SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, December 11, 1998

Easy guide to heels and faces

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

A weekly
SLAM! Wrestling
Editorial Column

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Not so long ago, Vince K. McMahon went on record as saying that he was tired of insulting the fans' collective intelligence, that the time for good guys and bad guys was over, and that now everything was in shades of grey. Is it just me, or were Ted Turner and Eric Bischoff asleep that day? It would seem to me that WCW is home to the pure babyface good guy and the pure heel bad guy. Let's take a look at this.

In a very old column before I came to SLAM!, I wrote "how-to-make-a-face" and "how-to-make-a-heel." I was referring, of course, to the obvious techniques that wrestlers use to make it utterly obvious that they have changed sides. Briefly, here's a list. First, the heels:

1 - Grow an unkept goatee.
2 - Attack someone who seemed to be your friend.
2a - Ideally, attack him when he's down.
2b - When you attack someone who's down, make it look like you're trying really hard to hurt them (as opposed to just giving them what they deserve).
3 - Insult the fans.
3a - Ideally, insult the fans' hometown.
3b - When you insult the fans' hometown, make it look like you're trying really hard to insult them even though you have nothing against this particular town ("the Packers suck!").

As I would hope you could see, the whole point of this is that this stuff is really obvious and not much of a secret at all. The list goes on and on. For faces:

Heel or face?.
1 - Shave a goatee or get a new haircut.
2 - Help someone you don't even know.
2a - Ideally, help a fan-favourite.
2b - When you help someone in need, make it look like you really care about their well-being. Afterwards, raise their hand in the air like they won something.

This list is equally tedious, and I assure you, that is what I intended to demonstrate to you. If you read a list like that, though, don't you realize just how stupid this particular thing is and how much of an insult it is to you that for years, this really was how it worked?

To their credit, you can't take those two lists and apply it to too many WWF 'superstars.' They really do possess shades of grey. Let's go down the list quickly. WWF champion the Rock. Admittedly, this guy is a classic heel. But he isn't the I'm-a-loser-because-I-suck heel that we're used to, he's a too-cool-for-you-you-candy-ass-jabrony heel, and I find it refreshing after three years of nWo run-ins. Steve Austin. The rattlesnake. In any other time, in any other place, this guy is not good. He'd be bad. But it was time for the people to cheer on someone with these particular bad qualities, and so they do. At best, though, he is a shade of grey. The Undertaker and Kane. Aside from the fact that they switch sides more often than I do on Monday nights, these two are right in the middle of this shade of grey, though Undertaker is heading for the black. Kane, now seemingly a good guy, runs into the ring and chokeslams other good guys who were about to have a match. And we cheer for him. Goldust and Val Venis. The WWF has tried very hard to make us boo Val and cheer Goldust, and it took a very long time to catch on at all - but it didn't catch on completely so they're both in limbo. Limbo is a shade of grey. Every other example I can think of (barring maybe one or two) fits into this idea: the Brood, Degeneration-X, the Nation, Owen Hart, and so on.

Let's head a little south and see what we can find. Uh oh. I don't see much grey at all. It looks like everything's in black and white, dumbified for our benefit. Hollywood Hogan actually spray-painted the black beard on. Half of the Steiners and Harlem Heat turn heel. Macho Man does five elbow drops on some loser to show that he's nWo again. Kevin Nash power-bombs Rey Mysterio Jr. three times to show he's a bad guy, then (months) later runs in and saves him to show that he isn't. Let's look for a guy who's a shade of grey. Chris Jericho? Nope, he insults the fans tediously and plays the ultimate coward in the ring. Goldberg? No, he doesn't do any grey-ish things as does Austin. Diamond Dallas Page? Ha ha ha, no. Bret Hart? I almost thought he was going to be this dangerous man on the edge who could snap at any time, but instead he's just a villain without a conscience.

Do me a personal favour. Take a look at the WCW roster - I don't care how deep you go. If you can find an example of a real shade of grey somewhere in there, send it to me and I'll post them next time. Equally, if you can find really good examples of characters that insult our intelligence in the WWF, send them over.


