WWE traditionally uses the period after WrestleMania as a transitional one that is defined by a number of changes to its rosters and its superstars.
The Superstar Shakeup has already resulted in a number of wholesale adjustments to the main roster in order to find the right mix of talent for Raw and SmackDown. Especially with WWE nearing the end of its current TV contract and potentially landing a massive new deal in the near future, it’s absolutely imperative that its programming be as entertaining as possible for the foreseeable future. WWE has started its attempts to make its product more appealing by restructuring the rosters, returning to dual-brand pay-per-views and adding a host of new shows to the WWE Network.
Those adjustments should go a long way toward giving fans more of a reason to tune into Raw and SmackDown as well as the WWE Network, but they aren’t enough. The importance of quality booking cannot be overstated, and many times, it is quality booking that can be the driver of the pro wrestling business or the cause of its downfall. An often overlooked aspect of must-see wrestling programming is the specific roles of the superstars themselves, and if WWE has too many potential blockbuster stars who it is not getting the most out of, then it’s missing out on the opportunity to improve its programming and attract more fans.
That’s why it’s absolutely imperative that WWE ensure its stars are in the right roles, and quite frankly, that isn’t the case with many of them. There is a long line of stars who are currently pigeonholed into roles that don’t suit them, and WWE needs to alter that ASAP.
Here are five major stars who desperately need a change in character.
Although Dean Ambrose has been out of action since last December, it’s safe to say that his singles act had gone stale prior to the reunion of The Shield last fall.
Part of the reason why Ambrose has always felt like the forgotten third child of The Shield is that he’s had remarkably little character development as “The Lunatic Fringe,” a nickname that implies a much crazier gimmick than what WWE actually gets out of him. Sure, Ambrose has always seemed to be one of WWE’s most popular superstars when he’s around, but a marketability studyconducted in 2016 indicated that he fell well behind names likes AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Triple H, John Cena, Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar in that regard.
That certainly lends credence to the long-running belief among many fans that Ambrose would benefit tremendously from a tweak to his character, particularly in the form of a heel turn. Ambrose was noticeably absent from the recently updated list of WWE’s best merchandise movers, falling behind names likes Braun Strowman, Finn Balor and The New Day in that regard, so if there was ever a chance to pull off the heel turn, now would be it.
Rollins recently revealed that Ambrose could be nearing a return, and WWE’s best bet is to bring him back as a heel on Raw, given that the show already has an overabundance of top babyfaces (Rollins, Reigns, Strowman, Balor, Lashley, etc.) but doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 1 heel. Ambrose has not had a singles run as a heel since The Shield split up in 2014, and a stint is a villain is long overdue, potentially serving as a way to unleash Ambrose and see if he can establish himself as Raw’s most loathed bad guy.
As a former NFL offensive lineman and Golden Gloves boxer, Baron Corbin is one of WWE’s most accomplished and skilled athletes.
That explains why Vince McMahon is apparently a huge fan of Corbin, according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t SEScoops):
From all the talents not involved in the main event scene right now, Mr. McMahon is still the highest on Baron Corbin and the Boss still sees him as a major player for the company in the future.
This report certainly gels with one from 2017 (h/t WrestlingInc) which indicated that “WWE officials have higher hopes for Corbin as a main event talent” than it did for Strowman. Obviously, Strowman has surpassed those expectations 10 times over, developing into a huge draw on YouTube and main-eventing more shows with at least 10,000 fans than any other superstar in 2017, according to F4WOnline.com, so it would be shocking if Corbin was ever pushed to the level that Strowman has been at for the past year.
Still, there is definitely something there with Corbin, who is a very good and underrated in-ring talent for a man of his stature (he’s listed at 6’8 and 285 pounds) but hasn’t had much quality character development and certainly hasn’t gotten many favors from the creative team. “The Lone Wolf” gimmick in which a heel doesn’t get along well with others is one that’s been done countless times in the past, just in different variations, and it’s not one that will make Corbin stand out from the pack, no matter how impressive he looks physically or as an in-ring performer.
The good news for Corbin is that McMahon apparently is set to give him a big push on Raw. The bad news, however, is that if there aren’t adjustments made to his gimmick, which needs more depth than him simply being a mean heel, fans might not truly buy into any push he receives.
That would be a shame because the best thing Corbin has going for him is that, in a day and age where many heels try to be “cool” ones, he’s a heel through and through, one who has no shades of gray and could be one of WWE’s most despised heels with minor tweaks to a character that lacks any real substance.
Randy Orton currently finds himself in a rather odd position on the card, one in which he is always involved in some sort of storyline but rarely seems to play a significant role in the happenings on SmackDown.
As one of WWE’s most accomplished and well-rounded veterans, there is surely still a place for Orton on the card, preferably in the upper midcard where he’s spent most of the last year after dropping the WWE title last spring. Obviously, Orton still has his fair share of fans as well as he seems to be one of WWE’s biggest YouTube attractions and may have been SmackDown’s No. 2 merchandise mover last year behind only Styles (based on Google Shopping search data from Fightful.com), but he’s also clearly been surpassed on WWE’s babyface pecking order by guys like Styles, Strowman, Reigns, Rollins, Balor and Daniel Bryan.
