In the world of professional wrestling, the babyface is supposed to fight for what’s good and honorable. That’s supposed to be what makes fans cheer for him or her; they’re the good guys fighting for good things, and they put those devious, dastardly heels in their place.
But things aren’t that cut-and-dry anymore. With the veil of kayfabe having long been lifted, fans are much smarter now, and more cognizant of what makes wrestlers good and what makes them bad. They also know if a gimmick or a wrestler is being force-fed to them, and when they realize that, they react with vitriol toward the supposed babyface. Poor gimmicks, even if not force-fed by Creative, could also lead to ostensible faces getting booed by fans.
With that said, we shall be looking at 15 times we’ve seen good guys in professional wrestling get booed by the fans, why they got booed, and whether they were able to make the most out of that bad situation or not. So load up that Roman Reigns theme on YouTube or Spotify, and imagine the crowd howl in disapproval as you read this list.
15. REY MYSTERIO
Since his WCW days, Rey Mysterio Jr. has been one of those wrestlers whom you just can’t bear to hate, regardless of how he’s booked. Despite subpar runs as a main event champion, the strains of P.O.D.’s ring theme for the diminutive Mysterio are often enough to bring fans to their feet. Fans love Rey, and many would still want to see him back in WWE, even if he’s already in his 40s.
Many fans, however, may want to apologize for shooting the messenger, as Mysterio got a chorus of boos at the 2014 Royal Rumble. That was all because he was the last man to enter in the Royal Rumble match, with fans expecting Daniel Bryan to enter at number 30 and end up winning the match. Fortunately, Mysterio never truly became the “boo” in “Booyaka,” as he was quickly forgiven when fans turned most of their ire toward the 2014 Rumble winner, Batista .
14. THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR
Warrior (then no longer legally known as Jim Hellwig) was brought into WCW in 1998 as the latest threat against “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, but as he was a cheesy, rusty version of his old WWF self, fans quickly turned on him, despite his babyface status. It didn’t help that he was part of one of the silliest WCW angles of all time – remember when Hogan was supposedly the only one who could see Warrior, though everyone could clearly see him on their TV screens?
That wasn’t the worst Warrior had to offer WCW in his mercifully quick, yet disastrous run with the company. Hogan vs. Warrior II at Halloween Havoc 1998 was a cluster-bleep of bad, bad wrestling — you just have to see it to believe it — and no less of an authority than Dave Meltzer gave it the worst possible rating on his scale, negative five out of five stars.
13. THE NEW DAY
Maybe it was the brief teases we saw of Xavier Woods forming a Nation of Domination-style “black power” faction with Kofi Kingston and Big E. But when they were repackaged instead as a fun-loving, hand-clapping, gospel-inspired stable, fans were quick to show their displeasure. The New Day, at first, was WWE’s take on a common black stereotype, and fans weren’t glad to see three talented African-American performers preaching the “power of positivity.” By early 2015, “New Day Sucks!” jeers were a thing among WWE fans.
Fortunately, a well-timed heel turn converted The New Day into one of WWE’s funniest acts, and one of the best in trolling their opponents and fans alike. With Kofi, Big E, and Xavier having more leeway to act as amplified versions of their real-life personas, they turned face in 2016, and have saved many a middling RAW episode from utter failure.
12. THE HONKY TONK MAN
Younger fans may be surprised to learn that the Honky Tonk Man originally debuted in WWF in 1986 as a babyface. Unfortunately, fans saw him as a hunka-hunka burnin’ crap who couldn’t get over, and that’s what led to a series of “Vote of Confidence” vignettes that were meant to transform him into an evil Elvis impersonator. As expected, fans (in storyline and in real life) gave him a convincing down vote, thus turning him heel.
All in all, it was a smart move for WWF Creative, who made the most out of a bad situation and turned Honky into one of the most effective bad guys the company had in the ’80s. Not to mention, the self-proclaimed “greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time.”
11. JOHN CENA
Right now, there’s really nothing shocking about dueling “Let’s go Cena” and “Cena sucks!” chants, or John Cena getting a mix of cheers and boos when his ring music plays. So we’re going to go back a bit for our entry on Cena, back when he first started getting booed as a babyface.
