By In Stuff

500 Words on Wrestling Heels

The Russian Bear Ivan Koloff is much smaller than you would expect. In his heyday, announcers would say that The Russian Bear Ivan Koloff was 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds of pure muscle.  Then again, in his heyday, The Russian Bear Ivan Koloff would pledge allegiance to Mother Russia and promise American doom in a thick pseudo-Russian accent even though he’d grown up on a Canadian dairy farm.

The Russian Bear Ivan Koloff walks around the Hilton University Place hotel in Charlotte, and most of the awed fans who walk up to him are actually bigger than him. He speaks in a soft almost squeaky voice. He’s a reverend now. According to his website, he does weddings.

He comes from a different time in wrestling and America, when baby faces were baby faces and heels were heels and you didn’t have to squint to tell the difference. Abullah the Butcher, Krusher Kruschev, the Assassin #1 and, perhaps more prominently, the Assassin #2, the Great Khabuki … these were the bad guys, and they would hit you with chairs, attack you in parking lots, do dastardly and illegal things when the referee’s back was turned. Khabuki, according to his Wikipedia page, was the first to blind opponents by blowing “Asian Mist” into their eyes. So he was a pioneer.

To be the wrestling heel took a special kind of energy and enthusiasm. Ole Andersen, half of the famed and vicious Minnesota Wrecking Crew, also walked around the Charlotte Hilton as part of the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Fanfest. He would say he was stabbed by fans seven different times. In the most violent of those stabbings, he bled profusely as angry fans wildly cheered his bleeding. He considers this one of his greatest achievements.

I don’t follow wrestling these days, but I’m told that the heels aren’t as bad. “They want to sell their own T-shirts,” says Jim Ross, a longtime and legendary wrestling announcer. It makes sense. Bad and good blur in so many ways. Superman doesn’t speak to a new generation of fans because he’s too good, too one dimensional. We like our knights dark and our avengers conflicted.

The Russian Bear Ivan Koloff and Ole Andersen and the heels of his time displayed no such contradictions. This was their power. The greatest heel of them all might have been Rowdy Roddy Piper. He was not an especially interesting fighter — you knew this because his finishing move was the sleeper hold, which is the sort of move you give Bond villains and lethargic wrestlers — but he was so enthusiastically bad, so wonderfully sinister, so joyfully evil that his matches lifted off the ground and felt more important than peace summits.

Friday, Rowdy Roddy Piper died in his sleep. He was just 61. In the hours afterward, many people came forward to talk about what a sweet and nice man he was behind the scenes. He kept that side of himself hidden. That was his brilliance. “I’m here to chew bubble gum and kick ass,” he used to say. “And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

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16 Responses to 500 Words on Wrestling Heels

  1. invitro says:

    I don’t care much about wrestling, except that since I live in the mid-south, I would have more possibilities at convo with the locals if I followed it. So I occasionally watch, and almost always decide it’s not even mildly entertaining.

    But when I was a teen in the 1980’s, it was more than mildly entertaining, and I watched wrestling maybe an hour a month instead of an hour a year. My favorite was the Million Dollar Man, and Rowdy Roddy was second. I always rooted for heels, hated Hogan, and didn’t understand why more people didn’t cheer the heels.

    I don’t think the sweet and nice part of R.R. was hidden that much… he was much more of a goofy and silly heel than a brutish heel, and he seemed smarter than most of the other wrestlers (especially Hogan). And he was considered a fair bit feminine because of the kilts (and being Canadian).

    You should probably have said that R.R. was the heel in the most important wrestling match ever*, in terms of its boost to wrestling’s popularity and position in the Golden Age of Wrestling: vs. Hogan in the first Wrestlemania, on March 31, 1985.

    * It is, isn’t it?

  2. John Leavy says:

    Odd but true story. When I was a kid in New York in the early Seventies, one of the most popular and beloved wrestlers was Ivan “Polish Power” Putski. He had a buzz cut, a beard, a peasant cap, heavy Polish accent and would sing Bobby Vinton’s “Melody of Love” in the ring.

    Years later, as an adult, I moved here to Austin, Texas, where I worked with Ivan Putski Junior, and had no idea until after he’d resigned and left my agency!

