Heel

"As far as I'm concerned, all this crap in the ring represents the fans out here."

I'm the kinda guy, right now, if I needed to sneeze I'd use your hand. That's the kinda guy I am. So it doesn't matter to me if I'm gonna be wrestling George Steele, or I wouldn't even mind crossing the fence, but I have no friends in this business. This is a business to me, I take it as a business. And it's serious business.

You're the heel, BOO!

A Heel is a Professional Wrestling bad guy. He's a Hate Sink the fans constantly boo, who lives to make the fans angry and menace their favorites. Heels are typically the antagonists of a pro wrestling storyline or "angle." The Lucha Libre equivalent is known as a rudo (in theory, rudo is more so an attitude about Lucha Libre as a whole, in practices rudos are almost always interchangeable with heels). Generally speaking, heels come in six flavors:

  1. The Chickenshit. A bog standard heel from wrestling's golden age; you know the type, the ones who kept Captain Lou Albano in business. A cowardly opportunist who, in addition to running away from anything resembling a fair fight, breaks the rules (punching their opponents out ahead of time, or smuggling in foreign objects) and ropes in other wrestlers to interfere for him. The Chickenshit thrives on DQs (disqualifications) and will deliberately throw a fight rather than lose, forcing a rescheduling of said match and denying his opponent a legit "win".

    See: Edge or Seth Rollins.

  2. The Monster. Horror-themed wrestlers who cannot be bargained or reasoned with, and who are without pity, remorse, or fear. Often billed as someone who is enchanted with some mystical power, a temporally-displaced warrior, or at the very least a threat to public safety. These heels rely on intimidation and ultra-violence to get over with crowds. Giant wrestlers can fill the same role if they go heel.

    Kane is as good an example as any. Luna Vachon is the female version. Perhaps the best representative for the 2010s is Bray Wyatt.

  3. The Narcissist. A legacy of the flashy 80s, these athletes are the best at what they do, but a bit too aware of that fact. They're so (over)accustomed to winning that they would rather derail the show with self-indulgent promos, impromptu posedowns, or by screaming epithets at the crowd; anything to put across the message, "Somebody please come and kick me in the taint."

    WOOOOO! Naitcha boi Ric Flair! Jet flyin'! Limousine ridin'! Thirteen-time World Heavyweight Champ'yon WOOOOO! For the 21st century this heel is best embodied by one Chris Jericho.

  4. The Foreigner. Self-explanatory; this heel won't stop going on about their preferred country, about how Americans are soulless capitalist pigs, and how the U.S. is going to collapse any day now. Typically Eastern-European or Mideastern in origin, with broad accents and lots of facial hair. British and Southeast Asian heels are also known to crop up. The natural predator of the All American Face. Note that American wrestlers can (and do) play the Foreign Heel when booked abroad, playing up their "Ugly American" characteristics for cheap heat.

    PUTCHOO EEN DE CAMEL CLUTCH MEHK YOU HUMBEL *belch*. Nowadays, you'll find a Bulgarian...err, Russian powerhouse and his stunning associate running rampage through WWE.

  5. The Boss. Popularized by Vince McMahon and his family in the nineties, these men/women hold positions of power (often real, sometimes kayfabe) in the promotion itself. They flagrantly abuse their office to punish wrestlers they don't like, such as booking them into suicidal matches with handicaps attached, or Cage Matches against monster heels. Frequently derided by smarks, who complain that Boss Heels tend to maximize their screen time at the expense of actual wrestlers.

    Aside from the McMahons, Eric Bischoff is said to be the crowning example of this heel. Vickie Guerrero is another such heel.

  6. The Bitch. Females are often (but not always) pigeonholed into this role or the "Psycho" role if they turn heel. Traditionally, female heels in wrestling lean toward the stereotype of a woman with loose morals (few clothes, even fewer scruples), a Diva-like attitude, and an obsession with shiny things, such as big, gold belts. Oh and sprinkle on some Depraved Bisexualiity for good measure.

    See Sherri Martel and Francine. AJ Lee did this perfectly from 2012 to 2014 without focusing on her looks.

Just as fans will only root for a strong or resourceful babyface, they won't boo a heel unless he meets a certain qualifier: he must be cowardly, cruel, cocky, arrogant, whiny, or any combination thereof. They usually don't heckle for discriminatory reasons though...usually.

