Wednesday Morning Backlash: Michael Cole’s X-Pac Heat on WWE Raw

By Penny Sautereau-Fife

I really….. REALLY loathe having to admit this, but….. Micheal Cole is beginning to surpass X-Pac heat into being a legitimately amazing heel. We all know what it takes to be a good heel. And anyone can get cheap heat and be booed but not be a great heel.

First, let me explain “X-Pac Heat” for the 4 of you who have no clue what that means.

Sean Waltman, best known as X-Pac during his second run in the WWF/E from 1198 to 2001, was once legitimately loved as a face and hated as a heel. He was never particularly excellent at the nuances behing face or heel mechanics. He mostly just lucked out. His early face popularity was due to the fact that the fans love to cheer for an underdog. The ridiculous pop Santino got at the Rumble proves that. People love seeing the little guy overcome. When the then Lightning Kid joined the then WWF, he appeared to be a tiny jobber at first, but about 4 weeks into his tenure, he scored a fluke victory over mega star Razor Ramon on Raw with a moonsault bodypress, and the crowd went nuts.

Now he wasn’t popular because he cut killer promos. His early promos sounded like a nervous grade 10 chess club president trying to address the school at assembly without hurling. He wasn’t popular for being an amazing athlete or physical speciman. He was basically a 2 move stick figure. No, he was over solely because he was a skinny greasy 16 year old loser who defied the odds and fluked out a victory against a major star.

Likewise, his first heel run, as part of Ted DiBiase Sr’s Million Dollar stable, wasn’t so much due to any skill at getting the fans worked up into a frenzy over his dastardly deeds, it was more guilt by association. He joined the biggest bad guy stable in the company at the time. The stable that was going out of it’s way to screw with the fans’ real favorites like the Undertaker. The same thing fed into his later Degeneration X popularity. Trile H and Road Dog were legit popular with the fans, and Waltman like Billy Gunn got cheered by default.

I’m honestly not sure exactly quite when the fans as a whole caught on to Waltman’s general uselessness. I know it was sometime before the formation of his X-Factor stable. Fans as a whole just seemed to finally catch up to the smart fan community in realizing that Waltman had pretty much nothing going for him. He was never more than deent in the ring and frequently phoned in his matches. He was at best a competant talker, but had no real passion nor ever anything exciting to say. He certainly wasn’t much to look at, and always put off the vibe of a greasy back alley pusher. And because he was Triple H’s little buddy, he walked around with a tangible aura of undeserved superiority. Everyone knows someone like him in real life. The greasy kissass who sucks up to the popular guy and acts like he’s so much better than you without having actually done anything significant beyond said asskissing.

Waltman exuded this attitude and people picked up on it. And thus was the beginning of the phenomenon that has come to be known among smart fans as X-Pac Heat. Waltman became legitimately hated, not as a performer but as a person. He was booed relentlessly the moment his music hit and continued til he was out of sight. His promos were drowned out because the crowd wouldn’t let up. He had reached that dreaded plateau of a guy fans hate so much that they don’t want to watch him.

The goal of a good heel is to make the fans want to boo you because it’s fun for them. They love booing you because you infuriate them and they want to see the good guy give you your comeuppance. If you’re a good heel, the fans salivate at the prospect of you getting your ass kicked, and the most important part is that they’ll keep tuning in hoping to see it happen, and they’ll pay the $40-50 to see it it on PPV. But when you have X-Pac heat, the fans don’t care if you get beat up or not. Hell they don’t care if you get run over by a Buick. All they care about is you not being on their screen. They don’t want to watch you, listen to you, or even know you’re there. They’re even likely to change the channel to avoid you. X-Pac heat is bad for business. Legit heat is part of what keeps it alive. See the recent work of Alberto Del Rio and CM Punk for examples of legit heat, and any time Eric Bischoff is on-screen in TNA for an example of X-Pac heat.

Which brings me back to Micheal Cole.

Another Pulse writer recently commented that he thinks Cole’s expanded presence is a mistake, because Johnny Ace apparently doesn’t know the difference between legit heat and X-Pac heat. I think he’s wrong. If Micheal Cole were a simple case of X-Pac heat, the ratings would reflect it. He is after all dominating 4 hours of wrestling a week. When a guy’s voice is there THAT much, grating in your ears, if the heat was Waltman-like, Raw and Smackdown would be suffering a serious and significant drop in ratings. It would be VERY noticiable. That hasn’t happened. In fact Smackdown’s ratings have improved since moving to SyFy.

The main reason though that I have to begrudgingly admit that Cole might actually be better than any of us want to give him credit for has to do with my wife and I. See we missed Elimination Chamber live. We were sick and slept through it. So yesterday I torrented it and after Raw was over we watched it on our XBox 360.

Now Fran and I are longtime hardcore smart fans. We know pretty much for the most part how all the cogs fit and turn in wrestling. And while we generally enjoy watching it together, (even when it sucks, we end up MST3K’ing it while we watch), it’s rare for either of us to truly mark out. Awesome spots can get a holy fuck from us, like Morrison’s crazy dive on Sheamus from the cage roof, but it’s rare we get so drawn into it that we momentarily forget it’s scripted.

And last night we realized that we had. We were talking during the Lawler/Miz match, (which Fran being from Georgia absolutely loved as old school as it was), about how much we hated Micheal Cole. But when Lawler threw Miz right onto Cole, we cheered like marks and we realized, we weren’t hating Cole for being a shitty half-assed announcer like we used to. We were hating Cole, and loving watching Miz land on him, because he was being such a kissass to Miz and such a chickenshit condescending little douchebag to Lawler. We hated Cole because he was badmouthing one of Fran’s all-time favorites.

And that means Cole’s heel heat has somehow become legit. He made us forget it’s all a show. He made us forget that this is a storyline, an angle. He made us forget he’s playing a character, that behind the scenes he and Lawler are probably longtime friends.

He made us forget it was TV. And that takes talent.

It’s one thing to think Cole is a shitty commentator and want to smack him for being so incompetant. It’s another thing entirely to want to punch his lights out every time you see his smug arrogant smile because he was sleazy enough to talk snidely about Lawler’s recently deceased mother.

I hate Micheal Cole. And that makes him good at his job.

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