2014 and one man, Daniel Bryan reached the pinnacle of his wrestling career, winning two matches on the same night at Wrestlemania 30 to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Then he got injured and all of a sudden the best babyface for years was taken away from us. WWE now faced a void of top babyfaces (I’m not including Cena. He’s not a babyface). It was time to create some new ones and they had two really good chances to do this.
First was Dean Ambrose. Following the breakup of the Shield, Ambrose was a surprisingly good babyface, showcasing traits of Brian Pillman and Steve Austin, constantly trying to make Seth Rollins’ life a living hell. Rollins cheated to beat Ambrose at Summerslam, then took him out with cinder blocks the night after on RAW. When Ambrose returned, we thought this might finally be the chance for Dean to get his revenge on his traitorous former teammate. Instead, he got attacked by a hologram and entered a feud with Bray Wyatt which he would go on to lose. Perhaps the optimistic among us thought WWE might be playing the long game and Ambrose would finally get his revenge at Wrestlemania. Instead by Mania he was established as yet another midcarder.
Had Ambrose won that Hell in a Cell match, chances are it wouldn’t have affected Seth Rollins too much. Especially when you consider that in the long term, Rollins probably is weaker now with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship than he was with the Money in the Bank briefcase. The win would have elevated Ambrose into a potential top babyface in absence of Bryan. A guy who could main event pay-per-views, sell merchandise and get people to actually want to watch your TV show.
Then came Survivor Series 2014. Some bleached blonde haired bloke called Dolph Ziggler was suddenly booked like the proper underdog babyface he could be. He faced the Authority 3-on-1 in the Team Cena vs Team Authority Survivor Series match. With a little help from Sting, Ziggler combatted the odds to rid the WWE of the Authority. The following month, Ziggler recaptured the Intercontinental Title he had been screwed out of previously. Then WWE basically took a giant dump on all the build they provided Ziggler in the space of about two weeks. First John Cena brought the Authority back. Then Ziggler lost the IC title to Bad News Barrett and was "fired" from WWE. Ziggler got his job back just in time to enter the Royal Rumble. Maybe Ziggler’s bad luck was just so he could have a really successful Royal Rumble? Instead he bizarrely came out at number 30 and got eliminated in about 2 minutes by Kane and the Big Show. Back to the midcard you go Dolph!
So if it wasn’t going to be Ziggler or Ambrose (or the returning Bryan), who would be WWE’s top babyface? The company chose Roman Reigns despite a pretty clear backlash to this. After returning from injury at TLC, Reigns would win the Rumble in somewhat unconvincing fashion. His promos were much maligned and the company didn’t play Reigns to his strengths. But WWE ploughed forward with their plans. They had a few outs including a match at Fast Lane between Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan but they remained steadfast. Reigns would face Lesnar at Wrestlemania and was destined to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Except he didn’t.
This is the part that sort of gets to me. WWE bailed on Reigns at the last minute, instead crowning Seth Rollins as champion. This means that Reigns could have been interchangeable with literally anyone in that match. If Reigns was not going to win the title, he really didn’t need to be in the main event. You could have put Ziggler or Ambrose in that position and done the exact same finish of the cash-in and nothing changes. Except that you’ve put a talent in the main event who might just have the fan backing to be a significant draw if you sustain their push. Rollins might have even left the building with actual heel heat instead of being cheered out of Mania if he’d pinned Ambrose or Ziggler to win the title. With the booking they went with, even Reigns, the guy they seemed determined to push a top babyface, feels like another midcarder.
Fast forward to October 2015 and our main event for Hell in a Cell is Kane vs Seth Rollins. Can anyone see the problem here? Due to the fact WWE bailed on the pushes of Ambrose and Ziggler last year, they have no real babyfaces on the full-time roster for Rollins to face. Therefore the company is trying to rely on older talents to act as the babyface. As well as this, Rollins has pretty much run out of compelling opponents at this current point in time bar another round with Brock Lesnar. This has also made the Authority angle relatively pointless. A heel authority only works in wrestling when they are up against a compelling protagonist. Like Austin-McMahon or Sting vs the nWo. In its current form there is a rotational protagonist thus the Authority lacks the same impact it had during its early months when it was up against Daniel Bryan. Had a Ziggler or Ambrose push happened last year, these problems might not exist right now.
The lack of a top babyface at this current point in time has to be one of the reasons for a decline in ratings. Who have I got to cheer for? The most compelling characters on the roster at this point in time are the heel stable The New Day. Everyone else just seems to be not that memorable or important. Compare this to NXT and you’ve got fantastic babyfaces like Bayley and previously Sami Zayn. A big part of why the Sasha Banks vs Bayley match at NXT Takeover: Respect was so good was because you really got behind Bayley in that match. It’s like watching Sport. If you watch two teams that you feel neutral towards, it’s not going to feel as significant to you as watching your favourite team in action. In WWE, at this point, there are no real favourites.
How do we sort out the void of top babyfaces? I’m not sure really. I think it might take a significant face turn from a heel or a new debut to really get them heated up to be a believable top guy. I would also like WWE to go with an actual babyface winning the Royal Rumble this year instead of a guy who’s supposed to be a babyface but is treated like a heel. Give us a Brock Lesnar or a Dean Ambrose rumble victory and we might have something to cheer for. Until then, let’s hope WWE try to build someone up in the next couple of months instead of dragging out this Kane vs Rollins feud until it makes us physically sick.