The WWE has failed miserably to put a heel in the ring that is any comparison to those of the late 1980s, but don’t blame them. It could be that the wrestling villains of yesteryear were just too good to duplicate.
Going back 25 years, the WWE (formerly WWF) was loaded with heels that stole the show week after week. They featured guys like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Ted DiBiase, and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. These were wrestlers that everyone loved to hate, but nevertheless, viewers just could not get enough of them.
Today, the WWE’s biggest heel is CM Punk, and he’s exactly that—a punk. His entire character is built around some silly crusade to gain respect. The Big Show isn’t any better. This guy switches sides faster than Jake “The Snake” Roberts slapping a DDT on an unsuspecting opponent. With a good mix of being obnoxious and charismatic at the same time, The Miz makes a feeble attempt to echo the WWE’s past, but he, too, falls short.
There’s no Roddy Piper in any of these guys. Back in professional wrestling’s heyday, Piper was showing everyone how playing the role of sinister egomaniac is truly done. Who remembers the episode of Piper’s Pit when the host smashed his guest, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, over the head with a coconut? Piper made sure to stick a banana in Snuka’s mouth before taking off his belt and whipping him. It was scenes like this that gave the programming its must-see status.
In additon to Piper’s weekly antics of insulting and humiliating everyone from Gorilla Monsoon to Andre the Giant, the WWE provided many other menacing characters with unique qualities and storylines. Flair was constantly posing and strutting on camera, “King Kong” Bundy would demand a five-count after pinning those who fell victim to his signature “avalanche”, and the aforementioned Roberts would bring his python, Damien, to the ring with him during matches. In one memorable episode, Roberts even stuffed the snake into Ricky Steamboat‘s mouth while the latter was lying semi-conscious on the mat. Maybe this type of entertainment wouldn’t last in a world that strives to be politically correct, and maybe that’s the problem.
The heels of today, although colorful and villainous in their own ways, lag so far behind their brethren of 25 years ago that the sport today has become way too tame. The WWE would do well to remember that a hero will always be judged by the quality of his opponents.