The Sharp Shooter #5
March 10, 2009
By: Sean Hurley of

Heel/Face/Mark: Behind the Anatomy of Professional Wrestling

Professional wrestling is a thinking man’s activity. Like a good Chris Benoit match, everything that professional wrestling employs makes sense and serves a purpose. Wrestlers use long hair to accentuate their opponent’s offense and to mask the calling of spots during a match. Bright colored, bold ring attire is used to attract the eyes and attention of the audience. Referees, ring announcers and backstage interviewers are decisively small and scrawny so that the larger than life appearance and aura of a professional wrestler is maintained and displayed when standing next to these scrawny ?mortals?. A ring bell is used to signify a definite beginning and end to a match, to call attention to the ensuing contest, and to unconsciously associate a professional wrestling match with a boxing match, thus legitimizing the contest. One thing all of these tactics have in common is that we, the fan, can see or hear them happening; we hear the ring bell, see the ring attire, watch the long haired grappler whip his wig around while being assaulted by his adversary, and on occasion, we hear a spot or two being called.

But the genius of wrestling doesn?t stop at things we can see, hear, or are aware of; the genius of wrestling expands to terms and circumstances that a fan is supposed to be wholly unaware of. Some people frown upon professional wrestling’s routes as a con-man carnival show, where the truth was hidden behind a set of terms and actions known only within the inner circle of this budding profession. However, I assert that, from its inception in the carnivals, professional wrestling has been an intelligently plotted activity that is more psychologically satisfying than any other form of entertainment. I assert that the carnies were more thinking men than con-men, and that they should be admired, not scoffed at or looked down upon. Proof can be found at wrestling’s core, beginning in the frequently dismissed carnivals, run by those ?conniving?, ?deceptive? carnies, in the basic anatomy of professional wrestling: the terms – heel/face/mark.

All three terms originated during the carnival days as a part of a code, of sorts, to use when talking about wrestling without exposing it. Since the internet ruined wrestling and continues to suck all the unpredictability, mystery and anticipation right out of it, I shouldn?t even have to define the terms ?heel?, ?face? and ?mark?, but for those who might still be unaware, a heel is a bad guy, a face (or baby face) is a good guy and a mark is you and me?a fan. Namely a fan who believes that what he is seeing is real, who buys into characters and storylines as if they were real life, and who does not separate fact from fiction in the wrestling world. These terms make more sense and work on more levels than you may realize at first glance so enough with the prefacing, let’s dig up and examine these bountiful roots that anchor professional wrestling and discover just why, even to the terms ?heel?, ?face? and ?mark?, wrestling is so psychologically satisfying

Introducing first?

Heel ? Not just a bad guy, got it Razor? Look at it this way: A heel is literally the back end of the bottom of your foot; always being trampled on, stepped on, ran over. A heel is the lowest of the low in terms of body parts; it’s the lowest part of your body, hardly gets to feel the sunlight and is seldom seen, much less adored. The heel gets dirty constantly, always trampling through the mud and the gunk, the dirt and the dust.. In mythology, Achilles? only weakness was his heel and it lead to his demise.
Moreover, the heel is an integral part of the process of running; a common trait among wrestling’s villains. The heel is also the largest bone in the foot, dictating and balancing the movement of the foot; this is important because traditionally, the heel in wrestling calls the match, dictating the balance and movements of the match, so to speak. A heel is big, tough, bland, intimidating for a body part. The heel is simply made of of one large bone, flaky skin and a layer of fat; not flashy, not flamboyant, just a heel, standing in the dirt, receiving no attention, carrying a load of tension and stress.

Now introducing its foil?

Face (Baby Face) ? Far from just a good guy. Think about it. A face serves as the visual vehicle one uses to present themselves to the world. It is home to three of the five senses, sits on the top of your body, always catching the sunlight, always the center of attention. You speak to the world f rom your face and you see the world from your face. Better still; the term ?Baby Face? purports an image of a shaven, smooth, untainted face, fresh and new to the world, pure and unharmed. Clean, unlike the heel. A dirty face requires immediate assistance from a likewise clean source.

In wrestling, the good guy is always supposed to show his face to the audience, letting them see the anguish, triumph, pain, and defeat written in his expressions. Like an eloquently written story, the good guy connects to the audience through his visual vehicle, allowing the audience to become emotionally invested in the good guy’s struggle as they ride the emotional ups and downs along with the good guy, using his face as the text of the story.
Furthermore, a face has many distinct features that humans commonly enhance to achieve admiration and recognition. from lipstick, mascara, eye liner, nose jobs, Botox shots, teeth whiteners, glasses, nose rings, lip rings and so on, a face is a human canvas of artistic expression.

The heel and face, as body parts and as wrestling prototypes are not foils by coincidence. It’s all part of the clever name game old carnies used to hook the group of people who fall under my next term emotionally psychologically, and eventually financially.

Mark ? Oh yes, the mark. It seems to be a dirty word among wrestling fans. Nobody wants to be a mark, nobody can admit to it; to giving in and buying a John Cena shirt because you know what, you think he’s cool. To honestly being worried that HBK may have lost all his money in the stock market, or to crying your eyes out when The Undertaker put The Ultimate Warrior in a custom casket during his funeral parlor segment. But guess what? Whether we want to admit it or not, we?re all marks. If you watch wrestling and have purchased anything wrestling related, you?re a mark. Let’s look into the silly term ?mark? and see what it’s all about.

Firstly, mark is short for marketable, as in ?hey, we can market anything to these people and they?ll buy into it because we have them hooked.?

Secondly, back in the carnie days of professional wrestling and up until about the middle of the 20th century, there used to be certain wrestlers, known as ?Shooters? and ?Hookers? who could and would actually kick your ass, and did so during a match. Famous shooters such as Lou Thesz, Frank Gotch, and Georg Hackenschmidt kicked ass and took names throughout the 19th century. In the carnie days, a lot of the wrestling was legitimate and a lot of the wrestlers were shooters, and what do shooters do? They shoot for their target, their mark. Their mark, obviously is to attract crowds to bring in revenue and popularity by appealing to, and absorbing the marks. A carnie could also bilk the audience out of the most money by hiring a shooter, or a hooker to use illegal holds to ensure that the carnie’s wrestler came out on top. Either way, it’s marketing to the marks, hitting your mark, and hooking your mark.

As we can clearly see, ?Heel?, ?Face? and ?Mark? aren?t simply terms that a carnie wrote on a piece of paper, folded up, stuck in a top hat and picked at random, that would be too easy. ?Heel? and ?Face? in particular, work in multiple layers because of their origins to the human anatomy while ?Mark? harkens back to a time when wrestling, in its infancy, was mostly a legitimate fight, where shooters aimed to for their ?mark? of hooking the fans and making money off of it.

To ensure that this little thing called wrestling would click in our minds the way nothing else has done before or since, and maintain a staying power that has lasted over a century, the carnies developed the language of professional wrestling; full of well thought out terms that sprout deep roots into our psyche. Professional wrestling is a thinking man’s activity right down to its core. Everything about it serves a purpose beyond the immediate. Everything we see, hear and feel is designed to entice us on so many levels, right down to the names of archetypal personalities. Wrestling’s genesis in the carnivals, with the carnies shouldn?t be frowned upon or sneered at for being a con-man’s activity; it should be celebrated for being psychological work of art.

As always, if you agree, disagree, like what you see or want to debate me, send me an email: