Random Thoughts from the Office: April 16, 2010

A question if I may my 11 fellow listeners. [That probably includes me too - PB] What do you do when the week in wrestling has bored you to such an extent there's nothing really to pick from the two shows to spark your creative writing juices and a deadline looming? Well in my case there's clearly only one option to do for this weeks column.

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, a tribute to the new SHIMMER champion Madison Eagles...

Okay not really, although I certainly could (and if I wasn't scared of a visit by the Ratings Reaper probably would) do so, but that would probably lead somehow back around to that fucking STUPID KnockLockBox thing on Impact last week and I think two negative columns on TNA in a row might be pushing it.

So instead I'm going to do what the WWE and Raw do so well in the month or so between Wrestlemania and the draft show and phone it in, although a lot of it is still relevant to today, with the emphasis being a lot on heels with the major titles.

Recently Shamus and Chris Jericho had a run with their brands respective titles. Jack Swagger has the World Heavyweight Championship now, and over on TNA the emphasis with the title since January has been on AJ Styles as he tries to be the new Nature Boy.

Discussion will always reign on forums and wrestling discussions everywhere about who the greatest heel world champion in the modern era of wrestling was. A lot of great heels have held the belts. Triple H, Edge, Kurt Angle, Randy Orton. Everyone has an opinion and they will defend their chosen champion to the hilt in any argument. I believe there has been only ONE truly effective heel WWE champion in the past decade, yet when I mention his name anywhere I'm either flamed incessantly or have people question my sanity as a wrestling fan.

Before I reveal my choice as the greatest heel world champion of the modern era let me explain the criteria as I see them to be an effective and great heel champion.

The heel champion should be a great talker or at least have a great mouthpiece to generate heat, to incense the fans and to get them to come and see him get beat up by the babyface challenger. This goes back to my argument from a previous article that Babyfaces sell Merchandise and Heels sell Tickets. The most effective use of a heel champion is to have him get the crowd so incensed that they will pay money to see him get his comeuppance. The Honky Tonk Man was a prime example of this during his run with the Intercontinental Title, he would sing and dance and talk about being loved, when in reality he was the farthest thing from being loved. Result? Fans got more and more angry, they paid cash to see him get beat up.

The heel champion should always find a way to sneak away with a win: just when it looks like the babyface is finally going to put him away, the heel champion cheats to win and makes the fans believe that their guy almost had it and next time, next time the heel champion won't be so lucky. He doesn't even have to win, he can sneak out and run for a countout or get himself disqualified, which while losing him the match means he keeps the gold around his waist. All the while he goes on television and claims he's better than everyone simply cause he's the champion and the babyface is not. Again the Honky Tonk Man is the prime example. He was the master of losing the match by countout and as Jesse "The Body" Ventura always pointed out "Yes he lost the match and the winner's purse but he still kept the title"

The heel champion should always stack the odds in his favor, whether that's by gathering a group of lackeys to protect him or setting up challenges for the babyface that are so outlandish they seemingly don't have a hope of winning. It all infuriates the fans more as the fans now believe the champion is a coward as well as an asshole, which in turn makes them want to see their guy overcome those odds and destroy the champion even more.

It's three for three time! The Honky Tonk Man did this as part of Jimmy Hart's stable. To get to Honky you had to go through guys like Dino Bravo, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and the Rougeau Brothers.

Ask fans who are still watching wrestling today who saw him in that era and ask them to name five matches that Honky won that weren't squash matches, just five matches he won when he had a legitimate shot of losing his title and I almost guarantee all you'll get is a series of dumb looks and "I don't know"'s all around. Yet he's still regarded by old school fans as the Greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time, because he followed the criteria of Booking 101 and got the fans so riled up they paid money to see him get beaten up.

But alas Honky, while perhaps being the greatest heel champion of all time, never held the WWE title so he can't be considered for the greatest World Champion. So we must turn our attention elsewhere. Every person I've named certainly has claims to being the greatest heel champion of the modern era. No one respected HHH and the way he would always seemingly win when common logic said he should lose. Then we all found out he was banging the boss' daughter and head of the writing staff Stephanie McMahon and the whole thing made sense. Edge has definitely riled fans the world over with his antics on WWE TV but in the grand scheme of things he's only ever been used as a transitional champion, a very good one but transitional nonetheless. Orton may yet become the greatest heel champion ever but most fans at least respect him for being a good worker and that means he's not there yet. Add the recent babyface turns for Orton and Edge and suddenly their resumes don't look so hot.

Nope, in my opinion only ONE man has ever taken the principles of Booking 101 to their utmost to be the greatest heel world champion of the modern era. For almost a year he infuriated fans with his promos, his running down of their heroes and their way of life, the way he managed to slip out of the clutches of the virtuous babyface time after time and the way he never fought a babyface champion on terms that weren't to his advantage. Only one man had absolutely no respect from the fans and made those fans who already did want to see him get beaten up riled up to the point where some wanted to see him killed.

