What happened to the pro-wrestling “Heel?” Seriously. There isn’t a single wrestler on the face of the planet that every fan hates. First, I’ll admit to the fact that I’m not a weekly watcher of wrestling’s comings and goings. Twitter helps me watch the pertinent material thanks to a few close buds whose opinions I value great deal. But for the most part, I don’t know if I just don’t love it as much, or if it’s just that bad. Friends of mine are still avid fans, however, I feel as though it’s forced. They’ve been fans forever. They’re involved in the industry/business/sport. I get it. My problem when I throw it on is something I’ve asked myself for the past ten years, “What else is there?”
I dig Lucha Underground. My only problem is that aside from the ‘taped work’ in the ring, they’re all a bunch of robots. The roster is excellent in the ring, but their promo work is unentertaining nor compelling. LU’s story is strong enough to hold my interest. I feel the product is taking a step in a new direction of pro-wrestling. It’s a series. You know other people can do this too, right?
And yo, NXT is fun. But then again, these are athletes preparing for RAW. If they were lucky, they got a chance to find out how an old-school program runs over the course of several months before they arrived in Orlando. No time to draw anything out longer than a month in the big time.
As for the stuff on Monday nights, there is zero story. (Do they still have other shows on network television?) Now wait, don’t disagree and think to yourself, “What do you mean no story?” Sure, they have running plot lines, but if you want a program with a ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ that lasts a year before they even lock it up in a singles match, forget it. Yes, the Daniel Bryan run was amazing, but that horse has been beat to death due to new and constant programming. Those “program days” are over. Lucha has the capability to do something like this. Chikara used to do stuff like this. But WWE isn’t worried about yearlong programs featuring two of their best talents. It’s week to week, Jack. And it’s been that way long enough to me to annually get bored. Fast.
Every year I’ll watch RAW from January until April. It’s sort of like paying attention to college hoops in March, knowing full and well everything up until the respective conference tournaments is a wash. I didn’t used to be this way. Tell me the last time a pay-per-view (do they still call it that?) in October was ‘can’t miss.’ I’m so sorry, but shush. There hasn’t been one outside of January, April, August, and September in forever (as in years-forever). Wait. Hell In A Cell last year, you say? Yep. Everyone was jamming the message boards up with praise for Cena vs. Orton CVII on PPV.
“Well they have to have a PPV every month, Matty.”
Do they? I feel my money’s well spent on the WWE Network monthly based on their exclusive content: specials, docs, Prime Time Wrestling in 1986, etc. Why is there a need for monthly PPVs outside of earning the all mighty dollar?
“It is what it is,” someone once said.
Now getting back to what this little rant is all about–what happened to the HEELS? I can answer that question. Well, actually, I just did in my previous remarks, sort of. There’s no time for “heat.” It’s sort of like this new generation of technology and whatnot. Everything needs to be instantaneous. Patience in America is running so thin. Which is why there’s not a guy on the screen week in and week out claiming to be the richest man in the world and, imagine this: We actually believe him. There’s no one who practices Voodoo to a point where the kids think it’s real as shit. And there is most certainly no one on television claiming to be the best wrestler ever, which results in America’s men, women, and children hating themselves for thinking it might actually be true. For example, I hated Triple H back in 2000 because he was the best. He believed it too, and that’s part of what it takes.
But now there just isn’t any time. Keep your eyes on Lucha. Not necessarily for the future of the product itself, but for the programing format and production. I don’t know who’s who, but I do know that it looks cool, different, and has that Lionheart or ‘Kumite’ feel. Stephanie McMahon and Trip I’m sure still come out weekly and talk for 20 minutes at the top of the broadcast about nothing, or maybe rehashing the previous week’s events. Then nothing exciting or, better yet, different happens. The ARG (Augmented Reality Game) Chikara Pro developed three years ago was a stroke of genius. And their budget was minuscule to that of Vince’s. A WWE ARG would be something the mustaches in Connecticut may want to look into. Oh, and dare I say the experience will be different.
Three factors are key to this lull I feel pro-wrestling is experiencing. First, a majority of the writers ARE NOT former wrestlers or “bookers.” But that’s a well-known fact by now.
Second, the wrestlers are too worried about getting over to take a spot and being content. I think these new kids are not worried about making their “spot” their own. Does that make any sense? The last example of a guy who worked his gimmick over enough to earn his spot based on his character and ring acumen was The Miz, amazingly enough. People hated that dude. (Again, I’m talking Heels. Anyone can be a Babyface.)
