by Kevin D’Hooge
WWE creative is insecure in how its characters are perceived. They don’t like it when heels are treated like faces and vice versa. Of course, there are occasional exceptions.
John Cena has long been WWE’s top babyface, but you can’t tell based off most of his pops. Roman Reigns remains hated by smarks worldwide, but WWE is staying put with his character. Brock Lesnar has spent most of his most recent run as a prototypical heel, but he unintentionally turned face overnight simply through the suplex city movement. Bray Wyatt is arguably one of the top heels in the company, but at least half the crowd cheers for him during matches.
Then there’s King Barrett. As Bad News Barrett, he was providing a service that is rarely seen these days: an original heel capable of carrying creative storylines.
Barrett thrives in the heel role. The bearer of bad news, however, was beginning to win fans over with his gimmick at the start of the year. Although he was still acting like a heel and insulting fan favorites, the WWE universe couldn’t help but laugh and cheer along with him.
Instead of tweaking the character into a face or even a tweener to correspond with his reception, Barrett was forced to go the Sheamus route. He became a forgettable generic heel and dropped his popular bad news gimmick altogether. The crown was finally bestowed upon Barrett at King of the Ring, essentially killing all of the momentum he had created. What a reward for someone who actually got over with the WWE Universe.
Has Barrett received the death sentence from WWE? Well, the moniker “Wade” has been officially banned from the WWE lexicon when referring to Barrett. Will “Bad News” be next?
The most absurd aspect of this situation is that Barrett had a popular gimmick taken from him, just because he was not getting the reaction WWE wanted. If WWE used this mentality during the Attitude Era, that time period would have never existed. Ruthless, edgy superstars took center stage during the Attitude Era and ended up being the faces whether they were family friendly or not.
I’m not trying to compare Barrett to Attitude Era superstars, but the bottom line is that it’s okay for there to be a thin line between heel and face. Crowds should be able to react however they want. Any reaction is a good reaction to a certain extent.
NXT is partly exploding at the moment due to the complexity and diversity of its characters. Their matches typically pit heel vs face. With that being said, the NXT crowds are generally split 50/50 in terms of who they cheer for. Characters are not nixed if they aren’t perceived “the right way”.
NXT heels such as Kevin Owens, Tyler Breeze and Sasha Banks are charismatic and sinister. They heel it up in the ring and if they happen to pick up some fans along the way that’s even better. It’s more fun to have some gray room when picking a side to root for.
King Barrett is an excellent in ring worker and can be very talented as a character if given the right role. It’d be great if WWE allowed him to be himself.