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Heels Are Faces at WWE House Show in Westchester

WWE SmackDown at the Westchester County Center draws a predominantly young crowd, along with some long-time, dedicated wrestling fanatics. Heels win all three match-ups.

There were parents with babies in strollers at the event, ten-year-olds, die-hard thirty-somethings and everything in between. Some double-daters were there too. There were even some enthused fans from a group home in White Plains.

As I found my seat, the lights went down and hard rock blared over the loudspeakers. The crowd came alive all around me. Waves of fans swept over to the gate where some big name wrestler would be making his entrance. Young and old had their camera-phones and digital cameras at the ready.

A young boy began talking excitedly to his father. "I bet you it's Chris Masters!" the boy said. The father raised his eyebrows appropriately. The boy held a pretzel in one hand and wore a t-shirt that said, "Layeth the SmackDown."

A wrestler suddenly appeared from a dark corner—it was none other than "The Masterpiece" Chris Masters. The crazed crowd stomped their feet as he made his way toward the ring. Camera flashes lit up the room like fire-crackers. His face was stern and determined. He wore a laser-blue trunk. Stepping into the ring one leg at a time, he acknowledged the crowd with a wave.

As Masters settled into the ring, the music took a darker tone. There was a flash of light as another figure appeared. This wrestler had bleached-blonde hair and wore a leopard skin trunk. The crowd jeered loudly as Jack Swagger (*) headed toward the ring. He posed and flexed his muscles, grinning at the crowd and pointing his finger at Masters.

As the two sized each other up, something took hold of me. I was never the biggest wrestling fan as a kid, but something about this match got my attention. I sensed that the match was about more than just wrestling. I was about to witness a battle between good and evil!

This type of wrestling storyline was nothing new, of course. In the wrestling world, Swagger would be referred to as the 'heel' or villain. Masters was the 'face' (short for babyface, wrestling slang for the crowd favorite), a heroic character who stood for the doing the right thing.  

Looking back, the most recognizable 'face' in wrestling, despite his being retired, is probably still Hollywood Hulk Hogan. His signature red and yellow feather boa and shirt-ripping bit were the stuff of legend.

Hogan used to drop in like the cavalry and save other wrestlers from injustice at the hands of mean-spirited heels. The heel would stoke the crowd's ire by cheating and hitting his opponent with a metal chair, or crushing the referee, making him go unconscious. Sometimes a small contingent of heels would triple-team one wrestler, brutalizing him.

If someone was being mistreated in one way or another, you could count on hearing Hogan's theme song, "I am a Real American" kick on. Hogan would burst onto the scene, pointing his finger threateningly at the offenders and cussing under his breath.

As he made his way to the ring, everyone would be on their feet, the song still playing: "I am a real American, fight for the rights of every man—fight for what's right, fight for your life!" An enormous American flag would unfurl in the background. You'd have to be a cold, heartless human being not to be moved.

Jumping into the ring, he'd make short work of everyone. After the confrontation was over, he'd cup his hand to his ear as if to say, "I can't hear you!" and the crowd would just erupt. Then, he'd rip his shirt in half and it was pandemonium. The hairs on your arm would stand throughout the whole spectacle.

There was some of that, as I watched Masters and Swagger go at it in the ring. Unfortunately for the youngsters in the audience, Swagger beat Masters. I say unfortunately because Masters was the clear favorite. One boy was so upset that he started crying openly.

When Swagger was pronounced the champion, he gloated like a teenager, while Masters stood in the ring as if in a daze. Masters, with hands on hips, just stood there, shaking his head in dismay. He eventually limped out of the ring, and was comforted by little fans who patted him on the back as he left the arena.

As the next wrestler made his entrance, I overheard this phone conversation from someone sitting behind me: "Hey, yeah, I'm at SmackDown. What's up!? No, R-Truth said, 'what's up!?' so I had to say, what's up!?" R-Truth, a rapper-wrestler, had a bit where he came out saying, "What's up!?" to the crowd. It was the chorus to his theme song. R-Truth was up against heel CM Punk, which ended up being the second match where a heel beat out a face.  

