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The problem with Dolph Ziggler's heel turn

Dolph Ziggler's heel turn has highlighted several problems for the WWE at the moment, and is a worrying sign for fans.

Another pointless change of direction?

There’s an old adage amongst wrestling fans: ‘when it doubt, heel them out’. It’s a very concise way of describing what happens when a wrestling company, no longer sure how to help a talent progress, turns performers heel – or babyface – just to see what happens.

At no time has this been more evident than in the recent decision to turn Dolph Ziggler heel on a throwaway episode of Smackdown Live.

The whole thing seemed fairly confusing; unexpected, sure, but not exactly welcomed or exciting. The heel turn came across as particularly strange, considering that since being drafted to Smackdown, Ziggler appeared to be going through a mini career renaissance.

His work as a babyface was very effective in this WWE Championship feud with Dean Ambrose and during his brief IC Title reign. He was also involved in an emotionally charged career-threatening match with the Miz which had the crowd on the edge of their seats.

It felt as though 2017 was going to be a great year for the Showoff. With the heel turn, Ziggler fans are once again left to feel as though their guy just doesn’t have a place in the WWE. Management are clearly not interested in going all the way with him as a face or as a heel, and will continue to spin their wheels, changing his career arbitrarily.  

Apart from the frustration of not seeing a good talent get sufficiently over, this latest episode in the career of Dolph Ziggler highlights a few other underlying issues with the WWE at the moment:

Firstly, it is the latest example of how ‘babyface’ and ‘heel’ have become pretty outdated concepts in today’s wrestling scene. The crowd clearly don’t want to boo Dolph Ziggler, and turning him heel is actually more likely to keep fans cheering for him.

This is a trend that pervades the WWE at the moment. People are always saying John Cena or Roman Reigns should turn heel, but in many ways they already are. There’s nothing more effective at making fans boo you than being portrayed as a babyface in feuds with far more popular heels.

Surely the company has progressed beyond the assumption that in a feud between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens, Reigns is going to be harbouring the more positive reaction. All this latest heel turn for Ziggler has done is make his promo segments and matches incredibly awkward.

Secondly, the lack of consistency when it comes to writing a story line for the Superstars is a genuinely worrying problem for the future of the business. As alluded to above, Ziggler’s heel turn came at a time when it seemed he was being pushed as a sympathetic babyface, almost losing his career and just coming up short in trying to win the WWE Championship.

His match with the Miz, in which he saved himself from retirement, should have been a catalyst for a fantastic 2017 for Ziggler, but the rug was unexpectedly taken away from under his feet yet again.

One of the reasons the company is forced to rely on part-time talent for the big four PPVs is because fans are not afforded the time to become emotionally invested in a character, and hence nobody is allowed to progress and become a star. 

Thirdly, and more importantly, Ziggler just doesn’t have good enough mid-card opponents to feud with to help his heel character get over. In this week’s episode of SmackDown, for example, Dolph was involved in a post-match segment with Apollo Crews and Kalisto.

When the heel Ziggler was hitting the babyface Crews with a chair, the crowd were chanting ‘one more time, one more time’. This wasn’t just about fans wanting to cheer for Ziggler, this was also about the crowd not particularly caring for Apollo Crews or Kalisto.

The problem with having a mid-card loaded with Superstars that don’t really have distinct personalities is that they all just blend into one unnecessary and uninteresting mess. If the WWE was actually serious about making heel Dolph Ziggler work, they would have put him straight into a feud with somebody like Dean Ambrose or even Daniel Bryan – babyfaces that the fans actually care about. 

The WWE like to forward the idea that heels and faces are no longer as clear-cut as they used to be. This may well be down to the post-modern internet age, where fans don’t respond well to being told who to like and dislike, but it is also much to do with the WWE’s inability to make interesting and compelling characters.

Even in 2017, the only characters the promotion actually puts effort into are John Cena, Randy Orton, Undertaker, and Triple H. This has recently extended somewhat to guys like Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, but the rest of the roster are effectively disposable in the company’s eyes.

Because of the inability to build stars properly, Superstars only really become effective heels when they are made to be babyfaces, and the best way to become a babyface is by turning heel! This wouldn’t be the case if the WWE were still able to tell a good enough story with their wrestlers. 

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