The story of Pro Wrestling, despite all the bells & whistles and Russo-like swerves, has always been basic: Good vs Evil. Recently, it has been rumored that Vinnie Mac has given the boot to the Heel (bad guy) and Babyface (good guy) concept. The internet has been abuzz and Vinnie Mac has been under backlash for his “senile decision.” As much as I am upset with Vince taking away the base of what Pro Wrestling is, this was a long time coming. Based off of the way fans react to both, he concept of faces and heels has been dead for some time now, Vince just pulled the trigger. I’ll attempt to shed light on the importance of having faces and heels and why this movement has been a step in the wrong direction.
Take a look at Hulk Hogan vs “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. When Piper attacked Cyndi Lauper at “The War to Settle the Score”, it set the world on fire. Piper was the most despised man in the business, and only one man could bring him to justice: Hulk Hogan. The fans’ hatred of Piper and their support of Hogan being the one to put a stop to him fueled the emotional investment that contributed to the great heights Hulkamania (and wrestling itself) reached in “The Golden Era”. Hogan vs Piper was the catalyst for the first WrestleMania. Without the compelling feud based founded on the classic elements Good vs Evil, the pinnacle of sports entertainment would have never gotten off the ground.
In “The New Generation” the face/heel divide started to blur with a character like Razor Ramon. His gimmick was “The Bad Guy” yet he was a babyface. How could a man who says things like “I see your mother on the street, I slap her” be a face? I compare it the dating world: chicks dig something about a rebel without a cause from the wrong side of the tracks. The same could be said for wrestling fans and their attraction to a persona like Razor Ramon. He was a breath of fresh air and there was a cool factor about him that made it okay to cheer for the “bad guy”. However, he was clearly a good guy who was meant to be cheered, he just had an edge (pun intended).
The greatest example of the importance of faces and heels can be found in arguably the greatest feud of all time: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs Vince McMahon. While the conventional wisdom says Stone Cold was tweener or an anti-hero, I disagree. Austin symbolized the Everyman; working for “the man” and earning a paycheck. However, Austin personified man’s psychological I.D. by sticking it to his douchebag boss. Had Vinnie Mac not been the perfect personification of a “Horrible Boss”, we would’ve been robbed of one of the greatest superstars in history. Almost every person can relate to having a boss you just want to beat the snot out of, and we lived vicariously through Austin as he opened a can of whoop-ass with a bedpan over his boss’s head. Austin was the perfect babyface to stick it to corporate America. Had people cheered the evil boss because he was good on the mic and had charisma, The Attitude Era would have been an epic fail. People NEEDED to side with the hero (Austin) and want the villain (Vinnie Mac) to get his teeth kicked in for that era and storyline to work.
That brings us to today. The line between faces and heels is no longer blurred, it’s non-existent. The #1 babyface of the company is booed (just boo’s if he’s lucky) everywhere he goes. Heels that do horrible things such as throwing “ashes” onto a person or faking a retirement and making a mockery of his family are cheered. So, that leaves the question if we cheer evil and boo or do nothing for faces, how are we supposed to have compelling storylines? The point of a bad guy is to do horrible things and have the good guy stop him in the end. That is what epics are made of. We, as fans, have been complaining for years now about WWE and TNA not giving us compelling storylines, and yes some of the blame can be thrown at the creative teams, but fans share some of the blame as well. Look at the Punk vs Taker feud at WrestleMania 29. Had fans bought into the story of Punk being an insensitive bastard towards The Undertaker and doing horrible things such as dumping ashes and wanted to see Punk get his ass whipped by The Undertaker, that match would have felt immensely more important. We would have had a deviously tremendous bad guy and a justified good guy.
Moral of the story is fans have more power than we actually know. We have the power to take good storylines and make great storylines. Crowd reaction can make or break a moment. Take Punk vs Cena at Money in the Bank for example. Had that match had zero crowd reaction it wouldn’t have even been remotely memorable. I’m not saying cheer every face (because I won’t be cheering Cena anytime soon) or boo every heel. I’m simply saying if crowds want to be a part of the show, then why not be a part of the kayfabe? Help make matches feel all the more important, help us get the vibes of Piper and Hogan and help us relive the emotions we had for Austin and McMahon.
We have that power. And with great power comes great responsibility. Uncle Ben had to die before Peter Parker realized that. What will it take for wrestling fans?