I’ve been a fan of the WWE as long as I can remember. The drama, the brutality, the blood, but most of all the bad guys. No single element of pro wrestling has ever enticed me more than a compelling heel. From “Lionheart” Chris Jericho, to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, to ECW’s Impact Players, my favorite in-ring workers have always been the guys you just love to hate.
That said, it should be established that I don’t follow wrestling with nearly as much vigor as I used to. I still thoroughly enjoy catching Raw, Smackdown, or Impact whenever I can, but there’s a certain element of disenchantment to my interest these days. Maybe it’s just a case of getting older and holding onto a “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to” attitude, but the deeper I delve into my own skepticism, the more I’m realizing that I just don’t have that villainous star to hitch my wagon to anymore.
While exploring this idea, I came across an informal list of the top 100 heels of all time released last year by Bleacher Report. I decided to peruse the list and see just how many names on it were currently active workers. The results were staggering. A total of 93 of those top 100 names were retired. My surprise didn’t end there. Of the remaining seven active names on the list, six are currently working as faces, and three of them work outside the WWE. Add to that the fact that part-timers like The Undertaker, Chris Jericho, and Triple H were among those seven and it becomes painfully evident that the WWE is missing that loathe-worthy x-factor.
The current WWE roster is rife with mid-level talent, but the only regular top-end worker who is over as a heel is CM Punk. He’s one hell of a heel, but no one man can carry that torch single-handedly. There are guys right on the cusp, like Daniel Bryan and Alberto Del Rio, both former world title holders, but I still have hard time calling them top-end guys. The belt doesn’t make a superstar the way it used to. No, it’s the build that makes legends, and that’s something the WWE has stumbled with in recent years. Between Wrestlemania and now, Bryan has gone from world champion to one half of a sketch comedy act. Del Rio, meanwhile, was locked in a feud with Sheamus for months that could have been flavor #32 at Baskin Robbins if it got any colder.
Randy Orton is a bona fide main event baddie, but not only is he working as a face, he’s taking off to film another movie in the near future. Triple H, a legendary heel, isn’t a regular in-ring performer anymore, and was also a face the last time we saw him. Chris Jericho is one of the all-time best crowd-working heels, but he’s on tour with his band Fozzy. Oh, and guess what? That’s right, he was a baby face at last check too.
Pound for pound the next best heel the WWE has is Brock Lesnar (in my humble opinion at least). He’s a huge draw, a former WWE champion (back when being the WWE Champion actually meant something), and has headlined Wrestlemania. No mater what you may think of him, Lesnar is as legit as they come. The problem is that he’s on a limited contract that sees him on and off of television frequently, never allowing enough time to build any real heat.
So where then are all the great villains? The answer has to come from within, and for my money, Dolph Ziggler may be the guy. He’s in that awkward stage where he’s conquered the intercontinental level, but has still yet to break through as legitimate main event material. With his Money In The Bank win, he’s been teed up as the next guy to make that jump, but how WWE creative chooses to build him leading into next year’s Wrestlemania could make or break him. The next few months will likely be career defining for Ziggler, and I for one would love to see him get put over in a big way. He’s the complete package: mic skills, charisma, character, in-ring ability, and he’s one of the best sellers in the business. Ziggler actually makes his opponent look better with how well he can sell a good bump. Besides, beyond him, I don’t see anyone who is currently ready to take that next step as a heel.
They could always turn John Cena heel, right? Okay, stop laughing at me, let’s be serious.
Whoever they choose to give that push to, they had better act quickly. The WWE is running out of name guys at a staggering rate, and they aren’t always going to be able to bring in people like Lesnar and The Rock as patchwork solutions. Maybe a new heel faction could be the answer (nWo anyone?), maybe it’s a big name turn. Whatever the remedy is, they’d be remiss to allow the current trend of unbeatable faces continue. It’s getting very, very stale.