Quick question: who’s the most polarizing man in the WWE right now?
Some of you might easily say Bray Wyatt, one of this era’s wunderkinds who’ll find himself at the top of the totem pole sooner or later. There are people who just don’t “get” him, however, and his schtick might be something of an acquired taste—either you buy his out-of-the-box creepiness, or you just fast-forward and move on to something a little more graspable.
Would you go for a safe answer, like John Cena? It’s already 2014, with already more than ten years on the odometer of Cena’s career, but people who like to argue that Cena “can’t wrestle,” is “stale and boring,” and bad for business overall still exist on the internet. They pit themselves against more level-headed fans who rue Cena’s dominance all the same, but acknowledge his talent both in the ring and on the mic and what he does for the company.
What about someone even easier to hate, like Triple H? You won’t need to go far to find people who, at the mention of his name, will bring up the list of wrestlers he’s buried in his prime. These people will tell you that he’s doing the same to Daniel Bryan right now, no matter what it looks like. On the other hand, there are fans who respect Hunter for his magnetic talent as a heel, and will point to the same Bryan example and Chris Benoit and John Cena, among others, to prove his generosity.
But these guys are either old news, or not hot enough to warrant any big heat toward any controversy. The respective Triple H and Cena divides have been raging on ever since they first ascended to the main event, and Bray Wyatt still manages to salvage his reputation on sheer talent alone.
What if I name… Bo Dallas?
At the moment, there are only two kinds of reactions Bo Dallas is getting: wrestling fans either love him or hate him. All extremes, no in-betweens, and if you ever think you’re in the middle, you’re really in one of the two camps.
You either love the intentional tongue-in-cheek cheesiness of the Bolieve gimmick, thinking Bray Wyatt’s younger brother the perfect vessel of undeserved arrogance. The character is built on comedy, and you laugh right along with it. Perhaps, you think, he can get away and move on up the card with this character, maybe winning an Intercontinental or U.S. Championship or two as long as he Bolieves.
Or, if you’re anything like me, while you may be briefly entertained by the subtle comedy that shines in the motivational poster character, you can still see a very flawed wrestler behind the writing. Bo Dallas doesn’t sound like he could be intimidating on the mic in the event he has to be, unlike his brother Bray, because he’ll have to move away from the gimmick someday. He can’t hit moves in the ring like a WWE wrestler should at this stage, and looking like a teenage Native American girl doesn’t really help. (Of course, everyone always has the space to improve, but first impressions last.)
But for all the Bolievers out there, if it’s any consolation, the problem is not limited to your hero.
What popularity Bo enjoys now is symptomatic of a much bigger disease, and the prognosis doesn’t look so good: A lot of these wacky characters, especially when the worker behind it is either talented or just plain lucky enough to make the character work, gain so much traction in the beginning of their run—when the idea is still fresh, the novelty still potent—that the company ends up mistaking those positive reactions as fuel for a serious run their in-ring talents can’t follow through on at best, or as an excuse to shove them down the fans’ throats at worst.
There’s this strange air they’re breathing in Vince’s office that makes them think that one loud reaction means “WE WANT TO SEE THEM IN OUR EVERY WAKING MOMENT!” But hey, that only works when the crowd loves all of you.
See, not every character can be Daniel Bryan. In winning the SmackDown Money in the Bank briefcase last year, Damien Sandow was implicitly touted as the future of the WWE. Holding the briefcase ideally crowned him as a potential main-eventer or strong upper-midcarder who could hold a world championship if he had to, if it was time to. However, when you look at what got him there, it’s plain to see that it was the strength of his mic work as the condescending savior of the unwashed masses. His ring work didn’t quite match up with that portrait: if he was supposed to be beyond good, then why was his offense so damn plain? Why wasn’t it reflective of all the knowledge he supposedly had?
Or what about Zack Ryder? The man proved himself as a marketing machine, singlehandedly building a popularity that became impossible to ignore. That fame earned him a short United States championship run; his fans were happy, but the opportunity he got betrayed his actual skill: his in-ring work turned out to be a bit flat, and Z! True Long Island Story started to get a bit old. Nobody knows if it was because of that, but not long after, Ryder was sabotaged by Creative and sacrificed to Kane.
But even when you have the talent, the combination of overexposure and a gimmick explicitly designed to annoy can kill momentum. Fandango can easily be just as good as Goldust and Cody Rho- I mean, Stardust, and he can hone the talent he’s exhibited in both portraying a career-killing character and making sure he’s no slouch in the ring. Too bad no one cares about a ballroom-dancing wrestler, especially when there haven’t been any nuances fleshed out. The biggest mistake once again, the company mistook the enthusiasm fans showed his well-composed theme song as love for the character.
Fans shouldn’t have to sacrifice their fandom at the behest of anyone else’s opinion if they don’t want to, but some introspection wouldn’t hurt if they want their hero to truly succeed. Bolievers might want to ask themselves: how much further can the legs of the Bolieve gimmick take Bo? Can he actually improve? Can he soar high above his ceiling? Or is he gonna come out in a tutu this time next year?
For everyone’s sake, you better Bolieve he can.