Wrestling’s Most …. Over Babyface & Effective Heel
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Happy Fifth Anniversary to Kayfabe Commentaries!
Originally, I was going to wrap up several reviews, but it’s been one of those weeks where getting stuff accomplished was impossible, and the more I thought about this DVD, the more I realized I could work up a full review.
Lists these days are almost invariably controversial. People get left out, people get included based on reasons inexplicable to the concept of the list, the nature of the lists get undefined, and of course, in this day and age – decades after “video killed the radio star” – including familiar faces seems to be a requisite.
Even if said faces bear familiarity far more than they bear ‘gravitas’ to the subject.
Sure, JJ Dillion is a respected and knowledgeable wrestling figure. The likes of the Masked Superstar provide commentary of the utmost respect. And guys like Bill Apter, The Honky Tonk Man and Matt Bourne have depth and knowledge and the ability to explain things to wrestling fans looking for logic amidst the insanity, looking for perspective amongst the sycophants (cue Soulfly’s “Fall of the Sycophants” for appropriate theme music for much of this column!)
But the criticism despite the inherent and welcome controversy comes with the bulk of the panel, and the rankings of the Top Five in both Babyface and Heel, and most especially in the definitions of “over” and “effective”.
Beyond the criticisms, Kayfabe Commentaries deserves credit for attempting such a project and most especially for delivering an ongoing series in several subjects, exploring the history of an industry where retrospectives are invariable paid for by one specific company, to the ends of redefining history and smoothing over the vast discrepancies that arise by media manipulations of the highest order.
Without Kayfabe Commentaries, we’d only have panels of aging Legends, eager to please the masters, ready to provide their own spin on company defined conventional wisdom, altogether ignoring the facts and figures that would never square the circled peg of visions of hopelessly, willfully ignorant voices.
But enough about Vince McMahon… until later.
Surprisingly to me, Chyna is not the blinding light of colossal misstatements this time around. That award goes to Kip “Billy Gunn” James, who rolls out one astounding piece of commentary after another. It’s one thing to pretend that not knowing the history of wrestling previous to 1995 is trivial, it’s another thing to altogether feel that not knowing what happened before you started in the business is a resume enhancer.
Sure, Kevin Dunn likely loves that concept.
For anyone who would rather learn a better perspective on the business, well, why even go there?
Familiar names are important in these things, because that’s what VH-1 has taught in regards to the music industry. Kudos to Kayfabe Commentary to not include a slew of third rate comedians and musicians to comment upon the wrestling industry – and instead use actual wrestling names.
While there is an unevenness about Tammy Sytch, Road Warrior Animal and Barry Darsow, these are more than just familiar names. On the other hand, there’s always a problem with industry figures in an age and era when pleasing the 800 lb gorilla is the best way to secure a hope for working in the business again.
Not that I would point out anyone in particular, it’s just the nature of the beast.
That leaves two members of the panel, Danny Doring and Maria Kanellis.
Maria is interesting. She’s overly cynical, reasonably knowledgeable (well, entirely smartened up if you use the Kip James scale) and short and sweet in terms of commentary. Maria was definitely entertaining in her role.
My wife considered it embarrassing that I knew of Danny Doring: well, it’s not like they brought in some unknown from a tangential industry to talk about professional wrestling, just because. And someone had to stick up for the ECW originals.
But to the second level of criticism – the definitions.
What constitutes an “Over Babyface”?
Actually, in 2012, the concept of a “Babyface” in and of itself is alien to the vast majority of fans who can’t remember anything about professional wrestling since 1998. (Well, that applies to Kip James , Chyna and most of the others on the panel, except that some do and Tammy Sytch talks big about being a fan before she got involved in the sport.)
What is a Babyface?
Since Stone Cold Steve Austin destroyed the concept (inadvertently, I believe, but he’s the one we can trace the destruction to), the closest person to the role has been John Cena, and by no means is John Cena “over” to the whole of the public.
“Tweener” is the modern version of the Babyface, but unfortunately the opposite of “Tweener” is merely a “Tweener” who’s acting a bit more heelish today than yesterday. Or, in regards to Mark Henry, it’s a wrestler who has a plausible explanation of trying to act one way or the other, based on quaint and antiquated characteristics.
Obviously the concept of Babyface was shown to be utterly ruined when Kurt Angle, Olympic Gold Medalist, was introduced to the dominant ‘rasslin promotion as a heel. This despite debuting in his hometown, having a pedigree of sports oriented success, and vastly more than just a passing capability in the ring.
A Babyface, to me, is someone who stands up to the bad guy, who plays by the rules, and who delivers on his promos.
Yeah, I know, that’s impossible when everyone’s a flawed character, when there are no rules, and when promos are written and changed umpteen times an hour before being delivered.
But there needs to be a measuring stick, and there is none.
“Over” shouldn’t be a debatable definition, either, but at some point the best description of Ricky Steamboat is “he’s a nice guy”. Yeah, well, being a “nice guy” is so alien and irrelevant to drawing money, buys or crowds; attracting the sympathy of the fans or even being someone who can be used as a foil that it is absolutely asinine to even comprehend or defend.
The big problem I have with the list is that there is one glaring example of a guy who hasn’t been a pure Babyface in probably 20 years, and pretending that said individual is “Over” as a “Babyface” is laughable for that reason alone.
Well, I must include the biggest laugh line of the entire DVD, when Kip James says that if you “Ask anyone ignorant of professional wrestling who the biggest babyface was, they’d say Hulk Hogan”.
To that, I fully, truly, honestly and vociferously agree.
So that leaves the list, compiled by votes, for a subject left to vast interpretations by fans who only remember the recent and previous decades – back to the 1980’s. Sure, that era is represented well, but that’s because there are so very few examples of the past 25 years, and that’s for sure.
So we get to the Most “Effective Heels”, and this can be summed up nicely in a few points:
1) I echo Matt Bourne and others, who say – where is Bruiser Brody????!!!!!
2) The fact that Ric Flair is in the middle of this pack does suggest a subtlety of the voters, because Ric Flair has not been an “Effective Heel” in at least 15 years, if not 25. Just like that other guy hasn’t been an “Over Babyface”. Facts and figures don’t exactly lie about that time when the most over babyface battled the most effective heel, just a tad past their primes, and the run was killed within what, 3 or 4 montsh.
I’m just saying….
3) The whole run-down of Raven being on this list is where I screamed at the TV. Define “Heel” to me, and I’ll agree to A) Controversy, B) drawing heat, and C) wanting to see the guy get his. Raven had all that in spades.
Now, to people like Kip James who aren’t going to acknowledge anything that happened outside of their own vast but not inclusive “Universe” and to people who aren’t so knowledgeable about wrestling history, roles and expectation, maybe Raven isn’t deserving.
Deserving is such a trivial word these days, don’t you agree?
4) I keep forgetting who the MOST EFFECTIVE HEEL was, but then I remember, and then I remember what I wrote that was probably very controversial in the first half of this review.
But, to be fair, I did enjoy the DVD despite the jaded cynicism of this often waning wrestling fan. Lists are always controversial, and even when they supposedly are based on facts and study and true rankings they create the worst and the best in us all.
In respect to the project, I’m not going to do the book review cheap ‘here’s the list’ reveal. But those who follow these reviews know that spoiling the results just isn’t what I do.