Charlotte Flair returned from a six month hiatus on Sunday night (Dec. 20) at TLC. She won the only Women’s title in the company she’d never held on that PPV. Flair then appeared on Raw, and hinted she wanted a shot at her partner’s Women’s championship. WWE’s already announced she & Asuka will defend their titles against unnamed opponents on this Friday’s SmackDown.
All of that is fine, honestly. I’m not Charlotte’s biggest fan, but she’s a big name and I’m not gonna argue with WWE bringing her back with a rollout befitting a star.
What irks me is that they don’t seem to have done much to make Flair’s character any more than “she’s a star”. It’s a big part of why, for the better part of three years now, I’ve struggled to connect to her work in any meaningful way. I don’t hate her. I don’t love her. She’s not terribly interesting. She’s just there, and for as much as she & WWE keep telling me that’s important, I just can’t muster up more than an eye roll about it.
Heels and faces will forever have a role in pro wrestling stories, but not every character has to be one. If someone is going to be asked to play a gray hat, however, their behavior should still be consistent. Their motivations should still be clear.
WWE’s approach with Charlotte continues to be to throw a bunch of traits out there and let the audience pick which ones to react to. In some ways, it works. The Queen gets reactions. People love to argue about her. Hell, I’m 500 words into telling you I don’t care, which kind of makes me a liar (actually, I’ll be honest... I’m just a provocateur).
Here’s the issue, though. Triggering #DISCOURSE and generating clicks doesn’t translate to good storytelling. A million tweets about whether booking Flair on three shows this week is holding down Liv Morgan or Peyton Royce doesn’t help make Raw or SmackDown more watchable.
Look at Roman Reigns. For years, that he was “polarizing” was his defining character trait. It led to a lot of bland programs, and forgettable feuds that didn’t help Reigns or his opponents.
But since he returned in August, they’ve done away with pretending he’s a fan favorite. His arrogant streak is now focused on maintaining his position, and that’s been developed out into a conniving ruthlessness. It’s allowed us to feel more passionately about Roman than we have since The Shield broke up. And it’s created thrilling stories where we can forget everything is scripted and root like hell for the guy trying to knock the Tribal Chief down a peg.
Compare that to Charlotte. She went on Raw last night and cut a promo that was part braggadocio (“what would the ThunderDome be with The Queen” and “at my core I’m a champion”) and part putting over her “friend” Asuka en route to asking for a babyface vs. babyface title shot. There was bickering with the heel former Tag champs, and a win over an at least half-heel team.
But she also threw in a line about how she helped Asuka because there was something in it for her. And she’s been boasting about being “the only real Grand Slam Champion,” because unlike Sasha Banks, Bayley & Asuka, she held the now defunct Divas title in addition to the NXT, Raw, SmackDown, and WWE Tag belts.
That stan-enraging claim came on Raw Talk last night, in the same appearance where she delivered this very likeable promo about her tag partner:
Charlotte gave a great promo on rawtalk and made sense as in why she teaming with Asuka. More of this Face Charlotte pic.twitter.com/IY2PWyJjZf— KirbyFreeman (@KirbyFreeman20) December 22, 2020
“Well I don’t think I’ve ever really had the opportunity to say this, but I really believe when I beat Asuka - when she had the longest [unbeaten] streak - she really cemented my legacy, and she put me on the map that night. Like, Asuka had nothing to prove. I had everything to prove.
“And knowing what it takes to always stay on top and be on top, and see her consistently be on top, that’s why like, ‘damn, I respect you.’ I know what that takes and no matter what, Asuka is still there, she’s always shoulder to shoulder with me.
“So I don’t think I play well with others, but if I’m gonna to be a tag team partner, I might as well be with a woman that I respect. Who I know is gonna, you know, be a warrior.”
Now, partly that’s good because it’s not delivered in the style Nia Jax correctly mocked as “robotic” last night on Raw. Maybe that’s the missing piece. If Flair was given more latitude on the mic by WWE or allowed herself to talk like a normal person in the ring, her character would work better.
I still think they need to commit to getting her cheers or being okay with her being booed, however. The tightrope act doesn’t work for her - even when they’re not doing things like booking her to work heel on one show and face on another like they did during her NXT title run earlier this year.
Maybe this will all come together, and the mixed signals will be explained as cover for when she turns on Asuka. I hope so. But based on their track record with The Queen around WrestleMania 36... and WrestleMania 35... and SummerSlam 2018... I don’t think anyone is wrong to be skeptical.
Personally, I’m hoping for that heel turn. Flairs are better as villains, and Charlotte’s best run was as Sasha’s nemesis in 2015 & 2016 when it made sense to get mad about her winning titles, because we were supposed to hate her!
But whichever way they decide to go, they shouldn’t wait too long. The approach they’ve used with Flair over the past couple years doesn’t serve her well, and it doesn’t help anyone else on the roster. Most importantly, it doesn’t make for good television.