It’s pretty common among wrestling fans to bemoan the fact that Randy Orton is now the top heel, or bad guy, in the company. He’s not all that interesting as a character, and his lack of development means that any new runs as a main-eventer play exactly like reruns. Hey, at least John Cena changes the color of his outfits every once in a while.
Here’s the problem, though: who else you got?
Think about it. There are no other singles-wrestler bad guys in the company who are main eventers, save Brock Lesnar, who wrestles three matches a year. And something is very wrong with that.
It seems like it can’t be true, but it is. First, think of all the top stars who automatically come to mind when you think of WWE: Cena, Bryan, Sheamus, Rey Mysterio, Batista, Rob Van Dam, Undertaker, Kofi. All good guys.
Think back to most of last year’s major antagonists for them: Dolph Ziggler, Big E. Langston, Mark Henry, Cody Rhodes, Big Show…all good guys now too.
Triple H? He has an antagonist role, but won’t let himself be truly hated – he always has to give himself some smartass put-down lines that make him look better than the other heels. And that brings us to a recent, MASSIVE streak of failed, half-assed heel turns: the New Age Outlaws, Brodus Clay and the Miz all recently pulled some kind of shocking dastardly deed, only to have it basically ignored after that. The Outlaws still play to the crowd, and Brodus and Miz were belittled as boring by “Bed-and-Breakfast” Barrett (how an Englishman doesn’t tell the marketing people that “BnB’ has such a banal association in his homeland is beyond me), whose gimmick still makes no sense to me – he’s like V for Vendetta, if V were barely competent and an asshole.
After that, you have several villains whose pushes worked for a while, and were then totally killed. When Ryback turned on John Cena, it could have been a “Hogan vs. Warrior” moment – instead Cena beat him easily, and so did everyone else after that. He’s now stuck in a tag team with Curtis Axel, whose momentum was similarly stalled after Paul Heyman dumped him. Alberto Del Rio is like the negative New Age Outlaw here, in that his good-guy turn was given up on far too quickly, like it was literally just a calculated bit of merchandising for a Mexican tour. As a villain he needs a sidekick like Ricardo Rodriguez.
Fandango’s not ready yet. Three Man Band are a joke. Titus O’Neal’s recent turn against his partner Darren Young – the only openly gay man on the roster – makes him hissable, but we’ll see if that takes. Antonio Cesaro and Jack Swagger need a gimmick refresh; besides, it does seem like at least one of them will turn good shortly. Bad News Barrett has already overstayed his welcome. Damien Sandow still has a shot to come back big.
The only bad guys besides Brock and Orton who consistently main-event are the Shield and the Wyatts…so of course they’re now fighting each other rather than the heroes. Neither faction has produced a worthy singles star to date, though it’s abundantly clear that Roman Reigns is being groomed…as a future good guy. Dean Ambrose has a singles title he never defends, and Bray Wyatt rarely even steps into the ring as a competitor.
I don’t like to get into behind-the-scenes gossip too much in this column – too few writers on wrestling simply review the show as it is. But there was some talk that recently, Vince McMahon said something to the effect of the good guy-bad guy model being obsolete now. That was an approach that worked in the Attitude era, when people cheered for characters who would traditionally have been heels. The problem now is that while you may not need clear-cut morality plays in every match, you do need protagonists and antagonists in every story. If everyone acts like a protagonist, then the good guys are no longer the underdogs. If they’re not the underdogs, they come dangerously close to being the bullies. And if you don’t acknowledge that, you get the Cena-like backlashes.
So what to do? If I were a fantasy booker – and my credentials to that end are that I actually was flown to Titan Tower for a job interview at one point – here’s where I’d start:
Have some heel turns that stick. It’s unrealistic to think they’ll ever turn Cena – if it were up to me, I’d have used the OCD neat-freak part of him showcased on Total Divas to make him more paranoid and unstable – because he’s too valuable an ambassador of goodwill to kids and charities. It also seems unlikely they’ll turn Batista, even as fans boo him, because they want the Marvel tie-in fandom from Guardians of the Galaxy. Rey Mysterio as a cowardly heel could be amazing, but I don’t see that ever happening either.
Sheamus is the obvious choice – he’s done it well before, and there’s no compelling reason why he shouldn’t. Ziggler and Miz should go back to being assholes, and could possibly even form a decent faction, maybe with Heath Slater (who needs rescuing, badly) and Curtis Axel. Brodus Clay could easily go back to his old monster gimmick – a reunion with Alberto Del Rio might work. Tell the New Age Outlaws to stop playing to the crowd and act like villains. Nobody’s going to tell Triple H that, unfortunately.
Conversely, make Fandango a good guy, just by having him acknowledge the people who “sing along” to his theme. Pull the trigger on Roman Reigns’ turn already – we know it’s coming, and the buildup isn’t interesting. Give Ambrose a solo career and something new to do – his combover is eminently mockable, but his ring and mic skills compensate – think of Kurt Angle’s old WWF run with the hairpiece. Build up to a hair-versus-beard match with Daniel Bryan before he finally decides to shave it.
And if Bray Wyatt’s actually going to wrestle, make him wrestle already. And focus his gimmick – you can talk nonsense but you have to focus it in the end. Hulk Hogan may have yammered on about python powder and mineral water from Mars, but he always brought it back home with a “What’cha gonna do?”
In the meantime…Randy Orton is your top heel. And as things stand right now, I can’t make a good argument against that. But on an unrelated topic, I’m delighted to see actual plot points happen on Smackdown now.
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