The Book on The Real Americans – WWE’s Best Problem

When I attended the December 2 episode of Monday Night Raw in Oklahoma City, it was no surprise that The Real Americans got a huge pop. First and foremost, Jack Swagger is the hometown kid. He’s not what CM Punk is to Chicago, or what Chris Jericho is to Winnipeg, but he’s kind of a big deal nonetheless. Before he was Jack Swagger, he was Jake Hager, a two-sport athlete at the University of Oklahoma. Now, he was entering the ring on WWE’s flagship show, less than an hour away from his hometown of Perry, Oklahoma. Of course he’s going to get a face reaction.

Furthermore, there are plenty of people in this part of the country who whole-heartedly agree with Zeb Colter’s xenophobic outlook. To me, Zeb Colter isn’t some cartoonish television villain; he’s an amalgamation of a number of people I know in real life. There are people who talk like that around here. Lots of them. Another reason to expect a face reaction from the overwhelmingly right-wing Oklahoma fanbase.

So it was that I found myself with my hand over my heart, shouting “We The People!” in a loud, clear voice, along with an entire arena of my fellow Oklahomans. After that night, I quickly started to realize that The Real Americans are getting face reactions from the WWE Universe in general, not just in conservative hotbeds. Hell, they got a huge pop from the December 13 Smackdown crowd…in Portland, Oregon.

The Real Americans, who are supposed to be despicable, racist heels, are getting unintended face reactions from live crowds all over the country. There are several reasons for this. In my opinion, the top factor is the fact that Antonio Cesaro is the darling of the IWC, and for good reason. His promos are fantastic; look no further than his recent feud with William Regal on NXT for examples of Cesaro’s excellent mic work. More importantly, his freakish hybrid in-ring style balances agility and incredible displays of power in ways that any wrestling fan cannot help but love. The Cesaro Swing is a total face move; a signature maneuver that is far too fun for a heel’s moveset.

Secondly, Zeb Colter is freaking hilarious. One of the reasons Paul Heyman is so unique is that he can be maniacally ruthless one moment while making viewers laugh the next. Colter, on the other hand, is just pure comic gold. His delivery, and banter with JBL when on guest commentary, is consistently fantastic. His conspiracy theory regarding Los Matadores kidnapping El Torito and forcing him into a bull costume against his will has been the only good thing about Los Matadores’ entire run in WWE. And who isn’t going to laugh their ass off at a man with a ridiculous moustache holding up a sign reading “Santa Claus Is An Illegal Immigrant”?

Next up is the “We The People” chant itself. The WWE Universe loves to chant simple catchphrases – Daniel Bryan’s “Yes!” chant, Booker T’s “Sucka,” D-Generation X’s “Suck It” – the list just goes on and on. “We The People” is fun. The chant itself is over with WWE viewers. So here we have a team that includes Cesaro–one of the best in-ring workers in WWE–Colter–one of the funniest talkers in the business–and a former World Heavyweight Champion in Swagger. And they have an awesome catchphrase. And fun signature maneuvers like the Cesaro Swing that get kids of all ages out of their seats. And they’re supposed to be heels.

While it can be a problem for wrestlers to get crowd reactions opposite to those intended by WWE Creative, in this case, it’s a good problem to have. When you boil it down, you have a team that’s getting huge reactions, they just happen to be positive instead of the originally intended negative. There’s a slew of directions WWE could go with this to push the team, and seeing as I had plenty of free time over the holidays, I have thought a great deal about it.

One option would be to turn the team face. I’ve noticed that WWE has been toning down the xenophobic aspects of Colter’s mic work over the last couple months, and also making him more purposely comical with the Santa Claus and El Torito storylines. It wouldn’t be too difficult to continue in this direction and repackage the team as a trio of goofy patriots because, well, that’s pretty much what they are right now anyway. Cesaro and Colter are both so talented that I think they could work just as well, and possibly better, as faces. The biggest problem I have with this idea is that face Swagger might be even more cringe-inducing than heel Swagger. It’s not a stretch to say that the guy lacks in the charisma department, and I’m not sure I want to see face Swagger.

A second option would be to make The Real Americans more heelish. Turn up Colter’s xenophobia to 11. Make the Cesaro Swing more of a heel move by adding a big boot finish from Swagger. Have the team engage in standard heel antics more frequently; more low-blows, more disqualifications, more cruelty. The big issue here is that, with The Real Americans’ gimmick, there’s a fine line between being hated heels and being legitimately offensive. For a TV-PG show, I’m not sure WWE can push the xenophobia angle too much further than they already have before they start actually offending people. Back in the Attitude Era? Sure. Today? Not so much.

Another direction would be to break up the team and push Cesaro as a singles competitor. He’s already over with the IWC and the WWE Universe in general, it wouldn’t take much to push him into the main-event scene. I have two issues with this idea:

First off, a big reason Swagger is as high on the card as he is comes from the rub he gets from Colter and Cesaro. He’s pretty bad on the mic, and his ring work is solid, but not exceptional. Yes, he’s a former World Heavyweight Champion, but he never felt like anything more than a placeholder champ. After his brief championship reign, he was plagued with poorly booked feuds with Jerry Lawler, Evan Bourne, etc., and bad gimmicks. (Remember the Soaring Eagle? Me either. I prefer to pretend that never happened.) Breaking up The Real Americans could lead Swagger back to jobber status. Keep in mind that just over a year ago, Swagger was jobbing constantly to the likes of Tyson Kidd and Santino Marella. The real question here is whether Swagger dropping back to the low-midcard is a bad thing. There’s a role for solid, if unspectacular, workers with sub-par mic skills in the low-midcard. For reference, see: Axel, Curtis.

Secondly, I’ve always thought that fans clamor a bit too much for tag teams to be split up so that [insert name here] can be pushed to the moon as a singles competitor. With how red-hot the Tag Team Division is in WWE right now, some of the best talent in the company is in the tag title picture. Cody Rhodes is one of the most over faces on the roster right now, and he’s only fought a handful of singles matches since Goldust returned to action.

As you can see, there’s plenty of ways WWE can go with The Real Americans. None of the paths are perfect, but WWE has a very good thing on their hands here. My personal preference would be to keep the team together and turn them face, but any of the other options could work as well, if done correctly.

Follow me on Twitter @scottstrandberg

Previous Entries in “The Book On…” Series: