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There have been so many great heels. From Stone Cold's punch you in the face character, to HBK's chewing gum in your face, obnoxious character, all the way to Undertaker's sinister character - but who truly is the greatest heel of all time?
Before I speculate, there must be some ground rules made that makes a heel remarkable, let alone the finest of all time. In case you are unaware of what the word even means, a heel is a villain. There are many genres you could put wrestling under, but the most suitable one is theatre. In wrestling, there are good guys (babyfaces) and bad guys (heels) battling over a variety of conflicts. William Shakespeare was arguably the first writer to popularize this particular theme, but wrestling took it to an entirely different level. Once the show was over, Shakespeare's characters were themselves. In contrast, wrestlers, more so in the older days, stayed in character. If you were shaking hands with Ricky The Dragon Steamboat, you were shaking hands with his character, not the person.
That being said, this meant that heels had to personify their character outside the ring. This led to fans hazing, harassing, and threatening them. Some even took it to the next level by trying to test their machismo the wrestler personified on television in a physical altercation. As if this wasn't challenging enough for heels to cope with, there were a few promoters, with the most notable one being Bill Watts, who would fire any wrestler who lost a fight on the streets. He wasn't condemning fighting. He was just protecting the image of his wrestlers who are characterized as the toughest men on the planet.
The aura wrestling had back then was extraordinary due to how far they went in "protecting the business." Even though kayfabe (the secrets of the business) was something that was supposed to be never broken - most people over the age of 18-ish kne deep down, wrestling wasn't real. But because wrestling never broke it, people suspended their disbelief. It's almost like how a kid has suspensions of Santa Claus not wanting to be real, but they want to believe....because who wouldn't some fat guy delivering us things we deeply wanted? Fans ended up creating this illusion that it was real, ignoring the things that wouldn't realistically happen, such as an Irish-Whip, in a fight.
To return to the subject, the most important job a heel had is to make people hate him or her. There are some imbecilic words thrown around on the Internet such as cheap heat and go away heat (which largely doesn't exist unless someone asked every wrestling fan why they hate a wrestling), but heat is heat. Heels are supposed to be the most sadistic, obnoxious, annoying people in the world. If you believe they went too far, they correctly did their job.
Needless to say, but I was watching Nitro the other night and Eric Bischoff was acting like a stooge, repeating the words bite me to JJ Dillon. My first thought was, "Wow, Bischoff is annoying". Most cynical fans would automatically assume the heat he's getting is go-away heat, explaining why they personally dislike them. On the other hand, I thought to myself some more and realized I was being worked. He ended up getting under my skin, something that he was supposed to do. That is what heel is supposed to do.
The second most important thing is being able to talk. There are rules to the exception, a lot of monster heels have gotten over with little ability to talk, but most heels need to talk to communicate with the fans and express their feelings. After all, if we were born without the ability to speak, there would be more peace and harmony in the world.
The third most important thing is being able to wrestle. The main goal of talking is to develop a character, but the shoe-in for second place is convincing fans to see an upcoming match. If you are great at pitch-selling a match, but stink it up every time in the ring, people are going to start to become disinterested in the matches you're showcasing, and as a result you're going to lose a lot of your heat.
You also don't just need to know how to wrestle. You need to know how to wrestle as a heel as well. Rey Mysterio, for example, is a great wrestler. But wrestling as a heel, not so much. A heel needs to be able to do several things in the ring:
They need to be able to dictate the pace of the match.
They need to be able to sell.
They need to be able to call a match.
They need to be able to tell a story in the ring.
They need to be able to take hard bumps.
They need to be able to read the crowd/have them in the palms of their hand.
They need to know how to make the babyface look better.
They need to realize that they cannot work like a babyface, aka do things that could make the fans pop (flashy moves, hand signals, etc.)
