The WWE is reportedly seeking a top African American babyface to sell alongside John Cena and other fan favorites, according to Wrestling Observer (h/t Wrestlezone).
While John Cena is the undisputed lead babyface of the WWE, the company has sought ethnically diverse superstars to target key markets. For example, the company had leaned on Rey Mysterio to sell tickets and appeal to young Hispanic viewers for years and has actively searched for a new name to take his place.
As the United States becomes increasingly diverse and the WWE looks to expand even further beyond the bounds of this country, a broader spectrum of heroes is necessary to reach the greatest possible audience.
On the current roster, the WWE has some options. First, the most obvious is Kofi Kingston, who has spent years toiling in the midcard yet has remained perpetually over with kids and adults alike. Kofi is an Africa native who hails from Ghana. If the WWE is looking for race more than actual nation of origin, Kofi is the logical choice to move up the card into the main event.
Mark Henry is the most over African American babyface on the roster at this very moment. The World's Strongest Man has a tremendous following, though he is approaching the end of his career. His recent faux retirement speech was effective because it was believable that he may be hanging up his boots after nearly two decades in the ring.
Big E Langston has a bizarre, quirky sense of humor and a distinct look. He's become a fixture on the roster over the last year as AJ Lee's friend, Dolph Ziggler's heavy and perhaps now as crazy AJ's love interest. He's moving up the card, out of the background and into an in-ring encounter with Ziggler that is expected to culminate in a match at SummerSlam.
While he's a heel at the moment, nothing can turn a bad guy into a crowd favorite faster and more effectively than breaking up with AJ.
Then we come to the longer shots to make this leap, at least in the near future. The Primetime Players have immense charisma between them and have worked to create distinct characters within the team. The whistle, the hair pick, the hand singles and dance. I don't know what to call that noise Titus O'Neill makes, but the crowd responds.
I've waited for these two to turn face and align themselves with the new fan favorite Henry. They have a fun-loving gimmick that kids would embrace and a hard-hitting style that adult fans would respond to, as well.
There are few members of the NXT roster that could even be considered for this conversation. Just flipping through the roster on WWE's website, names like Angelo Dawkins, Dante Dash and Xavier Woods are barely recognizable. None have been reportedly considered for a main-roster call-up.
The key to effectively elevating an African American star, though, is to avoid the same pitfalls witnessed during the Alberto Del Rio debacle. ADR was the first name tabbed to appeal to the Hispanic audience after Rey Mysterio was repeatedly injured and Sin Cara totally flopped.
Rather than making Del Rio a hero that happened to be Mexican, he was a Mexican hero. This came with over-the-top pandering to the Mexican audience that could only be viewed as insulting. This included Mariachi bands, colors on his tights, colors on Ricardo Rodriguez's bucket and cliched promos.
I fear the potential head-to-desk moments we may witness if we allow Vince McMahon to define what makes an "African American hero." Vince has been known to be tone deaf on a number of issues, often existing in a bubble occupied by himself, family and yes-men that don't recognize innate racism, homophobia and other blatantly offensive material on TV.
Think of Cryme Tyme members Shad and JTG, who stole, cheated and vandalized while wearing stereotypical gang member outfits and speaking incoherently. This team existed during the supposed PG era, but it was likely more offensive than any forehead cut or curse word.
We can only sit back now and see what WWE is able to produce. Hopefully it's not just an African American version of Cena.