When a performer in WWE becomes a star... no, more than a star - an icon. When a pro wrestler becomes an icon in the biggest company in Sports Entertainment, it's not surprising when the company tries to recreate the magic that performer brought to their role.
It's not just pro wrestling, but any form of entertainment (be it sports, music, film, or TV), that will attempt to recreate what made their most popular stars, well, so popular.
Plenty of pro wrestlers have been tagged as the next Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, or Bret "Hitman" Hart. Some of them have lived up to and even exceeded those lofty expectations. Just as many others have crumbled under the weight of those expectations.
Today we want to look at a handful of stars and the pro wrestlers that were expected to take up their "mantle," so to speak. Not all of these performers succeeded, and those that did largely succeeded on their own terms.
Let's begin with...
#5. WWE's "Next" Hulk Hogan - Tom Magee/Lex Luger
Vince McMahon may have hung the nationwide success of the then-World Wrestling Federation on Hulk Hogan, but he was also always looking towards the future. In 1986, the Chairman saw a match between two young Canadian talents and proclaimed one of them to be the future of his company.
He was kind of right.
On October 7th, 1986, a powerlifter from Winnipeg named Tom Magee took on Bret Hart in a match at a New York house show. McMahon was so impressed by the bout that he proclaimed Magee to be his next big attraction. However, it turned out that Hart had carried the match so well that it made Magee look like a million bucks.
We're not disparaging Magee here - but Tom was still very green at the time and Hart was already a veteran at that point.
Magee wasn't just some musclehead thrown into the ring, however. He was trained by the legendary Stu Hart in the family's infamous "Dungeon". He also had a highly acclaimed match against Riki Chosu in All Japan Pro Wrestling prior to the match with Bret. He was even third runner-up for the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Rookie of the Year in 1986.
Ironically, the winner of the award that year was none other than "The Total Package" Lex Luger. We say "ironically" because a little under a decade later, with Hulk Hogan no longer part of the company, McMahon would turn to Luger to become the next All-American hero that WWE's fans could rally behind.
Unfortunately for Luger, despite his talent - he was a multi-time World Champion in WCW after all - he was simply a different kind of wrestler than Hogan was.
In the end - and just as ironically - Vince would begin to build the company around the man who had that acclaimed bout with Magee back in 1986 - Bret "Hitman" Hart.
#4. WWE's "Next" Rey Mysterio - Sin Cara/Kalisto
Even at 47 years old, Rey Mysterio is a marvel to watch in the ring. Despite his smaller stature - or perhaps partially because of it - Mysterio is one of the greatest of all time. Not only is he an innovator of the lucha libre/high-flying style, but he's been able to compliment it with an instinctive sense of storytelling. He's a bonafide future Hall of Famer.
He's also a fan favorite among both kids and the Hispanic community he's so proudly a member of. His colorful masks and ring gear, along with his dedication to celebrating his heritage, is not only admirable, but something WWE was quick to market upon his debut with the company. And rightfully so.
In 2011, WWE brought in - at the behest of Triple H - Mexican wrestling megastar Místico, renaming him "Sin Cara" (or "Faceless" in Spanish.) For a while, he even teamed up with Mysterio, and it seemed like a seamless changing of the guard was taking place.
This was a plan, however, that was not thought through very well. For starters, while Mysterio wore a mask, it still revealed his eyes and mouth, allowing him to still be expressive. Sin Cara didn't have that luxury. The newcomer also had difficulties adapting to the WWE style, leading to botches, injuries, and just plain embarrassing moments.
He eventually left the company, though Sin Cara's role was taken up by another performer - a wrestler named Jose Rodriguez, who not only worked as "Hunico," but also as "Sin Cara Blanca," an evil version of the character that feuded with the good version, a la "Undertaker vs. Undertaker" back in 1994.
Ironically (this word is probably going to pop a lot here), the "replacement" Sin Cara would go on to team with another "next" Rey Mysterio - Kalisto.
Kalisto and Sin Cara teamed in NXT as the Lucha Dragons, winning the NXT Tag Team Championship in 2015. The team would move on to the main roster shortly thereafter, though they wouldn't find nearly the same success.
