Since the veil on backstage WWE and other wrestling promotions was lifted and their secrets revealed over the last two decades or so, fans have been privileged to see and hear things that earlier generations would never have dreamed of seeing. From the crumbling of kayfabe to behind the scenes documentaries, it’s fair to say we have more access to wrestling than ever before.
That being said, now that we know more about our favourite performers; their families, interests and backgrounds, does that remove some of their mystique and character traits? We’re ‘in the know’ so maybe subconsciously don’t buy into the performance. We know the guy trashing the audience while giving a promo does lots of charity work, visits sick kids and has a family of his own. We’re not going to believe what he says, and will just watch for entertainment value.
I hope I’m wrong in that. I like the performance. I like the audience participation. I like believing – even if for a fleeting moment – that there’s a true person on the screen or in the ring. That’s why, along with many people, I want to see a true heel. A dastardly bad guy or girl out there. I want to hear the audience riled every time they speak or antagonise them. With the increasing access we now have to the real person, the chances of seeing that diminishes for me and I’m sad about that.
Kevin Owens is supposed to be a heel. He is rough and hard-hitting in the ring. His promo skills are excellent as is his trash talking. He was effectively given the title around his waist, so we should think he hasn’t earned it, right? We should hate him for that? Thing is, he’s a cool guy and we like him for that. He’s funny, so resonates with us; he’s a family man and has been on a long, hard road to reach where he is now. Is it because we know about his background that we cheer for him? Or is it a case of fans cheering for whoever they want, despite their actions? Is it because we know this guy has busted his ass for what he has? How can we hate him?
Another superstar who seems to be having more success as a heel character is Charlotte. With a tailor-made gimmick (all she had to do was be born for that to happen), she’s the darling who has privilege over everyone else. Her natural ability, cocky demeanour and riding with a sidekick (a true heel trait) has her more heel-ish in my eyes. I acknowledge her talent and ability, but it’s the way she goes about it that makes me dislike her a bit – and that’s a good thing. I think women can pull off the heel characters better than the men. Draw your own conclusions as to why that is.
My favourite female heel by far, hardly did any wrestling at all, if any. The unequal Vickie Guerrero drew ‘nuclear heat’ as Chris Jericho described it on his podcast with her. Even Mrs Sanchez sitting beside me watching WWE back when Vickie was Smackdown GM, didn’t like her and she doesn’t watch WWE. Vicky was what could be described as a ‘Pantomime Villain’. Most UK readers will know that term, but for those who don’t, it’s essentially and over-the-top character. One the audience enjoys booing and jeering. The person will deliberately play up, raising the decibel level of the arena to draw more hatred and noise from the audience, all the while with a smile on their face. Vickie was always my favourite bad guy/girl. Some wrestlers would give their right arm to draw heat like she did.
I think the last ‘true heel’ we had the pleasure to see in their pomp was Triple H circa 2000. He had all the tools for being a hated character. He regularly beat up the good guys. He had people run in and help him. He cheated. He screwed people over, yet didn’t care one bit. He never pandered to the crowds. Instead he riled them more and more, by beating their favourites. Even when holding the gold, he seemed like he’d always find a way to keep hold of it by fair means or foul. He wasn’t the typical cowardly heel either. He could back up his words in the ring and destroy opponents when he seemed cornered. We didn’t know half as much backstage stuff then as we do now. We knew about the Stephanie/Chyna stories, but lots were still off-limits to us fans. Social media hadn’t taken off on the scale of today, so Triple H could be a jerk and that’s pretty much all we’d see of him, so our natural inclination would be to dislike him.
Undertaker famously kept his private life secretive to protect his character, and the WWE in a way. He was a mysterious enigma who transferred that into his dark character. Perhaps it was due to that secrecy that he kept both himself and his character aloof and consistent in how the audience responded to him. If we saw at-home photos plastered on social media of him and his family, how could we get that chill down our spines when the bell tolled for the next Wrestlemania victim waiting in the ring for the dead man’s arrival? We wouldn’t think of the Phenom, we’d think of Mark Calaway the family man, except now dressed in leather and wearing eyeliner.
Perhaps the ‘Reality Era’ is here to stay, such is the abundance of both programming and backstage info we have access to. I’m happy with the current product and the way things are going. Maybe I’m just getting old and want to see a proper bad guy, a villain who everyone hates. The explosion of social media has given us something previous fans would’ve loved to have, so maybe we should be happy with that, knowing the old ways will never truly return. I’m content with my lot and will always continue to watch. Maybe one day I’ll hate someone on TV again, maybe sooner than I think.
What do you think? Does WWE need defined roles as faces and heels, more so now there are so many ‘tweeners’? Was Triple H the last proper heel or did Boo-tista unintentionally have that honour? Can any of the current roster draw heat like Vickie did? Let me know. Thanks as always for reading.