Change for change’s sake is usually a mistake, and is often a uniquely frustrating series of events to watch take place. There needs to be a real reason to change, otherwise the trasformation in meaningless. Thus is that tale of Alex Riley’s current status in the WWE. In May of 2011, Alex Riley turned babyface and began feuding with his "mentor" The Miz, because creative didn’t really have any ideas for The Miz at the time, and thought breaking their partnership would be a good holdover feud for the former WWE Champion.

While initially Alex Riley got big pops, it was abundantly clear that the notoriety that came along with his feud with Miz was going to be short lived. It was obvious that people were only cheering him in the context of his feud with The Miz, because otherwise he hadn’t truly won them over, and was doomed to fail as a babyface immediately following that rivalry’s conclusion. They turned him because they thought it would be a great way to mix things up, but at their core, heel or babyface turns need to be character based, and not simply written to makes something happen in a story. That’s the height of lazy, uninvolved writing.

This week’s edition of A Matter of Character will analyze the character (or current lack thereof) of Alex Riley. I will highlight his strengths, and point out the weaknesses I perceive in the character and the performer. Following my analysis, I will suggest any ways to improve or help the character progress in the future. Let’s Do This!

Physical

Let me start off by saying that Alex Riley is currently miscast as a babyface. He has the look of a total douche-bag jock down pat, which totally fit the “Varsity Villain” persona that he used in FCW and when he first debuted on NXT. Alex Riley just looks like a guy who thinks he’s the shit, and rubs it in everyone’s face. Not to mention that at 6’4, 236 lbs, Alex Riley is in pretty stellar physical shape, and happens to be a very athletic WWE superstar. He has all the aesthetic makings of the smarmiest mid-card heel.

Riley is far from an in ring technician, but the guy can hold his own in between the ropes. He isn’t a threat to steal the show at this point in the career, but I feel like you can depend on him to put on a decent match at worst, and depending on the opponent, can contribute to very good in-ring performances.  I should mention that I think the Fireman’s Carry Cutter maneuver that he uses (“Hit The Showers” is what he called it in FCW) is one of the best finishers currently used in the WWE. 

Personality 

In FCW, and his initial run on NXT, Riley was playing the part of an Entitled College Athlete, that hasn’t left his college days behind him. He was cocky, he was a jerk, and he was at his core a bully. He thought he was the cool kid on campus, and that everyone should go out of his or her way to appease him. After NXT, he was paired with The Miz, and used as his lackey/henchman, something that after seeing how it played out, completely and nearly irrevocably betrayed the character that was set up during NXT. The character he initially portrayed was way too conceited and self serving to ever consent to being second fiddle to anyone else, unless he meant to undermine and eventually overtake them (which he didn’t do, because Miz turned on him). Alex started wearing suits and getting beat up regularly by whomever Miz was feuding with at the time, and the “Varsity Villain” persona was pretty much completely dropped. Eventually he split from Miz, and became a carbon copy of every mid-card WWE babyface, a smiling goody-two-shoes with very little discernable or unique characteristics. In essence, dropping the original “Varsity Villain” shtick really robbed Alex Riley of his originality, and swagger.

I like the idea of him being the entitled college kid, who can’t leave his college years (what he believes are the best years of his life) behind him. He should be a sarcastic d-bag and a practical joker. As a heel character I’d portray him as the ultimate bully, but if I were ever required to make the character a babyface, I’d try to emulate the Steve Stifler character from the American Pie films. I’d want to keep all the misguided “Varsity Villain” characteristics, but at the same time approach the character with a sense fun and mischief, to make him likeable. I feel like A-Ry could bring a lot to a Stifler-esque WWE character.

Words and Actions

During Season Two of NXT, Alex Riley proved that he was a very skilled talker. When he spoke, he did an amazing job of conveying the Varsity Villain character through his words and mannerisms, and though he made mistakes from time to time (as every NXT rookie did because of the completely unscripted nature of the show) he seemed to recover well. In that regard Alex Riley was widely considered to be the cream of the crop on NXT Season Two. All that being said, his babyface promos are tired and boring, because they are the same cookie-cutter B.S. that all of the WWE’s lower and mid card babyfaces spew on a weekly basis. As a heel, his character and performances were edgier, more unpredictable and fun.

