Sunday Sermon: The Top Heels in Wrestling History

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Craig Wilson, John Carbery, Brian Damage and Russ Morgan

After a lengthy, and enjoyable, Sunday Sermon recently looking at the best babyfaces in the history of the business, there’s only one logical follow up and that is looking at some of the guys that have went face to face with those very babyfaces. So today’s Sunday Sermon will look at some of the best heat generating heels ever.

Craig: The babyface Sermon was an excellent chat and this has a great deal of potential too. Particularly with the various different heels you can have. Your foreign fanatic, your cheap heat heel, dastardly heel, ass kicking heel and, in the case of the nWo, your cool heel.

macho-man-randy-savage_384x590Entirely unconnected with this week’s Sermon, I’ve been listening to an old episode of the excellent ‘Something to Wrestling with Bruce Pritchard’ which focused on the Mega Powers and their explosion. It was really interesting to hear that, despite the hit that being heel would have on merch sales etc, Randy Savage really saw the benefits of being a heel. Due to the era I grew up watching wrestling initially, he is one of my earliest memories as a strong heel.

I can’t not mention the role of Sgt. Slaughter in the early 90s. At the time the angle went over my head, I just saw it as an act playing a foreigner against the all-American babyface in Hulk Hogan.

But beyond those two, in the early years it was quite difficult to see a particularly strong heel, certainly one that would win. For that, you really had to watch NWA/Jim Crockett/WCW where there was much less focus on the babyfaces. It was where you could see the heel stable The Four Horsemen run amok and riding roughshod over the babyfaces at the time.

So, who is your favourite heel? What kinda heel works best for you and perhaps what are some of the poorer heels?

John: For a lot of my early years of watching pro wrestling my mother was stuck watching with me, this was of course the late 80s/early 90’s in Ireland so there was only one TV in the house. I have two really vivid memories of that time. One was my Mam admitting that while Ric Flair was a dirty player, he was still a good wrestler and he’d be great if he only stopped cheating. Which just might be heel psychology boiled down to its most simple parts.

The other memory was when Jim Cornette and the Heavenly Bodies debuted on WWF television. Cornette cut a promo declaring that his tag team were so handsome that most wives would kill their husbands for one night with them, that men have succumbed to self loathing at the sight of the Bodies due to a feeling of crippling inadequacy. Then out plodded Jigolo Jimmy Del Ray with his toothless smile and Dr Tom Pritchard rocking the thickest mullet this side of a Def Leppard video. I turned to my Mam confused and asked “are these guys actually the most handsome men in the world?”, “God, no!” was her response along with a disgusted look on her face. I just couldn’t figure out why Cornette would make such an obvious lie and I immediately thought he and the Bodies were misguided idiots. It was only years later that it clicked with me that it was perfectly pitched old school southern heel heat. Cornette was a genius as a manager and could transfer his heat to just about anybody he managed, though it probably wasn’t the idea WCW had in mind when he managed the Dynamic Dudes.

rowdy-roddy-piperBrian: Ah yes the heels….my favorite subject! Being a great heel is very hard to accomplish. Sure, you can just turn on a babyface and start making fun of the fans as a way to get cheap heat…but the truly great heels have it down to a science. From the actions in the ring. to their promos to the very detailed things like facial expressions. There have been some tremendous heels since I began watching pro wrestling…guys like Rowdy Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, the Honkytonk Man, Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard and, more recently, The Miz and Chris Jericho.

A great heel will more than likely get cheered because that is the type of fans we have now…but the great heel like Kevin Owens will use that adulation and turn it against the fans making him a stronger villain. Not all wrestlers can do that…it is truly an art form.

John: Probably because he had such a monumental run as a babyface, its easy to forget what an amazing heel Hollywood Hogan was from 96-99. There was such an authentic air of scumbaggery off him at all times. Everybody I knew who was watching wrestling at the time hated his guts for a number of reasons and this was before the man behind the fake stubble was exposed as the real life heel he is.

It was so frustrating watching him parade around with the title so when Lex Luger beat him for it in August 97 and when Bill Goldberg ran through him in July 98 it was especially satisfying. Its just a shame he and others completely shit the bed during the main event of Starrcade 97 when he should’ve completely maximized on his heel heat by losing to Sting cleanly.

Brian mentioned the Honky Tonk Man too, easily one of the greatest heels ever. That man was a magician when it came to riling up fans. It worked so well too because he was always willing to be a coward and a cheat in the ring, especially during his famous Intercontinental Championship run. Plus his eventual surprise loss to the Ultimate Warrior was a perfect end to his run as champion, fans lost their minds at the sight of it.

Can you imagine someone as entertaining as HTM losing to someone as limited as the Warrior today and the fans cheering?

gorgeous-georgeBrian: Gorgeous George (the wrestler not the valet) was probably the original great heel. His gaudy robes, bleach blonde hair and effeminate mannerisms sure riled up many fans during the 1940’s and 50’s. He was a huge star and great box office attraction. The Fabulous Freebirds were one of the original great heel factions out of Dallas, Texas and other territories. The trio of Michael Hayes, Buddy Roberts and Terry Gordy could generate heat with the best of them and that was just by being themselves.

