According to the internet, WWE Superstar Antonio Cesaro (real name Claudio Castagnoli) is at a make or break point with the company. The organization looks at him as a “now or never” type of wrestler, who will either have a breakout soon or not at all.
But is his success or failure as a character isn’t necessarily predicated on his abilities in the ring. Castagnoli is an accomplished wrestler on the independent circuit, having performed for top promotions like Ring of Honor and Chikara. Rather, the identity of the character, and how he comes across as a bad guy, will have a massive impact on his success or failure.
Remember that a heel’s job is to get boo’d. If the masses jeer him loudly, it means he’s better at his job than a face (good guy) who gets mild cheers. An effective heel is one that generates a ton of heat, and that people love to hate.
So just what makes an effective heel?
A heel’s swag certainly has a lot to do with their success. Guys like Alberto Del Rio and Cesar are portrayed as arrogant, suave, self-centered, manipulators. You’re designed to not like characters like this because they’re the embodiment of things we either envy or despise. Del Rio has a lot of money… but he also isn’t from around here.
Del Rio is such a good heel because he bleeds nationalistic arrogance that isn’t American, and it’s not something he has to convince you of. His words carry scorn and disregard for WWE fans and other wrestlers, and he demands the peoples’ attention rather than appeal for it. Cesaro, on the other hand, is stuck with a gimmick where he tries to generate heat by explaining that he’s foreign. So they intro him as not from around here, tell you how he will show it, have him say hello in five different languages, and then explain why you shouldn’t like that.
It doesn’t generate heat because people don’t want to be told why they shouldn’t like a guy for ambiguous reasons. They WANT to boo a character because he’s legitimately a slimy creep, not just because he yells at good guys he wrestles every week.
Fans also love to hate the guys that you like to love. Take CM Punk’s recent heel turn, which is centered around John Cena, The Rock, and his status on the show as WWE Champion. Punk’s position is that the WWE title should be how the show goes off the air every week, being the most important object in the company. Yet he is constantly usurped by The Rock, Cena, The Big Show, Tensai, etc. Now he’s fed up and is telling everyone about it.
Somehow the WWE equates a guy getting fed up with being disrespected with a heel turn but I digress. People will climb all over CM Punk because they want to like him. It takes a long time to build that kind of rapport with the fans, but it also requires a guy to cultivate himself as a heel that fans love to hate because he can be a real sleazeball in that role.
Fans also love those ambiguous heels like Daniel Bryan, who have that one thing that people can’t wait to do. Daniel Bryan’s “Yes!” chant is the moment that fans get to interact with their wrestlers and become part of the show. It’s an incredible event, and the fans have really gotten behind the character.
…But Daniel Bryan is kind of a douche. He tried to use and abuse his on-screen girlfriend, continues to pull people’s string, openly tells the fans to discontinue using his catchphrase, and walks around with a massive scowl all day. Kane is like that, too. Even when Kane returned early in 2012 and attacked Zach Ryder and John Cena, people went, “Whoa, that was awesome!”
Kane has established such a rapport with the fans over the years than fans really can’t boo him anymore. When he attacks a dummy like Ryder and puts him through the stage, fans really can’t hate him for it. They boo him temporarily, but respond with awe to his massive chokeslams. When they inserted him into the Daniel Bryan-CM Punk feud, it didn’t take much to turn Kane into a face because people already love what he does. It made him a popular heel too, because his character is supposed to be an embodiment of evil, and people love that stuff in their TV characters.
Daniel Bryan was a tweener for a while, like Kane. Fighting as a heel and a face for a few weeks, he slowly established himself as a guy that you weren’t sure if you should love or hate. But the bottom line is that people cared which side they were on. It’s what polarized “Yes!” the night after Wrestlemania, and kept his heel run going with such fervor midway through the year.
Fans also get all over the wrecking machines. Kane’s best heel work comes when he shows up, kicks someone’s ass, and walks away. Same goes for The Big Show. His most dastardly deeds come when he doesn’t tell you about why you shouldn’t like him. You really hate the guy when he just knocks people out. And he’s 80 feet tall. He should be KO’ing people like they’re tiny to him. People go nuts when they’re watching an incredible match, until the big dude goes nuts AGAIN and ruins EVERYTHING. That’s an easy way for guys to generate quick heat. Just go in there, clean house, and prove to everybody that you’re just more Daft Punk than they are.
So will Antonio Cesaro make it in the WWE? They’ve shoved Tensai down our throats for months, and nobody really cares about him. Ultimately your character must be believable to the audience. If they don’t believe that you’re a scumbag (Del Rio), better than the rest of them (CM Punk), or without a care in the world for rules and fans (Big Show), then they really don’t care if you’re good, bad, or even in the business altogether.
My recommendation to Antonio Cesaro? Get a better gimmick. Ultimately, speaking five languages isn’t really much of a reason for any fan to throw their energy into hating you. Destroying the established order of things will.