There is an infuriating trend that pops up from time to time in WWE: In the past three years or so, there have been multiple wrestlers who have been pushed as heels and gotten over as one. Then, instead of continuing to push them as a heel or making them more of a tweener, WWE just starts to push them full babyface. Let’s start by looking at Becky Lynch.
To see how her character started to drift, first let’s just do a quick recap of her character at that point in time. She had just come out of an attempted heel turn. She had glimmers of a tweener like Stone Cold. Attacking people in the locker room unprovoked had audiences cheering even louder for her. Yet, she made it clear she didn’t care what the crowd thought. It only made her more popular than ever.
I believe the problems started after Evolution, when creative decided she would go along with the crowd and keep her face but with this new badass character. The initial problem stemmed from creative being unsure how to handle her promos. She had previously cut a few promos where she insulted the crowd in some way, but overall her attitude toward the crowd was indifference. Her promos felt like she wasn’t talking to the crowd, she was simply talking to those who needed to hear it; she couldn’t care less if there was a crowd or not.
However, after Evolution, Becky’s overall attitude changed. As she transitioned to “officially face”, she started acknowledging the crowd’s cheers more, going against the “I don’t care what the crowd thinks” mentality. She would nod, or riff of the crowd, or say that the real business was conducted among the people.
By February though, she was completely playing into the crowd’s chants, doing the typical schtick of naming the city they’re in and going on about how great the people are. While it didn’t destroy her tweener character right away, it did make way for her slipping into stereotypical promos that we would see later on, especially during the brief segment where they defined Becky as being “Seth’s girlfriend”. The sense of badass rebel had turned into a stereotypical face champion.
This is not to say that Becky wasn’t good at it — her character was still fun, and she of course was absolutely amazing to watch in the ring, but the elements that people had latched onto had faded and made way for a generic babyface. It seemed as if Vince didn’t trust in Becky’s ability to uphold the character that had made her the face of the company in the first place.
Another example of WWE playing it safe, rejecting a popular heel or tweener and turning them face is Asuka. Her heel turn last year just sort of petered out. If you remember, The Kabuki Warriors turned on Paige for really no reason, an obvious heel turn if I had ever seen one. The two were pushed as heels for a while and we were all excited. Very soon people were talking about how great it was to see this side of Asuka. This intensity that we got from Asuka was absolutely amazing.
However, about the time as that last linked promo, WWE was getting wise to the fact that people absolutely loved Asuka screaming into the camera. They instead seemed to decide that what was needed was for Asuka to go back to a pure face personality. She started doing more upbeat, peppy promos and followed up with silly fun antics. Compare all this to her heel persona from just months prior and its night and day. They couldn’t even be bothered with giving her some morally ambiguous, tweener characteristics.
Again, just like Becky, this is not to say I have disliked this side of Asuka — she could honestly do just about anything and nail it. My point here is simply Asuka was becoming big as a heel, so instead of keeping with that or making her a tweener, they shifted her to full face. Instead of exploring what was getting people excited about Asuka, they played it safe.
This hesitation to commit to a someone being a heel or tweener is something I am worried about when it comes to Io Shirai. She, of course, turned heel back in July of 2019. Slowly, Io certainly started to garner a lot of attention, eventually winning the championship, and since then has shown signs of shifting away from her heel persona. With more friendly promos such as this one, there is a jarring contrast between that and her initial heel turn.
Her overall behavior is not really that of someone who “doesn’t need friends” as she initially said last year. In fact, she is rather friendly with people: just look at her and Shotzi Blackheart after their match , with her helping Shotzi up and giving her a friendly handshake. Io still holds that slight bit of edge to her with her entrances and occasional bouts backstage with people, but I am worried whatever edge she has left is going to fade away.
I can’t help but notice this issue is something we only see with the women in WWE. With the men, we have people like The Fiend and Dexter Lumis. I don’t know if this is simply a coincidence, or something indicative of something larger, perhaps Vince’s disbelief that a woman can have that sort of character. Maybe there’s nothing to read into there, but it is something that stands out.
Overall, this is an extremely frustrating trend. Some of the best and most interesting characters in wrestling have been tweeners and walked that tightrope between face and heel, have been able to rise above conventional stereotypes of what gets cheers. WWE seems like they are usually not willing to take chances, though. It’s especially frustrating especially when we get a glimpse of what could be.
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