    Ivan Puski was really an American of Polish descent. His real name was Josef Kent Bednarski, and he’s spent much of his life in Texas. His son, Josef Kent Bednarksi Junior, was a programmer who worked in my office! Kent (he went solely by his middle name) had a black-and-white poster of a clean shaven, long-haired wrestler on his office wall. He told me the wrestler was his Dad, who had worked with the Von Erich Brothers in the Southern wrestling circuit during the Sixties. I never recognized the guy as Ivan Putski!

    In fact, I never learned that Kent’s Dad was Ivan Putski until long after Kent had moved to Dallas for another job.

  3. gosport474 says:

    As great as the Hot Rod was, especially as a heel, the greatest heel of all time was Ric Flair in the mid 80s along with the Four Horsemen. And of course, Piper’s best moment came in Piper’s Pit when he smashed Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka with the coconut.

  4. Wilbur says:

    I knew someone employed as an on-air performer by the WWF back in the day. This individual told me there was one guy that everyone was scared to death of because he was as volatile as nitro: Piper.

    Piper had an interesting life, I learned in a radio interview of him. Rough childhood, on his own at a very young age, basically a hobo’s life in his teens. Came up the hard way and made something of his life.

  5. Jeremy Jolley says:

    Piper was certainly fun as a wrestler, but don’t forget he also starred in They Live, one of the greatest awful movies ever made!

    • chh3 says:

      Jeremy, I actually liked “They Live”.

      Thought Roddy did a decent job in it. In fact, I became a fan thereafter – never watched wrestling though. Too obviously fake.

      Thought Roddy should have gotten another acting gig!


    • Spencer says:

      7.3 imdb, 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.

      It’s a great movie and many enjoy it. Definitely not an awful movie.

  6. Marc Schneider says:

    When I was a kid in the sixties, I remember an Asian wrestler in my neck of the woods (Tennessee) who went by the moniker Tojo Yamamoto. For those who don’t know too much WW II history, Tojo was the Japanese PM at the time of Pearl Harbor and Yamamoto was the admiral who planned the attack. There was also Saul Weingeroff, who managed the Von Brauners, who were, of course, Nazi-like Germans even though I believe Weingeroff was Jewish. I never cared much for pro wrestling-m grandparents, who were from Europe, loved it-but those names stick out from my childhood.

  7. jalabar says:

    A couple of things: My ex-wife was a huge soap opera fan, and used to tease ME that “Why do you watch that wrestling stuff? It’s fake”, but did not want to acknowledge that EVERYTHING on TV, with the exception of the news and presumably sporting events are fake. Everything that happens in the movies is fake. George Clooney was never a surgeon. All those people didn’t actually live at Melrose Place. Buffy doesn’t REALLY kill vampires. And most of all, soap operas have to be the most fake thing in entertainment. Let’s have a child, have it grow 15 years in two months while its parents don’t age, then have it be 15-16 for 10 years. Finally she realized how silly SHE looked and stopped bugging me.

    Ever seen a cool fight scene in a movie? That’s wrestling at it’s best.

    Lastly, my all time favorite T-shirt… On the front it said “Yes, I know pro wrestling is fake…” and on the back it said, “So are some boobs, I like those too.”

    • Spencer says:

      The objection is that it’s not clear that you guys know it’s fake. I’ve seen it discussed as if it were a real sport with no nod towards it’s fakeness. It’s talked about in ways you don’t see with other works of fiction.

  8. shagster says:

    One word. Wahoo. One acronym. GOAT.

    More words. To me Roddy’s genius was his ability to start and hang with path makers like Wahoo, Rhodes, Andre … and be just as sought after by the ‘new kids’ like Hogan and rest.

    Still a treat. Cyndi Lauper’s video with the wrestler cameos. Best visual retelling for, “Where the Wild Things Are”. Wrestlers clearly had as much fun making it. Worth a watch again.

  9. Jonathan Bergeron says:

    Nice gesture from xkcd :

  10. steph says:

    Are any of you edit nazis doing word counts on Joe’s “500 word” series? I am curious is he is hitting 500 exactly, or giving us bonus words, or slacking off. I would be very interested in finding out how hard he is working to get 500 words on the dot, and I would be willing to pay up to 25 cents for one of you guys to report on this.

    • Zeth says:

      You can just copy/paste the text into Word and check the word count. This one clocks in at 512 words.

      • Admiral Byrd says:

        512? Let is be so noted that, in accordance with the official “The Price is Right” rules and bylaws that have been recognized in the Hague, Joe LOSES.

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