This past week, James Ellsworth has managed to get something that is so very rare in modern wrestling – legitimate heel heat. While some WWE legends may be impressed with Ellsworth and Carmella's act, the WWE Universe was, in large, furious with Ellsworth being the one to pull down the Women's Money In The Bank briefcase during Sunday's pay per view.
The angle generated so much heel heat that WWE rode the momentum into a rematch on Tuesday's SmackDown Live. Carmella once again became Ms. Money In The Bank, but this time she managed to be the one to grab the case from the top of the ladder to the disgust of the fans.
From the WWE's standpoint, having Ellsworth be the one to pull down the briefcase was a stroke of genius. In an era where fans routinely boo the "good guys" on the roster while cheering the heels, having a slimy heel like Ellsworth undermine a historic match in women's wrestling history was a brilliant way to generate real heel heat.
Roman Reigns was voted the most hated wrestler in the world in 2016, despite being positioned as the biggest babyface in the company. When he gets booed, it's not the kind of intentional heat that fans from the 80s and 90s remember. Fans used to boo despicable acts by despicable men. Now, they only boo what they see as bad writing. With kayfabe dead and gone, it must be nearly impossible to write a current wrestling show.
If you want to see amazing heel heat, as it was intended by the WWE creative team, you need to look back a few years. Below are some of the most amazingly horrendous acts which garnered some of the greatest negative reactions in wrestling history.
If you're looking for true heel heat, there's perhaps no place better to start than the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase. The Million Dollar Man and Virgil would hold live segments where he charged fans at an arena to complete a task and offered them a large amount of money upon if they could complete it. The most famous instance of this was unquestionably the basketball segment with a little boy named Shawn, in which DiBiase told the young boy that he would pay him $500 to bounce a basketball 15 times consecutively. When the boy got to 14, Dibiase kicked the ball away from him and the little boy began to cry.
As a young fan watching this live, I can promise you this felt as real as anything I'd ever seen in wrestling. Dibiase recounted the story in a recent interview with Under the Ring:
"Of all the stunts that we did to get the people to understand that I was a scoundrel, was that one. When we rehearsed, I wasn't really hardcore harsh. When we did it live in front of the crowd and it got to the place where he dribbles the ball, he was supposed to get to 15, he gets to 14 and I stick my foot out and the ball bounces off my foot. Everybody knows I just screwed this poor little kid. I say to him, 'I'm sorry son, but at a young age, you're going to have to learn a harsh lesson of life. When you don't get the job done, you don't get the money.' My loud voice and deep voice scared him. He had these great big crocodile tears. He ran to his mother. In reality, he couldn't have done it any better. We couldn't have rehearsed it. It wasn't that good when we rehearsed it. I look like the biggest heel because I just made this little boy cry. I remember going in the back and everyone's saying, 'oh man, that was great.' I said, 'it might have been great, but you guys are going to need an armored car to get me out of this building tonight. Those people want to lynch me right now.'"
One of the first great heel moments of the television age of wrestling came in 1984 when Roddy Piper famously crashed a coconut over the head of beloved WWE superstar, Jimmy Snuka during an episode of Piper's Pit. The overtly racist gimmick would cause a huge reaction with the live crowd and turn Piper into the biggest heel in the business, thus setting him up to be the foil for Hulk Hogan at 1985's WrestleMania 1.
The late WWE Hall of Famer, Jimmy Snuka, has famously stated that the angle was ad-libbed.
“Well, first of all I have to tell you when he hit me over the head with that coconut we hadn’t planned it; he just did it out of the blue,” Snuka said. “Roddy was a real character, and with me coming from the Fiji Islands, he was teasing me about eating bananas, pineapples, then from nowhere he picks up the coconut and just hits me around the head.”
In an interview with wickedlocal, Piper would also comment on the infamous moment.
“I went back as hard as I could, like Nolan Ryan throwing a fast ball,” Piper said. “His eyes rolled. I didn’t think he would get back up."
Piper said he was told that back in the locker room after the segment, Snuka just stared at the floor for 20 to 30 minutes.
“That was back in the days when you didn’t go to the hospital,” he said. “It hurt him. It was a lifer. That was real hardcore, no baloney business. There are no phony-coconut stores. I have all the respect in the world for Jimmy,” Piper said. “I realize what I did. You can go too far, and I think that was one of those cases.”
