Confessions of a Cowardly Heel
My dream job is to be a cowardly heel in pro wrestling.
The kind of fighter who protects his hold on a title through a string of technicalities.
The kind of fighter who slips through the ropes and runs for the showers every time the handsome face mans up and gains the upper hand in a match.
The kind of fighter who refuses to tag in when his partner is getting the shit kicked out of him by a particularly formidable opponent.
The kind who relies on his valet or a crooked ref to stack the deck in his favor.
The kind who gets himself deliberately disqualified to save his ass (or his hold on a title ... or both).
The kind who accuses his opponent of hair-pulling when he is in fact bald as an egg ... and the one guilty of pulling hair.
The kind who turns most vicious when his opponent is incapacitated, presuming to kick a man while he is down or turning his nose up at a fair and equitable mano-a-mano brawl.
Hating cowardice in real life, I am at a loss what the fascination is with kayfabe gutlessness. I suspect it's because the comeuppance is always delicious. It may be my favorite bit of ring melodrama--it certainly ranks up there among my top three or four scenarios. I like nothing more than to see a strapping hunk corner a yellow-belly, one who's dodged his just deserts time and time again, but whose luck has finally run out.
It's always exhilarating for me when a no-nonsense fighter catches a cowardly heel in the act of flying the coop, and, grabbing him by his tighty-whities, tosses him back into the squared circle to face what's coming to him.
One of the great cowardly heels of wrestling history is WWE's Randy Orton (pictured above), whose claim to fame, besides real-life charges of steroid abuse and sexual harassment, is a series of deliberate disqualifications to save his butt from righteously indignant dudes like John Cena, Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho, and Shawn Michaels. The latest issue of Pro-Wrestling Illustrated (March 2010 edition) names Orton the "most hated" wrestler of last year, noting that "he thinks nothing of attacking women and surrounds himself with thugs to save him whenever he gets in trouble." It is then remarkable that the same magazine also dubs Orton the "wrestler of the year," beating out contenders like Cena, Jericho, and Kurt Angle. Such an honor suggests that his cowardice strikes a particular chord with pro-wrestling fans.
An argument could be made that all heels in wrestling are cowardly. In a performance sport (or sport performance) that centers on masculine valor for its drama--the more daring and reckless, the better--of course the lily-livered coward will automatically be the most loathsome wrestler of them all.
(A case could be made that sadism, instead, is the fundamental trait of the heel, but since pain and suffering are the essence of pro-wrestling theatrics, on both sides of the good/bad divide, it is hard to distinguish between heel and hero just on the point of which is the more sadistic. Both "good" and "evil" wrestlers like to deliver pain. I say the wrestler who inflicts pain without prowess or mettle--or hurts others excessively or when they are defenseless--most draws the ire of the crowd. And the wrestler who makes the coward suffer--and pay hard for his sins--draws the crowd's cheers. I've seen a few--but only a few--courageous heels in my day, but never a cowardly babyface.)
When, in a classic IWA-Mid South steel-cage I-quit match in 2008, Jason Hades made the dirty-dealing turncoat Jayson Quick all but wet his pants, nobody but nobody felt sorry for Quick. And every time bully-beater Axel (UCW-Wrestling) reduces some underhanded shortcut-taker to tears, he notches up another 10-20 lifelong fans.
So what is it that makes a career as a cowardly heel so appealing to me? Maybe I'm just a masochist who craves a good beating. Maybe I have hidden depths of guilty feeling that I feel the need to expiate by drawing heat from an angry crowd. Or maybe I just want to partake in all the outrageous and devious fun that heels have in taking unfair advantage, staging sneak attacks, and humiliating popular faces and innocent jobbers, but still have the moral sense to accept that somewhere, sometime down the line, I will be forced to face the golden-haired hero whose destiny it is to take me down.