Planet Kayfabe: Putting Smiles On Faces Submitted by Kayfabe Candyass on 09/25/2017 at 06:24 PM
Planet Kayfabe: Putting Smiles On Faces
By: ' KCA' Paul Matthews | @PlanetKayfabe
Ahh... Another big match. Another ringing endorsement for Roman Reigns. Another chorus of boos rained on 'The Big Dog' and the WWE.
Hello everyone and welcome to Planet Kayfabe. I'm glad you could join me for, you guessed it, another commentary about Roman Reigns. Actually this piece isn't entirely about Roman Reigns. It is about WWE and how in all my years of watching this promotion and others I have never seen a time where a company was so bad at booking babyfaces. Not just Roman Reigns, but everyone from him to Jason Jordan.
I'm sure the title of this piece sounds familiar. "We are in the business of putting smiles on faces." It is one of Vince McMahon's favorite PR lines and though it is silly, it's true. The WWE tells stories of good vs. evil and we are supposed to leave a show feeling great that we saw a good show and our hero prevail in the end.
The role of the top hero, or babyface of a wrestling promotion is to not just put smiles on faces, but to fill the arenas and in the era of weekly television, pop good ratings and gain attention on the product. Smiles on faces and asses in seats has not been Roman Reigns' strong suit since the first of his many coronations and endorsements as WWE top dog.
Vince McMahon once said at the dawn of the Attitude Era that fans are "tired of having their intellegence insulted" watching good guys vs. bad guys. Stories of good vs. evil are timeless and will always sell. The Attitude Era didn't change that. To this day movies will draw incredible box office dollars just on the title alone of a super hero that everyone knows going in will be a story of the hero overcoming evil.
While the success of the Attitude Era may on the surface lend credibility to people like Vince Russo who say "the world changed and people want shades of gray", I call bullshit on that.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin was not a tweener. Who was a no-nonsense blue collar guy who was an unrefined, unpolished, foul mouthed beer drinking bad ass who didn't take any trash from anyone. That's a total babyface. It was a new era of babyface, but still true to the definition of a wrestling hero only instead of saying your prayers and eating your vitimins, he said "don't trust anybody" and drank Steveweisers.
All the while oozing with charisma, Steve Austin was the hero everyone loved because the fans got to live through him. Everyone at one time has wanted to give their boss the middle finger and live life on their terms. That's why it worked. Despite Steve being rude and reluctant to trust even the most whitemeat of babyfaces, he was a hero to the masses and portrayed accordingly while fans celebrated with him in his accomplishments.
There was no gray about Steve. He was all of us fighting against his asshole boss and all his bosses ass kissers who were handed everything and given an easy route to corporate success simply because the boss saw them as a more fit corporate friendly champion than Steve.
Remind you of anyone today? That's pretty much why fans boo Roman Reigns. He is see as a corporate golden boy that was shot up the line and chosen to be our new hero. While the rise of guys like Steve or The Rock were organic and were chosen by the fans, Roman's rise was pretty much how John Cena put it in his promo. Corporately manufactured Cena replacement.
They can't deny all that. The fans know it. When Vince McMahon came out to a massive pop on Raw after WrestleMania there is a reason why he was met with "Roman sucks" chants. He has been rejected by the masses. Not just by the smarks. Roman isn't met with 50-50 reactions. It's 50-50 on a good day and I don't give a rat's flying ass if Roman popped a house show full of 1,500 people in Bumfuch, Iowa. He is routinely booed out of every building at every major event in every major market this promotion runs a show in, yet Vince is stubborn. Vince can't be wrong and what you see right now is the hardest push to get one guy over as the top face probably ever.
It's no mystery behind Reigns. While he does interviews saying his reactions are unique, that's hardly the case. He's simply a rejected babyface. He is not "a babyface to the kids" and "a heel to the rest of the fans". He is a character that is not over in his role and despite him saying ticket sales are great to a half empty house he is not this era's John Cena, splitting the crowd into factions where some stand for his on-screen character and others done.
The main difference between Cena and Reigns is that of all those fans who boo Cena, if you asked them for an honest answer if they respect John Cena, they'd most likely say yes. They respect his hard work and all he does for his fans and it's also fairly common knowlege that his rise didn't come all that easily and there were others, like Randy Orton, who were seen as golden boys long before Cena was given a huge push. Roman Reigns hasn't earned that respect and he will perhaps always be seen as a corporate golden boy to the audience and that's why he gets booed. His initial push stumbled with poor promos, unfunny comedy segments and forgotten lines (that face at TLC that he will never live down) and no matter who he beats since and no matter who endorses him, the reaction will remain the same. Especially when he's beind endorsed by far more charismatic performers that the fans would rather see beat him.
So, who is the hero in 2017? There is this concern that if you turn Roman, suddenly smarks will cheer him. Why? Because he's a bad guy? This unproven theory that fans only cheer bad guys to look cool now? That's such a cop out. Roman's look, mannerisms and overall rise screams heel. People also use the excuse that smarks will only cheer indy darlings. Is that so... because I saw Braun Strowman get a huge rub from working a program with Roman Reigns, where Braun was getting so over at the time that many were questioning if the WWE would go as far to pull off a double-turn making Braun the hero. Instead it appears that all of that build up for Braun was just to have Brock beat him so Brock looks unstoppable for Roman Reigns to beat him at the next WrestleMania for yet another 'Mania to close with Roman on top, fireworks lighting the night sky and a packed house of fans booing until they're blue in the face.
Sometimes it is baffling how poorly this company books their good-guys. Even the most seemingly can't-miss babyfaces fall victim. One "can't-miss" that they fanned on is Bayley. I can't say I'm surprised. I saw this happen before she even made it on the main roster.
Here's an excerpt from a piece I wrote last year evauating future soon-to-be NXT call-up's
"Bayley, who clearly has the talent to be a top star in the women's division on the main roster I worry about a little bit. She's a complete white-meat babyface with a somewhat quirky gimmick. With a gimmick like hers I can see Vince every bit of 2 minutes of his day to evaluate her, say "I don't get it" and push her aside"
That same phrase "whitemeat" that some would say is the kiss of death in this era of pro-wrestling got over pretty well on NXT. NXT, a crowd mainly of older smark-marks who you would think would have this "too cool for school" attitude and just boo her attempts at gaining the fans' approval. Then she comes to the main roster. Put in bad hokey segments. Instead of being in touch the the nerdy sub-culture that has been popular for the better part of a decade, they portray her as an old nerd stereotype that has never been on a date and had no friends.
The best part and the dagger through the heart for Bayley's main roster dreams was when during the panned "This Is Your Life" segment, they pretty much say she is a geek because all she did was want to watch WWE and be a wrestler when she grew up, which she successfully did. I imagine the intention was to play this off as a success story, but instead they pretty much had the hot and popular Alex Bliss say "you're a geek if you watch this and you're an even bigger geek if you're like Bayley and want to do this for a living". Who was going to cheer her then on top of that who wanted to continue watching the show after the show told them they're dorks for watching. There's a right and wrong way to insult the crowd. There's few things heels shouldn't do. They can call the crowd fat and stupid and pathetic, but you can't say they are a bunch of dorks for buying your product when heel or face you're trying to sell the product to them. The last thing this company needs with the audiance being whittled down the older hardcore fans is for every 28+ year old to say "ya know, maybe I am too old for this".
Jason Jordan, who got over once being joined with Chad Gable on NXT was handed a singles push in being revealed that he was Kurt Angle's illegitimate son. While Kurt initially sold the angle like a pro, the crowd hasn't bought it and it has lead to a sour reaction. Instead of listening to the crowd and seeing this angle was a total flop, they double down and still the fans double down on their rejection.
Lately they've tried putting Jason Jordan over by having him have close matches with John Cena and Roman Reigns and directly drawing comparisons to John Cena's match with Kurt Angle that put him on the map. While I'm sure there's little chance we will be talking about Jason Jordan vs. John Cena 14 years from now the way we talk about John Cena vs Kurt Angle what was the comparison supposed to be? Because they call him a 'rookie'? Well... He's not a rookie. He's been under contract with WWE 1 year less than Roman Reigns and he's been on the main roster for over a year. The fans have seen his work. He's held a title on the main roster already. He's not like John Cena in 2002. John was a fresh faced 25 year old getting in the ring with an established star and ligit Olympic gold medalist trying to make a name for himself. Jason Jordan is a 29 year old former tag champion that we've seen wrestle plenty of times. We know he's a good wrestler. We aren't surprised to see him hang in the ring with main event level talent. This hokey storyline has done him no favors at all, though. He can have great matches, but it's going to mean nothing the more the sell us a story that the fans simply aren't buying. If they wanted to push him as a singles star, why did they feel they need to go all-out with such a ridiculous angle? Who is going to cheer this? Even if they buy the story, all his shots at top level talent come off as nepitism to the crowd. At least they could likely save Jordan's future by having him get a title shot only to reveal he used Angle to get on Raw and get favors under the guise that he was his son, when in actuality he is not. While that may make a good heel it doesn't help WWE's issues to making heroes the fans can get behind. What a shock that their bright idea of having the illiitimate son of a wrestling legend be a new hero for the fans to get behind isn't working. Kinda like how they ignored The Big Dog's connection with The Rock until the fans started booing him and then all the sudden they figured "hey, if you love The Rock you have to love his kinda-ish cousin too!"
Recently during his feud with The Miz, I'm not sure how they thought Jordan would get over the usually booed Miz by having Miz go out there to announce he and his wife are expecting a child. What a babyface. Is the the grey area that's supposed to define the post Attitude age of wrestling? We have guys as heels announce on television that they are expecting a child? This grey area nonsense just leads to confused reactions or best case senario a mixed reaction, but in this situation, a mixed reaction does no good for Jordan. It's a mix of people booing Miz and people cheering Miz yet not one fan cares to see Jason Jordan take Miz's coveted Inter-Continental Championship away from him. Maybe in Jordan's next feud, he can face off against a heel who anounces their mother is a cancer survivor and that will really get people wanting to see Jason Jordan over-come the supposed "bad guy".
Smiles get put on faces when the fans get what they want. When they go home happy. Sure, you can't always give them what they want. You need some shade to make the light seem brighter. However, John Cena said in his recent promo with Roman Reigns that he can't bury anyone because the fans choose who becomes a star and who doesn't.
Maybe 20 years ago that was true, but in the era of no direct competition to worry about and the company being more micromanaged than ever and Vince McMahon, while the most successful promoter of all time in wrestling becomes even older and more stubborn it doesn't matter who the fans boo or cheer, they are going to do whatever they want. Remember how popular Damien Sandow got after being handed crap gimmick after crap gimmick? They let him go without a second thought and upon his release he talked about how they do business now. How they see superstars and plug them into roles and that's where they belong for good. It doesn't matter if the crowd gets behind you, you're not getting further up the crowd if the company sees you a certain way. There's no better example of that than Zack Ryder. While I'm not saying either of these guys deserved a main event push to close a WrestleMania, the fact that they were given no significant exposure despite gaining momentum with the crowd is disapointing to the talent and fans who get behind them once they've chosen the hero they want to cheer for on their journey. WWE in this age is not prone to change their plans despite crowd reactions. I doubt they expected Braun Strowman to get over like he did and they changed nothing. All that work to get a monster over just to make Roman look strong and then make Brock Lesnar look strong for Roman to look strong against a few months from now.
More than ever it seems like the higher ups in the WWE have no grasp on the pulse of their own audience and that's what leads to a weak era of babyfaces. The rise of Roman Reigns from the start has felt very much like once the lead actor in a TV series leaves, they plug in some new guy that they expect you to love and adore right away. It doesn't matter who unexpectedly gets over or what angle just isn't working... they used to say the most powerful weapon in wrestling was the eraser at the end of a pencil, but now it seems like everything is set in stone no matter what.
Do you want a good recent example of the WWE listening to their fans after rejecting something? The New Day. Do you remember when they formed? They were overly-positive, preachy, dorky, smiling.... BABYFACES! Babyfaces that the fans rejected right away chanting "New...Day-Sucks" to a clap gesture they tried getting over. While the fans overwhemingly rejected The New Day, they became heels by... not changing much. They were still positive and smiling, yet cheating and hypocritical with their preaching. They listened to the crowd and they became hot heels instead of rejected babyfaces cemented in limbo by stubborn booking deaf to their audience. Since then The New Day have been one of WWE's bigger success stories. They became embraces as babyfaces and have made a damn good living for themselves at the merch table, along the way becoming the WWE's longest running tag-team champions. None of that would have happen if WWE stuck to their original plans and just let those guys out there with a corny gimmick without ever evolving and listening to the crowd. Once rejected by everyone, they became fan-favorites and their turn, rise in momentum and turn back to the babyface side based on their popularity should have been a lesson that even in this era of no direct competition, it is still important to know and listen to your audience.
Thank you again for reading. There's my take on the current sad state of babyfaces in World Wrestling Entertainment. With Roman going over John Cena and having his hand raised while Cena bows out for the time being, who is the top babyface in this company? They want it to be Roman, but loud audible boos are not a good look the Raw after all these massive endorsements by big name superstars. The reason why the Cena/Reigns match was big is because it felt like the old hero who lived by the motto "never give up" was not going to go down easy against the company's latest chosen one... and then they had one match and Cena raised the chosen one's hand in yet another ignorant attempt by the company to get Roman Reigns over. Maybe if they took a lesson from The New Day or even The Rock whose endorsement also didn't get Reigns over, and turned him heel, let him get booed for a while and then turn into a hero once the momentum shifts, he would be today what Vince McMahon has wanted him to be for the last three years, but instead it is just going to be more of the same apparently and while live attendance and ratings continue to fall they'll claim all is well once WrestleMania comes and they pack a stadium to watch Brock Lesnar raise Roman Reigns' hand at the end of the show just to boo the shit out it. Unlike the Ryders, Sandows and Bayleys of the world, I doubt Roman is going to protest his direction as long as he is booked to go over some of the company's biggest names and main event more WrestleManias. No, I'm sure the "Big Dog" will sit there nice and well behaved like a good boy and speak when told to and the promotion will reward him with a treat and a nice scratch on the ass.
That's all for this edition of Planet Kayfabe. If you have a question, comment or idea for a future column, follow me on Twitter @PlanetKayfabe and let me know.
Until next time, I'm Paul Matthews for NoDQ. See you next time.