The Wrestling Connoisseur: ‘Tween the Ropes, Is WWE Too Big To Fail?

‘Tween the Ropes

WWE has a problem. I know, just one? I often write about WWE because they’re a wrestling juggernaut. Unfortunately everytime I watch WWE programming I hear Bernie Sanders in my head, “Too big to fail!” But WWE is failing, at least in the capacity of its writing, booking, and consistency.

WWE likes to make the statement that since the Attitude Era being the bad guy is cool. This is WWE’s self-fulfilling prophesy. Heels aren’t meant to be cool. The fans shouldn’t root for the antagonist. The heel’s job is to elicit anger from the crowd and get the face over. The heel shouldn’t funny or even likable. Point blank, the heel should be a dick. Is it funny when someone is being a bully? Is cheating likable? Too many of WWE’s so-called faces are heels. And too many heels are faces. What a conundrum!

All of this has created another self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, this time by the so-called internet wrestling community. Everything is labeled tweeners. It’s the stage where any casual fan or mark can’t tell if a wrestler is face or heel. A tweener is a wrestler that’s turning to the opposite allegiance. It is not a perpetual state like so many like to believe. Often fans will incorrectly call a wrestler a tweener that is actually an anti-hero, an unconventional face.

WWE today seems to have fallen into this deep state of a Snoop Dogg weed induced philosophical discussion on wrestling. Somewhere in that room is Dana White counting his mega bucks and Vince McMahon crowing that having faces and heels doesn’t matter. Even Triple H, who many believe to be the saving grace of WWE, has stated “I don’t understand why they don’t turn Reigns heel’ Isn’t he already?” “…we’re just presenting him in a different way to make you hate him.”

WWE’s (believed) top baby face is a heel. It’s a bit mind-boggling. Roman Reigns received a mega push down the fans throats that garnered a backlash. It wasn’t presenting him in a different way then. It was a very static spoon fed push for Reigns to be the next big face. Now, years later, after the push failed miserably several times, he’s presented to make fans hate him.

The response Braun Strowman received on his return said it all. The fans were in total support, throwing their arms up with Brauns taunt and yelling alongside him as he told Reigns “I’m. Not. Finished. With. You. Yet!” The monster heel pushed Braun that’s gotten super over is really a face. Confused yet? It flies in the face of sanity. It also reeks havoc on match dynamics. For example, July 3rds RAW, Braun Strowman’s promo definitely wasn’t written to be face, nor does it look like he was coached to give it in a face manner.

Strowman’s need for competition, a hang over from his earlier push, brought on the match against Titus Worldwide’s Apollo Crews. Some background info first:

Titus Oneil, a heel, talked Apollo Crews, a face, into joining his “brand”, Titus Worldwide. All signs point to one of two things. Either Apollo Crews goes heel or Titus and Apollo feud. Titus has been accompanying Apollo to all of his matches, and vice versa to Titus’s chagrin. On May 15th episode of RAW Titus accompanies Apollo to the ring for a match against Enzo. It turns out he had it all wrong. Big Cass is wrestling…Titus Oneil. Cass of course won and Enzo continued Titus’s post celebratory selfie. At that moment Apollo Crews enziguris Enzo.

This is a major event on different accounts. For one, it should have turned Apollo Crews heel with a follow-up feud with Enzo and Cass. Cass also appeared to question why Enzo would taunt Titus at the end of the match instead of coming to his aid. Why this wasn’t used to sow the roots of Cass’s heel turn is beyond me. Subsequent weeks Titus is still shown as a heel manager trying to coax Apollo Crews to his side. The enziguri is never followed up on.

So we have the fan cheered booked heel Strowman versus the botched follow-up heel turn, face Apollo Crews. Braun’s heel promo left much to be desired and the crowd confused. Apollo wrestled as the face and Strowman the heel. Titus even pumped Crews up to go after Strowman. Titus even shows some backbone after Crews is destroyed. It’s just a cluster f…well, you get the picture.

Even beyond this, the Samoa Joe and Brock Lesnar interview face off was questionable. Brock comes off arrogant and cowardly. Joe, while still heel, comes off strong. But, it’s the same persona of Joe no matter what, face or heel. This is on the heels of a questionable heel promo from Paul Heyman week’s past. I have hardcore wrestling friends that only get to watch casually (one could say as often as a casual fan). And they question what’s going on. To quote one, “I was assuming Brock WAS face. Did I miss something?”

The irony of Joe versus Lesnar and this whole problem seems to be an aspect of WWE versus MMA. It’s often questioned if both compete for the same crowd. And they’re often compared to one another in that aspect as well. The difference? Wrestling tells a story. Or is at least suppose to tell a story. And for a story to work, at least in wrestling, it needs solid faces and heels that play their roles, not 4th wall heels being booked as faces to piss off fans, not failed writing and booking in hopes that fans will forget about it. Stories need consistent characters and plots. Otherwise, fans and readers will toss the book, flip the channel, and tune out. That may not be a problem for WWE, the global juggernaut, today, but eventually, they’ll need to cater more to hardcore fans that are paying attention. Who else will shell out $9.99 for the Network, buy t-shirts and toys, and WWE popsicles?