The Superstar Shake-up resulted in the shuffling of both the Raw and SmackDown Live rosters, but few moves meant as much to a brand, or the performer herself, than Charlotte Flair jumping ship to Tuesday nights.
The move brought an immediate legitimacy to a women’s division abundant in character but in need of a definitive face. Charlotte, a woman around whom Raw’s roster of talented competitors was built, immediately brought a level of star power to the blue brand that will benefit its women’s division and the women she works with immensely.
It also brought with it an apparent shift in attitude for the five-time Raw women’s champion.
Once a self-serving, second-generation star whose entitlement fueled her heelish persona, she found herself at odds with Carmella, Natalya and Tamina in a program that firmly cements her in the role of babyface.
Rather than having her presented as a smiling, high-fiving heroine on television, SmackDown Live’s writing staff has stayed true to her character, creating a slow-burn babyface turn that will benefit her more in the long run than a sudden, inexplicable shift in personality.
A History of Failed Turns
A rushed babyface turn can doom a character to failure before it has a chance to even experience the sweet taste of success.
In 1993, Lex Luger was a self-centered villain quite literally dubbed “The Narcissist” because of his infatuation with himself. Then came the weekend of July 4, when he emerged from a helicopter aboard the USS Intrepid and became the first Superstar to bodyslam the massive foreign heel Yokozuna.
From there, Luger set out on a massive babyface run that included a cross-country bus tour in hopes of building favor with the fanbase. Given how unlikable Luger was, it took a massive effort on the part of Vince McMahon and Co. to present him in a way fans could at least appreciate.
Even then, the rapid and nonsensical babyface turn did not lead to him capturing the WWE title or becoming the face of the company. That distinction went to Bret Hart, the fan-favorite hero whose hard work and dedication struck the audience more than any sudden babyface turn and massive marketing push ever could.
Luger is not the only star to undergo a substantial rise as a good guy despite previously working as an established baddie.
Two years later, Diesel found himself the subject of a push that would ultimately fail, his connection with audiences not as strong as that of…Bret Hart.
In 2016, Seth Rollins returned from injury and was betrayed by Triple H shortly thereafter. Rather than embark on a massive babyface run, he failed to inspire rabid reactions from fans emotionally invested in his success.
Even after defeating Triple H clean in the center of the ring at WrestleMania 33, vanquishing the oppressive authority figure, he struggles to be accepted as a full-fledged hero.
Avoiding That Pattern
Charlotte has not had to undergo the rapid about-face that the aforementioned predecessors did.
She has remained largely the same character she always was, even as she prepares to team with Naomi and Becky Lynch to battle the aforementioned trio of heels, now know as The Welcoming Committee.
She is still very much the selfish competitor she has always been, even shunning an introduction by Naomi on the May 9 episode of SmackDown Live because no one can introduce her like she can. Little subtleties such as that, not to mention the arguments with Lynch and Naomi that have occurred both in the ring and in backstage settings, serve as suitable reminders of her general villainy.
For a successful babyface turn of a character so long despised by fans, it must be built slowly and steadily. Fans have to learn to like the character, be it through inspiring performances or character development that includes admirable traits such as loyalty, dedication to craft or hard work.
Fans, no matter how “smart” or experienced they may be, still get caught up in the narrative. Inexplicably turning a star who has such a foundation as either a villain or a hero will almost always fail without even the slightest bit of build.
Had Charlotte arrived on SmackDown ready to shake hands and kiss babies, she would have been rejected on the spot. As the reluctant associate of champion Naomi and longtime rival Lynch, her turn can come about more naturally and organically rather than quickly and against type.
Does the Turn Have to Happen?
That is the beautiful thing about the quality of performer Charlotte has become: She does not have to become a babyface to get fans to cheer her. She can remain a “shades of gray” type that is far from good but feuding with women even worse than herself. She can do so to great success because fans respect the level of her performance when she sets foot inside the squared circle.
Then, when the time comes, she can revert back to her heel status, the overall tone of her character unchanged.
It has happened in the past. Recently even.
Brock Lesnar found himself opposed by Seth Rollins and The Authority in 2015. Despite being a prototypical monster heel, he was booked as a babyface against an entity far worse than him. It worked as fans wanted to see the usually unstoppable force plow through The Architect for the WWE Championship.
The same can be said for Charlotte.
Carmella, Natalya and Tamina have come together to reign over the women’s division. It is up to three individual stars, regardless of how much they like each other, to band together and thwart them. There is no rule dictating Charlotte must remain a babyface after the program raps up.
When partners are no longer necessary, she can resume her backstabbing ways and challenge Naomi for the women’s title.
It is a much more interesting story than just turning her without rhyme or reason, then watching as she falters to garner support from an audience not necessarily motivated to invest in the egotist.