Welcome to Seven Things, a list that will run weekly and consist of very eclectic topics. These are of my opinions and doesn’t express the views of others on WrestlingOnEarth.
Welcome to the latest edition of Seven Things. Effective and dynamic faces and heels have always been a vital part in the success of the wrestling business. The guidelines for what makes these characters successful is always changing which is part of the beauty in wrestling. You have to always be able to adapt or be ahead by a step or two. This week, we’ll take a look at the wrestlers who did the best job at playing both the face and the heel character.
Some wrestlers I feel that were fantastic baby faces but couldn’t really play a heel effectively were Rob Van Dam and Jeff Hardy. A wrestler that had a difficult time playing a face and had three face runs end abruptly was Edge. To be fair, Edge played the face well to start and to end his career but the crowd wouldn’t take to him during some of the times he made the switch in his prime. Those three guys should be in the top 15 wrestlers of the “post Attitude Era era” and you can argue the top 10. It’s not a slight to them but shows just how difficult it is to play both roles, especially once you are an established performer that the crowd already has an emotional investment in.
Here we go….
7. CM Punk
We’ll get to this type of a dynamic a little later in the list but his most recent heel run was very interesting with large percentage of the crowd still cheering him. From his first day in the company, CM Punk seemed to belong and would develop a connection with the fan base. Some question his face work in his early WWE years but I really enjoyed it.
His heel runs after with the straight edge lifestyle coming into play were some of the more compelling things on WWE TV in the last decade namely his feud with Jeff Hardy. When his career reached a new peak and he was turned into a top tier face, he proved just how great he was at the upper echelon of both roles.
Punk being the 1A to John Cena in this current generation of WWE is perfectly fitting considering how both men get have fans that love and loathe them each regardless of the role they play in 2013.
6. Chris Jericho
What makes Chris Jericho’s versatility most remarkable is that he can play different facets of each role. As a face, he can be either be a valiant hero or a jokester using his humor, which he is definitely one of the best at.
On the heel side, Jericho has played both the serious, suit wearing, large vocabulary spitting villain who punched Shawn Michaels wife in the face and the comical jackass who lost his Ass Cream with Christian.
Of all his accolades and memories provided, the thing that Chris Jericho will be most known for is how he could be given any role or any level of the role and succeed. An interesting interview (via Sam Roberts) I recently watched shows him explaining just how deep he’d go to live his heel character and make sure the fans don’t cheer him when he is a heel.
5. Randy Savage
Some of my early memories of wrestling was being a huge Macho Man mark. I believe my first wrestling shirt was Randy Savage’s and I wore it until half of the print was washed off. In terms of just his WWF work, he could easily be #1.
Looking back at old footage, Savage was beloved as a babyface with Miss Elizabeth and despised as a heel with Sherri Martel. I’d rank Macho King as one of the best heel characters in wrestling history. Savage is one of the few wrestlers who can easily pull at the heart strings of wrestling fans.
Unfortunately in WCW, you didn’t really get to see too much of these strengths come into play. From being beneath Hogan again to an afterthought in the NWO to his mid life crisis gimmick, we never got to see the magic of Randy Savage. Although, I would suggest watching him put Dennis Rodman in a port-a-potty and throwing it off the stage from that time frame. WWF 80s-early 90s Randy Savage shows one of the most dynamic and versatile performers to ever exist in pro wrestling.
4. Kurt Angle
Similar to Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle played a couple of different roles. Angle skyrocketed to the top of WWF debuting with his elitist heel character. It was clear he’d be an all time great heel but watching his early work, you couldn’t fathom him ever becoming a great face or a turn working out easily.
What ranks him so high on the list most was his turn during the Invasion Angle. If you watch the PPVs and RAWs during his feud with heel WCW leader (lol) Steve Austin, Angle had some of the biggest pops in WWE history. It culminated in him defeating Austin for the WWF title in his hometown at Unforgiven 2001 in what was one of the coolest, underrated moments of that time.
Angle would switch back to a heel and face a few more times in WWE. Towards Wrestlemania 22 when he was the World champ, Angle was once again the top face to a point where the crowd booed Rey Mysterio in his crowning moment due to their loyalty to Angle. Moving to TNA, Angle has had the similar role going back and forth between heel and face quite a few times. I’m still holding out hope for a short WWE return before his career ends so we can hear one more pop for Kurt Angle in WWE.
3. Hulk Hogan
Most people would say Hulk Hogan is the greatest good guy in WWE history and responsible for WWF’s rise to success in becoming a household name. Most people would say Hulk Hogan joining and leading the NWO was the best heel work and responsible for the biggest success in WCW history. This makes Hogan a clear cut top three option.
Anyone who is a wrestling fan knows about Hogan’s accomplishments as a babyface and it’s still really cool to see some of his Wrestlemania matches just for the pure genuine emotion shown by the live crowd. Funny enough, his WWE heel return facing The Rock at Wrestlemania 18 was one of the groundbreaking moments that built the atmosphere of a “mixed crowd” becoming much more prominent in today’s wrestling culture.
2. The Rock
Another no-brainer is The Rock. Originally a very hated babyface when debuting, The Rock found his character when joining the Nation of Domination and afterwards, The Corporation. Using that hate, he established a great heel character that eventually peaked and was so entertaining, he became one of the most entertaining characters in any form of entertainment at the time which forced the WWE to make him a face again.
His heel work in 2003 was some of my favorite television as well and I’d put that against almost anyone’s heel run. Being an over the top cocky jerk while using the anger from diehard wrestling fans about him going Hollywood, he put on some incredible television. His concert in Sacramento where he dropped the line “I’ll be sure to come back when the Lakers beat the Kings in May” was probably the loudest and most well done hometown sports team insult in an industry where there are probably tens of thousands of them.
Returning in the last few years as a face, he was met with heavy criticism by the internet wrestling community but most of the live crowd and clearly the customer still loved him with three of the most financially successful WWE events ever. The Rock still has the magic touch of controlling an audience with utter ease. (Along with the 45 movies he’s done this year.)
1. John Cena
I truly believe when he stops wrestling, John Cena will be looked back at as the most under appreciated wrestler by the most cynical fans. WWE has been milking the dynamic of one character that gets both merchandise sales via his fans and profitable hate by his detractors.
I recall in like 2006 reading a live show report and Cena facing Edge in the co-main event. A very large percent of the crowd was there just to boo Cena. After the match, they left the show. Literally got up from their seats and vacate the venue despite HHH and Shawn Michaels egos facing someone in the main event. The “Let’s Go Cena” vs. “Cena sucks” chant wars have been going on for 7 years and is still as strong as ever. This is one of the most incredible things I’ve seen in wrestling or any entertainment product.
I think the CM Punk vs. John Cena feud works so beautifully because both wrestlers have a polarizing legacy. They each have fans that strongly dislike them and that strongly love them. Granted Punk’s hate is usually more character based but then again, so is Cena’s at this point. Countless times, he references the criticism you see about him nonstop on the internet. Five moves of doom, same ol’ shit, turn heel, etc.
If John Cena were to ever turn into a traditional heel, it would be must see television and just add to this. The people who currently boo and criticize him constantly would fall in love with him and the younger fan base would hate him more than any other wrestler. I’m a sucker for breaking the mold and no one has done that with face/heel dynamics better than John Cena.