There have been so many great heels in wrestling’s history. From Stone Cold’s foul-mouth, no-nonsense heel character, to HBK’s cocky and obnoxious heel character, all the way to Undertaker’s chilling sinister heel character, there have been so many great heels who were great at getting heat in vastly different ways, but who is truly the greatest heel of all time?
To find out, there ought to be ground rules of what makes a heel great, let alone the best of all time. The most important job a heel has is to make people hate them in any, way, shape or form. Granted, people like to toss around words such as “cheap heat” and “go away heat”, which is nothing more than a hazy generalization, as heat is simply heat. Heels are ought to be the most sadistic, obnoxious, and/or annoying people in the world, so if you believe they went too far, they did their job.
The second most important component is being able to talk. Surely, there are rules to the exception, seeing that a number of monster heels got over with no mic skills, but still, the majority of heels need to talk to communicate with the fans and express their feelings, and besides, most monster heels had a mouthpiece.
The third most important part is being able to wrestle. While the chief goal of mic skills is to develop a character, the second most important part is making fans to see an upcoming match. So, if you’re great at promoting a match, but then the matches aren’t good, fans will become more disinterested in the character and the heel will start to lose heat
It is worth pointing out that you don’t just need to know how to wrestle. You need to know how to wrestle as a heel. Rey Mysterio, for example, is a great wrestler. But when wrestling as a heel, not so much. A heel needs to be able to do several of things in the ring:
Dictate the pace of the match.
Call a match.
Tell a story in the ring.
Read the crowd and have them in the palms of their hand.
Know how to make the babyface look compatible and better
Avoid working like a babyface (do things that could make the fans pop (flashy moves, for example)
With that being said….
There have been many great heels who perfected their niche, making it very difficult to narrow it down to one.
I consider true heat magnet to Gorgeous George. In the early 30s, wrestling went through a drought for several of reasons, though the popularity of television made wrestling grow to new heights. The 40s and 50s were classified as the boom period for wrestling, and one of the main reasons was because of George. He gained mainstream popularity because of his flamboyant, over-the-top, obnoxious persona. Before him, most heels him were just people who loved to beat up good guys. George blueprinted the obnoxious and cocky heel gimmick. Then, the first nature boy, Buddy Rogers, emulated what Gorgeous George did but also ended up taking to the next level. Unlike Gorgeous George, he was a terrific wrestler who could go toe-to-toe with everyone. He had the complete package; that being the persona and wrestling skills.
Although not only did Ric Flair take it to a new level, no one could come close to emulating him. Fans wanted to see him get beat so badly and paid oodles of cash in hope to see it happen. Granted, Flair never drew the amount Hogan or Austin could, but to his credit, he was never a babyface for a long time nor, in his prime, had Vince McMahon’s great promoting abilities. Despite that, though, he drew about as much as any other wrestler could and surely was the biggest heel attraction ever.
Without a doubt in my mind, he was the most versatile talker ever. He could make someone feel sympathy for him, or make them want to see him get his head split open, or believe that he was a cruel, wicked, and evil privileged psychopath. No matter what his promo was about, it would always entice some reaction from fans and always make them want to see his upcoming match. He’s made so many laugh, cry, love him and hate him.
He could cut any type of promo and make it so passionate and so personal yet so entertaining due to his uncanny charisma and ability to talk so well.
In the ring, he was everything a heel was supposed to be. He created a formula for a match that worked to perfection, as he was a master of doing everything and anything to make the fans believe the babyface would end up winning win. He knew when and where to do something based off reading the crowd’s reaction, and way he could dictate a match was a work of art. His storytelling and psychology also were both tremendous, as everything he did was in the context of the story. His timing was constantly spot-on, always knowing when, for example, the babyface should get in his hope-spots or make a full come back; and, as every cowardly heel should, he bumped like a pinball machine and sold like a champ.
On top of that, he had the ability of making other look better than they were. He could even do it in spite of winning and that speaks volumes of how amazing he was at doing it. He gave some of the most iconic wrestlers the rub they needed, with the most notable ones being Ricky Steamboat and, WCW’s biggest babyface ever, Sting.
Back in the day, there were so many great heels. I honestly wish I could put all of them at number one. The Sheik mastered the foreigner gimmick. Bobby Hennan mastered the obnoxious heel announcer. Abdula The Butcher was the master of being the bone-chilling scary hardcore heel. Vader was one of the first monster heels who could additionally put on a very entertaining match. Jake Roberts was one of the best pure talkers and psychopathic heels, who made up his athletic disabilities via out-of-this-world psychology and storytelling. The list is truly endless Roddy Piper, Ray Stevens, Brody, Stone Cold, Cactus Jack, Midnight Express w/ Jim Cornette, Vince McMahon, so on and so on.
However, when adding up all the intangibles, Ric Flair, in my mind, was the best of all time.