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Keepin’ It Kayfabe: When wrestlers don’t know their own alignment

Pro Wrestling

Keepin’ It Kayfabe: When wrestlers don’t know their own alignment

When bad guys think they’re good (and vice versa).

Sometimes, Cody will beat down an opponent and celebrate like he just defeated a monster. Sometimes, I look in the mirror and think I have good-looking facial hair. The point is, people can often be misguided in this world, whether it’s wrestling or day-to-day life.

Every time I watch Cody do an open challenge for his TNT Championship, I’m amazed that the commentary booth rarely condemns his actions, and when they do, they typically act surprised, wondering why Cody would do something like remove the turnbuckle pad when fighting Sonny Kiss, or beat Jungle Boy until he bleeds. Heck, even before he was champion, he used a distraction from Brandi Rhodes to defeat Darby Allin in the TNT Championship tournament, robbing yet another young up-and-comer that he and the rest of the EVPs say they want to see succeed.

It’s times like these when I wonder if maybe MJF is right about Cody.

MJF is a bad person, don’t get me wrong. And, luckily for Cody, he often tends to look great when he faces unabashedly horrid people — MJF, Lance Archer, and Chris Jericho, to be specific. But whether he’s doing push-ups mid-match at Fyter Fest 2019, cheating like crazy at Double or Nothing 2019 (seriously, re-watch that match; he just doesn’t stop cheating), or simply humiliating talents weekly and forcing them to shake his hand afterward, I start to feel that Cody, for all intents and purposes, is a bad guy as well. No shades of gray about it.

Now, this argument doesn’t just apply to Cody — though it was very much inspired by his and his wife’s actions (see Brandi’s promo from the end of last night’s Deadly Draw episode for an example of that). No, this problem extends through all promotions, goes back years, and also includes good people who think they’re villains.

I want to start off by giving a few false examples, as there are some people who transition from good to bad or vice versa who wouldn’t belong on this list. For example, the New Day, who were boring good guys, became entertaining bad guys, then transitioned to entertaining good guys once they were satisfied with their lots in life. They grew as characters, but they were never confused about who they were. The crowd was behind them, but they were still belittling guys like The Rock and Roman Reigns. It wasn’t until they pulled their shenanigans on universally despised talents — hello, League of Nations — that things finally clicked in place.

I’m also not talking about cases like the B-Team, where they were smarmy henchmen for The Miz who changed their ways and became beloved — if incompetent — performers. However, I am absolutely talking about Bo Dallas circa 2013.

Keepin’ It Kayfabe: When wrestlers don’t know their own alignment
NXT Champion Bo Dallas explaining to Sami Zayn that the crowd does, indeed, love him on the Aug. 28, 2013 episode of NXT.

When Bo first entered NXT, he was a plucky good guy who fought with honor and tried to stay positive. However, if you haven’t learned from the New Day’s follies, positivity is boring, and the crowd started to turn on him. But, unlike with Kofi, E, and Woods, who spent a few months pleading with fans to come back around to them, Bo convinced himself that there never was a problem to begin with.

Like Cody, Bo wasn’t above using exposed turnbuckles or grabbing tights during his NXT Championship run, but when called out on this by actual heroes like Sami Zayn, Bo responded by shouting, “Everybody loves me,” then countered “No” chants by hearing them as “Bo” chants. He even brought out cookies for the fans, showing some semblance of self-awareness with his bribery but still overall coming off as foolish since he thought fans would accept them.

Even on the main roster, he barely seemed to get it. He was this motivational guy who celebrated every win as if he were Lex Luger bodyslamming Yokozuna on a naval ship. With the Social Outcasts, they didn’t really do many beatdowns, instead focusing mostly on getting cheap wins and out-rapping Flo Rida as Bo Rida.

The Bo-Lieve in Bo campaign did see him become a little more ruthless, and his more braggadocios nature as part of the Miztourage had to have been noticeable even in his own weird Bo World. However, his quick transition to the fun, underdog B-Team makes me wonder if he knew the crowd was warming up to him or if he always thought he was that well-received.

Though Bo’s situation is one that often happens with narcissistic grapplers, the inverse happens occasionally as well. My favorite example of this was the case of Mustafa Ali’s 205 Live debut.

Though Ali is currently known for being an absolute top lad who loves kids and fights for racial diversity, that latter point was actually a huge problem for him when he debuted. Upon signing with WWE — a place that has historically seen fans be pretty unkind toward Middle Eastern wrestlers — Ali decided that he would play defense by playing offense.

On the Dec. 13, 2016, episode of 205 Live, Ali prefaced his match against Lince Dorado with a quick promo: “From the moment you heard my name — ‘Mustafa Ali’ — you’ve already made your mind up about me. About who I am and what I’m all about. But I’m going to change all of that. I will not be defined by your ignorance and your preconceived ideas, and on 205 Live, I will show you what Mustafa Ali is really all about.”

Then, he wrestled. And everyone loved him.

The video of his and Lince’s debut match has over 3 million views on YouTube (for a 205 Live video!), with fans coming from all over the world to support this young Pakistani kid in the comments. Heck, there’s a lot of love for the Mexico-representing Lince Dorado, giving even less credence to Ali’s instant antagonism.

By the Dec. 27, 2016, episode of 205 Live, Ali had changed his tune entirely, shaking opponent John Kurat’s hand before the match and addressing the crowd afterward.

