Face Value: Who Should Lead WWE's Babyface Roster?

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Post by crippledtart on Thu Dec 19, 2013 9:44 pm

Since John Cena was established as WWE's franchise babyface in 2005, he hasn't always been the most popular chap amongst wrestling fans. The resentment towards him from a certain section of the audience will not go away however hard he and WWE try (and, trust me, they are trying, as much as both parties might deny it. When a wrestler makes a big deal of his love for the US military and hatred of cancer, that is somebody desperately trying to be liked).

Cena's saving grace in all that time, other than his immense popularity with children and proven effect on TV ratings, is that nobody has really come along to challenge him for the position. For better or for worse, nobody has garnered the crowd reactions he does; nobody has fuelled such passion amongst the WWE fanbase. That was, until the rise of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan.

Punk was always popular amongst a portion of the audience, and had a brief run as a main event level babyface from mid-2011 until mid-2012, but the second half of his lengthy WWE title reign and feuds with The Rock and Undertaker really cemented him as a top star with the promotion's weight behind him. Subsequently, since returning in May of this year, he has not only enjoyed great popularity but also seems far more comfortable in the role of good guy.

Bryan has been the story of 2013 in wrestling. Support for him has surged since Wrestlemania, leading WWE to abandon his break-up storyline with Kane, and the heel turn that would have likely resulted from it. Instead the promotion had no option but to ride his popularity by putting him in four consecutive pay-per-view main events. All the while, it was clear that he was not the man WWE would have chosen as its centrepiece babyface, and the promotion has wrestled with its reservations for months, not pulling the trigger on a Bryan title run when it was clear that was what the fans wanted, and when it probably would have generated a fair bit of money.

The last two episodes of Raw may have been a turning point for Bryan. Last week, his popularity with the live crowd totally overshadowed the final hard-sell for what was supposedly the biggest match in WWE's half-century of existence (a match he was not involved in). This week, he was given the chance to once again stake his claim for a more permanent starring role, with an excellent PPV-length main event match against Randy Orton. Tellingly, WWE did not book him to lose cleanly to its new unified champion; the finish of the match protected Bryan, suggesting that at least one more title match with Orton is coming.

Meanwhile, Punk continues to be kept out of the title picture entirely, whilst interacting with big names. His recent dealings with Triple H and Shawn Michaels show that WWE still considers him a major star. Is the subversive Punk being saved as the man who finally brings down The Authority?

If WWE feels that it is time to move away from Cena as the top babyface of the promotion, Punk and Bryan offer arguably the strongest candidates there will ever be. But would either really be a better alternative to Cena?

Here I will rate all of them in ten different categories, with an overall score out of a hundred. This is obviously not an exact science, and it is somewhat unfair that each category has the same value, but hopefully it gives an indication of how Bryan, Cena and Punk compare.

I am judging them specifically on their suitability to be the face of the promotion; to be the top star, carry the leading storylines, wrestle monthly pay-per-view main events and represent WWE both in its marketing and the media.


Punk might very well be the best promo in wrestling, but Cena is just as good when he has the right material to work with. The problem is, he often seems preoccupied with awful comedy, and the content of his promos is not always as strong as his delivery. Bryan is good, but is yet to show enough range on the mic for my liking; I don't feel like he carries himself like a star. Maybe that's because WWE is yet to afford him the opportunity to unleash that side of his personality, but he just hasn't delivered anything epic on the mic yet the way that Punk and Cena have time and time again.

Rating: Punk 10, Cena 9, Bryan 6


I believe that all three are, in different ways, more than charismatic enough to feature as the top dog. That's partly why they elicit such a strong response from the crowd. Cena carries himself like a movie star, which is probably closer to what WWE wants. Bryan's charisma is far more understated and intangible, and sometimes isn't obvious outside of his matches, but it is a key reason for his rise in popularity. Punk has an undeniable aura that engenders fierce loyalty from his supporters, but I'm not convinced it is quite "mainstream" enough to appeal to casual viewers.

Rating: Cena 9, Bryan 8, Punk 8

In-ring Talent

Again, I am not judging this on the number of submission holds or reversals they know, but their ability to carry WWE main event matches month in and month out. While far less technically sound than Punk or Bryan, Cena - in spite of his somewhat awkward gait, cartoonish facial expressions, questionable long-term selling, corny punches and cheesy signature moves - is the master of the WWE main event style, and has delivered good-to-great matches on a consistent basis. That said, Bryan and Punk have adapted seamlessly to the more storyline-driven style of the WWE main event scene, having already proved themselves as world class workers outside of WWE.

Rating: Bryan 10, Punk 9, Cena 8


Cena is clearly popular with a decent percentage of the audience, but live crowds are, at best, polarised by him. I believe that, whilst sometimes leading to an electric atmosphere, this has a generally damaging effect. Too many times in recent years an audience has been left visibly deflated by a Cena victory. Wrestlemania 29 saw a great example of this; what should have been a monumental win for the promotion's top star over one of its biggest ever names was instead greeted with complete apathy from the majority in attendance. Bryan and Punk, on the other hand, are universally and enthusiastically cheered by live crowds. I feel strongly that a casual fan is far more likely to invest in the product if the live crowd is behind the babyfaces and against the heels. At this present time, there is little evidence that Bryan and Punk have the same connection with casual or younger fans that Cena does, but there is also no reason to believe it isn't possible, and I think that both would be soon accepted by those fans if featured as the top babyface, particularly Bryan who has such an inherent likeability.

Rating: Bryan 10, Punk 9, Cena 6


As highly as I rate Bryan, and as much as I believe WWE has left money on the table with him in 2013, I can understand their reservations about his appearance. He's short, he's a bit ginger, he's got bad teeth and a funny skin condition, he doesn't have a chiselled physique, and he's got that ridiculous beard. On the other hand, his look is a memorable one, and fans clearly like it. Indeed, they embrace the fact that he doesn't look like the prototypical WWE main eventer. Cena, on the other hand, was previously known as The Prototype for a reason. He is exactly what WWE wants its main eventers to look like; strong, handsome and youthful. There may have never been a more "perfect" looking wrestler in WWE's eyes. Punk falls somewhere in the middle. He's handsome and he's around six feet tall, but without the bodybuilder physique that WWE loves. With his tattoos and demeanour he also has a more edgy look, which may not fit WWE's corporate preferences. I don't think it's something that would hold him back though.

Rating: Cena 10, Punk 7, Bryan 5


Cena's history as the top star of the company suggests that, whilst charming, likeable and clean cut, he does not captivate the casual audience. TV ratings during his time at the top indicate that there is a ceiling to how many fans he can draw to the product, and there is even an argument that his very positioning as the number one babyface is keeping some fans away. On the other hand, he has proved himself to be a very capable face of WWE, and someone who puts the company first and avoids controversy. Punk and Bryan's drawback is also their strength; not only is their marketing potential untapped as individuals, but they also represent a break from the WWE stereotype. Cena is probably considered to be a less appealing version of The Rock in the way that he conducts himself before the mainstream media. Punk and Bryan do not come across as an imitation; they both have unique and quirky personalities. The big question mark against Punk is his somewhat prickly demeanour, and the feeling that he may just go into business for himself if given the right platform; he seems less of a "good soldier" than Cena or Bryan. On the other hand, his straight edge lifestyle sends a message that the company is shedding its reputation as the land of roided-up giants. I think Bryan could actually be a surprising success story if he was chosen as the face of the company. He's amiable, funny, intelligent, and, most importantly, he seems much more like a normal person and less of a cartoon character than a lot of wrestlers. He would also be far less likely to get the company into any hot water than Punk.

Rating: Bryan 8, Cena 7, Punk 6

Staying Power

There are various things to take into account here. As far as the wrestlers' physical longevity is concerned, I would say they are all pretty even. Punk and Bryan worked a gruelling style on the independent scene for years before they got to WWE, but Cena on the other hand is slightly older than Punk and a few years older than Bryan, carrying far more muscle mass, and has more of a history of injuries. I would say, however, that all are capable of wrestling a full-time schedule for at least another five years.

There are two big factors working in Bryan's favour, however. Firstly, Punk has often intimated that he doesn't see himself as a "lifer", and is already looking beyond his wrestling career. I don't think he wants to be a full-time wrestler in five years' time, even if he's perfectly capable.

Secondly, Cena is just so utterly stale. It seems like he could be out for a year, and within ten minutes of his return people would be bored of him again. To be fair, he has been the top star for almost a decade now, appearing on TV week in and week out, headlining pay-per-views month in and month out. There is simply no situation we have not seen John Cena in as a babyface. On the flip side, I imagine five years with CM Punk or Daniel Bryan as the top star and countless storyline possibilities spring to mind.

Rating: Bryan 9, Punk 7, Cena 5

Drawing Power

This is where Cena has a distinct head start over Punk and Bryan. He has been relied upon for years as a top star, and his impact on TV ratings, ticket sales and pay-per-view buy rates, while not astronomical, is proven. The question is, could Bryan or Punk have even more impact with the full force of the WWE hype machine behind them? I believe that the fans' willingness to invest in Bryan's cause this year suggests that he could move the needle, but the apologetic way he was pushed has ensured that, as yet, we haven't found out whether that is the case. Punk has had a little more opportunity to prove his drawing power, but his bigger matches and storylines have come as a heel, and the result was inconclusive. It's impossible to say for sure whether either could draw better than Cena, but they definitely do not have his long and proven - albeit hardly eye-watering - track record.

Rating: Cena 7, Bryan 6, Punk 5

Cool Factor

From his cartoon faces to his unfunny jokes to his over-sized children's clothing, John Cena is a complete dork. Not in an endearing way, but in a way that makes me feel slightly sorry for him, especially as he is seemingly so oblivious to the fact. This is not something that children seem to pick up on, however, so I guess he is cool in their eyes! Bryan, while also slightly dorky, is quite charming in his quirkiness. You get the impression that he is just being his natural self on TV, and it makes him more appealing.

