Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic – Heel and Soul…

In the modern era, pro wrestling bookers have often attempted to shake the well-established dynamic of virtuous hero against evil villain by painting characters with more shades of gray, but timeless classics never go out of style. If you show an audience a selfish, dangerous, evil bastard who wants to take things that aren’t rightfully his and hurt people along the way, then most fans will automatically support the forces pitted against them, and roar with support when the bad guys are given their comeuppance.

TODAY’S ISSUE: All about the heels.

While the type of heel is never quite the same, their role in the storyline rarely changes. Heels are the cause of babyfaces’ woes, and they have got to be stopped. Whether dark and malevolent like the original incarnation of Kane, snobbish and smarmy like Ric Flair was for many years, antagonistic and aggressive like Stone Cold when he first found his voice, or irritating and annoying like the Honky Tonk Man and his successor, Santino Marella, the heel is the spoon that stirs the drink. He forces the hand of the nice guy who just wants to do the right thing and compete with honor and respect for the game.

Using pro wrestling’s standard vernacular, let’s consider one of Hollywood’s most beloved babyfaces, Rocky Balboa. Surely the Italian Stallion’s heart, determination, guts and iron jaw made him a compelling figure, but think about what would be lacking in drama and excitement if he only faced boxers akin to a bland, generic jobber like Iron Mike Sharpe or Brad Armstrong. The colorful characters Rocky traded punches with gave him strong motivation to overcome the odds, and made the films more entertaining. Apollo Creed talking trash while out-boxing the Rock, Clubber Lang mercilessly taunting the Stallion while questioning his heart and the legitimacy of his championship, and the silent, malicious Ivan Drago’s lack of concern for his fellow sportsman while beating Creed to death in the ring, each provided Rocky the impetus to keep dragging his tired body off the canvas and urged him to summon the strength to battle for one more round, until his wicked foe had been vanquished. These heels, like all other film villains, were the critical factor in the conflict of good versus evil. Good versus boring just wouldn’t sell tickets.

The Wicked Witch of the West, the shark in Jaws, Kahn in Star Trek II, Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction, Max Cady in Cape Fear, and Scorpio in Dirty Harry (as well as countless others) all drove the activity by forcing the protagonist, one way or another, into action and it was this motivation that made the situation intense. A cop drama about stopping folks from jumping subway turnstiles wouldn’t generate any buzz, nor would a science fiction flick featuring a maniacal tyrant attempting to claim one distant, forgotten moon for himself. It’s the distinctive visage of a provocative enemy that makes a great hero. In fact, George Lucas himself said the entire Star Wars epic was the story of Darth Vader, not Luke Skywalker. Strong heels ensure there are stakes for the good guy to face, and in wrestling, a babyface with something on the line beyond his standings and title opportunities is easy for the fans to connect with and care about.

For babyface wrestlers, defending the honor of their lady, their home promotion, or their fallen compatriot are always great motivators, and the heels who attack are the ones who cross the line and take things too far until the face has no choice but to double his efforts, often teaching the heel a final lesson and making him wish he hadn’t messed with such a stalwart adversary to begin with. In recent WWE action it was Chris Jericho’s attack on Shawn Michaels’ legacy and (whether intentionally or not) his beloved wife that really sent HBK into high gear in seeking vengeance, while in Ring of Honor, the Age of the Fall came in last year and rocked the foundation by snubbing their noses at ROH’s established conventions like respect for your opponents and fair play. In TNA, the veterans known as the Main Event Mafia currently believe the up-and-coming generation of wrestlers have failed to respect them as they should, and thus are examples of a documented truth about wrestling heels: no matter how outlandish the bad guy’s position may be, if he believes he is in the right, he can be convincing in his quest for bloodshed and may even sway some fans to his cause, as Muhammad Hassan once did for me.

This is the reason why face-versus-face matches are so few and far between in professional wrestling, because the fans find themselves in a pickle. If you don’t want to cheer against one side, it’s difficult to cheer for the other, and quiet fans aren’t what promoters are after. Wrestling feds want the crowd ravenous in support of their chosen knight, whether good or evil. As long as they dig the guy enough to buy his t-shirt and pay to watch him perform, the character is effective. For example, I mentioned Darth Vader earlier. When I saw Episode III live in the theater during it’s midnight debut, the place erupted the first time Anakin took a machinery-assisted breath, making the sound fans have loved to emulate since 1977. And how many kids have ever dressed up as Luke or Obi-Wan for Halloween? Vader is a heel moviegoers don’t even love to hate; they simply love him. And that is one effective villain.

Ric Flair is the same sort of heel. He performed at such a high level of quality for so many years, fans stopped wanting to see him lose, and just wanted to see him. It’s a rare phenomenon in any form of entertainment. Although he loved to work heel, Flair became ineffective in that role in later years because appreciative fans just wanted to respect him for all his contributions to the business and not boo him. Due to Flair’s long list of legendary matches, his always colorful, never boring promos, his hard work, obvious love for the business, incredible in-ring skills, and phenomenal charisma, he morphed from a wrestler fans loved to hate into a man we loved, period. And still do.

So the next time you see another generic heel who only got the shot because of foreign ethnicity, big muscles, or a freakish body type, think back fondly to the great heels of the business, and appreciate them for the unique qualities they displayed and the visceral reaction they struck within you. Men like Harley Race, Rowdy Roddy Piper, turncoat Sgt. Slaughter, Ted DiBiase, Sr. and the Boogeyman the Lord of Darkness incarnation of the Undertaker all found a way to make wrestling fans care about them, and usually that meant we hoped to see them lose to a heroic babyface. As Triple H once said an old-timer told him early in his career, “you make a lot of money in this business when you learn to hate.” That’s the secret to a successful feud.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s – “There surely is in human nature an inherent propensity to extract all the good out of all the evil.” – Benajmin Haydon


Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…

WWE on pay-per-view means we’ve got PK’s live Cyber Sunday coverage and our always entertaining Roundtable.

Do you like your television reviews over (St)ice? If so, there’s nobody better than Norine Stice, who covered both TNA iMPACT, and SmackDown! for Pulse Wrestling this week.

But Pulse Wrestling covers so much more than mainstream promotions. Here’s a double-shot of Il Professore a.k.a. Big Andy Mac, as he reviews the all-important annual ECWA Super 8 Tournament and Ring of Honor’s Injustice DVD.

Speaking of ROH, Ace Glazer provides his keen analysis of this weekend’s shows in Ring of Honor Weekly.

You want interviews? Pulse Wrestling is loaded! Here are recent interviews with Kevin Nash, Mike “Simon Dean/Nova” Bucci, and what about Raven?

Paul Marshall looks at week 2 of Hulk Hogan’s new Celebrity Championship Wrestling show.

Ivan Rushfield explores narcissism in this week’s episode of Breaking Holds.

Finally, IWC icon Scott Keith once again brings a blast from the past as he reviews WWE 24/7 in The Smark 24/7 Rant for World Championship Wrestling, 19 July 1986.

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