"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.

You're the heel, BOO!

A Heel is a bad guy in professional wrestling. He's a Hate Sink, existing to make the crowd angry and menace their favorites. They are typically the antagonist of a pro wrestling storyline or "angle."

The opposite of a heel is a Face. Heel champions didn't draw in Madison Square Garden the same way Face Champions do. The obvious examples of this are Buddy Rogers and "Superstar" Graham. Even Randy Savage, fairly or not, was running out of steam, and (for that matter) Flair never took off in WWF, either. The only heel they ever pushed long and hard was Triple H, and it seems they've learned their lesson since then. Because while there's money in a babyface fighting off a swarm of heels, there's very little draw in a heel champion gobbling up faces the same way. Considering how many hours of television they have to fill, they need a constant stream of fresh challengers, and the best way to sort through them and draw money is with a babyface on top. It's a proven formula since 1984.

Just as fans will only root for a strong or resourceful babyface, they won't boo a heel unless he meets a certain qualifier (ignore the gender-specific pronouns):

  1. The Chickenshit. Bog standard heel from the golden age. (You know the type, the ones who kept Fred Blasse in business.) He cheats a ton, exaggerates about everything, changes the rules every time he loses, uses bystanders as shields, and wins on technicalities. Plus he has that punchable face which is damn-near a blueprint for cheap heat.

    Gorgeous George is the grandfather of this trope, in addition to having a big influence on sports in general. The stuff that he did was pioneering (from having the ring and the referee "purified" with disinfectant to that time when he stopped a two out of three falls match just so that he could have "Florida Air" imported to him via air canister) and also influenced Muhammad Ali to adopt his more outlandish persona.

    The Honky Tonk Man made a career out of being a cowardly heel. The Miz has really brought that old-school feel back.

  2. The Monster. "From Parts Unknown...", a dangerous menace capable of demolishing top stars, modern heroes and legends of the industry. Usually doesn't talk much. The idea is to sell him as a threat without having to compete to be "the best" in the main event scene. They mainly fight against guys below their height/weight class, whether it be in tag team or singles action.

    The monster has considerable overlap with The Giant and the Wild Samoan. Having a "small guy" who can defeat the big guy on an even playing field is a great way to build them up.

    It was just so easy for kids to hate Earthquake. He steamrolled face after face, and didn't really get his comeuppance until Hogan came back from injury. Kane has wrestled under eight or nine "Monster" gimmicks.

  3. The Narcissist. Overinflated, good-looking heel. He knows he is better than anyone else on the roster, and that adds to the ego, which gives them great heat. Go look at the wildly-popular UFC. Look at people like Tito Ortiz or Conor McGregor. If they were pro wrestlers, they would be heels. They talk shit constantly, and fans actually pay money with the hopes of seeing them lose. (Which is a win/win for the company.) But they don't run away (well, unless you're Tito), or use steel chairs, or call for interference. They take on the #1 contender and either demolish them or go down swinging.

    Buddy Rogers broke onto the scene as a babyface, but it wasn't until he adopted his "Nature Boy" heel persona—a cocky, arrogant, overtly-confident character—that he really began to shine. For the modern age, this is best exemplified by one Kurt Angle.

  4. The Foreigner. Foreign accents signal to the audience that you won't be getting much mic time. So why not make it work for you? Just keep bringing up local differences and claiming that your country's better. "Your local sports team is unsatisfactory!" "The inhabitants of this city have a higher level of body odor than average!" "I almost forgot to mention that all your local women are overweight and unattractive!" The natural predator of the All-American Face.

    PUTCHOO EEN DE CAMEL CLUTCH MEHK YOU HUMBEL *belch*. It's also how a lot of gaijin get over in Japan; just look at Bullet Club.

  5. The Authority Figure. A rich asshole with their own federation. These people hold positions of power (often real, sometimes kayfabe) in the promotion itself. They can pull off the "I have an entire NY investment firm backing me" vibe, along with some very-serious suited men who accompany them because they have to keep tabs on their investment.