A singles run for Kalisto saw him hold the United States and Cruiserweight championships. However, he never connected with the audience the same way Rey did, and was eventually released in 2021.
#3. WWE's "Next" Brock Lesnar - Parker Boudreaux
You can hardly blame WWE for wanting to recreate the phenomenon that was (and is) Brock Lesnar. The former NCAA Heavyweight wrestling champion had a brilliant first run in WWE - winning the WWE Championship within a year of his debut on the main roster.
He would leave the company to attempt an NFL career (and nearly did it, despite having little competitive experience in the sport of American Football), followed by a legendary MMA career. He would go on to hold the Ultimate Fighting Championship Heavyweight Championship - and become world famous.
In some ways, Brock was the "next" Kurt Angle (more on him in a bit) - an amateur legend who dominated the pro wrestling scene despite not having grown up as a fan. However, Lesnar brought a persona of his own and spawned "copycats" himself.
The most prominent "copycat" (as we're using "copycat" not as a pejorative but just for lack of a better word) was Parker Boudreaux.
Boudreaux is a monster of a human being - billed as 6'3" and 310 lbs. - and his resemblance to the Beast Incarnate is almost uncanny. After a successful career playing football for Notre Dame University, he joined the WWE Performance Center in 2021, becoming one of the developmental system's most exciting prospects.
He would eventually make his debut in NXT as Harland, the heavy for the Bray Wyatt-like (more on him later as well) Joe Gacy.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, WWE decided all that potential wasn't worth keeping Boudreaux around, and they released him earlier this year. He is now part of All Elite Wrestling.
#2. WWE's "Next" Kurt Angle - Jason Jordan
There have been plenty of pro wrestlers who have traded upon their athletic success in the ring. But few, if any, have held the accolades that Kurt Angle did. After all, he's got Olympic gold.
Since his retirement - and even well before then - WWE has been looking to recreate what Angle brought to the table. The "Wrestling Machine" brought legitimacy, skill and charisma to the squared circle in a way no one else had before.
As we stated before, Brock Lesnar brought similar accolades with him to WWE - but those weren't really focused on much. For example, Jack Swagger's status as an All-American collegiate wrestler at the University of Oklahoma was played up so much that he was literally called the "All American All-American."
But if you want to have the "next" someone, what better way to do it than to book them as that person's actual progeny? That's what WWE did with Jason Jordan, an amateur wrestling standout at Indiana University.
In 2017, Jordan was revealed to be the illigitimate son of Angle, pushing him into a singles career. He took the nickname "Gold Blooded," a play on his kayfabe lineage with Angle.
Unfortunately, a neck injury in 2018 resulted in surgery. It was reported at the time that he would be out of action for up to an entire year. He hasn't been back in the ring since, and has instead been working as a producer behind the scenes.
#1. WWE's "Next" Undertaker - Bray Wyatt
The Undertaker certainly won more than his fair share of world championships during his career.
Even more impressive, however, was his ability to take what should have been an absolutely unrealistic character - an undead wizard with mystical powers - and turned it into one of the most iconic in wrestling history. Maybe the most iconic.
WWE attempted to recreate that, er, magic with other spooky competitors such as Damien Demento, Giant Gonzalez, and Papa Shango - none of which really went anywhere (Shango would eventually become The Godfather, so that worked out).
The introduction of his storyline brother was the closest they had gotten to that point, but Kane was part of an overall story rather than an attempt to recreate something. The Big Red Machine would eventually go on to become his own iconic presence in the company.
Before he became The Fiend and host of the Firefly Funhouse, Bray Wyatt was a spooky cult leader with seemingly mystical powers. He commanded a legion of followers and took on WWE's most popular heroes. Kind of like The Undertaker during the Attitude Era.
WWE even went as far as having Wyatt call himself the "New Face of Fear" and challenge the Undertaker to a match at WrestleMania 31. He wound up losing that match, but would still continue to make life difficult for the Deadman and his brother.
However, an injury and a lengthy hiatus put an end to all of that. Wyatt would come back with arguably an even more popular character - but by that point, the comparisons to the Undertaker had faded away.