Heel (professional wrestling)

Heel (professional wrestling)

In professional wrestling, a heel is a villain character. [Foley, Mick. Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks (p.2)] In non-wrestling jargon, heels are the "bad guys" in pro wrestling storylines. They are typically opposed by a babyface or more simply, face (crowd favorite). Some tweeners exhibit heel mannerisms. Heels are often portrayed as behaving in an immoral manner, breaking rules or otherwise taking advantage of their opponents outside of the bounds of the rules of the match. Others do not (or rarely) break rules, but exhibit unlikeable personality traits. No matter the type of heel, the most important job is that of the antagonist role. Heels exist to provide a foil to the face wrestlers. If a given heel is cheered over the face, a promoter may opt to turn that heel to face, or to make the wrestler do something even more despicable to encourage heel heat.


The term "heel" is most likely is derived from a slang usage of the word that first appeared around 1914, meaning "contemptible person." Common heel behavior includes cheating to win (e.g., using the ropes for leverage while pinning or attacking with foreign objects while the referee is looking away), attacking other wrestlers backstage, interfering with other wrestlers' matches, insulting the fans (referred to as cheap heat), and acting in a naughty or superior manner.Foley, Mick. Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks (p.117)]

Once in a while, faces who have recently turned from being heels will still exhibit some heel characteristics. For example, Kurt Angle, even after turning face for his feud with Mark Henry, used a steel chair, an exposed steel ring peg, and leverage from the ropes during his pin to secure his victory at the Royal Rumble 2006. John Cena, after his initial face turn, often used a steel chain to win some of his matches, such as the one against the Big Show at WrestleMania XX. [cite web|url=http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Wrestling/PPVReports/2004/03/15/382634.html|title='WWE WrestleMania XX' Results|last=Powell|first=John|accessdate=2008-03-15|publisher=SLAM! Sports] Finlay is also another example after his face turn. Also certain wrestlers, such as Ric Flair or Eddie Guerrero, gained popularity as faces by using heel tactics.

Heel Types

While behaving as a heel is often part of a wrestler's gimmick, many successful heels fall into one or more categories:
*Crazy heel: A raging madman, dangerous and unpredictable - may attack others for no apparent reason, or blame others for being "held back" from championship opportunities and other privileges. Sometimes psychotic behavior is displayed. Examples of this would include Brian Pillman, Victoria (during her first heel run), Snitsky, Brock Lesnar (during his final heel run), Mick Foley (when he debuted his Mankind persona), and most recently, Edge after single handedly destroying Mick Foley and his La Familia stable and Kane since starting a feud with Rey Mysterio, Jr. claiming to scarring and disfiguring him. Certain foreign heels, such as Umaga, and The Great Khali, display these unpredictable tendencies due to poor (kayfabe) communication skill.

*Comic heel: A heel character with comical aspects to his or her gimmick. Though the heel's mannerisms and overall character are silly, the comic heel can still be a serious heel contender, such as former World Champion King Booker or Edge and Christian, who would be featured playing kazoos and exercising in chicken suits. Examples include Simon Dean, Doink the Clown, Jillian Hall (during her singing gimmick), Santino Marella, and Chris Jericho (during his run in WCW).

*Cowardly heel: A wrestler who, in addition to breaking the rules and displaying characteristics of other heel types, often runs from his face opponents when threatened or otherwise placed at a disadvantage. A cowardly heel who is champion may often intentionally get himself disqualified (through outside interference or deliberately breaking a rule in front of the referee) or counted out when he is clearly losing the match against a face, allowing him to retain his championship despite losing the match since championships usually do not change hands should the reigning champion lose by disqualification or countout. Cowardly heel will usually duck out of the ring whenever their most dominant babyface opponents make their theme entrance. One example of a cowardly heel is The Honky Tonk Man during his run as WWF Intercontinental Champion in 1987-1988, Mark Henry as he ducks out of the ring towards beginning of matches, and Montel Vontavious Porter. A recent example is Edge during his feud with The Undertaker, and JBL during his feud with Eddie Guerrero back in 2004 and again with John Cena in 2008.

