WWE: Does SmackDown Have a Babyface Problem?


Daniel Bryan wins the WWE Championship, turning heel in the process. (Credit: WWE.com)

Daniel Bryan’s heel turn on this week’s installment of WWE SmackDown Live adds even more punctuation to what looks like an over-saturation of heels on the blue brand.

This past week on SmackDown, Daniel Bryan shocked the world by becoming the new WWE Champion, a moment notable for a myriad of reasons. It spelled the end of AJ Styles 371-day reign with the blue brand’s top prize, meaning that Bryan will be replacing him in the planned clash with Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series.

It provided a huge moment of catharsis for Bryan and his fans, who, less than a year ago, believed that he would never lace up his boots for WWE again. Perhaps the most relevant detail in this win, however, was the Daniel Bryan became a heel in the process.

As a result, SmackDown’s babyface roster has taken a crucial hit. Bryan has proven himself to be one of the most consistently cheered babyface talents of the decade, with fans flocking to his elite level in-ring talent and genuinely likable personality.

This is not to say that Bryan is incapable of getting over as a heel (lest we forget that the Yes! chant was born out of his brilliant heel run in 2011-2012), but it takes only a cursory glance at SmackDown‘s roster to see that the scale is heavily tipped toward one side babyface/heel ratio.

When looking at the current state of the roster, the only names that stand out as main event level babyfaces are AJ Styles, Rey Mysterio, Jeff Hardy, the New Day, and Rusev.

The members of the New Day will likely remain in the tag team division for the foreseeable future, there does not seem to be any intention of pushing Hardy to the main event level, and Rusev (while massively over) was bogged down in a feud with Aiden English for now that hasn’t gone anywhere as of late. Only Styles and Mysterio stand out as viable challengers for Bryan at this point.

Rey Mysterio is one of Smackdown’s few main event level babyfaces. (Credit: WWE.com)

In contrast, the heel roster is considerably deeper. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, Cesaro, Sheamus, Samoa Joe, The Big Show, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, The Miz, and, now, Daniel Bryan represent the Tuesday show’s more villainous side.

Almas, while new to the main roster, is clearly being booked as a future star, having been routinely featured in competitive matches since his call-up from NXT. The Bar, much like the New Day, are currently working in the tag team division. Nakamura is the reigning United States Champion. Any of these performers, however, could be comfortably slotted into the WWE Championship picture at any time without most casual viewers batting an eye.

This curious trend extends to SmackDown‘s women as well. Becky Lynch, much like Bryan himself, was a massively over babyface who was turned heel just before winning the big one. While Lynch is cheered rapturously by fans, she is still booked as a heel.

As far as the SmackDown roster goes, the only viable babyface challengers are Charlotte Flair and Asuka. Becky vs. Charlotte has been done before, and Asuka has been mishandled on the main roster to a tragic degree. Yet, virtually every other woman on SmackDown is a heel: the IIconics, Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville, Zelina Vega, Maryse. The list goes on and on.

Becky Lynch, while massively over, is booked as a heel (Credit: WWE.com)

This is not intended as an indictment of SmackDown, though it may seem it. On the contrary, the show week after week proves itself to be the superior main roster brand as far as booking goes, but it is curious that of the five championships exclusive to the brand, not one of them is held by a babyface.

What is likely to be the biggest match of Survivor Series, Lesnar vs. Bryan, is a heel vs. heel match, something that has long been considered poison in WWE booking. Obviously, alignment shifts happen all the time, and WWE still have the option of dipping into the NXT roster if they are in desperate need of babyfaces.

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There are numerous ways to interpret this. Maybe it’s evidence of WWE’s failure to book organic babyfaces. Maybe it’s a sign that “alignments” in general are becoming a relic of yesteryear. Whatever the case may be, it’s safe to say we should anticipate at least one major babyface turn on SmackDown in the coming weeks.