When a heel goes particularly over with fans, he may undergo a Heel-Face Turn.

Note that heel heat is distinct from X-Pac Heat; fans want to see an effective heel get his comeuppance while they simply hate an X-Pac and want him off their screens entirely.

The color commentator often takes the heels' side, the better to egg the fans on. Also, expect a certain section of the Smarks to delight in the heels' victories.

It used to be the case that heels constantly fawned over each other and teamed up regularly, without any clashes of ideology. Lately, though, Black and Grey Morality has set in, with heels calling out other heels for reprehensible behavior. For example, Triple H would criticize John Bradshaw Layfield for his racism without becoming a babyface himself.

The opposite of a heel is a Face, the (usually) good guy that the fans cheer for. See also Tweener (a guy who falls in between Face and Heel status, fighting either side as the situation calls for) and X-Pac Heat (when the fans hate the actual person). The Heel Face Index has some more variations.

Examples:

  • Wolf (played by Michael Van Wijk) from Gladiators. Which leads to a subversion as he was easily the most popular Gladiator, although his attitude never changed throughout the shows run due to his deliberately poor acting. This even carried into the revival when he returned although toned down somewhat due to his role.
  • Zack Ryder. Hated for bad jokes, arrogance, entrance music, hair style, goggles, see through jacket, pants with different length legs and his signature taunt "Woo Woo Woo!" Oddly enough though, many Smart Marks are fans of Zack Ryder. Though this may have something to do with his theme song...
  • Super Macho Man from the Wii version of Punch-Out!!. He's a complete showoff, who knocks the referee over and showboats like there's no tomorrow, thus the audience boos him when he makes his appearance in the ring. If he wins, though, the audience loves him again
    • Aran Ryan. Whenever he uses one of his (many) illegal moves, such as a headbutt, the audience boos.
  • Muhammad Ali based his entire public persona on pro-wrestling heels, reasoning that the trick of "get the audience so pissed off they'll pay to see someone beat you up" would work just as well in a real sport as a fake one. He was right.
  • Jack Johnson was incredibly arrogant and would often gloat over his fallen opponents. Justified because he was a black fighter in the early 20th century and would have been considered a heel regardless of how he acted. He chose to act in a way that showed that he wasn't a pushover.
  • Andy Kaufman was an actor and comedian who loved to prank his audience so much that he went into professional wrestling just for the opportunity to play a heel. He characterized himself as a cowardly Hollywood elite who liked to wrestle women to show how tough he was. This led to a feud with Jerry "The King" Lawler that famously spilled onto the set of the David Letterman Show
  • A few wrestlers have carved out a name for themselves as specialized heels, often maintaining their heel persona off-screen as well.
    • Andre Roussimoff, aka André the Giant, would tour the world as "guest heel," to prevent Villain Decay, and then return for another short run. Contrary to popular belief he was a face for most of his career despite this.
    • Big Van Vader (Leon White) would often be a "heel for hire," mostly for a few months in the US, and then very regularly in Japan.
    • John Bradshaw Layfield (formerly Bradshaw of the APA, and the nephew of "Blackjack" Lanza) turned heel in 2004 and more or less never looked back. His transformation from trailer-trash Texan to conniving stock-market investor was inspired in part by his actual exploits on Wall Street, for which he became eminently respected in the world of finance. He portrayed himself as a corrupt politician throughout 2004 and 2005 (complete with a "cabinet" of henchmen wrestlers) and handed out American flags to spectators, then in late 2005 and early 2006 played the role of a xenophobic redneck who taunted Rey Mysterio Jr. (he did this to Eddie Guerrero too, in 2004) During the latter half of 2006 and most of 2007 he was a color commentator with Michael Cole on WWE SmackDown!, where he toned down his heelish traits a bit but still invariably rooted for the heel wrestlers. He returned to ring action in December 2007 to feud with Chris Jericho, during which time he reverted to many of his Jerkass roots (attacking the midget Hornswoggle, for instance) before finally retiring for good early in 2009. Throughout the entire post-2004 period, he was hardly ever seen without his trademark white cowboy hat and white limousine, which his outraged opponents were sometimes granted the pleasure of wrecking! (The Undertaker once chokeslammed Bradshaw through the limo)
