Rewriting the Books: Heroes and Villains

For those of you not in the know, Rewriting the Books is a young series of written articles I began a few months ago as a way to scratch my writing itch and to put out my thoughts on the storylines in WWE. Over the past few months, I've had quite a bit of dissatisfaction to express.

Back when I was first getting into wrestling just over a year ago, there was a problem with WWE that slowly became obvious to me: there were too many heels. Too many villains, and not enough heroes to deal with them. Three of Smackdown's most recognizable faces all left action in the span of a few months - Edge retired early, and Kane and Big Show were both written out of action with storyline injuries inflicted by the newly-turned Mark Henry. For a number of months, Randy Orton, the new top face of Smackdown and reigning World Heavyweight Champion, had three main contenders going after his title: Sheamus, Henry, and former champion Christian. Three heels, all feuding against Orton at once. The problem wasn't as prevalent on Raw because it didn't emerge as quickly, but R-Truth's heel turn and injuries to both Rey Mysterio and John Morrison left the WWE quite villain-heavy.

The solution, of course, was to make new heroes. The Miz's crony Alex Riley was turned face and put in a feud against his former mentor - surprisingly winning their sole pay-per-view one-on-one match - before entering a short-lived feud with then-US Champion Dolph Ziggler. Zack Ryder unexpectedly grew a large Internet following and by year's end was arguably the third-most popular face on Raw. But most importantly, WWE turned two of its top heels. Sheamus, with very little ceremony, stood up against the seemingly unstoppable Henry, giving both men a last surge of time in the spotlight before Henry began his run as World Heavyweight Champion. And of course, in the most memorable feud of the summer and perhaps the entire year, CM Punk left the company with the WWE Championship and returned as a tweener. It wasn't until Survival Series came around that Punk was exclusively feuding with a heel, but his popularity with older audience members had effectively made him a full-on face even during his feuds with Cena and Triple H.

At the end of December WWE decided to dial back on Michael Cole's face-bashing commentary because it was making it more difficult for new rising faces like Ryder and Daniel Bryan to get over, but the problem of not enough faces was still effectively solved. Raw had a face champion in Punk, the face of the company in Cena, and a top jobber in Ryder. Smackdown had a face champion in Bryan who was showing signs of turning heel, the face of the brand in Orton, Big Show competing for the World championship, and Sheamus waiting in the wings for his shot.

Cut to nine months later, as September begins and we head towards Night of Champions. Until barely a month and a half ago, literally all of the company's championships were held by faces - CM Punk with the WWE title, Sheamus the World title, Santino Marella the United States Championship, Christian the Intercontinental Championship, R-Truth and Kofi Kingston the Tag Team Championships, and Layla the Divas Championship. Since then Punk has turned heel and the US and IC titles have fallen to Antonio Cesaro and Miz, respectively. The thing is, when the pay-per-view known for every championship being defended comes around, who are those villains going to face? For Punk the answer is obvious, as he has been embroiled in a feud with Cena for some time now. Miz last defended the title against Rey Mysterio without any storyline build-up, while Cesaro has not even been given the chance to distinguish himself as a champion, let alone someone to feud against. Dolph Ziggler, who holds the Smackdown Money in the Bank briefcase, is in a similar situation: his most recent feud was with Chris Jericho, who is now touring with his band Fozzy away from the company, and so Ziggler is essentially feuding with Sheamus at the same time as Antonio Del Rio. Quite similarly, a heel Big Show is basically feuding with Cena at the same time as CM Punk. And then there are the various other heels with similarly little attention being placed on them. Daniel Bryan needed somebody to feud with, so Kane was turned from a full-blown monster heel into a tweener. Cody Rhodes is stuck feuding with Sin Cara. Tensai is feuding with nobody.

There are no top faces on Raw that can assist Punk in getting over as a heel, except for Cena - and Cena hasn't been written to make Punk look good, he's Punk's opponent at Night of Champions. So instead Punk is feuding with Jerry Lawler. They had a match. And instead of flat-out destroying Lawler, Punk sold to him. A man in top physical condition had to sell to a chubby announcer twice his age - and then couldn't even get Lawler to call him the best in the world while locked inside a steel cage, at Punk's mercy, being choked, beaten, and verbally abused by him.

This was supposed to be the critical moment for CM Punk's transformation from cocky anti-hero back to malicious villain. He showed up with a new haircut, he tried to withdraw his title match offering to Cena, and he verbally attacked the audience. CM Punk - while still beloved by a certain portion of the audience nonetheless - was no longer being written as a tweener. He passed the threshold into full-on villainy. The thing is, he had nobody important to pass it against, except an announcer. Oh no, CM Punk beat up an announcer. What a horrible thing to do. Guess what, Kane beat up Josh Mathews literally a week before Punk beat up Lawler, and Kane is a borderline face. Kane is supposed to get cheers and Punk is supposed to get boos for doing the exact same thing for the exact same reason - that being misplaced aggression. Imagine if instead Punk had defeated a face opponent - ANY face opponent - and then tormented them the way he tormented Lawler. Now imagine if he had forced this opponent to proclaim Punk to be the best in the world - something the undaunted Jerry Lawler refused to do. Suddenly there would be a sense of legitimate threat to Punk's new character, that he could physically and mentally break his prey. Beating a chubby sixty-year-old man into submission while still failing to get what he wants out of the guy doesn't make Punk look like a threat to John Cena. It makes him look like a sad, desperate bully who's afraid of real competition.

