I like to think that professional wrestling is currently in a very good state. As much as we like to complain about the stuff we watch, things are good right now. World Wrestling Entertainment is chugging away in its usual fashion, and there are plenty of other promotions doing very interesting things these days. However, I do kinda worry about the future, and the reason for this is very simple. The guys positioned in the middle of the WWE card, in particular the good guys, are in a desperate state.
When you look at the WrestleMania card, you've got six matches that could be perceived as main event matches or involved main event level guys, plus a six man match featuring three main eventers and The Shield, who are a main event faction. The other three matches featured a multi champion in Chris Jericho, plus two matches that were booted off the card to either pre show or the following Raw. Worse still, when you look at the guys who missed the card, only the lack of Antonio Cesaro really rankles. The lack of Kofi Kingston, R Truth, Santino Marella, Alex Riley and Sin Cara bothered no one at all. In a word, the midcard is stale as all hell.
Taking a look at what I would consider the middle of the card, the heel side has a few guys who are ready for the push to main event status. The aforementioned Cesaro, Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Wade Barrett, they are all main event ready in my opinion. They keep the heel side of the midcard strong, and often provide a believable challenge to main event guys. Indeed, they have been pulling off clean victories over top guys infrequently. Take a look though, at the face side. Their equivalents are Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, The Miz and Christian. Three of those guys are stale as dead bread, and one is injured. Add to this the potential of Kofi turning heel, as the rumour goes, and the picture gets worse. When Money in the Bank rolls around, it is very rare that a face from the middle of the card is touted as a preferred winner. Sure, you could probably put D-Bryan and Kane in there, but they could just as easily make the jump to main event, as they have before. Where, and why, are there no other faces ready to break through the ceiling?
One of the problems that WWE has is that it has two modes for pushes. It either pushes super hard, or it doesn't get behind the wrestlers at all. Zack Ryder was in a great position to solidify himself as a credible mid card face last year. He worked hard to get himself a following and succeeded in getting himself over. He has a move set that works well for the babyface, and he is good in the ring. However, WWE managed to cut his legs from under him during his run, by putting him in a ridiculous story with Eve that made him look like an idiot at every turn, and then having him lose every match until the end of time. A chance missed, to say the least. Kofi Kingston and R-Truth are at the same level that they have always been. Occasionally they challenge for the secondary titles, sometimes they win these belts, but no one cares and they haven't cared for a long time.
At its heart, professional wrestling is a story of good conquering evil. This leads, understandably, to the heel side of the roster being packed, so that our hero has a steady stream of bad guys to vanquish. It was exactly the same during the Hogan era and the early 90s, the heel side of the card would be packed in order to give the heroic champ evil to defeat. Despite this, look at some of the faces waiting in the wings in the early 90s. Jake Roberts, Big Boss Man, Bret Hart, Tito Santana, Jim Duggan. If a heel was champion, a PPV defence against say Jake Roberts would have been welcomed. Can the same be said for a Dolph Ziggler/R-Truth main event?
The unfortunate truth, as the glorious Hugh Firth opened his column on Tuesday saying via the gob of Confucius, is that it is easier to be disliked than liked. Think back to starting school. Making friends is pretty hard, but if went and set out to get people to dislike you, it would be more than easy. Professional wrestling is exactly the same. It is way easier for a guy or gal to début as a heel and get booed than it is to try and create a new hero. WWE has a couple of strategies for new heroes. The first one, recently used with Ryback, is to give them a monster winning streak, squashing everything in their path. Another is to portray them as a plucky underdog, give them some surprise wins and go from there. The third, and by far the most useless, is to have them get squashed continually in the hope that sympathy will grow. Colin Delaney anyone? This has literally only ever worked with Mikey Whipwreck, no one else. However, heels can debut and slowly grow into their roles, as we've seen recently with Cesaro, Sandow and recently Fandango.
All hope is not lost however, and there are a few options that WWE could take in order to freshen up their midcard and create a new hero to break through in the future. The first and most obvious is these is to turn one of their current heels. This has recently been used to get The Miz and Alberto Del Rio over as faces, with drastically different results. The Miz has unfortunately been a disappointment as a face. He is salvageable however, WWE just needs to play up his internal fan, his enthusiasm. Looking at the other heels about now, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow are potential options, but they are both very settled and just too good in their current roles. Fandango is maybe an obvious choice, but I fear he would be pushed too hard too quick. They could turn someone who has been off TV for a while, someone like David Otunga or Hunico.
The sad truth there is that their characters are just far too suited to being heels, and Otunga is nowhere near good enough in the ring for it to work. In this respect, I genuinely feel like they missed a trick with a returning Jack Swagger, especially considered Antonio Cesaro's 'No American can beat me' US title run at the time. In my opinion, the only guy on the roster right now that I think could be a raging success as a newly turned face is Drew McIntyre. He's done fantastic work in that role before coming to WWE, and has a varied enough move set to make it work as well. He's also being horrifically wasted in 3MB right now.
Option number two would be to rebuild a current face character. I don't believe that this could work with R-Truth or Kofi Kingston, as shown by the half arsed response to Kofi's IC run last year. Sin Cara seems like a lost cause, sadly, and Ted DiBiase seems to have fallen off the face of the planet. Injuries haven't helped. Once again, the revamping of someone who has been off television for a long time is a viable option, with three obvious candidates. The first of these is Michael McGillicutty, who really needs to lose the dumb name and start using Hennig. Triple H is supposedly a big fan of his, and rightly so.
The second of these is Tyson Kidd, a natural babyface with an exciting move set. He recently got a rub on TV from CM Punk that would stand him in good stead. He's got the right history, lineage and ability to do this. Imagine a series of Kidd vs. heel Jericho 20 minute matches? Wonderful. The last, and maybe best option in my opinion, is Derrick Bateman. This guy just exudes babyface, the type of guy that a crowd will implore to get behind. He was part of the only reason to watch NXT for a long time, and he could really take off with the 'USA Guy' gimmick. He has bags of charisma, incredible timing and is an above decent wrestler inside the ring. Give the guy a chance and he'll run with it.
Speaking of NXT, that is where the third and final option comes in. NXT as a show has improved immensely since it stopped being a contest and became a third brand, and many great characters are blossoming down there. Once again however, it seems heels are the stronger. In my opinion there are three people on the show who need to be on the main roster sooner rather than later, and two of them (Kassius Ohno and Bray Wyatt) are heels. The third is Adrian Neville. As Matty Douglas perfectly said the other day, the guy is a freakin' freak with the sort of build Vince adores. He's like Evan Bourne, only times a million. (Also, he's 26? Oh god I've wasted my life.)
There are other options such as Bo Dallas, Richie Steamboat and Xavier Woods, but in my opinion the next best babyface in WWE is yet to début at all. His NXT name generator moniker is Sami Zayn, but followers of other promotions will know him as El Generico. To put it straight, if you made a list of the top 10 professional wrestlers in the world, this guy would feature in the top 5 or 6. With his work he has perfected the art of the modern wrestling babyface, and he is waiting to be lapped up. With or without the mask and the Generico character, this guy has the arsenal, the personality and the intuition to be the next great WWE babyface. If you aren't convinced, watch any El Generico match. Ever. Trust me.
And that's that. What do you think? Who is the next babyface waiting to catch fire? How can WWE re-ignite the middle of the card? Is there anyone outside of the company who could blaze a face trail? How many more fire puns can I get in here? Comment in the lonely comment section below, or twitter me with the handle @pingvinorkestra. I'm off to buy a Slovak beer. Tata!