The WWE Universe is populated with some very intriguing characters, but for every legitimate ratings draw, there are two characters that make viewers change the channel.
Some of these off-putting characters have a wealth of untapped potential. Therein lies a problem: only dedicated wrestling fans are aware of a character's upside. Casual fans and channel surfers can only judge the WWE product by what they see on television, for the most part.
Successful television shows have strong, unique characters driving their narratives. What would Breaking Bad be if Walter White had begun producing and selling drugs to pay for his cancer treatments but then quickly stopped in fear of the consequences? There would be no show; Walter would die of cancer and the narrative arc would nosedive.
Strong characters also work to change the characters surrounding them. In Weeds, Nancy Botwin begins selling drugs in order to support her family in the wake of her husband's untimely death.
While her need to keep her children housed, fed, and clothed is noble, the corrupt nature of her newfound career quickly envelopes her family. In the end, her actions ultimately dictate the lifestyles and personalities of everyone around her.
It is illogical to believe a television show will be a hit with largely undefined characters whose personas progress at a snail's pace, much like those listed later in this article. It is my intent to explain possible ways to tap the potential of the following WWE characters.
The WWE character most in need of a fresh dynamic is Dolph Ziggler, hands down. He is without a doubt the closest on this list to being a major contributor to WWE's future canon. Still, he is not ready for the main event in his current state.
My main issue with the Dolph Ziggler character is that he is portrayed as being less important than his manager, Vickie Guerrero. The viewer is led to believe that without her assistance, Ziggler would not likely find success. Even his WWE Championship opportunity at the Royal Rumble came through an assist from John Laurinaitis, an ally of Guerrero.
Dolph Ziggler is a phenomenal in-ring performer. His series of matches with CM Punk consists of some of the best athletic spectacles to which wrestling fans have been treated in quite some time. Devoted wrestling fans extol his work and generally agree that he should be placed into the main event on these merits alone.
This simply will not and cannot happen.
While superb in-ring ability is a prerequisite for wrestling fans' respect, WWE should be more concerned with whether or not a character's persona will be appreciated by a television audience.
Casual fans and channel surfers are not going to appreciate in-ring work without the frame of reference that most devoted fans possess. The only thing that will make these people watch professional wrestling is strong characterization, which Dolph Ziggler currently lacks.
The quick fix would be to somehow nullify the alliance with Vickie Guerrero, thus turning Ziggler face. This must not happen.
Ziggler has played a supporting role to Guerrero's heel for the duration of their on-screen relationship; she essentially brought him to the dance and takes the lead at every turn. A sudden change in this dynamic would prove unrealistic and a huge waste of the past few years of buildup. This relationship also cannot end by Guerrero's choosing under any circumstances.
I propose a slow burn to this dissolution. There should exist some loss of control in the relationship on Guerrero's part each time the two are on screen together.
Small gestures–stealing her microphone before she can speak, winning matches despite her failed interference, or a complete cessation of defending her from faces' verbal barbs–will do wonders for Ziggler's character.
He must be given the bulk of the promo time and should not only disagree with Guerrero's opinions but also mock them.
As seen on Zack Ryder's Internet show, Ziggler has great comedic timing and presence. If these attributes are used to enhance his on-air persona, television viewers will be treated to an arrogant and detestable but ultimately funny and interesting character similar to The Rock's heel persona circa 1998-1999.
The Colon cousins are two of the most exciting in-ring performers in WWE. They portray very minor characters in the WWE Universe, however, even though they are the reigning WWE Tag Team Champions.
Titles can only be as credible as those who hold them. Any attempt to use a championship to enhance the credibility of a character will surely fail (see the title reigns of The Great Khali and Jack Swagger).
Fortunately, Primo and Epico have the potential to be relevant characters in the WWE Universe. The creative team needs only to play to the duo's biggest strength.
By holding their titles, Primo and Epico are not bound to one show. Why WWE does not use this to their advantage is beyond me.
I propose a run of absolute dominance by the Colons. They should jointly serve as a character that aims to cause chaos whenever it appears.
If allowed to showcase their amazing aerial and ground abilities at unexpected times–interrupting matches for no apparent reason and destroying anyone who happens to be in the ring, for example–television viewers will begin to see the Colons as serious, narrative-altering characters.
In order to truly make an impact, these occurrences cannot be limited to interactions with other minor characters. Nobody will care if Primo and Epico randomly assault WWE Superstars mainstays.
They must be aggressive and dominant. They must indiscriminately dismantle any and all other characters in the WWE Universe, but they should not be part of a storyline (or appear to, anyway).
It has been a very long time since WWE used an unstoppable monster heel in the form of a tag team, and in my opinion it is long overdue. A lengthy undefeated streak would suit the Colons–and the WWE Tag Team Championship–just fine.
They need to do something big, drastic, and–most importantly–unexpected. After a few months of buildup, I can envision Primo and Epico taking out a major character such as CM Punk or Brock Lesnar and subsequently being revealed as the hired guns for an authority figure in the WWE Universe, likely John Laurinaitis or some returning character.
