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Heels are an integral part of every successful pro wrestling storyline. After all, every hero needs an antagonist to challenge and overcome. But what are the elements that make a heel memorable? In other words, how do villainous wrestlers successfully make us despise them so much that we will pay money (or at least tune in) to watch them lose? Let’s explore.

Heels Play Dirty

Heels are almost always rulebreakers. Some of them even gloat about it, showing no empathy for their opponent. But playing fast and loose with the rules isn’t all there is to it. The best heels have ability. They don’t need to cheat to win a contest. Rather, they take shortcuts to secure a victory at any cost, even if that means winning dishonorably, because their vanity would never allow them to accept defeat.

Heels Are Great on the Mic

The words, the tone, the cadence, the body language… Promos tell us who a wrestler is, what they want, and why we should care about their feud. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was influenced by the iconic heel wrestler Gorgeous George, who gave then-19-year-old Ali some advice on how to promote a match: “A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. So keep on bragging, keep on sassing and always be outrageous.” There are some exceptions to this – not all heels are great talkers – but those exceptions are usually paired with a manager who can cut a promo like it’s nobody’s business.

Heels Draw Reactions

That may sound obvious, but at the end of the day, getting fans invested in the characters, storylines, and matches is what it’s all about. It’s also important to remember that not all crowd reactions are the same. Some heels generate disdain by annoying us with their cheating and their cowardice. Others draw the ire of audiences through their display of arrogance. And some wrestlers generate sheer terror.

As The Undertaker discussed in a recent episode of Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Sessions, his macabre, menacing character would stun audiences into silence early on in his career at WWE. During his debut at the 1990 Survivor Series, the live crowd seemed paralyzed with fear. The Dead Man revealed he even had fans who would come up to him in public and ask him if he was really dead. That’s when you know you’ve got something. Heel work and professional wrestling in general are at their best when the lines between reality and fantasy blur.

Ring the Bell

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