And finally, wrestling fans more so than ever are an impatient breed. Yeah, I’m blogging/bitching about times changing and the pro-wrestling of 1988 or ‘92 never happening again. (Okay, I haven’t touched on that specifically, but y’know what I mean.) The best way I can put it is like this is: It’s one thing to go into a super-busy restaurant and bitch about everything when they have never stepped foot on the other side of a dining area or bar. But it’s something else entirely when I hear these local dweebs that go to NXT talk garbage about the work in the ring not being up to specs. You nerds should be lucky there is NXT! The fans don’t know squat about the real problems, LIKE THE WRITING. When I’m inquiring about thoughts on a night’s events at Full Sail Live, none of these Full Sail kids or wrestling fans in the Orlando area have anything to say about story or who’s good or bad. All they want to see is a broad get tossed up in the air and caught into a backbreaker, or who has the gold. Those are generalities. If the kids don’t care about the road leading to any match, why should the WWE worry? And that’s why we no longer have yearlong programs.
So with no time for Heelin’ in this day of the sport/industry/whatever, I should probably just post a bunch of promos and share my thoughts.
Let me present you examples of some–in my devalued opinion–true Heels. Like, the scary looking dudes who I believed would kill me, at 10-years old, if I made live eye contact with them. Or the high-rollers, who I thought could get with any woman in the world and buy the world while they’re at it. Or, the ‘Billy Badasses’ who I imagined them punching 10-year olds in the face everyday. Hey, I’m grown, but when I watch wrestling today, I try and look at it with a child’s eyes because, after all, we’re back to gearing the action for children. Brock Lesnar could be the only threat, but he’s a robot, now an anti-hero, and thus, not as menacing when the crowd goes wild. (I’m kidding. He was UFC World Champ. He’s still menacing as hell.) I’m also going to show you a few captivating programs from my childhood that would be unheard of to play out on weekly television today.
Dr. D. DAVID SCHULTZ
Holy cripes. You think that Stone Cold Steve Austin got his rap just being from Texas? Nope. He’ll admit it too. We wouldn’t have gotten an “Austin 3:16” if it wasn’t for one of the more politically incorrect personalities in the history of wrestling. In the mid-80s Schultz was famous for slapping a reporter from 20/20 when confronted about wrestling being “fake.” It was a huge moment in the history of pro-wrestling and the official end of Schultz’s career. Despite defending the honor of the business, no one wanted a piece of him afterwards for, I imagine, legal and image issues. As far as the clip goes, Schultz pretty much lays out a template for writers who want to develop a miserable individual. “Dr. D.” is a timeless heel. He doesn’t get enough play.
Duh. This was the Voodoo-guy I mentioned earlier. He came into the WWE in 1992 as more or less a foil for my childhood wrestling hero, The Ultimate Warrior. Looking back on the character’s (brief) reign of terror, it was so ridiculous. But to an 11-year old, I thought Papa Shango made Warrior throw up everywhere for real because of the black magics. Shango was Baron Samedi, essentially. The Warrior vs. Papa Shango match-up on paper had amazing visual appeal. If only the matches were noteworthy. They were most definitely–and notoriously–not.
RIC FLAIR WHENEVER
In 1985, if you were a blue-collar American from a blue-collar heritage (or a Russian), you most certainly were not a fan of “The Nature Boy.” However, if said wrestling fan’s youngest kid was a little jerk and wanted to shine his father on every Saturday, then “whooooo.” (That was one of those slow ‘whoos’ Flair would play softly in the background while Arn Anderson told it exactly how it was, Jack.) Flair is chiseled into wrestling’s ‘Mount Rushmore.’ He’s also one of those Heel templates I referred to earlier.
STING vs. THE HORSEMAN 1988-91
Now I mentioned the beauty of a nice, prolonged pro-wrestling storyline. And I also mentioned Ric Flair performances in the 80s practically defining the pro-wrestling Heel. In 1988, a fresh, young upstart Babyface called Sting (or, ‘Stang’ if you lived in VA or NC) challenged Ric Flair for his coveted NWA World Heavyweight Championship at Clash of the Champions I. On the same night Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage stole the show at Wrestlemania III, Sting and Flair tore the Greensburo Coliseum down in front of a nationwide television audience. This more or less started the two-year feud/friendship between the Stinger and “The Nature Boy.”
The next year, Sting and Flair’s rivalry took a backseat to respect between the athletes, which culminated in their formation of a tag team to combat The Great Muta and Terry Funk at the inaugural Halloween Havoc inside the “Thunderdoom Cage.” Then came Starrcade ’89, and with it, the “Future Shock Tournament” to determine who would be the man to lead WCW into the 1990s. Sting ended up defeating Flair and winning the singles tournament–with that, earning the respect of Arn and Ole Anderson, who recently returned to help Flair battle The J-Tex Corporation.
