Who is the best heel wrestler of all time? got me thinking recently. From Kelsey in Johnson City, Tennessee: WWE was setting up Braun Strowman as a truly frightening MONSTER heel, but now they’ve humanized him so I guess he’s a babyface now. The best heel wrestler will often break the rules or will exhibit appalling personality traits.
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The original Sheik immediately comes to mind on my list as the best heel wrestler. Ed Farhat terrorized Detroit for a generation, and his long and bloody wars with Bobo Brazil (and others) are legendary. But I’ve been watching wrestling for a long time, and two other guys stand out to me as the best heel wrestler … probably because I saw them both when I was very young.
The Mongolian Stomper was absolutely terrifying to me when I was a kid. Canadian tough guy Archie Gouldie wouldn’t talk on camera when he portrayed the Stomper in the Southern NWA territories, working on top in bloody brawls against babyfaces like Ron Fuller, Bob Armstrong, Austin Idol, etc. One of my favorite things is when an aging Stomper turned babyface and revealed he could talk. He became the trainer for Austin Idol until Ric Flair paid the Stomper to turn on Idol in a memorable angle in 1983. The setup: Idol had pinned Flair six weeks prior and was training furiously for a rematch with the NWA world’s champion, and Flair sent in a promo claiming he had found the “cure for Idolmania.” Here’s the segment in its entirety.
But THE greatest and best heel wrestler I ever saw in person was Jos LeDuc.
What made LeDuc truly terrifying is that he would often adopt a low-key, serious promo style, where he talked in a reasonable manner. But then when the lumberjack lost it, look out … when LeDuc showed up on TV, you had to watch him, because the moment that he snapped, something memorable was going to happen. It also helped that he was a legitimate strongman, doing feats of strength like pulling city buses. He was a big man, not so tall but around 300 pounds in the early 1980s. Working the Southern territories where the babyfaces were often under six feet and sometimes barely 200 pounds, LeDuc came off as especially vicious. Becoming the crazy, monster heel also extended his career. He’d spent several years in the 1970s as a babyface, especially in Florida for Eddie Graham. He was absolutely over as an ass-kicking babyface until he turned on Jimmy Garvin in 1979. For the next 10 years, LeDuc played crazy–and it worked. He drew money everywhere he went, but mainly stayed in the South. My favorite LeDuc moment was an unplanned spot where he heaves Jerry Lawler over the top rope and onto a table near ringside. I wanna say *at* ringside, but that wouldn’t do the spot justice. LeDuc hurls Lawler like he’s going for gold in the Olympic King-tossing event.
Jos LeDuc breaks Jerry Lawler's leg by throwing him over the top-rope into the announce desk. pic.twitter.com/8WeTjEr9Em
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) May 18, 2017
The bump broke Lawler’s leg. That was one of the things that made LeDuc frightening, though: He was so strong that if he wanted to do something, he generally did it. Oh, and when I tell you that LeDuc was scary–I mean for real scary–take a look at him swearing a blood oath to get Jerry Lawler in the Memphis Coliseum. It’s one of the most intense interviews I’ve ever seen in 40+ years of watching wrestling.
By the late 1980s, LeDuc was in the WWE, being managed by Frenchy Martin. But he was past his prime then and nowhere near the monster heel wrestler that had terrorized babyfaces across the country. After a tour with FMW in Japan in 1989, LeDuc retired from the ring except for a one-off tag team match with Phil Hickerson against Jerry Lawler and Jimmy Valiant in 1995. LeDuc suffered from diabetes later in life and died on May 1, 1999 after developing a lung infection. He was 54 years old.
Ray, from Los Angeles, asks about African-Americans and world titles: “You guys said Ron Simmons was the first Black man to hold a significant world heavyweight title. What about Bearcat Wright?”
What about him? Bearcat Wright held the WWA “world” title for Mike LeBell in Los Angeles. Of course, LA is a major media market, so you could absolutely make the argument for him. There’s also the fact that Freddie Blassie defended the WWA title in Japan, so it’s certainly more of a “world title” than, say, Dick the Bruiser’s Indianapolis-based WWA title. But–BUT–LeBell’s WWA title was created when he pulled out of the NWA. Up until then, the top title in LA was the Americas championship. Maybe it’s old-school, but for me, the touring champions were the “real” world title holders back in the day. To shoehorn the WWA into “world” title status would be like trying to recognize Tom Prichard’s 1988 CWF championship reign as a world title run. As much as I like Tom, that title wasn’t a world championship.