Lack of heel/face consistency hurting the WWE Divas division?
The most recent episode of Monday Night Raw witnessed the latest installment of the current saga playing out in the women’s division of WWE superstars. Divas Champion Nikki Bella and her sister Brie (accompanied by their new ally Alicia Fox) went to battle with former number one contender Naomi and her bosom chum Tamina.
The match itself was good, but the booking coupled with the reaction from the crowd high-lighted an issue that has been prevalent in WWE for the last year: the designation of heels and faces among the female roster is inconsistent and often times confusing.
Before the match began, some lead-up was provided to explain why Alicia Fox was present. Recently, Paige has been trying to initiate change in the Diva’s division. Fed up with the Bellas getting away with pulling under-handed tactics such as “Twin Magic” for too long, the self-proclaimed anti-Diva attempted to rally troops to support her effort. Unfortunately, she was left high and dry. Alicia Fox made her allegiance clear when she aided Brie Bella in gaining a victory over Paige later that night.
So the stage is set and the characters are defined: Paige is the courageous idealist and the Bellas are the evil institution.
So then why were the Bellas and Fox pitted against Naomi and Tamina, who have made it their mission to be the baddest, most ruthless Divas on the roster since Naomi’s heel turn a few months back?
Perhaps it is a tactic to turn Naomi and Tamina face? As more and more Divas turn to the wicked side of the force, the formerly formidable duo find themselves outnumbered and outmatched by the Bellas and their gang, gaining them sympathy and – possibly – edging them towards an alliance with Paige.
This possible swerve has promise.
Another angle with promise: the insinuations from the announce team during the match that the Authority is in some way backing the Bellas. This would be a great move, giving the Bellas supreme heel power.
(Side note: if such a story-line were to be attempted, the audience would most likely be asked to ignore the fact that Brie and Nikki are in committed, intimate relationships with the two biggest babyfaces of the decade, who are also enemies number one and two of the Authority: Daniel Bryan and John Cena.)
During the tag match on Raw, however, the fans were cheering for the Bellas. The fans especially popped for Nikki.
Why are the fans cheering for the Bellas, when they are supposed to be evil cheaters who are bullying the roster, and are possibly in league with the corrupt institution?
Because while Paige was away from the show for a while, Nikki became the hero of the division, bravely defending her championship against the newly turned bad-ass Naomi and her intimidating heavy, Tamina.
For months the Bellas were faces, and all that doesn’t go away in a day simply because WWE Creative says they are heels now. The crowd treats Naomi like a heel because that’s what they were conditioned to think of her, and that doesn’t change all of a sudden either.
The plain truth is that the bookers have been switching roles on the poor ladies, almost week by week, for the last year. Natalya, Paige, Nikki, Brie, Naomi, Tamina, Alicia, Summer, Rosa, Cameron, Emma – not one of these wrestlers has been booked in a consistent manner. The result is that the crowd is bewildered as to who they should be rooting for and why.
Now, is a state of clear-cut designation between heel and face the desired standard in every scenario? Certainly not. Variety is the spice of life, and complex characters not easily slotted are often the most compelling. The trend of anti-heroes, of heels that are cheered and faces jeered, was spear-headed by WCW’s nWo and soon after aped by the Attitude Era of WWE, where it became the biggest trend in wrestling.
Stone Cold Steve Austin, arguably the most influential, popular and revolutionary wrestling character of the late nineties, began as a loathsome heel who became the top face of the company, and he did so not by way of a character swerve but an audience swerve.
As a heel, Austin broke the rules, attacked officials, brawled ruthlessly and never smiled. As a face, it can be argued that these fiendish behaviours only intensified. Austin never changed his character – he was never “pushed” as a face. Fans simply began to like what he was doing, and that in turn changed his billing.
Something similar is occurring today in the ranks of NXT.
Women’s Champion Sasha Banks has consistently been booked as a villain, with a vain disdain for her opponents and an arrogant attitude. Yet she elicits a huge pop wherever she goes. She hasn’t changed her style at all, but the people have grown to respect her skills and value her as an entertainer. And so, she’s cheered even though she’s still the same prissy villain.
Stone Cold and The Boss are examples of audiences changing a character from heel to face. That is not what is occurring with the WWE Divas.
Nikki Bella has enough talent that, given time and room to work, she could naturally build a following as a heroic babyface. She also possesses the tools and the attitude that could make her the biggest heel in the division. The problem is that the company seemingly can’t decide which they want her to be, and keep pushing her one way and then another. Now she finds herself stuck in an awkward limbo.
Right now, WWE is planting the seeds for a division inside the division. A schism is forming among the Divas which will separate the corporate team players captained by the conniving Bellas. and Paige’s individualist revolution. This is a prime opportunity to solidify Nikki and Brie in a definite role and stick to it.
WWE Creative needs to form a long-term plan for the Divas and their characters, instead of simply throwing them into feuds and assigning roles regardless if it makes any narrative sense. The fans are able to choose their own heroes and villains – hell, they do it anyway.