I was curious to see who the favorites were, so I turned to some of the people around me to ask them some general questions: favorite wrestlers, what attracted them most to the sport, and whether or not they were long-time fans.

Shanewa Hall, a twenty-two-year old who had come to the event alone that night, the same one from the phone conversation, said what she liked most about wrestling were the moves, the action.

She listed her favorite wrestlers: "From Raw, John Cena, Edge, John Morris. . . from SmackDown, Matt Hardy and Undertaker." There were a lot of hardcore fans at the event that night.

Stephan Chamberlin, a twenty-six-year old, knew everything there was to know about wrestling. He was even able to rattle off who won which years. He was able to tell me that Batista beat Triple-H in 2005 at the Trump Plaza. Among Stephan's favorite wrestlers were the Undertaker and Jake the Snake.

I also spoke to three fans in their twenties who had watched wrestling since the late eighties. Cassy and Christy Jean were sisters who were at the event with their friend Tasha Miller. The three agreed that Bret Heart, Ric Flair, The Rock, and Hulk Hogan were among the best wrestlers of all-time.

The three said that as they got older, they appreciated the appeal of handsome, muscular men with their shirts off. They had a thing for John Cena, who's slogan was, "You Can't C Me" with a hash-mark through the letter 'C', 'C' for Cena. Looking around, John Cena t-shirts were everywhere, always with the term 'Cenation' on there.

Would that have worked in the 80s and 90s? Back when I was a kid, the wrestlers that were billed as regular everyday first and last names were usually the worst wrestlers. All the best wrestlers had some gimmick, or gimmicks that broadened their appeal, and made matches more interesting.  

If you have a guy named John Cena who doesn't role-pay as anyone but himself and he represents the best of what the WWE has to offer, then I'm sorry, but standards have seriously dropped. He may be a great wrestler – I wouldn't really know about that – but someone who makes no effort to come up with a wrestling persona comes across to me as extremely self-absorbed, someone who thinks he's too cool for school.  

What happened to standing for something bigger than yourself? Hogan used to stand for doing the right thing, an all-American hero at a time when nerves were still raw over communism and the Cold War. Infamous heels like the Iron Sheik, the Undertaker and Yokozuna lassoed the cultural zeitgeist to draw heat from the crowd with their cartoonish personifications of the strange, the threatening and the exotic. Cena doesn't represent anything except himself. There's nothing to aspire to there. What scares me is that little kids look up to Cena as a role model. He's a heel masquerading as a face.

The main event was between The Big Show and Kane, the current heavyweight champion. The Big Show, who wore a t-shirt that said 'Go Big Or Get Lost', stood at a billed seven feet tall and 485 lbs, a truly monstrous man. Kane, the heel, came out wearing leather chaps. Despite Kane's smaller stature, he ended being the third heel to beat a face that night.

What happened to all the good faces? We appear to be in the middle of a new era in sports entertainment where there are more compelling heels than faces. Every so often, a Hulk Hogan comes around, or a wrestler like The Rock, who mixes the qualities of heel and face, but stands for the right thing. The WWE seems to be waiting for its next messiah.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified wrestler Jack Swagger and described him as a jobber. Swagger is a regular cast member of performances under WWE's Smackdown brand.