If you want a master class on heel heat, look no further than Jake The Snake Roberts. Long considered one of, if not the greatest, heels in professional wrestling history. In 1991, Roberts was involved in a feud with a babyface Macho Man Randy Savage. Savage had just reunited with Miss Elizabeth the year before and dropped his evil ways. Roberts on the other hand, had recently done the opposite, changing from a brief babyface run back to heel.
In the video above you can see the most heel heat generating moment of Jake's career when, after absolutely destroying Savage in the ring, makes Miss Elizabeth beg for Randy's safety before picking her up and slapping her across the face. The live WWE crowd was disgusted.
Jake would later speak on the incident on Eric Bischoff's podcast, revealing how the angle got a gun pulled on Randy Savage.
"Yeah. That wasn’t even funny. That angle that we did with the snake bite and Elizabeth should have went on. We should have gone to WrestleMania with that but we didn’t. I was like, “Why in the hell isn’t this being strung out?” Bottom line was Elizabeth’s grandparents and parents weren’t smart. Ok? Randy had promised them that Elizabeth would never, ever get physically involved or hurt during his wrestling career and yet she just got slapped. Randy and her went back to visit her grandparents and the old man pulled a gun on him and said, “Don’t you even think about coming in the house!”
“Don’t come back! Don’t come back! Our little girl did get hurt!” “Be a man of your word!” All of that stuff. Randy got kicked out and he had to make it up to them right away and that meant cleaning my clock."
Sometimes heat goes so far that it File this under "this would never happen today." Try for a second to imagine if John Cena came back to the WWE dressed up as a member of ISIS. While Slaughter wasn't as big of a star as John Cena, he was as equally identified with the old Red White and Blue in 1991 when he suddenly turned his back on America to become an Iraqi sympathizer. Oh, and we were currently at war with Iraq.
Not only would Slaughter flat out revoke the American heroes on the WWE's card, but he would praise the leadership of Sadaam Hussein.
I mean, seriously. Just think about that for the tiniest of moments. It's mind blowingly brilliant heel heat. The crowd thought so as well. Slaughter would go on to defeat a red, white and blue painted Ultimate Warrior at the 1991 Royal Rumble for the WWE Championship. The Sarge spoke about regularly getting death threats during the run on an episode of Table for 3 episode.
"The night I beat Ultimate Warrior in Miami, pretty much everything kind of hit the fan. Jay Strongbow was there and he was one of the backstage talents and he said, 'Have you talked to your wife today?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Have you talked to Vince today?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Well, give them a call.' So I call my wife. There was nobody home. I call Vince [and ask] 'what's going on?' He said, 'Well, someone called the wrestling office and didn't like the way you won the championship and threatened to kill you and kill me and kill our families, blow up the wrestling office, blow up the studio, blow up our homes,' and he said, 'I took a precaution just to call your wife and to have her get out of the house till I can get security around the house.' So I got back home and the FBI, they've got this truck up into my driveway, and when I got there, they all came over, they all [wore] suits, and they showed me they were packing and they said, 'We're going to walk the perimeter of the property 24/7, we'll take your wife to the grocery store, and take your kids to school, and whatever has to be done.' I said, 'no, we're not going to do that. We'll be fine.'"
The brilliance of the angle of course, was that Sarge was being set up to get defeated at WrestleMania by American Hero, Hulk Hogan.
Ironically enough, Sarge is topped on this list by noneother than the Hulkster.
Look at all of this crap in this ring! The most infamous, unimaginable heel turn in wrestling history also generated the most heel legitimate heat anyone has ever seen. While the NWO would become the coolest faction in wrestling, they started as the most hated.
In 1996 it appeared Hulk Hogan was coming down to aid WCW good guys, Sting and the Macho Man Randy Savage in their war against Outsiders Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Hogan would then drop the big leg on Savage and reveal that he was the third member of the New World Order. As you can see, a good portion of smark fans in the building are cheering for the cool bad guys, but the majority of the crowd were pelting the former WWE stars with trash once Hulk got on the mic and told the fans they could stick it.
Hogan spoke about the heat he received in a radio interview with Radio Yorkshire.
“Well, I was thinking I knew I was going to piss everybody off. I knew it. I didn’t know if it was going to work as good as it did. I knew I was going to get heat for flipping everybody off, but when the crowd started throwing stuff into the ring, when Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and I were standing there with Mean Gene. When they started throwing bottles and paper and everything into the ring, I knew it worked then.”