Over the years, there have been so many great heels that perfected their niche and thus it ''s extremely difficult to narrow it down to one. I consider the first heel that loved-to-hate-him level to be Gorgeous George. In the early 30s, wrestling was going through a drought for several of reasons, but the popularity of television made wrestling grow to new heights. The 40s and 50s were classified as the boom period for wrestling, and one of the main reasons was because of him. He gained mainstream popularity due to his flamboyant, over-the-top, obnoxious persona. Prior to him, most heels him were just vile, ugly people who loved to beat up good guys. George positively blueprinted the obnoxious/cocky good-looking gimmick. Admittedly, a monster heel beating up your favorite super-hero-esque babyface is vexatious but nothing is more vexatious than gloats egotistically about their success.
The first nature boy Buddy Rogers emulated what Gorgeous George did and ended up taking to a new level. But not only did Ric Flair take it to a new level; no one could come close to emulating him. Fans wanted to see him get his ass kicked. People actually paid in hope to see it happen. Granted Flair could never draw the amount Hogan or Austin could, but to his credit, he was never a babyface for a long period or in his prime had Vince McMahon's unparalleled promoting abilities. In spite of that, he drew just about as much as any other wrestler and certainly was one of the largest drawing heels ever.....if not the greatest.
Without question, he was the most versatile talker ever. He could make you feel sympathy, want to crack his head open, or believe that he was psychotic (sometimes all at the same time). No matter what his promo was about, it would always make people want to see his upcoming match. He's made millions laugh, cry, love him and hate him (hence the dozens of riots from crowds) . It's truly amazing how pure passion and emotion can come into your living room; no other wrestler has come into mine more than Flair. Ultimately, he could cut any type of promo as well as make it both entertaining and passionate. He had more charisma in his pinky than most wrestlers had in their body.
Flair in the ring was everything a heel was supposed to be. He created a formula for a match that worked to perfection. He simply was the master of doing everything and anything to make the fans believe the babyface was going to win. He also knew when and where to do something based on reading the crowd's reaction. The way he could dictate a match was a work of art; his countless of 60-minute matches felt more like 10 minutes. His storytelling and psychology also were both phenomenal; every move he did was in the context of the story. His timing was always spot-on, and he knew when the babyface ought to make get in his hope-spots or come back. And, as every cowardly heel should, he bumped like a pinball machine and sold like he was getting the beating he deserved.
As a bonus, he had the gift of making other look better than they were. In fact, he could even do it whilst still winning, which speaks volumes of how epic he was at doing it. He gave some of the most iconic wrestlers the rub they needed with the notable ones being Ricky Steamboat and WCW's biggest babyface ever Sting.
At least back in the day, there were so many great heels that I honestly wish I could put all of them at number one. The Sheik was the blueprint of the foreigner gimmick. Bobby Hennan was the blueprint of the obnoxious heel announcer (which made you hate the heel wrestlers even more). Abdula The Butcher were the blueprint of the psychopathic hardcore heel. Sherry Martel was the initial woman most men truly hated. Vader was one of the primary monster heels that actually could also put on a very entertaining match. Jake Roberts was one of the best talkers and psychopath heels in the world and made up his athletic disabilities by using exquisite psychology and storytelling. The list is truly endless Roddy Piper, Ray Stevens, Brody, Stone Cold, Cactus Jack, Midnight Express w/ Jim Cornette, Vince McMahon were all excellent at their niche as a heel.
Unfortunately, wrestling has become afraid of itself. Vince McMahon is trying to rub the scrub off it. To some people, wrestling will always be a dirty word and there's nothing that will change that. Nevertheless, the company has gone so far in pretending it's fully clean that it has practically eliminated the entire point of wrestling out of.
CM Punk can phenomenally talk on the microphone and precisely has this certain gift that allows him to get on people's nerves. There's something cringe-worthy about how the guy carries himself. However, if you think that's the best you can do, well you're delusional.
Even in 2013, CM Punk could start riots if he was allowed to. This has been a big problem in WWE. Some say a heel makes a babyface. Others say a babyface makes a heel. To me, they compliment each other. When one side is lacking, the other side suffers. And it's clear all-around in the WWE today.