The Horsemen, nWo & Bullet Club Are The Worst Heel Stables In Wrestling History
It’s true, it’s not an arguable point, and better heels are necessary.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news. Well, scratch that. Actually, I love being the bearer of news that on-the-surface may appear to be bad, but underneath is a place for the investigation and creation of industry-evolving information. With that being said, here goes nothing:
The Four Horsemen, New World Order and Bullet Club are the three best babyface factions in the history of pro wrestling. In understanding why that’s the case, ideally, for the health of the business moving forward, we never have to see “heel stables” like these exist EVER again.
It’s an undeniable fact Horsemen, nWo and Bullet Club “leaders” Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Finn Balor, and Kenny Omega are four of the all-around best and most charismatic professional wrestlers that ever lived. Like, if you were making a top-10 list of classic and modern “all-time” greats, making a list that doesn’t explicitly involve any of these four performers is to create a list that is factually incorrect. It’s in these four wrestlers being so undeniably excellent at excellence that makes booing them and presenting them as “bad guys” actually as much of a Sisyphean effort as being Sisyphus himself.
A 2010 Psychology Today article entitled “Charisma, What Is It? Do You Have It?” notes that “[c]harismatic individuals express their feelings spontaneously and genuinely. This allows them to affect the moods and emotions of others. We all know charismatic people who seem to “light up the room” when they enter. They typically express positive affect, but they can also stir us up when they are angry or irritated.” The note to focus on here is that “charisma typically creates a positive affect.” Thus, there’s the idea that in putting multiples of inherently charismatic performers together that you’re ultimately succeeding at crowds, well, not being negatively engaged by these individuals.
In 1989, the NWA World Championship feud between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat as compared to the NWA World Championship feud between Ric Flair and Terry Funk in the same year confirmed these lessons to me. 1989 started with Flair at the end of a four year run wherein he, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Lex Luger had formed a unit called The Four Horsemen that celebrated lording ostentatious wealth over their opponents, and using grandiose displays of violence to secure championship-level victories.
Connected to the above is a bridgers.org article notes two similar, yet different notions about humanity. “We are fundamentally flawed and cannot change. It is natural for us to destroy ourselves. We are naturally selfish. Or, each person is perfectly in their changing path. It is natural for us to struggle with identity, internal and external, and this can take many forms.” Under this belief, the idea that in 1989, the NWA thought it smart to present Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat as a virtuous, devoted husband and father versus the vice-driven Flair seems like an idea, save Flair and Steamboat having multiple scintillating five-star encounters, fraught with peril. Of course, when later in that year the historically vice-driven Flair was presented as the “good guy” while Terry Funk was the deplorable and almost anti-charismatic villain, it’s arguably a much better feud and much more beneficial to the aims of playing directly into human nature.
The same logic ultimately also befalls the “heel” runs of the late nineties by the New World Order through World Championship Wrestling and the mid-2010s run of the Bullet Club through New Japan and the global independent scene.
The nWo and the Bullet Club are based around the idea of “disruptive innovation is cool.” If modern-era digital culture is any indication, this is actually an idea that, if the people involved don’t ultimately turn out to be dicks (as many people perceive Uber’s Travis Kalanick to be currently), is inherently laudatory and not worth “heel heat” at all.
Harvard Business Review notes the following about those who engage in disruptive innovation and how it works:
Entrants that prove disruptive begin by successfully targeting those overlooked segments, gaining a foothold by delivering more-suitable functionality — frequently at a lower price. Incumbents, chasing higher profitability in more-demanding segments, tend not to respond vigorously. Entrants then move upmarket, delivering the performance that incumbents’ mainstream customers require, while preserving the advantages that drove their early success. When mainstream customers start adopting the entrants’ offerings in volume, disruption has occurred.
As can be inferred, the end-game of disruptive innovation is adoption, adaption, and what is ultimately net-positive evolution. POSITIVE. What’s intriguing about both the nWo and Bullet Club are that they show pro wrestling improving upon the models that have impacted modern business and industry, which well, leads to EVEN MORE POSITIVE benefits, which extrapolates as well, MUCH LESS NEGATIVE RESPONSE to the performers involved.
The “heat” that positioned the New World Order as “heels” was that Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash et. al. were privately-funded outside contractors who wanted to control, via winning championships and acquiring World Championship Wrestling-contracted talent, a significant chunk of WCW’s hard-power control over pro wrestling. Similarly, the Bullet Club, namely Finn “Prince Devitt” Balor, Kenny Omega, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows were/are New Japan-contracted wrestlers who because of their charisma and talent were/are oft-booked and big money-making independent contractors, who have significant soft-power influence over World Wrestling Entertainment and the pro wrestling pop cultural landscape at-large. That’s cool. That’s so cool. That’s so cool in fact that the nWo were cooler than the Horsemen and the Bullet Club might leave the nWo in the dust as far as cool points are concerned.
Moving forward, it might be time to consider that if we, as a pro wrestling industry at-large, are to do “heel stables” moving forward, that paying keen attention to human psychology is important. Instead of attempting to shove notions that are aberrant to the human condition down fans throats and be frustrated literally every time, maybe it’s time that we think about our fans actual feelings, and just give them what they want.
The heel/face dynamic is at the very crux of what the professional wrestling business is all about. At-present, it’s crowds at shows like Evolve, MCW, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and maybe even what we’re trying to do as Capitol Wrestling in a decommissioned cathedral in Jersey City, that show that the industry of pro wrestling is on the cusp of a level of wild popularity it hasn’t seen in nearly two decades. It’s not going to be the Bullet Club, nWo, or Four Horsemen that makes it happen, though. It’s in denying humans what they want, and presenting something they need and oftentimes have NEVER had via wrestling, where wrestling ideally next excels at incredible levels.