Which 80s or earlier stars do you think would have been much more successful if they’d showed up in the last 10-15 years?
For my money, there are two top picks, then everybody else.
1) Bad News Brown, for the reasons you always point out
2) Jake Roberts (heel version). His dark, psychological gold-bricking manipulator routine would have been GREAT played against headstrong faces like Rock/HBK/Austin/Cena, and he had some of the best heel offense ever. He had (was the blueprint?) the best bits of both the HHH "Cerebral Assassin" gimmick, and the Randy Orton "cold blooded viper" routine. And that’s not even getting into his promos and/or willingness to slap around a woman for cheap heat. Guy would have been HUGE, drug concerns aside.
Other nominees… Dynamite Kid for his offense, maybe DiBiase doing a much better "rich guy we hate because it’s a recession" than JBL can even dream of…
But really, the biggest differences between then and now are threefold; tone (darker, more realistic, get over as a character instead of a gimmick), media (youtube and episodic television make mic work way, way more important), and workrate (nobody cared in the 80s, now you have to at least be passable (or, you know, big) to get a decent push). Snake an Bad News are the guys I can think of who positively killed on those fronts (Bad News’ workrate was meh, but now I’m just picking nits).
Bad News’ workrate was NOT meh, he was just in the WWF well past his prime, when injuries were catching up to him and he didn’t have to haul ass every night. He could GO. Dynamite was for sure well before his time, as he was the template for a million guys who came after him. Definitely those were the main ones.