Hope for Heels
In my most recent column, I covered how poorly WWE books heels in their rise to the top of the card. I showcased how WWE routinely have their heel characters to be fed to whichever SuperFaceMachine WWE is putting their attention into. At this point, Sheamus is WWE’s next top face star, as he follows in the footsteps of John Cena before him.
I also quickly mentioned that the glimmer of hope for those being fed to Sheamus (and Cena before him) at this time is to turn face. Let’s explore those options with a bit of history, and also look at the upcoming stars that seem to be running into the same pattern.
There really aren’t too many exceptions to this. WWE has perfected their chosen model to elevate stars. I’ll try to find a few exceptions, but it’ll be tough.
Looking at the history of Vince K. McMahon’s booking, there’s no fucking doubt that he has a blueprint he’s not just attached to, but I assume he’s made underwear out of so that it’s never out of his sight. From Hulk Hogan, to John Cena today, Vinny Mac develops the faces of his company by starting them off as assholes. I’m hard pressed to find a former World/WWE Champion that didn’t find their success as a dastardly villain first.
Of the entire list of WWE Champions, here’s the list of face champion stars who were not successful as heels first before holding the gold:
-Rob Van Dam (though debatable as he was heel for the first few months of his WWF tenure)
-Jeff Hardy (not counting his heel tag run).
How about World Champions?:
-Daniel Bryan (who turned heel within weeks of winning the Title, and had only 1 appearance as a heel during the original Nexus attack).
Only 6 times. No matter who was carrying the WWE/WWF, they were booed before being cheered. And there’s also the correlation that the better the heel the star was, the bigger the face success. Rock, Austin, Cena, and HBK were all awesome heels in some shape or form, and made their babyface characters all the more interesting because of it. Same goes for CM Punk over the last year. Heels get booed, but earn the respect for fans with their work (in ring and character). There’s no denying that in most of these cases, the fans turned them face, not WWE.
Rock spent lots of time losing to Austin during the rise of 3:16, be it over the Intercontinental title, or being the last man eliminated in the 98 Royal Rumble where Austin won his Mania 14 title match, which led to his first title reign.
Austin lost to Hitman in famous fashion, to Undertaker in the Spring of ’97, all before catching on as a face.
HBK lost to Diesel at Wrestlemania XI, which was the first time the Royal Rumble winner didn’t win the title match that was earned. Even a short while before that, he lost to the Hitman in several Survivor Series match ups (be it singles or elimination team matches).
Cena lost to Brock, Undertaker, and Angle on PPV in 2003 before finding his stride with the fans later in the year.
Losing to the big stars as a heel doesn’t ruin your career, but it does hinder it until you get the fans behind you.
So what does this mean for today’s current jobbers to the face stars?
While I’m happy to see The Miz as the current Intercontinental Champion (and having great matches to prove his talents to the detractors out there), there’s no denying he’s being placated in a lower position because his value as a threat in the main event scene is diminished after the last half of 2011. He lost the WWE Title to Cena, lost to Alex Riley, lost to Rock/Cena at Survivor Series. His career peaked, and he’s on the way down.
Out of all the current heels, he’s definitely the one that has dropped the lowest from the highest position. While it’s annoying as hell to hear him brag about winning the main event of Wrestlemania 27 over John Cena for the WWE Title, it’s also fucking true. Cena has not been beat in a title match at Mania very often. And the only other person to do it was Orton, who was the #2 face in the company until the Summer of Punk.
It’s also hard to deny that Miz is in a great position to turn face. The live crowd would be accepting of it, and I’ve heard some strong face reactions from time to time. Not overpoweringly strong, but they are noticeable. I think he has the charisma and mic skills to pull it off. My question would be his in ring work. I am a fan of his in-ring work as a heel, because he just oozes reasons to hate him. Can he translate that to cheers? Cena and Punk made it work, but The Miz’s arsenal isn’t as fan friendly. Other than the corner clothesline, he doesn’t have a trademark move. It’s something he’ll have to work on in my opinion.
I don’t think there’s any way to convince me that Dolph is not THE future star on WWE’s roster. He has everything WWE needs in a performer, and I don’t know any reason why he won’t succeed as a face either. As the current Mr. Money in the Bank, and the reactions he received against Sheamus prior to that PPV event, there’s no fucking doubt that the WWE Universe is ready to cheer him on.
