Historically Speaking: Putting Your Best Face Forward

“History is the record of encounters between character and circumstance.” – Donald Creighton

The Opening Chapter
Every good story has a simple, yet effective plot and characters that the reader, viewer or listener can understand, comprehend and relate to in some way. A good story told in history follows the same formula. For example, in United States history classes, the Americans were always the good guys and whoever we were against at the time were always the bad guys. This is also one of the reasons why professional wrestling has been popular for so very long, because its entertainment that usually tells a fairly simple story with easily definable characters. The fans need someone to cheer for and someone to root against. I’m not telling you anything new here, as anyone reading this already knows and understands this concept.

Over the next two weeks, I am going to expand on the idea of “good guy” and “bad guy” and point out some of the more famous pro wrestling archetypes that make up wrestling faces and good guys. I guarantee you virtually every famous, money-drawing pro wrestler falls into one or more of these archetypes, whether they were playing the good guy or the bad guy. All famous and profitable feuds, storylines and angles over wrestling’s grand history have been between performers who followed these archetypes and engaged in a compelling story, based on these characters.

This week I will examine a few of the “face” archetypes and point out brief instances and performers who have made these traits successful.

The Superhero
This is the type of face that is most often associated with the main event guy in a promotion, most often found in the WWF/WWE. This guy is super-strong, tough, often impervious to pain and just an all-around bad ass. But he’s a bad ass that cares. This prototype arguably started with Bruno Sammartino back in the ‘70s and was really patented by Hulk Hogan in the ‘80s. This guy will get beat on or punished, but all it takes is a little encouragement from the fans and a signature look or action and instantly their powers come back and can vanquish whatever kryptonite is in front of them. Others who have followed this type include Undertaker (think the zombie sit-up), Ultimate Warrior (rope shaking), Sting (the howl and chest beating) and more recent stars like John Cena, Batista and Brock Lesnar. Everybody loves Superman and cheering on the powerful good guy, and this how the fans can do it in wrestling.

The Technical Master
This is also what I like to call the “shut up and wrestle” hero. This guy isn’t the biggest in the fight. He’s also very athletically talented. He’s the type of guy who necessarily isn’t known for his interview skills but rather his skills within the ring. This might be the first of the hero prototypes as it can go all the back to Thesz and Gagne all the way up the present day. Bob Backlund was one of the big ones in the WWWF while Dory Funk and Jack Brisco in the NWA that personified this characteristic. Since the modern days it has become a very popular act to use in the main event scene, especially when steroid scandals get brought up. Bret Hart, Kurt Angle, Rick Steamboat, Tito Santana, Ric Flair, American Dragon and “you know who” were all masters of this type of character in more recent years. True wrestling fans who love the sport for its technical merit and athletic skills make men like this popular.

The Underdog
Probably the easiest face character to identify with for many many people in the audience is the underdog. Most people have felt like an underdog at some point in their life. It’s human nature to root for the little guy. Movies are made of stuff like this and legitimate sports fall all over themselves when they have a great underdog story presented in front of them. All of those who play “technical master” often end up playing the underdog role, depends on who the villain is in each story. Randy Savage played the underdog in his ’88 Title run. Shawn Michaels did a great underdog act during his ’96 WWF Title reign. Rey Mysterio probably played ultimate underdog in 2006. Hell, Spike Dudley has made a whole career doing it. Villains need to look big and strong and mean, and the best way to give them that appearance is to still them in there with a seemingly overmatched underdog.

The Anti-Authority
While many in the old days claim to be an anti-authority face, (I’m looking at you Dusty Rhodes) this hero archetype was truly brought to the fold during the Attitude era with one Steve Austin. He took a prototypical heel character and thanks to changing times and good adversaries he was able to create essentially a brand new type of hero. This type of hero is probably the most commonly copied type anymore. Hell, even the WWE is constantly trying to find the next Austin, as well as TNA, ROH and every two-bit indy promotion trying to find their own as well. The anti-authority was so successful 8-10 years ago that the wrestling industry today is still trying to catch that lightning in a bottle again.