*Traitor heel: A face who has turned a bad leaf. In addition, this character may usually go to such limits as to making a disrespectful remark in the ring which will not please the crowd, to making a brutal surprise attack on one of the crowd's favorite face wrestlers. Reasons of the attack may be over that face holding the title, or more fame and glory that the face receives. Bitter feuds are usually started after this act of betrayal which may go on between these two character for weeks, possibly even months. An example of traitor heel is Chavo Guerrero back in 2003 when he sat in a chair and watched as Shaniqua and the Basham Brothers gave his uncle Eddie Guerrero a brutal beating in the ring and then gave a brutal beating of his own. This was the start of their feud. Another example is when Kurt Angle turned heel as he stops a pin count and attacks Eddie Guerrero in match against his nephew, Chavo Guerrero for the Cruiserweight Championship. Another example of a heel is when Eddie Guerrero abandons his tag-team partner, Rey Mysterio, to wrestle alone in a match against MNM as they later give Rey a brutal beating, following the week after, giving Mysterio a beating of his own, thus turning him heel in which case started a bitter feud between Eddie and Rey Mysterio. An example for a women's feud is the feud between Trish Stratus and Mickie James, with Mickie constantly attacking Trish's protege Ashley Massaro and turning on Stratus weeks before Wrestlemania 22, claiming Trish never appreciated Mickie's 'love' for her. Two more recent examples is when Cody Rhodes turned on his mentor and partner Hardcore Holly to team with Ted DiBiase, and when Colin Delaney turned his back on his mentor, Tommy Dreamer, in favor of Mark Henry.

*Delinquent heel: A troublesome and disrespectful character who verbally and visually displays uncivilized conduct such as profanity, vandalism, violence and associated "criminal" behavior. Sometimes the wrestler will harass or bully opponents and rebel against authority. An example of this would be D-Generation X during their first heel run in 1997-1998. Other examples include Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hollywood Hogan and the New World Order, Edge and Lita during their Rated-R gimmick, The Undertaker early in his "Big Evil" gimmick, and Tazz during his feud with Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler in mid-2000.

*Egotistical heel: An obnoxious and self-important character who is arrogant or cocky; some wrestlers play roles on their own fame, achievements, or good looks and usually will continue to gloat non-stop despite the boos of the crowd. Examples include Hollywood Hogan, Chris Jericho, Edge, Christian Cage, JBL, Vince McMahon, Trish Stratus, Randy Orton, Kurt Angle, Mr. Kennedy, Joey Mercury, Johnny Nitro, "The Model" Rick Martel, Montel Vontavious Porter, Rick Rude, and Shawn Michaels.

*Female heel: Female heels have traditionally tended to display unpleasant, prima donna-like personalities towards fans and opposing divas and wrestlers, and often excessive obsession over their image and looks. They have often interfered in matches and attacked opponents from behind without provocation. Female heels in recent history have shown jealousy towards her opponents, especially one that is receiving high-profile recognition. In response, the heel will try to prove her superiority over her opponent. Traditionally, female heels in wrestling have tended to lean toward the stereotype of a woman with loose morals, both in style of dress and in attitude (this was particularly true of the heel divas in ECW, such as Francine and Dawn Marie), and are often mocked or insulted by male faces for their supposed sexual immorality. However, other female heels may look down on female faces, calling them "sluts" for playing to the crowd.

*Foreign heel: In United States wrestling, these are heels who stir up the crowd by expressing strong anti-American sentiments. They may also refuse or be (kayfabe) unable to speak English, preferring instead to render their tirades through an interpreter. Often these characters would be topical, playing off global events and crises current at the time. Examples include the La Resistance tag team, Yokozuna, The Iron Sheik. Another example of a heel is Kenzo Suzuki during his feud with John Cena back in 2004. In Mexican wrestling, Americans are often portrayed as heels. Alternatively, there is a variation on the foreign heel gimmick - a wrestler who is actually an American, but has turned his back on his country in favor of an (ostensibly superior) one (called a traitor heel) Muhammad Hassan is a unique example of the "traitor heel," having turned his back on America, not in favor of another country, but as an act of protest demanding respect as an American citizen.

