Heel Honor Roll #16 - Bo Dallas, Super Face.
You're thinking that it's too early for this. So was I about a month ago. Since then all I've been doing is poring over my memories of wrestling's best heels, wondering if we've ever seen anything like Bo Dallas before. The closest comparison I can think of is Kurt Angle. WWE was so busy cramming Jack Swagger down our throats as the "All American American", that they forgot what made early heel Kurt Angle so great: His cloying do-gooder perspective. All the Ankle Locks in the world couldn't replace the smug judgment implied toward the audience in Angle's "3 I's". Dallas has something like that, except it comes with a spin that is different than the one Angle used to hoist disdain upon us. Angle's gimmick was built on hypocrisy and judgment, and therefore gave us something to revile. Bo Dallas, by contrast, might just be as oblivious and gratingly well-meaning as he says appears. Unlike Kurt Angle, his evolutionary predecessor, Bo Dallas hasn't given us anything obvious to despise. What's amazing is how makes us hate him all the more.
It didn't look like Bo Dallas was going to work at all, let alone become one of the best things going in WWE developmental, when he was plodding along as a milquetoast face. With his decent look, and perfectly competent in-ring skill, he was essentially the face version of what Curtis Axel is now: A reliable hand in the ring that you had no interest in watching for any long period of time. The problem was that WWE kept trying to make us watch him, going so far as putting him in prime time with a royal rumble spot and a brief feud with Wade Barrett. I think that feud climaxed with a “Put the Audience to Sleep” match that both men won. Then, back in NXT, he was basically the same guy, except now he was in the main event instead of the midcard, and paired against the eminently likable Big E. Langston instead of human Ambien Wade Barrett. The result was that as Bo climbed the developmental ladder, he also managed to pick up more and more heat from a fan base that couldn’t understand why he was being forced upon them. The apex of Bo’s rise to the top of WWE culminated in a crowd of fans loudly booing the man that the WWE had spent the better part of a year finding ways to make likable. Everything seemed destined for a monumental failure.
Then Bo Dallas went to Disney World and made a selfie iPhone video in which he sang Journey. Hell, he incorporated Journey into his promotion. It was unbelievably corny, and the single most gratingly desperate promo that Bo had cut yet. It was also the most weirdly compelling thing he’d ever done. At first it was impossible to tell whether or not WWE intended to tap this vein of heel heat, as opposed to real life dislike; the whole thing felt so genuine and connected to what he had been doing that the fact that it had crossed into ridiculousness really wasn’t all that ridiculous. WWE kept things vague for a while, having Bo win with face tactics against more obviously heel challengers, then slowly began to ramp things up with little things like condescending to Renee Young, or more insufferable “Don’t Stop Bo-lieving!” The slow pedaling of the turn was what made it work, keeping the fans hating him even as the character became more and more layered; after all, it was conceivable that this was the same Bo Dallas character that we’d all come to see as the latest product that WWE was going to make us accept, whether or not we liked it, and that the WWE and Dallas were willfully ignoring the strong distaste the fans had made clear.
The interruption of Sami Zayn’s interview a couple of weeks ago made the turn official, and it was a thing of brilliance, striking nerves on every level of fandom. For the El Generico fans, he was calling a renowned technician and innovator on the indy scene “so green”. For the internet smarks, he derided their opinion right off the bat with the dismissive “a couple of people on the internet”. For everyone else, there was “Everybody loves me! Everybody loves Bo!” and “it’s not ‘boo’, they’re saying ‘BO!’”. Whether you were laughing at how over the top it all was or you had even more rage building, one thing was clear: Bland Bo Dallas was gone.
The smartest move they’ve made with the character is that since then, over the next two weeks of accidental distractions of Sami Zayn and Bo Dallas claiming to be the mentor of a man who has probably been wrestling longer than Bo has, is that Bo Dallas hasn’t actually done anything deliberate towards Sami Zayn. No sneak attacks backstage, no smirking as Zayn loses, no disdainful remarks about Sami Zayn being a loser; hell, he’s been irritatingly effusive in complimenting Zayn. It’s all just Bo Dallas being the same unlikable guy who desperately wants to be liked, being treated as a bad guy for trying so hard to be a good guy.
That’s why this character is brilliant, and a step beyond even Kurt Angle’s brilliant “3 I’s” turn. Angle, and other “role model” archetype heels were, at their core, liars. They didn’t really care about us; they were motivated by selfishness and ugly desperation beneath a thin veneer of morality. They chided us even as they obviously lied to us, giving us reasons to hate them with both hands as they lied and as they were were exposed. Bo Dallas is subversive because he isn’t giving us any reasons to hate him. Hell, he isn’t even giving us reasons not to like him. In fact, all he wants is for us to like him, so much so that he’s convinced himself we do, twisting the loudness of our anger into wild cheers in his mind. All the while, we try harder to make the point clear, finding new ways to unequivocally let him know that no matter what he does, we hate Bo Dallas.
Bo Dallas isn’t the bully; he’s the kid who wants to sit at our lunch table, and we’re not just content to say “no”; we want him to know that he’s not good enough. It is important to us that Bo Dallas know he’s not wanted, that he’s loathed, so much so that we’ve arrived at throaty roars of disapproval without any obvious reason. He’s Bo.
You see how messed up that is, right? That’s the beautiful rub here. Bo Dallas is the perfect villain for NXT, with its predominantly smark fan base, because he turns their mentality against itself. Most role model villains get exposed; Bo Dallas, by contrast, is an amazing heel because by simply being Bo, and by becoming more hated just by turning up the dial on what a good guy he wants to be, he’s exposing us. Because if we hate Bo Dallas for being too much of a good guy, then by default, we’ve made ourselves the bad guy, and that’s not something we’re content to accept. No wonder we can’t stand Bo Dallas; people that good shouldn’t be hanging around people like us.