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
Rule No. 9: A wrestler's character should match true personality traits
Rule No. 10: Always overload supercards with great matches and unique elements
Rule No. 11: A wrestler should always put someone over when leaving a promotion
Rule No. 12 - Every wrestler must have a recognizable weakness
One of the main complaints fans have about today's WWE is that the promotion doesn't generate heat the way the business did back in the days of the Monday Night War and territory battles.
That argument is offset by the reaction Roman Reigns received in the post-WrestleMania 33 edition of Monday Night Raw. The crowd at the Amway Center in Orlando booed Reigns nonstop for more than 10 minutes and showed almost no signs of letting up when Reigns delivered his five-word speech and left the ring.
This would make it seem like there is a valid case for both sides of this disagreement, but the reality is today's sports-entertainment world has simply adjusted to the next rule in the Getting Over series.
Rule No. 13: There are four types of heat and only one of them is good
The primary goal of professional wrestling is to make fans have a visceral, emotional reaction to whatever it is that the promotion is putting on its show. Heat is the general term used to describe this reaction, but there are actually four types of heat.
Red heat: What every wrestler and promotion aims to get
Red heat is by far the most lucrative type of heat and is what every promoter and wrestler has aimed to generate since the earliest days of the business.
What makes red heat so valuable is that fans are mad at the heel and want the babyface to do something to give the heel comeuppance. That latter factor is key, as the emotional catharsis is achieved through what happens in the ring. This means that fans will invest their time and (more importantly to a wrestling promotion) their money to see the babyface take care of business.
The aforementioned reaction to Reigns definitely falls into the red-heat category. That audience was livid with Reigns' having the temerity to show up to brag about his previous day's conquest over The Undertaker, and it would have liked nothing more than to see Taker come out of retirement and reclaim his yard. This ability to generate tremendous amounts of red heat is a key factor in why Reigns remains at or near the top of the WWE's talent roster.
White heat: The danger zone
A notable factor of red heat is that it is an element with a very high boiling point. This has the side effect of causing wrestlers and promoters to go to great lengths to see how close they can get to that boiling point.
The downside of this approach is that if red heat is not managed properly, it can turn into white heat. This is dangerous territory, as white heat is when the audience figures that it cannot wait for the babyface to settle the matter and instead has to resolve the situation personally.
This happened back in 1971 during a WWWF championship match in the Boston Garden between babyface champion Pedro Morales and heel challenger Blackjack Mulligan.
As was almost always the case back in those days, the heel was in charge of calling the match. The reasoning behind this is that the heel was the one who could get hurt if the heat wasn't managed properly, so he should therefore be the one who decides how far to push the crowd.
Mulligan was only in his third year in the business, so his heat management skills weren't quite yet fully formed. This led to a big problem, as, according to the book, "The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels", Mulligan decided to cut short a pinfall attempt by pulling Morales up by his hair. This made the crowd livid, as it showed that Morales would have been defeated had it not been for Mulligan's arrogance.
That was enough to push the heat thermometer into white territory, and Mulligan himself noted that at this point, "The heat should have been controlled and stopped."
The logical next step would have been for Mulligan to call for Morales to make his comeback and move the heat back to the safer red level. Instead, Mulligan made a mistake and ended another pinfall attempt by again pulling Morales up by his hair.
This was too much for the audience, as it assumed Morales was now helpless and couldn't take care of the situation. As shocking as it is to think about now, the heat in the match led to Mulligan's being stabbed in the leg and in the arm by an angry fan.
Silent heat: The worst type of heat
The most dangerous version of white heat is what old-school workers call silent heat. What makes silent heat so perilous is that it means the crowd is well beyond deciding if it wants the babyface to deal with the heel and instead is now fully determined to personally take care of the antagonist by any means necessary. As famous manager J.J. Dillon said in a 2015 edition of The Jim Cornette Podcast, "When the crowd is screaming, everything is good. You don't really start to worry until they get quiet. Because that's when something is about to happen."
The WWE nearly had an instance of silent heat after Bruno Sammartino shockingly lost the title to Ivan Koloff in 1971. A potential recurrence of this was so worrisome to the promotion that it took many protective steps when Sammartino was booked to lose the belt to Superstar Billy Graham in 1977.
Promotion had the match occur in Baltimore, rather than New York, to avoid the negative reaction of the largely Italian crowd in the Big Apple. It also had the battle take place in the middle of the card, so that it could distract the audience with another match while Graham hurried to leave the building. In addition, the promotion told Graham that he needed to exit the ring immediately after the match to keep from inciting a riot. The good news is it all worked as planned, as Graham made it out of the arena with no damage done.
Pro wrestlers often say they don't care if the crowd reacts positively or negatively to them -- all they want is a reaction.
While it's true that ambivalence is anathema to sports entertainers, there is one thing that is even worse on the career destruction scale: go-away heat.
This type of heat is when fans indicate that they are so upset with the character in question that they will actually stop watching the show if this persona continues to appear on their screen.
Famous examples of wrestling personalities who have received go-away heat include The Gobbledy Gooker and The Shockmaster, but the most surprising name of this list would have to be Rocky Maivia. At the time of his debut, WWE fans were in no mood for an old-school babyface, especially one who by his own admission was playing a character that wasn't personally authentic. This dual-level disconnect eventually led to chants of "Rocky sucks," and it soon became clear that the only way for Dwayne Johnson to continue his WWE career would be to change into The Rock.
The WWE's move away from the world of pure kayfabe was done for a number of creative control and financial reasons, but it had the beneficial impact of almost entirely eliminating white and silent heat. This might dull the interest level of some fans, but it makes for a much safer work environment for the wrestlers and a safer live-viewing environment for the audience. Add that to the promotion's evident ability to still generate high levels of red heat when it gives wrestlers or angles a significant push, and it provides an argument for today's heat being better than it was back in the day.