And it’s quite the remarkable achievement when you think about it. What character development, or angle has he had that would give the WWE Universe a reason to care? There are pros and cons to his booking over the last few years. Because he’s had very few long term feuds, there’re very few opponents that would be a tired option to face him. Sure, he’s had big matches against Sheamus and Punk, but they were such one off feuds that they could be booked for SummerSlam, and not feel like WWE is running out of ideas. And I think the current angle with Jericho will end up being the best storyline and feud he’ll have yet. The wrestling will be top notch, and I think Jericho will bring the best out of Ziggler as a character and mic worker.
The comparisons to HBK and Mr Perfect are as apt as ever. He can sell like no one else in the WWE, which is most likely the reason the dirtsheets are reporting all the top WWE stars want to work with him. He makes his opponents look good, just like Michaels and Hennig. Much like them, he succeeded in a midcard position with great matches with a variety of opponents.
Unlike them, his wrestling style is not primed to garner attention. He’s an incredible worker, but much like The Miz, his moveset is not comprised of the type of offense to bring the crowd to their feet. Also like Mizanin, he doesn’t have the strongest finisher in WWE. I have no concerns about his mic work, as he obviously has the flare to pull it off, with some practice first.
I really think WWE could pull off a great face turn for Ziggler by the end of 2012. I doubt WWE will go through with it, but I don’t see any reason he can’t pull off a face turn against Vickie with the same effectiveness that Batista turned against Evolution in 2005. If it takes Vickie adding another star to her stable like a Del Rio, who enters Wrestlemania season as World Champion, and for Ziggler to outlast 29 other stars to win the Royal Rumble, and to say “Fuck it” to Vickie and challenge her new personal favorite boy toy… I say go for it. The future is golden for Dolph. I think it would be a great way to elevate him into the position Sheamus is in now.
Alberto Del Rio
Bah. I don’t give a shit about him, but WWE does. As a businessman, Vince wants the Latino market, and he feels Del Rio is the meal ticket. Fine. I think they could keep looking, but there’s no denying Del Rio has the talent to be something special. I’m just sick of waiting for it without any real interest.
Honestly, without going on too much of a rant, ADR is not at fault. His booking is what’s burying him in boredom. He has skills, and the detestable heel charisma to be an effective villain in WWE. The problem is that it’s all been rushed. I don’t know if it’s because of his supposed prima donna attitude backstage with demanding certain pushes (with the threat of returning south of the border), or if WWE really is failing on a regular basis with him.
Simply put, he’s been a huge name in WWE for almost 2 years, yet hasn’t done much with it. He’s always in a high position on the card, but none of it memorable or special. Other than the feud with Rey Mysterio that returns annually, he’s not had much of a feud with any one. He’s just been inserted in random angles to keep his profile high, only to fade away. He’s won a Royal Rumble, been 2 time WWE Champion, defeated Big Show, Mr Money in the Bank, several wins and attacks over Sheamus… yet he’s still a bum. It’s an odd dichotomy when you see someone elevated so quickly, and so strongly… yet not make an impact of equal measure. It’s to the point where last night, I was streaming Raw live, but I heard Del Rio’s music to take on Santino, and then my stream died. How did I react? I decided I’ll skip Raw tonight, download it, and watch it later. Del Rio is ruining WWE for me to the point where I’ll skip an entire show if he comes on, and all I need to do to fix it is refresh or click another link… but I choose not to. This level of indifference should be saved for shitty generic pop music, not professional wrestling.
But, Vince needs him to be a top star for the Latino market. To do that, he’ll need to be a draw. Heels don’t draw, not in WWE. Never have. As I explained, they are a company that operates with a top face. Does Del Rio have what it takes to get there? I don’t see it, but I think it’ll take a change in his persona to showcase it. I really think he should form a tag team, and dominate the tag division. His partner could be Ricardo, or it could be someone legitimate. It won’t matter, as long as the team gels. Hell, have him take Hunico and Camacho under his wing, and remodel them in his image so that they aren’t thug stereotypes, and have a stable of Mexicans demanding respect. It’s not entirely original, but I think it would give him the avenue to display a different shade of his character. It won’t turn him face, but it’ll let him show the talents needed to become a face down the line, similar to how Orton forced his face turn as the leader of Legacy.
