Since pro wrestling was ‘modernized’ many decades ago into what we see today, it has changed on a constant basis yet stayed true to the simple fundamentals. There’s always a ring, sometimes six-sides but mainly four. There’s always entrance music, merchandise, promos, scandals, rabid fans and casual alike. And the most basic of these things, which have never changed, are the fact that someone has to be the heel and someone has to be the face. Forget the gray area that some writers supposedly push. To make angles work and hook fans, their viewership & dollars, you need a good guy, a bad guy, and a conflict. In the early black & white days of wrestling, you typically played the same role your entire career. You think of Killer Kowalski and you definitely don’t think “babyface”, because he was categorized as the most evil man in wrestling for so long, that generations later people still get that image when they hear his name even if they’ve never seen him wrestle. But that was in the past. Flash forward to the relative present…
Now the following is my personal opinion, and I know some will disagree with me. But when I think of the top babyfaces of my generation (I’m 26 so I’m including the 80’s till now) who played the role so well and garnered huge cult followings from children, young adults, and fans who loved rooting for the goodguy, I think of 4 names: Hulk Hogan, John Cena, Sting, and Jeff Hardy. I’m sure we all know the babyface biographies of these men but just in case you’re a new fan, or missed the WCW years, here’s a quick recap:
– Hulk Hogan started as a heel in the territories before going to the WWE and becoming the biggest thing ever in wrestling, staying a babyface roughly from the early 80’s to 1996. To shock the system, he turned heel and quickly became the most hated man in wrestling. It was a Success.
– Sting also became big in the early 90’s in WCW, basically becoming the WWE’s version of Hogan i.e. the biggest babyface in the company and amassing a huge following mainly composed of kids. WCW tried turning him heel in the late 90’s/2000 era and it fell flat. It was a failure.
– John Cena came to the WWE with a heel freestyler gimmick, getting booed by most fans, while others were entertained by his typically creative raps. It was soon clear he was the chosen one and received an 80’s Hogan-like push. Many complain that he’s stale yet he’s still a merch mover and ticket seller. Many people are begging for a heel turn JUST for something different.
– Jeff Hardy came into the WWE as a generic face tag team, had a brief heel turn with Matt when they joined the Brood, but became a huge babyface for the better part of a decade. Like the above names, he appealed to everyone yet his core fans have always been kids, ladies, and young adults.
Eric Bischoff realized the product needed to change in WCW and turning Hulk Hogan heel/the birth of the nWo in 1996 helped bring a rebirth to the product and Hogan’s career. Lightning couldn’t be caught twice when they tried to turn Sting, and as of this writing, WWE still hasn’t squeezed enough merch money from the purple Cena shirts & armbands to feel confident enough to turn Cena. But the move to change a hugely popular character is one that requires balls. WWE has yet to show them with their safe product, but TNA have theirs out proudly on display by turning four men at once, the biggest players being Hogan & Hardy. To have Jeff Hardy finally win the TNA World Title while turning his back on his fans, telling them they suck and giving them his signature Hardy hand-sign (with one finger instead of two!) was shocking and refreshening at the same time. Finally, a wrestling company willing to take a freaking chance instead of staying the same & plodding along based on its name. I guess the critics were wrong a year ago when Hogan & Bischoff joined TNA…they didn’t kill it. Seems like the only thing that can do that is a Dixie Carter U.S. Senate run.