Craig: I’d like to throw some love in the direction of Owen Hart. After his fall-out with Bret at Survivor Series 1993 through to their SummerSlam 1994 cage match, Owen was red hot as a heel. And he picked that up at WrestleMania XI by picking Yokozuna, the man that had defeated his brother two years earlier for the WWF title, as his partner. Then his run with the British Bulldog and the Hart Foundation, Owen was a great, great heel. Just little things, whether it was pushing his Slammys down the throats of the fans or just his general cocky attitude, you wanted to see Owen lose but were often secretly quite happy when he was victorious. One can only wonder what would have happened had he not broke Stone Cold’s neck and when Austin became the biggest face in wrestling, was very reluctant to work another programme with Owen.

You also have the ass-kicking heels that get so over they become babyfaces. In the 80s it was the Road Warriors while in the 90s both the Dudley Boyz and the Acolytes did the same, although the latter not quite to the same level as the first two.

I note the mention of the Honkytonk Man there. Can we draw some parrallels between him and his IC title reign with, and I know it’s early, The Miz and his current run? Often The Miz has sneaked a win when it looked like he was set to lose, including ahead of Backlash against Apollo Crews on Smackdown Live.

honkytonk manJohn: There have been a couple of Honky Tonk Man style wrestlers in the mid card that have had success. Santino Marella had a great little run as a heel Intercontinental Champion in 2008 directly referencing HTM with his “Honk-a-meter”, his promos during that time were hilarious. I remember him one time burying Steve Austin and his film The Condemned and doing such a good job of it that Austin got flustered and couldn’t keep up on the mic.

To talk classic heels, I’ll always love the old school southern heel. Guys like Ron Wright and Dick Murdoch were just masters of that style. The promos they’d cut were amazing, especially when they were painting themselves as heroic.

Brian: Yeah, ‘Captain Redneck’ Dick Murdoch was an excellent heel as was the late, great Owen Hart. Another great heel was the ‘Loose Cannon’ Brian Pillman who did a sensational job of blurring kayfabe and reality. Getting back to the Miz for a second, I am with you Craig….I see a lot of the HTM in the Miz with this current run and have wondered if they intend to have the Miz finally break the longest IC title reign with him.

I would absolutely dread that to happen because I hold the HTM in such high regard…but in another way that just means the Miz is doing a great job as a heel to not want to root for him to break the record…no?

John: The sad thing is the IC title has been stripped of a lot of its value, so even if Miz does beat HTM’s 454 days on top it won’t mean as much. I can’t see them leaving it on him another 300+ days but to be honest he’s the only one who won’t be damaged by it on the current roster. The IC and US titles both seem to have a negative effect on anyone who isn’t already a bone fide main eventer.

One of the greatest heel runs I’ve ever seen as it happened was Triple H’s go between Summerslam 99 and his injury in April 2001. He was incredible. He got tons of heat on the mic, was the most dependable champion the company had in ring and would go out of his way to make his opponents look good. Just look at the salesmanship he put on display against the likes of Chris Jericho, Mick Foley, The Rock and Chris Benoit during TV and PPV matches. Its just a pity that when he came back in 2002 all of that went out the window and he embarked on a mass grave burial of everybody on the Raw roster. That was one of the most frustrating heel runs, as he never seemed to get what he deserved. It only really felt like Batista got the better of him in their series and that was after he’d crushed RVD, Booker T, Benoit, Orton, Goldberg and Steiner to one degree or another. The heel Triple H of 99-2001 would’ve lit the world on fire with that class of opponent.

Russ: Wow, so much choice from you guys. Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase was a favourite of mine, he would basically pushed all your buttons, as well as being a fantastic worker. Vader as a heel was perfect. A truly massive human being who could move with a freedom of a guy half his size. Vader as a heel would pull all the heat and garner a great match with pretty much anyone. Scott Steiner, man he was another heat machine. WCW were very brave letting his loose on the mic s he was just nuts. His physique made for a very intimidating figure.

Vader_Debut_1Craig: Million Dollar Man and Vader are excellent shouts and fantastic heels. They also demonstrate how different heels can be and still be hugely successful. The former was richer than any of us hoped to be so we wanted to see him lose whilst the later had a scary smoking skull and was a monster that terrified us. A heels Hall of Fame would undoubtedly include both.

More recently, I’d definitely agree with John’s assessment of Triple H. Although not the biggest fan of Trips, I can’t think of a time he was hotter and more over. Especially considering the gimmick he debuted with!

John: Eddie Guerrero and Art Barr were incredible heels during their run in AAA during the early 90’s as Los Gringos Locos. Their match vs Octagon and El Hijo Del Santo at AAA When Worlds Collide is rightfully praised ad nauseam by anybody who’s seen it. The heat levels in that match were unreal, its nearly impossible not to get caught up in the drama.

