A few trends come to mind when a WWE fan looks back at the year of wrestling that was 2012.
John Cena—for the most part—was kept out of the title picture but still managed to headline the majority of the year’s pay-per-views. CM Punk remained champion and succeeded in performing the difficult transformation from beloved hero to hated heel, while social media has become an integral part of the WWE as a whole.
AJ Lee went from a relative unknown to the most prominent woman currently featured on WWE television, and Dolph Ziggler stole the show on frequent occasions but didn’t gain the major championship run that he deserved. However, this last point is a side effect of WWE’s positive trend for creating long title runs throughout the year.
Yet the most profound general trend that has had the largest impact on the product has been the dominance of face characters on television.
In fact, only four regular heels—Big Show, Antonio Cesaro, Alberto Del Rio and Damian Sandow—have winning records over 2012, as opposed to more than a dozen faces who have seen victory more often than defeat this year.
This statistic becomes even worse when it is considered that Del Rio’s win-loss record is only in the positive due to being on the face team whilst teaming with The Miz in recent weeks, and both Cesaro and Sandow have many early wins on their records from the run of good results that most wrestlers gain when they are first introduced to the company.
Punk gathered most of his victories during the first six months of the year when he was most certainly a face, and has had a negative overall record as a heel since his turn.
The tag team of Daniel Bryan and Kane may have been originally conceived as a heel team, but the duo's popularity is undeniable. As most of their victories fall into this period of their year, it would be disingenuous to nominate these two as heels.
Three of the most promising heels in WWE—Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett and Dolph Ziggler—have a combined winning percentage of approximately 35 percent. These are the men who are supposed to be leading figures in the WWE’s drive to establish new talent, yet they are seen losing far more often than Santino Marella—a comedy act—who has won just short of 50 percent of his battles this year.
The phenomenon of heels losing so many matches has had a detrimental effect upon the WWE. Those who take on this critical mass of losses look weak, and—in turn—the heroes who step up and defeat the villains in question do not gain the credence that they deserve, since the audience sees little achievement in beating ailing foes.
This problem is often solved by the WWE through bringing in a former star to boost a face wrestler’s image. This is either done by having a legendary face publicly supporting him or by having the current star defeat a heel alumnus in the middle of the ring. However the overuse of this tactic has started to erode the effectiveness of this approach.
So it is imperative that the WWE starts to rebuild the heels on its roster as the new year begins. This should mean clean victories for selected heels over respected faces, and the beginnings of a dominant visage around those heel characters' personas.
Wins gained by heels during pay-per-view main events—whether title matches, special stipulation matches such as the Royal Rumble or matches that close the show—have been proportionally rarer than the overall win percentages of individual heel characters.
Only three heels—Daniel Bryan who gained two victories at the start of the year, CM Punk who has fiddled his way to four since his heel turn and Big Show who has ended the year with two— have successfully claimed or held a major title at a pay-per-view this year.
They are joined by Dolph Ziggler, who won or retained his Money in the Bank contract three times and claimed the win in the annual survivor series match, and Brock Lesnar, John Laurinaitis and The Shield who have solitary victories.
This means heels have only had a 35 percent success rate in main events over the year.
There is a positive trend, though, as 75 percent of the main events since SummerSlam have been won by heels. The effect of these wins, however, has been somewhat undermined by a number of high profile run-ins and gimmick stipulations causing the faces to lose.
Heels must see these wins go from contestable to clean so that the WWE has a number of villains that would be respected by every fan around the world. In doing so, the WWE will be able to shuffle the talent it possesses—which is sizable—and this will lead to a new year of exciting new feuds and fresh contests.
The world knows that the WWE produces fabricated results, but the joy is seeing a sporting contest where almost anything can happen.
Creating a situation where the product is at its most unpredictable comes from a place where the sides of good and evil are finely matched and the smallest change in circumstances can see one side or the other claim victory.
For such excitement to be put back at the center of WWE’s product, the heels need to start winning, and doing so with enough aplomb that cheating is not their only option.
If that happens, then 2013 could be extraordinary for every fan of the WWE.