Robert Roode and the Best and Worst of WWE's New Tweaks to Superstar Gimmicks
WWE has no seasons, but in many ways, each year, WrestleMania acts as a finale to put a cap on storylines before going in a different direction.
Post-WrestleMania is treated as the time of year for making changes by switching the roster around with the Superstar Shake-up, turning people heel or face, forging new alliances and tweaking characters that need to be refreshed.
While the Superstar Shake-up was advertised as a two-night event, it has now carried on into its third week, showing WWE still has alterations in mind, for better or worse.
In the past two weeks, there have been a number of changes that range from absolutely amazing to horrendously terrible, sending out mixed signals about whether WWE really has its best foot forward in setting up the future of Raw and SmackDown for 2019 and onward.
Let's take a look at those Superstars who have been tweaked in some way recently and assess the damage.
Bobby Roode Is Now Robert Roode
Earlier this year, Bobby Roode and Chad Gable turned heel around Fastlane, solidifying their villainous change of heart for sure on April 8 by attacking Ricochet after losing a match.
They would then talk about how they were sick of being overlooked and were ready to take the spotlight back by any means necessary.
One week later, the Superstar Shake-up split the two, and the next week, more changes came about.
With Roode, he seems to have a new lease on life after scoring a victory over Ricochet and changing his moniker to Robert Roode.
Those two things are great tweaks to his character. More than enough time was given to trying him out as a babyface and it wasn't working, so he needed to go back to his bread and butter.
An essential component to that healing process for his value is that he needs to be able to win matches to be taken seriously as a threat, so the more wins, the better.
Likewise, going by Robert makes him appear to be more serious, as if he's done playing games and is ready to return to form.
The mustache, though, is up for debate. It isn't the most drastic change in appearance anyone has ever had, but it's questionable why anything was done at all.
Is there any added benefit to reducing Roode's beard to a mustache other than to make him look a little ridiculous until people get used to it? Did someone's wires get crossed and this is an attempt to allude to Ravishing Rick Rude, despite the different names and no familial connection whatsoever?
Perhaps this was just an exercise in changing his look to visually show the audience that he was being refreshed, but while that change to a more serious and credible Roode was necessary, the mustache is a suspect choice that may make or break his chances for true success.
Chad Gable Turns Heel and Then Babyface
Piggybacking off the Roode discussion is the other half of the equation, Gable.
As half of the tag team that turned heel and complained about having a change in attitude, Gable did a 180 degree turnaround after moving to SmackDown.
Not only was he booked as the babyface in a match against Jinder Mahal, he also was completely demolished by Lars Sullivan.
This was the opposite of both goals, going from a villain on the path to win more to a babyface who is used as enhancement talent.
While that isn't the best sign of an upgrade, this may work out better in the long run for Gable than it currently seems.
His merit is his in-ring talent, not his character skills. Gable can put on a fantastic match, but he struggles to cut engaging promos that stand out from the pack and doesn't have a bombastic personality to drive storylines like a good heel needs.
As a face on SmackDown, he can play to his strengths much better and may even be able to carve out a niche as a go-to utility player for the midcard that may manifest in an Intercontinental Championship reign sometime in the next year.
Splitting him from Roode and ending that go-nowhere tag team was a blessing and if Gable can avoid being just fodder for guys like Lars Sullivan, this may be the start of something great for him.
Bray Wyatt's Firefly Fun House
After many months away, Bray Wyatt has returned with a series of video packages hyping up something called the Firefly Fun House.
This take on children's television programming, evoking thoughts of Pee-wee's Playhouse, has a bright and colorful exterior with a sinister undertone.
The puppets are creepy, not cute. Wyatt claims to no longer be a very bad man, yet his instinct is to cut a standee of his former appearance in half with a chainsaw.
Purposely, we don't know exactly what this entails. While it seems on the surface that he is just the same cult-leader heel character he used to be, albeit with a different preferred method of brainwashing, that isn't a certainty.
He may be booked as a babyface with heel tendencies, similar to how The Undertaker never stopped being a fundamentally dark character even when he was the top babyface in the company.
That is as unknown right now as what brand he'll end up on, as WWE has yet to establish if he's a Raw or SmackDown Superstar following the most recent shakeup.
Since there are so many lingering questions yet to be answered, it's tough to evaluate this as a good or bad tweak. It may lead to something amazing, or it could be a thinly veiled attempt to make minor adjustments and have Wyatt be no different than what we've seen for years, which would turn out to be a total bust and disappointment.
Whether it's underwhelming or a step in the right direction for keeping him fresh is up for debate.
The Viking Raiders AKA the Viking Experience AKA War Raiders
Hanson and Rowe were just building up some serious steam in NXT as War Raiders, having won the titles in January at TakeOver: Phoenix and putting on arguably the best match of the night at TakeOver: New York.
And yet, someone thought it would be a good idea to yank them from that situation and mess with the formula.
The old adage is that if it's not broken, don't try to fix it, but WWE went ahead and broke it.
It's already stupid to put the current NXT tag team champions on the main roster, as it means they need to drop the titles very soon in what will be a predictable match in the coming weeks, but that wasn't even the worst part of this decision.