I actually think Bobby Roode at the moment has the potential for an amazing heel run. He completely gets his gimmick and he’s probably the only talented in ring wrestler in WWE right now getting heat, thanks to his outstanding promos and spot on psychology. If they allow him to do his thing on a bigger stage he could really be something, especially given the right opponent like say John Cena.

Russ: Good points there John, Barr and Guerrero were brilliant down there. One more comes to my mind.. Sid. Back when I first started watching wrestling, Sid was in his short rivalry with Hogan in the WWF. Man he was a monster, but a cool calculating type. His promo’s were great (when he could get the right words out). Not a man of many moves, but being nearly 7ft and built like a tank can get you over.

Gary Hart & Abdullah the ButcherBrian: The Dynamic Duo of Gino Hernandez and Chris Adams in World Class were severely underrated as heels. They could have easily been top guys in either WCW or the WWF/E in their heyday.

Then of course you had the type of heels that scared the living daylights out of me as a kid. Guys like Abdullah the Butcher, the Shiek, Kevin Sullivan etc…

John: I have to mention Vince McMahon, one of the greatest heels of all time. Years before his iconic run against Steve Austin he was great as the antagonist to Jerry Lawler in their USWA feud, and his run from 98 onwards doesn’t really need to be covered in depth. But it would be criminal to not feature a man who was such a heel he literally feuded with God.

Craig: Yup, can’t not mention Vinnie Mac. After all, he was the foil for Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWF’s fightback during the Monday Night Wars.

Abdullah an interesting shout too. He terrified me as a kid. I’m sure I’ve shared this anecdote on here before, and I vaguely remember Jamie having a similar memory, of buying a wrestling mag in the early 90s, being used to having WWF ones, but getting one featuring shots of a bloodied opponent of Abdullah. Horrible…

And Sid is a good call too. Both WCW and the WWE went to the Sid well on several occasions expecting him to be the sort of heel to be at the top of the company. Both underestimating his interest, then, in soft ball… But still a prominent heel for both companies throughout the 90s.

Have we exhausted the topic or are there still bad guys out there worthy of a mention…?

So there’s our take on some of the biggest and best heels in the history of wrestling. Have we missed anyone? As ever, leave your thoughts on your favourite heels, and why, in the comments section below.

You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.

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8 thoughts on “Sunday Sermon: The Top Heels in Wrestling History

  1. For me, the greatest heels were Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, Rick Rude, Honkytonk Man, The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, the Four Horsemen, Hollywood Hogan, Shawn Michaels, and the Macho King Randy Savage.

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  2. Well, I go back a long way and some of the heated heels I recall. John Tolos, Waldo Von Erich, Killer Kowalski, Toru Tanaka from the old days. The Freebirds, Gino Hernandez and Chris Adams.Tommy Rich, Austin Idol,Doug Gilbert and Eddie Gilbert. Ernie Ladd, The Horsemen and Nick Bockwinkle. Kevin Sullivan,Abdullah and the heat generated by Shane Douglas.

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  3. Some great examples, big shout out for naming Owen and Brian as great heels. These two were my favourites to watch in wwf in 96 and 97 after Steve, take and mankind.

    Everything they did made me love them and brings a tear that they were taken away at such young ages.

    I noticed you focused on heel wrestlers pretty much here, if we were doing heel managers list, for me Bobby Heenan would be top eveytime. The man was so loathsome to watch when you were a kid and seeing him get owned by everyone never got old, but when you watch him as an adult, you admire just how brilliant he was at putting others over, making you laugh and getting you invested in wrestlers you wouldn’t even glance at without bobby.

    The man was so great that all he had to do was to slap Andre and curt and you had yourself an instant face turn and get cheered by the fans. That’s uniqueness right there, you can’t train that sort of skill or learn it.

    One wrestler I would add to your list as a great heel is Jerry lawyer, both in his Memphis days and in his heel 90’s at WWF I grew up watching, he would use basic insults, cheap heat and old school tactic’s, but he pulled them off in such a way that it worked in making you want to see him get destroyed, make you laugh now or actually show today’s heels on getting a reaction from the crowd.

    Watch his KOR 96 promo against the crowd there, that’s natural cheap heat work and all he did pretty much was call them losers and drunks, but the way Jerry delivered it, his annoying laugh and how witty he was got the crowd to react to him that many today’s heels simply seem unable to do. Hell he even made the crowd laugh at one point with a comment about how two girls turn men into people like goldust. Again that’s natural heel talent right there.

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  4. Its good to see a few old timers in here as I know so little about the WWE/WCW and now WWE days. Abdullah is freaky scary, and Ric Flair drew incredible heat just telling some overweight girl to shut up when he was talking! What about Matt Hardy, he is a little turd. In a nod to Glenn Crespo I have to say any German heel in the 70’s and 80’s got over big, Baron Von Raschke and Waldo didnt need to burn a flag to be hated. And then Stan Hansen when he came to Georgia Championship he already had the reputation for breaking Bruno’s neck and he was loud and scary. Breaking the biggest baby face of them alls neck can get yuo great heat.

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