The Attitude / NWO Era of the mid-late 1990’s marked the birth of the â<80><9c>cool heelâ<80> in professional wrestling. The guy you wanted to cheer over the good guy, no matter what he did, because he just gave off that cool vibe. It was an interesting change of pace and, try though WWE has to get back to its roots and to gain the ire of fans by making its villains do all sorts of deplorable stuff, fans continue to cheer a cool heel over a less cool babyface.
Need proof? Look no further than last Sundayâ<80><99>s Royal Rumble. Edge received a mixed reaction, with cheers being more prominent despite the best efforts of younger fans to boo the Edgester out of Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, Rey Mysterio received a mixed reaction but, largely, was jeered by the crowd.
What did Rey do to deserve this? Quick answer: absolutely nothing. More elaborate answer: he has been showcased as a sentimental favorite, which has caused him to lose some of the edgy (no pun intended) appeal he once had.
Rey is pushed as the â<80><9c>Littlest Big Man.â<80> Younger fans still love him, and, God knows, heâ<80><99>s still got it going on in the ring. Still, the mixed crowd reactions Rey has received, both at the Royal Rumble and during his World Heavyweight Title run, are a sign that the era of the sentimental favorite isnâ<80><99>t yet about to return.
Edge is absolutely disgusting. I donâ<80><99>t, of course, mean Adam Copeland. Iâ<80><99>m talking about his character. He stole Matt Hardyâ<80><99>s girlfriend (okay, so did Adam Copeland), then flaunted it to the world. He made fun of Ric Flair after some serious, very real legal troubles the Nature Boy had. He speared the hell out of Beulah McGillicutty at One Night Stand II. On two different occasions heâ<80><99>s completely stolen heavyweight titles from popular performers. Heâ<80><99>s humped the ring during his entrance, showcased his package for the world to see, and now heâ<80><99>s macking on Eddie Guerreroâ<80><99>s widow. Heâ<80><99>s a total and unabashed scumbag.
And, yet, heâ<80><99>s still loved.
Edge is a talented wrestler, sure, but heâ<80><99>s also, well…COOL. Heâ<80><99>s got a long-haired, rock â<80>~n roll look. His theme music is ballsy and intense. Heâ<80><99>s not afraid of anybody, and heâ<80><99>s a rebel, through and through.
Pushes aside, Rey-Rey has been used and abused since late 2005. (And that nickname isnâ<80><99>t doing him any favors, either.) A man who many consider to be the greatest high-flier of all time – a man who innovated the lucha style within an American ring – has been both homogenized and declawed. By comparison, Rey Mysterio looks inferior to a cool heel world champ. Is it any surprise that fans are cheering for Edge?
Randy Orton isnâ<80><99>t portrayed as cool. He cheats and cheats, and cheats some more. He runs away from challenges, gets himself disqualified ad nauseum, and, quite often, is outwitted by his opponents. Edge, on the other hand, is crafty and cunning, which gets the approval of fans.
Orton’s a slimeball, as well. He lives his gimmick, and has reportedly even bullied fans who ask him for autographs. Is he a jerk? Sure. But he knows exactly what heâ<80><99>s doing. Iâ<80><99>ll be honest: I really donâ<80><99>t like watching the guy. And you know why? Because heâ<80><99>s made me buy into the hype and hate him. Chinlocks, slow promos, et al. These things are not done by accident. (Save for when olâ<80><99> Randy forgets a line.) These things are done to irritate fans like you and I. And it works.
I could say the same for Edge, really, to some extent. Heâ<80><99>s a wrestler I used to really like but, due to his characterâ<80><99>s actions, Iâ<80><99>ve found myself repulsed by. I know whatâ<80><99>s happening, and I know heâ<80><99>s â<80><9c>workingâ<80> me, but feelings are feelings, after all. And yet, all this withstanding, I found myself happy when Edge pinned Rey Mysterio. Donâ<80><99>t get me wrong…Iâ<80><99>m a big fan of Rey. Itâ<80><99>s just that, with how both guys have been presented, I didnâ<80><99>t feel right about Mysterio going over Edge.
Strange isnâ<80><99>t it? Not really. Itâ<80><99>s another by-product of the Cool Heel Era. I can see WWE trying to prevent the cool heel problem from taking root elsewhere on its rosters. Notice the changes, for example, in Mr. Kennedy. Notice how heâ<80><99>s no longer funny. Notice how he doesnâ<80><99>t ham it up with the crowd like he used to. Understand that, were he to continue along the path he was taking, he could never be the kind of heel who fans would cheer against.
People call Ric Flair the greatest heel of all time. Iâ<80><99>d have to say that I disagree. The greatest wrestler of all time? He absolutely could be. But the greatest heel? No way. Flair, past a certain point in the 1980s, was cheered everywhere he went. Even in the legendary Chi-Town Rumble match against Ricky Steamboat, you can hear how much the fans loved â<80><9c>Naitch.â<80>
Call me old fashioned, but I think that Ted DiBiase is the greatest wrestling heel of the past twenty years. He was never, EVER cheered, no matter how entertaining he was. He was just that good at playing the part of the villain. Every part of the card, against any level of performer, he had you pulling for the other guy. That, Shenanifans, is a heel.
Let me know your take on the heel-face issue. Are these outdated terms? Am I being too old school? Maybe Orton, himself, is a cool heel. Itâ<80><99>s all up for debate.
Better yet, who is your pick for the greatest heel of all time, and why? Your comments might just wind up in with next weekâ<80><99>s column, so let me have it!
Kevin McElvaney is a contributing writer for Pro Wrestling Illustrated and The Wrestler / Inside Wrestling. Send questions or comments to email@example.com.