The Wrestling Connoisseur: Revisiting the Antagonist

Every good story has an antagonist. Sometimes that’s not necessarily a villain. There are wonderful stories about man versus nature like Old Man and the Sea. An antagonist can be a friend, a family member, or a fellow soldier fighting along side of the main character. The antagonist just needs to be in opposition of the protagonist or stand in their way of achieving their ultimate goal.

WWE has done this well in the past. Think along the lines of the Attitude Era where baby faces and anti heroes would often cross paths. The Rock and Stone Cold could both be faces and still fight. It all depends on how the story line is crafted and how the feud is booked and built.

Today in WWE the line gets blurred. Far too often the faces act and work like heels. The crowds dictate how they feel about particular characters and the roles they want them in as well. In the end though, it depends on the booking. Despite how the character is portrayed or what the crowd wants, the booking is responsible for the direction.

Current WWE storylines finally turned Braun Strowman face after a fall out with the Miz, the Bar, and Kane. Kane has continued to play the antagonist to Braun Strowman the last several weeks in a feud that can only be dubbed as “Monster versus Monster”. The downside to using Kane as an antagonist is that as a long time fan favorite he is receiving massive pops. But connoisseur, you said an antagonist doesn’t have to be a bad guy. That is true. And like a Facebook relationship status, it’s complicated. For all intents and purposes Kane is a heel. He’s doing his best to destroy Braun Strowman. He’s defeated several top baby faces the last several weeks as well. And yet the fans still choose to cheer for Kane.

It goes back to being a badass. It’s hard to be over as a heel and be a respected character. Kane is one of those characters that fans know will entertain them. He’s been around long enough to not just have the respect of his peers, but of the viewers. Many fans have grown up watching Kane. Not to mention everyone knows it’s the Undertaker’s brother. Who doesn’t love the Undertaker?

The question is how can WWE build an antagonist when everyone loves the character. There’s a few things they could do. Like I mentioned, the antagonist doesn’t have to be a heel. Kane could have easily been brought back as a face and befriended the Monster Among Men. The storyline may have taken longer to develop, but this feud has had an awkward build already. If a Kane and Strowman tag team imploded on their journey toward the tag titles there’d be more emotional investment from the fans. The fans need a reason to be angry at Kane.

The bookers and writers also need to give Kane motivation. Far too often poor writing is skimmed over once a feud is started. Sometimes the heat the wrestlers can bring to the feud can fuel it. But when both are loved fans can be left wondering why are these guys fighting again?

The antagonist, especially one so beloved, needs to be established as a heel in wrestling, unless it is one of those few occasions. The fans know Kane is heel, but the smarks need to be invested in Kane as a heel. That’s a huge difference. Especially since the return of Kane was against Roman Reigns, who receives such a mixed reaction. It’s also notable Kane’s aggression against Reigns was a noble cause; defending the Undertaker’s honor. How often are heels noble?

It takes me back to NWA days. The Horsemen had turned face. Sting had joined the group. It was a play in their best interests it would turn out as Sting was the number one contender. The Horsemen go from baby faces to heels quickly by kicking Sting out of the group once he pushes for his title shot. He’s not just kicked out, but brutally beaten by the gang. They haven’t just turned their back on Sting, but the fans who were invested in the group as faces aligned with Sting. And there are a number of times where faces have turned their backs on fan investment; Triple H leaving DX for the Corporation, Hulk Hogan joining the Outsiders against WCW, and one of the biggest, Shawn Michaels turning on Marty Jannetty. Fans were invested in the Rockers, who came oh-so-close to winning the tag titles.

Investment in the antagonist is what drives wrestling. It drives people to the arena or to ordering a pay per view. Even in the age of MMA and the “no face, no heel” mentality, there is an antagonist and a protagonist set up in the portrayal. It’s the story told to the fans despite who they cheer for (that’s another article).

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