Heel Spotlight: Vince McMahon and Kane
by: Mitch Nickelson and Al N. Jaxson
Mitch: Who is the greatest heel in the history of wrestling? Could you answer that question? I don’t think I can. And yet this is the topic that Al N. Jaxson wanted for us to tackle in this article. While I believe I can come up with a pretty darn good list of the top 5 or 10 heels, narrowing it down to 1 seems a little too difficult.
How do you measure the greatness of a heel? If we were looking for a heel who is the creepiest or the most evil, then maybe the Undertaker would win. How important is it for a heel to captivate the audience? Hollywood Hulk Hogan and the Outsiders did a fantastic job of that in the early days of the NWO. How important is a heel’s arrogance? Ric Flair was stylin’ and profilin’ with the Horsemen in the 1980s and then was Paid, Laid, and Made with Evolution in the 2000s. Many factors can make a great heel, but what makes the best heel?
In my opinion, a heel needs to be truly hated. The problem with many of even the greatest heels is that they are still likable to many. Hollywood Hulk Hogan might have been the bad guy, but he sure sold a ton of merchandise. The Rock had a great run as a heel, using his amazing charisma to turn against the fans. But the Rock was hilarious during it all, so the fans loved the Rock with every insult he gave them.
If I am going to name one heel as the absolute greatest heel, then this person needs to not have a cool side. He needs to be vile. He needs to be hated. He needs to be Vince McMahon.
Vince was always evil. People didn’t buy his t-shirts. He didn’t wow people because he was an in-ring general. People weren’t cheering on his catch-phrases like they were pop culture phenomenons. He was simply the bad guy. People paid to see him get beat up.
The person most beloved for beating up Vince McMahon was Stone Cold Steve Austin. To remind myself of their historic rivalry, I turned on their steel cage match from the 1999 event, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
This was in the midst of the Stone Cold era and Austin was one of the biggest stars in the history of the business. His rise to super-stardom began with a submission match against Bret Hart. It was one of the greatest matches of all time as Austin (the heel going into the match) refused to quit on a relentless Bret. As Bret applied the Sharpshooter, the bloody Austin fought with everything he had to hold on.
Austin failed to power out of the move, but instead passed out in the process. The fans were won over by his fighting spirit and a star was born in that match. He never really changed his character, though. His personality was never repackaged. His anti-hero persona revolutionized what it meant to be a fan favorite.
Since he was breaking new ground as an unlikely babyface , he would need an even more unlikely foe. The man to step into this role would be the CEO of the company, Vince McMahon.
Vince never liked Austin’s defiant attitude. Stone Cold refused to fit into any corporate mold. The rivalry would force the business man to do the unthinkable as he faced off against the beer-drinking brawler in the brutal confines of solid steel.
There were moments in this match that mirrored the Austin/Hart submission match that I mentioned earlier. Bret Hart got to a point where he was clearly going to win and Austin would seemingly have no choice but to give up. Vince got to a similar point at a few times in this match. Austin would look to finally win the match, escaping from the cage for victory. Even though Vince was bloody and beaten, he would find a way to raise his middle fingers, taunting Austing, drawing him back into the match. But while Austin’s no-quit attitude became a defining moment in his career, Vince’s no-quit attitude just fueled the fans’ desires to see him get pulverized all the more.
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was a brutal match for Vince. He bled a ton and even took a sick bump off of the cage into an announce table. The boss took a beating from his subordinate as an arena of fans lived vicariously through Austin.
The boss/employee relationship is really what made the rivalry work. The average Joe has to work for a living; it’s just a fact of life. Many of us don’t necessarily love our job…we do it to make ends meet. Having a crappy boss can make life miserable and Vince connected with that sentiment. He willingly became that boss that you dreamt of giving a piece of your mind too. He was actually the boss, so it was a believable scenario.
Fans projected whatever frustrations they had in their own careers and they aimed them straight into McMahon’s heart. He became the biggest rival to one of the biggest stars of all time. He did it so well that no one ever considered cheering the man. (Well, they did sort of make him babyface during this era with the whole Union angle…but that never really got off the ground when Mick Foley got injured. So I’m choosing to forget this exception on purpose.)
Vince McMahon was a heel who was hated. Pockets of fans wouldn’t start with rogue “Let’s Go Vince” chants. The WWE never even attempted a serious merchandising campaign for him. Nobody would have bought his stuff. He was too hated for any of that. He was hated moreso than any other character in all my years of being a wrestling fan. That, to me, qualifies him as the greatest wrestling heel of all time.
What say you, Al? Who’s your pick as the best heel of all time?
Al: Well, I definitely agree with ya, Mitch. Vince McMahon was one of the greatest heels in wrestling history. His feud with Austin was legendary. Now, to answer your question, Mitch, of who I think is the greatest heel in wrestling history. There’s only one choice. Ladies and Gentleman: Kane.
Yep, you read that right. The Big Red Machine. No one in the history of the WWE has been as evil or as destructive. Sure, there have been times when Kane has been a Face but let’s be honest. Are we gonna remember Kane as a baby face? Of course not. Kane made his first appearance in WWE at the Undertaker/Shawn Michaels Hell in a Cell match by Tombstoning his brother, the Undertaker, to give Michaels the win. (And if you haven’t seen that Hell in a Cell match from the PPV “Badd Blood” 1997 please, please check it out.)
By the way, Shawn Michaels was a very close second choice for my favorite heel of all time . I mean, that guy had heat in the late 90s but he’s also had major success as a face so Kane won out. Anyways, back on track here. Kane’s debut was no doubt a shocker. The feud he had with the Undertaker was, I thought, his best feud to this day. The storyline was very well done and their match at Wrestlemania 14 was icing on the cake.
Eventually a few years later Kane and Undertaker would make up and form the Brothers of Destruction and claim the tag team titles but it wasn’t long before the Big Red Machine turned heel again. In 2003 Kane did something that the fans had been waiting for and he took the mask off to show his disfigured face. Now whether or not it was a success, you have to give Kane credit for doing it.
The Kane character has lasted this long and had years of success because Kane is always evolving and changing. Here recently Kane took over a new role as WWE Vice President of Talent Relations but again it wasn’t long before the monster within came out, starting a new feud with WWE champion Daniel Bryan.
Another thing that makes Kane a great heel is his promo skills. I’ve always said that Kane (Glenn Jacobs is his real name) has the ability to cut a great promo. He can talk as good or better than anyone else in the WWE locker room. And his in-ring skills are underrated as well. So there you have my favorite heel of all time: Kane.