Pro wrestling’s villains are the collective straw that stirs the drink. Without them and their over-the-top personalities and douchebaggery, pro wrestling wouldn’t exist. It would simply be this vanilla exhibition of half-naked people performing odd moves.
The role of rogues and scoundrels has existed in pro wrestling for more than a hundred years, with early competitors portraying themselves as aggressive rulebreakers. While it’s hard to fathom an audience coming unglued over hair pulling or eye gouging, that’s really all it took back in the day, as evident in film from the ‘50s, and is still seen today in MMA when fighters “accidentally” poke an opponent’s eyes or use the cage as leverage.
But with the arrival of television, its stranglehold on Americans, and its eventual partnership with pro wrasslin’, the part of the bad guys would soon see a dramatic shift towards a character-driven presentation that continues today. And so, in honor of the dishonorable, I present what I see as the Mount Rushmore of heels, using the criteria that established America’s national memorial, selecting those who best represent the birth, development, growth, and preservation of the heel pro wrestler.
Gorgeous George - Birth
While bad guys existed before the arrival of Gorgeous George, the advent of television, coupled with the antics of the effeminate yet aggressive golden one, helped lead to pro wrestling’s first golden era.
In many ways, Gorgeous George was a pioneer. He is considered the first wrestler to utilize music during his entrance (Pomp and Circumstance, sound familiar?). He developed the part of a character many came to emulate or draw inspiration from. And because fans tuned in by the thousands to see him go down, he’s arguably the father of the unusual phenomenon known as hate-watching.
“Superstar” Billy Graham - Development
“Superstar” Billy Graham, literally and figuratively, was Gorgeous George on steroids, taking flamboyance, presentation, and character work to a new level. Graham developed a colorful wardrobe to accentuate his bodybuilding physique, making it hard for viewers to take their eyes off him.
He ramped that up with his gift of gab, which highlighted his personality, making him equally difficult not to listen to. And like the Gorgeous one, Graham’s influence shaped an industry that began placing more emphasis on charisma and look, changing what it meant to be a pro wrestler.
Rowdy Roddy Piper - Growth
Professional wrestling’s popularity exploded in the mid-1980s thanks to a mixed cocktail of mass media, celebrity connections, and cable television. And at the center of it was a man called the Hot Rod, Rowdy Roddy Piper.
Clad in a kilt that fans frequently called a skirt to mock the Scottish superstar, Piper waged war on the decay of society, which he blamed on mediums such as television and rock and roll. He assaulted pop star Cyndi Lauper and directed his venom at Hollywood sensation Mr. T, resulting in the creation of WrestleMania, which put WWE on the path to becoming the biggest and longest-lasting wrestling promotion in the industry’s history.
Piper’s impact grew thanks to Piper’s Pit, a talk-show segment, which has been copied and pasted countless times from the Brother Love Show to Miz TV, and now, The Grayson Waller Effect.
MJF - Preservation
Tales of sexual conquests, admitting to alleged crimes, and throwing drinks at children. And that’s before mentioning MJF’s other heinous acts, such as manipulation, arrogance, and penchant for cheating.
However, MJF’s constant commitment to kayfabe and his dirtbag character, though excessive at times, is commendable, even if it often earns him as many cheers as jeers. And based on his success, it’s also proof that one’s unyielding dedication to their performance still pays off.
Now, I’ll hand it over to you, Cagesiders. Using Mount Rushmore’s criteria of birth, development, growth, and preservation, who makes your memorial of baddies? Sound off in the comments.