Do you remember a couple of months ago, when Braun Strowman suddenly developed the ability to command half the Raw roster? He became some sort of jobber Pied Piper, capable of leading around a proverbial goof troop of midcarders against the newly reunited Shield. They were at his beck and call; all it took was a whistle and every wrestler loitering around catering would come running to the aid of the ‘Monster Among Men’.
I bet Braun wishes he could still call on the nerd brigade when he was being dismantled by McIntyre & Company on Monday. But, you see, that power was apparently fueled by his moral outlook. As high school taught us, the bad guys are usually the most popular. And two months ago the ‘Monster’ was a heel surrounded by friends. On Monday, he was a face and thus a loner.
On the surface, this may seem entirely unrelated to anything significant that happened on SmackDown Live last night, but it is in fact indicative of the current state of the product. You see, WWE (and SmackDown in particular) has a heel problem. Or maybe it’s a face problem? Honestly, I don’t think the company even knows at this point.
We’ve seen a staggering number of heel turns this year. Many have gone down in the last few weeks alone. Even fewer make any sense.
Using Charlotte and Daniel Bryan as the two most notable examples is instructive. Both turned in the last week (although Charlotte has adopted more of a tweener role) and attempted to explain their actions last night. Neither came across as particularly compelling.
Charlotte apparently did it for the Rock – no, sorry, that was someone else. She did it for Becky Lynch. Similarly, Daniel Bryan booted AJ in his ‘phenomenals’ because the fans weren’t there while he inhaled oxygen in a hypobaric chamber, and his ambitions overtook the joy of his return to the ring.
I think I already have. Got fined 100,000 and beat the IIconics apparently.
— The Man (@BeckyLynchWWE) November 21, 2018
While those may be convenient explanations, in reality the reasons for their turns are far simpler. Neither wrestler was getting over as a babyface and so WWE made the decision to turn them heel. The result is two tepid semi-heelish characters without any strong motivations. They’re heels for the sake of being heels, turned out of necessity rather than a strong narrative goal.
And this overzealous approach to flipping wrestlers on a whim is reflected in the various championship pictures. Of the eight main roster titles in play, only the Intercontinental and respective Women’s Championships remain out of heel hands. And let’s be honest, Becky was originally designed to be a villain and both Ronda and Rollins have been booed in their recent programs.
It’s a worrying indictment of WWE‘s inability to book compelling babyfaces. People like Nakamura, Lashley and Bryan were repeatedly flattened out to the point were they lost their appeal. They were no longer valiant heroes, unflinchingly overcoming the odds. They were simply bland good guys who all too often got beaten up. Until they one day decided to just be villains.
— Charlotte Flair (@MsCharlotteWWE) November 21, 2018
The fans cheering a turn shouldn’t be mistaken for success either. When you’ve preconditioned your audience to not care about the characters in the ring, any relatively surprising moment will illicit a reaction. Had Asuka taken the place of Charlotte at Survivor Series, would she not have received the same cheers? Substitute Bálor for Bryan in his match against AJ, you’re likely to have seen the same pop.
And that’s the heart of the problem. With many of the character flips we’ve seen this year, the company chose to sacrifice storytelling for shock value – characters for spectacle – without a long-term payoff in mind. Congratulations WWE, you’ve just become every Transformers movie ever made.
But apart from the current state of heel-a-palooza plaguing the blue brand, the show did have quite a few other things to offer. We got the first ever Thanksgiving Feast fight! Okay, hold on, there’s more. We got a tag match pitting Asuka & Naomi against Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville! Oh god, I’m sure there were some good moments too. Shane McMahon had a match…?
Mercifully, I’m not part of this week’s Roundtable, so I don’t need to think about it any longer. Instead I get to turn to my significantly more optimistic colleagues to walk us through the best and worst of last night’s SmackDown Live. I’m sure they’ve got something nice to say. So, let’s get to the good.