Nearly 15 years after its end, WWE fans continue to long for the days of the Attitude Era. The period of time marked by the late 1990s and early 2000s saw wrestling become more popular than it ever was, or has been since.
While ratings aren’t what they once were and stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock are no longer wrestling, WWE has produced plenty of talent since the conclusion of the Attitude Era. In fact, some of the best wrestlers of all-time didn’t get their start in WWE until 2002 or later.
Below is a look at the top 10 WWE superstars that made their debut after the Attitude Era. Wrestlers that had success during and after the era like Triple H, Chris Jericho, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker and others are not eligible to make the list.
10) Alberto Del Rio
An argument could be made to put a few different wrestlers at No.10 (Sheamus, Kofi Kingston), but Del Rio gets the nod. Del Rio might have never become what some expected him to be in WWE, but performing at a high level for five years earns him a spot on the list. Always one of the most consistent wrestlers in the ring, Del Rio held the company’s top title twice.
9) The Miz
The Miz has always been a favorite target of “smart” wrestling fans, but it’s impossible to deny what he’s done in WWE. Spending a decade on the main roster, The Miz has held the company’s top title for 160 days, and he main evented WrestleMania 27 with John Cena. WWE’s decision to turn him babyface in late 2012 proved to be a mistake, but he plays his role as a smarmy heel very well, fitting in perfectly in the mid-card scene as the Intercontinental Champion.
8) Dolph Ziggler
Ziggler’s legacy will ultimately be characterized by what might have been. Never once WWE champion, though certainly deserving of a run, Ziggler has consistently been one of the company’s best in-ring performers. The closest thing WWE has seen to Shawn Michaels since HBK’s retirement, Ziggler is the best in WWE at making superstars look good. Whether it’s winning the world championship the night after WrestleMania 29 or ending Survivor Series 2014 as the last man standing, Ziggler has had some big moments that never led to a strong push.
7) Seth Rollins
He hasn’t even been in WWE for four years, but Rollins has been so good since he debuted that he deserves a spot on the list. As the “architect” of The Shield from November 2012 to June 2014, Rollins was part of one of the greatest factions in wrestling history. While Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns have become main eventers in their own right, Rollins has outshone both of them, often carrying lackluster episodes of “Monday Night Raw” during his 220-day championship reign. Arguably the best overall performer in WWE during his time in the main event scene, his best days might still be ahead of him as he awaits an eventual babyface turn.
It should come as little surprise how much success Batista is having in Hollywood, considering how great of a performer he was in WWE. Always better as a heel than a babyface, Batista had memorable feuds with the likes of Cena, Triple H and The Undertaker. His most recent run with WWE was forgettable, but he would immediately become a top heel if he ever decided to return.
5) Randy Orton
Along with Cena, Orton has been a staple in the main event scene for the last decade. He burst onto the scene as a member of Evolution and quickly became a top singles star. Only Cena and Triple H have had more runs as WWE Champion, and he’s main evented WrestleMania twice. Never the best talker, few have ever looked so smooth in the ring, and the RKO is arguably the best finishing maneuver in WWE.
4) Daniel Bryan
Bryan was on his way to No.2 on this list before his career was ended in early 2016 because of concussions. His primary run in WWE lasted less than five years, but that was all Bryan needed to become a sure-fire WWE Hall of Famer. Arguably the best in-ring performer in the world, Bryan won over fans in spite of what the company wanted, forcing WWE to change their plans and put him in the main event of WrestleMania 30. At the peak of his popularity during the “Yes! Movement,” Bryan drew crowd reactions that rivaled those generated by Stone Cold in the Attitude Era.
3) Brock Lesnar
If Lesnar never left WWE at the end of his first stint with the company in 2004, he might very well be No.1. The fact that he’s wrestled fewer matches than anyone on this list speaks to his importance to the company. Lesnar became the youngest WWE Champion of all time when he beat The Rock at SummerSlam 2002, but his run as a part-time wrestler since 2012 has been even more impactful. The level of realism he brings to the ring is unlike any in WWE history, exemplified by the fact that he was chosen to end The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak.
2) CM Punk
His time with WWE came to an abrupt end, but his eight years with the company were certainly memorable. No wrestler has come as close to surpassing Cena in terms of popularity as Punk did in the summer of 2011 when he first became WWE champion. His 434-day run with the belt was the longest in WWE since Hogan was the company's top champion in the mid-1980s, and he’s one of the best talkers the business has ever seen. Great as a heel or a babyface, an eventual return by Punk would be one of the biggest moments in WWE history.
1) John Cena
No wrestler other than Cena can be considered for the top spot. He’s managed to be the face of WWE for a decade, putting together a run longer than Hulk Hogan had in the 80s or Stone Cold had in the 90s. When Cena is at his best, few have ever been better on the mic. Despite criticisms of his in-ring work, he’s had some of the best matches of the last few years, putting himself in the conversation among the greatest performers in WWE history.