*Monster heel: An unstoppable juggernaut who squashes his opponents. Sometimes, monster heels violently "injure" other wrestlers (sometimes through rule breaking tactics), terrorize valets (injuring them on occasion), and commit other heinous acts in order to set up a feud with a promotion's lead face. Notable examples include The Undertaker, Abyss, Kane, The Great Khali, Big Daddy V, Mark Henry, Umaga, Sid Eudy, Yokozuna, André the Giant, The Big Show, and Chris Masters. Female monster heels, as they tend to be more physically imposing compared to the average woman, are often portrayed as Amazon-like warriors, capable of even holding their own against male wrestlers. Notable examples include Jazz, Shaniqua, Chyna, Awesome Kong and Beth Phoenix. Some monster heels tend to show some cockiness due to their size. Examples would be The Big Show (Since the night he turned on Stone Cold Austin and reunited with the NWO.) , Kane (During his feud with Matt Hardy), The Great Khali (When he won the World Heavyweight Championship), Mark Henry (Since his feud with The Undertaker) and Andre the Giant.

*Popular heel: Certain heel performers are known to receive enthusiastic cheers from the fans instead of heel heat, in spite of their heelish antics. These heels display confidence, toughness, coolness, and bravado that set them apart from more cowardly heels, almost to the point that they become tweeners and, eventually, babyfaces. Examples include Stone Cold Steve Austin, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, The Rock, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Kane, The Undertaker, Mr. Kennedy, Ric Flair, Eddie Guerrero, and Samoa Joe. A lot of legendary heels get cheered.

*Heel stables: A large gang of heels that usually create an advantage through numbers. The concept of the heel stable was largely innovated by the Four Horsemen. Such groups commonly self destruct due to an inability to work together or selfishness of the group's leader. Other prominent heel stable examples include the New World Order, the Corporation, The Right To Censor faction, various incarnations of Team Canada, the Dangerous Alliance, Evolution, The Age of the Fall, and most recently, La Familia.

*Celebrity heels: Are celebrities who act like a heel and would start a major feud with the top face (or in some cases, other heels). Examples include former professional boxer Mike Tyson when he was with the first heel run of DX and was feuding with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Rapper, Kevin Federline is another example when he was feuding with then WWE Champion, John Cena. This also makes the storyline more interesting to the fans. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is the most recent celebrity heel, getting negative reactions from the crowd by bragging about his money, despite the fact he was feuding against another heel, The Big Show.

*Figure of authority: A heel in a position of power. He/she often abuse their powers, books face wrestlers against seemingly impossible odds, such as handicap matches or matches against monster heels. Figures of Authority often feud with the top face, rarely interacting with other wrestlers. Examples are The McMahon's, Eric Bischoff, Paul Heyman, William Regal, Vickie Guerrero (during her current run as SmackDown! General Manager), Armando Alejandro Estrada and Kurt Angle.

*Moralistic heels: A heel who in his or her own mind is a babyface, and takes every opportunity to lecture the fans and other wrestlers about their perceived lack of values. They make it their mission to "clean up" the world of wrestling and eliminate elements the fans love, but they see as distasteful. Despite their high moral standards, they will often express their beliefs through terroristic threatening and radical, violent behavior. They often feud with outlaw, degenerate faces such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, D-Generation X, The Godfather, and Val Venis. Moralistic heels include Bob Backlund, Bret Hart, Owen Hart (as the Blue Blazer), Irwin R. Schyster, the Right to Censor stable, CM Punk (in Ring of Honor), Matt Striker, Molly Holly, Kurt Angle (1999 to 2000) and Chris Jericho (2008-)

*Young heel: A younger wrestler who believes that he is the "future of wrestling" and spends much of his time antagonizing older, more established wrestlers. They believe that these older wrestlers should simply retire and "make room" for the younger talent. Notable examples include Randy Orton's "Legend Killer" gimmick and the Natural Born Thrillers stable. The most recent example is the tag team of Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, Jr.

