December is winding down and Christmastime is here, so given the spirit of the season, it means we’re in store for another edition of the annual Naughty and Nice 3-Count, recapping the best babyfaces, heels and tweeners of the year.
As far as how I went about picking these names, I went with a mixture of accomplishments, longevity, intensity and character work, mostly in a kayfabe sense with a smidge of smark added in for taste.
Of course, this is mostly a personal preference and you may disagree entirely, so if that’s the case, give us your list in the comments below!
Keeping all that in mind, which men and women made my list? Let’s take a look (in no particular order)…
Johnny Gargano was all over the place this year as he started it off as the top babyface on the brand in his feud against Tommaso Ciampa, but gradually became one of the biggest villains on the program.
Somewhere along the way, fans started to chant that he deserved to lose and eat a Black Mass here and there. People began siding with the Johnny Failure idea instead of Johnny Wrestling. Candice LeRae lost her momentum while dealing with Gargano’s obsession, and that took him into a course of action that sealed him as a heel when he attacked Aleister Black.
Throughout all this, he maintains that he’s the good guy in this story, even though all of his actions have flipped from what they were at the beginning of the year.
Do the ends justify the means? If so, and we see Gargano vs. Ciampa at TakeOver: New York, will it truly be a babyface against a heel, or will it be heel/heel or something in the middle? That’s a tough call and something very interesting to track.
Coming back into the fold was an easy thing for Daniel Bryan, as he’s so beloved that there was no hesitation for fans to embrace him as a top guy again.
Admittedly, WWE didn’t give him the best platform to work with to keep that momentum going, though, and while he was still a babyface with a connection to the audience unlike any others, they must have felt the need to change things up by turning him heel.
Now, it’s a double-edged sword. His heel turn is working in some ways, as the crowd is booing him like intended, but he hasn’t been given a true antithesis to work with other than AJ Styles, so it’s unknown how well this new character will succeed with other superstars.
It wouldn’t surprise me if in 2019, WWE turns him back to being a babyface again, but we should enjoy this change of pace with him shouting “fickle” instead of “yes” while it lasts, as it’s still pretty damn entertaining.
Somehow, even when he was a full-blown heel, it always seemed like there are something to cheer about Velveteen Dream—almost like he was being booked intentionally as the type of villain the audience will get behind.
The more he showed up and the better stuff he did, the more the crowd supported him and eventually turned him into someone who acts the same, but can be cheered, now.
He pops the crowd with his nostalgic references. He’s a goofball who can somehow also be taken seriously. He’s damn skilled in the ring and his character is one of the most unique out there in the company today.
Somehow, being a heel that rubs everyone the wrong way was exactly what Patrick Clark needed to start down the path of potentially being one of the biggest babyfaces with an insanely bright future as a hero or villain.
Honorable Mentions: The Undisputed ERA (they’re supposed to be heels, but they get cheered all the time, so it’s hard to constitute them one thing or another)
There’s a reason this guy has been called the heart of 205 Live, and it isn’t just because he’s one of the best in-ring performers keeping that brand going, but because he has been positioned from the start as someone who we should be sympathetic toward.
It’s almost like he doesn’t have a bad bone in his body, but that doesn’t come off in an obnoxious way that makes people hate him. Instead, he just exudes that he’s a nice guy and that he’s passionate about the business, talented, and deserving of going far.
At the start of the year, he was one of the few people in opposition of Enzo Amore’s reign of terror. Then, he was a babyface favorite of the tournament to determine a new champion and had his supporters in the finals against another babyface, Cedric Alexander. After failing to win that title, his feuds managed to overtake Alexander’s in many ways and now, in just a few weeks, he’s becoming one of the featured players on SmackDown Live.
2019 could be a big, big year for Mustafa Ali if he keeps this going.
I submit that there is nobody who was as over as a babyface this entire year than The Monster Among Men, and had WWE actually pulled the trigger and given him the Universal Championship any of the multiple times they could have, it would have been a more successful year for Monday Night Raw than keeping it on Brock Lesnar or putting it on Roman Reigns.
Strowman was easily getting the biggest pops of the night every time he’d come out and people were eating it up when he’d tear down the set and toss people like Kevin Owens into oblivion. He was able to be tough, imposing, and dominant while also showcasing a comedic side and doing charitable work. Literally, he was everything Vince is looking for in a top guy.
Then, WWE messed that up and tried to force him to be a heel in order to further push the Reigns agenda, and his momentum hit a break wall as he was fed to The Shield repetitively to get the point across that Reigns is the guy they wanted us to cheer, not Strowman.
Since then, he’s gone back to what works the best for him, but we all know Lesnar’s going to retain at Royal Rumble and it makes people more sour on Braun than before, which is a shame, as that’s entirely WWE’s fault, not Strowman’s. That is why he isn’t listed in the tweeners section, nor the heels, because his Dogs of War story was a flop.
If he can get back to the same level of popularity he was at during the first half of 2018, then his status as top dog can be corrected.