    The McMahon family was the gold standard of authority figures in the nineties, and ever since then, it seems like every wrestling company has to have one. Vince cared more about the product than his ego; he had no problem letting the champ get one over on him, or being made a fool. Basically, Steve Austin was a wish-fulfillment character (in addition to being an alcohol fueled whoop-ass machine). For others, it's an excuse for them to remain on top, continuously comfortable, blurring the line between their booking decisions and some real-life ego issue.

    Aside from the McMahons, Eric Bischoff is said to be the crowning example of this heel. "Dario Cueto" is atypical in that he's a professional actor who gets paid to promote Lucha Underground, and thus is considered one of the best.

  6. The Bitch. Female heels can fulfill two roles: scary bitch or big bruiser (see "Monster", above). The female babyface is a potential role model for young fans, so her clothes are meant to convey tradition and athleticism. Everything about the bitch tends to to be alluring: the provocative entrance pose, boob zippers, illusion netting to simulate nudity, and so on. They lean toward the stereotype of a woman with loose morals (including homoeroticism), a Diva-like attitude, and an obsession with shiny things.

    See Sherri Martel and Francine. AJ Lee is an anomaly because, though she was a jealous bitch in-character, she got over without focusing on her looks.

  7. Special mention can be given for Managers (sometimes known as valets). It's implied that they're handling the business side of their client's career. And let's face it, most people in the world who can cut great promos are not good athletes. (And some of the best in-ring workers are terrible on the mic!) Virtually all of the managers, from Mr. Fuji to Father Mitchell, are chickenshit. That's because most of them went to wrestling school but were too small, or didn't have the right look. Same with a lot of referees. Of course, you have photographers like Cornette and Heyman, who hung around it for so long that they got roped in. There are only a few babyface managers, and they always came across as a hype man/cheerleader.

    Managers can also have stories and be compelling characters in their own right. When Rusev made his debut, Lana spoke for him, and Rusev looked to her when he was getting beat by a tough opponent. (Lana also offered sex appeal, and became involved in a love triangle with Rusev and Ziggler.) McMahon Sr. built his empire off the back of managers, so it's strange that Junior doesn't make more use of them. It's just one of those things that were too "wrasslin'" for him. (He is in denial of certain aspects of wrestling, such as: the word "wrestling", the word "belt", calling moves, time-limit draws, and so forth.)

The color commentator often takes the heels' side, to better to egg the fans on. These are known as heel announcers.

Note that heel heat comes from a desire to see the heel punished and setback, distinct from X-Pac Heat, which skips that step and simply wants someone gone entirely, which is itself distinct from a heat vacuum, where fans don't even care enough to express themselves.

When a heel goes particularly over with fans, he may undergo a Heel–Face Turn. The Heel/Face Index has some more variations. See also the "Tweener": a wrestler who flip-flops between Face and Heel status. For example, Triple H would regularly call out other heels for their reprehensible acts (e.g. JBL's racism), without becoming a babyface himself. It used to be the case that heels constantly fawned over each other, without any clashes of personality.

The Lucha Libre equivalent is known as a rudo. In theory, rudo is more an 'attitude' about Lucha Libre as a whole, but in practice rudos are almost always interchangeable with heels.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and manga 

  • 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. The heels usually wear masks and usually utilizes underhanded tactics like using a shinai for a submission hold, or having their assistants hamper their opponent.
  • 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 sweet and caring (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?"

    Comic books 

  • Discussed in one issue of 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.
  • "Xochitl la Terible" in Love and Rockets.

    Live-action TV 

  • 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 show's run (due to his deliberately-poor acting). This even carried into the revival when he returned, though somewhat toned down in his role.

    Martial Arts 

  • Mixed Martial Arts has its share of heels.
    • 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.
    • 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 the already-defeated 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.
    • 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.

  • Early in their career, The Rolling Stones were strategically marketed as the Heels to the Beatles' Faces. Their manager and producer Andrew Loog Oldham was responsible for lines such as Melody Maker's headline "Would You Let Your Sister Go With a Rolling Stone?" and the memorable press announcement for their first New York visit: "The Rolling Stones, who haven't bathed in a week, arrived here yesterday."
  • The Beastie Boys' early Barbaric Bully image was heavily influenced by the Heel role, according to then-manager Rick Rubin, a huge WWE fan.