With that victory, Sting secured a spot as the newest member of The Four Horsemen, but also as the number one contender for Flair’s World’s Championship. This was a problem. Sting accepted the challenge when he was given the opportunity to face Flair at Wrestle War ’90: Wild Thing. This was a bad idea resulting in Sting being publicly kicked out of the Horsemen at Clash of the Champions X. Flair goes from a fan-favorite right back to the top-Heel in a matter of minutes. The beauty of what followed this clip was Sting’s knee injuring later in the night while trying to get at Flair, thus prolonging their encounter for the World title a few more months. Ultimately, Sting pinned Flair for the World’s Championship at The Great American Bash 1990, but as we all know, it wasn’t quite over–just ask The Black Scorpion. (Ugh.)
HONKY TONK MAN
Switching gears back to individuals wrestling fans loved to hate, or just simply hated, Honky Tonk Man was one of those personas I reflect back and beg to have this question answered: “Who in the hell said this gimmick would make as a good fit to be ‘The Greatest Intercontinental Champion Of All Time?” Honky Tonk Man still holds the record for the longest IC title reign (454 days). Nobody wanted to hear the Honky Tonk Man sing, but we did at the same time. Honky managed to execute a few dastardly deeds, but none were as dastardly as his guitar attack on Jake “The Snake” Roberts, which resulted in Roberts legitimately being knocked out of action for a short time with a back injury. Honky was immediately elevated as one of WWE’s top Heel personalities. This attack effects WWE title history as Roberts was allegedly in line to take the IC title from Randy Savage before his injury. It’s just another one of those things that shouldn’t happen, but it did and the rest is history. Wrestling can be so weird.
TAZ vs. SABU
Woof. The Heels of ECW were so awesome. And all were well-developed from a character standpoint. For me, “Taz vs. Sabu” is the last feud that captivated wrestling fans in the same vane as the Flair/Dusty Rhodes rivalry in the mid-80s. Paul Heyman is the brainchild of exposing the reality of the wrestling business on live television. Taz and Sabu didn’t like each other behind the scenes, yet they showed what true professionals do and worked through their differences together for a good bit of time in ECW. However, in 1995, Sabu no-showed an event and Heyman, with Taz in tow, publicly fired Sabu in front of the ECW Arena in Philadelphia, PA. One year later, after ECW announced their first PPV was on the horizon, Taz challenged Sabu, who magically made his first ECW appearance in a year. From there, the anticipation for their match was already a hotbed of wrestling conversation, but it was now at an all-time high. Their encounter proved to be well worth the wait as the results of their match changed the landscape of the top Heels and Babyfaces in ECW for the next few years. I chose this because Taz is a prime example of a miserable Heel that no one can shut up. Not because opponents couldn’t beat on Taz, but because they couldn’t beat him. Then, after Barely Legal, Bill Alfonso jumps ship, costs Taz the match, Sabu becomes a Heel, and Taz earns the fans’ respect. The following clip is from November To Remember 1996–the night Sabu returned.
WAYLON MERCY (DAN SPIVEY)
If there were one character that spooks the little ones these days my money is on Bray Wyatt. Funny thing about that. We wouldn’t have a Bray Wyatt without Dan Spivey’s “Waylon Mercy” persona. Plagued with injuries his entire career, Spivey never managed to reach his full potential. I thought The Skyscrapers (w/ Sid Vicious [below]) were a visually awesome tag team and would punch a little kid in the face at the snap of a finger. But, that didn’t pan out for reasons we don’t need to get into. But I digress. One of the freakiest types of Heels are the ‘calm’ ones. Spivey always had a scary, wide-eyes glare. It’s always evident in his promo pics and what not. So as a kid, I was already creeped out by Spivey’s stare and stature. I don’t suggest watching the film Cape Fear at 11 or 12-years old. Why do I say that? Because Waylon Mercy is more or less a WWE realized version of Max Cady. And that dude is friggin’ nuts. Once I saw “Waylon Mercy” standing in a park, talking about picnics and children, with a dagger tattoo on his forehead, he was instantly a child-abductor in my childhood imagination. His early vignettes were short and to the point. It wasn’t until I saw him wrestle that I really got scared. Mercy’s in-ring style once the bell rings is totally opposite of his demeanor outside of the ring. Take a look.
