For years, it seemed as if WWE was scared of turning Superstars viewed as the face of the company into heels. We saw this with John Cena and Roman Reigns, with fans booing them and urging Vince McMahon's creative team to freshen up the characters with a villainous spin, only for it to never occur. From a business perspective, especially as both were used on the CSR side of things such as anti-bullying initiatives and Make-A-Wish projects, it just wasn't ever going to happen.
However, as of late, it appears the writers are willing to take some more risks and by doing so with a couple of key heel turns, it looks like they're finally figuring out how to flip the script.
The last time WWE nailed a heel turn, it was Seth Rollins breaking away from the Shield. The writers tried it with Dean Ambrose this year, though, and it didn't work nearly as well, and that's because they made him a wannabe Bane, which inspired him to jump to AEW. Yet Rollins, who honestly shines as a heel, was turned back into a face, once more proving the company just didn't want its most popular performers to be the bad guys. However, this is a failed concept to hang a hat on because we've seen it in the past with superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, CM Punk, Edge and last but not least, The Rock -- heels are still big draws who keep fans chanting. As The Rock would say, it doesn't matter!
The heel turns for AJ Styles and Bayley this year felt like a long time coming as they needed revamping, but still, both lacked a certain oomph and the turns just didn't feel natural. It appears lessons have been learned on organic heels, though, with Balor breaking bad upon returning to NXT. He took out Johnny Gargano as the Undisputed Era beat down Tomasso Ciampa, and instead of allying with Adam Cole's sinister crew, Balor walked away, straddling that fine line like an anti-hero instead. When he did cut his promo a week after, though, he made it clear he was indeed a heel, burying the happy persona and looking toward the future by bringing back the "Real Rock 'n' Rolla" persona of old.
WWE creative smartened up, as this arrogant attitude just fits Balor so well. He's smug, but still one of the best technical wrestlers in the business, so no matter what, fans will cheer for him. It's also wise for WWE to actually have top talent heels who can beat faces on their own merit, truly shaping powerhouse villains. This turn harnesses the wicked charisma he had with the Bullet Club, as well in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and feels so organic, not to mention it'll play on his strength of having the Demon to unleash. With the Fiend getting the push instead as the haunting figure of WWE, Balor's Demon wasn't as intimidating anymore, so this move allows the wrestler to keep it as a trump card for some big-stage spectacle like WrestleMania. Plus, by being a villain, feuds have been set up against Cole, Ciampa and Gargano, giving NXT the ammo to combat AEW in the Wednesday night ratings wars.
The writers are reminding us, however, they're more multi-dimensional than we assumed, with the Kabuki Warriors -- Asuka and Kairi Sane -- also shooting to prominence as some of the nastiest heels around, literally. That's because they've turned on their manager, Paige, by spitting green mist in her face (something made famous by the likes of the Great Muta and Tajiri). They've also cheated to win the Women's Tag Team Championship, with Asuka using the mist against Nikki Cross while once again using the liquid as leverage against Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair.
What this does is take two stagnant superstars who are some of the best technical female wrestlers on the roster and elevate them. It worked for Flair, who was arguably the only good heel in the Women's Division, and now, the Kabuki Warriors get to once more reboot their characters. The IIconics weren't cutting it as the main heels anymore and seeing as Asuka (former NXT and SmackDown Women's Champion) and Sane (former NXT Women's Champion) got a better draw than the Aussie duo in Australia itself, that more or less opened the floodgates for this twist to allow the Japanese women to do something new.
There's potential for a Japanese invasion angle to throw shade on America, giving Asuka importance now that she's not in the main singles picture anymore. The turn also kills off that awful pirate angle the creative team gave Sane, ensuring both aren't stifled in the mid-card anymore.
Ultimately, McMahon and Co. seemingly understand at long last that turning excellent wrestlers and hot draws into ne'er do-gooders doesn't mean you'll lose fans in the seats or merchandise on the shelf. It's simply about crafting a heel close to the actual personalities of these feisty wrestlers and by doing so, fans won't care for the tag, they'll simply love rooting for the enemy.