    Professional wrestling 

  • 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 before this.
    • Big Van Vader (Leon White) would tour as a "heel for hire" for a few months, mostly in the U.S. 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 never looked back. His transformation from trailer-trash Texan to conniving stock-broker 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 crooked politician throughout 2004 and 2005 (complete with a "cabinet" of henchmen wrestlers) who handed out American flags to spectators.

      In late 2005 and early 2006, he played the role of a xenophobic redneck who taunted Rey Mysterio Jr. (He did this to Eddie Guerrero, too, in 2004.) Throughout that period, he was hardly ever seen without his trademark white Stetson hat and matching limousine, which his opponents had the pleasure of wrecking! (The Undertaker once chokeslammed Bradshaw through the limo.)

      Since the latter half of 2006, he's a color commentator with Michael Cole on WWE SmackDown!. He toned down his heelish traits a bit but still invariably roots for the heel wrestlers. He returned to ring action in December 2007 to feud with Chris Jericho, during which time he reverted to his roots (attacking the midget Hornswoggle) before finally retiring for good in 2009.
    • Former WWE Diva Karlee Pérez (who performed under the name 'Maxine') played 'The Bitch' so well that in her entire career, she was never a face. Most talent get tested out in different roles but she was always a heel. Since he was the General Manager of FCW, she got to be The Authority, too. She also appears as a heel in Lucha Underground.

  • An interesting subversion occurred during the WWF "Attitude" era, where, in a cutthroat competition with Turner's WCW, allowed wrestlers to develop their own personalities instead of fake, gimmicky characters that were stale by then. The most successful examples were often Face Heel Turns.
    • For most of the Attitude Era, heels outnumbered the faces, with Shawn Michaels and (more surprisingly) Bret Hart as the main villains.
    • Vince transitioned from the bow-tied carnival barker to the dickhead boss "Mr. McMahon".
    • 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.

  • Several wrestlers created the prototype for a particular type of heel:
    • 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 polyamorous wrestlers, ever. The man also invented the modern concept of the heel and pro wrestling in general: he inspired every guy who ever dyed his hair blonde and played up his amazing physique, from "The Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers to Dolph Ziggler.
    • The Wild Samoans were the prototype of the Polynesian heel, namely the Polynesian afro and bare feet.
    • Jake "The Snake" Roberts could teach a class in the art of being a psycho heel. He has so much untapped knowledge which he doesn't utilize. (Probably because is one drunk, bitter hombre. He likes to flip out at people at events.)

      Incidentally, this was the pre-steroid age. By the 80s, everyone was pretty gassed up working for Vince, but meanwhile in the territories, heels looked like ordinary tough guys. Dr. Death, Bruiser Brody, "Dirty" Dick Slater, Ray "The Crippler" Stephens, "Cowboy" Bob Orton Jr., Ric Flair, Ted DiBiase, and Bray Wyatt today—those guys don't look like male models who watch what they eat. They look like hard-drinking men who you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.

  • 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 despite joining in '94, to give it some sort of perspective), he 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 played a heel boss on TNA Impact, repeatedly running down the company for cheap heat. (And his old WWE bosses for cheap pops!) He remains a hit at WWE, however, and makes sporadic appearances 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.

  • Heels can also be managers (as Vince and Paul have shown) as well as commentators, and even referees!
    • To spot a heel, a good rule of thumb is the presence of a manager. Babyfaces speak for themselves; they speak from the heart. They do not need managers.
      • There are some iconic baby face managers, such as Arnold Skaaland (who managed Bruno Sammartino), Bob Backlund, and Cousin Slim of The Scufflin' Hillbillies.
    • Managers are almost always older people who have been in the business for a while. They were used back in the territorial days and early 80s as heat magnets. The more entertaining they were, the better. (And in an era where promos were recorded backstage instead of the ring, wrestlers weren't given much chance to talk about their heelishness.)