*Control Freak heel: A variation of a crazy/monster heel, the wrestler uses brainwashing and domination to control (sometimes recruit) either his/her stable members, valet, or adversaries. Sometimes the control freak will be an figure of authority at some point. Examples include The Undertaker (January-February 1999 during the creation of The Ministry of Darkness), X-Pac (early 2000, when he managed to win Tori over, partially due to a stipulation of a match against Kane that he won, then Tori turned on Kane), Mike Knox (when he controlled Kelly Kelly), and Shane McMahon (by forcing Kane into the Corporation as Chyna's bodyguard). Raven is also a very notorious Control Freak Heel, as he's brainwashed wrestlers in WCW (The Flock) and TNA (Serotonin.) Paul Heyman is a good example when he kidnapped Paul Bearer and had for a short time he had the "power" to control The Undertaker. This type of heel, however, is rarely used.

Common heel tactics

The tactics of a kayfabe heel were perhaps best summed up by Jesse Ventura: "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat." However, it can backfire and eventually lead to the heel's defeat. Such tactics include:
*Using the ropes or grabbing the opponent's tights during pinfalls.
*Masquerading as face wrestlers.
*Insulting fan-favorites or face wrestlers by mocking signature poses of the face wrestlers (showing humiliation to face wrestlers).
*Sticking thumbs, throwing powder/salt, or spitting foreign substances into an opponent's eyes.
*Removing the padding on turnbuckles to expose the steel underneath it, and then smashing an opponent's head, face, etc.
*Use of concealed weapons (brass knuckles, etc). Some heels are less subtle when using a weapon, grabbing a chair from ringside in full view of the referee with no regard for the consequences.
*Dragging an opponent's face across the top rope.
*Low blows.
*Heels will tend to argue and shout with the referee as a distraction for the heel's tag team partner to do more damage to a weak and tired face opponent, such as choke them against the ropes, only if the face opponent is near their side of the ring. If the face's partner sees what is happening and tries to help, the referee usually will hold them back as the heels does more damage to the face opponent.
*Hard legal tactics, such as shoot kicks to the face, if done repeatedly and with the intention to make the face wrestler look weak.
*Use of "cheap" tactics or "bending the rules", for example knee hits intending to break the knee, hyperextending the arm and striking the elbow to break the arm, foot stomps, hair pulls, headbutts to the opponents nose with intent to break the nose, and/or punches or palm strikes to attempt to break the opponents nose.
*Utilizing an "arrogant pin," such as posing or mocking the crowd while making a clearly ineffective pinfall attempt.
*Holding a forearm down on an opponent's face during a pinfall attempt.
*Lifting an opponent off the mat during a seemingly effective pinfall attempt (generally by pulling the opponent's hair) in order to continue the match (and to continue "beating up" on the opponent).
*Bringing a valet, manager, or another wrestler to the ring to help the heel by cheating.
*Using the outside of the ring to rest, or ducking into the ropes to slow the match down.
*When defending titles, intentionally getting himself/herself disqualified
*Insulting the fans or mocking the city in which he or she is performing during promos. Heels might also mock local sports teams who have suffered disappointing results.
*Assaulting the opponent after a match or interfering in a rival's match in to cost them the win.
*Purposely getting themselves counted out in order to avoid a clear pinfall loss. This is often done in title matches; the heel champion will keep his title despite the countout loss (This act has been done by heel wrestlers recently such as Montel Vontavious Porter)
*Heels are often also noted by commentators to be "targeting a specific body area" - often to render their opponent's finisher move ineffective or weaken them for a pinfall.
*Heels are portrayed as being weaker fighters than faces, regardless of size or technical ability; If a heel wrestler and face wrestler turn face and heel respectively, the newly turned face will then be portrayed as the better fighter.
*Heels usually will perform their most of their delinquent, despicable, low-down acts towards their babyfaces opponents, (such as injuries, severe beatdowns, harm towards a babyface's family member, humiliation on behalf of the babyface, provoking a loss of a title shot for the babyface, blackmail, etc.) angering them and trying their patience before upcoming events (such as Wrestlemania, Summerslam, No Way Out, etc.) in which case the heels are usually defeated in their matches.

See also

* Face
* Turn
* Tweener
* List of professional wrestling slang




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