WWE has found the right fangs to fit inside Bad News Barrett's maw.
With the Intercontinental Championship draped across his shoulder, his knuckles freshly bruised and a predator's grin across his face, Barrett is flourishing. He hasn't been as properly cast since Nexus disbanded. Now he's getting to use the right mix of his arrogance and brawling skills.
Momentum was harder to come by for him before his recent roll.
On July 22, 2013, Rob Van Dam smacked him around on Raw. It was a one-sided match designed to make the returning Van Dam look good.
WWE needed someone for "Mr. Monday Night" to flatten and volunteered Barrett.
That was too often his role. Cody Rhodes needed momentum for his rivalry with Damien Sandow and so Barrett lay down for him. Daniel Bryan, headed for a showdown with The Authority and Randy Orton, bested Barrett. The influx of different referees stood in Bryan's way more than the brawler himself.
WWE would later ask him to attempt to shave Bryan's beard.
It's hard to imagine any wrestler thriving in that position. It didn't ask him to use any of his two biggest strengths—working the mic and pummeling foes.
We didn't see much of him at the end of 2013. The company was working on a way to refresh his character. Making him the bearer of bad news is what it came up with. The "Bad News" gimmick stuttered at first.
It didn't allow him to get in the ring. He stayed glued behind his podium, his fists going unused. The gimmick, at its worst, felt forced.
Having him steal donations from passersby at Christmas was not top-tier villainy. It was petty theft with little entertainment value.
He would sometimes interrupt matches as a way to get himself onscreen. His charm was on display to a point, but dismissing the quality of a match is so limited a medium. He was a five-star chef asked to cook with canned chicken.
Asking him to knock over toys backstage was not any better.
A potential marquee villain was being misused. Writers don't have The Joker egg someone's house. They don't make Red Skull's big caper spray painting his name on a public building. That's what WWE was doing with Barrett, though.
More recently, Barrett's gimmick has been used far more efficiently and most importantly, he's now being asked to deliver physical matches.
The transition from prey to predator was made apparent when he faced Dolph Ziggler in the tournament to decide the No. 1 contender for the Intercontinental Championship. It was the best match of the first round, a compelling bout powered by high-impact moments.
It also showed off the formula for maximizing Barrett's talents—put him with quality workers and let him them hit hard.
Rather than be the kind of guy others steamroll, WWE portrayed him as a more powerful force than he had been for much of 2013. He was able to end Big E's title reign at Payback, but not by some fluke.
Barrett was made to look a peg above Big E, both on that night and the rematch on the following Raw. He matched Big E in striking power and the two delivered an engaging brawl.
It's action like that WWE can depend on from Barrett. When he and Van Dam collide at Payback and when new challengers come his way afterward, count on Barrett kneeing folks as hard as he did Big E on May 5 and often getting the same result.
There's a new energy crackling around Barrett.
This IC title reign feels more significant and is already more interesting. That's partly because his "Bad News" gimmick adds a new layer to his character. It's a catchy catchphrase and something that can apply to most situations. At first, WWE leaned on it too much, but has since corrected that.
Fans saw the ideal blend of brawler and message deliverer when Barrett attacked Van Dam on May 19.
Here was a bruiser with an attitude, delighting in others' downfall and popping off memorable lines post-beatdown. That's the way to allow Barrett to succeed.
His upcoming showdown with Van Dam won't be anything like that forgettable meeting last July. WWE was bumbling with Barrett back then. He's now wearing a role that fits him snugly.
He's the wolf finally pulled from ill-fitting house-dog duty and sent back out on the prowl.