Heels need to seem legitimate. Truly good villains come across as threatening to the heroes they go up against. To seem legitimate, villains need to sometimes win. But Punk has not been allowed to win against Cena since they started feuding - not cleanly. And he won't be allowed to until their match at Night of Champions, by which time CM Punk will no longer be known as the man who took on all comers for ten months to defend the title. He will be known as an egotistical, unstable bully and coward who hasn't proven himself worthy of any of the respect or recognition he desires. And everything about that description is fine for a heel champion - except the part about worthiness. CM Punk shouldn't be considered unworthy of praise. CM Punk should be considered a threat. CM Punk should be considered Cena's greatest test since facing the Rock and Brock Lesnar back-to-back. The problem is, it's impossible to build him that way, because there are no heroes for Punk to strike down to prove his strength as a villain. Just sixty-year-old announcers that a certain part of the audience enjoys watching be choked.

Here's the thing about having a setting with so few heroes and so many villains: the heroes don't lose. They can't lose. If a hero loses a feud, another hero must step up against the villain who won the feud, and on both Raw and Smackdown, nobody is available to represent the good guys on the world title level. There is no character that has been prepared to step up to John Cena or Sheamus' level - except perhaps Randy Orton. But Daniel Bryan can step up to replace CM Punk to feud with John Cena, and Dolph Ziggler can step up to replace Antonio Del Rio to feud with Sheamus. The situation in WWE is such that it facilitates top faces to have multiple victories in a row against a run of more easily replaceable villains, while simultaneously being unable to afford granting those villains victories because no other opponents would then be available for them. WWE needs another top face, and it needs one soon. Turn a top heel, or build up a mid-card face, or whatever, but do it quickly. John Cena cannot be the only good guy sitting atop a mountain of villains. Heroes are only as entertaining as the villains they battle against, and villains are not effective if they always lose.


  1. As sad as it is, it just seems like WWE just wants its DC core of superheroes, the true main focal point. It has its Superman in Cena on one show, its Batman in Orton on the other (with a little bit of Green Lantern in Sheamus as a face champion). To them, it's just easy to keep the marketable, over faces in the spotlight and just throwing heels at them every other month than actually building up new stars, new faces, for people to get behind. The kids and whatnot love it, because it's simple; it's what they see pretty much all the time recently, so they'll always know who to back. Whereas that same sect of the audience that still cheer guys like Bryan and Punk do so for the same reason: because the other guys always being on top is stale and boring, so they'd rather cheer the lesser of two evils, in a sense.

    It's the reverse Austin effect. Instead of a heel's no-nonsense attitude and entertaining personality and whatnot putting them over so much that the crowd gets behind them and makes way for a fresh, smooth face turn transition without ruining the character, the "more informed" wrestling fan (outside of the younger and casual audience) just cheers to heel because it's something different than the DC core that's constantly been in cycle in recent years. The closest it's come to recreating the Austin effect was with CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and (to a lesser extent) Dolph Ziggler. Even Del Rio was getting a pop at SummerSlam against Sheamus.

    In the end, though, WWE would rather just "keep it simple" for their largest demographic by just having these guys become straight heels - villainous, whiny, insecure, and/or basically not credible - just so there's no confusion who you're "supposed" to cheer for when Punk defends the title versus Cena, or if/when Ziggler cashes in his briefcase on Sheamus. Week in and week out, Ziggler has lost in virtually any attempt at anything remotely close to main event credibility (getting beat clean by Orton and Sheamus, the latter multiple times), so, of course, if/when he does the sneaky opportunist cash-in on the champ and gets the strap, it's not believable in the least bit.

    And of course, the Punk storyline...how great and intriguing an angle that could have been. Punk hinting at the heel-ish, self-righteous part of his nature but keeping up the notion of him fighting for the restoration of the renown of the WWE Title, the most prestigious title in the company that has taken the backseat to John Cena "flavor of the month" matches on virtually every PPV the entire year Punk has been champion. Every week, Punk had a chance to hint at being slightly self-centered and egotistical, but still having a very valid point and truly being deserving of the recognition he craves. He goes after Cena, seeming like he craves attention, but carrying subtle hints of wanting to be a martyr for the cause of truly pushing the WWE Title in the focal point again, even if it meant re-visiting the Cena feud. It could've been a very interesting and ambiguous angle, in my opinion. Though, as we all see, it just took a backseat to Punk just being insecure and typical whiny heel champion "demanding respect" crap. Essentially, making it about him when it should be about the title. And you could have had it be about him all along...but you didn't have to spell it out in plain English, ruining any sort of ambiguity that went with it so there's no possible way John Cena could ever be skewed as to look like the bad guy.

    As sad as it is, it looks like it may be Cena regaining the title in Boston, setting up for the potential Rock-Cena rematch for the title at the Rumble, so Cena can have his title run again and get his PPV win over Rocky. Ugh...

  2. By the way, I was in the chat room at the post-stream of WMR when you saw this comment of mine, Nik. Just thought I'd let you that I am, in fact, not Chris Lario. :P

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