Nick Bond: So, we talked about this a little last week post “recording”, but at least one of us is of the belief that Dean Ambrose is a pretty limited guy in terms of long-term star power. That may or may not have been me.
(It was me.)
David Gibb: Ever since you said that, I’ve been looking forward to this conversation because we have a serious difference of opinions here. (See what I did there?!)
Nick Bond: Yeah, which, despite the title, rarely happens. I just don’t see long-term money in Dean. He’s great, I love him.
David Gibb: What’s specifically wrong with him then? Or specifically not-main event?
Nick Bond: To me, he’s a tweener, but in all the wrong places. He just screams foil/sidekick.
David Gibb: How do you see him as a tweener? I think for better or worse, he’s been one of the most consistently portrayed characters on WWE TV in the last year. He is on a constant mission to give bad guys their comeuppance and give the fans what they want. That’s the definition of a babyface.
Nick Bond: It’s not a matter of his characterization, but of his appeal. He appeals to several different groups, but, at least as far as I can tell, for reasons that aren’t necessarily compatible. He appeals to guys whom he reminds of the Attitude Era, girls (and boys) who think he’s cute and marks because he’s a total babyface.
David Gibb: So, you think it’s a problem that a star has broad appeal?
Nick Bond: I think it’s a problem that a star has a disparate coalition.
David Gibb: I think that’s a patently untrue statement. Bringing together a disparate coalition is the definition of what makes someone a huge star in wrestling. The Von Erichs were pretty boys who girls screamed for, the young guys looked up to, and the adults had to respect because they were physically tough.
That’s what made them top draws.
Nick Bond: In Texas…where they were born and raised … during the territory era.
David Gibb: The whole point of promotion is to draw the most people. You’re only sabotaging yourself if you insist on drawing borders around different groups of fans. They’re all marks. Their money’s all equally green.
Nick Bond: Yes, but to put it in political candidate terms, it’s a lot harder to bridge gaps between pro-lifers and pro-choicers. They’re all marks, too. But they get really pissed when you don’t say or do what they want. It’s not like John Cena, where everyone reacts to him.
To me, Dean Ambrose is like Donald Trump: his numbers are great right now, but there’s no way the people who are happy he hates immigrants are also going to be happy he’s in favor of universal healthcare.
David Gibb: …So how does that relate to Dean Ambrose again? Look, is Dean Ambrose right now in July of 2015 worthy of top star push? Heck no!
Nick Bond: He’s stuck — as I put in the beginning of the week — between being an avatar of a previous generation (the Attitude Era) and running with the “New Generation”.
David Gibb: I agree with you that the character is fundamentally flawed in many ways. Principally the comedy.
Nick Bond: But there are a SHOCKING number of people who love his comedy bits and think he’s hilarious.
David Gibb: Right, but we’re talking about him as a top star, and comedy has never been main event.
To be clear, this isn’t a matter of talent, but the presupposition that there’s no where else to go but up for Dean Ambrose with regards to how he is utilized in the WWE. July 2015 Dean Ambrose, to me, is going to peak Dean Ambrose in terms of marketability. Given the future that lies ahead.
David Gibb: Well, the way you crafted that sentence gets to the heart of the issue: “The way he is utilized”
It’s all a matter of portrayal, which is (unfortunately) mostly out of talents’ hands.
So, whether or not he can rise further is really a question of can “the machine” work to make him better than he is.
Nick Bond: Or, I suppose, on my end, whether or not I believe making a babyface character the Dean Ambrose way is a way to make serious money at the box office anymore*.
Because Heel Dean Ambrose? That guy seems like a superstar. But face Dean Ambrose feels like the servant of too many masters. He doesn’t feel populist, he feels patchwork.
David Gibb: Well, getting back to your original point, I think he’s being portrayed as a sidekick at this point because the current year of WWE TV is about trying to get Roman Reigns to where they couldn’t get him between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania last year.
So what you’re seeing is an intentionally weak version of the character. Because he has to get in trouble so he needs Reigns.
Nick Bond: That’s the other thing: there are a LOT of people standing in his way. Do you book him stronger than Rollins, Steen, Cesaro, Rusev or Sheamus?
David Gibb: I think he should be on Rollins’ level. The fans should believe that Ambrose would win a fair fight between the two of them. However, the fans should also understand that Seth Rollins is smart enough and well-positioned enough to prevent a fair fight from happening.
I look at the list of wrestlers you just gave, and I wouldn’t “feed” any of those people to Ambrose, but I would portray him as someone that all those guys are aware of and wouldn’t want to have to fight.
You don’t have to beat everybody to be a main eventer, that’s a myth.
You just need to be taken seriously by top stars.
Nick Bond: Which, I suppose is an important distinction to make and address: When I say “I don’t see long-term star potential” I mean I don’t see Dean Ambrose being the top guy on the show for an extended period of time.
David Gibb: Oh. Well, if that’s the discussion we’re having, I don’t either!
I don’t think he’s the centerpiece of anything. But he could be your number two or three babyface for two or three years.
Nick Bond: Yeah, agreed. Totally. But his more vocal fans expect him to be.
I see him at or near the main event, for a few years. Just not THE main event for anything more than a specific feud here or there. He’s not transcendent in any way for me.
David Gibb: Sure. But do we need our wrestlers to be “transcendent?” That’s a strong word.
As long as you’ve run Juice Make Sugar, how many Wrestlers of the Week would you say were “transcendent?”
Nick Bond: I’d say, of the the 33, maybe 8-10? MAYBE.
And that’s kind of my point. Dean Ambrose is good, one of my favorite guys on the show, but he’s not a future Mt. Rushmore guy. Which, if you haven’t seen the reaction to his booking on the internets, is what people think he can be.
That seems insane bananas crazy to me.
David Gibb: Well, if we’re using fan reactions on the internet as a core sample of what the 3-4 million people who watch WWE every week think, then I think we’re asking registered Hispanic Democrats in the Southwest what they think of Donald Trump, to revisit your analogy.
Fans who think like that need to relax and realize that most of the guys who drew money throughout the territorial era were not (as you put it) “transcendent stars.” Your favorite wrestler doesn’t need to be a top guy.
Nick Bond: In fact, it’s probably better if he isn’t.
David Gibb: Brian Christopher is one of the reasons I got really into RAW, for goodness sake. Just enjoy the guys like you because you like them.
Not everybody whose work you enjoy should be World Champion. If you want to make everybody you like a main eventer, then what’s your undercard going to be? Boring guys with no charisma?
Because that’s what will happen if you put every guy with charisma in the main event.
Nick Bond: They’re called mechanics, Dave.
David Gibb: Right. Or “carpenters” if we want to dig further old school.
Nick Bond: So, ultimately, I think we’ve come to an agreement: Dean Ambrose, like Jesus before him, will make one hell of a carpenter.
David Gibb: I think Dean Ambrose is good at what he does, and could be great at doing something just a little different. Super deserving of his roster spot.
Not a World Champion.
Nick Bond: And, like cornbread, there ain’t nothing wrong with that.