Pro Wrestlers Big Show & Billy Gunn discuss the evolution of wrestling and break down why the heel always essential for engaging storylines.
There isn’t anything quit like professional wrestling in the entertainment world. Part dramatic storytelling soap opera, part athletic sport. Partially real and partially fake. Pro Wrestling, and the most famous iteration WWE, has been a massive industry entertaining millions of fans for decades. Being an actor and an athlete, Mike O’Hearn finds wrestlers a very special kind of fascinating. The combination of athleticism and showmanship is something O’Hearn deeply admires. Which is why he brought Big Show and Billy Gunn onto the podcast to talk shop about wrestling and its evolution. In Generation Iron and Barbend’s latest episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show, Big Show and Billy Gunn break down the art, structure, and psychology behind storytelling and the heel in pro wrestling.
Big Show and Billy Gunn are two superstar pro wrestlers who have been in the game for many decades. Big Show, best known for his gargantuan size, and Billy Gunn, primarily known for his tag team excellence in the WWE and now a highlight in he AEW. Both have had experience in pro wrestling since the 1990s and continue to contribute to the sport to this day.
With that kind of pedigree and experience – they’ve also see wrestling evolve and change dramatically over the decades. While they might not always agree with the direction of some of these changes, they understand that evolution is necessary and that they must adapt while staying true to themselves and what makes them passionate about the sport.
As Billy Gunn puts it, “Wrestling does evolve That doesn’t mean we have to agree with it – but you do need to adapt while keeping a sense of who you are.”
Talking with Mike O’Hearn, Big Show and Billy Gunn discuss the evolution of pro wrestling, how they evolved with it, and also discuss the fundamentals that will never die in the sport. Let’s jump into it.
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Will the heel ever die? Big Show explains the psychology behind the heel in wrestling
Billy Gunn worries that the concept of the heel is going out of style in modern wrestling. In wrestling, the heel is the “villain” of the storylines in any given match. Often a heel will remain the villain for a long stretch of time over many matches.
Gunn believes that in the social media era, too many wrestlers are afraid to be heels as it will “hurt their personal brand.” No longer just angry comments yelled from fans during an event – messages on social media will often be negative lashing out against the heel’s actions during a previous match. Gunn thinks that modern young wrestlers want to ensure they have a brand well beyond wrestling itself – and so they fear being a heel and ruining their prospects as branded individual.
In reality, it seems like the heel is going nowhere. There are still many heel turns in pro wrestling today. In fact, it is a corner stone of most wrestling storylines. While perhaps there is some insider information that Gunn is aware of personally for modern and upcoming wrestlers – odds are the heel is here to stay.
Big Show understands this and actually believes that the heel is so vital to engagement and emotional storytelling – that the heel is just as vital as the good guy.
“If people hate me and throw stuff and say bad stuff about me – that’s a good thing. I’m doing my job.”
– Big Show
While many casual watchers or even detractors of pro wrestling may find the sport mindless and dumb, Big Show explains that this is far from the truth. There is a fine tuned structure to stories that rely deeply on crowd psychology. That’s what makes a good wrestling match and what has made WWE such a multi-million dollar industry.
“The whole purpose of being the heel, the way I understand psychology is, when there were heels and baby faces… standard match without an angle introducing two characters. The baby face out-wrestles the heel because he’s better, that’s why he’s the babyface. The crowd likes him. The heel knows in a straight up one-on-one confrontation he can’t win. So what do heels or bad guys do? They find a way to cheat. What is the best way to cheat? To cheat behind the referee… in a way that all of the fans see it so they are like, ‘oh that son of bitch just did that!‘
And then the psychology is that the heel is now in the dominant position… Well now fans understand crawling out from underneath. So when they cheer that guys name then there’s a hope. That’s when the babyface fights back. And what the babyface is telling them is that if you give me the energy to fight back I can overcome this. Now they are completely invested.”
– Big Show
Big Show goes into detail about how the concept of the underdog is backed into our very basic animalistic psychology. It’s something we understand primordially as a species from rising up out of the wood and the dirt and becoming the society that we are today.
He also explains how having the audience fully invested at this point allows for some really exciting storytelling opportunities. Maybe the heel still wins that match and dominates for a short stretch of time – raising the intrigue more. Maybe the heel is defeated but then makes an unexpected comeback twist. By the end, the heel is weak, desperate and pushed to the most memorable of extremes in a last ditch effort to maintain power. It’s at that moment he is defeated for good and the storyline is concluded.
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The Undertaker Once Told Big Show He Should Quit Wrestling
During their conversation and insider stories about wrestling, Big Show discusses how important it is to learn as much as possible when you first start out wrestling. While that seems obvious – sometimes the way to learn isn’t by being earnest and asking a bunch of questions. Sometimes you need to get some tough love.
Big Show recounts a time during his earlier years, where he just completed a match and asked The Undertaker for his thoughts. How did he do in the eyes of an expert? What things could he improve?
The Undertaker sternly looked at Big Show and simply said, “Yeah, take two weeks to reflect and then quit the business.”
Big Show was stunned and it was a very intense moment for the then-young star. But it was also the fire lit under his ass that he needed. The tough love gave him a goal – to prove The Undertaker wrong. Ultimately, as we all know, Big Show became a very popular and successful wrestler.
Big Show believes that support is important but it’s also important to push each other to reach new heights. That challenge and that competition between wrestlers help make an overall better show.
Modern pro wrestling is more athletic but move exchanges are too fast for audiences to be as engaged in matches
Mike O’Hearn asserts that modern wrestlers are no where near as athletic as the old school years of pro wrestling. Big Show and Billy Gunn don’t quite agree and actually go to bat for the new era of wrestlers – claiming they are more athletic than ever. This comes as a surprise to O’Hearn.
Big Show admits there are always exceptions to the rule – which are the guys that likely Mike O’Hearn looked up to and remembers. But in general, wrestlers were far less athletic in the past. Today there are more high flyers, more muscular and fit wrestlers. Their skillset for technical ability is on a whole other level.
However, Big Show and Billy Gunn do think that the exchange between moves has become too fast. It seems, in their opinion, that the matches try to fit in as many spectacular moves back and forth to make the match more exciting. The problem is – this makes the storyline of the match less engaging. If things bounce back and forth so fast, tension is removed. The drama of the build and ebb and flow is lessened.
Ultimately Big Show jokes that they can’t get too critical of the new generation. They are all young and hungry and want to make a name for themselves. Billy Gunn and Big Show were once exactly the same – and probably pissing off the elder generation before them. That’s life. It’s the reason they stay engaged into the sport to this day – because they are still passionate about it and want to adapt and evolve to still be in tune with the modern version of the sport.
Big Show and Billy Gunn share a wealth of knowledge about wrestling from both an outsider and insider perspective. It’s a truly fascinating listen discussing all aspects of pro wrestling both past and present. You can watch their full conversation in the latest episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show above. Don’t forget to check out new episodes every Friday only on the Generation Iron Fitness Network or wherever podcasts are downloaded.