By Jeffrey Lutz
It may still be cool to like the cool heels on WWE's roster, but good luck finding them.
Internet favorites C.M. Punk, Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler, all effective heels at some point during the last 18 months (or three weeks in the case of Bryan and Ziggler) have seemingly turned to the dark side and become babyfaces on a WWE roster that was recently stocked with big-name bad guys. Now, Mark Henry remains as the only heel who consistently carries cache among Internet fans, and the most popular performers within every segment of the audience are being cast as true fan favorites.
That's a good thing, as long as WWE plays it right, but the task of developing a setting in which the top five stars in the company _ Punk, Bryan, Ziggler, John Cena and Randy Orton _ can co-exist as babyfaces while making their respective fans happy with their positioning is a difficult one. WWE appears to have attempted to address this issue by portraying its characters with shades of gray as so-called "tweeners" who have babyface and heel tendencies. That is probably being done to allow WWE to cover all its bases, rather than an attempt to re-capture an element that made the Attitude Era so successful.
WWE has wisely, and so far efficiently, gone with a much-needed youth movement since the day after WrestleMania, when Ziggler cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase to become World Heavyweight Champion. Ziggler, of course, has since lost the title, but that turning point in the way WWE does business hasn't been lost on fans or on the company. The fact that six WWE main-eventers, including Sheamus, are all babyfaces continues the youth movement because it necessitates several heels elevating their spots on the card with chances to truly break out.
Money in the Bank appears designed to create at least one new heel star in the ladder match that features seven heels vying for a chance to become the next World Heavyweight Champion. It may be viewed by some as a risk to include seven heels and no babyfaces in one match, but considering WWE's need for new star heels it's a genius decision. A ladder match, possibly on a higher scale than even the Royal Rumble, is a showcase that often includes high spots that demand a fan's attention. If WWE wants to make sure the heel carrying the MITB briefcase is noticed and appreciated for moving from the mid-card to a higher spot, a ladder match is a good way to do it.
One breakout moment, however, doesn't mean an entire push will work. With whatever superstar wins the all-heel MITB match, WWE won't have the luxury of going with a performer with a built-in, automatic appreciation from fans like Ziggler had during his heel run and like Punk had leading up to and including his Pipe Bomb promo in 2011. In that regard, WWE has a decision to make. It can give the win to a wrestler on his way to earning that appreciation, such as Dean Ambrose, Damien Sandow or Fandango, or it can go with a mid-card act who hasn't quite broken through to the main event, like Cody Rhodes or Wade Barrett.
My pick is Rhodes, but he is no more of a sure bet than any of the other six in the match. The possibility that whoever WWE picks to win won't click with fans has WWE hedging its bets by keeping most of its top babyfaces in tweener roles with the apparent though that they could remain as heels in case that side of the roster gets too thin. In Henry, Alberto Del Rio, The Shield, possibly Ryback and whoever wins the MITB match, WWE probably has enough strong heels to match up with all the main-event babyfaces. But if one of those acts loses steam, like The Shield might be doing and like Ryback already has, WWE can ease that trouble by making one of those tweeners a permanent villain again.
The only tweener who needs to display heel tendencies to keep fans guessing is Ziggler. Bryan and Punk have transcended traditional roles, Cena is the Golden Boy who ironically is more disliked than the tweeners who might actually have bad intentions, and Orton can seemingly do no wrong in whatever role he is portrayed. Ziggler, because he has a heel manager in A.J. Lee and a heel heavy in Big E Langston, has to blur the lines somewhat even though he is the clear fan favorite in his feud with Del Rio and will probably lose his sidekicks in the near future.
Building stronger heels increases the likelihood that the plethora of babyfaces can co-exist because even when they're not chasing a championship, they can still participate in meaningful story lines and rivalries. The most important key to WWE maintaining the intrigue in its product that it has built over the last two weeks is to continue to tell interesting stories with interesting characters. When Paul Heyman and Punk are in the ring together, roles and labels don't necessarily matter because that segment is practically guaranteed to be outstanding.
Ultimately, though, clear roles are needed in an industry built on good versus evil. The only potential issue with so many major stars cast as babyfaces is the elimination of the possibility of them working with each other _ a Bryan-Ziggler feud, for example, could probably carry the company for a while. It's an exciting time to be a WWE fan because the company finally seems committed to the long-promised youth movement. Creating new stars is the lifeblood of the industry, and WWE is as healthy as ever.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Lutz's Blog: John Cena, C.M. Punk, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Ziggler and Randy Orton can co-exist as babyfaces while WWE continues its youth movement with heels
Jul 1, 2013 - 02:42 PM
Jul 1, 2013 - 02:42 PM
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