Punk has a definite cool factor. He can look after himself in a fight, but he can also outwit an opponent on the mic. He doesn't seem like he cares whether you cheer him or not; he just wants to prove he is the best in the world. He is his own man and lives by his own rules, and has a self-confidence bordering on arrogance, but can back it all up.

Rating: Punk 9, Bryan 7, Cena 4


It may seem less important than the other factors, but I believe the number one wrestler in a promotion needs iconic music. When you think of Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair, Steve Austin or The Rock, Shawn Michaels or Bret Hart, their music is one of the first things that spring to mind. I'm not convinced by Punk's Cult of Personality theme song. I just don't think it has enough gravity to it. It's not a bad song, and it's pretty catchy, but it just doesn't feel epic. Bryan's Flight of the Valkyries remix is a great entrance tune, instantly recognisable and unique amongst other wrestling entrance songs. I also think Cena's music is memorable and very catchy. This is not the biggest factor in which of the three wrestlers should be WWE's franchise babyface, but I definitely feel that it makes a difference.

Rating: Bryan 9, Cena 9, Punk 7

And the results out of a hundred are...

3rd - John Cena 74

2nd - CM Punk 77

1st - Daniel Bryan 78

In conclusion, it is clear why WWE is hedging its bets with Cena, rather than pushing the less conventional Bryan or Punk as the promotion's top star. While he trails them in some categories, he has the advantage in some key areas which are highly valued by WWE.

The popularity of Bryan and Punk, and their overall skillsets, make both very strong contenders to barge Cena aside as the centrepiece babyface. But Cena is good enough that WWE does not and should not feel there is any rush to replace him. Personally, I feel that a new top star would breathe fresh life into the promotion, but there is a risk element involved, and WWE may prefer to hedge their bets.

I feel that Cena is far closer to the end of his run as a full-time main eventer than the start of it. WWE is going to need to find somebody in the next few years who can step up and take his place, and if they can do that while he's still around it would also offer the opportunity to turn Cena heel and feud him with that wrestler, which is probably the most lucrative storyline available to them. The organic support this year for Daniel Bryan has been fascinating to watch, and I strongly feel that there is money in him. Punk's popularity is also as high as ever, and his strong run over the last couple of years has established to the WWE audience that he is in the main event scene to stay.

I think that either Bryan or Punk could be a breakout mainstream star for WWE, and focusing on one of them as the centrepiece of the promotion would rejuvenate the product. Doing so while Cena is still active would have the dual advantage of keeping Cena's fans interested in the product, and, if successful, allow the promotion to do some big business with a Cena heel run against the new top babyface. There is nothing for WWE to fear in centering the show around Bryan or Punk, very little to lose, and an awful lot to gain.

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Post by JoshSansom on Thu Dec 19, 2013 10:13 pm

Daniel Bryan seems to have been hit by an attack of the Cenas in the last few months. He has brushed off losses in an "oh well" fashion and hopped along to the next match. It makes me not care about watching him and angry that I have invested into something that he has, clearly, not invested into.

Punk on the other hand does kayfabe state that he cares and this was evident in the thread of his feud with Paul Heyman (Feud of the Year for me)...

Not sure whether this is a talent issue or a writer issue but it really bugs me about DB.

In terms of the current storyline I can see DB being the set up for Punk to take on Orton at WM. In a sense Punk and Cena dovetail so nicely as faces. They appeal to different demographics of the audience and allow everyone to cheer for a good guy.

Bryan, if anything, seems to have taken up the Sheamus role of being funny looking and the No.2 kid friendly babyface to Cena. He is someone that can be launched up the card even though I haven't personally seen enough of him carrying a feud in the WWE.

It is, in a way, the same as the Rock/Austin situation. They were both faces but appealed to different parts of the audience and therefore could happily co-exist at the top of the card.

Can see the same thing with Cena and Punk.


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Post by XR on Fri Dec 20, 2013 8:53 am

It will always be Cena or Orton, for the WWE until they find someone else to take over.

Maybe Roman Reigns


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Post by Dolphin Ziggler on Fri Dec 20, 2013 1:24 pm

Not sure how Bryan comes out on top of this, marking criteria done abysmally!

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Post by VDT on Fri Dec 20, 2013 2:06 pm

Think you missed the minus off Cena's Cool Factor

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Post by Kay Fabe on Fri Dec 20, 2013 4:17 pm

Excellent throught provoking article, really enjoyed it, didnt agree with some of the scoring but I don't think you're too far away from what I'd score.

This would probably be a great podcast in a panal of 4 and possibly divide everyone's scores after each individual attribute was discussed, might create a more balanced rating, as an individual piece though, no-one can argue with your answers as they're based on how you see it, I'm sure anyone who read it would want to do their own ratings, hope this thread gets the attention it deserves  OK 

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Post by NickisBHAFC on Mon Dec 23, 2013 1:49 pm



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