The WWE Heels I Love, Hate and Love to Hate
Being a heel in professional wrestling is a strange job, as the best ones receive the biggest jeers as a sign of respect.
But not every villain is able to generate the right type of heat from a crowd.
Some are too cool to dislike, so fans cheer them; others are just so bad in the role that they're hated not for their characters but for their actual performance.
As part of Heel Day at Bleacher Report, here are the WWE heels I love as though they were babyfaces, those I hate and don't enjoy watching, and the ones I love to hate and can't get enough of their wicked ways.
Love: The Undisputed Era
I'm far from the only person who finds themselves cheering the four members of The Undisputed Era in matches, no matter who they're up against.
Of course, when facing another top NXT talent such as Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa or Velveteen Dream, it's harder to pick a favorite, but The Undisputed Era are just so good that it's difficult to root against them.
Adam Cole, in particular, has the sort of cocky attitude that is reminiscent of Shawn Michaels—my personal favorite Superstar of all time. Being able to carry that into the ring and be one of the most consistent wrestlers for years is all that more admirable.
They're cool in the way D-Generation X and nWo were. They talk trash, but they also get the job done and don't get humiliated to undercut that bravado.
Cheering them goes against their gimmicks, but they still have my support to win 90 percent of the time.
At one point, Lana was one of the most engaging characters WWE had. She was a great heat magnet for Rusev and one of the few managers seemingly able to serve a purpose with her promos and in-ring shenanigans.
That hasn't been the case in a long while. In fact, it's hard to remember the last time she was great.
The Bobby Lashley romance angle is where everything went so far downhill that The Ravishing Russian went from being an annoying heel to an irritating character in general. The stories have been awful and made worse by such terrible overacting.
Here's hoping MVP continues to keep Lana away from Lashley and the character is revamped entirely or even retired.
Love to Hate: Shayna Baszler
Shayna Baszler is the exact opposite of Lana in the best ways possible.
While The Ravishing Russian screams at the top of her lungs to convey an excess of emotions at the slightest frustration, The Queen of Spades has more range than merely cranking the volume up to 11.
Baszler dominated NXT and showed a killer instinct in all her matches. No matter who her opponent is in WWE, every fight features moments in which she targets a body part and seems to genuinely want to hurt her challenger.
Obviously, that's not the reality, but she pulls it off so well that I suspend my disbelief and get lost in her story every time.
In part, that's due to her ability to come off as cold and nasty in her promos, too, such as when she lambasted Becky Lynch's pregnancy and threw in an extra shot at the child's father, Seth Rollins.
Baszler may be the best heel in the women's division in years.
Love: AJ Styles
Certain performers have wrestled long enough to build up so much good will that it's hard to view them with anything but respect.
AJ Styles had spent so much time in the likes of TNA and New Japan Pro-Wrestling that he was already teetering on the brink of greatness when he arrived in WWE in January 2016. Not too long into his run, he crossed that threshold of being too good to deny.
Triple H, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Roddy Piper are examples of legends who fans grew to adore too much to hate anymore. When was the last time you found yourself feeling mad at Ric Flair? And there's almost nothing The Rock could do today to get booed.
The same is the case with The Phenomenal One.
Styles can play the villain, as he did against The Undertaker for WrestleMania 36, but I and many other fans are still going to like his character. He's cocky but backs it up and never becomes too much of a coward to roll your eyes at.
Even against someone as beloved as Daniel Bryan, the WWE Universe will be split on who to cheer because The Phenomenal One is just so good that fans feel they need to back him whether he's a babyface or not.
Bayley's ever-smiling babyface character grew tiresome over the years, so there was a chance for some much-needed refreshment when she turned villain in September 2019. However, her heel act quickly became flat and uninteresting.
Her one great moment was destroying the Bayley Buddies. After that, she's done nothing worth getting invested in.
The change in hairstyle was questionable at best, her ring gear doesn't do anything to make me want to boo her, and her entrance music is as boring and generic as it gets.
I can't remember a single talking segment of hers in the past year having anything spicy to it. It's the same cookie-cutter heelspeak you can find on any bad indie wrestler's YouTube or Twitter promo videos.
There was a point in time when Bayley was severely underutilized, overlooked and underrated as a top-notch performer. Being a heel has not suited her and these past months have been arduous to sit through.
The endgame of Bayley vs. Sasha Banks can't come soon enough. It's a potential feud that has dragged on for too long without a worthwhile program along the way to help tell the story.
Her scripts, acting and presentation need some massive upgrades or Heel Bayley has to go.
Love to Hate: King Corbin
So many people seem to genuinely dislike King Corbin, but I'm one of the rare fans who thinks he's doing his job extremely well.