As far back as 2005, fans were getting tired of Cena’s limited moveset, his ridiculously high winning percentage, and his increasingly-stale character. So despite being booked as a face in feuds against Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle, two technically-gifted heels, Cena was booed and jeered by audiences. And as his second WWE Championship reign grew longer in 2006, the boos got worse and worse, culminating at that year’s ECW One Night Stand, where fans at the Hammerstein Ballroom, in true ECW spirit, added some profanity to their anti-Cena chants.
10. DOINK THE CLOWN
Doink the Clown in his evil clown persona, as played by the late Matt Borne, was fantastic from 1992 to 1993. In an era of occupational gimmicks, heel Doink was one of the best, and was made even better by the fact that Borne was a rather skilled wrestler. But Vince McMahon had to play it up for the kiddie audiences, and Doink was eventually turned face, effectively taking away everything that was so cool about him as a bad guy.
Babyface Doink (1993-95) was played by Ray Apollo, and by the time this kid-friendly iteration had a little person sidekick named Dink, crowds were chanting “Kill the clown!”, showing their disappointment over Vince watering down what used to be one of the most evil clowns this side of Pennywise.
It seemed like a good idea at the time — bring back Dave Batista, the former church deacon-turned-Animal who was one of WWE’s biggest stars of the Ruthless Aggression Era, and one-fourth of Evolution. It had been almost four years since he had last been seen in a WWE ring, and the company believed that even with Big Dave wrestling part-time, he was a big enough name to make the fans pop.
That all changed, however, in the 2014 Royal Rumble, which we covered above in the entry for Rey Mysterio. Rey’s entrance at number 30 made it clear that the musclebound Batista was the man Creative wanted as Randy Orton’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship opponent at WrestleMania XXX, and not that little bearded B+ player named Daniel Bryan. It didn’t help either when Batista insulted fans on his way backstage after winning the Rumble match. With “Bootista” absolutely thrashed as a face, WWE acted quickly and turned him heel a few weeks later as part of a briefly-rebooted Evolution.
8. DAVID SAMMARTINO, GREG GAGNE, AND ERIK WATTS (tie)
What do these three men have in common? Why, it’s easy — they’re all sons of wrestling legends who were booed because they weren’t as good or as charismatic their fathers, and because they got unnecessarily good pushes as a result of their last names. In short, good old wrestling nepotism.
You may remember Erik Watts as the ex-WCW and WWF guy (as Troy of Tekno Team 2000) with an atrocious dropkick — his dad is former wrestler and promoter “Cowboy” Bill Watts. David Sammartino, son of Bruno, had a forgettable WWF run in the mid-1980s. And Greg Gagne, son of Verne, was pushed by his dad as a top star in AWA despite neither having the look nor wrestling skills to be a main eventer.
Today, Lita is in the WWE Hall of Fame, and is one of the most respected women in WWE history, thanks in no small part to her then-unique look and persona and legit wrestling ability. But for some time in 2005, she was reviled by audiences for her real-life affair with married man Edge, despite her being in a relationship with Matt Hardy. Not cool at all, but the audience reaction she got wasn’t a good thing either.
The slut-shaming got so bad that Trish Stratus, then playing a heel and calling out Lita as part of an on-air promo, had to go off-character and appease an angry crowd on an April 2005 episode of Monday Night RAW. One month later, WWE turned Lita heel for the first time ever, and while the uncalled-for jeers continued until she retired in late-2006, she was far better-received in post-retirement appearances, and her eventual Hall of Fame induction in 2014.
6. THE NO LIMIT SOLDIERS
Percy “Master P” Miller is a savvy businessman, on top of his accomplishments as a rapper. But his No Limit Soldiers faction in WCW was another story, as the company did invest a lot of money in building this hip-hop-themed stable up as a big deal. And it wasn’t just talentless lugs like former NFL player Randy “Big Swoll” Thornton in this unit – Rey Mysterio and Konnan did give the No Limit Soldiers some legit star power and talent as charter members.
What WCW’s higher-ups didn’t plan for was the fact that a lot of the company’s fans were white Southerners who listened to country music. Despite being booked as faces, the No Limit Soldiers were booed in their feud with the West Texas Rednecks, a stable/country band (with Minnesota native Curt Hennig on lead vocals) who went as far as cutting a music video for their song “Rap is Crap.”
