In professional wrestling, a heel is a villain character. Heels are portrayed as behaving in an immoral manner, breaking rules or otherwise taking advantage of their opponents outside of the bounds of the rules of the match. In non-wrestling jargon, heels are often the "bad guys" in pro wrestling storylines. They are typically opposed by a babyface or more simply, face (crowd favorite). Some tweeners exhibit heel mannerisms. No matter the type of heel, the most important job is that of the antagonist role. Heels exist to provide a foil to the face wrestlers. If a given heel is cheered over the face, a promoter may opt to turn that heel to face, or to make the wrestler do something even more despicable to encourage heel heat. Many heels today subscribe to the beliefs espoused by Mick Foley in his autobiography, Have a Nice Day!: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks - that a heel must always believe that whatever they do is justified and that they are in the right.
The term "heel" is most likely is derived from a slang usage of the word that first appeared around 1914, meaning "contemptible person."
Common heel behavior includes cheating to win (e.g., using the ropes for leverage while pinning or attacking with foreign objects such as folding chairs while the referee is looking away), attacking other wrestlers backstage, interfering with other wrestlers' matches, and acting in a naughty or superior manner.
Once in a while, faces who have recently turned from being heels will still exhibit some heel characteristics. For example, in TNA, The Naturals, though they turned face after the death of manager Chris Candido, sometimes used the ropes for pins and used the megaphone of former manager Jimmy Hart to gain victories. Kurt Angle, even after turning face for his feud with Mark Henry, used a steel chair, an exposed steel ring peg, and leverage from the ropes during his pin to secure his victory at the Royal Rumble 2006. John Cena, after his initial face turn, often used a steel chain to win some of his matches, such as the one against the Big Show at WrestleMania 20.
While behaving as a heel is often part of a wrestler's gimmick, many successful heels fall into one or more categories:
- Crazy heel: A raging madman, dangerous and unpredictable - may attack others for no apparent reason, or blame others for being "held back" from championship opportunities and other privileges. Sometimes psychotic behavior is displayed. An example of this would be Brian Pillman, Victoria, or Brock Lesnar during his final heel run.
- Comic heel: A heel character with comical aspects to his or her gimmick. Though the heel's mannerisms and overall character are silly, the comic heel can still be a serious heel contender, such as former World Champion King Booker or Edge and Christian, who would be featured playing kazoos and exercising in chicken suits. Examples include Simon Dean, Doink the Clown, King Booker, and Santino Marella.
- Cowardly heel: A wrestler who, in addition to breaking the rules and displaying characteristics of other heel types, often runs from his face opponents when threatened or otherwise placed at a disadvantage. A cowardly heel who is champion may often intentionally get himself disqualified (through outside interference or deliberately breaking a rule) or counted out when he is clearly losing the match against a face opponent. One example of a cowardly heel is The Honky Tonk Man during his run as WWF Intercontinental Champion in 1987-1988. An recent example is Edge during his feud against The Undertaker.
- Delinquent heel: A troublesome and disrespectful character who verbally and visually displays uncivilized conduct such as profanity, vandalism, violence and associated "criminal" behavior. Sometimes the wrestler will harass or bully opponents and rebel against authority. An example of this would be D-Generation X during their first heel run in 1997-1998. Other examples include Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan and the New World Order, Randy Orton, Edge and Lita during their Rated-R gimmick.
- Egotistical heel: An obnoxious and self-important character who is arrogant or cocky; some wrestlers play on their own fame, achievements, or good looks. Examples include Hollywood Hogan, Chris Jericho, Edge, Christian Cage, JBL, The McMahon family, Randy Orton, Kurt Angle, Mr. Kennedy, John Morrison, "The Model" Rick Martel, and Montel Vontavious Porter.
- Female heel: Female heels have tended to display unpleasant, prima donna-like personalities towards fans and opposing divas and wrestlers. They have often interfered in matches and attacked opponents from behind without provocation. Female heels in recent history have shown jealously towards her opponents, especially one that is receiving high-profile recognition. In response, the heel will try to prove her superiority over her opponent. Traditionally, female heels in wrestling have tended to lean toward the stereotype of a woman with loose morals, both in style of dress and in attitude (this was particularly true of the heel divas in ECW, such as Francine and Dawn Marie). In recent years, notably in WWE, heels like Molly Holly and Ivory as a member of Right To Censor have been portrayed as uptight prudes championing conservative values, who antagonize other divas whom they perceive to have loose morals. Certain females (often those who are larger than the average woman) have also been portrayed as Amazon-like warriors, such as Jazz, Linda Miles in her "Shaniqua" character, Victoria, and Beth Phoenix.
