Of all WWE’s shortcomings, perhaps none are as immediately apparent as its lack of true babyfaces. That was the thought running through my mind as SmackDown Live got underway last night.
WWE’s policy of foregoing traditional babyfaces and heels, instead promoting an atmosphere where everyone exists in various shades of grey, doesn’t add complexity. It doesn’t make people multifaceted or produce interesting character arcs. It just makes everyone a diluted version of what previously worked.
Taking recent events as an example, has anyone on the roster established themselves as clearly identifiable heroes or villains? Seth Rollins indiscriminately batters people with chairs for little to no reason, Kofi Kingston routinely relies on Xavier Woods to help him defeat his opponents, Ricochet teamed up with two heels to pin Braun Strowman, and Alexa Bliss sincerely (and believably) presented herself as the victim of Bayley’s bullying.
Given the circumstances, there’s an argument to be made that the best babyface in WWE is currently R-Truth – a sentiment that appears to be supported by a poll conducted by the company itself. And he just ruined a man’s wedding in the name of a meaningless title! Even disregarding that dark chapter, that is a troubling thought. A man who appears for five minutes a week, usually either backstage or under the ring, should never be considered a company’s top hero.
By way of contrast, consider for a moment all of wrestling’s boom periods. It’s likely they all had something in common: a compelling, relatable hero. Be it Bruno Samartino, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Steve Austin, The Rock… they each represented the voice of a generation. They perfectly embodied the fans’ desires. Their motivations were our motivations. Their goals, ours.
There’s a reason why the mid-to-late 2000s are widely considered to be a depressing, barren period for WWE. Sure, a lot of it had to do with the underwhelming in-ring product and some shoddy booking. But, like the decade which came before, all of that could’ve been overcome with compelling character work. However, instead of Brett Hart, Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin to shoulder the load, all we had were John Cena, Randy Orton and Triple H. Polarising characters, to say the least. And certainly none of them overwhelming, era-defining heroes.
WWE faces a similar problem today. Unlike Seth, Kofi and Becky, the great fan favourites of yester-year didn’t nail their opponents with low blows in moments of desperation, rely on their stablemates for timely interference or apologise to the authority figures. Would Hulk Hogan ever have apologised to Triple H and Stephanie like Becky did? Of course not! The Hulkster doesn’t apologise for anything… he just warns you to be vigilant around cameras, brother.
But all is not lost. Perhaps this could be the point where things turn around. Maybe SmackDown could be the start of a new chapter for the company’s babyfaces. So in that spirit, let’s get to the review.