Lutz's Blog: WWE’s collection of heels is the best it has ever been
By Jeffrey Lutz
As I was watching Raw last week, I noticed something that should have been obvious long before. It probably took the return of Mark Henry, the continued strong work of Big Show and the impact of Brock Lesnar to recognize that WWE currently boasts the best group of heels in the company’s history.
When labeling any WWE the “best” anything, it’s most likely that a heel falls into all the categories. Between C.M. Punk, Lesnar, Henry, Big Show, The Shield, Dolph Ziggler, A.J. Lee, Wade Barrett, Antonio Cesaro, Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Paul Heyman and JBL, the heels have better workers and talkers, top to bottom, than WWE’s current crop of babyfaces. That group also includes the best faction, Diva, manager and announcer.
The heels have it all, even the most beneficial departures. Exits from the heel ranks by The Miz, a then-stagnant Alberto Del Rio and a still-irrelevant Tensai have proved to be addition by subtraction. There are few heels that aren’t receiving the prominence they deserve _ Titus O’Neil might be the only one _ and, beyond the excellent roster of heels, there are several reasons for their collective success:
1. Character depth
It takes a lot of work to play a heel, certainly more than it takes to play a babyface character. Heels require more acting ability and more discipline in the ring to keep fans from cheering them. Though his motivations were clear as a babyface, Punk’s current heel run has given his character more depth, and not just with Heyman’s help. Because he rarely goes for cheap heat, Punk’s weekly promos must be diverse and cutting so he can maintain his edge, and he has accomplished those attributes admirably. So have many other heels, such as Cesaro and Sandow.
2. Character development
The best writing WWE does is in its development of heel characters, and we’re seeing notable examples of that lately. Henry has been billed as The World’s Strongest Man for 15 years, but his character is no longer predicated on bending steel rods and frying pans. As a babyface, Henry was likable but mostly one-dimensional; his time as a heel has allowed him to grow exponentially as a performer. Ziggler remains “The Show Off,” but he’s consistently finding new ways to express his arrogance. Cesaro has gone from a typical hater of America to a more broad character with promos that go beyond territory usually charted by evil foreigners.
As I pointed out in a past column, WWE’s new characters are almost always introduced as heels. That has become a good thing, since many new babyfaces have shown themselves to be shallow characters with short shelf lives _ Bo Dallas is the latest example of that. Since most of WWE’s debuting stars are heels and since heels receive the most in-depth storytelling opportunities, these heels have captured fans’ attention and imagination. In Cesaro, Barrett, Sandow and the individual members of The Shield, the future of the company and of the industry seems set in stone. With those performers playing heels in their first years in the company, they’re allowed to flourish in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to as milquetoast babyfaces, a role that performers such as Dallas have little chance to make work.
In that way, the long-term health of WWE is strong. Good heels often make the best babyfaces, and babyfaces are the cornerstone of any successful professional wrestling organization. If any of the previously mentioned heels turns babyface, it’s important for WWE not to lose sight of what made them popular in the first place. If a positive reaction from fans necessitates a babyface turn, WWE must hold on to that character’s most appealing elements. The problem with many heel-to-face turns lately is that newly turned babyfaces have lost their edge.
Having such a strong class of heels also presents WWE with the challenge of building more interesting babyface characters, a challenge it is not currently meeting. As WWE approaches WrestleMania, the company is faced with an interesting and somewhat troubling problem: too many quality heels, not enough worthy babyface opponents.
“Too many” is a relative term, of course. If WWE’s group of babyfaces was as diverse and compelling as its group of heels, the depth in the heel division wouldn’t be a problem. Instead, we’re left to wonder whom Ziggler will face at WrestleMania, if there is a believable opponent for The Shield and whether up-and-comers such as Sandow and Cesaro will even have a match. The possibility of having Henry in a World Championship match is exciting on paper, but if Del Rio is his opponent the match loses luster.
WWE has never had a better group of heels, but it must recognize that fact and take advantage of it. A healthy Ziggler should not miss an episode of Raw under any circumstances and Barrett and Cesaro should never be used solely to put over more prominent babyfaces. A strong heel class can take a company far, but only if stars are treated as stars and only if there are enough solid babyfaces to bring that stardom to light.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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