The Getting Over series aims to detail the psychological rules that the world of pro wrestling has developed over the past 100 years to draw the biggest houses and biggest fan reactions possible.
Rule No. 1 - It's all about the money
Rule No. 2 - Fans will hate a heel more if he can make them respect him
Rule No. 3 - A baby face should be billed as a believable underdog
Rule No. 4 - Always exaggerate, even when the truth is impressive
Rule No. 5 - A heel should have no redeemable qualities
Rule No. 6 - A heel should use flawed logic to justify his actions
Rule No. 7 - A great babyface needs a great heel to truly get over
Rule No. 8 - The top job of an announcer is to get the on-air talents over
On paper, former World Class Championship Wrestling star Gino Hernandez looked to be the prototypical professional wrestling babyface. The combination of his perfectly coiffed hair, energetic wrestling style and extraordinary amount of charisma seemingly should have made him a good guy cornerstone for any promotion.
Hernandez did start his career walking down the babyface path, but he wasn't able to stay on this trail -- largely because of the next rule in the Getting Over series.
Rule No. 9 - A wrestler's character has to match his true personality traits
Why it works
Penn Jillette, the talking half of the famous Las Vegas comedic duo Penn & Teller, once said that if a comedian lets the crowd know that he doesn't believe in what he is saying, even if it is only for a single moment, the audience will sense the hesitation and won't buy into the act.
This same mindset holds true for the interaction between in-ring performers and the pro wrestling audience. If a sports entertainment star has any level of uncertainty in convincingly portraying an on-air persona, the crowd will eventually notice this and will reject the character outright.
This is why Hernandez had to make the switch from babyface to heel. Dr. Tom Prichard, one of Hernandez's contemporaries who had known him since Hernandez was a teenager, told the authors of the book "The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes & Icons" that Hernandez came across like a jerk in real life and noted that Hernandez, "was a heel ever since he was a kid." Prichard went on to note that if Hernandez had continued down the babyface path, the audience would have ultimately seen through the personality subterfuge and would have turned its back on him.
The good news for Hernandez is the change to a bad guy fit him like a glove. He adopted the nickname "The Handsome Halfbreed" and irked the crowd by constantly combing his hair before matches and then warning his opponents to keep their hands off of his hair. This self-absorbed preening was only the beginning, as Hernandez claimed to be more handsome than Sylvester Stallone and Erik Estrada combined and more gorgeous than Bo Derek.
Hernandez often claimed, in classic heel form, that he believed in quantity over quality when it came to dating conquests. That didn't stop him from bragging about a relationship with Farrah Fawcett, the swimsuit model and actress who was, at that time, arguably the most famous woman in America. Roddy Piper conducted a timeless interview during which Hernandez brought out a binder full of sleeved pictures of himself and Fawcett. It's unclear whether Hernandez and Fawcett were actually dating, but Hernandez sold it like he and Fawcett were an item -- even going so over the top as to kiss the pictures just before closing out the interview.
This ability to rile the fans up fit Hernandez's personality perfectly and might have led to his becoming an all-time great heel, had it not been for his untimely death via a drug overdose only a few days after his last match, in which he "blinded" Gentleman Chris Adams with a hair removal liquid.
Born to play the babyface role
If there were ever a wrestler who was born to play the babyface role, it would have to be Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat.
A case can be made that Steamboat may be the most revered man in the history of the business. Former wrestler Steve Keirn said in a 2010 WWE documentary that Steamboat was the Rocky Balboa of the wrestling industry, because everybody pulled for him. Dean Malenko, in that same documentary, said that you never hear one bad thing about Steamboat, because he's an all-around really good guy. Jake Roberts called Steamboat a great gentleman who was an honest and hard-working man.
Bob Roop joined in this chorus by saying that Steamboat was the nicest guy he ever worked with, but took that thought a step further by saying Steamboat could never have played a heel because Steamboat's babyface role wasn't an act -- it was a reflection of Steamboat's true personality.
This transparent honesty is a major part of why Steamboat was able to continually break the adage that says babyfaces should never let the audience know if they are married. Babyfaces were normally told to keep this information to themselves, because if they made it known that they were married, it would only serve to mute the potential interest of female fans.
Steamboat went against the grain on this early on in his WWE tenure, as he proudly let the world know he was betrothed by involving his wife in interview angles after suffering a "throat injury" in an attack by Randy Savage.
Steamboat took this one step further in his 1989 WrestleWar match against Ric Flair. As would be expected, The Nature Boy came to the ring accompanied by a bevy of beautiful women. Steamboat's ring entrance consisted of him walking to the squared circle with his wife (who had played the role of one of Flair's ring ladies a few years before this) and their son, who was riding a white pony.
Steamboat made no pretense of being single and available and proclaimed he was a family man even when wrestling fans were moving away from supporting clean-cut good guys and starting to cheer for edgy anti-heroes. This commitment to being honest to his true self keeps Steamboat in the fans' good graces to this very day.
Embrace the role that breaks the mold
This rule also extends beyond the babyface/heel dichotomy into the type of character roles a wrestler can portray.
A perfect example of this can be found in the ascension of Bayley to the top of the WWE's women's division.
Bayley's character quirks include having "wacky, waving, inflatable tube men" (now called "Bayley buddies) as part of her ring entrance, wearing a side ponytail, being decked out in incredibly bright colors and sporting the "I'm a hugger" catchphrase.
This combination might sound like a WWE marketing idea gone wrong, but it works like a champ in Bayley's case because each of these elements is a reflection of her true personality. Had she tried to play a more conventional character, it is quite likely that Bayley would never have made it up to the RAW roster. She and the WWE deserve major kudos for embracing this rule and turning this unconventional character into an unforgettable one.