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The Blurry Lines of What Makes a Face and a Heel

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There were two incidents that ended both Raw and SmackDown LIVE that had me confused. The first one happened on Raw. The first case happened on Raw, when we got a tag team main event between future Hell in a Cell dance partners Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman, taking on the tag team of Dolph Ziggler and Drew McyIntyre. The match ended when Braun Strowman let Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre jump Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman joined in on the party. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns’ Shield buddies, came out to help Roman Reigns, but the numbers game didn’t go in their favor, and Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler, and Drew McIntyre stood victorious.

The second incident occurred in the main event of SmackDown LIVE the next night. After Charlotte Flair successfully defended her SmackDown Women’s Championship against Carmella, Becky Lynch came out, attacked her, called her a bitch and said she was going to win her title back at Hell in a Cell.

The reason why these two situations were so confounding to me was how the situations were treated not only in the commentary, but the WWE narrative as well. Let me explain what I mean. Last week, Braun Strowman came out and attempted to cash in Money in the Bank in the main event. He earned the contract fairly by winning a ladder match and retained at SummerSlam by squashing Kevin Owens. He also forewarned that he’d be coming out in the main event regardless of the winner, so while he still came out after the match was over, he gave advanced notice of it, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise. As the bell was seconds away from ringing to make the match official, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose came out to protect Roman Reigns and save his title. The three superstars then jumped Braun Strowman and sent him through a table, standing on at the end of the night.

The commentary was in a celebratory mood, lauding the fact that The Shield has returned and that this is their yard. The imagery of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose coming out to protect Roman Reigns gave me a similar visual to how guys like Randy Orton, Batista and Ric Flair would come out to save Triple H’s World Heavyweight Championship when he used to be in a tough spot. Then, the next week, Braun Strowman beats down Roman Reigns in a relative 3-on-3 fight, and commentary was more upset with the fact Braun Strowman let Roman Reigns be beaten up instead of recognizing that he was getting retribution and delivering justice for the previous week.

As for the Becky Lynch/Charlotte Flair deal, let’s put that feud into its proper context. Charlotte Flair had lost twice to Carmella and was off TV for months. Meanwhile, Becky Lynch had been winning matches, showing up every week on SmackDown LIVE and had worked hard to get a one on one title match with Carmella at SummerSlam, knowing full well she’d win because she had to beat Carmella beforehand to get the championship bout to begin with. Then, Charlotte Flair returns conveniently before the 2nd biggest show of the year, sort of weasels her way into the title match as well by doing the same thing Becky Lynch had already done. Fast forward to SummerSlam. Becky Lynch has Carmella beat in the middle of the ring, and then Charlotte Flair swoops in from behind and wins (or essentially steals) the championship Becky Lynch had worked hard for. Then, post-match, Becky Lynch bitch slaps Charlotte Flair and beats her up, holding the title proudly. WWE is trying to pose Charlotte Flair as the face and Becky Lynch has the heel, and it really makes no sense to me.

It’s worth noting that in every segment Becky Lynch has had as a “heel”, she has had overwhelming support. In today’s day and age, if you slap your friend and call her a bitch, you can get cheered if your actions are justified. Here’s the thing. There really isn’t anything in this feud that Becky Lynch has done that would justify why WWE should expect us to boo her. Bryan Alvarez had explained that WWE was essentially trying to pose Becky Lynch as a female Stone Cold. In other words, a character that goes against the grain of what a stereotypical face is supposed to act and sound like. Whether or not Becky Lynch is still a full-fledged evil lass kicker now remains to be seen, but the point is that based on how commentators have been talking along the actions of Becky Lynch align to that of what normally precipitates a heel turn, WWE is expecting us to treat Charlotte Flair with sympathy. That’s the part that matters the most. Why should we feel bad for Charlotte Flair crying after Becky Lynch beats her up after stealing what was basically her title?

To the Braun Strowman situation, we were conditioned to cheer the return of The Shield at the expense of a sure Universal Title win for Braun Strowman being unfairly taken away. Meanwhile, when Braun Strowman gets the advantage 3-on-3, they’re pegged as bad guys? We can debate the deeper context of what both of those situations means, but this delves into a deeper anomaly that I’ve gotten into with WWE the past couple of years. It’s what in their mind determines a face from a heel. Remember the Roman Reigns/Rusev feud in the fall of 2016? Rusev was coming out to celebrate his wedding with Lana. It was supposed to be a festive occasion and he wasn’t threatening anyone or saying anything heelish. Then, Roman Reigns comes out for no reason and said that Rusev basically had a small dick, asks for a United States Title match that he didn’t earn and proceeds to knock Rusev into Lana, causing her to look like a mess. This, while all Rusev was doing, was defending her wife’s honor. Yet, Roman Reigns was supposed to be the good guy and Rusev the bad guy?

Who, or what makes the call of what makes someone a full-fledged face or heel? Is it their actions? Influence? Popularity? Now, heels getting cheered is a common phenomenon. This is common because the heel is great at their job. Either their promo skills are superb, or they are of superior skill in the ring. Faces are also commonly booed if they aren’t interesting or if they are given undeserved opportunities.

Heels admittedly can get away with more things that they can say or do in the ring because they have a wide array of what makes them hated. However, faces often need to walk a fine line because while they can get away with some edginess, if they are supposed to be faces, they have to act and behave in specific manners in the ring. In this Becky Lynch/Charlotte Flair feud, there’s a face and a heel on TV. The problem is that in actuality, the roles should be reversed. I’m not sure what is subjective or what is objective in WWE reality, but what I do know is that there is a long pattern of behaviors that determine who in WWE becomes a heel or a face, and Braun Strowman and Becky Lynch have gone down that path, when they shouldn’t.

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