The easiest stories to tell in any form of entertainment involve good versus evil. Every hero needs a villain. Whether it’s James Bond, Batman, Spider-Man or one of the endless amount of Avengers, they all need bad guys to fight against. If they didn’t have somebody to conquer in the end, then there’s no story to tell.
In pro wrestling, we need the bad guys there too. The problem is that in today’s World Wrestling Entertainment landscape, there is a huge void in terms of developing characters that are designed to rile up the crowd.
Think of the best heroes (or babyfaces) in wrestling history along with their villains (heels) that countered them: Hulk Hogan had Roddy Piper, Dusty Rhodes had Ric Flair, WCW heroes like Sting and Diamond Dallas Page had the New World Order, Steve Austin had Vince McMahon, John Cena had Edge, Jeff Hardy had CM Punk and so on.
Look at WrestleMania 32 from two weeks ago as an example of what’s wrong with WWE right now. The top three matches at that show saw Roman Reigns beating Triple H for the WWE Title, Brock Lesnar defeating Dean Ambrose and The Undertaker beating Shane McMahon. Out of those six names, how many heels were there? Just Triple H, and he’s not even that good of a heel because the guy likes to throw in DX chops to pop the crowd. Roman Reigns was the only one booed, even though the company wants him to be a face. It was one of the most bizarre WrestleManias ever for that reason.
It’s not all bad, though. Some WWE performers are doing it right.
Salute To The Best Heels In WWE Right Now
Here are some of the top heels in WWE right now: Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Intercontinental Champion The Miz, Women’s Champion Charlotte and The Dudley Boyz. In terms of television time, they’re the best villains that WWE has right now.
Owens is, to me, the best overall performer in WWE today. He’s great in the ring, probably the best promo guy among the wrestlers (Paul Heyman is the best overall) and he actually wants to get booed. What hurts him is that WWE management may not want him to be “The Guy” because he’s got a beer belly and he wrestles in a t-shirt. That shouldn’t matter when you look at his performance, but in WWE’s world it does.
Jericho’s clearly better as a cocky heel that thinks he’s the greatest of all time and is valuable as a veteran that can work with younger guys. The Miz is a true heel who is at the level where he should be as a midcard champion that happens to have a hot wife in Maryse. Charlotte’s improved as a performer because she’s more comfortable as a heel than she was as a face. The Dudleys seem to have new life as heels, with Bubba Ray having potential to break out as a singles star, similar to his successful Bully Ray character in TNA.
The problem with that current group of heels is that none of them are really at the top of the card. They aren’t in a spot where they are going to main-event many PPVs this year, the way that top heel Seth Rollins did last year.
Speaking of Rollins, he was arguably WWE’s best performer in the last two years. He turned heel on his Shield buddies in June of 2014, won the WWE Title at WrestleMania 31 almost a year later, and then suffered a serious knee injury in November. When he returns to action at some point in June or July (that’s estimated at this point), he’ll likely be a face. That’s a no-brainer because fans will miss him and want to cheer him. It’s also a problem for WWE because they are losing one of their best heels. They haven’t really replaced him either.
The Art Of Being A Heel Is Gone
“The business has changed, absolutely, because here’s the thing. We structured our business so that the referee has integrity now, which I have a huge problem with. But I don’t give a s–t about the referee. I really don’t. I like when heels get heat. I mean, we have a lot of kids now and they don’t understand heat. They don’t understand it. I mean, there’s the guy you’re supposed to boo. They get it, but most of our guys are supposed to be babyfaces. Bray Wyatt [has] got the coolest entrance of anybody next to maybe Undertaker, but it’s hard for him to be a heel because he cuts fantastic promos. He [has] got a cool gimmick! I mean, he’s not the prettiest guy on the planet, I get it, but he’s a hell of a worker. He [has] got snap. He [has] got fire. He cuts great promos. How do you hate a guy like that?”
Show makes a lot of good points there and he should know, considering he has probably turned heel and face more times in the history of WWE along with Kane. Seriously, people have counted over 20 turns for Show in his career. It’s a little much!
It’s interesting that Show mentioned Wyatt because Wyatt is somebody that should be the greatest heel of this era, yet his heel run went so bad that they turned him face after WrestleMania. The reason that he failed as a heel is because he lost so many feuds to so many top faces that the fans just lost faith in him. He was routinely beaten by the likes of John Cena, Roman Reigns and The Undertaker so often that he doesn’t have any more heat left.
