Sheamus knows better than most that getting over is a nonsense lottery. A phenomenal athlete with a unique look and a genuinely crunchy moveset, Sheamus has nevertheless been mired for years in a sea of audience apathy, stepping out night after night with dead eyes and a painted smile, plaintively bellowing the word ‘fella’ into an unfeeling mass of humanity.
When he left due to multiple injuries before Survivor Series, people didn’t really notice at first. When it was announced he was returning, the internet begin sharpening it’s large collective knife made of capital letters, ready to take him apart for even the vague chance that he’d steal Mizdow’s glory at Wrestlemania.
But I mean that. I’ve always liked Sheamus, and though the company did him no favors by rushing him to the top of the card, overexposing him and making him almost as bulletproof as Jonathan H. Cena, he’s one of the most reliable talents on the roster, from a wrasslin’ perspective. Which is why I’m glad that he’s back, and a change has been made that could finally get the poor celtic poppet as over as he deserves.
I’m not referring to the fact that he’s turned heel, though that’s a help – kicking people square in the face is a better fit for a bad’un than a hero. Nor am I referring to his new music, harder-hitting and more rabble-rousing than “It’s a shameful thing, lobster head.” No, I’m referring to the fact that Sheamus now looks stupid.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, the WWE was a proud industry leader in the science of making people look f**king f**king stupid. Doink, Oz, the Gobbledy Gooker, and many more pledging their allegiance to Derp, the cross-eyed god of sartorial nonsense. Though we’re a far cry from the heady days of Mantaur, the company still ‘boasts’ a number of superstars that would look more a home at a inappropriately punchy children’s party. Adam Rose, El Torito, Stardust, all living proof that Derp is not dead. Derp can never be killed. He feasts on your exasperation and his belly is fat.
Looking stupid has done the above superstars no favors, but I would argue that this is because they couple it with acting stupid. No one wants to see a loon in the ring, not even the children at which they’re supposedly targeted. Children like cool things, like Stone Cold Steve Austin, scary things like the Undertaker, not tiny bulls and shrieking cosmic crazies.
Now more than ever, the WWE Universe doesn’t want to play the company’s game. There doesn’t exist a more comprehensive way to bury a superstar in the Universe’s eyes than Michael Cole laughing his fake little laugh and saying “That Adam Rose sure is BONKERS!!! Rofloflofloflofloflofl.” Modern fans want to mock the product, demonstrate that they’re above the idea of carefully packaging a superstar’s brand. When stupid takes the form of state-mandated fun, the audience rebels.
But it’s in this rebellion that the clever (or lucky) heel can create magic.
Sheamus returned on the post-Wrestlemania RAW. He now has ginger mohawk and a braided beard. He looks like a viking made of white sausage. He looks like a Street Fighter character and also a chicken. He’s been rebranded and the fans are mocking it, showering him with “You Look Stupid” chants, but that might just be the key to his success.
A huge part of a heel’s mentality is his inability to grasp why people mock him. A good heel deludes himself that he’s superb. Case in point, this Monday Sheamus took to the microphone to proclaim “This is what a real man looks like.” The crowd responded with a loud, passionate “You Look Stupid”. Sheamus was engaging with the crowd and they answered him with one voice. But then The Great White Sausage turned in a hard-hitting, physically respectful performance. Good athleticism, coupled with a chant the audience love to perform: this is the way to get over, even if it’s riding the back of stupidity.
Look at Daniel Bryan. Being beaten at Wrestlemania 28 in 18 seconds made him look incredibly stupid. The fans took his self-deluded, heel Yes! chants and threw them back at him. Bryan fought against them, engaging the crowd in a passionate dialogue, even it was a simple and stupid as “Yes” “No” “YES” “NO”. Ironically enough, this Wrestlemania Moment was instead designed to put over Sheamus, but it was Bryan that emerged with vastly more character, and more for the audience to connect with. If Sheamus can continue to show signs of irritation with the “You Look Stupid” chants, buck against them, build this dialogue, whilst still performing as good as he ever did in the ring, he has a real shot of becoming as hot as Bryan did, as mad as that sounds.
Now he’s dressed stupid and acting stupid, and everyone lost interest. Perhaps if he keeps rebelling against these new ‘Cody’ chants though…
Truth is, more often than not, the fans want to get involved. They don’t want to sit on their hands, they don’t want to be disrespectfully silent in the face of bland but talented wrestlers. They just need a hook, and they’ll surprise you by leaping on the smallest things. Especially if these things can be used by the fans to engage in a mocking conversation with whoever backstage comes up with damn stupid things.
Sheamus is talented and hell, and while his appearance as Celtic Rooster might be forehead-slappingly dumb, if he can keep providing the crowd with stuff they love to hate, this might just be his ticket to the top.