Let him regain that aura of fun and misadventure, by letting him be a little edgier on the microphone. Make him be a jerk to the people he talk to backstage (heel and babyface alike), let him play practical jokes and make fun of people, and for the love of god, let him channel that college frat house asshole that he plays so well. Let the guy be the WWE’s Stifler/Van Wilder. That character would be fun to watch, unlike his current paint by numbers babyface character that jobs to Lord Tensai and Antonio Cesaro. 

Motivation

Much like most of the WWE’s characters in 2012, Alex Riley lacks true motivation, something that compels him to continue doing what he’s doing, and drives his personal narrative (regardless of how small) forward. Coming up with the motivation behind the Varsity Villain character is fairly simple when you really think about it. This is a guy still living off his glory days in college. He probably pledged a frat, was popular, played sports, got girls, etc. In essence, he had the time of his life and never thought about what comes afterward (starting your career, so on and so forth).

Once his college days were through, he found himself clinging to those glory years. Alex Riley for all intents and purposes in a man-child, that doesn’t want to grow up and take things seriously. He wants life to be like college, where he was the center of attention, could get away with anything, and have loads of fun. The WWE is his new college campus, and he’s going to be the center of attention and have as much fun as possible, trying to make his career resemble his post secondary education. The great thing about this motivation is that it could work as both a babyface and a heel, depending on what aspects of it you focus on. It also allows the writer to have a lot of fun with the character and be creative.

Conflict

When dealing with a character that is consumed with romanticizing ignorance and/or living in the past, moving on or growing up is the biggest hurdle that they have to overcome. Eventually situations will arise force Alex Riley to mature and accept that he is no longer on a college campus living the high life, and that he needs to accept that that period of his life, no matter how fondly he views it, is over. What that inevitable situation will be and when it will happen are the questions that will draw the audience in. In the meantime the WWE Universe will enjoy rooting against the Varsity Villain, or cheering the shenanigans of A-Ry.

Going Forward

Personally, I’d prime Alex Riley over the next month to be primetime player in the WWE’s unfocused mid-card. In fact, I’d approach the mid-card very differently than it is approached currently. The key with mid-card is to make characters with very stringent and straightforward points of view and approaches to their career. They will not get as much TV time as the main eventers get to hype their feuds, so making a bunch of character with vastly different ideologies makes it easy to convey a simple combative narrative i.e. The APA vs. Right To Censor from the attitude era. I don’t need to get into detail about why these teams don’t like one another, because it’s obvious. Their feuding makes sense, needs no explanations because of their dueling ideologies, and any red blooded American would find themselves rooting for the Beer Swilling Protection Agency and against Censorship.

If I haven’t made it abundantly clear during the course of this article, going forward I’d have Alex Riley’s character return to his roots, and become the Varsity Villain once more. I’d have him don his letterman jacket as he made his way to the ring, I’d turn him heel, and I’d have him be brash, rude, and snarky to everyone he crosses paths with.

This would be simple enough to do, you just need the right inciting incident to fuel his decision to stop being Mr. Nice Guy babyface. It could be as simple as having Abraham Washington (who I’ve been intrigued by in recent weeks) approach him and tell him that he sees something in A-Ry, but there’s something missing. He’ll tell about how he watched Riley’s season of NXT and that he tuned in weekly for Riley, but that Alex Riley has been replaced by a complacent imposter. The old Alex Riley would have been a must sign commodity for Abraham’s All World Agency, and with all that talent, Abraham could have made things happen for him. After a few weeks of thought, you simply have Riley turn heel, make the phone call to Abraham Washington, and sign up with his All World Talent Agency. The same thing could work with Vickie Guerrero as well.

After that, you could go in many directions with the character. He could start a tag team with Jack Swagger (former All American Wrestler in College) if he hires Vickie as his manager, called the Fraternity. They’d be a pair of jocks that bully smaller talent and poke fun at everyone else, and basically act like pricks. This team would be much better than the Zig-Swag tandem in my opinion. If he chose to go with Abraham, simply have A.W. prime him for a mid card title run, most likely against Santino, who would be the perfect victim for Varsity Villain. Zack Ryder would also be a great victim for A-Ry to target and bully.

There you have it, but what do you think? Was Alex Riley’s Varsity Villain character better than his current vanilla babyface shtick? Is Alex Riley better as a heel character? Do you think Alex Riley is better than the jobber he’s been portrayed to be since being Miz’s lackey?

Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying what rolls down stairs, alone or in pairs and crushes your neighbor’s dog? It’s great for a snack, it fits on your back, its Log, Log, LOG! Also happy belated Mother’s Day to all the wonderful mothers out there. Have a great week everybody!