Wrestling: Face, heels and shades of grey in pro wrestling

Finn Balor on the Oct. 30, 2019 edition of WWE NXT. Photo: WWE.com
Finn Balor on the Oct. 30, 2019 edition of WWE NXT. Photo: WWE.com /

There was a match on Monday Night Raw that featured six women in the ring but left fans wondering which team they should “cheer” on to victory. Charlotte Flair teamed with Natalya and Tamina to take on Mandy Rose, Dana Brooke, and Rhea Ripley. While that match was not anything to hang onto, it brings back an interesting topic about the importance of clear faces and heels in professional wrestling. However, there is also the idea that characters that fall within a “shade of grey,” are just as intriguing.

Stories that put a clear babyface against a heel foil are a major staple in storytelling. Movies, comic books, cartoons, wrestling, and nearly every other form of media use that trope to push a story from start to finish. The same occurs in wrestling.

There are some names in wrestling that strictly fall within one of the two areas. Individuals such as Kofi Kingston, Nikki Cross, Kylie Rae, Jungle Boy, and others are prototypical babyfaces that fans will cheer for whenever the opportunity comes. The other side of the coin is populated with men and women like Nia Jax, MJF, Roman Reigns, and Matt Hardy are firmly on the side of being a heel. Characters fluctuate back and forth between the two, with some iterations becoming more popular than the others. Plus, there are names like John Cena or Ricky Steamboat that firmly played on one side of the ball for the major points of their career. Both heels and faces have an important place in wrestling today.

But what about those characters that fall with the shade of grey? Another way to look at professional wrestling is as a pseudo-sports industry where the performers are competing to be the best. To do so, they are willing to step on anyone that gets in their way. Jon Moxley played this character well in All Elite Wrestling, even though his character has been more of a face to date. Over in the WWE, Finn Balor and Pete Dunne are two names that fit into that space, as they were simply focused on becoming the NXT champion.

Would wrestling benefit from cultivating more characters that fit within the shade of grey? There is something special in cheering on moments that led to KofiMania or seeing Jungle Boy get close to winning the AEW title. At the same time, individuals such as Roman Reigns continue to gain high praise for his current character work, even though he is clearly not in it for fan adulation any longer.

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Just like some fans will cheer for Magnet or Poison Ivy, there will be fans who want to see characters that straddle the line of heel and babyface in professional wrestling. The dynamic of the babyface versus the heel is always going to be present, but perhaps there is a space for more men and women that fall within the shades of grey.