For those who are unaware I had the pleasure of attending WSU’s iPPV The Final Chapter last weekend. It was a good time and for those of you who follow the WSU product who read the review I received some emails in my incorrectly guessing that The Belle Saints and Soul Sisters were heels when they were in fact faces. Now I’ve never been to a WSU show but I have seen some stuff here and there and for the most part I went into that situation cold. It had me thinking though, how hard is it for wrestling fans in today’s era to tell apart heels at times from babyfaces and why? Here is the guide to being a proper heel and being a proper babyface…you’re reading “Wrestling Rumblings.”
Before I even go further let me just say I am not, have I ever been a professional wrestler. Sure I trained for a cup of coffee with Johnny Rodz but never had a match and outside of a onetime managerial appearance have never done anything as far as being a wrestling talent. Still I don’t want to receive emails going “Jose, how many bumps have you taken?” or “Jose, you don’t get it because you’re not in the business”. First off, I’ve been a fan of this business for pretty much my whole life and am well schooled and second of all it’s the opinion of this writer that while there are certain aspects of the business we don’t understand unless we have performed in the ring, there are in fact others that just make sense to the naked eye. If you’re not in the business and follow it you’re often told you’re a mark. Well the truth of the matter is we are all marks, and by marks I mean customers and the customer is always right. If a customer understands something one way than guess what no matter how much the promoter tries to show them differently it is in fact one way. There are moments in wrestling where I do feel fans from the outside who would be watching would have a hard time telling who is in fact the babyface and the heel and in my opinion that’s just not good.
Some people will argue “What about Tweeners?” I say what about them? I really don’t think there is any such thing in professional wrestling and it’s a made up term for people who are just looking for something to explain certain actions. Fact of the matter is if you are acting like a jerk than for a specific program you may in fact be a heel. Case in point Shawn Micheals kicking Hulk Hogan leading up to their match a few years ago at Summerslam and basically forgetting all about it the next night. Shawn wasn’t a tweener, he was a heel for one program and then went back to being a babyface the next night. There are some that will go on and ask me “What about Steve Austin or The Rock?” Sure those guys had moments where they maybe beat up or embarrassed a babyface but it wasn’t the kind of moments that were ridiculed or derided by fans and in fact it was moments like that which helped contribute to their level of popularity. So now that I have established that we have edgy babyfaces and sometimes even cool heels what makes a heel stay a heel and a babyface stay a babyface no matter what?
Rule #1 of being a babyface- Never be more unlikeable than the heel.
There are some guys that can almost do whatever and they are going to be cheered but they do it in a way where you don’t feel bad for the guy that they are doing it to, even if it is a fellow babyface which is why the Rock and Steve Austin were always able to toe the babyface line. Sure Austin beat up Mick Foley and Rock even humiliated the guy at times but Foley was basically set up to be a human pin cushion for these guys where it was expected. I don’t think I ever heard a fan boo when Austin stunned a babyface Mick Foley or when Rock put him down. Even Foley seemed accustomed to the mistreatment and it just became part of the schtick.
So how can a babyface become more unlikeable than the heel? Well take the Edge vs. Kane feud for example. What did Edge really have against Kane going in? Sure there was the importance of wanting to be the champion but what did Kane really do to get heat on Edge to lead to Edge kidnapping, torturing and leading Kane presumable to kill Paul Bearer? Nothing, if anything there prior history has Edge starting the whole Lita angle at Kane’s expense when they were married. So let me get this straight the guy takes your wife, comes after your title and then kidnaps, tortures and kills your father and somehow he is the babyface? It wasn’t even like Paul Bearer was around long enough to build the animosity where you would want to see something like that happen to him. If this was Vickie Guerrero who has been building heat for years at this point it would’ve been different but fans were actually happy to have Bearer back and he wasn’t around long enough to get over the nostalgia reaction for him.
So how could we have fixed this? Well maybe if Kane actually did something to Edge other than deny him a rematch when he already had a title shot it would’ve meant something. It would’ve been a babyface going for revenge instead of a heel stooping to anything which is how it came across on TV. There are some of you that are going to go Edge has had this gimmick for a long time but well when I talk about this I am talking about this from the stance of someone who may never watch WWE who will see this and go why are people cheering for that guy who is torturing that guy’s father? He doesn’t come across likeable across the board and if you don’t come across likeable across the board you are failing as a babyface.
