WWE Have Finally Figured Out the Babyface

WWE Have Finally Figured Out the Babyface
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Greetings grapple fans!

Welcome to your weekly dose of wrestling dissection, where the world’s in-ring topics are discussed, mulled over and tossed about like a jobber in a Braun Strowman match circa 2016. A place where readers can come to find titillating, considered examination of wrestling, from the sports entertainers to the strong-stylists and everything in between.

The reality is probably none of that; this is likely just a single wrestling fan putting his Journalism degree to some use in an attempt to strike a conversation with those who’ll undoubtedly disagree. Perhaps there’s no point to words at all, really.

But then, what’s the point of wrestling then?

Good question.

WWE have finally figured out the babyface

Wrestling is about moments, of course.

The WWE scrawl at the beginning of every show is a reminder of wrestling’s purpose: to make you feel something, to take you out of your environment for a single second and make you part of something huge – a worldwide chorus of cheers, or boos, or shock, or awe, or elation, or despair.

To do that, to make people feel something in an industry where one competitor fights another, you need protagonists and antagonists. It seems the WWE has never had an issue with building the latter, but Daniel Bryan is delivering some of the finest work in his career in his modern-day saviour complex.

Leading into the Royal Rumble, though, there was an issue. AJ Styles wasn’t going to stretch out a five-month storyline with Bryan, nobody else seemed ready, and a touted John Cena match wouldn’t have worked (it would’ve been the only excuse that attentive wrestling fans needed to start cheering Bryan again.)

The solution? Apparently, it was to give Kofi Kingston the chance to impress in a Gauntlet match – a deliberate decision to make him seem a real threat – and light the fire when the match falls into your hands. Nobody could’ve predicted just how bright the Kofi Kingston fire has blazed over recent weeks, but it certainly hasn’t been growing all on its own. WWE have been stoking it to perfection.

At the Royal Rumble of 2014, JBL entered the Royal Rumble. El Torito entered the Royal Rumble. Daniel Bryan did not – and fans were annoyed. WWE’s creative often gets accused of only running with the Bryan-ball when it was literally forced into their hands, but not enough credit gets given to those months leading up to Bryan’s triumph. Summerslam was the stoking point – a way to give Daniel the main-event credibility he needed while still keeping that moment from him. He could’ve won the Royal Rumble, but then that would’ve detracted from the relief. (Plus, you know, Batista was a thing.) He could’ve been in just the main event of WrestleMania 30, but then that would’ve detracted from the tension. The story was: nothing will stop Daniel Bryan from achieving his dream, not even performing twice in one night. In interviews, Triple H has said that there were times when Bryan himself would tell them “It’s not right yet, you have to kill me again.”

Well, Kofi has been well and truly killed. Much like Bryan, the rise of Kofi Kingston has to do with the man as much as the character. When, face to face with Vince McMahon – the industry’s greatest ever bad-guy – Kofi told of how he had missed milestones in his child’s life, how he didn’t get to see his family, all because he was busting his ass for the man across from him; people felt that. When Kofi gave a stellar performance in the first gauntlet match to get himself noticed as more than just a “fill-in”, people felt that. When Kofi was replaced by a returning Kevin Owens and Big E yelled into the camera “It’s not fair!” people felt that.

Those same people have argued and bickered, as wrestling fans tend to do, that Kofi shouldn’t have been taken out of the Fastlane match: and what? Have him face Bryan in a match that isn’t WrestleMania? Win the title before his time? No, he needed to be killed again, because it’ll make the triumph all the sweeter.

And now, after the events of Smackdown Live this week, like every good protagonist, he is forced to go through one more trial, one more tribulation, to get to the ultimate success. He must be kicked one more time so that he can get back up.

