With the slate of injuries that top WWE superstars are suffering at an almost weekly basis, the company’s lack of credible heels is again rearing its ugly head. Add to this the fact (or my opinion, whatevs) that Triple H in his Authority role has been positioned as WWE’s biggest heel for at least the last three years, and it’s easy to see why there aren’t any more credible bad guys.
How many of you reading this column right now would look for the remote every time Monday Night Raw began with an in-ring promo by The Authority? And for those who didn’t change the channel, did it not feel like their twenty minute rambling and pandering was an eternity? Well, that’s how you stay at the top of the heel heap if you’re Triple H. All the adages about ‘playing the game’ or ‘being the game’ are 100% accurate when it comes to the COO; but just look at how sweet the gig really is. He doesn’t have to wrestle every week. He still gets weekly exposure as the head of The Authority. His spot is more secure than Fort Knox. If I were a heel, it couldn’t get any better than the way Trips has it now.
Hunter’s top billing has come with a hefty price. WWE’s roster (injuries excluded) is so loaded from top to bottom right now, but they’ve failed to create a believable heel superstar during this time. Even when Seth Rollins became The Authority’s golden boy and Mr. Money In The Bank, it was as if he couldn’t ascend to the top heel spot without the blessing or endorsement of, you guessed it, Hunter Hearst Helmsley. I’ve never run a wrestling promotion, but if I did, I wouldn’t feature one of the Attitude Era’s biggest heels so prominently if I’m trying to create new stars for the future.
Enter Kevin Owens! If we were counting active superstars and not the one married to the CEO’s daughter, Kevin Owens would certainly occupy the top heel spot. He’s so believable and authentic, that everything he does resonates with the fans that both cheer and boo him. In and out of the ring, everything about him says ‘bad guy,’ with all respect due to Scott Hall. If you’ve never seen his interactions with fans that try to troll him on Twitter, then head on over there after you’ve finished reading this column and be entertained. Kevin Owens gets it. He doesn’t give shout outs. He doesn’t spam retweet the fans that actually like him. In this reality era with social media such an integral part of superstar/fan interaction, maintaining a heel persona is a fine art, and he pulls it off.
After Triple H and Kevin Owens, can anyone name the third and fourth biggest heels in the WWE? I’ll wait.
A case could be made for Bray Wyatt, but with WWE seemingly trying to position him as ‘the new face of fear’, his character is getting what I call the phenom treatment. Sure, he does heelish stuff but he also has a huge following.
A case could also be made for Rusev, but after having his invincibility stripped at WrestleMania 32 by WWE’s resident superhero, John Cena, he hasn’t been the same. WWE’s failure to position him as a credible heel going forward displayed a serious lack of foresight on their part. They couldn’t see past Mania and instead of rebuilding the Bulgarian Brute, they stuck him in an incredibly stupid and weak love triangle storyline. This once unstoppable monster who’d taken out the likes of Mark Henry and The Big Show on his way up, was now breaking down in the middle of the ring like a high school teen breaking up with his first girlfriend. Again, I’m no promoter, but this isn’t how you make a heel more believable.
Sheamus has been pretty good since his return as a heel, but after winning Money In The Bank and being booked so horribly, putting the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on him doesn’t really give him any extra shards of credibility, in my opinion. And if I may backtrack for a second, who was the guy raising Sheamus’ hand after cashing on Roman Reigns? Oh yeah, the biggest heel in the company.
We could bestow an honorable mention upon Bad News Barrett, but he’s gotten over with the bad news gimmick, so that’s a no.
I listen to Good Ole J.R’s podcast from time to time and whereas before I just used to think he was sniffing his own farts talking about the art of the heel in wrestling, I see now where he’s pretty accurate. The subtleties and nuances of the heel are slowly becoming a lost art. Holding an illegal hold in the corner for a ref’s 4-count. The dreaded eye rake. Exposing the turnbuckle (in a regular match). Sliding in and out of the ring to break the ref’s count. A blatant chokehold. Using the tag rope as a choking device during a tag match. Taking the countout during a televised but unimportant match (which Kevin Owens does often). Sneak attacking an opponent making their entrance down the ramp. All these things go into making a heel a heel and sadly, they’re disappearing.
At the rate WWE is going, it won’t be long before their entire roster is neither black nor white but shades of gray. They’ll want the WWE Universe to simply like everyone, maybe some more than others, but there’ll be no one single character to hate.
Make no mistake about it, I appreciate everything Triple H has done for the business of professional wrestling, his contributions are immeasurable, but to keep featuring him prominently every week only serves to stunt the growth of young superstars that might someday be the credible heel that WWE needs. After all, your good guys can only be as effective as your baddest bad guys.