The Charismatic One
I also like to call this one the “cocky shit-talker.” Think back to Superstar Billy Graham and Dusty Rhodes as guys who got by on their charisma and interview skills. A charismatic one can get by without top-notch wrestling skills or a superhero physique as long as they can hold the crowd in the palm of their hands with their words. They are also masters of making their opponents look like fools just with their insults and one-liners. Chris Jericho and The Rock are first two that I can think of guys who fit this mold, but Triple H and Shawn Michaels as faces, Hall & Nash as faces, Ric Flair and John Cena when he is “on” are all other examples. With these performers sometimes it can be more entertaining to listen to them than it is to watch the upcoming match. You can’t sell tickets based on just matches alone; you need men like this who can talk the fans into coming to see the show.

The five archetypes mentioned above are the ones most used by men who make the main event level. In fact, most top event level guys use a combination of these traits to create a real-money making package.

The Loner
This trait came to me when I was thinking of a way to characterize a big star like Jake Roberts. He’s got his own type of charisma and he had tinges of anti-authority, but he was truly something different. Jake “the Snake” Roberts was a loner. He never really held any long-standing friendships, teammates, alliances or relationships. Yet the fans loved him when they wanted to. “Crow” Sting was the other person to validate this character type. And as I thought about it more I realized how much ECW faces were like this. Sandman, Tommy Dreamer and a face Raven all followed this formula, which isn’t really a big surprise considering the way Dreamer and Raven idolized Roberts. Roddy Piper and Dallas Page could also be thought of as loners during their big face heydays. The loner idea comes from the old spaghetti westerns where the gunslinger always emerged victorious after all of his allies have gone down. It was a successful formula for those movies, and has proved successful in the wrestling industry as well.

The Pretty Boy
If the underdog is most identifiable of these traits then the pretty boy is probably one the easiest to sell. Young fans and females like to cheer on the handsome face while guys either come to cheer them on as they want to be like them or boo them out of defiance. Initially I came up with a list of tag teams that all meet this criteria, but then I realized all these teams owe their pretty boy gimmick to The Rock & Roll Express. Think about all the teams that have followed, just to name a few: The Rockers, The Hardy Boyz, London & Kendrick, The Naturals and even the newly debuted Major Brothers. Notice how Londrick & The Majors are on different brands? They play the same role. But there are a lot of singles stars that are like this, guys like Tommy Rich, The Von Erichs, Marcus Alexander Bagwell, Flyin’ Brian, Z-Man and so many others. Our society loves good looking people, especially in their sources of entertainment and the pretty boy archetype fills that void in wrestling.

The Brawler
The brawling face is kind of like the superhero’s little brother. They are big and strong and tough and bad ass, but what sets these guys apart is that these guys often don’t have that foolproof superhero comeback and often susceptible to losses. With this type I instantly thought of the late ‘80s-early ‘90s WWF midcard. Think of men like Hercules, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, The Big Boss Man and Tugboat. These brawler types are often used as back-up or sidekicks to the main event superheroes, technicians and charismatic guys. A lot of wrestling fans know what its like to be in the middle ground, not quite at the top of their class or profession, but doing well. They know what its like to back up peers and friends, while still hoping to rise to the top themselves. These no-nonsense mid-carders are identifiable with the no-nonsense working middle class of our society.

The High Flyer
The high flyer is a close relative to the underdog and the pretty boy. Face high-flyers are usually smaller, good looking guys that rely on quickness, speed and agility to make up for their often lack of size and/or strength. They often end up in the underdog or pretty boy role against much larger, uglier heel opponents. Argentina Rocca and the early Mexican luchadores are the pioneers of the high flyer prototype. The fans of the modern, or “yellow finger” era of wrestling, were introduced to the high flyer courtesy of Jimmy Snuka. His Superfly Splash as been emulated and copied and modified more than perhaps any other move. The high flyers are often much lighter than other wrestlers and are often grouped in their own division, usually called something like cruiserweight, light heavyweight or junior heavyweight. Nowadays the independent scene comprised mostly of lightweight high flyers. I could sit here all day and list high flyers but some of the ones that come to my mind include Owen Hart, Koko B. Ware, the aforementioned Hardyz, London & Kendrick, Flyn’ Brian & Z-Man and of course Rob Van, Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero, three men who have parlayed their high flying styles into successful, high-paying, main event level careers. It’s fun to watch entertainment to see people do things that you can’t do. These high flyers provide that sense of “wow” that makes watching something fun and something out of the ordinary.