Rules #1 of being a heel- Do not perform crowd pleasing spots on a regular basis.
AJ Styles is a talented performer and while I enjoy his antics in Fourtune (really I do) when he steps in the ring 99% of the time he does nothing during the course of his matches to really get and sustain heat in the ring. I can get the aspect of a talented wrestler who is so talented but cheats anyway because it is the easy way out but when you are performing crazy arial maneuvers and other cool spots you sort of outshine the babyface and if you outshine the babyface than you are the wrestler that is getting cheered. If you are the wrestler getting cheered guess what? You are now the babyface and you have just made your opponent a heel because no one really wants him to kick your ass and well if they do at this point it is only half of the regular babyface cheering audience. Let me define the statement “regular babyface cheering audience”. I get that there is a portion of fans that are going to cheer heels no matter what. The flip side is there is still a much bigger portion usually that is going to cheer the babyface. When a heel outshines a babyface he is taking away some of that audience and well it’s not productive for the match.
I know one of the popular deals on the independent scene is to chant “Let’s go (fill in the wrestler), let’s go (wrestlers opponent)”. That works on the independent shows but for the most part it really doesn’t work in mainstream wrestling because fans instinctively want to have someone to cheer for and someone to boo. If you like everyone in the ring to the point where you’re chanting for both guys where is the emotional investment that gets you to watch a match? Even fans on the independent scene have to understand that while a match like Low-Ki vs. Davey Richards is an awesome match (and taking place this weekend at Wrestlereunion) the first time around without something special that makes you want to see one guy beat the other guy silly after awhile it just blends in and it doesn’t sell tickets. However make it a kick ass match with Low-Ki being a super heel and Davey being the babyface that doesn’t give up and you have a 6 month program that can fill some houses. See the difference? Wrestling isn’t about just giving the people what they want for one night, it’s about doing repeat business and you don’t do that unless you can emotionally hook people into your angles and you do that with heels and babyfaces maintaining their roles.
Rule #2 of being a babyface- Don’t lie, especially to the fans.
A babyface is a good guy and as a good guy you should always expect him to be honest with the fans. He can lie or mislead a heel as long as he lets the fans in on it. A good example of this is Hulk Hogan working the Mr. America gimmick a few years back. He never tried to fool the fans into thinking he wasn’t who we all knew he was. He was just taking advantage of the fact that technically Vince McMahon couldn’t prove it. It was kind of a “wink, wink” deal and because of that the fans were sort of left feeling in on the swerve and part of the gimmick which made Hogan a bigger babyface because he let the fans in on his plan.
Let’s use this latest angle with John Cena being fired however. John Cena gave his word from the first match with Wade Barrett that if he lost he would join the Nexus. Sure it was through chicanery but he lost. So what did he do the very next night? He beat up on The Nexus, sure eventually they would change it where he had to do what Wade Barrett said and he would go onto try to get sympathy from the fans as having to act for Barrett but it would’ve worked so much better if Cena did that from day one and instead of having to do it because Barrett would’ve fired him he was doing it because he lost the match and kept his word. You can’t break your word to the fans unless they deem it okay and you know what after a few months of Cena going along with this unwillingly the fans would’ve sort of deemed it okay to beat these guys up and then you could’ve threw in the whole storyline with him getting fired if he doesn’t listen and have even more time to build up heat between him and Barrett.
So what about him getting fired? He doesn’t do what Barrett wants and Barrett axes him and then he goes the very next night and give this super emotional goodbye speech to the fans and comes back and interferes on the very same show. What did I say about fooling the fans? It’s not that Cena couldn’t have come back to mess with Nexus that wouldn’t have bothered me at all if he didn’t just go and take the fans through this emotional rollercoaster of a goodbye speech. Now if in his speech he mentioned that while being unemployed he was still going to mess with Nexus that would’ve been more forgiveable. Instead he fooled the fans and lied again. What is virtuous and noble about that?
Rule #2 of being a heel- Heels don’t have catchphrases.