- Foreign heel: In United States wrestling, these are heels who stir up the crowd by expressing strong anti-American sentiments. They may also refuse or be unable to speak English, preferring instead to render their tirades through an interpreter. Often these characters would be topical, playing off global events and crises current at the time. Examples include The Great Khali, Yokozuna, The Iron Sheik, and Muhammad Hassan. In Mexican wrestling, Americans are often portrayed as heels. Alternatively, there is a variation on the foreign heel gimmick - a wrestler who is actually an American, but has turned his back on his country in favor of an (ostensibly superior) one (called a traitor heel). In Japanese wrestling, a "traitor heel" is someone who goes against the established (usually mainstream, face) group he was part of within a promotion. They could be considered more properly as delinquent/rebel heels, but because of Japan's societal mores, delinquent wrestlers are more often seen by Japanese fans as "traitors" to the promotion.
- Monster heel: An unstoppable juggernaut who squashes his opponents. Sometimes, monster heels violently "injure" other wrestlers (sometimes through rule breaking tactics), terrorize valets (injuring them on occasion), and commit other heinous acts in order to set up a feud with a promotion's lead face. Notable examples include The Undertaker as leader of the Ministry of Darkness, Abyss, Kane, The Great Khali, Big Daddy V, Beth Phoenix, Mark Henry, Umaga, Snitsky, Kevin Thorn, Yokozuna, André the Giant, Vader, and Amazing Kong.
- Popular heel: Certain heel performers are known to receive enthusiastic cheers from the fans instead of heel heat, in spite of their heelish antics. These heels display confidence, toughness, coolness, and bravado that set them apart from more cowardly heels, almost to the point that they become tweeners and, eventually, babyfaces. Examples include Stone Cold Steve Austin, Randy Orton, The Rock, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Kane, The Undertaker (late 1991, early 1999), Mr. Kennedy, Hollywood Hogan, and Mickie James.
- Heel stables: A large gang of heels that usually create an advantage through numbers. The concept of the heel stable was largely innovated by the Four Horsemen. Such groups commonly self-destruct due to an inability to work together or selfishness of the group's leader. Other prominent heel stable examples include the New World Order, the Corporation, The Right To Censor faction, various incarnations of Team Canada, the Dangerous Alliance, and Evolution.
- Celebrity Heels: Are celebrities who act like a heel and would start a major feud with the top face (or in some cases, other heels). Examples would be former Professional Boxer, Mike Tyson when he was with the first heel run of DX and was feuding with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Rapper, Kevin Federline is another example when he was feuding with then WWE Champion, John Cena. This also makes the storyline more interesting to the fans. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is the most recent celebrity heel, getting negative reactions from the crowd by bragging about his money, despite the fact he is feuding against another heel, The Big Show. There has also been celebrity heels who have appeared as guest hosts, such as Jeremy Piven, Dr. Ken and John Heder.
- Figure of Authority: A heel in a position of power. He/she often books face wrestlers against seemingly impossible odds, such as handicap matches, or matches against monster heels. Figures of Authority often feud with the top face, rarely interacting with other wrestlers. Examples: The McMahons, Eric Bishoff, Paul Heyman, Jonathan Coachman, William Regal, Vickie, Kurt Angle, Astrada, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, JBL, Jim Cornette.
- Loner Heels: A heel who usually is a loner and wrestles with a tag team partner if he or she is ordered to. This is the same thing for a face. Examples; Kane (During his unmasked heel runs), The Rock, Edge (before joing Lita), Big Show (Since his feud with Floyd Mayweather) Stone Cold Steve Austin (Later during his first WWE heel run) Chris Jericho (Before joining Christian), The Undertaker (During his Big Evil heel run), Umaga, Matt Striker (Before joining Big Daddy V), Mike Knox, Kevin Thorn, Triple H (Before joining Ric Flair) JBL, (Before joining Orlando Jordan), Finlay (Before joining Hornswoggle), Mr. Kennedy and more recently Batista during his current spot light gimmick.
