In addition to passing on the stewardship of the TNT Championship onto Sammy Guevara, Cody Rhodes passed something else onto his understudy: the wrestler getting the most polarizing reactions in AEW.
AEW is largely a company where babyfaces are cheered. While WWE has existed in a realm where it has become common for babyfaces to be booed; with John Cena and Roman Reigns both shouldering that burden for years, in AEW, babyfaces are cheered by the audience. Heels can get cheered as well, but even when a popular heel, such as Adam Cole, wrestles against a babyface like Adam Page or Jungle Boy, the babyface is still cheered by an overwhelming majority of the crowd.
Rhodes became the first wrestler in the company to break that mold; generating mixed reactions pretty much as soon as crowds returned last spring. Rhodes’ final eight months in the company were a complicated time where he continued to get (loud) mixed reactions from fans, and seemingly acted as a babyface one week and a heel the next. Some fans got sick of it, some fans claimed it was brilliant, either way it didn’t end up leading to much since Rhodes left the company before making a formal heel turn.
Guevara, who defeated Rhodes in his final AEW match in a thrilling ladder match, has now found himself in a similar position. Pushed a babyface, crowds have turned on Guevara. There are a variety of reasons to explain this; including Guevara’s natural heel instincts (honed through years of working under Chris Jericho) and the real-life drama in his personal life leading to some fans souring on Guevara the character.
While Cody Rhodes remained a star in AEW, and showed the ability to pop a rating right up until his final match, the overall handling of his character was awkward and ultimately accomplished nothing except to confuse the crowd on who to cheer and who to boo.
Giving fans an option on who to cheer/boo isn’t a bad thing, but only if it is presented directly as a choice, such as in a babyface v babyface feud. When a wavering babyface is in a feud with a very clear heel, such as Cody feuding with Dan Lambert and Men of the Year, it creates an awkward dynamic that makes for a confusing product. When there isn’t an obvious heel or babyface involved in a match, it makes storytelling and angles much more difficult to pull off when compared to a traditional match structure.
For that reason, it’s important that AEW makes the right decision with Guevara and either turn him heel, or design a way for him to become a clear babyface. Since the crowd is already trending towards booing him, the wise move would be to just lean into the act and turn him heel formally. That way the company goes from the uphill battle of trying to get him cheered again, to having a hot heel as TNT Champion.
Guevara’s run in AEW has already put him among the most frequently-turned wrestlers in the company’s short history. Like many of the indie names who debuted with the company, Guevara came in as a blank slate to a fanbase that was much larger than any other place he had worked. Early into his time in AEW, he firmly turned heel and was given a prominent position in The Inner Circle.
Guevara shined as a mini-Jericho in the group, leaning into all of his heel instincts and emerging as the arrogant fuck boy that was perfect in the role. When MJF joined The Inner Circle, Guevara emerged as a babyface, feuding with the more-despicable MJF and turning him into a natural hero; a role that he succeeded in as well. It wasn’t until his relationship with Tay Conti, and his interactions with the questionable Cody Rhodes character, that he began getting significantly booed, something that has only increased as Guevara has leaned-into the more polarizing aspects of his persona.
Part of what makes Guevara so polarizing is that his persona and charisma are that of a natural antagonistic; the kind of a pampered, Gen Z bro with the stylized hair. However, his in-ring style is that of a natural babyface; an incredible athlete who takes major risks and does a bunch of cool moves and clearly works super hard to have the best match he can possibly have. That duality is very polarizing; as a worker Guevara is a natural face, but as a personality he is a natural hee.
The gray area Guevara resides in makes him strongly different from his four-pillar contemporaries. MJF has always been a natural heel; Jungle Boy a white-meat babyface, and Allin as the babyface anti-hero. Relatably, all three of those performers have always been either heels or babyfaces throughout their entire AEW run, and nobody is advocating for any of them to turn either.
Some fans may consider that gray area as a strike against Guevara; that he doesn’t fit a clear role within the future of the company and thus, has fallen behind MJF, Jungle Boy and Allin when it comes to leading the company into the future. That isn’t necessarily true; Guevara’s future role is more uncertain, but it also allows his career to evolve in a more interesting way as he straddles the fence between good and evil. His ability to shine in both roles makes him a valuable asset to the company, especially when his contemporaries seem more locked into being one or the other.
Guevara will be a very popular babyface once again, just not at the moment. Wrestling is all about time and place and many mistakes have been made over the years by trying to fight the sentiment of the crowd one day in hopes of changing their minds in the future. The best path forward for his career is to go full-blown heel, leave little in doubt about his motivations, and go forward from there. He has already shown the capacity to be good in that role during his feud with MJF and The Pinnacle; but that time has passed and his character needs to go with the flow of the audience.
In the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast,, Jesse Collings (@JesseCollings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) jump around the wrestling scene beyond WWE and AEW. First they talk about NJPW’s progress (and regression) in the United States and what fans can expect in the future. Next they talk about ROH’s revival under Tony Khan and what future role the company will play in the wrestling industry. They wrap up talking about the pros and cons of GCW, and the broader independent scene as a whole.