Can anyone name someone who has dropped so much in recent memory? He wasn’t as high on the card as Miz, but dropped a fuck down further. It’s a shame, because while Jack is far from perfect, he has all the tools required to be a career star in WWE. The guy can fucking wrestle, and has a great look to make up for his lack of charisma. The shame here is that just like Del Rio, WWE only has themselves to blame for his failure. His World Title run, while laughable, allowed him to display a side of him that was entertaining, and then dropped once he lost the title. He’s now jobbing to Ryback.
At this point, Swagger needs to start over from scratch. The WWE method would be to give him the MVP face turn of having his losing streak become a sympathy plea, and then getting the big win to the joy of the WWE Universe. The problem is that Jack doesn’t have the character or skills as a persona to really get the audience behind him in this method. In what shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, he needs help from someone on screen. I see many people associating the collegiate athletes together in a tag team between Swagger and Alex Riley. I’m not against this idea, as I think this could benefit both of them. BUT, I’d book it with a twist. Have Alex try to motivate Swagger to find his “swagger” back, and help him get back on the right path. Let Riley handle the mic work, while Swagger handles the in ring work. Have it work out, and even win the tag titles in a few months.
Then, Swagger Bomb (gutwrench power bomb) on Riley.
This should be similar to the Rock’s face turn in 1998. Rock earned the praise of the WWF Universe without any real pandering to the audience, and then broke our hearts when he become the WWF Champion with the help of Vince McMahon.
Now, I’m not comparing Riley/Swagger to McMahon/Maivia. I am, however, comparing the short face run to make the heel run even more effective. Swagger can turn heel, and say he never needed Riley, and now he’s giving up the tag championship (or defending them on his own, though that might be a stretch) and becoming a singles threat. This guy is a legit athlete, in a way no other WWE star can claim. He shouldn’t turn face now, or he’d just be Bob Backlund (circa 1993) again: a boring white meat baby face. Or Alex the Pug Porteau. Let him be more of a Ken Shamrock. Let him “snap” in anger and show a new hidden vicious streak. That’s all his character needs honestly, but it’s not something WWE could pull off with subtlety. So, make it huge, and use him in a tag team. Let him turn face down the road, but it’s too early at this point to venture that way, and it’s entirely insane to give up on him completely.
What can be said about Daniel Bryan? He’s one of the most active wrestlers on the WWE roster, with one of the worst win/loss records. He’s over, obviously, thanks to tremendous skills in the ring and as a character. He can turn face at any point, there’s no doubt. The Yes chants are over as all hell, and while it’s sort of jumped the shark, it is still at a point where a face turn would be hot.
But, should he turn face? While he’s exhausted feuds with Big Show, Punk, and Sheamus, he’s still relatively fresh as a heel. With Cena, Orton, Mysterio, Christian, Chris Jericho, and even Rock who are top stars who can work an angle with him still, there is still some steam in the heel Bryan character.
Now, I hope he adds a few wins here and there, because the “Yes” Lock is starting to become like the Walls of Jericho, as a submission that everyone knows won’t get him a win. That’s the big downfall as a heel submission specialist: WWE books the faces too strong to tap. Sure, he might get a win over Kofi Kingston on TV, but he won’t be threatening John Cena any time soon with the former Lebell Lock.
And he shouldn’t drop the submissions for an impact move, because it would be nice to have a face submission wrestler again. Down the line, he’ll be a great person to get behind, similar to how Bret Hart was booked. Bret was a tremendous success in terms of getting the fans behind him with mostly in ring skills alone. Bryan could really follow that path down the line, even if never for a WWE or World Title. So don’t hinder that potential with dropping his submission skills. Maybe he needs to follow The Miz into the midcard in a few months, and make a few midcarders tap out. And when the time is right, switch it up.
And on that note, peace out.
Feel free to email me a comment (Email PEN15). One of the best parts of writing is the discussions that come out of it. My hope is that your response could be used in a column to publicly discuss your comments.
Follow me on Twitter if you wish, though I don't really do much with it.