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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Where Are All The Young Faces"
August 30, 2005 by Dave Hanson


Winning over a large crowd of people is a tough job. Whether your particular career be politics, pro wrestling, or both, it's much easier these days to go out and get the crowd to hate you than it is to get them to champion your cause. Thusly, in the world of WWE, where title changes are determined almost primarily by crowd reaction above anything else, and where almost every single match it seems must adhere strictly to a "good vs. evil" dynamic, there are times when it seems the amount of people who are widely liked is getting smaller and smaller. Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than in the current Intercontinental Title picture.

In Ring of Honor, little attention is given to a wrestler's "alignment," so to speak; it is not a matter of good guys and bad guys, but simply a matter of ring ability that determines who gets the belt, and who challenges for the belt. However, in the WWE, where much focus is given to characters and storylines, almost every match must have a good guy, or "babyface," and a bad guy, or "heel." Sure, periodically they will enter into the realm of babyface vs. babyface, or heel vs. heel, but it doesn't happen often, and when it does happen, one of the two participants usually switches his status by the end of the match.

This brings us to the current WWE roster. WWE brings in new, young talent at a fairly steady pace; some recent stars over the last year or so have begun to rise up through the ranks and get a push in the amount of victories and TV spots they are receiving. Among these new faces are Rob Conway, Chris Masters, the tag teams MNM and The Heart Throbs, Muhammad Hassan (until his recent removal from WWE for widely documented extenuating circumstances which I won't go into here) and the current WWE Intercontinental Champion, Carlito Caribbean Cool. There is one thing that all the wrestlers listed above have in common: they are all heels. There is not one young up-and-coming babyface on RAW with no titles to his name who has the crowd behind him.

The Intercontinental Championship Belt, currently exclusive to WWE's RAW roster, has a grand history. It is traditionally the belt which goes around the waist of the bright, up-and-coming stars of the future. A great deal of former Intercontinental Champions have gone on to hold the World Heavyweight Championship: Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Ultimate Warrior, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho...the list goes on and on. The current Intercontinental Champion, Carlito Caribbean Cool, is a wrestler with great microphone skills and some good ringwork. He's a second-generation wrestler who can work the crowd, and tell a story very well both in and out of the ring. There's only one problem: he's a heel, and he has no one to defend his belt against.

There are only two possibilities that immediately spring to mind for possible opponents to Carlito's title. The first is Shelton Benjamin, the man who held the title before Carlito. Shelton is one of the few young babyfaces who has the crowd on his side. However, as Carlito took the title from Shelton his first night on RAW, and since wrestled Shelton about three or four more times without losing the belt, the feud between these two has gone stale, and Shelton has been kept on the backburner ever since, losing his last two RAW matches to Chris Masters and Kurt Angle, respectively. The other possibility is currently on the injured list, but soon to return to active wrestling: Rob Van Dam. Van Dam has also been the Intercontinental Champion before, and his last appearance on TV involved him being attacked by Carlito, so it would only seem natural. But, whether WWE is headed for a Van Dam-Carlito feud or not, it is indicative of two larger problems, one of which is the concern of this column. The first problem is that Van Dam has been the IC Champ enough times, and he's not exactly the fresh face on the block anymore. He either must be pushed for the WWE title, or he will slip into the limbo world of "too old to challenge for the IC belt, not enough fan reaction to challenge for the WWE Title" which has engulfed so many talented wrestlers. The second, and more widespread problem is this: WWE is failing to develop a large number of young babyfaces that the crowd can really get behind.

The inability to develop young fan-favorite wrestlers is evident in the WWE's current top two champions. First, there's the WWE Champion, John Cena, age 28, who won the United States title in his first ever WrestleMania match sixteen months ago, and won the WWE Title at WrestleMania 21 four months ago. Then there's the World Heavyweight Champion, Dave Batista, who skipped over the Intercontinental Belt completely, and won the World Heavyweight Title at his second WrestleMania appearance four months ago. Although Batista is 39, he's only been in the WWE for just under three years. It has become such a rarity for the new wrestlers to generate a widespread impact with the fans either as a babyface or a heel, that the ones who do are rushed to the top. WWE's record of "youngest world champion ever" has been broken twice in the last three years (first by Brock Lesnar, then by Randy Orton), and before that it was also broken as recently as 1998 (by The Rock).

As the old saying goes, one can't have a great hero without a great villain. However, if the majority of wrestlers on RAW are villains, then who will the fans tune in to cheer for" Who is the babyface of the future who will get us all to cheer when the "3" is counted that earns him the top title" Randy Orton's babyface run was short-lived and resulted in the fans turning on him. Not that it's any easier to be a great heel-there's a difference between getting the crowd to love to hate you (i.e. Carlito, Kurt Angle, and the "heel version" of Randy Orton), and just making the crowd hate you (Orlando Jordan, X-Pac). Still, RAW has a surplus of heels these days, and it would behove the WWE to start figuring out a way to reconnect with their fans, and give them some young wrestlers they can go crazy for again.

by Dave Hanson ..


Antonio The Great Muscleman of New Havens wrote:
I really wanted my opening words in this message to say, "Hey if Carlito just turns face, it'd be great!" But then I remembered the Cabana thing he does on a weekly basis.

Even if he did turn and still continued it, the whole 'spitting in the face and humiliating a heel wrestler' would be hard for fans to swallow. And if he dropped it, it'd hurt his character quite a bit.

As I look over the Raw superstar list, I see what you're getting at with all these 'fresh faces being heels' but then again, they just don't look the type that'd fans actually would get behind. Rob Conway" Chris Masters" The only guy I see who actually may have a chance at getting over as a face would be Tyson Tomko. In fact, I hope he does turn out that way.

And I just wanted to drop my opinion on RVD and say that I pray he gets a shot at the title when he returns. Be it Smackdown or Raw. It's ridiculous how he's never gotten the belt after the huge fanbase he's had. The same with Booker T. If only WWE would realize the overwhelming great talent at hand, they wouldn't need to depend on fresh faces like John Cena, Batista, or Orton to keep the fans coming.
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