WWE management, in all its wisdom, managed to turn the War Raiders heel and make their names something to laugh about all in one move.
Fans were digging them, as evidenced by the chants of "war" every time they'd come out. Better turn them into characters the fans aren't supposed to cheer for, right?!
Anyone who thinks names like Elias Samson and Mustafa Ali are too hard to remember or problematic now has less of an argument, too, after this name change fiasco.
Erick Rowan was shortened to Rowan, and now, Rowe is Erik, of all names.
Undoubtedly, this was a response to someone thinking the names Rowe and Hanson didn't sound enough like Vikings, so they brainstormed the most generic Viking name in history with Erik and threw Ivar into the mix without thinking of how bad those sound.
To make things infinitely worse, the tag team name of The Viking Experience is so awful that the reaction to it was immediately abysmal.
War Raiders didn't need to be rechristened anything to begin with, least of all something that sounds like an educational Disney World attraction.
It's clear WWE thinks the audience is too dim-witted to understand these simple characters. So, they felt the need to give them such on-the-nose names and have Michael Cole spout exposition about how they "enjoy living a Viking lifestyle" as if nobody could get that through the context of the two guys coming out dressed as Vikings.
The bad moniker nearly killed them from the start, and WWE has now responded by changing their names to The Viking Warriors.
This has all been such a terrible way to start their main roster careers.
Cesaro Splits from Sheamus
Whether by oversight or a plan to be unexpected and keep people on their toes, several more trades happened after the Superstar Shake-up, with one of them being Cesaro moving to Monday Night Raw.
WWE has yet to clarify if Sheamus will join him, but since he's still listed right now as a SmackDown star, we have to take at face value that The Bar is no more, and they have moved away from the tag team scene to go back into singles competition.
Cesaro has been part of several tag teams in the past, but he's also no stranger to being on his own.
In fact, he's had some success in the singles division with an Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal victory and a United States Championship reign.
He and Sheamus have had great chemistry together, but after having won the tag titles so many times, there wasn't much more for them to do. As a solo act, though, Cesaro may have a new lease on life.
Losing Andrade to SmackDown opened a void in the plans for Raw's upper-midcard that Cesaro will be able to fill, as he is a dependable wrestler who can put on great matches.
With a friend like Seth Rollins at the top of the food chain on Monday nights, the right strings may be pulled to finally get Cesaro into a main-event role sooner than later, possibly starting with the Money in the Bank briefcase.
It's been a long while since Cesaro was able to do something by himself, and since WWE is hungry to find some new stability, this may be the best time for him to stand up and take on that kind of responsibility.
Kevin Owens Turns Heel
When Kevin Owens made his return from injury earlier this year, he was awkwardly positioned as a babyface for essentially the first time in his WWE career.
Less than two months later, he already has reverted back to his old ways and is once again a heel after attacking Kofi Kingston.
In the short term, this will work to give Kingston a challenger for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank, but beyond that is where things get tricky. So it's hard to judge right now whether this was a good or bad decision.
Owens as a babyface was so new that people hadn't quite adjusted to it yet, so there's no telling how far that could have gone. Had WWE stuck with it, maybe he would have become one of the most popular people on either brand.
Yes, he's proven he is an amazing performer as a heel, but what going back to that well offers as a safety net is counterbalanced by what it lacks in originality.
We've seen that shtick before. He's had countless feuds where he's attacked someone and then backed down from a fight. It's nothing fresh and it will be difficult to breathe new life into that version of the character.
Here's hoping by SummerSlam, the WWE Universe doesn't view Owens as stagnant and can still be invested in him as a top prospect on SmackDown.
Alexander Wolfe's New Direction
This section contains spoilers for upcoming episodes of WWE programming that have yet to air, so you are hereby warned to stay away from this part if you do not want to know what happens!
Sanity as a stable was fractured in the Superstar Shake-up with Eric Young going to Raw, Killian Dain seemingly remaining on SmackDown and Nikki Cross still not being advertised as having an official brand.
Alexander Wolfe had always been the member of the group that had the least amount of spotlight shined on him and his future in WWE was in question after he tweeted a goodbye message.
But that was a ruse to play on the number of Superstars leaving WWE for other endeavors.
Instead, Wolfe has made the switch over to NXT UK during the most recent tapings, per Pro Wrestling Sheet's Ryan Satin, wherein he has joined the new stable called Imperium.
Alongside Walter and European Union's Marcel Barthel and Fabian Aichner, this quartet will surely be the dominant force in NXT UK for the time being.
That is a fantastic tweak to Wolfe's character, as he can simultaneously strengthen the NXT UK roster and become a bigger fish in a smaller pond for his own career.
There was virtually no chance he would succeed on his own had he stayed on SmackDown or moved to Raw, nor would he and Dain have been a noteworthy tag team, as they couldn't do that even with their mouthpiece still guiding them.
Wolfe was on the fast-track to being released, and with this move to NXT UK, he is now in the biggest group on the brand that will have the most attention drawn to it. Talk about an upgrade.
Of course, it remains to be seen just how this will all play out, as those episodes have yet to air, but in theory alone, this is already one of WWE's best tweaks made to any of its characters in recent weeks.
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.