WWE has a problem. When you examine the company's recent history, there are far too many babyfaces floating around the upper half of the card without enough heels to go around. In 2014 alone, we had:
- Batista, in spite of doing his best work as a heel, was brought in as a babyface in January. Yes, crowds turned on him immediately and WWE fought it at first before rolling with it and turning him into an actual heel. He's gone for now, but whenever he comes back—presumably at the end of the summer—he'll be a babyface since he turned in his last appearance.
- The Shield, who turned babyface—a turn that started in February and was cemented the night after WrestleMania in early April.
- Rob Van Dam, who returned as a babyface the night after WrestleMania in early April.
- Sheamus's heel turn technically happened, but was too subtle, and then any plans to make it more overt were delayed when Daniel Bryan got hurt. For the time being he's still a babyface.
- Chris Jericho, who returned this week as a babyface.
- Bray Wyatt, who, while being a new top-tier heel, does so many things like a babyface—like the "[Name of City]...we're here" soundbites and the sing-alongs—that he's treated like one by most crowds, and a turn seems inevitable.
- Bad News Barrett, who was on a similar path to Wyatt before his injury.
That list doesn't factor in wrestlers who were already around as babyfaces, so you can add John Cena, Daniel Bryan, The Usos to an extent (they don't look out of place at all in main event trios matches), and so on. The same goes for guys like Dolph Ziggler and the newly turned Jack Swagger who were at the secondary world title level somewhat recently but are now firmly entrenched in the lower half of the card.
This problem isn't brand new, either; Mark Henry was on fire as a heel after his retirement fake out last year, but he was turned babyface for no apparent reason right after he had his pay-per-view match with John Cena. It was completely unnecessary. Now, he's on the sidelines for no apparent reason when they could easily turn him heel and, at worst, slot him into a semi-main event spot. Similarly, Big Show hasn't been used much at all lately and is now filming a movie.
On the heel side, this leaves us with:
- Brock Lesnar, who's used as a special guest talent that only wrestles on a few PPV events each year.
- Triple H, who's semi-retired and only wrestles on a few PPV events each year.
- Randy Orton, who's so stale that he's routinely kept off TV, including during the build to WrestleMania, where he was in the advertised main event.
- Kane, who was doing a nice job with a fresh coat of paint as Corporate Kane, only to become Demon Kane again because there were no heel opponents for Daniel Bryan (who had beaten him like a drum for weeks) while Evolution and Bray Wyatt were feuding with The Shield and John Cena, respectively.
- Seth Rollins, whose turn made him arguably the top full-time heel in the company by default.
- Rusev, who's being slowly built up.
- Cesaro, who should have been turned babyface during WrestleMania weekend because it was very much the right time for him to make the move, but he was instead cooled off to a ridiculous degree when he stayed a heel and joined up with Paul Heyman. Ignored, neglected Cesaro turning to feud with Heyman and Lesnar seems like the obvious trajectory and could save him, but that remains to be seen,
- The Miz, who just returned with a new character that was immediately turned into a joke. The jury is out on if he'll have any success in the role, though he's a natural heel and has badly needed to turn for a long time.
- Alberto Del Rio, who they're still willing to plug into a multi-man main event like the main event of Money in the Bank. Otherwise, he's been been treated like an undercard guy for a while now.
The babyface (and de facto babyface) side is much more stacked than the heel side. So what's causing this imbalance?
A big part of the problem is that modern crowds are frequently turning various talent babyface because they enjoy them as performers. I know that sounds kind of goofy at first glance—WWE should be glad that they have such a deep roster in terms of sheer talent—but, when you think about it, they need a way to course correct.
Bray Wyatt should not be well on his way to setting up a turn at this point. I have no idea if his more blatantly playing to the crowd in recent weeks is his idea or WWE's, but it needs to stop. At first, when he would name the city before his "We're here," I didn't mind too much. The first instances I can recall were in Chicago and New York, traditionally hardcore—or "smart"—crowds that would have cheered him anyway. When it became something he did every week, it became a problem.
The same goes for his singing and ballroom dancing spots, and to a lesser extent, his crab walk. Done once or occasionally, they were nice character moments. Done regularly, they're pandering and hurting him as a heel.
Compounding the Wyatt-type issues facing most heels is that generally speaking, heels don't get real heat anymore. Just how much this has to do with the inner-workings of the business could be another article entirely. It's at least part of the problem, but the amount to which it is to blame is open for debate. Still, when WWE lets heels be real heels, they do get heat. Not "fans will try to assault them" heat, but heat nonetheless.
Just under a year ago, I went to the Raw in Brooklyn the night after Money in the Bank. One of the key segments on the show was a promo battle between CM Punk and Paul Heyman, since Heyman turned on Punk at the PPV. Heyman cut a very personal promo that talked about how Punk had nobody left in his life since he was estranged from his family and wasn't married.
As good as Heyman is (and remember, it was in New York, to boot), the crowd was passionately against him and trying to let Punk know they loved him. When Heyman sicced Brock Lesnar on Punk, the heat transferred to him, and the atmosphere was unlike anything I've ever felt before at a modern WWE show.
We can also use a big angle from a month ago as an example.
Everyone loved The Shield. After winning their elimination match with Evolution in a clean sweep, they looked unstoppable. Then Seth Rollins turned on Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. Rollins hasn't tried to be funny. He's a conniving brat, and crowds hate him for it. He's still great in the ring, but so far, that's taken a back seat to just how much the fans want to see Dean Ambrose beat him up.
Heels can be funny sometimes, but it's not like it was 30 years ago, where most fans hated someone like Jim Cornette or Jimmy Hart or Bobby Heenan so much that they could do hilarious interviews all the time since the fans who went to the arenas wanted to kill them.
Nowadays, you have to troll the audience the way Stephanie McMahon and Triple H do. They can both be a riot on promos, but only if you don't take their trolling seriously. Stephanie's condescending speeches and bad dancing are funny but not in the same way Bad News Barrett is funny.
There's also the issue of letting heels cheat in matches. This is a tricky one, because WWE wants referees to be really authoritative nowadays. Nothing is going to happen right in front of the referee—nor should it; the heat shouldn't be on him—and it seems like creative distractions are becoming a lost art.
I can't think of anyone in WWE who cheated to get heat since Finlay and William Regal retired. Both were masters at it because British wrestling had such a real sports style presentation with strict enforcement of the rules that the heels needed to have a bag of tricks to hide their misdeeds. My favorite is the heel pulling the babyface's trunks (a very minor foul) to get the referee looking one way while he would use closed fists or throat strikes (major fouls) out of his field of vision.
I'm not asking for a return to lazy cheating. I just want WWE to use every tool at its disposal to make sure heels act like real heels. What's the point of good vs. evil stories if the evil isn't especially evil?