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A Mark's Eye View

A Mark’s Eye View: A brief history of the cool heel

Despite but WWE would have you believe, cool heels have been around a long time.

A Mark’s Eye View is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling.

The Montreal Screwjob is one of the most famous moments in professional wrestling history. One of the side effects was how the fans supposedly changed. For years, whenever WWE went to Canada they would say they had entered a Bizarro world. According to WWE, Canada was strange because the fans cheered the heels while booing the faces. For some reason, Canadian fans seem to be purposely going against what the promotion wanted. As WWE commentators explained, the fans were voicing their odd opinions. (Apparently, it had nothing to do with the company throwing Montreal — where one of their favorites was callously screwed out of the WWF Title — in their faces for a decade plus.)

When they aren’t calling their fans weird, WWE resorts to laughing at how the WWE Universe loves to voice their opinions. They would also talk about how they encouraged it. (Why don’t I believe that?) It was never a case of a wrestler being over or the fans disliking what they were seeing. Times had changed and so had the fans.

Anyone who was watching wrestling in 1985 may have a different opinion, however. Every Saturday night, World Championship Wrestling (and before that, Georgia Championship Wrestling) would air at 6:05. There were awesome matches and memorable angles. And then there were the promos. The studio audience was small; there was maybe 100 people. They would chant and boo the bad guys passionately. There were times it was almost impossible to hear Jim Cornette or Ole Anderson speak.

The fan favorites received equally strong reactions. The audience would squeal with delight as their favorites spoke. There was a huge disparity between the good and bad interviews, but it didn’t matter to the fans. They loved every single one. This was not surprising considering legends like Dusty Rhodes, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, and Magnum T.A. were on the show on a weekly basis.

There was one person who would work the audience up like no one else on the roster. He received the loudest cheers and many weeks members of the audience would even dress like him. He would make the audience laugh and cheer week in and week out. The most popular person in the NWA was its World Champion and biggest heel, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. His Starrcade 87 victory for his fifth World Title received a huge pop despite the fact he had spent the year wrestling the NWA’s most popular stars.

Flair was not the only heel loved by the fans. The Road Warriors were like nothing the fans had seen before. They were big and ferocious and won fans over just by being badasses. Promoters did what they could to make fans boo him, but it never worked. The Road Warriors were even cheered wrestling against Memphis legend Jerry Lawler in his own kingdom. In the end, they had no choice but to turn them face. Ironically, this turned away some of their fan base.

It wasn’t just heels getting unexpected reactions. In 1989, Rick Steamboat shocked the wrestling world by returning to the NWA and beating longtime nemesis Flair for the World Title. Fans were elated. As their Holy Trinity of title matches continued, fan opinion changed. Despite winning the greatest match in wrestling history, fans reviled Steamboat. It was so noticeable the commentators even took note.

WWE loves to take credit for everything that has happened in professional wrestling history. Who can blame them? “History is written by the winners” is more than just a cliche — it’s true. Vince McMahon and Triple H have long talked about how they injected attitude into the sport. Before DX tried to drive a tank into Nitro, there were only good guys, bad guys, and goofy characters. Wrestling has changed a lot over the past few decades, but fans have cheered the wrestlers they have hated for a long time.

Next week: They’re selling what?!?

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