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It’s no secret that WWE has had trouble over the last few years with creating hot, marketable babyface acts. More specifically, they’ve had trouble creating hot singles babyface acts. Due to the simplicity of the stories the company likes to tell in its tag team divisions, teams such as the New Day, Enzo & Big Cass, Rhyno & Heath Slater, and American Alpha are all popular acts with live crowds. There are no mixed reactions when they make their entrance. There isn’t a smattering of boos when they make their comebacks. They’re babyface acts WWE can count on to get a positive reaction.
WWE’s inability to replicate this for singles acts presented itself in No Mercy’s WWE Title match. A.J. Styles, the heel WWE Champion, was the most well-received wrestler of the three men competing for the title in the show’s opener.
John Cena will likely never receive a completely positive reaction from a live crowd. When Cena won his first WWE championship in 2005, fans didn’t think he was ready for the top spot and resented him for holding it. He wasn’t the in-ring performer that he is today and his character wasn’t as fleshed out or mature as it is now. Because WWE chose not to alter his character in any way or have him give a truly human response to fans booing him for the better part of a decade, he now, more so than even Roman Reigns, is the face of the company’s apathy towards its fans. As a result, he’ll always get a mixed reaction and at this point it can’t be held against him or used as an example of what WWE is doing wrong in 2016.
However, Dean Ambrose is a different case entirely. There was actually a point in time where Ambrose could do no wrong in the eyes of WWE fans. He would get beaten down and beaten down, but he refused to throw in the towel and fans loved him for it. That is, until he won the WWE Championship.
Ambrose winning the WWE Title wasn’t the culmination of his underdog story. Instead he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and screwed Seth Rollins at SummerSlam, whom fans were actually happy to see win it first. He then adopted this undeserved confidence as champion where he would talk down to challengers and tell them they weren’t good enough to defeat him, even though fans had seen him lose big matches over and over for years.
So now, Dean Ambrose is the definition of a “shades of grey” character, when he’d be more effective and valuable as an outright babyface on Smackdown. No Mercy’s WWE Championship match was fantastic, but could have been even better if there was a babyface the fans were truly invested in seeing come out on top (as all matches would be).
The babyface that fans were truly invested in at No Mercy was actually one of the wrestlers Ambrose talked down to in recent months, Dolph Ziggler.
WWE did a masterful job in telling the Dolph Ziggler story. He, much like Ambrose was before winning the WWE Championship a few months ago, was a loser. Except, WWE didn’t just slap a title on him and pretend he wasn’t a loser. They leveled with their audience and told us that he was a loser. Even after they identified him as a loser and the fans actually started to give up on him as a babyface, he lost some more.
WWE gave Ziggler odds that casual fans and even observers of the industry didn’t believe he could overcome. When his back was against the wall and he actually overcame them, the live crowd couldn’t have been more excited to see it.
Whether the company is able to capitalize on the incredible Dolph Ziggler story from here remains to be seen, but at No Mercy the audience was with him as much as they’ve been with any babyface on either brand in a long time.
Ziggler’s chase of the WWE and Intercontinental Championships reinforced that wins and losses matter. WWE typically leans towards pushing invulnerable babyfaces who are such habitual winners that fans don’t bat an eye when they lose and neither do the wrestlers themselves. With Ziggler, it’ll be interesting to see whether the company squanders the sympathy he’s built up or if they can use it to turn him into the top babyface they sorely need.
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