This week’s episode of Monday Night RAW was a highly emotional affair. It all kicked off with Roman Reigns’ shocking announcement that he was battling leukemia, and would be relinquishing his WWE Universal Championship due to it. Reality has a habit of intertwining with professional wrestling (which is why it’s one of the most captivating forms of entertainment when executed at a high level), but this particular instance hit hard. Nearly everyone has experienced loss at the hands of cancer, and it was heartbreaking to see someone that puts their body on the line in order to entertain fans on a weekly basis struggling with it.
When it was announced that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose would be teaming up to take on the WWE Tag Team Champions Dolph Ziggler and Drew McInytre it seemed as if it was a recipe for a feel good moment. That’s exactly what happened at first, as Ziggler and his Scottish partner wound up losing the belts to the remaining members of The Shield. It was the perfect reminder that the obvious thing happening isn’t always bad, and fans were cheering in joy after their victory.
That’s exactly when things took a turn for the worst with one swift DDT by Dean Ambrose.
Why The Dean Ambrose Heel Turn Worked
WWE knew exactly what they were doing. They knew every viewer was emotionally charged on Monday night after the Reigns’ announcement, they gave them a feel good ending, and then they took it away. It was exploitative in nature, but there’s no denying that it worked. Even with as much heat that Tommaso Ciampa received after turning heel on Johnny Gargano, it felt like that turn was always inevitable. This one didn’t have to be that way though as both Shield members could’ve been huge babyface stars in the absence of Reigns. However, WWE went fully ahead with the story and they created the biggest heel in the company overnight.
It’s always risky turning a beloved figure heel now, as fans will often just cheer the person they like regardless of what’s going on. While that’s not a problem in of itself, it certainly hurts the storylines that WWE attempts to tell at times. During SmackDown 1000, we had Becky Lynch receiving cheers after mocking the injury-induced retirement of WWE Hall of Famer Edge. It was the opposite of a heroic action, and wasn’t even a cool act in an anti-hero sort of way. It was just mean, and yet cheers still came in. Those types of moments create disconnects.
However, WWE didn’t have to worry about anyone (except for the one guy that hilariously screamed “He had a reason to turn!” near the end of RAW) cheering on Dean Ambrose on Monday. Everyone wanted that feel good moment of Ambrose and Rollins holding the titles, so taking it away made it feel all the more personal. “Why tonight?” screamed one dismayed fan, and it perfectly captured the moment. The heel turn wouldn’t have hurt as much two weeks from now, but it broke the hearts of many fans tonight.
The Fantastic Storytelling in the Dean Ambrose Heel Turn
What really made the turn so fantastic was all of the small details that added so much complexity to the story. The most obvious layer is that it happened after Reigns had left the duo. Reigns was very much the glue that held the team together, and we saw last week that he was able to talk Ambrose down several times from acting on his emotions. With Reigns no longer there, Ambrose didn’t have to worry about fracturing that friendship that he clearly cares about dearly.
Instead, Ambrose got to finally show that he hadn’t fully forgiven Seth Rollins for all of the damage he caused when he initially broke up The Shield years ago. They’ve been building to this moment for several weeks, and the part where it really clicked for me was when Seth Rollins showed tremendous character growth after getting hit with the first attack by Ambrose. Rather than responding angrily, he told Ambrose that it was okay. He didn’t mind the outburst as it had been an incredibly emotional day, and their friendship meant more to him than to be discarded after one attack. He gave Ambrose every chance to reconcile, and yet it didn’t happen.
What wound up happening was yet another DDT to the exposed concrete floor. It was a brutal attack reminiscent to when Jake “The Snake” Roberts did the same to Ricky Steamboat in 1986 (a move that legitimately knocked out Steamboat). In fact, Ambrose even quoted Roberts right before he did his vicious second attack to Rollins by saying “I told you this would happen, trust me.” Those same words were uttered by Roberts before he turned heel by betraying Ultimate Warrior, and it shows how seriously Ambrose takes his craft.
Ambrose is now the most hated person in professional wrestling, and WWE couldn’t have done a better job with the Dean Ambrose heel turn.
For more discussion on this subject, check out today’s episode of WZ Daily: