Done right, the Babyface is the stand-in for the audience. They can imagine the Babyface being “their” guy. Someone who could be them and, even if not them, someone who is on their side. “Heel” is the antagonist. The opposition that needs to be overcome.
Most (seriously, almost all) matches have a Babyface vs. a Heel. A good guy vs. a bad guy. (Occasionally there is a bad guy vs. a bad guy match but it’s usually a match that happens when a promoter is trying to “turn” a wrestler from heel to face. More often, but still really rarely, there’s a good guy vs. good guy match but those are usually when a wrestler is either turning from face to heel or, more famously, “passing the torch“.)
The nature of the business is to sell tickets. The best way to sell tickets is to get people to *WANT* to go to the matches to see what happens. Ironically, the proven way to do that is *NOT* to have the good guys beat the bad guys every time. Why bother going if you know the bad guys are always going to win? The proven way to consistently sell tickets is to build the bad guy up and have the bad guy beat the good guy… but in such a way that the audience wants to see a rematch.
In the olden days, there were wrestlers called “jobbers”. They’d go out there and it was their job to lose, every night, against their opponents. There were Babyface jobbers and there were Heel jobbers. The point of these wrestlers was to establish their opponents as credible threats. Then, after you saw the wrestler beat any number of jobbers, you’d be able to wonder “what would happen if this guy fought that guy?” about any two wrestlers who regularly won matches.
Then, at the “big” show at the end of the month, you’d see a match between two guys who beat jobbers. At the big show at the end of the quarter, you’d see a match between two guys who beat the guys who beat jobbers. And *THEN*, at the huge show at the end of the year, you’d see a match between two guys who beat the guys who beat the guys who beat jobbers.
And that’s only interesting when there are good guys that you hope would win against bad guys that you hope would lose… but you don’t *KNOW* that they’d lose. You suspect that they’d win. And so it’s the uncertainty that has you show up to buy a ticket. The twist is that for that uncertainty to *REALLY* work, you have to be uncertain even though it’s the big show at the end of the year. Sometimes, you have to have the bad guy win at those too.
But you can’t always have the bad guy win. That’s a good way to lose money. You have to figure out when you need to pay off the debt incurred by the heel winning so often and then, on that night, have the babyface come out and slay the dragon. Make the audience say “Oh… yeah… that’s why I bought all of those tickets all of those other nights.”
In addition to those terms, there are another couple of very, very useful terms that Professional Wrestling has that cover a lot of really, really important concepts that are useful in real life.
The first one is “work”. When witty and insightful people say “pro wrestling is fake”, the phenomenon they’re describing has a term used within pro wrestling itself and that term is “work”. So, like, when you see one wrestler cradle another wrestler and obviously try to *NOT* hurt him when they’re ostensibly trying to beat each other into submission, that’s because the match is a “work”. When you see a wrestler run full speed for 10 minutes in a ladder match but then climb the ladder slowly, like they don’t have any endurance whatsoever, and their opponent can grab them before they get to the top… well, that’s because it’s a work.
This needs to be compared to the concept of the “shoot”. That’s stuff that happens “for real”. We’re not talking about stuff like accidentally hitting someone else (unfortunately, wrestlers “potato” each other all the time). This is for when someone reveals something from behind the curtain. Like when Matt Hardy, Edge, and Lita had their storyline where Lita and Matt Hardy were dating but Lita cheated on Matt with Edge? That’s because Lita and Matt Hardy were dating but Lita cheated on Matt with Edge. Other examples happen when, say, HHH blows his quad muscles or Vince McMahon blows his quad muscles. (Or, more recently, a wrestler announces his retirement because his leukemia has come back.) It’s stuff that really happens. Like, for real for real.
But since wrestling is so surreal and there are a lot of secrets kept from the wrestlers (like even the outcomes of the matches until moments before the wrestlers wrestling in the match itself start the match), there are a lot of events where the wrestlers backstage are watching on the monitors and have to ask “wait, was that a work or a shoot?”
Sometimes a wrestler says something a little too real. Sometimes a wrestler hits another wrestler for real. Sometimes a spectator gets a little too excited and runs into the ring and the referee has to choke the crap out of him.
Sometimes the wrestlers are doing something fake but it’s intended to look so real that even the people who “know” it’s fake lean forward and say “holy cow, I think this is real!”
And, sometimes… well, I’ll let Hulk Hogan explain this one:
Goodnight HULKAMANIACS and jabronie marks without a life that don’t know it a work when you work a work and work yourself into a shoot,marks
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) October 16, 2011
And the best way to engage the audience is to have a very small mixture of works and shoots between the conflicts of the babyfaces and heels to make them say “oh, my gosh… I have to buy a ticket.”
Are you not entertained?