WWE Face Dilemma: The Lost Art of the Struggle
Think deep into your mind of all the heroes that you admire in the journey to who you are today or where you want to be. Cogitate for a second on exactly how they became heroes in your mind.
No matter what they achieved, it was the struggle that made the achievement worth it. After all, if a man's grasp doesn't exceed his reach, then what good is the item that he's reaching for?
When Muhammad Ali faced George Foreman in then-Zaire's "The Rumble In the Jungle" showdown in 1971, it was his adversity that made him a hero to the millions of Africa. The fact that Ali was returning from a federal showdown for standing up against a vicious war. The fact that he came from a country that was still high off racial tensions in the post-Jim Crow era. His birth name denounced because it was the name of his ancestors' slave master. This was a man that had been through some tribulation.
Fast forward more than 20 years later, where a blue-collared redneck who didn't have "the look" of the star dared to go against the most powerful man in sports entertainment. When Stone Cold Steve Austin held the Intercontinental Championship in 1997, he suffered from injuries on screen and off that still threatened his career. On screen, it translated to Vince McMahon investing in corporate interests in attempting to make Austin who he thought Austin should be.
From there, the fans were engraved in the character of Austin, a man who was nowhere near perfect. He drunk his beer and swore like a large portion of Americans do. He had a job to do, and it needed to be done, no matter how messed up his neck or any other part of his body was.
The point of these stories is that the core of a hero isn't perfection. What makes a hero is imperfection and adversity that leads to greatness.
Unfortunately, it seems as if WWE has lost this now.
There seems to be a glaring problem now that when a face is pushed to the moon as a dominating, can-do-no-wrong, happy camper, the fans are not as quick to buy it. Even when the kids buy it at first, they can be easily swayed away by the "anti-hero" because at the end of the day, even the youth can relate more to the bad than the good. Even though their parents would prefer otherwise.
One scenario that has made me contemplate writing this article is the recent face push of Sheamus. Sheamus was once a dominant heel who started to get lost in the crowd. His face turn, however, witnessed a transition to an international Irish star who was something new and different to the WWE audiences.
But when he feuded with then World Champion Daniel Bryan, things began to take a strange turn. At Wrestlemania 28, Sheamus defeated Bryan for the title in less than five minutes. What was supposed to be a triumphant win was met with many jeers from the Miami crowd that day and the Monday after. Quite frankly, Sheamus was getting the Cena treatment.
It was too easy. It barely took any hard work, struggle, blood, sweat or tears to win one of the most coveted prizes in the profession. It was a joke of the worst kind, and the fans were laughing with jeers instead of cheers.
Another scenario that got me thinking about the lost art of the struggle is the recent Divas title win of Layla. Yes, she suffered and rehabbed an injury for a year, but the struggle was barely documented or accounted for until the night of her return at Extreme Rules. Barely any word was mentioned about Layla, and all that we knew before was that she was backup to a dominating heel champion in Michelle McCool.
A majority of the audiences barely notice or pay attention to Layla since she has returned. This, in large part, has to do with the fact that Kharma was much more anticipated. Even this point ties into the article.
Kharma has recently undergone a tragedy in her life with the loss of a newborn baby. She has been very open and strong about her tragedy, even revealing her pregnancy and time off live television. All of the building blocks are there for a triumphant return of one of the most dominant women in wrestling. When (or if) she comes back amid her terrible loss, fans will be watching and might even root for her.
Same can be said for Daniel Bryan, a guy who wrestled and struggled to find his niche in the underworld of independent territories for years. A guy whose initial run in the WWE witnessed a controversy that almost led him to the footsteps of TNA's door.
Just smiling and waving to the fans is not going make you a hero or loved. It's harder than that. It has to be harder. It should be harder. With Kharma and Bryan, there's pain and redemption.
With Sheamus and Layla, there's not.
WWE needs to find a way to get their major faces, especially the champions, connected to the audience and become heroes again. They can tout all of the Make A Wish Foundation and Anti-Bullying works all they want, but at the end of the day, it's more personal and intangible than PR works or kissing babies.
Maybe I am wrong, however. Maybe this is coming from the Attitude Era generation fan within me. However, I long for the days when faces came out and the roof blew off the arena. I miss the days where JR got invested in legends like Lita or The Rock because there's a little of all of us in them.
WWE needs to realize the true meaning of the words "face" and "hero." There is art in struggle.
Pain is love.
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