His name? John Bradshaw Layfield

Before you all start laughing or preparing your letters of hate let me explain. Before he became JBL, Bradshaw was a opening match tag guy who drank beer, beat up people and appeared in low level comedy spots. Around April of 2004 his tag team, the APA was split up, and what it kicked off was the most amazing character change of all time as the Texas beer drinking bar fighting redneck disappeared to be replaced by a Wall Street, suit wearing, corporate version of what a wrestler should be. He looked down his nose at the fans that once cheered him, saying that he earned money in the stock market while his fellow wrestlers and fans had squandered their money on cars and drugs and loose women (Which is not that far from the truth; in real life Layfield made many appearances on Fox News programs such as Cashin' In where he gave stock tips and his opinions on the stock market. He wrote a book on how to make money in the stock market, he got his own radio show where he doled out financial advice) and that that made him better than them and that he was a better wrestler than anyone, in fact he was a Wrestling....God! (You have to say it like that or it doesn't work).

The WWE finally had a compelling character and for once in their lives, they didn't screw it up. They had him beat up people and appear in vignettes attacking the Mexican heritage, making it clear that there was only one person who he was aiming for: the WWE champion Eddie Guerrero. They met at Judgment Day and the result was one of the goriest WWE pay per view matches in history, the result of a Guerrero blade job gone horribly wrong. JBL didn't even win the belt that night, the match finished in a double DQ but the groundwork had been laid. Just over a month later at the Great American Bash JBL did the unthinkable in the eyes of many fans: he beat Eddie Guerrero 1-2-3 and became the new WWE Champion.

And the Internet Wrestling Community pretty much exploded 3 seconds later.

A lot of people howled with derision, saying this was a terrible idea, how could the WWE do it? and that JBL was the worst champion ever. What these fans failed to realize is every time they posted their hatred, they proved why JBL was the right choice for champion. They tuned in week after week, sure that it would only be a one month reign and someone would defeat, but lo and behold week after week, month after month JBL found a way of escaping, whether by cheating, getting DQ'ed or with help from his "Cabinet", Orlando Jordan and the Basham Brothers. Every hero that he faced he got by, Big Show, Guerrero, Benoit, Undertaker, Angle. They all fell down....and all the while JBL kept talking, kept riling the fans into more and more of a frenzy by saying he was a wrestling god and that no one could defeat him, finally it became clear that the fans had just one hope left, a babyface had been building for over a year, a man who was like a powderkeg waiting to go off and all that was needed was that one final spark to shoot him into being the next WWE mega hero.

John Cena.

After Cena won the number one contendership not long after the Royal Rumble, JBL tried EVERYTHING to keep Cena away from ever facing him. He set up roadblock after roadblock, gauntlet matches against his Cabinet, four on one beatdowns on a weekly basis, constant interference in his matches to upset his momentum heading into their showdown. Cena survived it all and finally JBL had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. The stage was set. Wrestlemania 21. JBL faced John Cena for the WWE title, and the fans were convinced that this night, finally JBL would get his comeuppance and Cena would destroy him. The bell rang, the crowd roared and the two locked up as the fans waited for Cena to start ripping JBL to shreds.

It didn't happen. JBL overpowered Cena and beat him down.....and beat him down again.....then he beat him down some more.....this went on for 10 minutes.

I must admit when I first saw the match, I never got this part of it. N468ow I totally get it. The fans were so convinced that Cena was going to destroy JBL that they regarded it as a formality, by taking that away from them they made them believe that maybe....just maybe their last hope couldn't overcome the odds....that JBL was right, that he truly was better than everyone just like he said he was. Remember, to get involved on a tangible level there has to be suspension of disbelief. Take the recent Undertaker-Shawn Michaels match from Wrestlemania 26. Most people were pretty sure that Taker was going to win and Shawn was going to retire but the key was Shawn and Taker were so good they made you BELIEVE Shawn had a chance....but back to Wrestlemania 21. Slowly the fans went silent in disbelief as their hero seemed down and out. Then they got emotionally involved, cheering for Cena to rise up and somehow, someway find a way to beat JBL, and since this IS wrestling and good MUST triumph over evil in the end, Cena did find a way, digging down deep into his reserves to reverse JBL's offence, turn the tables, hit an F-U and end the reign of John Bradshaw Layfield once and for all. And with that win Cena became a megastar, a place he still holds today.

JBL never really got to that height again. He feuded with CM Punk over the World Heavyweight Title in 2008 but he never got back to the heights of 2004/5. Eventually he quit at Wrestlemania 25 after losing an Intercontinental Title match to Rey Mysterio in just 21 seconds. However his legacy should not be so easily thrown away by wrestling fans. By following the principles of Booking 101, he not only provided the WWE with a compelling heel champion who fans both internet and regular wanted to see get killed, his promos infuriated fans, his way of getting out of matches frustrated them and his eventual loss of the title to John Cena created the biggest star the WWE has had in the past decade.

With all that on his resume, how can anyone deny he was the greatest heel champion of the modern era? No other champion out there ticked every other box. Plus he had zero respect from the fans: respect equals sympathy and if a heel has sympathy he's not doing his job. JBL did his to a tee and for that reason in the realms of the heel champions of the modern eta he truly was a Wrestling.....God!

Clarence "Showstealer" Mason

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