    • Gorgeous George (George Wagner), who gained mainstream popularity through his heel antics and over-the-top personality. The man invented the modern concept of the heel and inspired every guy who ever dyed his hair blonde and played up his amazing physique and outstanding in-ring abilities from "The Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers to Dolph Ziggler. Oh, and he was also a big part of where Muhammad Ali stole his "gimmick" in the boxing ring.
  • An interesting subversion occurred during the WWF "Attitude" era, where, in a cutthroat competition with Turner's WCW, allowed wrestlers to develop their own personas instead of fake, gimmicky characters that were by and large unsuccessful. The most successful examples were often Face Heel Turns. For most of the "Attitude Era," heels outnumbered the faces, with usually Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart being the main opponents.
    • Dwayne Johnson used this opportunity to transform from high-flying face Rocky Maivia into The Rock.
    • The Ring Master became "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who quickly became a face despite his intentions.
    • The Undertaker switched his "American Badass" persona from face to heel, turning face half-a-year later and reverting back to the Deadman persona a year after that.
    • "STP" became Thurman "Sparky" Plugg became Bob "Spark Plug" Holly became "Hardcore" Holly.
    • In a subversion of the subversion, Mick Foley became Dude Love, a fake face.
  • Managers can also be heels, as Vince McMahon and Paul Heyman have proven, as well as commentators, and even referees!
    • A good rule of thumb for spotting heels is the presence of a manager. Babyfaces speak for themselves; they speak from the heart. They do not need managers.
  • Several wrestlers created the prototype for a particular type of heel, that is maintained to this day.
    • The Iron Sheik created many of the tropes used by the Foreign Wrestling Heel, such as carrying flags into the ring, wearing ethnic clothing, and the evil mustache.
    • The Great Kabuki created many of the tropes for the evil Japanese, such as scary masks, a sumo-based origin story, and ninja-style cheating techniques like blowing dust or the green mist/spit.
    • Gorgeous George is the spiritual father of all LGBT wrestlers, ever.
    • The Wild Samoans were the prototype of the Polynesian heel, such as the Polynesian afro and bare feet.
  • Mixed Martial Arts has its share of heels.
    • Josh Koscheck is perhaps the most successful at playing the heel. His arrogant personality was put on display in the first season of The Ultimate Fighter'' and he rode it into a long and successful career in the UFC.
    • Brock Lesnar was surprisingly media-shy for his run in MMA, but after his victory at the record-setting UFC 100 event, he suddenly had a heel meltdown, during which he trash-talked his already defeated opponent Frank Mir, swore and spat at the camera, announced he was going to "get on top of" his wife and insulted the UFC's biggest sponsor.
    • The Diaz brothers play ever heel card in the deck: swearing constantly, disrespecting their opponents, giving combative interviews, and getting caught with weed, but the fans seem to love them all the more for being irreverent, genuine personalities.
    • Chael Sonnen was a largely forgettable wrestling specialist who was only known for almost becoming the WEC Welterweight Champion until he suddenly discovered his virtuoso skill on the mike. His newfound ability to trash-talk gave his languishing MMA career a second wind and earned him a regular commentating job.
  • The 2000s/2010s have seen the growth of the "popular heel". A popular heel is not a Tweener. They don't feud with other heels, or even have face qualities. They are an out and out heel character, but they get cheered by the fans anyway. This is usually because the heel is an extremely talented or charismatic wrestler, the audience love the character or gimmick so much that they go nuts cheering for their heel antics, the fans don't like the face they're up against in the feud and go off script by supporting the heel in the feud, or quite simply just because some fans enjoy cheering bad guys because bad guys are cool. Notable examples of wrestlers who have been popular heels at various points include Kurt Angle, Mickie James, CM Punk, Beer Money, Randy Savage, and Ric Flair. Unsurprisingly, virtually all popular heels end up capitalising on their popularity by turning face at some point.
  • Xochitl la Terible in Love And Rockets.
  • Homestar Runner's Strong Bad.
  • Megaman Battle Network has the Heel Navis, who are called Heal Navis in the English translation.
  • Idra of the Starcraft Meta Game is one, in large part thanks to his bad sportsmanship and many a Rage Quit on his part.
  • In-universe example with Avatar: The Last Airbender's Fire Nation Man.
