Why this topic? Well for one, it’s tiring to see anyone does not fit that role get dumped on by certain fans as soon as they begin to reside at the top. Whether it’s John Cena before, or Roman Reigns and Charlotte now there’s a very vocal section of fans that seems to resent high achieving, dominant personalities and always want someone else, someone who didn’t step out of central casting, isn’t perceived as the boss’ favorite and who ‘came up the hard way’ instead of moving up quickly. First it was CM Punk, then Daniel Bryan, now it’s anyone else who comes up through the indies or is an NXT darling. And on the Women’s side that person is now Becky Lynch. We seem to be in an era where at least amongst a lot of hardcore fans there is a need or desire for the top babyfaces to be relatable figures above and beyond all else. And relatable largely means that you aren’t the choice of management, somebody who was put out front because they look like a superhero and have the potential to rope in the dreaded casual fans from their image as much or more than their technical skills. And never mind virtue, breaking rules and being a jerk is fine so long as you’re being that way towards someone who deserves it, and for almost a decade now just being the perceived favored child means you deserve it in some peoples eyes.
When did this become a thing in professional wrestling of all places? For a really long time the top babyface was a super heroic figure who everyone understood was chosen by whoever ran the place to be in that position. Bruno Sammartino, Lou Thesz, Verne Gagne, Bob Backlund, the Von Erich boys, Hulk Hogan, Sting, etc. These guys weren’t above losing their temper or coloring outside the lines a bit in the name of defending a friend or getting payback, but they were the good guys and it was pretty clear to everyone watching. No one got confused if they picked up a chair in the middle of a brawl or if someone came to help them even the odds in a fight. And they weren’t portrayed as underdogs to get you on their side, either. The sympathy came from seeing your heroes get done wrong, not from whether or not the character or the person behind them got to that spot in the company the hard way. The Von Erich boys were some of the most popular good guys ever and their Dad literally owned and ran the territory. It didn’t matter. They looked the part, played it well enough, and people jumped on board. There weren’t a bunch of angry letters being sent in demanding that some other guy get pushed to the top or just get a turn because he wasn’t the bosses kid and thus deserved it more. On the flip side Ric Flair was the choice of booker Dusty Rhodes and gave a larger than life performance on the heel side that drew people in and made everything feel big.
But in 2019 we’re going on over a decade since John Cena started getting booed for simply continuing that tradition, and four years into Roman Reigns getting the same treatment. In both cases there have been calls to turn them heel not because it would make sense but to appease the vocal dissenters who decided they just won’t cheer for that guy because he’s management’s choice and is getting ‘shoved down our throats’. Given how popular both of them are outside that bubble and the very essence of their characters once they became the top guy there is virtually no logic behind turning them heel. Heels cheat, ambush people, enlist goons to make things less even, etc. Neither of them was doing that kind of thing when they reached that point of being ready to make the leap and it would take the kind of hotshot nonsensical booking we all claim to hate to make that kind of switch afterwards. But no, they were supposed to ‘turn’ on someone and start cutting ‘you people suck’ promos just because. And we get subjected to stupid jargon like ‘got over organically’ because God forbid the people who run the company make a decision on who they think is the best person to cast as the top good guy and not twist in the wind along with people on the internet.
And it’s not just top babyfaces where this kind of disjointed logic is being applied, it’s to dominant figures in general. The Road Warriors were dominant figures, they won most of the time (and even a few times they weren’t supposed to) and they became babyfaces because people were drawn to the aura, the awesomeness of it all. Same with the Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, and Goldberg. There weren’t mass complaints about them being booked too strong or any of that stuff. In more recent times we got that with the Shield, whose look, vibe, presence, and in ring dominance drew people in like a moth to a flame . But in 2019 there’s a fine line between being a dominant alpha type and being the guy or gal that ‘gets too much’. In 2019 a lot of so called smart fans want more people to get a turn at the top just because they’re talented wrestlers or because their upbringing as a performer warrants them getting a shot that they supposedly deserve. A more egalitarian wrestling company is what we should all strive for is their thinking. We’re seeing this manifest in the run up to WrestleMania where some people want Charlotte Flair excluded from the main event because she ‘gets too much’. Never mind that she’s the best in ring performer of all the women and has earned these big spots, they want her out because it’s just not fair.
But I got news for you – the big favorites are what’s best for business. You may like underdogs because they feel like you can relate to them but you respond to greatness. Greatness makes you stand up and pay attention even if you’ve been told to be resentful. Greatness is what makes you marvel at Michael Jordan even as he’s dropping 55 on your beloved Knicks at the Garden, it makes you stop what you’re doing and watch Beyonce perform even if you’ve told everybody you know that you don’t think she’s all that, it makes you watch Tiger Woods on Sunday even if you never watch golf any other time. In the world of wresting it brings you to your feet even though you’ve dropped a million tweets saying how much Roman Reigns is pushed down our throats and that Charlotte Flair is only where she is because of her Dad. You notice greatness even when you don’t want to, even when you’ve told yourself to they’re being shoved down your throat and they get too much. Getting up and chanting ‘Cena sucks!’ takes effort, effort that you won’t make for somebody who actually does suck out there.
Well, I hate to be the one to tell you this (ok, no I don’t) but favored children and being a dominant figure often go hand in hand. The people in charge know things work best when you have a few people who you can drop in a big match just because, who are always a big threat to win that big match, who always stand out from the crowd. And the people who get those spots are quite often going to be chosen by the powers that be and fastracked in their careers than everyone else. Why? Because the boss sees the potential for greatness in them and wants to capitalize ASAP. Vince Sr. and Jr. both crowned new World Champions out of people they’d just brought back in a month prior, Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan. In each case the guy started there, left for a bit and then once it was clear they had big star potential were brought home and put on top. And even though there weren’t dirtsheets running rampant or podcasters around at all, if people really had issue with it they could have voiced their dissatisfaction. The Von Erich boys got plugged in at the top by their Dad in Texas as soon as he saw they were ready, and stayed there until the end.
And the sooner we admit that the better off we’ll all be. You’re rooting so hard for Becky now because of who she went after. Had she snapped on anyone else last August you’d probably have booed her like they originally wanted you to. Braun Strowman was a sideshow attraction until he jumped on Roman Reigns. Kevin Owens got made by attacking John Cena, not winning the Intercontinental Title a few months later. When these people are able to step into their own and take full ownership of how good they are it makes everything better. My father, a black man from Orangeburg, South Carolina, was drawn in by a man he had nothing in common with, an Italian immigrant who was built like Superman in Sammartino. I grew up on Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan, and there was not a humble bone in their bodies. A lot of you cut your teeth as fans on the Rock, who was anything but down to earth and relatable. Relatable works for sidekicks and midcarders, but the top dogs need to be people that laymen who have never seen in action can figure must be a big deal at something. Down to earth runs for school board, big and bold gets you to the White House. You may prefer to hang out and be friends with Kelly Rowland but you stop what you’re doing to watch Beyonce even if you’re not a big fan. There is a difference.
What we don’t need is an American Idol style of booking, where real obvious talent often doesn’t win the telephone poll and the more the relatable people who do go on to have nothingburger careers. And in wrestling the underdog story is great for the Road to WrestleMania but for the rest of the year, when there isn’t the big shiny object on the horizon, you need something else. Something that makes people focus and pay attention. And sorry, that’s not relatable egalitarian booking. Just like the NBA does better with dynasties than parity professional wrestling is better with Big Dogs, Legions of Doom, Horsemen, Macho Men, Kings and Queens than it is with everyone getting a main event because just because they’re talented technicians. So as a fan I implore you and the people that run the business to embrace and enjoy the greatness, the silliness, the people who catch your eye and stop worrying how they got there. Trust me, it’s more fun that way.