Here's this week's reader mail:

myrna stark leader, from, writes:
*dear sir: i have read in your column and from other fans e-mails that you believe the Vince/bret confrontation last year in Montreal is a work.Now,you are all entitled to your opinions,but let me be the first to tell you that this indeed was not a work and that the screw job was real.I am an aquaintance of the "hitman" and let me tell you that this was real.Vince Mcmahon did this to Bret in order to save his butt and gain momentom in the ratings,as well as destroy the "hitman" character in front of the very thing Bret valued the most,his canadian fans.Bret gave Vince 14 years if his life and even turned down an enormous amount of money to stay loyal to Vince and look how he repayed Bret.The man is a cold and calcualting promoter who cannot be trusted.You can take what i am saying with a grain of salt,but saying this was a work is a total joke and kind of comical,when you actually know the true story.Wrestling is not all qa soap opera,this was real......*

I understand your position and your arguments, and let me say one more time that I do believe it was real - I just felt the need to give a voice to that deep, dark corner of my mind where doubt rests.

Michael Arnett, from michael.arnett@Matrox.COM, writes:
*I just read your Bret-screwjob-work theory. Well, well, well. I wasn't at SS 97, though talked to several who were, including you. I saw Bret's OTR appearances. I read the dozens of Internet claims and accounts. And yes, I saw the documentary. While you present an interesting theory, how about we (re-)consider the other side:
- Possible lawsuit dismissal tradeoff: Bret's last-30-day reasonable creative control contract clause vs. Vince's broken jaw.
- Those who claimed having seen Bret clock Vince, and Shane coming in to defend Dear old Dad and Bulldog holding Shane back. All behind the scenes. No aired camera shot (other than Groggy Vince in documentary), no on-air reference to wrestlers bickering in the locker room.
- The high risk demise of the greatest thing the WWF had going at the time - the Hart Foundation. 3/4 members to WCW (the 5-time Champion still in top game shape; the underpaid, top 10 roster member, former IC Champ; and the comical red-goateed Enforcer), the 4th, in my opinion the most talented wrestler of them all, apparently stuck between a rock and a hard place
- The alleged confrontations between other WWF roster members and Vince. Granted, could be hype, so Crayola me gullible.
- SS '98 was, plain and simple, a mockery of the reality of last year's screw debacle. What better time to do it? Vince ca$hed in on his "character's" unpopularity.
- Bret's track record. As brilliant a performer he is, surely we can't see him choosing to feign a behind the scenes, off the air, work that was so personal, so controversial. Outside of his wrestling programming and house shows, he seems very genuine, honest, loyal and straightforward. Who can really say the same for Vince?
- Vince's track record. Slimey, vindictive, stubborn. Brilliant in the business-sense, yes. Screwing Bret as a business decision made sense to him. So he supposedly helped Bret with Bret's negotiations - maybe he had his reasons.
- McMahon took a severe credibility/integrity hit immediately following that weekend in Montreal (not like any of his on air `McMahon is King' proclamations).
- The Chaos that followed the SS match in the ring (Shawn also looked pissed at Vince), the WCW gestures that didn't air, the mass confusion behind the scenes, etc.
- The supposed sneaky meetings with Vince, J.R., Cornette, Patterson, etc. throughout that weekend in Montreal
- We've only heard of 1 other significant Earl work, which pales in comparison, and that was when Andre "pinned" Hulk and immediately handed the belt to DiBiase, which then Pres. Tunney declared illegal. Not on TV, swearing on his kids? He must have been threatened and told to shut it.
- Cash shortage for Vince? Without Nash and Hall, Maybe. But Tyson 3.5 mill. to stand around? C'mon. I think we'd both agree that there's most likely more to Vince wanting Bret out than meets the eye. And I don't mean that as a Work reference.
- In reference to that guy's published e-mail last week, Julie's post-match "Hunter" reference could have been a nickname referral, like Hulk for Terry.
Which side has more clout? To borrow that conspiracally driven line, The Truth is out there. I'm open, though very hesitant, to a Compromise/partial work theory that went very awry, but all out? Sorry Judge. From what we've seen and heard, in People vs. Eric's Theory, the People wins.*

You make some interesting points, Mike. I would like to express for the last time, though, that not once did I claim that my sequence of events was in any way factual, I merely suggested them as a possibility. To be completely honest, I'm probably more of a nihilist than a presentist, and consequently do not think we can ever really know what happened. I would imagine a good chunk of it was real, but who's to say how much of it was put on, just the same way that Vince McMahon always takes advantages of otherwise real situations to create controversy and garner ratings.

That's all for this week. Drop me a line, see you in seven have a great week.

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