5. ROCKY MAIVIA
This writer remembers being a teenage fan in 1997, watching the man then known as Rocky Maivia on TV, wrestling in front of audiences who couldn’t care less for the so-called “Blue Chipper” and WWF’s first third-generation Superstar. Nothing about his work jumped off the charts as far as I was concerned, his promo work was bland, and his character was too goody-too-shoes for modern-day fans looking for cooler, edgier babyfaces to cheer for.
Several “ROCKY SUCKS!” and “DIE ROCKY DIE!” cheers and an injury later, Rocky Maivia as we knew him was gone, as he had joined Ron “Faarooq” Simmons’ Nation of Domination and eventually usurped his leadership, letting his compelling mic work finally shine through, and improving greatly in the ring. Today, he’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, certified WWE legend and Hollywood superstar. Would he have become what he is today if he was kept on as the “Blue Chipper”? Probably not.
4. THE DYNAMIC DUDES
Note to all would-be bookers out there: if you want to book a cool team of skateboarders, make sure they know how to skate. Before becoming “The Franchise” and the gruff-voiced advocate of “People Power” respectively, Shane Douglas and John “Johnny Ace” Laurinaitis were The Dynamic Dudes, a pair of mulleted blonde skateboarders booked as good guys in WCW. But when it became apparent that neither man could tell a kickflip from a sunset flip, fans turned on them big-time.
The kicker came when manager Jim Cornette, hoping to gain sympathy for his unsympathetic team of skate-posers, betrayed the Dudes for the heel Midnight Express. Instead, fans cheered Cornette and The Midnight Express, and The Dynamic Dudes quietly went their separate ways after being the booed babyfaces in their feud with the Midnights.
Talk about timely entries! We now know that Bill Goldberg is back in WWE, and Brock Lesnar isn’t just ‘next,” he’s also “last.” And that announcement, straight from the man himself on the October 17, 2016 RAW, really popped the fans. But twelve years ago, when those two hosses first squared off at WrestleMania XX, those in attendance at Madison Square Garden couldn’t wait until the damn match was over.
Fans knew that Goldberg and Lesnar were both to be departing WWE after WrestleMania XX, and making things worse was how they mailed it in and delivered one of the worst, most boring WrestleMania matches of all time. Other than that, Goldberg was beloved in WCW and WWE, and turning him heel in WCW was one of those ideas crazy enough for only Vince Russo to approve. (He did, and it didn’t last long.)
2. HULK HOGAN
Before WCW once again did the unthinkable with Hulk Hogan, the fact that he had signed with the company in 1994 was, in itself, unthinkable at that time. WWF’s biggest babyface of the 1980s was welcomed to WCW with a flashy motorcade, and was immediately hyped as the signing that would finally help Ted Turner and company beat WWF to a pulp. Alas, that wasn’t going to happen overnight — not by a long shot.
At first, it was just scattered boos for the Hulkster, but as 1995 made way to 1996, more and more WCW fans were tired of the same old red-and-yellow, “say your prayers and eat your vitamins” rhetoric Hogan was churning out. So what are you gonna do when Hulkamania gets met with boos? Turn the man heel, that’s what. The reveal of Hulk as the mysterious third member of the New World Order helped WCW dominate WWF in the ratings for most of mid-1996 through 1998.
1. ROMAN REIGNS
At Royal Rumble 2014, Roman Reigns was a heel, and with him and Batista as the last two men in the Rumble match, the fans were fully behind him. One year later, he was a babyface, but he was the last man fans wanted winning the Royal Rumble match and heading to WrestleMania, and the first man Vince McMahon and Creative wanted in that position, despite being the rawest ex-member of The Shield. Fans reacted to his mega-push with extreme displeasure, and up to this day, he’s still booked as a babyface and getting booed as if he was the most evil of heels.
Yes, it’s gotten so bad that an unofficial version of Reigns’ ring theme with boos piped in the background is available on YouTube. And with the WWE Universe still largely aligned against Roman, it goes without saying that Creative has to give up the failed Reigns-as-the-next-Cena experiment once and for all, and turn him into a heelish piece of sufferin’ succotash with Tater Tots on the side.
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