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What Makes A Great Babyface

by Niko Banks 2 months ago in pop culture
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And How People Get It Wrong

wwe.com

Hulk Hogan was a massive success that helped WWE reach incredible heights. Hulk was a megastar who held the WWF title for over one thousand days from 1984 to 1988. Since then, Hulk Hogan has been the model of what it means to be the guy in WWE.

In the 90s, WWE tried to recreate Hulkamania with Lex Luger, and it was clear which components they saw as essential to creating the next legendary babyface. The trifecta of qualities WWE pursued was nobility, nationalism, and heroism. Nobility, Hogan told all the little Hulksters to eat their vitamins and say their prayers. Lex Luger went around the country in a bus, kissing babies like a president. Nationalism, Hulk Hogan acted as the ultimate American hero defending the country against foreign heels and literally entering arenas with the theme song " Real American." Lex Luger carried the flag to the ring, wore flag gear, and even had his Lex Express bus decorated with the American flag. Lastly heroism, Hulk overcame the much larger Andre the Giant and many other monsters placed in his path. Lex Luger defeated and slammed the 400-pound sumo wrestler Yokozuna.

However, even though WWE followed the Hulk Hogan formula, it did not work. Luger did not become the next Hulk Hogan. Lex wouldn't be the last superstar who would fail at trying to recreate the Hulk Hogan archetype, and that is because the formula is wrong. The formula is missing a key ingredient.

Many people look back at Hogan as a corny goodie two-shoes body builder wrestler with a lot of charisma. While he did embody those traits, it was not all that Hulk Hogan was. Hulk Hogan wasn't just Mr. eat your vitamins and say your prayers. He was also kind of a jerk.

The perfect example of who Hulk really was comes from outside of the ring in an in-character interview with Mr. T on Richard Belzer's show Hot Properties to promote WrestleMania 1. Richard was living up to the shorthand of his name by poking at Mr. T and Hulk Hogan and making fun of wrestling in general.

Richard begged Hulk Hogan to do a wrestling move to him, and Hulk and Mr. T voiced that they did not want to do that, but Richard kept pressuring them and jabbing at wrestling, so Hulk agreed. Hulk applied a front chin lock and choked Richard out on television, and then dumped him to the floor. Richard busted his head on the floor and later sued Hulk for five million dollars.

Why do I bring that up? Well, if you are a Hulk formula babyface, you probably make a smart comment and take all of Richard's jokes on the chin because you are too noble to sink to Richard's level. However, that is not actually who Hogan is. Did Richard ask for it and literally walk head first into that situation? Yes. However, was it noble to choke out a talk show host on national tv while being the face of WWE and promoting the biggest show of the year? No. However, that was the magic of Hulk. As a Hulk fan, you could see how he was justified in choking out Richard.

Hulk apologized that night and said that Richard passed out because he probably had never worked out in his life, so it took way less pressure than expected to make him pass out. This is both plausible and insulting. Earlier in the night, Richard questioned Hulk about how he went from villain to hero in WWE. Hogan replies that he did things his mangers way at first, but he got rid of his manager, but he still wrestles the same way. He tries to wrestle fairly, but when someone takes a cheap shot at him, he likes to give them a receipt, and the people love it.

Hulk is right; he is a justified jerk. He is the perfect American hero because the mythologized image of himself differs from the truth of who Hulk Hogan actually is. Hulk is just like the mythos of America because it is different from the reality of what America actually is. Hulk is a real American, and his willingness to get his hands dirty in a way that fans could justify is as essential to his resonance with the masses as his nationalism, nobility, and heroism.

However, that crucial factor is often forgotten when creating new babyfaces. The Rock, for example, was brought in with the Lex Luger version of the Hulk formula, and the crowd completely rejected him. Fans chanted, die Rocky die! It was not until the Rock went heel got some attitude, and started hilariously ripping people apart on the mic that he became a megastar.

Stone Cold Steve Austin was the next great babyface after Hogan and just before the Rock. He became a justified jerk. Austin terrorized Vince McMahon, cursed and flipped people off, drank beer in the ring, and generally did whatever he pleased, and the fans loved him for it. Was hitting his boss over the head with a frying pan while he was lying in a hospital bed a noble move? No, but it was hilarious, and McMahon definitely deserved it. Austin was a justified jerk, making him seem more realistic and relatable to fans.

John Cena, the next mega babyface, continued the trend. He started raw and rugged as a rapping wrestler who was not afraid to verbally undress anybody on the mic, and he could back it up in the ring. Early Cena was a complete savage, and people loved him for it. He was a justifiable jerk the crowd could get behind. He still possessed enough nationalism to play a marine and incorporate it into his gimmick. He was noble enough to do the right thing more often than not, and he overcame a collection of evil villains over his career, such as the 500-pound Big Show, JBL, and Edge.

John Cena started to lose popularity when he became more formulaic, less brash, and thus less relatable. Eventually, he figured out how to be a hero to kids while still being a brash justifiable jerk, but it took time.

Roman and Becky Lynch went through the same thing. When Roman was trying live up to the Hulk Hogan formula and not the actual character, it failed. Hard. WWE never gave up on Roman, but he was booed mercilessly until he went heel. Once he went heel, his attitude was less robotic and perfect and more relatable and rash. Suddenly the same fans who booed Roman in the main event of WrestleMania were cheering for the Tribal Chief's 700-day undisputed title reign.

Becky was once called by Paige, the least relevant member of PCB, and for much of her early career, it did feel like she was taking a backseat to Paige and Charlotte, and the other four horsewomen. People liked her, but she was not working because her character was a bland goodie two-shoes babyface. As we established, people do not relate to these perfect babyfaces that always do the right thing. So when Becky turned heel on Charlotte and showed some fire, she was cheered. Her change in attitude from happy-go-lucky to justified jerk launched her into the first female main event in WWE history.

The pattern is clear. It is time to learn from history and avoid another Lex express, Die Rocky Die, or Let's go Cena Cena Sucks chant, and remember the WWE Universe likes its justifiable jerks. They like characters who are good but not perfect. Character traits like the bravado of the Man or the arrogance of Rock may make them less perfect, but it makes them more entertaining and relatable.

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Niko Banks

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