I’m kind of flexible on this one but I think if I was booking a promotion I wouldn’t have too many longer plans as a heel for a heel who makes a habit of using several catchphrases. Why? Because catchphrases when learned can be crowd pleasing since the crowd likes to feel part of the show and go along with them. Sure you can have a Chris Jericho maybe use the line of “Being the best at what he does” because he doesn’t use it in a way that encourages the audience to go along with him but if you keep having a character like The Miz use “I’m the Miz and I’m awesome” fans are going to chant it and at some point fans are going to start to like you. I realize there are a great many people on the internet who still don’t like the Miz and would refute this but think about it in the eyes of the casual wrestling fan who doesn’t watch wrestling all the time. After a while you get into the catchphrase and start looking at the guy in a likeable fashion. Heels should always be despised and hated. Right now Miz does a great many things to keep his heat but if lost Alex Riley tomorrow, he would probably wind up a babyface inside of a year. I know merchandise is a big thing in all of wrestling but on the mainstream if you’re a heel and you’re selling a ton of merchandise it won’t be long before you make that turn. Catchphrases sell merchandise that’s what they are for. I have never seen anyone watch The Miz or anyone else that was a heel use his catchphrase and buy a match because of it, I have however seen that same catchphrase make that guy a little likeable where you buy his shirt.
Rule #3 of being a babyface- When dealing with heels babyfaces should always do the right thing.
I sort of thought of this one while watching Smackdown last week. There was an angle in which Drew McIntyre who is trying to romance Kelly Kelly in storyline had a match with Trent Baretta in which he beat Baretta clean and went for a handshake to show Kelly that he had developed sportsmanship, Baretta would cheap shot him which would lead to Drew beating him down. Kelly would come down to ringside and lambaste Drew for retaliating with Drew repeatedly yelling “he hit me first”. I don’t know about any of you but if someone clocked me in the mouth after I tried to show them respect whether it was sincere or insincere I’d beat the snot out of them too and damn anyone to hell who tells me I am wrong. Kelly came across like a heel to me because the impression I got was that if you wanted to get with her she basically had to emasculate you since this is pro wrestling and well it’s a very physical testosterone driven environment. Where was she when Alberto Del Rio was punched in the face by Rey Misterio upon debuting for winking at him? That was far worse and uncalled for than Drew stomping a guy out who sucker punched him.
After watching that play off I decided that as a fan I want Drew to have his way with Kelly Kelly only for him to reveal that he was using her and laugh at her and that’s not the feeling you should have with this angle. You should want to feel that Kelly could make this guy convert to the babyface side and when she is used you should feel sorry for her. Right now I feel she just has it coming.
Rule #3 of being a heel-Heels are not meant to be funny.
I don’t think there is much longterm prospect for the funny heel as a heel. If you’re always laughing at the guy eventually you just want to cheer for him. Case in point Santino Marella. When Santino first turned heel it was supposed to basically be because he was somewhat of a chauvinistic jealous prick and later on a braggart who would get his ass handed to him for biting off more than he could chew. Somewhere in all of this he kept adding comedy and as he added comedy he became impossible to boo. You looked forward to his antics and you made Santino a babyface. Even someone who I absolutely loved as a child and at one point was probably the most hated guy in wrestling in Roddy Piper was so funny in his antics that after awhile he had become the second most popular guy in the WWF and had to turn babyface. The only heel that I know that has successfully been able to get away with being humorous his whole career and stay a heel was Bobby Heenan and well Bobby was one of a kind. It might have worked once upon a time but a longterm funny heel just doesn’t work in 2011 in my opinion.
Rule #4- Babyfaces should maintain a degree of vulnerability and always fight against the odds.
I think it’s pretty clear that a good match is like cooking a steak. A babyface getting his shine is like seasoning your steak and putting it on the pan, a heel cutting him off and putting heat on him is that steak cooking and if you time your heat right you can go to your comeback which is basically the great aroma of that steak getting done and you go into everything else and you have a finished meal…I mean match (now I’m hungry). A babyface not letting a heel get the right amount of heat on him is like taking the steak out too soon and well I don’t know what raw steak tastes like but I know I don’t want to eat it.
