There is a belief held among many people involved in professional wrestling that heels and faces no longer exist. Vince McMahon once famously made this statement during a conference call a few years ago as a deflection of John Cena’s divisive crowd reactions. Looking at the characters who populate the main roster today, it’s easy to see why one might think this. Braun Strowman was booked as a heel for well over a year but kept being cheered by audiences the world over. Kevin Owens has been pure evil since decking Sami Zayn after the latter won the NXT Championship, yet everybody popped like mad when he won the Universal Title.
Conversely, many performers WWE portray as heroes are met with a lukewarm reception. This issue can’t be discussed without bringing up Roman Reigns. Four WrestleMania main events, three world title reigns, and a Royal Rumble win later, and WWE’s “chosen one” to take over from Cena has garnered mixed responses at best.
There is even a case to be made that Reigns embodies this ethos of no more faces and heels. What is Roman Reigns? If he’s a face, then why is he booed? If he’s a heel, why is he always feuding with bad guys? It’s a lack of clarity that can confuse and even anger crowds. But tucked away in the yellow paradise known as NXT, one man has been reminding us all that you can be evil and receive the appropriate amount of vitriol.
Tommaso Ciampa is a man who isn’t just NXT’s top heel, he’s the top heel in the entire damn company. He might just be the top heel in the world. Ever since that fateful night in Chicago when he decimated his former best friend, Johnny Gargano, he’s been on the receiving end of intense loathing from the usually smarky Full Sail crowd.
NXT is essentially an independent promotion with great funding. The usual WWE style doesn’t apply there. And because it normally runs in the same venue, the crowd are regulars who are hardcore rasslin’ enthusiasts. NXT has had its share of top heels in the past. Guys like the aforementioned Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, and Andrade “Cien” Almas have done remarkable jobs at carrying the mantle of #1 bastard. But even those fine gentlemen have had their sections of supporters. Just listen to the ovation Almas received when he shockingly defeated the heroic Drew McIntyre for the title at TakeOver: WarGames. Nobody was booing the bad guy there, he was the centre of praise for overcoming shoddy booking to become the top dog.
No such graces are afforded to Ciampa. He is a true anomaly in NXT. Everything about him should elicit support from a modern wrestling crowd. Indie background? Check. Flashy move-set? Check. Interesting character? Check that with a Sharpie. But he has an innate ability to draw the ire of even the most dedicated follower of the sport. There is no aspect of what he does that is designed to be positively received.
Ciampa is a man who combines minor details to create a fleshed-out heel character. I’ve already talked about how clever his use of the crowd booing as entrance music is in a previous article. It goes beyond that though.
Entrances are one thing, but wrestlers have a much wider platform with which they can showcase who they are now.
Twitter is a wonderful tool for wrestlers. Ever since Zack Ryder demonstrated that you could effectively craft an entire arc purely through social media, WWE have been all over the cyberspace bandwagon. Every employee has to have a Twitter. Even Dean Ambrose, a man with no interest in social media, has one. The account is over six years old, has half a million followers, no tweets, and a bio that states that he was made to set up a Twitter.
This increased online exposure creates a larger connection between fans and superstars. Kevin Owens has a goldmine of a Twitter account. You can regularly witness him tearing apart his detractors and sharing friendly banter with his co-workers. The only issue here is that he’s a heel who has now made himself feel relatable to an extent. Tommaso Ciampa understands that Twitter is only another place where he can be an even bigger wanker.
Tommaso Ciampa doesn’t follow a single account. Tomasso Ciampa doesn’t even @ people when he tweets them, he literally writes “at” instead to not drive people towards other people’s pages. Tommaso Ciampa says the most despicable, nasty things in bite-sized chunks and it’s a sight to behold. In what might just be the ultimate act of evil, he spoiled the ending of Avengers: Infinity War via Twitter without a care in the world. This showcases that he even understands how to manipulate popular culture to aid his sinister goals.
There are no frills with Tommaso Ciampa. He isn’t concerned with looking “cool” or putting on Match of the Year contenders (though he totally did with Johnny Gargano in New Orleans). All he cares about is everyone knowing who he is and that he’s better than them. Whether it be through constant reminders of how amazingly in shape he is or through physically threatening his enemies online, he is adept at pushing one’s buttons.
If more heels in WWE spent the time Ciampa does in maintaining a fine-tuned persona of malice, then it would be so much easier for crowds to know who they should be getting behind. In an age where “people cheer who they normally boo and boo who they normally cheer,” that would go a long way in rejuvenating an oftentimes frustrating main roster product.
Cultured Vultures is a site by writers, for writers. We like words.