Pro wrestling features an elaborate set of character alignments written by the people who create the show. A Heel
is the bad guy. The Face
is the good guy. A Tweener
is a character who shares aspects of both sides in their character, or one who gets cheered like a face despite behaving like a heel.
However, despite what the creators give their wrestlers in terms of characterisation, it is up to the fans of the promotion to actually follow through. The best wrestlers and writers can push the characters in a certain direction to achieve the specific heel/face reception from the supporters but the fans may not take to the wrestler like they expect.
This can take the form of X-Pac Heat
, where instead of disliking the character because of their heel behaviour, they simply dislike the performer themselves and don't want them showing up at all.
Being an Ensemble Darkhorse
in pro wrestling is the opposite of that. It can take the form of a character or wrestler being viewed as underused or undervalued by the fans of the promotion. Or a character who is popular regardless of what alignment they play because they can do both roles well.
Note, that because of the nature of the industry, becoming a darkhorse can easily lead to a 'push' from the company as they seek to take advantage of that popularity by increasing the wrestlers visibility to gain higher ratings, pay per view buys and merchandise sales.
- AJ Lee started as a losing WWE NXT entrant, but after Daniel Bryan shot her into the main became wildly popular. Once the creative team recognized that, she was shot into the main event through her association with Daniel Bryan and given a General Manager role on Raw, followed by winning the WWE Divas' Title soon after.
- Her former Chick Busters partner Kaitlyn as well. She bagged the most votes to win NXT Season 3 and proved popular enough with fans to push her for the Divas' Championship against Eve.
- Christian always had a following far greater than his mid-table position in WWE suggested.
- Dolph Ziggler was supposedly a heel all the way from his debut until he won the World Heavyweight Title the night after WrestleMania. Not that you would've noticed from the booming cheers when it happened.
- Mickie James and her psycho lesbian gimmick was incredibly popular in the women's division.
- Stevie Richards in WWE. On the September 10, 2007 Raw, Vince McMahon's flunky Jonathan Coachman told him that, in the online poll on WWE's website of who the fans thought would be revealed to be Vince's "son," Richards was in second place, leading to Coach bringing Richards in to see Vince. Considering how Richards had not held a title for five yearsnote and had not even had a PPV matchnote in two years at that point, it just showed how Richards had been able to retain a fan base from his years in ECW.
- Part of the reason for Richards' popularity was he was on Sunday Night Heat for years without being fired, and had an ironic gimmick about his lack of popularity.
- Paul Burchill's pirate gimmick was immensely popular, yet he was not used well at all. When Vince McMahon, who didn't get the gimmick, made Burchill drop it, there was a widespread outcry from fans. This didn't stop McMahon having his way.
- Al Snow started his career in 1982, but didn't really get much television exposure until he arrived in SMW in 1994-1995. He spent years jobbing in WWE under failed gimmicks (Avatar and Leif Cassidy of the New Rockers) until he got shipped down to ECW, where he started the "Head" gimmick, which got him over. Even with this newfound popularity and recognition, he still has only one PPV main event to his name (a loss to ECW World Heavyweight Champion "The Franchise" Shane Douglas at ECW WrestlePalooza 98, May 3, 1998.)
- After Melina went out on her own from MNM and eventually turned face, she received great reactions from fans. She began to rival Mickie James in terms of the pops she would get - and this was after she had spent several months on the shelf due to injury just after her face turn.
- Daniel Bryan and Ryback were both former Nexus members, and both of them became popular baby faces.
- Backstage interviewer Renee Young is actually incredibly popular with fans. It helps that she is both very good at her job and is a genuine wrestling fan.
- Despite what Vince Russo may want you to believe, nearly every luchador in WCW had a pretty easy time getting over, no matter their usage. Examples would be Silver King and El Dandy, icons in Mexico who never received notable pushes or much to do but have still stayed remembered by American fans. But nobody got more bang for their buck than La Parka, who has been a star in every promotion he's ever worked, including WCW. Even Kevin Nash, who couldn't book his way out of a paper bag, decided that he was going to put him in the main event of his last show as head booker in 1999, because Parka was just that over.
- Kaientai's hilarious over the top evil gimmick made them incredibly over, coupled with the fact that they were 2 of the best wrestlers in the WWE at the time (Mick Foley is on record stating that if the WWE title was actually based on talent, Taka would be the champion). Unfortunately, being over made them unusable as jobbers, and resulted in the team being broken up.
- Despite their status as jobbers, 3MB (Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal, and Drew McIntyre) has a pretty big following and is the subject of the "Reasons to Like 3MB" meme.
- Outside of 3MB, Heath Slater is an Ensemble Darkhorse in his own right.
- A developmental example. When footage from an NXT promo class leaked online, several promos saw developmental Diva Alexa Bliss playing the girlfriend of redneck Scott Dawson. She got lots of praise from fans, who eagerly awaited her debut. Although she had a different gimmick when she did debut, fans still remembered her and immediately chanted "let's go Bliss!"