by Kevin D’Hooge
So you stabbed your best friends in the back, sold out to the authority, broke the nose of the most decorated wrestler of the last decade, and cheat your way to every victory over the last year? Yeah we’ll cheer for you.
What’s that, you broke the Undertaker’s undefeated streak, attack helpless announcers and cameramen, and your mouthpiece of a manager insults everyone in sight? Yeah, I think we’ll cheer for you too.
Welcome to the year 2015. This is the reality era and it mystifies me how heels can possibly obtain heat these days.
We live in an era where fans know the inner-workings of the wrestling industry. In a lot of cases, fans are several steps ahead of creative. We know who corporate likes and who they slight.
We also have exposure to social media. Fans know what wrestlers are like in real life as opposed to how they behave in the ring. Wrestlers are people too and with social media a line has been drawn in the sand between real and kayfabe.
As a result, we generally cheer for who we like rather than who we’re “supposed” to cheer for or for who creative wants us to support.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Boos for a heel are interpreted as cheers, so when we cheer for them, technically they aren’t doing their jobs right.
So how can heels get heat in an era where fans are smarter than ever before. Fans seemingly cheer for the better in-ring tactician or the wrestler that’s funnier on the microphone these days rather than for the designated face.
Let’s inspect WWE superstars who catch the most heat: John Cena, Sheamus, Big Show, and Nikki Bella. Cena and Bella are social magnets that are perceived to be the media darlings of the WWE. WWE fans feel that they receive opportunities that aren’t given to others. They are classic cases of perceived favoritism.
Show and Sheamus seem to annoy the WWE Universe to no avail. Show is constantly altering his character. A lot of fans feel that he has overstayed his welcome in the wrestling ring, to put it lightly. Sheamus is simply playing a lazy and long-treaded heel persona. Even his face character was tired and very Cena-esque.
The reason why heels are cheered is because they are given more creativity and freedom with their characters: they can speak their minds, implement insult humor, behave more viciously, and oftentimes are very good wrestlers. Kevin Owens, New Day and Seth Rollins are in the midst of fan favorite heel runs that apply here.
So what can heels do to draw heat? Perhaps they could wrestle badly, give us the silent treatment on the microphone, or use distractions for all of their victories. Essentially, doing the things that make us forget why we liked them in the first place.
Looking back, Chris Jericho really mastered the avant-garde, post-modern heel. At the time I hated it, but that was the intention the whole time. I’m speaking of the gimmick he used for his return to WWE in January of 2012, where he would come to the ring and just stand there for minutes upon end, doing absolutely nothing. He would come out to the ring and sulk in the cheers, but he avoided actually wrestling and didn’t say a single word on the microphone for weeks. He just trolled the audience. He did all the things a wrestler isn’t supposed to do. This heel run was ahead of its time.
We need more heel runs like this, that think outside the box. Cheap heat given to stale acts like Sheamus and mixed reactions for comedic, biting, talented tweeners like Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins just aren’t cutting it anymore. If these trends continue, the concept of face/heel could change forever. Good luck explaining that to Big Show.