Does WWE know how to write an effective heel anymore? For that matter who was the last babyface that really connected with the audience, not counting someone who gets over on their own (Daniel Bryan, New Day). When was the last time WWE’s “creative” team—so, not counting NXT—wrote a story, booked a character, developed a feud that ended in a superstar becoming over.
And I hate to keep adding modifiers and qualifiers, but you might be thinking “Braun Strowman” right now. I thought of him too, but I dismissed it since Strowman didn’t really get over because of a storyline. He got over because he, in and of himself, was impressive, charming and worked some fun matches with Roman Reigns.
What I’m thinking of is someone like Steve Austin, whose feud with Mr. McMahon launched him to the tip top of wrestling. I’m thinking of someone like Goldberg, whose series of squashes turned a very green rookie into WCW’s biggest homegrown superstar. I’m thinking—on the heel side—of someone like Tomasso Ciampa, who is basically wrestling’s Satan, through a series of smartly booked matches, good pacing in his (long) feud with Johnny Gargano and just the right amount of exposure.
Austin was twenty(!) years ago, Goldberg was in a different company, Ciampa might as well be a different company. What has WWE’s “creative” team done lately to “create” a superstar?
Kevin Owens is a good example. He’s supposed to be a heel, right? He’s feuding with Braun Strowman, who is certainly a babyface, but Kevin doesn’t get much boos. For that matter he doesn’t do much that is particularly dastardly. He’s over, no question about it, but he’s over because he’s entertaining. He works good matches, has clear enthusiasm and a desire to entertain, and seems to be giving it his all despite more often than not having very little to work with. He’s liked so he’s over, but he’s not over because “creative” has orchestrated it.
And I know this sounds terribly hypocritical of me: I’m the guy (along with many others) who frequently complains about WWE holding back talent that gets over by themselves, through hard work and determination. But, to me, it’s apples and oranges. I’m not talking about Kevin Owens not getting pushed more than he is; I’m talking about Kevin Owens not getting booked in a way that helps the hard work he’s put into his character.
Why does WWE even have a creative team? I mean the shows follow the same basic template:
- Raw after PPV: two people who are working the next PPV wrestle and it ends in a messy finish.
- Next Raw: rematch with finish reversed.
- Next Raw: tag match that combines said feud and another feud in a throwaway match.
- Raw before PPV: two competitors have some kind of a skit, or a segment, or something that ends in a fight to “hype” the PPV.
- PPV: re-rematch, this time with (hopefully) a clean finish.
That’s basically what it feels like to watch Raw: Just a cycle that keeps spinning and spinning, not moving forward just…circling the drain.
So I was thinking about how pointless WWE’s “creative” team is, how little they do (at least effectively) and how sterile the heels and babyfaces are and then it hit me:
We’re really living through a second, better-wrestled, New Generation era.
Cartoon gimmicks are everywhere, the characters are shallow—like Saturday Morning He-Man shallow—and there are no chances taken with anyone. Heels are just the people who wrestle the babyfaces and occasionally pull tights to win a match. Babyfaces are just the people who wrestle the heels and…come to think of it, babyfaces often do a lot more villainous stuff than the heels do.
Things aren’t as bleak as in the New Generation of course, but a lot of the same ingredients are there. The same lack of forward momentum is there. The same blandness is there. The only difference is, back in the mid-90’s there was only one Shawn Michaels to at least put on a show. Today there are half a roster’s worth of showstoppers. The matches themselves are (or maybe let’s say “can be”) entertaining in and of themselves, but the characters are often so generic, so forgettable, so devoid of logic, nuance and motivation that those entertaining matches can only ever be so entertaining; not as entertaining as they could be with better characters propping them up.
Think about it like this: the Attitude Era was filled with terrible matches (but for the occasional Angle, Benoit, Jericho, etc) but had characters that fans were really invested in, as such a match like Rock vs Hogan might have been a stinker on a technical level, but it was a five star match for every other reason because the characters sold it and the fans bought it.
Imagine how good today’s great workers could be if WWE got “creative” with them.