Something interesting has been developing for a while in WWE, and seeing the results of the latest Superstar Shakeup laid out on a graphic made things really clear for me. For so long we’ve heard that it’s impossible to get a babyface overwhelmingly cheered in this era. I recall several Triple H interviews parroting this fallacy. I never really agreed with that, because I figured, maybe people will cheer for who they actually like or are given good reason to like. That line of thinking only seemed to apply to those like John Cena, the earliest version of The New Day, a long in the tooth babyface act who folks no longer believed in like The Usos, or in more recent times, Roman Reigns. Here is a list of faces who had no problem getting cheered this decade.
- Daniel Bryan
- Goldberg 2016-17
- Sami Zayn
- Finn Balor
- Dean Ambrose
- CM Punk
- Johnny Gargano
- Braun Strowman
- AJ Styles
- Shinsuke Nakamura
There are several more, but as you can see in most cases it is either being in awe of the wrestler’s physical abilities or being a blow away in-ring performer with charisma. Sometimes we just like them. This is one of the more wrestling-centric times in the history of wrestling, with the levels of in-ring performance across the globe rising to legendary levels outside of WWE, and inside of it as well. WWE in 2016 was an incredible year on PPV, and while 2017 was more of a mixed bag for top end wrestling on WWE proper PPV’s due to a lot of the booking, they set the stage to reset the way matches are received. I still don’t know what the result of that will be.
For a while, it was so tough to get heels booed in WWE because they were so respected by fans for either their talking or wrestling abilities, with guys like Owens still breaking through based on reputation no matter how many times he took people to Chin Lock Island. Even though he was excellent in the role, who was really going to boo AJ Styles as a heel champion while he killed it on the mic and in the ring?
Jinder Mahal, Baron Corbin, and Mojo Rawley going to Raw give WWE 3 relatively new acts that are heels that no one really wants to cheer for unless they are trolling or really different than most fans. They have a common thread between them. Most fans think they are awful in-ring performers, and with that being a premium trait that gets guys cheered, these guys fall way short in that area.
On the women’s side, it’s even more pronounced. On Smackdown, the heel division is the new Champion, Carmella who will never be confused for Manami Toyota, Sonya Deville & Mandy Rose who are too inexperienced to have real credibility, The Iconics are more of the same, with more inexperience on their end. Now let’s look at the faces on Smackdown. Charlotte, Asuka, Becky Lynch and Naomi. Disregarding what may appeal to particular viewer sex appeal wise, and we cannot ignore that in the women’s or men case, cheering the heels would be hustling backward for an audience that has shown they value great wrestling above everything else, especially in the women’s case. We never get a Women’s Revolution without super strong matches from Paige, Emma, Charlotte, Natalya, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch and Asuka. With Natalya’s recent face turn (she’s sure to go back whenever she turns on Rousey) Mickie James is the only real heel woman who is a standout wrestler on Raw capable of tearing the house down, as I don’t feel they’ve actually turned Sasha Banks heel yet. I’ll give Ruby Riott a slight nod in that area as well.
Back to the men, and this is more the case on Raw than Smackdown which looks absolutely glorious on the top end for heels. Do Baron Corbin, Elias, Jinder Mahal, Mojo Rawley inspire the feeling that we are about to see compelling matches bell to bell? Hell No! It feels like WWE is using the idea that fans think they suck wrestling wise, don’t deserve to be in the places they are in and are putting them in positions opposites of guys we think are talented wrestlers. When you think about it, it makes sense on one level, but there is the school of thought that the ceiling is lowered match quality wise when it’s up to these guys to lead these matches.
On Smackdown, Daniel Bryan’s first feud isn’t against any of the top working heel wrestlers, it’s against Big Cass. Bryan has pulled more out of less, so I’m not as worried about him. However, it feels like someone like Reigns is going to have to sacrifice his one saving grace which is his match quality going up against these guys. It worked for someone like Strowman against him, which Reigns will be able to claim forever as a victory, but I don’t think any of the guys on deck will be able to rise to that level possibly other than McIntyre on Raw, as far as new opponents go. If I had to pick any of them it would be Mojo or Elias because they aren’t totally unbelievable on their promos.
It’s not an exact science, sometimes they just hate you like Roman Reigns, or sometimes a wrestler hits the right turn on the perfect guy like Tomasso Ciampa did on Johnny Gargano. Ciampa can be as good in the ring as he wants and he’ll never get cheered until Johnny makes it possible for him to be. While WWE tried to essentially assassinate Brock’s character in the lead up to WM 34, it didn’t help Reigns get cheered when we arrived in New Orleans. However, for the most part, WWE has been putting the wheels in motion to meet how audiences receive wrestlers. They’ve got blind spots here and there like Rusev and Reigns, and we’ll probably get a few elite workers made heels like Nakamura, Almas, Owens or Zayn to give their faces something to work with, but things are changing, and WWE might be listening more than we think.