It has become increasingly apparent in the last few weeks that WWE’s portrayal of babyfaces and heels is all over the place. The Divas switch between heel and face at such a high rate it’s strangely impressive, the Authority can’t decide from week to week whether they are heels or not, and regularly superstars turn face or heel without any explanation. But that’s only half the story here.
The really weird thing is how the heels are being portrayed like typical babyfaces are supposed to be treated. Seth Rollins is a prime example of this. At Night of Champions, he has to overcome the odds against two opponents in the same night. It sounds more like an underdog babyface Daniel Bryan storyline than a cowardly heel Seth Rollins one. It’s babyface booking 101. Hell, it’s storytelling 101. In Act II of a movie, you’ll usually see the protagonist pitted against stronger and stronger resistance until overcoming the odds and emerging victorious in the final act. So why on Earth is Rollins, a guy I’m supposed to hate, being portrayed like every superhero in the history of superheroes?
Then there’s the whole Rusev-Ziggler angle. I admit I’m a big Ziggler fan but even I can’t find a way to like him in this feud. The guy is being portrayed as a bit of a dick. He stole the girlfriend of another man, brags about it on a weekly basis and somehow still thinks he’s a victim? How on earth can I root for this guy even if he is a great performer in the ring? Meanwhile, Rusev comes across as a sympathetic if flawed character, who lost everything and is trying to get his life and his career back on track.
I also have to flag up the weirdness that occurred at Summerslam. During the event, almost all the heels starting doing suicide dives (a bit babyface move) in their matches. This may have been to cater to the smart crowd in attendance who wanted to cheer the heels. But why would the company want to perpetuate the idea that these bad guys should actually be cheered like the good guys? Doesn’t that make it hard to sympathise with the babyface in the feud?
It is the backwards world of WWE booking where heels are babyfaces, babyfaces are heels and some superstars are in a constant state of flux between babyface and heel (see the Big Show). Some would say that the whole dynamic of babyfaces and heels is somewhat passé. It might be but the fact is WWE doesn’t currently have the capacity to create compelling three dimensional characters with clear strengths, weaknesses and shades of grey. Dramas like Breaking Bad or Game or Thrones can do this by creating characters that have a sense of consistency and reason to their actions. WWE’s talent seem to switch wildly between characteristics like they are all have split-personality disorder or something.
WWE have definitely struggled to define the babyface over recent years. That’s telling in the fact that the last three years of programming have been dominated by heel champions. The only babyface champion to have more than a three-month run with the company’s main belt in that time period was John Cena. He is more the definition of a tweener when you think about it.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what babyfaces can get over as fan favourites in 2015. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest at least two kinds are alive and well. The first type is the underdog babyface. The Daniel Bryans, Sami Zayns, Mick Foleys and Bayleys of this world who struggle to get to the top of the ladder which makes it so satisfying when they finally reach it. These guys are the everyman, the person who makes you think anyone can achieve their dreams with hard work. Unfortunately Vince McMahon has never felt that these guys can carry the promotion with its main world title as a long title reign for an underdog kind of ruins their gimmick a little bit. You can’t be an underdog if you win all the time.
The other type of babyface is the badass. The definition of this is Brock Lesnar. A guy who kicks ass in such a fantastic way you can’t help but cheer for him. Rather than being relatable babyfaces like the underdogs, badasses are the babyfaces you aspire to be. They also tend to be heels whose badassery is so cool that they turn face naturally (see Stone Cold Steve Austin). Ironically, had Roman Reigns been booked consistently throughout his WWE run, then he would have also been a great badass babyface. Unfortunately, the company tried to turn him into John Cena 2.0 and we all know how that turned out.
As for the heels, WWE have struggled in this department as well. In the PG era, the heels have been the most compelling characters on the roster. It seems that heels have a little more freedom to do things that white meat babyfaces can’t which gives them much more depth in character. The New Day are the best example of this. As babyfaces they were booked as happy-go-lucky guys who were just happy for no reason. As heels, they have so much more to characters. The trombone playing, the kazoo eating, the dancing, the signs, the chants and the positivity have made them possibly the best thing about the current product right now. I actually hope their popularity doesn’t make them go back to being babyfaces as I can see WWE simply reverting to the 2D booking that gave birth to the ‘New Day Sucks’ chant in the first place.
So how can we get back to a time where faces are treated like the good guys and heels are booed out of the building? Well the only guys who seemed to have it sussed in WWE land is the ones over at NXT. While the odd heel can get cheered from time-to-time, the storytelling, consistencies of character and the overall journey that the characters go on, makes it a lot easier for the fans to get behind the babyface. The babyfaces in NXT also have clear flaws and come across as actual human beings rather than two dimensional caricatures. Ultimately it’s about two important things – storytelling and consistency. If WWE can get those two things right then maybe one day we’ll know just who to cheer for and just who to boo out the building.