Shinsuke Nakamura and 8 WWE Superstars Who Must Turn Face in 2019
In the first part of our series on WWE Superstars who should have a change in attitude this year, the focus was on wrestlers who should go evil at some point in 2019.
Now that the bad is out of the way, it's time to shift our attention to the opposite end of the spectrum: the performers who should turn babyface.
Being good is easier said than done, and it's especially hard for wrestlers to win over a crowd they've gotten used to upsetting on a weekly basis. But there are a handful of Superstars who could benefit from a more heroic demeanor.
Some may rely on this adjustment as the last-ditch effort to save their careers, while others could just use a change in scenery or may be more naturally suited to being a fan favorite instead of a villain.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some of WWE's heels who should be considered for a babyface turn in 2019.
In the previous post detailing stars who should turn heel, a scenario was suggested of Curt Hawkins teaming with Zack Ryder to reform The Major Bros and, in turn, force Ryder into a new role as a villain.
However, the opposite situation could also be true, if not a much better route for these two to go.
Hawkins hasn't won a single match since November 8, 2016, against Apollo Crews. After over 200 losses, his character now revolves around being a loser.
But if Hawkins wants to turn things around, stop the losing streak and try to get back to being a credible wrestler, a spot in a tag team could be the best way to do it, and with Ryder by his side, the two of them could work much better as babyfaces.
They're fun guys who love nerdy things, as evidenced by their show together, Zack & Curt Figure It Out, so it's hard to dislike the two of them.
Once fans see more of their personalities, Hawkins could go from being someone pitiful to a guy people want to see hold the tag team titles for a second time.
Otherwise, he's likely to just keep losing and end 2019 with another 50 or more times staring up at the lights.
Throughout his long career in WWE and with varying success, Dolph Ziggler has pretty much done it all as far as being both a heel and a babyface.
His 2018 was largely spent as a heel and teaming with Drew McIntyre, who he is now feuding with.
He's still predominantly keeping his villainous tendencies, but this three-way feud with a firmly heel McIntyre and a true babyface Finn Balor has forced Ziggler into more of a tweener role.
Eventually, once this program is over with, Ziggler is going to have to make a decision on whether he's a heel or a face going forward in 2019.
Since the past year was spent as a heel, it would be refreshing for him to go back to being a face.
What's tricky with Ziggler is that even as a face, he's phoned it in the past few years by still being the type of person who complains that he's the best and doesn't get enough credit for it.
Even more important than turning face to switch things up, he has to take his character in a different direction and not be the same person with the only change being that he's fighting heels.
Otherwise, Ziggler will be stuck in midcard limbo and back in the same position as he was heading into 2018, where he felt the need to walk away for a while.
If you ask the hardcore WWE Universe who the best tag team in the company is, the answer is arguably going to be The Revival. However, if you look at the way they've been booked, that popularity hasn't translated.
Every so often, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder appear to be gearing up for a major push that fizzles out a few weeks later, and they wind up back at the bottom of the hierarchy.
The longer this goes on, the more frustrated fans get that they aren't able to tap into the same potential they had as "top guys" in NXT, where they put on some of the best matches of the year.
After nearly two years, it might be time to go with the flow and allow that fan support to drive the direction of The Revival by having fans be able to cheer them as babyfaces, rather than embrace them as overlooked heels.
Since they aren't accomplishing anything as heels, what's the worst that can happen by trying them out as babyfaces? If they still lose, they're in the same position as they've been, but if they try something new as fan favorites, it could save their careers.
Babyface Sami Zayn gave us the best matches he's had in WWE and was a character fans wanted to see climb the ranks to the top of the company.
Heel Zayn gave us the horrible feud with Bobby Lashley revolving around his "sisters" and a character that was more of a whiny punching bag than anything else.
Outside of continuing his tag team with Kevin Owens, Zayn has nothing tying him down to being a heel, but he does have a strong fan base who would embrace him going back to his more heroic ways.
Also, with Daniel Bryan being a heel now and AJ Styles having more of a darker edge, WWE is becoming more of a bleaker landscape. The roster could use someone like a happy-go-lucky Zayn coming back into the fray to help balance things out.
