Heel Psych 101

Corbin Macklin

Credit: WWE.com

At its best, wrasslin gives you good and evil narratives and draws big business. At its worst, sports entertainment gives you constant heel and face turns with terrible scripted promos and nobody REALLY gets over. Marks think a pop and/or a chant means someone is over. Yeah. Remember Fandangoing? Entrance themes get over better than the talent nowadays. This is because heels cannot get heat and make you hate them. When wrestling stars were making more money than real sports affletes, (yes I know how to spell athletes, I prefer it my way tysm) heels were causing literal riots. Fans were attempting to stab people over what they KNEW was a work! Now, heels do 20% heat and marks get on Twitter to tweet about the booking. Here's why.

Matches are worked so the boys (and girls) get their shit in, WITH NO THOUGHT FOR PSYCHOLOGY OR STORYTELLING

I remember a few NXT Takeovers ago, Tommaso Ciampa had heat for turning on Johnny Gargano. They had some kind of no holds barred match in which they took turns doing things to each other and I was disappointed. When you build a match up as a grudge match, they need to look like they are trying to kill each other. Not get 5-6 stars from Dave Meltzer. I was disappointed someone got powerbombed on the floor with no mat and then that person was controlling the match 5 or ten minutes later. I was offended that this match lasted for around 25 minutes. It went way too long. This match... should have been more of a fight.

Classic wrasslin matches start with a collar elbow tie-up. They do not go through their moveset in 5-10 minutes but take that long to build to that. Technical wrestlers work holds that set up their finish or try to take away the opponent's. Powerhouse types just try to run through you and slam you through things. It feels like there are two types of matches in wrestling right now: Brock Lesnar matches, where you just do all your big moves for a few minutes, and everyone else's matches where they just take turns doing moves to each other. Faux smart marks think every armbar and chin lock etc is a rest hold. Real smart marks know this is a tool to tell a story.

You don't often see workers try to work an injury. What I mean is... since this is supposed to be a fight, you try to hurt your opponent. I'm thinking: throw them ribs first on the barricade. Work an abdominal stretch. Punch and kick and stomp them in the ribs. Bear hug. Michael Cole actually sounds like a wrestling announcer by saying something like "When you have a rib injury it hurts to breathe or do anything! So and so is in trouble!" Then so and so sells this injury by not trying to do a frog splash or anything that uses the abdominal region offensively. Unless they are Eddie Guerrero or RVD and that is their finish. In THAT case, they miss and that furthers the story. Or they hit and cannot go for the pin immediately because they are selling and then they get the cover and get a long 2 count. STORYTELLING. I remember Ryback had a match where he had a rib injury against Big Bray Wyatt and he did a frog splash and a powerbomb after that AND THOSE AREN'T EVEN MOVES IN HIS MOVESET. That... is how NOT to tell the story that you are a real afflete in a real fight. Watch Shawn Michaels to see what it looks like. How many times did his opponents work his knee to stop the Sweet Chin Music? How many times did he go for the kick and fall down to sell? How many times did he hit the kick and not get the 3 because he was selling? It made it logical that he could hit his finish but not win, protecting his finish (IMAGINE THAT) AND got over that he was overcoming adversity to hit his finish.

What does this have to do with heels not getting over?

How much do heels use psychology in matches? If you turn off the volume and you don't know anything about the storyline or the characters, could you tell who is the hero and who is the villain based on facial expressions? Body language? The moves they do, or don't do? To the last point, Seth Rollins got over with me as a heel when he took a lot of the flash out of his moveset when he turned. How are you a heel and I hate you BUT OMG LOOK AT HOW HE DOES A FLIP OVER THE TOP ROPE AND LANDS ON HIS FEET SYGDRGGRGHDHFSFDGHJHSDHDH? I appreciated when Neville would tease doing the Red Arrow then wave dismissively before dismounting the top turnbuckle.

Raise your hand if you knew that psychologically speaking, heels should have submission finishes so the babyface can get support from the crowd as they struggle to reach the bottom rope or reverse it? I wouldn't be surprised if you never heard of that or thought of that because you can't really watch matches nowadays and know who is aligned where based purely on their moves.

If there are no rules, what is a rulebreaker?

These days, every heel is a dastardly villain... who is smart enough to have a friend or friends who help them in matches. Wow I hate those BASTARDS. If you don't get sarcasm... that's what that was. The New Day turned babyface... to still have their third member cheat to help them win. Babyfaces often lowblow their opponents and jump them from behind. PSYCHOLOGY! Wait that was before. RULES! Yeah.

I miss when referees warned wrestlers about using closed fists. I don't remember people actually getting disqualified for using closed fists, but it made it so the babyface would only retaliate against the heel who did not heed the admonition of the official. Now, punches are usually what start matches and not the trusty elbow collar tie-up. Speaking of the collar elbow tie, when was the last time you saw a heel gain an advantage by pulling the babyface's hair? If someone pulled the hair, did the ref warn them not to do it again? When was the last time you saw a heel poke a babyface in the eye? I remember when joint manipulation was illegal but Pete Dunne does it regularly dead in front of the ref. If his malicious moveset is within the rules, why shouldn't I like him for doing something to gain an advantage? If babyfaces cheat to win and the announcer says something like "a win is a win" then why should I like that guy and not like the other guy?

I miss when wrestlers hid foreign objects in their ring gear, used it then put it back or threw it away. I miss when heels would win matches because they held the ropes or someone held their opponent's feet so they couldn't kick out. You know, back when every heel finish wasn't a dq, countout or distraction.

Heels WANT to be liked

I miss when heels didn't have more tshirts than John Cena. I miss when heels weren't trying to make you laugh in their promos. I miss when heels knew how to get heat in promos without insulting local celebrities, politicians and sports teams. I miss when heels didn't have cooler movesets than the babyfaces. I miss when heels weren't posting their family and pets and being respectful to fans on the social media promoted by the company promoting them as a bad person. I miss when heels weren't taking pictures with babyfaces. You're not really trying to get me to not like you and root against you when you have cool merch, the best lines in promos and the coolest moveset. To be a wrestling villain is to be unselfish. Everything you do, is to get a babyface over. You have to do everything in your power to make that person look better than you. If you go over, it's because you cheated. Heels be out here winning matches clean as a whistle!

Are you doing your job as a heel if I can't WAIT to be able to root for you unironically?

No. They aren't.

I think fans were able to identify with Daniel Bryan because they bought the idea that a man who held every available championship in a 5 year run was being held back and held down. WWE tried to push Roman Reigns as an underdog babyface and... what exactly was he overcoming? Then they tried to get sympathy for him, after fans hated him and wanted to see him fail... by having him lose clean repeatedly.

If only there was some kind of storytelling device you could use to give you a reason to like someone and think they are tough and the only reason they'd ever lose is shenanigans!