On Raw last night (Dec. 3), Dolph Ziggler split with his tag partner Drew McIntyre. In the process, he returned to playing a babyface character.
It caused a lot of people to notice that WWE has relied a lot on “turning” characters this year. A tweet from MMA & wrestling writer Todd Martin pointed to eleven different performers who’ve had their alignment flipped at least once recently:
In the past few months, Lashley has turned, Elias has turned, Braun has turned twice, Nia has turned, Becky has turned twice, Carmella has turned, Charlotte has turned, Bryan has turned, Big Show has turned twice, Ambrose has turned and now Ziggler has turned.— Todd Martin (@ToddMartinMMA) December 4, 2018
Now, a few names on Martin’s list can and will be debated. Hell, there’s roughly about 60 posts & fanposts on this site alone about whether/when Becky Lynch turned. In a wrestling landscape where promoters are willing to roll with whatever reaction an audience has to a performer & their gimmick, things aren’t as cut and dry as they were in the past.
But faces & heels are engrained in wrestling’s DNA, and heroes & villains appear in every mode of storytelling. There are clear turns, like Carmella going from a conniving, vain champion to someone who plucks kids out of the crowd for dance breaks, or Daniel Bryan low-blowing AJ Styles, denouncing the YES Movement and suddenly referring to himself in the third person (the second most evil act in pro graps, behind only buttoning your polo shirt all the way up).
It does seem to be something WWE is relying on a lot right now. Some are understandable - like Roman Reigns unexpected departure setting up Dean Ambrose’s and necessitating Braun Strowman’s (although you could argue making Strowman a heel was a bad idea in the first place). Others, like Nia Jax’s repeated flip-flops, feel more like poor planning.
What are we to make of it? For the most part, it’s business as usual - both for wrestling in general and WWE in particular.
When the story justifies it, we love it. The Elite took Cody Rhodes from face to heel and back again over the past 12 months because they needed him to face Kenny Omega and then host a fan-driven show in ALL IN. Fans embraced it because they put his character through events which explained the changes. When it feels like shock value or seat-of-the-pants booking, we roll our eyes. Too many of WWE’s fall into that latter category. It turns what’s supposed to be a “holy $#!+” moment and makes it a joke.
As we settle into the Road to WrestleMania, things should stabilize. This is usually the time of year where WWE creative focuses on a future point and books toward that. Some of the turns we’ve seen recently, such as Ziggler splitting with McIntyre, are likely setting up angles for the next several months.
That’s the hope anyway. But in case the pattern persists, don’t get too attached your favorite mid-carder as face or heel.