SID JUSTICE 1992 (I guess 1993 too, now that I think about it)
Ironically enough as I was typing the names on my list of scary Heels, I listed Waylon Mercy right before Sid Justice (Vicious). But Sid wasn’t nearly as scary or nuts until he came to the WWE in 1991. Rumor has it that Vince McMahon was willing to give Sid the keys to the kingdom i.e. The Ultimate Warrior. However, Sid wanted to always be a monster Heel–a bad guy whose ‘bigger and badder’ than everyone. So he didn’t get the opportunity to hold the WWE title until 1997. Instead, he was mainly known for his feud with the Hulkster leading up to Wrestlemania VIII. And the promos! The clinched jaw, the inhuman amount of perspiration–it was pure insanity. I thought this dude was capable of really hurting someone in real life. Is it “life imitates art” or “art imitates life?” Either way, this promo about bees is ridiculous.
“MILLION DOLLAR MAN” TED DiBIASE
Ted DiBiase was a remarkable Heel throughout his career. Bill Watts was key in establishing DiBiase as a national wrestling commodity in the early 80s. Then, once Vince got a hold of him–like for many–everything changed. DiBiase’s early WWE run would prove to be his most notable period of time spent as an active competitor. Many fans can remember when he established that he would buy the WWE World Championship from Andre the Giant should Andre defeat Hogan for the title. The build to the tournament at Wrestlemania IV is fantastic. Both DiBiase and Randy Savage were getting the nationwide exposure both athletes deserved. But for me, the most despicable act that always makes me think of DiBiase as one of the best heels ever is for what he did to Hercules Hernandez during the build to Survivor Series 1988. I’m pretty sure slave-trading had come to a complete stop about one hundred years before this incident. That said, you’re about to see something that will never happen on network wrestling television again. This segment actually happened.
STING vs. HOGAN – STARRCADE 97
As I’ve digressed a bit from my original topic of “scary heels,” I feel the most important point to this blog entry is that without a great story, it’s hard to make a great Heel, or make a great Heel become even more. Eighteen Years later and the Sting vs. Hogan build in 1996-97 is still what I consider to be the last great drawn-out pro-wrestling feud. We knew it was going to happen. Hell, I knew it would be Starrcade just because in 1997–ask any of my close friends or family–I watched too much wrestling. But it was the swerves and the repelling and the giant birds along the way that made Sting’s journey to save WCW from the brink of death via the n.W.o. so amazing. The WCW World title match at Starrcade 1997 was the last singles match WCW promoted that had the entire world watching. And as far as Heels go, you’re about to relive two of the best ever: Hollywood Hogan and Eric Bischoff.
This is a chronological look at the road to Sting’s return to the ring in 1997. You see the growth in his character. Despite not saying a word after “Nothin’s for sure,” Sting’s voice is heard through his emotion. It’s simple storytelling people, and it’s clear former wrestlers wrote it. (This doesn’t happen anymore.) This should be the template for any independent promotion lucky enough to have a wrestler adored by everyone attempt to save their respective company from the super villain. From the first clip, Sting lays it all out. If wrestling would do this more often, we’d get a resurgence of that compelling stuff the business needs. Sting’s best promo ever, and one of the smartest written to kick off a yearlong program.
I added a video playlist with clips in chronological order from the inception of “Crow-Sting” to a month before Starrcade. Highlights for me include Tony Schiavone’s detective skills when calling the interaction between Sting and ‘fake Sting.’ The confrontation between Sting and “Macho Man” Randy Savage the night Savage let us know he’d been “blackballed.” You could say the first real altercation between Savage and DDP occurred in the midst of Sting’s ambiguous appearances early on in the storyline. Unfortunately, you’ll have to check out ‘The Network’ if you want to see the epic Clash moment with Sting and the vulture.
So that’s that. I appreciate you indulging me. There are many more great heels and story lines that I regretted to mention. The Fabulous Freebirds, Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter ’90-’91, Jim Cornette and the Mid South Midnight Express, the formation of the nWo–just to name a few. I could go on. I may end up posting a “part 2,” but in the meantime, I hope you enjoyed a few memories. If there are any classic Heels or feuds I totally missed, please let me know in the comment fields here or on Facebook. In August, I will be recording my first “wrestling-only” podcast. Should be fun.
Until the next time, don’t get too lost.
Matt de Simone tries to watch wrestling television programming weekly, but then looses focus and moves on to other business while RAW runs in the background. However, when he’s super-busy, he’ll throw on Great American Bash 1990 to simply play in the background, and he can’t take his eyes off of the TV–thus, preventing him from getting any work done. Especially when Z-Man’s stupid ass runs out to get his shit shined by Big Van Vader. I hated the Z-Man.
Check out Matt’s podcast, MattyLovesPodcast here.