A seemingly unstoppable character must have a weakness, though. With a tag team, the logical weaknesses are apparent: separation and division. At some point, another team will beat Primo and Epico by exploiting this weakness. By then, the WWE Tag Team Championship will be restored to relevance.
At a glance, the character of Kofi Kingston is a borderline circus act that mostly caters to a live audience. Kingston's athleticism and acrobatic style blend well with his jubilant ring entrance and generally cheerful disposition. He is geared towards children; the excitement he brings to the ring will always generate support from the younger members of the audience.
While this act is great in a live setting, it does little for casual fans who will typically only watch wrestling on television when and if something happens to pique their interest.
How will Kofi Kingston draw in these viewers?
As evidenced by his feud with Randy Orton in 2008, Kingston is actually rather handy with a microphone. He must be given a speaking role in order to become a more important character in the WWE Universe.
He consistently impresses in big match situations (his Money in the Bank appearances and this year's Royal Rumble match quickly come to mind), so why not give him a mouth proportionate to his physical ability?
What character could he play, exactly?
I can see Kingston adopting a personality similar to the one MVP formerly portrayed. I would give him a mid-card title (the US Title is reasonable) and have him defend it regularly and in dominant fashion.
He can cut controversial promos pointing out the shortcomings of his opponents and exactly how he will defeat them.
Younger fans may resent him for it, but he can absolutely pull off a confident but clearly capable character from the same mold as Floyd Mayweather or (from a friendlier time) Muhammad Ali.
Many adult fans simply cannot take The Miz seriously as a top contender. This is largely due to the fact that his professional wrestling career began within the confines of the WWE Universe on $1,000,000 Tough Enough.
During this program, The Miz flat-out told the television audience that he had never wrestled before. This, in addition to his rise to fame on the MTV reality series The Real World, fuels a lack of credibility to his character that exists to this day.
What can be done to help change this preconception of The Miz?
He needs to be toughened up.
I suggest an injury angle that sees him out of action for at least three solid months. With Brock Lesnar once again set to wreak havoc throughout the WWE Universe, I see a perfect opportunity for The Miz to run his mouth to a legitimately dangerous individual and subsequently suffer a serious injury as a result.
As the old saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Some time away from the television audience will do wonders for The Miz. He can return from injury with a completely revamped personality.
No longer will he whine about a lack of opportunities or fail to convince the audience just how awesome he is. He will no longer give the impression that he spends more time styling his hair than preparing for his opponents.
Quite simply, his actions must speak far louder than his words. He must return from this injury angle looking like he's just been released from prison: a starkly changed, much more dangerous man.
Instigating a fight with Brock Lesnar and subsequently holding his own could drastically change the public's opinion. If there is any one character in the WWE Universe to whom Brock Lesnar should lend some tough-guy credibility, it's The Miz.
Speaking of injury absences, Wade Barrett is another character who will benefit from extended time away from the cameras. I firmly believe that if a character is gone for months at a time, he or she should absolutely not return exactly the same as when they left.
Whether through a change in appearance or demeanor, the character should offer viewers some sort of interesting new dynamic.
Before his elbow injury, Barrett was roaming the upper mid-card, his most recent feud being with Randy Orton. It is clear that he is a natural leader, seeing as he's led two stables since his debut in 2010.
This quality is apparent to viewers, and I don't see any reason why Barrett cannot be a major antagonist on WWE programming for the next decade.
How should his return play out?
I foresee Wade Barrett returning to the blue brand; a feud with Sheamus over the World Heavyweight Championship would be very fitting. Sheamus and Barrett are both legitimately tough, the latter even branding himself as one of England's top bare-knuckle fighters.
What exactly will lift Wade Barrett to the next level?
He could use a gimmick weapon to add an edge to his character, much like The Game's sledgehammer. His weapon of choice? Given his prior background as a bare-knuckle fighter, brass knuckles would be fitting.
What better way to introduce this weapon than to have William Regal return to an active television role as Barrett's accomplice? We could see the second coming of the Triple H/Ric Flair alliance from nearly a decade ago.
Barrett can solidify his credibility as a top draw by putting Sheamus on the shelf for a time. A lengthy run as a dominant heel champion can then culminate in a return match with the Great White, perhaps the main event of a UK pay-per-view.
At the end of the day, Wade Barrett is certainly capable of generating huge revenue for WWE, especially in the European market.
This character is in danger of never getting over with the audience. He has been a recurring member of the WWE Universe since 2008, yet viewers know very little about him other than that he is big, athletic, and has an amateur wrestling background. Other than that, there is very little to Jack Swagger in terms of character.
Unlike Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler, I do not believe Swagger will benefit from more time with a microphone; he has displayed subpar promo skill on the rare occasion he's been allowed to speak. I am quite sure he can spout off a few lines without any trouble, but he should not be placed into lengthy in-ring promo segments on his own.
Fortunately, a character can be quite popular without having to speak much. Characters such as Kane circa 1998 and Goldberg during his early days in WCW are testaments to this notion.
The current landscape of the WWE Universe is a stark contrast to that of the 1980s, when a cartoonish action-movie character would have suited Swagger just fine.