- Arrogant Heels: A heel who in their mind are a babyface. These people are known for cleaning up that's not right in life. However they attend to talk down towards other people and start doing visous attacks on babyfaces. Examples would be, CM Punk, Chris Jerico (during his save me gimmick), William Regal (during his later heel runs), Molly Holly, Kurt Angle, Straight Edge Society, Steven Richards (during his Right to Cencer Gimmock), Right to Cencer, Matt Striker, JBL (When he was feuding with John Cena), Big Show (When he was feuding with The Undertaker), etc. These people would often feud with troublesome faces such as DX, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, etc.
- Lengendary Heels: A legendary wresler who is currently acting as aa heel in the new error of wrestling. Legendary heels would sometimes help a heel wrestler from the new error win a match against a babyface. Despite all of this most of them get cheered anyways since they're legends. Examples would be Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper (When he returned at Wrestlemania 19), Tony Atlas (When he was managing a then-heel, Mark Henry), Cowboy Bob Orton (When he was managing his son, then-heel, Rany Orton), IRS (When he was in an online video feud with Hacksaw Jim Duggan) and more recently Dusty Rhodes (When he turned on Rey Mysterio).
Common heel tactics
The tactics of a kayfabe heel were perhaps best summed up by Jesse Ventura: "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat." However, it can backfire and eventually lead to the heel's defeat. Such tactics include:
- Using the ropes or grabbing the opponent's tights during pinfalls.
- Masquerading face wrestlers.
- Insulting fan-favorites or face wrestlers by using signature poses of the face wrestlers (showing humiliation or no respect to face wrestlers).
- Sticking thumbs, throwing powder/salt, or spitting foreign substances into an opponent's eyes.
- Removing the padding on turnbuckles to expose the steel underneath it, and then smashing an opponent's head, face, or body onto it. Also, during a steel cage match, smashing the opponent's face or body into the mesh.
- Use of concealed weapons (brass knuckles, rolls of coins, etc.). Some heels are less subtle when deciding to use a weapon, sometimes grabbing a chair from ringside in full view of the referee with no regard for the consequences.
- Dragging an opponent's face across the top rope.
- Low blows.
- Hard legal tactics, such as shoot kicks to the face, if done repeatedly and with the intention to make the face wrestler look weak.
- Use of "cheap" tactics or "bending the rules", for example knee hits intending to break the knee, hyperextending the arm and striking the elbow to break the arm, foot stomps, hair pulls, headbutts to the opponents nose with intent to break the nose, and/or punches or palm strikes to attempt to break the opponents nose.
- Utilizing an "arrogant pin," such as posing or mocking the crowd while making a clearly ineffective pinfall attempt.
- Holding a forearm down on an opponent's face during a pinfall attempt.
- Lifting an opponent off the mat during a seemingly effective pinfall attempt (generally by pulling the opponent's hair) in order to continue the match (and to continue "beating up" on the opponent).
- Bringing a valet, manager, or another wrestler to the ring to help the heel by cheating.
- Using the outside of the ring to rest, or ducking into the ropes to slow the match down.
- When defending titles, intentionally getting himself/herself disqualified or counted out to lose the match without dropping the title that the wrestler is defending. (Note: this tactic cannot be used in TNA because titles change hands on a loss for any reason, and in other companies, this sometimes leads to either a No Holds Barred match or a match where the title can change hands on a disqualification or count-out.)
- Insulting the fans or mocking the city in which he or she is performing during promos. Heels might also mock local sports teams who have suffered disappointing results.
- Assaulting the opponent after a match or interfering in a rival's match in an attempt to cost them the win.
- Purposely getting themselves counted out in order to avoid a clear pinfall loss.
- Kicking the opponent's foot off the ropes during a pinfall, in order to continue a pinfall.
- In lucha libre, utilizing illegal maneuvers such as the Martinete.
- Heels are often also noted by commentators to be "targeting a specific body area" - often to render their opponent's finisher move ineffective or weaken them for a pinfall.
- Foley, Mick. Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks (p.2)
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- Foley, Mick. Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks (p.117)
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