The thing with wrestling is, people can see that. Yet when Kofi rolled up Orton and the three-count happened, the arena exploded. When Vince McMahon came out and told him he’d have to go through Daniel Bryan, the arena booed. When Kofi received a brutal knee to the skull and went down for the three count, the arena was shattered. The arena that reflected the state of fans on Twitter, fans sitting in front of their TV, even those who hadn’t previously connected to the character of Kofi Kingston. In a matter of months, Kofi had gone from Royal Rumble spot-monkey to a man whose name the crowd chants throughout an entire show.

Plaudits should go to the supporting cast, too. The video Big E posted on this week, inferring that the New Day might well leave the WWE due to the mistreatment of Kofi, was another superb addition to a story in which the New Day have been integral.

“Clearly we are never meant to be more than this, and for people like us that’s not enough, and it will never be enough.” The perfect way to enhance Kofi’s likeability – through blending story and reality.

As mentioned before, Vince McMahon is the best villain in the industry’s history. That’s just a fact. And the man who was once labelled a “B+ player” now turning that around and giving his potential opponent, a man who’s treading his very path, that same label is so, so perfect. Yes, it’s clear that the WWE have struggled to build up their faces since the night of Bryan’s triumph.

Forcing Roman Reigns down people’s throats wasn’t going to work, and when they did end up using him correctly in a “you can boo me, I don’t care” role, it was already too late. Yet, this Roman isn’t the Roman of old. Beating Leukaemia is one thing, but this version of Roman Reigns is fun, genuine, and badass; the kind of things you associate with a relatable, personable good guy.

Drew McIntyre tearing apart the Shield only adds to the promotion of Reigns as a genuine face, while his brother Seth Rollins’ character wasn’t much more than “I’m too good for people to not like me” – until he was given the words “Burn it Down” and set against the absent Beast Brock Lesnar.

Then there’s Becky Lynch, someone whose rise could well be an entire column in itself. Yet, despite a bit of a messy leadup to Fastlane, the storyline of Becky winning that Women’s title is well on it’s way to lighting up MetLife stadium, as “that weirdo” Ronda Rousey attempts to rile up the online wrestling community with her breaking of kayfabe and general violent outbursts, while Charlotte has been cast as the Corporate jezebel – a role perfectly suited to her.

In what may well be the best WrestleMania build in recent memory, it does seem like WWE has finally got its act together and gotten good at building babyfaces again. It just happens that the most exciting of those may beat the last great babyface WWE had. A nice bit of poetic justice, there.

The little things

For those who prescribe to the premise that wrestling is about telling and being told stories, it’s the little details that are the most satisfying. Things like, on Smackdown Live, the Usos being the first to join the New Day in watching Kofi’s triumphant victory, and passing around the pancakes. That garnered a little giggle.

Similarly, though not quite similarly, was Charlotte’s antics at Fastlane during her short-lived match with Becky Lynch. That woman is a natural born heel – she’s just so annoying with everything she does in that ring.

It’s the little things, you know?

An ode to long-term booking, and short-term excitement

For those who watch NXT – in this writer’s opinion the best wrestling product in the world for some time now – Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa for the NXT title is it. It’s just…IT. Everything, three years of build-up, a tortured Johnny slowly having his mind twisted and turned by Ciampa, wanting things to be the way they were, all the while being dragged back by the angel on his shoulder, continually telling him to not believe in the devious machinations of his former best friend.

For those who watch NXT, Johnny Gargano’s superkick on Ciampa a week ago was nothing more than completely euphoric. This was a story being told over years, let alone months, a story that would eventually see Johnny Gargano triumph after being knocked down so…many…times, finally capturing the “big one” (see a theme running through this week’s column, perhaps?)

Unfortunately, Ciampa’s injury curtailed that. Fortunately, as previously stated, NXT is simply the best thing ever, which means we’re going to get Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano in a two out of three falls match instead. Never has short-term gratification been so sweet.

That’s it for this week’s Pro Wrestling Index weekly! Have something you disagree with? Of course, you do, this is wrestling we’re talking about. Take it up with this writer on Twitter @Alex_Barra12, and maybe follow him while you’re there.

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