      The "Triumvirate of Terror" is mostly forgotten today, but they helped WWF make a name for itself back east. The Grand Wizard (so named for his oh-so-stylish turban) died in '83. Both Blassie and Albano ended their WWF stints in '86. By then, the "Fab Five" had taken over as managers, the notable ones being Heenan and Hart. Blassie bequeathed half of his stable (Sheiky, Volkoff and Hercules) to the debuting Slick, though Hercules later switched to "The Heenan Family".
    • Managers nowadays are only paired with guys who cannot speak. Notable recent examples include Armando Estrada (for Umaga who only spoke Samoan), Ranjin Singh (for the Hindi-speaking Great Khali), Vickie Guerrero (when Dolph Ziggler had weak microphone skills), Heyman (Brock Lesnar doesn't have a menacing voice to match his size), Lana (Rusev was a foreign beast who couldn't speak English) and Zeb Colter (Swagger's lisp). Heyman is so good, he can hype a match for someone who's not even booked for that night e.g. Punk v. Jericho, or any match with Lesnar.

    Stand-up comedy 

  • 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

    Video games 

  • 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 Heel.
  • In Mega Man Battle Network, the model of Navi typically employed by — or found operating autonomously as — criminals is called a HeelNavi. They have a more intimidating appearance than regular Navis, and usually a mean, thuggish personality to match. In the poorly-translated fourth game they were referred to as "HealNavis" instead.
  • Pokémon
    • 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.
    • Incineroar, the final form of Sun and Moon's Fire starter, is explicitly categorized as the "Heel Pokémon", is part Dark rather than Fighting, and is described as being a dirty enough fighter to even attack non-combatants like the opposing Pokémon's trainer. Incineroar represents puroresu, the Japanese take of the American-based professional wrestling (similar to characters like R. Mika). One thing that defines this is despite his heel status, he is still cheered by the audience, as heels in puroresu operate in a slightly different way.
  • Super Macho Man in nearly all versions of Punch-Out!!. He's a rich, sun-tanned bastard who knocks the referee over and showboats like there's no tomorrow, and in the Wii version, 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. As with most opponents, if he's Star Punched out of one of these moves, it's an instant KO.
    • Many of the recurring boxers, such as Bald Bull or Bear Hugger, fit the "Monster"/"Foreign" trope nicely. Bear Hugger represents literally every single stereotype of his country at once. (The best part is that the studio who made the game is Canadian.)
    • Narcis Prince, a one-and-done opponent from Super Punch-Out!! He's a pretty-boy, English pugilist who goes nuclear if you damage his face.
  • Idra of the StarCraft Meta Game is one, in large part thanks to his bad sportsmanship and many a Rage Quit on his part.
  • Strong Bad from Tag Team Wrestling (1983), who was later recycled as the star of Homestar Runner.
  • Zigzagged with the Glitz Pit champion Rawk Hawk from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. On one hand he's a clear case of The Narcissist who fights dirty, trash-talks, and cheats. On the other hand he is immensely popular with the fans and when put in the ring can deliver a pretty decent fair-and-square beating. After defeating Macho Grubba it turns out he's not such a bad guy beneath it all: while he doesn't drop the trash talk he swears off cheating in favor of winning the belt fair and square, and during the final boss battle he's one of the characters seen cheering on Mario.

    Western animation 

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has Fire Nation Man, an Earth Kingdom professional bender who dresses like a Fire Nation soldier, waves their flag, preaches their greatness, and bends sand to resemble fire. Unsurprisingly, and intentionally so, he's the resident Hate Sink among the fans who gets easily taken down by popular benders like The Boulder while the fans cheer on his defeat.
  • 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).

    Real life 

  • 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 which showed he wasn't a pushover.
  • 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 the NFL, no one fits the description better than Cam Newton. He backs up his scores with showy celebrations and gloats at opponents to try to stop him.
    • However, he toned this down quite a bit after Super Bowl 50, when the Denver Broncos defense force-fed him a large slice of humble pie. The following season, all the opponents for the Carolina Panthers followed the example of the Denver Broncos and played complete smashmouth defense on him, resulting in Cam Newton taking some incredibly vicious hits and the Panther's having a 6-10 season.

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

Alternative Title(s): Rudo