Casey September 11, 2010 at 03:16 PM
This was terrible. Next time, send someone who at least has watched it on TV once in the past 10 years. This was like reading Superbowl coverage from someone who has never watched football.
Taswegian September 11, 2010 at 03:25 PM
Oh Dear Nothing worse than a person ignorant of what they are "reporting" on.
Troma September 11, 2010 at 11:48 PM
Is this what reporting has sunk to? A person with absolutely no knowledge of the subject he's supposed to report on. It seems like this "reporter" hasn't even seen a wrestling show in over 10 years.
giants2010 September 12, 2010 at 02:42 AM
This is just horrid, you went to cover a show in 2010 yet went off on a 5 paragraph tangent on Hulk Hogan? You were so lazy you just listened to the conversations of people sitting next to you? Let me guess, you asked for a press pass and the "heel" WWE would not let the "face" writer backstage to interview someone besides the person sitting next to you. Where did you get your journalism degree, Hollywood Upstairs Journalism School?
mm September 12, 2010 at 06:44 AM
First of all, I'm pretty sure that the wrestler you thought was Jack Swagger was in fact Dolph Ziggler. That would explain the leopard skin trunks and bleached blonde hair [Jack Swagger usually dons a black singlet and has what seems to be naturally blonde hair]. "Dolph Ziggler" could also sound like "Jack Swinger" - which is what you first reported his name as - to an ingenue like yourself when announced over the soundsystem amid the cries of a few thousand screaming fans. At any rate, Ziggler is the current Intercontinental Champion and has been working a series of matches with Chris Masters on the house show circuit as of late, as well, so it makes much more sense. Despite having one of the worst ring names since Leif Cassidy, Dolph is a very talented young athlete and innovative worker and if he keeps his head on straight, could have a long career in World Wrestling Entertainment. Having said that, it's okay if a reporter is not a fan of the WWE - or even wrestling in general. Plenty of writers who don't follow the storylines or who haven't watched wrestling in years have written about it, and [most of the time] it's an interesting read. Take Bill Simmons [a.k.a. The Sports Guy]. Once in a while, Bill will order a pay-per-view or attend a live event and the results are often times laugh out loud funny [Google him]. Unfortunately, this was not the case with the above. I mean, I laughed out loud and all, but I don't think I was supposed to... [continued in next post]
mm September 12, 2010 at 06:57 AM
You see, I have a feeling that this article was just a victimof lazy journalism on behalf of Robert. Using terms like "face" or "heel" or "gimmick" or "jobber" won't legitimize you, Robert, if you can't even get your subject's names right [the aforementioned Ziggler/Swinger/Swagger debacle, referring to John Morrison as "John Morris," etc]. Maybe you sould have followed your own hyperlinks to Wikipedia? Beacause if you would have spent five minutes there, you would have read that Hollywood Hulk Hogan was the "heel" persona The Hulkster used during his nWo run in WCW. Or you could have learned about what Jake "The Snake" Roberts (or as you might say, Jake The Snake) has been doing since leaving the WWE nearly 15 years ago, as well as his real life personal struggle with drugs and alcohol. Maybe - just MAYBE - with a tiny bit of research - you could have studied the trends in wrestling today and seen why the bad guys are scripted to go over and how it helps the product and storyline in the long run. But you didn't. Instead you gave us a bunch of gibberish and a half baked idea: all of the bad guys in wrestling beat the good guys and the main good guy in the company (Cena) is actually a bad guy, because, according to you, his gimmick is weak. What does that even mean?? Did it ever occur to you that NOT having a gimmick might be the best and most authentic gimmick to have in 2010? Better luck next time? ... [concluded in next post]
mm September 12, 2010 at 07:04 AM
Finally, what kind of house show features only three matches? I'm guessing you either came late, left early or flirted with Casey & Christy Jean throughout 80% of the card. I'm not saying you have to like it or even tolerate it, but if you're reporting on it - or if you're reporting on ANYTHING, for that matter - you should at least pay attention. It's your job to do so. It is like reporting on a baseball game, skipping the 2nd, 5th and 8th innings and napping through the 7th Inning Stretch and then writing that the game just isn't what it used to be. Everything changes. It is up to you to connect the dots for us, the reader. And just because you're not in school anymore doesn't mean that you don't have to do your homework, Robert. [Sorry for such a long post, but for some reason, I decided to really unleash what I had to say!] MM

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