Man, it seems late September is more hectic at the old asylum than usual. That is why it has been so long since I have gotten some computer time to pontificate upon my favorite love, professional wrestling. Even with the frenetic pace here at this fine institution the last few weeks, I have had some time to watch a little TV. As I was doing this, I was channel surfing and happened upon an old episode of VH1’s “Pop Up Video”. This was an 80’s themed episode, so I as man who attended high school in the 80’s, I had to stop.
Now years before my days living in this state funded institution here in South Carolina, I stayed at another stated funded institution, but one in the state of Georgia. In the small town of Athens, Georgia, Crazy Train was matriculating in the fields of English Composition and Music History. This was a culmination of my love of music too. Music has always been something that, like wrestling, when at its best, can stir emotions and and elicit strong memories.
So as I watched this 80’s retrospective, the old Bonnie Tyler tune, “Holding Out for a Hero”, from the soundtrack of a classic 80’s teenager movie, “Footloose” played. For whatever reason, this song stirred some of those memories for me. It took me back to the 80’s and that lead to the greatest period of my love of wrestling. The natural connection I made in my mind was the lyrics were speaking about the babyfaces in wrestling of that era.
So many critics, naysayers, and self appointed experts will denote the decline of true babyfaces today. They will often compare current babyfaces lack of being over as a babyface in direct contrast to how over as babyfaces of the “Rock and Wrestling” era were in that same role. As I waxed nostalgic during this video, I couldn’t say I disagreed.
So what has happened? I thought for awhile and was befuddled honestly. Not to have a huge ego, but I wrestled almost exclusively as a babyface my entire career, and I was very good and very successful at it. Now I wasn’t part of the 80’s era, if I was from any time period it would be the “Attitude Era”. That wasn’t that long ago, so what is the deal?
If you are reading this, I am betting you also listen to the A-1 Wrestling.com Podcast, Now if you are not listening, you better start, or you might incur the wrath of Teddy! So as you have listened, you have heard me spew forth my lamentations about the lack of proper training for the current batch of stars and how that is in direct correlation to the problems this blog is addressing, the inability of those cast as a hero to be able to project this effectively.
Now as a somewhat effective hero myself maybe I can pass on some of my knowledge, and possibly NOT be that curmudgeonly vet who complains, but doesn’t try to help. So if you readers will amuse me, I will go over some things that worked for me and can still work today.
A bunch of the problems with babyfaces nowadays is the fear of not being cool. What?!? What is more in vogue than being the one that saves the day, vanquishes the monster that is causing everyone trouble, and gets the guy/girl in the end? That sounds very appealing to me. Well, since the wrestling world is bit less than normal, not all those things happen…right away.
A babyface represents all that we want to be. I understand for some fans, that leads to inevitable boos, but I can’t change haters. What I can change is their perception of me. Often heels are cheered today. They are “cooler”, but in our heart of hearts we cheer them because we feel that when ultimately backed into a corner, they will do what is right. We see the good in them. Darth Vader couldn’t take the destruction of his son Luke. He was backed into a corner. He did what he had to. He destroyed his own master to save his son i.e., he did the right thing. How was this any different than the Undertaker, after months of ruling with terror, stopping Randy Savage from whacking Miss Elizabeth with a chair? It isn’t. When backed into a corner, he did the right thing.
The same can be said for Steve Austin, who had no love loss for the evil Mr. McMahon, yet saved his daughter Stephanie from the clutches of the even more vile, and returned to his dastardly ways, Undertaker. When a wrong was committed, the hero helped out. Even if that help came at the cost of doing a favor for an enemy.
Are these examples of shades of grey? Perhaps, but it also shows that even the most reviled villain can become a hero if their actions speak to the good in all of us. Or can remind us that at their core, they are one of the “good guys”, even if on the surface they appear not to be. That speaks more to me of what fans today see as good and what they see as evil.
I went with that line of thinking to realize there are shades of grey in wrestling, but not to the extremes that fans and critics believe there to be. One of the first things a babyface has to have if they are going to be successful is some sort of swag, a coolness that fans will unabashedly support, no matter what.
Now it is tough to not like a “cool” guy like The Rock, but what about other successful babyfaces? Mick Foley, a man who on physical appearance and verbiage, can come off as disheveled and nerdy at best, was always treated as ultracool and cheered as a hero, even when he was cast as a villain. Well when you sacrifice your body in an attempt to win, when you never give up no matter how titanic the obstacles it is hard not to admire and cheer for that.
That makes me think about one thing missing in babyfaces today: selling. A hero has to be in peril for a crowd to get behind them and make them seen as sympathetic. Now Mick most of the time was selling because his insane in-ring style was truly causing him physical pain, but it was still obvious he was in peril…and he wasn’t giving up. That is tough to not admire.
This ties into another point: we want out heroes flawed. They must have weaknesses. Without this most human of traits what is there to cheer for? How can you want to support someone who at anytime can conquer anything? You can’t. Even Superman had kryptonite. Ironically, as I type this, one of the nurses here on the psyche ward have turned the channel to an old episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man”. Within the 1st five minutes of this episode the seminal character has had his cyborgnetically enhanced legs rendered useless, and is in peril. Thank you for proving my point Steve Austin, and I don’t mean the Texas Rattlesnake this time.
When I think back to my youth, I remember a legendary babyface who was the prototype babyface in peril, one half of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, Ricky Morton. This guy had grit. This guy had heart. He is a small man in a big man’s sport. He was almost always the smallest in stature in the ring, but as the old cliché goes, you don’t measure a man’s heart on a scale or with a ruler. The fans of the 80’s lived and died by every butt whupping he took; they never gave up on “Punky” though. He never gave up on the fans, and he never gave up on himself. He was down, but he was never out.