Over the last year or so, Orton’s gimmick has revolved almost entirely around hitting RKOs out of nowhere and has lacked the depth it had even just a few years ago. Orton could do well with a heel turn that would potentially position him for feuds with guys like Styles, Bryan and Jeff Hardy, but with Samoa Joe, The Miz, Shinsuke Nakamura and Big Cass being pushed strongly on SmackDown’s heel side, WWE may see fit to keep him in the babyface role going forward.
If that’s the case, there definitely need to be some minor tweaks made to Orton’s character, which needs to be about more than just blasting his opponents with RKOs and then slithering out of the ring. At least in the case of other established vets like John Cena, who has spent much of the last year being in a mid-life crisis of sorts, we’ve seen WWE put effort into changing up their acts and giving them some much needed character development.
But Orton has been the same guy for the last few years, which can only be described as a missed opportunity for someone who (as noted above) is still popular and a very solid draw. The last shades of character development for Orton came during his awful feud with Bray Wyatt, and though we don’t want to see a feud like that again, at least that rivalry broke the trend of monotony for “The Viper.”
Even before Bayley made her main roster debut in 2016, there was internal concern that she’d either become “the female John Cena” or a total flop on Raw or SmackDown.
The thought process was that Bayley’s kid-friendly gimmick and general likability would translate to booming merchandise sales and “The Hugger” developing into perhaps a Cena-like draw for the women’s division. Based on Google Shopping search data, she was a top five merchandise seller among female superstars in 2017, but the recent rise of stars like Alexa Bliss and the recent signing of Ronda Rousey (both of which are “featured superstars” on WWEShop.com) has given her even more competition to deal with in the women’s division.
Throw in the call-ups of stars like Asuka and Ember Moon, and Bayley has her work cut out for her if she wants to win over the masses the way she did in NXT. Questions remain, however, about whether or not that is even possible. The protective bubble of NXT and its niche audience made Bayley a top star in developmental (and you could argue she was the face of the brand for much of her time there), but the main roster is a completely different animal that can chew you up and spit you out.
The nice girl gimmick does not translate to a significant portion of the Raw audience because, quite simply, it’s not believable that someone could be so happy-go-lucky, gleeful and carefree all the time. That explains why WWE has recently made some strides with Bayley during her feud with Sasha Banks, who could also benefit from some character tweaks, because it’s the first time that Bayley has deviated from being the radiant ball of sunshine she’s been for her entire career.
This isn’t the 1980s or 1990s when a star like Ricky Steamboat can spend his entire career as a white-meat babyface. In 2018, even clear-cut babyfaces need a bit of an edge, like we’ve seen with stars such as Cena and Roman Reigns, who don’t always do the right thing just because they’re good guys. Many characters click because fans can relate to them, and virtually no one can relate to Bayley, who’s been too cheerful for far too long.
Ideally, WWE would pull the trigger on a full-fledged heel turn for Bayley to remedy, but at the very least, she needs to move on from being that white meat babyface and start showing some shades of grade that will make her a much more relatable and likable superstar.
Many WWE superstars are miscast in their current roles, but none more so than Bobby Roode.
“The Glorious One” is the definition of a natural heel, and yet upon his call-up to SmackDown last summer, WWE made the puzzling decision to turn him babyface. At the time of Roode’s promotion, the Wrestling Observer (h/t Cageside Seats) reported that “WWE officials are ‘super high’ on the former NXT champ and expect him to be among the top five guys on whichever brand he lands on,” and while he has been featured prominently since being called up, it hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride as a babyface.
Like it or not, some stars are just meant to be a heel or a babyface, and Roode is tailor made to be the former. The arrogance, the smugness, the robe, the “Glorious” gimmick and catchphrase, they all scream “heel!”, especially now that Roode is on a Raw show that already has a logjam of top babyfaces. It will be incredibly difficult for Roode to break out from the rest of the babyface pack when he more than likely will be pushed less than Strowman, Reigns, Balor, Lashley and Rollins on that side, at the very least.
Therefore, the easiest solution is to return Roode to his heels roots, which made him the headliner of several sold-out NXT shows and the face of the brand for much of his run there. Perhaps having a frustrated Roode turn on a fellow babyface could work, or maybe he could join forces with Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel (as many fans have suggested on Twitter), two lackeys who are currently in need of new leadership.
The bottom line is that anything would be better than seeing Roode awkwardly pander to the fans when we know he’s at best when performing as an arrogant, Ric Flair-type of heel who basks in his own glory and does whatever it takes to win.
Blake Oestriecher is an elementary school teacher by day and a sports writer by night. He’s a contributor to the Forbes @SportsMoneyBlog, where he primarily covers WWE. You can follow him on Twitter @BOestriecher.