Veteran wrestler and WWE Hall of Famer Bully Ray has nearly 30 years of pro wrestling experience under his belt, so he has much higher standards than most people in the business. On a recent episode of our WINCLY podcast, Bully spoke to Wrestling Inc. managing editor Nick Hausman in-depth about what constitutes a truly great heel.
Bully's recent work in Ring Of Honor say him engage in a rivalry with Flip Gordon that culminated with an "I Quit" match at ROH: Final Battle. With Gordon being the ultimate babyface, Bully's heel work was turned up a notch. He explained that he takes an "old-school" mentality when it comes to being a heel in the sense that he does anything possible to make sure the fans hate him. With heels getting cheered more often nowadays, he thinks there are more "bad guys" in this business than there are true heels.
"A good heel elicits no emotions of joy from a wrestling crowd. A real heel is despised. A real heel is hated. A real heel does nothing that brings any happiness to anybody at any given time. And I really, truly believe that, and it's a very old-school mentality when it comes to the heel that I am. In wrestling today, you have a lot of bad guys; there's some bad guys, there's some bad girls, but there's no real heels. I talk about real heels, and I think even a better definition of what I do is I believe I'm the last of the 'old-school' heels," Bully said. "New-school heels are good from time to time, but they tend to be a little bit more entertaining, and I don't think that my heels should ever be entertaining first. If being entertaining is a by-product of what you're doing, you can't control that, because some people just root for the bad guys, and you can't help that. I try to do my best to make sure that everybody hates me, and in-turn, if everybody hates me, that means they love the good guy that I'm in there with. That's my job, and a lot of people don't stick to their job nowadays."
The rise of social media has also affected the way heels can work because of how superstars can separate their personal lives from their wrestling personas. Also, with how sensitive society currently is, it's much easier to get into hot water if someone says the wrong thing. Bully said he doesn't see this as a detriment, but rather believes heels have to come up with more creative ways to elicit negative reactions.
"I don't think it's harder to be a heel at all, I just think you have to be a little bit smarter. Obviously, you can't say a lot of the things that you could say 20 years ago, you can't push a lot of the same buttons that you could push 20 years ago, so you have to find new buttons to push in a way that is I guess entertaining and offensive, but not over-the-top offensive. So I think modern-day heels just have to be smarter. I go out there and I try to offend, I try to get that hatred because that's what wrestling lacks these days," he said. "I hear a lot of people out there, a lot of bad guys that get complimented on their 'heel work.' Well that means that they're just playing the bad guy on any given day. I can be the bad guy for a year, for two years, I could've been the bad guy my entire career. I embrace it, I think too many other people shun it. Especially with social media today, too many wrestlers are chasing the hug on Twitter and on their Instagram they want so many people to like them. They think that if they get 'likes' and retweets it means how over they are. The only thing that constitutes how over you are is the amount of zero's in your bank account. That determines whether or not you're over, because if you're over, you're a draw and you're making money."
When discussing how far is too far, the question of racism came up. It's no secret that there have been many gimmicks, segments and feuds in the history of pro wrestling that were tasteless because they relied on racial heat. Bully pointed to one of the most egregious instances when D-Generation X impersonated the Nation of Domination, mentioning how there was much less backlash during the Attitude Era than there would've been today. He said he never thinks it's a good idea to try to get over as a heel by using racism.
"Being a racist, I don't think has ever been a smart way to go. I mean, people have pushed those buttons in the past, I've probably pushed those buttons once or twice myself. But no, racial heat is not good," he said. "But then I'll ask you this: how come DX doing an impersonation of the Nation of Domination was acceptable, but if you ever tried to do that today, you'd be fired?... What I mean is, some people may have said it was acceptable, but it aired on TV, nobody got reprimanded, there was no apology made, there was no backlash from itů I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm just saying that type of stuff was done before and the backlash wasn't nearly as severe as it would've been today. Now I don't think a racial way is the right way to go, that's a button that I don't think I would push."
Bully's feud with Gordon was brutal both mentally and physically. He said it was important for the story that they went as far as they did because it made the payoff at Final Battle that much more meaningful.
"I think it comes with being a veteran, knowing that if I'm going to do something like I did to Flip in the arena and cane him, that there has to be a payoff. There has to be a happy ending, there has to be a good result," he said. "If I'm just doing it to him for the sake of doing it to him, I really don't have a problem with the physicality, but if he can't get his revenge, it doesn't do good for the storytelling and it doesn't do good for the character. So yeah, there is a method to that madness, that kind of physicality is being done for a reason. It's being done because that's part of the story, and there's gonna be a definitive end result."
Bully was also asked about a possible upcoming retirement. For now, he's enjoying the ride and doesn't see himself stopping anytime soon.
"I'm a f**king machine and the wrestling business needs a heel like me," he said.
Catch Bully Ray on Busted Open Radio, weekdays at Noon ET on SiriusXM Fight Nation channel 93. Subscribe to Wrestling Inc Audio on iTunes, or listen to the embedded player below, to hear Bully's full interview with Wrestling Inc. Including his praise of the recent WWE Women's TLC Match, AEW and more. The episode also includes an interview with ROH TV Champion Jeff Cobb discussing his ROH ambitions going into 2019 as well as his Final Battle bout against Hangman Page.