early 2000s. His flexibility made him an unbelievable asset to the WWE.

The task of how to rank the biggest star of the Attitude Era on a countdown that measured the post-Attitude Era was not an easy one. If we took our 100 wrestlers and ranked them based on the entirety of their career, there is little doubt that Austin would be in the top 3 of this list. Unfortunately for him, his run was coming to an end right as the time period for our countdown begins. Austin continued to headline for the first several months of the era we measured, including a very underrated match against The Rock at WrestleMania 19. It’s too bad that the WWE didn’t know that this would turn out to be his swan song and give him a better sendoff. Despite his comparatively low ranking on the countdown, Austin is without a doubt one of, if not the greatest wrestler of all time.

I’ve been historically more critical of Stone Cold Steve Austin than the vast majority. He’s unquestionably one of the greatest ever, but the fact that he caught lightning in a bottle for a few years and then fizzled out in 2002 seems to get largely glossed over. As usual, I bring that up not to demean the man, but to be fair about his career. The fact of the matter is that Austin’s career post-Attitude is quite easy to contextualize. Sans for the swan song against The Rock at WrestleMania 19, the Rattlesnake’s most famous contribution post-2001 was deciding to “take his ball and go home.” He fell so quickly from the top that he was going to job to Brock Lesnar on Raw. Austin was all but done; the lightning had all been poured out of the bottle. That said, the last match of his career was amazing.

Lita and her greatest rival, Trish Stratus, are the easiest females to historically rank. The Extreme Diva was massively over from almost the word go. As the women’s division achieved greater focus around the period that our Countdown’s timeframe began, she started her competition with Stratus for the #1 spot. I’d say she was ahead of Trish when she went down with a neck injury during an accident ironically not in the ring, but at a TV shoot for the popular Jessica Alba-featured show, Dark Angel. Upon her return, she reconnected quickly with the fans and, when Stratus turned heel and began antagonizing her, Lita’s popularity skyrocketed. Those were the most intense women’s matches I’ve ever seen, their main-event on Raw for the Women’s Championship being the highlight for me (though Trish’s retirement match when the face-heel dynamic was reversed was incredible in its own right). Lita is a well-deserving Hall of Famer.

I consider this the part of the countdown where we reach our major players. Everyone left played a significant role in the era. Lita is the third highest ranked female on our list for good reason. She brought a high flying style to the women’s division that hadn’t been seen before. Her alternative punk rock personality was a huge hit with the WWE audience at the time. Chad is correct – prior to her neck injury she was the #1 female over Trish. Although she has several titles to her record, her crowning achievement in my eyes is being one half of the first diva’s match to main-event Raw. I don’t want to wrap this up without mentioning her tremendous main-event run as Edge’s valet during the mid to late 2000s. She was a huge reason that Edge skyrocketed to the main-event. Lita had a truly remarkable career.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Should Steve Austin rank higher or lower on the post-Attitude Era’s historical hierarchy?

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Doctor's Orders: The Top 100 WWE Stars Of The Post-Attitude Era (#61-#65) – Stone Cold! Stone Cold…?

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