These days, everyone is so worried about being seen as a bad person in real life that there's a hesitancy to be too bad with their characters. It seems everyone wants to be the villain, but they will wink at the audience and make sure everyone is still buddies and knows it's all an act.
Whether it's his personality or dedication to his craft, Corbin seems to go the extra mile in carrying this attitude of not caring at all if anybody likes him.
His character has elements of the weasel archetype who backs down from fights, so you can't respect him, but he also has significant credibility to actually back up his words. Being able to win fights against Kurt Angle in his retirement match at WrestleMania 35 or topple Roman Reigns serves to underline that.
When Corbin says he's great, it's annoying that he's kind of right, so he can't be ignored as a delusional dolt. That's even more infuriating and makes it so much better when someone can shut him up.
The next time you're thinking about wishing he was released, give it some thought: Do you really dislike Thomas Pestock the performer, or are you falling victim to his heel trap and should be booing Corbin instead?
Love: Randy Orton and Others
How can anyone really dislike Cesaro? The man's strength is superhuman, and he is one of the most overlooked Superstars on the roster.
Every performance he gives screams, "This guy could be a world champion if he could find the right character." Unfortunately, he's not convincing enough as a bad guy to make me look past that and boo him. I just want him to keep wrestling great matches and win.
Sheamus was once one of my least favorite performers. Back when he was getting his initial push for his first few years in WWE, I couldn't stand how much he was being shoved down my throat.
Once that settled down, though, I grew to appreciate his work ethic and ability to find chemistry with people bigger and smaller than himself. Now, I'm so glad he's back from his injuries and wasn't forced to retire early that I find it hard to boo him.
Randy Orton is a great example of someone who skirts the line between "love to hate" and me just admitting I'm rooting for the bad guy.
The jerks on television shows (particularly reality programs) are often my favorites. My favorite Big Brother house guest is Dr. Will, Eric Cartman is the best South Park character, I love how everyone is awful on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Seinfeld and so on. In the same vein, Orton is just awesome.
Likewise, John Morrison and The Miz are so good at being obnoxious that they've always been favorites of mine, no matter whether they are heel or face.
Hate: Gentleman Jack Gallagher and Others
As an in-ring performer, Gentleman Jack Gallagher is phenomenal. He can outwrestle most of the roster and was a genuine highlight in the early days of 205 Live.
However, he's never worked well as a heel, and his current character—with those tattoos and the surly attitude—isn't captivating at all, nor as intimidating as intended.
Tony Nese also has to figure out something else other than counting his abs. That one trick stopped being enough to garner heat a long time ago.
Cameron Grimes, Kona Reeves, Joseph Conners, Eddie Dennis and Nina Samuels are fine in the ring, but they are all characters I can't find myself to dislike the way I'm supposed to. Rather, I just don't think they're interesting enough to boo.
Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir had more than enough time to develop personalities, too, but failed to be anything but bland lackeys for Shayna Baszler. I enjoyed segments better when they weren't involved and never felt any more heat with them being part of the action.
Lars Sullivan is someone I'm fine with having not seen in a long time. Nothing he did as a heel made me want to see him get taken down a peg; I just didn't want him to built up for a push and have to see more of him.
Love to Hate: Imperium and Others
Sami Zayn is the epitome of the weasel character in WWE today. He spews such garbage and runs away from every fight, but it's amazing how well he pulls it all off.
Each time he starts getting under someone's skin, it makes it so much sweeter when they eventually get their hands on him.
Brock Lesnar's contractual obligations are infuriating, but his on-screen character is wonderful. Alongside Paul Heyman, he knows how to be hated and put over any babyface willing to stand up to him.
Zelina Vega is the best manager in WWE today. Her confidence and rudeness exude heat, and she has successfully passed that onto both Andrade and Angel Garza to help them get over.
The IIconics play up their annoying characters so well that every time they open their mouths, it's worth waiting to see what shuts them up.
Sonya Deville has tapped into something great with her feud against Mandy Rose, as did Dakota Kai when she turned on Tegan Nox.
Grizzled Young Veterans (particularly Zack Gibson) are the types of characters everyone would want to take a swing at, which makes them perfect in their heel roles.
Damian Priest has a smugness that can't be denied, while Noam Dar is a fantastic little twerp.
Last, but certainly not least, is Imperium. Their militaristic style is so cold that it's like they're not even human. Since they rule over both NXT UK and the tag team division in NXT, it makes them seem like the "big bad" of the black-and-gold brand, and some Hulk Hogan-style hero needs to topple them somewhere down the line.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.