While there is little room for unrealistic roles these days, there must still be some degree of interesting characterization. As he stands now, Swagger is simply a big, blond wrestler in a singlet.
I propose a fun-loving frat boy character type. Rob Gronkowski comes off this way in the media, and most football fans have taken notice, whether they like it or not. I am by no means suggesting WWE push Swagger as a comedy act like Santino Marella.
Swagger can actually win matches convincingly since he has been pushed as a serious contender for much of his career. The character simply needs a fanbase, and taking a cue from Gronk, WWE could begin to capture an older audience as the current PG era rolls into the next TV14 era.
The WWE creative team sometimes makes dubious decisions. The handling of the Zack Ryder character is quite curious, to say the least.
It is clear that Zack Ryder would never have been given a prominent role on WWE programming if not for the rampant success of his Internet show Z! True Long Island Story. John Cena, CM Punk, and fans across the globe lobbied for more Zack Ryder on WWE television after this show took off.
The problem is that Zack Ryder's character on his show is very different than the one he plays in the WWE Universe.
On the Internet show, Zack Ryder is confident and comes off as a strong character. On WWE television, he does not often speak at length and is usually the victim of some heinous attack or betrayal.
Over the past few months, he has been seriously injured by Kane and also used and abused by Eve. He has not posted any sort of retaliation in either case and has appeared very passive and weak.
Lately, critics of this character have claimed that it has run its course. As far as his WWE persona goes, I will have to agree. This is fine, though; the WWE version of Zack Ryder is not the reason that the character is popular.
WWE needs to be more faithful to the source material. Granted, the creative team did not the popular Zack Ryder persona, but it is at their disposal if they choose to employ it.
Simply give Zack Ryder himself some creative control over the character he created and the company will benefit financially. The wrestler is skilled, and the character is popular. That is more than can be said for much of the current talent roster.
This is probably the easiest fix on the list.
This character has the most potential to be great of any on this list, in my opinion.
Rhodes' heel persona has been a high point on WWE Smackdown for quite some time now. He is a black-hearted villain with very little respect for his opponents. He has played his role very well thus far, but I feel that in order to become a major character, he must take the persona one step further.
His demeanor and mannerisms signify an unfeeling, almost evil disposition. When I watch Cody Rhodes in the ring, I see a growing confidence that comes not from a belief in his own ability, but in his fearlessness of others. He is never really overcome with emotion or rattled by his opponents.
I believe he can be the pro wrestling version of Patrick Bateman, the murderous, mild-mannered main character of American Psycho.
Christian Bale portrayed Bateman as an amoral killer who never paid any respect to the horrible acts he committed. For Patrick Bateman, murder is not an intolerable offense, but rather a light, everyday activity.
I can see shades of Patrick Bateman in Cody Rhodes' character already. He is fearless and does not care about the consequences of his actions.
His willingness to attack much larger men such as The Great Khali and Big Show without hesitation sets him in complete contrast with the more typical cowardly heel who cheats to win and whose first instinct is to avoid conflict with stronger foes.
To further strengthen his character, I would suggest Cody Rhodes instigate random acts of violence and mayhem, all the while acting without any real plan other than to act on his whims.
He can kidnap AJ just to see what would happen. Why not lay out Drew McIntyre because his hair is too long? He could even knock out Teddy Long because his head isn't shiny enough.
As long as Rhodes is still winning matches consistently, viewers will retain an interest in the character. Much like I suggested earlier with Primo and Epico, he can simply serve to instill chaos.
A needlessly chaotic heel is certainly more entertaining than what Natalya has been doing lately.
This character has the most support from WWE fans of anyone on this list, and with good reason.
Before taking on the role of Daniel Bryan in WWE, Bryan Danielson gained notoriety throughout the world on the independent circuit. He held numerous titles in various promotions including Pro Wrestling Noah, the National Wrestling Alliance, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and most notably Ring of Honor.
His popularity grew largely due to his impeccably believable in-ring work. He is the type of professional wrestler who can win over a crowd without the need of a gimmick or fictional characterization. Fans flock to Danielson because he is simply one of the best pro wrestlers in the world today.
His crowd reactions since losing the World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28 are indicative of the audience's disregard for the Daniel Bryan character that WWE has created. It is clear that no matter how WWE writes the Daniel Bryan character into its shows, the crowd will is always going to support Bryan Danielson.
They know who Bryan Danielson is. They know what he has done and what he is going to do. The crowd realizes that such talent does not come along too often, and they will not boo greatness.
Daniel Bryan is going to be a major character due to the sheer will of wrestling fans. WWE might as well just accept this and let Bryan be the American Dragon. He brought himself to the dance; unlike several other WWE Superstars, he is not a product of the company. This is indeed a rarity in today's pro wrestling landscape.
As long as wrestling fans keep supporting Bryan Danielson, the role of Daniel Bryan will only become more important on WWE programming. He is truly a wrestler working for the interest of real wrestling fans.
WWE has plenty of characters that can lure in casual fans and channel surfers, but the American Dragon will ensure that the diehards stay diehards for as long as he sticks around.