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From Enzo to Sami Zayn: How 2017 Has Been the Year of the Heel Turn in WWE

Alfred Konuwa@@ThisIsNastyFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2017

Credit: WWE.com

If you were a WWE Superstar who makes a living telling fans to pound sand, 2017 was the year for you. 

WWE made some intriguing, if not flat-out odd choices in the heel department this year. Many beloved babyfaces joined the dark side for reasons that seemed to range from creative to petty. 

Enzo Amore and Sami Zayn, both of whom were among the more popular natural babyfaces, excelled their newfound roles as heels, while WWE's baffling "1980s era" booking of Jason Jordan predictably tanked, as did its inexplicable use of surefire rockstar babyface Bayley. 

With 2017 wrapping up, Jordan appears well on his way to joining WWE's loaded heel ranks, and to add a potential rotten cherry on top, Shane McMahon or Daniel Bryan are also destined to follow suit. 

WWE is a promotion that has thrived on babyface world champions, from Bruno Sammartino, to Hulk Hogan, to Stone Cold Steve Austin, to The Rock to John Cena and now Roman Reigns. 

But its shortcomings in creating and/or maintaining heroes in today's pro wrestling climate have been glaring.

Austin redefined what it means to be a babyface, with his antihero persona adding edge to the role. But Sami Zayn is a rare exception of a WWE Superstar who was cheered despite being a more old-fashioned babyface. It could easily be argued that pound-for-pound, Zayn is the most likable WWE Superstar on the active roster.

But after being booked as an afterthought for much of his stint on SmackDown Live, his only saving grace was to turn heel and align himself with longtime friend Kevin Owens. The two have knocked it out of the park together, and the latest twist in their compelling feud could see the duo joined by a top challenger to Zayn's "most likable" title—Daniel Bryan. 

WWE's babyface problems also extend to Raw, where Enzo and Cass shined as one of WWE's most popular tag teams.

A new-age version of the New Age Outlaws, Enzo and Cass dazzled live crowds with their singalong entrance before Big Cass abruptly turned on his longtime partner earlier this summer. Following an injury to Cass, WWE decided to turn Enzo heel as well amid backstage gossip that he had become a nuisance to the WWE locker room, per Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Wrestling Inc). 

Many top acts have historically excelled as heels before ultimately "graduating" to the babyface ranks. WWE seems to have forgotten how to effectively book a babyface to the top, even in cases where the wrestler in question doesn't necessarily need to turn heel. 

Though Reigns is unquestionably the biggest star in the company among full-time performers, the well-documented resistance to his ongoing push by WWE's influential hardcore base is further evidence of how its ideals in booking a babyface tend to clash with what its diehard fans are willing to cheer and boo. 

With so many WWE Superstars turning heel in 2017, it can be safely assumed that Reigns, who has shown a propensity to shine when experimenting in that role, will not be one of them. 

WWE has become a heel town. It simply knows nothing else. Even Asuka, yet another promising babyface who thrived in NXT with a simple formula of squashing inferior talent, is struggling to connect as WWE overbooks her in competitive matches against the bottom of its roster. 

The heel-to-babyface origin story is one that is tried and true. But at some point, WWE will need to improve in fully embracing talent that was born to be good. 

        

Alfred Konuwa is a Featured Columnist and on-air host for Bleacher Report and ForbesLike him on Facebook.

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