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EditorialWWE Naughty or Nice List 2023: Best Heels & Faces of the...

WWE Naughty or Nice List 2023: Best Heels & Faces of the Year

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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 and heels 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!

The AEW list is also going up today, but which men and women made my WWE list? Time to find out!

BEST BABYFACES

Cody Rhodes

If this were a ranking, he’d be #1. How could you not have Cody Rhodes on this list? The American Nightmare’s status as top babyface in the company was at a fever pitch heading into WrestleMania. Since losing, he hasn’t lost steam, either. Fans still look at him as the guy in many ways. Kids love him, but he hasn’t reached that level where everyone above a certain age boos him, like what happened to John Cena.

Instead, people are clamoring for him to get a redo and beat Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 40. And when he doesn’t win the Royal Rumble, I think people are going to be upset—even if they’re happy and distracted with CM Punk as the winner, for a little while.

Cody just checks off all the boxes. His matches are always solid. Great mic work, with promos that reek (in a positive way) of babyface. He has a genuine connection with fans that is extremely rare, and I hope he’s rewarded for this in 2024. Just listen to the “woaaaah” every time he comes out and you can see how much he deserves to be on this list.

Sami Zayn

Arguably nipping at the heels of Cody is Sami Zayn, who had a different path ahead of him, even though they were driving on the same road.

Zayn’s babyface turn, where he hit Roman Reigns in the back with a steel chair, was one of the top moments of the year, let alone if you hyper-focus on babyface moments. That led to his awesome title match at Elimination Chamber, where many people were convinced the title was changing hands.

It didn’t, but he turned around, kept rising up the babyface ladder, reformed his alliance with Kevin Owens, and captured the tag titles in the main event of WrestleMania 39, night 1. That pop was huge and the moment was well-deserved.

Since then, his booking didn’t stay as consistently great, but he constantly remained an uber-popular babyface that the crowd is entirely enamored with. If he doesn’t win a world title in 2024, it would be a sin. He’s proven himself this year without a shadow of a doubt.

Tie: Jey Uso / LA Knight

I honestly can’t pick between these two. It’s a bit of a cop out to have 4 names on a Top 3 list, but that’s where you can come in and tell me in the comments which one you think is more worthy.

When it comes to Jey Uso, you can pretty much copy and paste some of the Sami Zayn elements. Turning on Roman was a big moment, some of the matches to follow were great, and the crowd just adores him. It’s amazing to see how big of a difference there is between Main Event Jey Uso on Raw these days as one of the top babyfaces compared to how Jimmy Uso is portrayed on SmackDown. Baffling how much they’ve dropped the ball with Jimmy. Or, for that matter, the difference of crowd reaction between current Jey and the response he was getting a few years ago. Night and day.

Speaking of night, just add a K, LA Knight managed to escape a future release with the Max Dupri character, went back to the drawing board as LA Knight, and just got over with the crowd like a light switch clicked. Somehow, practically overnight, people just globally decided “We like this guy” and that was it. Suddenly, his catchphrases were spreading around TikTok and getting some of the biggest reactions of the night, and he’s gone from jobber with a ticking clock on his career to a featured player rubbing elbows with John Cena.

As with the others, he seems poised for success in 2024. I wouldn’t go so far as to think and hope that he’ll win a world title, but I can’t imagine there’s a better option to beat Logan Paul for the United States Championship at WrestleMania 40, at least. Maybe the World Heavyweight Championship on Raw might end up around his waist, though. You never know. Would I be down for it? YEAH!

5 Honorable Mentions:

  • Bianca Belair – She almost made my main list for the third year in a row. However, this time around, she spent a number of months off, and she just wasn’t doing as much overall impressive work this year. Instead of being the one fighting from behind, she was just the dominant champion who lost the belt, eventually, then continued to fight heels.
  • Chad Gable – One of the best in-ring performers this year, who managed to scratch and claw his way into nearly beating Gunther for the Intercontinental Championship. Fans got really behind him in a way they’ve never done before. Even with that aside, he continues to make Alpha Academy a fun babyface gimmick for Raw every week.
  • Jey Uso / LA Knight – Whoever you think wouldn’t deserve that top spot would go here, of course.
  • Seth Rollins – You’d think he would be up on the top 3 after winning the World Heavyweight Championship, but I think the others just outclass him. Rollins did have a great babyface year, though, beating Logan Paul at WrestleMania, winning that belt, proving himself as the fighting champion alternative to Roman Reigns and overcoming his fair share of adversity.
  • Thea Hail – She continues to be the epitome of a spunky, lovable babyface similar to what Bayley used to be. As good as Andre Chase and Duke Hudson are, Hail is the main reason why Chase University works, as she sells the gimmick better than anyone.
  • Just missed the honorable mentions cut: Becky Lynch, Carmelo Hayes, Kevin Owens, Trick Williams, Wes Lee and the Latino World Order as a whole.

BEST HEELS

The Judgment Day (specifically Dominik Mysterio and Rhea Ripley)

The Judgment Day run Monday Night Raw, if you didn’t know that from them telling you every week for months. At first, that came off as ridiculous, but the more they started to capture gold and be more heavily featured, the more of a reality it became.