Now I have talked about guys so far that had things that made being a babyface or even just a wrestler tough. They have been too small, not muscular enough, have an rough countenance, or less than technical in ring style, but what if you don’t have these hurdles to vault over? Well you rarely have that. The greatest of all babyfaces have those faults and flaws I mentioned.
Dusty Rhodes: did his body look like a world class athlete? Hulk Hogan: was he a master of “technical” wrestling? Bret Hart: how charismatic were his promos (especially compared to the last 2 guys I named)? Daniel Bryan: too small AND not “pretty” enough. Bruno Sammartino: too trusting. All these guys were stellar examples of over babyfaces, but as you can see, these guys all had faults.
I do know some over babyfaces had few if any weaknesses. Wrestlers like Sting, Ricky Steamboat, and Magnum TA seemed to be the complete packages. Did that stop these guys from selling? Did it stop them from putting themselves in peril. Nope. That is WHY they were over as babyfaces.
Fans AND younger guys need to understand something, without putting yourself in harm’s way you have nothing to overcome. You have given the fans nothing to believe in. The challenge of the chase is always better than the thrill of the kill. If you don’t sell, if you don’t get a little egg on your face, then when you inevitably win, you have not triumphed over anything. It means nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch.
And therein lies the key. The dirty little secret: the good guys ALWAYS win in the end. Yes they get pounded on. Yes the get embarrassed some. Often they get bloodied and bruised. Still, they never quit. They never give up. When they are backed into corner, they make the right decision. Sometimes, they even choose what is right over what is easy. (I stole that one from a megaover, white meat babyface, Albus Dumbledore)
So fans, be patient. Don’t quit on a guy cast as a hero just because he isn’t doing what you want fast enough. It comes. Daniel Bryan got his WrestleMania moment, Magnum TA made Tully Blanchard say “I Quit” to capture the US title, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express got the Russians in a cage for the World Tag titles, Steve Austin made Mr. McMahon pay for his greed, and Mick Foley lived out his boyhood dream by winning the World Heavyweight Title.
And for those young guys trying to wrestle as a babyface, learn to sell. Don’t be afraid to give the heel sometimes as much as 90% of the offense in a match. It is not what YOU can do, but what moves your OPPENENT does you can make look good. Never die. Always be selling up. Don’t just lay on the mat unless you are being stretchered out of the arena. You have to give the fans something to believe in. Bump, but not too much. That is a balance that can only be learned from experience. Too much of anything numbs the fans to it, not enough and the seriousness of the situation can be lost. Leave your ego at the entrance to the locker room door. Remember what I just told the fans? Be patient. You will get your shining moment in the end.
So I guess my point is we all have heroes. We all sometimes don’t understand why we hold these individuals in this esteemed light, but I hope I shed some light on this. You aren’t being cool if you cheer a “cool” heel, you are simply seeing the good hidden deep within. Or if you are booing an “unhip” face, you are just hating someone who you wish you could be more like. Ladies do like bad boys, but look at the wives and girlfriends of some of the liked and disliked babyfaces out there (Daniel Bryan, Mick Foley, and yes, even John Cena) and maybe you will see the truth to some of my statements.
Wrestling, like life, is a marathon, not a sprint. And just like life we all hold a universal hope that what is right, just, and good will win out in the end, whether we claim it or not. I am down with that. If it is the perfection of a milquetoast Superman (Hulk Hogan), the dour brooding Batman (Crow Sting), the quirky silliness of a non-quitting Deadpool (Mick Foley), the anti-establishment tough guy Punisher (Steve Austin), the youthful exuberance of Robin (Daniel Bryan), the ultimate athletic tough guy Captain America (Magnum TA), an unavoidable force of nature Spawn (The Undertaker), or an gritty common man who changed his ways Green Arrow (Dusty Rhodes), we can find a hope for all that is good in wrestling.
Now I challenge all my readers to look up “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler. It must be the Bonnie Tyler version please. Crank up the volume as you hit play on this cheestastic 80’s gem. If you are embarrassed, by all means, wear earbuds, but still, listen. Now as you listen, close your eyes. Imagine all the great babyfaces I have mentioned. Think about Bruno, the Hulkster, Sting, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, Magnum TA, Dusty Rhodes, Bret Hart, Daniel Bryan, Ricky Steamboat, and The Undertaker. I bet you get goose bumps. If not, you at least get a smile on your face. You smile as you realize that good does eventually win out in the end. And that is a comforting feeling.
You will see that these men personified what we all wish we could be. That cool or uncool, they ultimately won. They fought even when it was the difficult thing to do. That when backed into a corner, they did not cower, they chose to fight. They took a pounding, sometimes rarely getting a blow of their own in, but never backed down. They gave us the most powerful thing in the universe. They gave us hope.
Well, lights out is quickly coming here. The night shift nurse has told me it is med time and computer time is over. Until I write again, remember, I can be reached on Twitter @CrazyTrain_jb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments in the forum or below are always welcome as well. So until next time, remember, I maybe selling, I maybe down, I maybe backed into a corner, but I won’t give up. I am proudly a babyface, and will continue to do what is right, even if the fan’s might not appreciate it…on the surface. Until you pull into the depot here at the asylum again, me and Teddy wish you well, we got your back, and remind you that we always have room for passengers on this Crazy Train. ALL ABOARD!!!