While at the WSU show there was a triple threat match involving 2 babyfaces and a heel and going into the match the babyfaces teamed up on the heel in a way where me being so cold on the product came away feeling that the babyfaces were heels. Now I am sure this came across better in the iPPV telecast as I am sure the announcers put over whatever history there was between the babyfaces and the heels but sitting in the live crowd having no clue I was thoroughly convinced it was the other way around. Especially when the heel came back and her comeback looked awfully similar to what I would expect a babyface to do in the situation. I’m not saying 2 babyfaces can’t gang up on a heel because there are situations that warrant it but I think at some point you have to somehow acknowledge yourself to the crowd that you are in fact the good guys. A simple way of doing it is “firing up”. If you’re beating up the heel in tandem and “firing up” the right way it sort of sends a subliminal hint to the crowd that it’s ok. Otherwise you’re just a punk beating up the heel. Even in a match like that with 2 babyfaces and 1 heel you should feel like somehow the heel has the upper hand and both babyfaces are fighting against the odds. Maybe it can be something as simple as having the babyfaces become so preoccupied with the other babyface that the heel comes across to the crowd like he can capitalize but babyfaces should never really have the advantage. It cooks that steak all wrong.
Rule #4 of being a heel- Hate the fans.
Unless your gimmick is being a delusional heel who thinks the fans are on his side a heel should always come across as hating the fans and not caring what they think. Heels are disdainful people and as much disdain as they have for their opponent they should have it in spades for the crowd. The Kings of Wrestling in Ring of Honor are heels who are slowly starting to become babyfaces because they don’t come across as hating the crowd. I’ve been to KOW matches where the crowds have been encouraged to cheer for a KOW spot or where I’ve even seen Claudio ask fans what they wanted to see and deliver it. If you don’t hate the fans and are intent on pleasing them you’re a babyface. It’s that simple.
I know for the prior example I am going to get emails from people who say Ring of Honor is a completely different product and I agree but how many times do you see Beer Money do the Beer Money suplex and encourage fans to chant there name? They shouldn’t want fans to chant there name. Being a jerk to the fans is how you stay strong as a heel.
So there you have it. This is not protocol, just my opinion. I think one of the reasons that fans don’t just jump onto wrestling like they used to is in fact because things are not as self explanatory as they used to be and casual fans just can’t get why some things are the way they are. I think the one thing that can help that is a clearer distinction between heels and babyfaces. Can you have edgy babyfaces? Absolutely I don’t think there is such a thing as a longterm cool heel though. Ric Flair was the ultimate cool heel and while he always went back to being a heel how many babyface turns did he in fact have? An edgy babyface is always great business but a cool heel sort of kills off your babyfaces which is bad for business in the longterm even while it seems cool at the moment. A perfect example of that is the N.W.O in which majority of those involved were cool heels to the point where the WCW side came across as dorks and at times even unlikeable and no one was interested in watching them get there comeback, which never came anyway.
A clear cut distinction between heel and babyface is one less thing a person has to figure out on a wrestling show which if you think of the soap opera element of wrestling is really a task when you don’t follow wrestling regularly.
On that note I am going to wrap up but before I do I have to give you all something to do. I actually have a few this week. First off I am going to plug WSU Final Chapter which just came out on DVD. This show was the iPPV shown last Saturday but if you get the deluxe DVD which sells for $15 you get extra matches that were taped at different shows from the iPPV as well as bonus segments. I plan on reviewing WSU Breaking Barriers as well as Alicia vs. Roxxi II next week for “The Eye Gouge” so look out for that. I also want to plug Wrestlereunion for those of you in the LA area as it is the convention to end conventions with several must see wrestling shows from PWG and ROH thrown in. Dragongate USA will be holding back to back iPPV events starting today with United in NYC and Saturday with United in Philadelphia and will be taping a regular PPV event in Union City NJ for those who wish to attend which will culminate in the crowning of the first Open the United Gate Tag Team Champions and of course WWE will have the Royal Rumble on Sunday. It’s a very busy week for wrestling and I hope you enjoy as much of it as you can. Of course I am always reading and answering emails at firstname.lastname@example.org and well that’s it for this week, next time I will try to do better, and until then I am out.