  • Older Than They Think: The Retiarii, the Fragile Speedster class of Roman gladiators, were generally booed and despised. The fact that their equipment often necessitated Bullfight Boss tactics didn't win them any love.
  • In "Mister Torgue's Campaign of Carnage," the DLC for Borderlands 2, the whole storyline is written like a pro wrestling arc, with the player character as the Face, and Piston as the cheating, cowardly, arrogant Heel.
  • Bartolomeo from One Piece adores angering the crowd and pulling dangerous jokes on them.
  • Several characters in Sekai De Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai, as it's an anime about female pro-wrestling, are also Heels that they usually wear masks and usually utilizes underhanded tactics like using a shinai for a submission hold, or having their assistants hamper their opponent.
  • Hawlucha, a Pokémon introduced in Pokémon X and Y, is interesting in that its shiny form makes it look the Heel to its default form's Face.
  • The trope image is of "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, who remains the most famous babyface of all time. After Hogan's face act got old and the fans turned on Hogan (he had the longest WCW Championship reign of all time in 1995 and 1996 was when he joined the NWO, to give it some sort of perspective), he turned his back on them and aligned with the New World Order at Bash at the Beach, resulting in the crowd throwing trash at him and even one fan leaping up to attack Hogan.
    • Notably, he only appears as a heel in wrestling promotions other than WWE, in part because WWE is seen as the monolithic competitor whom everyone must rebel against. He went heel in WCW because fans there weren't interested in piggybacking on WWE's success and craved an alternative brand. Hogan agreed to reinvent himself—and ingratiate himself—with the audience until such a time when they would accept him as a babyface again. That time finally came in 1999, but was swiftly undone by Eric Bischoff and others who had grown too reliant on the nWo for their merchandising and creative direction. Hogan was sent packing for good in 2000, one year before the company fell apart due to entropy. He also played a heel boss character on TNA Impact, regularly shooting on TNA for cheap heat (and his old WWE bosses for cheap pops). He remains a hit at WWE, however, and makes sporadic appearances at major events in his heroic red and gold regalia. (He appeared at WrestleMania 31 in his nWo attire, but "Hollywood" Hogan for all intents and purposes turned face by rescuing Sting, his old enemy.)
  • Discussed in one issue of the Archie Comics. Reggie spends half the issue heckling and booing a wrestler who in turn is spitting threats and insults at him. Later on Reggie gets a flat tire and that same wrestler pulls over to help. Reggie's terrified until the wrestler points out that, as the heel, he's supposed to be hated by the audience and that it's all part of the act. Then he replaces Reggie's tire and asks him to keep up the heckling at the next match.
  • The pro wrestling-themed manga Welcome to the El-Paracio discusses the concept through El-Paracio's Mariko, a prime example of Mean Character, Nice Actor if ever there was one. Inside the ring, "Mary the Kid" is a cold, brutal cowgirl but the rest of the time, Mariko is a sweet, caring Cool Big Sis (as long as you don't call her old). Everyone except the main character Tadasuke takes this in stride, regarding Mariko and Mary as two separate people, while he's upset at the idea of people treating such a kind person as if she were a monster. There's a similar situation for the Death Carpenter, a Heel from another promotion, who's shown to be a relatively normal woman outside the ring.
    • A discussion of Heels is what brings the other promotion into focus in the first place. The female lead Ouka gets pissed off when she ranks #1 (tied with the Carpenter) in a magazine's list of Heels, and challenges the Carpenter to a match in order to try to put herself over as a Babyface. The problem is that Heel-ish behavior is her default personality note , so her attempt utterly fails; when she descends into the ring in a harness with fake angel wings on her back, the audience immediately starts muttering "Fallen Angel?"
  • In The Legend of Korra, the White Falls Wolfbats are a pro-bending team who have a flashy, pyrotechnics-heavy entrance; blatantly cheat; and use banned moves like headshots and mixing rock into water.
  • In Looney Tunes' Pro Wrestling Episode "Bunny Hugged", Bugs Bunny faces off against a scary, intimidating heel called The Crusher. Bugs, of course, defeats The Crusher by going into his bag of tricks. Interestingly, the babyface for that match before Bugs stepped in was clearly based on Gorgeous George (who, as noted above, was himself a heel).

See you in the ring, sucker! Bring a towel to throw in!

Alternative Title(s):

Rudo