2023 was very much the year that WWE said, in as transparent of a way as they could through the way they booked without outright admitting it, “We don’t have The Bloodline around as much this year, so let’s copy and paste much of what we did there with The Judgment Day and try to replicate the formula.”

Obviously, there are differences, as it isn’t a 1:1 xerox. Thankfully, one of the big differences is the Ex-Con Dom angle with Rey Mysterio at the beginning of the year, and the transition from that into the relationship where Dirty Dominik Mysterio is with Mami Rhea Ripley all the time.

That duo makes this. Damian Priest is great (and could arguably be doing better stuff), Finn Balor is no schlub, and JD McDonagh has been a fun addition to the lineup, but it’s Dom and Rhea that earn the bulk of the points.

Nobody gets Dom’s reactions as a heel. Yes, WWE clearly pipes in some of that and lowers his mic on some nights, but across the board, it still seems like this is a true statement. People love to hate him, and he’s so good at turning into the skid and giving them reasons to do so.

Ripley’s in that odd territory where she’s 100% heel, but fans can’t help but to love her and cheer for her because of how much she exudes being cool. When the babyface turn eventually happens, she’s going to be far more over than ever, I guarantee it.

Gunther

There aren’t many “monster” characters these days, but the closest you could get to it on this roster would be Gunther.

The Ring General scores a lot of points for this list by being unstoppable, so much so that he’s surpassed the record for longest Intercontinental Championship reign.

He doesn’t need to cheat to win his matches, which is a refreshing change of pace. 99 out of 100 heels in WWE can only be victorious if they have outside interference (like Roman Reigns has been booked), but Gunther just pummels his opponents into dust. Then, he gets cockier and cockier, to the level that you can’t help but to want to see someone slap that smug look off his face, beat him for the title and shut him up.

Of course, when he keeps beating down those guys like Chad Gable, Drew McIntyre, Sheamus and so on, in some of the best matches of the year, you’re smiling the whole time anyway because he’s just that fun to watch. That is what a good heel should be: someone you enjoy watching and want to see lose, but not because you’re sick of them being on your screen.

The Bloodline

Post-WrestleMania has been rough for The Bloodline. I’d go so far as to say it’s been the least interesting 8 months or so since this faction started. WWE basically put Roman Reigns on the back burner and said to everyone “Just wait until Mania 40 and let us run up these numbers” for the most part.

However, when they do actually pop up and do something, it’s still a big deal compared to most other things that happen on a weekly basis. Plus, you can’t deny the immense heel aura surrounding WrestleMania 39 and how much hatred bubbles up about Cody Rhodes losing that main event match.

Whether you’re booing because they’re the bad guys or because you’re sick of not having a champion around (a la the Brock Lesnar rule of thumb), if you look at The Bloodline even in its weaker form now and judge its value as a heel unit compared to other Superstars on the roster, you’d be insane to say someone like Karrion Kross, for instance, would deserve this spot instead. Maybe you’d boost up one of the honorable mentions, but you might also think Roman Reigns in particular should be considered the #1 top babyface without question. The ability to have some people making that argument justifies keeping them in the 3-Count to me. Now let’s hope things change for WrestleMania 40 and we aren’t just looking at another “wait until WrestleMania 41 and we’ll see you in 10 months” deal again.

5 Honorable Mentions:

  • Bron Breakker – Easily the biggest bully in NXT. Switching over to a heel character can be difficult, but he’s taken to it well. Some could argue he’s more natural playing this part than when he was a babyface. I’m about 50/50 on which he’s going to settle in on, but I’m enjoying this heel run for what it’s worth, and I’m interested to see how it progresses in 2024.
  • Damage CTRL – I almost gave this group the last of the top 3 spots instead of The Bloodline. Iyo Sky won Money in the Bank and the women’s title this year, and they’ve added to their ranks, after all. What stopped me was how it’s mostly been Iyo who was successful, while the others are there for the ride. But they’re still the female-exclusive equivalent of The Bloodline and The Judgment Day (sans Ripley) who, so to speak, “run SmackDown” as the primary focal points.
  • Grayson Waller – Being a heel comes so naturally to this guy that he’s eclipsed Austin Theory and turned him into the Marty Jannetty of their team. There’s a legitimate chance Waller gets a promo segment with The Rock in 2024, which speaks volumes.
  • Logan Paul – Whether you want to admit it or not, Logan Paul is a fantastic heel. He gets it. Crowds can easily boo him, while being entertained as hell in his matches. He’s overall had a great 2023 and if he keeps this up, he’s the type who could very well win a world title. If he hadn’t made a name for himself outside of WWE and just came in with these skills off the rack, he still would be in a good position on the card just based on pure talent. It’s annoying to praise him, but he deserves to not have his talent ignored.
  • Tiffany Stratton – The resident mean girl of NXT won the title this year and stood head and shoulders above the rest of the roster for heel status. I wish she had been given more to do, overall, but I think she’s also just getting started.
  • Just missed the honorable mentions cut: Chelsea Green, Drew McIntyre, Kiana James

Those are my picks, but who do you think should be considered the best babyfaces and heels of 2023? Who do you think will take these spots in 2024? Tell us what you’re thinking in the comments below, and happy holidays, everyone!

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