“Throughout my entire life, I’ve had to deal with people that make assumptions about me just because of my name and because of my appearance,” Ali said, “and when I came to 205 Live, I believed that I had to come prove the WWE Universe wrong. But the thing is, you all proved me wrong. Dasha, it’s not a perfect world, but with each and every victory that I pile up here on 205 Live, I’m going to let that speak for itself.”

Genuinely heartwarming stuff.

Ali is far from the last person to preemptively attack the audience, as a year and a half later, arguably the biggest star in WWE today made the same mistake of misjudging the crowd’s feelings.

Becky Lynch attacked Charlotte Flair at SummerSlam 2018 after Charlotte ate a pin from Carmella during their triple threat match. It was a match that fans didn’t really want Charlotte in to begin with — not for Charlotte’s own actions (yet), but more because this was Becky’s moment — so when Becky finally snapped on her, the Brooklyn crowd easily sided with her.

On SmackDown Live two nights later, though, Becky assumed that the fans would be on her former friend’s side, so she lambasted them alongside her. Not only that, but she also completely misread the room by implying the fans had never supported her.

Keepin’ It Kayfabe: When wrestlers don’t know their own alignment
Becky Lynch explaining her actions from SummerSlam on the Aug. 21, 2018 episode of WWE SmackDown Live.

“You guys act like you’re with me, but were you the whole time?” she asked the SmackDown crowd, to which they all chanted “Yes!” Because of course they were, Becky! At Money in the Bank 2017 and 2018, the crowd lit up as you reached for the briefcase. At Backlash 2016, the crowd exploded when you became the first WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion. At any given point, you were recognized as either the favorite or second favorite woman in the Four Horsewomen, only jockeying for position with Bayley, whose whole schtick was hugging children!

It was an incredible misread, but Becky figured it out, rode the wave of fan support, and became the first woman to hold both singles titles at once after winning the main event of WrestleMania. Do you see what happens when you listen to the fans instead of jumping to conclusions?

I’m always sad when I see cases like Tommaso Ciampa, who rightly read that the crowd undervalued him. His argument on the May 31, 2017 edition of NXT that the fans were quick to replace him once word got out about his injury had weight, as I vividly remember being online and discussing whether or not he would be replaced by Gargano’s former tag partner in Drew McIntyre or by Ciampa-look-alike Oney Lorcan. His betrayal stung because it was rooted in a reality that I couldn’t say was false.

But Neville’s situation in 2016, when he joined the Cruiserweight Division and beat the brakes off of both TJ Perkins and Rich Swann, was almost the opposite for me, even if it stung just as much. Let’s break down his promo on the Dec. 19, 2016, episode of Raw and point out its flaws.

“Last night,” Neville began, “I single-handedly destroyed the Cruiserweight Champion, Rich Swann, and his little buddy, TJ Perkins — and you people! You people cheered me. Well that’s rich. It’s been a long time since you people cheered for me.”

It had been a while since we cheered for him because it had been a while since he’d been on TV. At the time, I remember assuming he was injured — but I never forgot him (unlike gravity) — because I actively cared about him. But there’s more to his argument.

“Usually,” he continued, “you only cheer for me when you think I’m small, when you think I’m vulnerable, when you feel sorry for me! Well guess what! I don’t need your pity, and I don’t want your sympathy, so you can take your cheers and you can stick ‘em!”

Another “yikes” from me, dog. I remember the crowd going crazy when Neville beat Bo Dallas, who doesn’t outsize him by too much. I remember the crowd cheering him over Seth Rollins, who, while bigger than Neville, didn’t look crazy strong over him. In fact, Neville almost beat Rollins for the championship, and I’d always believe you if you told me that Neville was a championship contender. I firmly believe that most of the crowd felt the same way, and it’s a shame that it looks like he never realized how deep his support was until he kicked Enzo Amore in the nards and left WWE.

Let’s end with a good example of someone who did eventually figure it out: Dr. Britt Baker, DMD.

Keepin’ It Kayfabe: When wrestlers don’t know their own alignment
Britt Baker going on a tear after belittling frenemy interviewer Tony Schiavone on the Jan. 29, 2020 episode of AEW Dynamite.

Britt Baker wasn’t outright booed much while she was a goodie two shoes, but her support could have been deeper. The issue was that she relied very heavily on the idea that she should be beloved because she was educated and could balance two difficult careers. While that’s commendable, why should I cheer “hardworking dentist” over a samurai in Hikaru Shida, an alien in Kris Statlander, a little princess in Riho, or the woefully underutilized magical girl that is Yuka Sakazaki?

Britt didn’t stand out, but she does now, and it all started with a series of scathing remarks about our beloved grandpa Tony Schiavone at Bash of the Beach 2020, then brutalizing the aforementioned Sakazaki on Dynamite a few weeks later. She’s less likeable, but she’s more memorable, and you’d have to think she’s happier now that she’s in her true element.

So, going back to you, Cody. I don’t think you need to worry about success — you’re already the inaugural TNT Champion, so that’s covered. But I don’t think you’re doing your soul any favors when you hug Sonny Kiss after cheating for the previous 10 minutes.

My professional advice? Figure out who you truly are now and save us from further enduring your slow decent into the dark side.

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