The Comedy Undercard
I didn’t necessarily save the best for last on this one. The comedy undercard face is performer or performers who are responsible for entertaining the crowd in a light hearted manner. They usually are the opening of the card, right after intermission or right before the main event. They are used strategically in these spots so as to keep a nice flow to the card, by either bringing the fans back down from something or readying them for something else. A comedy guy rarely makes a full-time main event succession, as once they hit the main event much of the comedy is lost. The Rock and Mick Foley are two men who could always keep a nice blend of comedy mixed in with their main event characters. For some, comedy undercard is all the farther a guy will reach, especially if they become intrinsically linked with a character. I’m thinking guys like Scotty 2 Hotty, Eugene, Etheir main event characters. For some, comedy undercard is all the farther a guy will reach, especially if they become intrinsically linked with a character. I’m thinking guys like Scotty 2 Hotty, Eugene, Eric Young, The Bushwackers and Doink. Only a complete gimmick overhaul can truly move a guy up the card, much like Gregory Helms did a while back when The Hurricane was finally ditched. Who doesn’t love to laugh? Laughter is there to break up the flow of the violent entertainment form that is pro wrestling.

The Perspective
This week’s article was a slight change in format from past weeks, but I want to experiment with new formats and subject matters while still staying true to the historical theme.

Every identifiable hero character in wrestling has some sort of trait that makes him popular with the audience. These archetypes listed provide a good basis of what makes a good wrestling hero. They always say that movies and television only have a limited amount of plot lines to work with its just how you use them that make them effective. This rings true in wrestling as well. The basic hero prototypes are out there it’s just how a performer uses them.

The idea of these archetypes just came to me from being a pro wrestling fan for 18 years. If they mimic parts of other lists found in books or on the web, then it is purely coincidence, and just adds a sense of validity to the points I make here. Any and all feedback, good or bad, about this subject would be greatly appreciated.

Next week I will be back with a look at ten “heel” archetypes to see how make a true wrestling villain successful.

For this week the vault is closed

Linked to the Pulse
Please browse through our list of Top 100 Wrestlers. I’m sure it’s bound to start a nice debate with you and your family, friends, co-workers or stuffed animals.

David B. is back with another Greating Gimmick. WHOOO!

Dan Hevia’s Odd Ramblings of a Tired Man were a true joy to read.

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

1989 – Riki Choshu defeated Salman Hashimikov for the IWGP Heavyweight title
1992 – The Great American Bash was held at the Civic Center in Albany, GA
1992 – Big Van Vader defeated Sting for the WCW Heavyweight title
1992 – Steve Williams & Terry Gordy defeated Barry Windham & Dustin Rhodes in a tournament final to win the revived NWA World Tag Team title
1992 – Jimmy Snuka defeated Johnny Hot Body for the ECW Heavyweight title
1995 – Jack Tunny resigned as WWF President
1998 – The Bash at the Beach was held at the Cox Arena in San Diego, CA
1999 – Jerry Lawler announces he will run for Mayor of Memphis
1999 – Hulk Hogan defeated Randy Savage for the WCW Heavyweight title

1937 – Promoter Jack Curley died.
1974 – Gregory Helms was born.
1977 – Brock Lesnar was born.

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Nova implemented history assignments for the students of the developmental territories months ago so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova did create. I feel this is a smashing idea and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational but very entertaining.

I love majority of the DVDs that WWE comes out with. Not only do they contain great matches but I usually get them for the documentary main features that are part of the set. Not this time. I picked up the The Ladder Match just specifically for the matches showcased. The disc contains over 20 full, uncut matches all having the ladder stipulation, starting with a late ‘70s match from Stampede between Jake Roberts and Big Daddy Ritter (later known as Junkyard Dog) all the way up the famous four-way match from Armageddon 2006 that saw Joey Mercury’s face get destroyed. It’s a very WWE-heavy piece, but does include a forgotten WCW six way ladder match from Starrcade 2000 between Shannon Moore, Shane Helms, Jaime Noble, Yang, Kaz Hayashi and Evan Karagais. It has most of the great matches, only omitting the famous WrestleMania X Michaels-Ramon one and the WrestleMania 2000 triple ladder match, but both are mentioned and highlighted. If you love a ladder match then this is an easy recommendation. Just prepared to see a lot of Edge, Christian, Chris Jericho and both Hardy Boyz, but not that’s a bad thing.

Tags: , , , , , ,