Along with Rollins, the best heel act in WWE in the last year was The New Day. They flopped as faces in early 2014, then about a year ago turned heel, caught fire as tag team champions in the summer, and as they left WrestleMania, they too were in the face role. Fans just didn’t want to boo them anymore because, as Big Show said, they did great promos, have a cool (or funny, in this case) gimmick and can put on awesome matches too.
It’s put WWE in a tough spot, but they can still turn things around.
It’s Time To Turn Roman Reigns Heel
The video above was from the night after WrestleMania when Roman Reigns was booed and he said this: “I’m not a bad guy. I’m not a good guy. I’m THE guy.” The crowd booed him for that too!
In order for WWE to get some momentum as a company again, they need to stop relying on the face vs. face feuds and develop some heel characters that cheat all the time. It starts at the top with Reigns.
Reigns is the WWE Champion that was booed at WrestleMania when he won his third WWE Title, booed the next night at Raw and booed at the following week’s Raw as well. When he teamed with Wyatt on Raw last week, it was Wyatt that was cheered much more than Reigns even though Wyatt was portrayed as a villain for three years, while Reigns has been pushed as a superman for two years.
It’s time to listen to the fans, WWE. Let Roman Reigns become the villain that the people want him to be.
In addition to AJ Styles, who he will defend the WWE Title against at Payback on May 1 in Chicago, there are several other big names that Reigns could have feuds with as the heel champion. Names like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sami Zayn, Cesaro and many others. They could easily keep Reigns strong as a heel champion over the next year. If they want to him to go face after that it’s cool, but save it until 2017 post-WrestleMania at the earliest.
Reigns will likely beat Styles to retain the WWE Title, but it shouldn’t be clean. He should cheat in such a way that it makes the crowd want to rush the ring to get their hands on him. People love Styles, so it’s easy to have somebody act like a jerk against him because Styles won’t be booed.
Putting Reigns in a stable may be a good idea. Some of the true heels I mentioned earlier, like Chris Jericho and The Dudley Boyz, could be veterans that side with Reigns who would do a great job of talking for Roman as a way to get him heat.
Another option would be calling up Samoa Joe from NXT and have him work as an ally of Reigns. You could even turn Roman’s cousins, The Usos, into heels to make them some Samoan heel group. There are a lot of options.
The point is this: Give Reigns a heel stable. Book them in such a way that they don’t lose any matches ever. Have them say they are the best group in WWE history that is even better than The Shield. Keep mentioning The Shield every week, which can lead to Ambrose trying and failing to beat Reigns. Then WWE brings back Rollins, who would be back as a face with Ambrose to combat this destructive force.
If Reigns embraced the heel side, then there’s a chance that the people booing him may cheer because heels are cool. After all, it was over two years ago at the Royal Rumble when The Shield were still heels and the crowd cheered Reigns because he was booked like a huge star. The crowd might cheer him again, but it probably won’t be right away and if they did cheer him, he should still act like a jerk.
What More Can Be Done?
One of the biggest problems in WWE today is 50/50 booking. The term means that when a guy wins a match one week, whether it’s on PPV or television, you might see that person lose their next match to the same person as a way to show that they are even. Nobody gets over as a big deal when that happens. It just puts everybody on the same level.
WWE has to focus on booking heels stronger. Give them cheap wins on a consistent basis whether it’s because of a manager, an eye poke the ref didn’t see, some weapon that they use all the time or the “strength in numbers” thing that often times works, even though at other times it fails miserably.
Triple H was one of the best heels in WWE history, especially during his rise to the top in the summer of 1999 through mid-2001 when he was injured. Part of the reason he was so awesome was because he rarely lost. He cheated to win so often and when he did lose, it meant something because people weren’t used to seeing it. That elevated himfrom a mid-carder to a full-time main-eventer who was still main-eventing WrestleMania 15 years later. (Marrying well probably helped him too.)
What WWE has to do is focus on the basic fundamentals of storytelling in terms of creating those heels. When I grew up watching wrestling in the 1980s, it was so easy to hate the likes of Roddy Piper, Ric Flair, Ted Dibiase, Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect, Bobby Heenan and the “Macho Man” Randy Savage when he turned against Hogan. While there were cool things about them, it’s not like they were pandering to the crowd or wearing their merchandise so we could support them.
There are going to be people who say what worked 30 years ago won’t work now because the business has changed. While that’s true to an extent, what hasn’t changed is that good vs. evil is the best story that you can tell.
It’s not hard to pit good against evil. You just have to commit to it and do it in a way that works. Here’s hoping that WWE realizes it sooner rather than later because two good guys competing to see who is the best can get boring fast and in a lot of ways, it already is.