Maybe then, he can get back on track to being a bigger deal on a brand like SmackDown after the Superstar Shake-up, rather than someone who will just lose to guys like Seth Rollins and Finn Balor if he stays a heel.
WWE had something going with Shinsuke Nakamura's heel turn when it initially happened.
He was such a natural babyface that it was a shock to see him low-blow AJ Styles at WrestleMania and change his attitude in such drastic fashion.
But things went downhill fast, and within no time, Nakamura was being ignored, rather than a featured player on SmackDown.
Even after winning the United States Championship, Nakamura spent months missing shows and without a single proper feud to hang his hat on, without any excuse other than WWE not caring enough about his character.
This means Nakamura as a heel is a bust and WWE isn't invested in that version of his character, whereas when he was a babyface, he won the NXT Championship twice and the Royal Rumble.
One version of Nakamura was successful, and the other was an afterthought. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see what needs to be done.
Otherwise, Nakamura will be just another name in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and someone WWE doesn't know what to do with come the Superstar Shake-up and after.
With the creation of the women's tag team titles, Sonya Deville's focus for a good portion of 2019 should be on her team with Mandy Rose and trying to obtain those belts.
However, in WWE, couples rarely stick together through and through, so we can assume their team will break up sooner or later.
In fact, this was even teased around Survivor Series, but WWE backed out on separating the two at that point and Fire N Desire is going strong right now.
When their inevitable split happens and they're out of the mix for the tag titles, it'll be much easier to turn Deville face than Rose.
Deville's character is far more likable in comparison, as Rose's whole gimmick is that of an antagonistic "mean girl" stereotype, whereas the only real thing making Deville a heel right now is her association with Rose.
Plus, if someone like Shayna Baszler comes to the same roster, WWE can capitalize on the potential of Deville's MMA background by having her as a babyface opponent for The Queen of Spades.
A face turn would give Deville a chance to do something different, so once Fire N Desire is over and done with, it's a direction WWE should consider.
Gentleman Jack Gallagher
When the cruiserweight division first started, Gentleman Jack Gallagher was one of the standout performers to quickly gain popularity and attention, even going so far as to compete in the 2017 Royal Rumble.
However, after he was passed over in favor of others and didn't win the Cruiserweight Championship, WWE opted to turn him heel in September 2017.
Forming an alliance with The Brian Kendrick and Drew Gulak could have gone somewhere, but it didn't. Now, over a year later, he's not only no better off than he was before he turned heel—he's worse.
At least when he was a face, he was one of the prominently featured players on the brand. Now, he's maybe the eighth most important heel on 205 Live behind Buddy Murphy, Tony Nese, Lio Rush, Hideo Itami, TJP, Mike Kanellis and Gulak.
With Mustafa Ali moving over to SmackDown, that opens up another babyface spot on the brand and someone naturally goofy like Gallagher could fill the role nicely.
Over the course of the past year, Johnny Gargano's quest to rid NXT of the evils of Tommaso Ciampa backfired and he's now just as firm of a heel as his archenemy.
It's an interesting change in his character that allows for many interesting directions to come, but Gargano sees himself as still being a good guy, and that should come into play somewhere down the line.
Perhaps the ends do justify the means and there's a way to turn things around for him, with Gargano returning to being the top babyface on the brand once more.
Gargano is a big fan of superheroes, referencing comic books all the time in his feuds and ring gear.
In this current story, he may even be drawing inspiration from the Spider-Man arc of the Venom symbiote, where the hero's attitude grew progressively darker until he rejected his alien influence and returned to the light.
If so, redemption is the endgame, with Gargano rejecting this more malicious behavior, which isn't going to work out well in the long run, anyway.
As a heel, he cuts into Ciampa's territory or plays second-fiddle. That is why he's aiming for the North American Championship as a runner-up prize, which means his ceiling is just below the top.
As a babyface, though, he was indeed at the top of the division, main-eventing TakeOver shows even above Aleister Black and the NXT Championship, which speaks volumes.
Gargano is just too good as a fan favorite to keep him a heel for the entirety of 2019, particularly when he was seen as the NXT equivalent of Daniel Bryan as the smaller underdog babyface the WWE Universe endorses as one of the best wrestlers.
That version of Johnny Wrestling is the one that will win a world title, not the heel incarnation.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.