Bo Dallas returned from a months-long hiatus on Monday night, and it’s the only part of Monday’s RAW that matters to me at all. Extreme Rules is this Sunday, but with Monday’s show bereft of pre-PPV shake-ups there was plenty of room to focus on the WWE’s most significantly insignificant wrestler.
Roman Reigns appeared in the ring Monday night to respond to Big Show tossing him around like a rag doll during last week’s RAW, but now that his Survivor Series sins1 have largely been forgiven by fans, the WWE can relax and paint him as an underdog again rather than insisting he’s the coolest and he and Daniel Bryan and the Rock are best friends and play Settlers of Catan backstage like all the time, you guys. Mercifully Reigns declared he didn’t want to talk, that he wanted to call out Big Show and fight here and now and was willing stare at the jumbotron menacingly until Show acquiesced.
Enter Bo Dallas.
Dallas, whose gimmick can be boiled down to “idiot,” voiced fears about Reigns the WWE spent the last five months systematically eliminating from audience’s minds. That he can’t compete despite bring Brock Lesnar to a near stalemate at Wrestlemania, that he peaked as part of the Shield, that he simply isn’t a very good wrestler — adding his solution by which Reigns could overcome all those faults. All he has to do is Bolieve.
Reigns hit him with a superman punch and a spear, and that was that. Dallas out, Reigns set to defeat Big Show at Extreme Rules, Bo Dallas having established the pattern his appearances will fit for the foreseeable future. So why do I love Bo Dallas so much? How is it that I’m prepared to cheer, week after week, for a man portraying a stupid loser convinced he’s an intelligent winner?
Bo Dallas is a self-help guru without an ethos; the entirety of his belief system is belief itself.2. It’s not as though the WWE is without its successful cult leaders — Dallas’s real-life brother and in-ring polar opposite Bray Wyatt’s spooky voodoo swamp preacher shtick earns him free reign to ramble satanic invectives in promos week after week, and fans love him for it — but Dallas’s imploring his opponents to “Bolieve” doesn’t seem to require faith in Dallas so much as subscribing to Dallas’s particular brand of faith, which is otherwise unspecified. One Bolieves by Bolieving. Then, somehow, profits from it. Dallas is an “inspiration” without acolytes, and with no clear means of obtaining any. Fans are supposed to infer this is his reason for fighting his opponents – if he defeats them through the power of Bolief his opponents will, it would follow, see the light and walk the path of Bolieving themselves.
We don’t know what that would look like, however, because Bo Dallas doesn’t win matches.
Consistently losing matches is not a particularly unique role for a wrestler to fill; currently Adam Rose, Heath Slater and Fandango3 all exist to make other guys, whether up-and-coming or veteran champs, look good by taking beatings and getting pinned. The other quality these men share is falling into a sub-species of the heel persona, that of the buffoon heel. They’re not calculating weasels (currently epitomized by Rollins) or bloodthirsty maniacs (Rusev) like main-event heels, just too stupid or misguided to know better than to think they actually have a chance against their opponent.4 Losing doesn’t necessarily condemn a wrestler to ignominy; Koko B. Ware made it into the WWE Hall of Fame, after all. What this role does condemn them to is impotence, which thoroughly undercuts the purpose of a self-help guide or secularly spiritual guru. Bo Dallas is, inherently, a nonstarter.
It’s worth mentioning not all buffoonish heels are trapped in that role forever – hell, the Rock started his career basically playing Douchebag Stokely Carmichael. The typical path into legitimate heel territory is to snap, after a particularly galling loss or simply too many consecutive Ls, forsake whatever their shtick is for bloodlust or double down on their gimmick, a la Stardust, and add a dash of bloodlust into the mix. This newfound seriousness must be somewhat believable — Stardust was recently a tag team champ, which lent his solo move some credibility. But therein lies another Bo Dallas anachronism: it’s not just that he loses, he also doesn’t really look like a wrestler.
WWE wrestlers tend to be built like action figures because the successful ones are destined to literally become action figures. More important than the physical capability to import and export significant bodily harm week after week is appearing like you can hold your own in a fight. Dallas’s physique brings to mind the body of an athlete ten months deep into a restful disability leave more than that of a postmodern gladiator at their ostensible physical peak; the guy almost has moobs. Add to his shallow bloviating the utter lack of muscle definition, his cartoonishly squeaky voice, long greasy hair and the skimpy white speedo he stuffs it all into and it’s clear we as the audience are supposed to hate him. If fans can’t quite get it up to despise him, we understand we’re meant to at least enjoy watching him take a beating or, cruelest of all, only pull for him ironically.
Bo Dallas’s entire gimmick is designed to be detestable, but he’s so sincerely disingenuous, so deadpan in both his “inspirational” speeches on the mic and slapstick buffoon-gets-what’s-coming-to-him in-ring act it’s become impossible for anyone with a sense of humor to dislike the guy. He’s the anti-wrestler, and not the way every new generation of wrestlers is the inverse of the previous group. He’s actually here to win friends and have a good time. He earnestly bops along to his opponents’ entrance music. Dallas seldom even brings up wanting to win matches on a program where dialogue is almost solely dedicated to winning, how one might go about winning, or who someone is going to defeat before going on to yet another win. The only thing Dallas wants to win are hearts and minds. Moreover, the last thing Dallas is self-styled to win are hearts and minds. This isn’t ironically liking a bad wrestler. This is sincerely loving a really shitty wrestler, a wrestler who presents as having zero redeeming qualities and self-knowledge plunging into the negatives. But his catchphrase is a pun and, in the WWE, that can sometimes be enough.
All you have to do is Bolieve.
winning while not being the recently returned Daniel Bryan ↩
Not that this isn’t also the secret of The Secret, but boiling that pedagogy down to a pun catchphrase illuminates exactly how insipid belief for belief’s sake really is. ↩
and, traditionally, most active wrestlers of color at any given point ↩
Who may be a face or a heel, the only qualifier being they’re higher up on the food chain than the buffoon. ↩