There were no storylines in Pro Wrestling for the Nintendo Entertainment System, beyond the ones you and your buddies would create for the six wrestlers it featured. But nearly everyone's status — good guy or bad, face or heel — was easily interpreted in how the character was presented.
Star Man was a face. The Amazon would assault you with a fork hidden in his/its pants, so he/it was definitely a heel. King Slender was a prototypical narcissist heel in the Ric Flair mould, along with Giant Panther and his ridiculous fake-bake tan.
There's one guy you could go either way on, though: Fighter Hayabusa, a basic-as-bread rassler with a boring brown trunks-and-boots getup and only one specialty move. No one played with him, at least among my friends. I was always with Amazon or Star Man, but if I was going to use an Asian grappler I preferred Kin Corn Karn (heel). If Karn kicks you in the corn, you ain't gonna have no kin.
Fighter Hayabusa was so generic even his alignment was in doubt. I guess he was a ... face? since so many of the others seemed to be heels. Garrett Martin, the games and comics editor of Paste, posed the question on Twitter yesterday and he sounded on the fence, too. Nick Chester, formerly of Destructoid, now a publicist for Harmonix, also had a hand in the early discussion (provoked by Stephen Totilo's discovery of a Star Man impersonator during the most recent Monday Night Raw.)
So I convened a panel of Nick, Garrett, myself, and Scott Burress of Operation Sports, to settle, in the 25th anniversary year of Pro Wrestling's North American release, the question of Fighter Hayabusa's temperament and disposition. Is he a face? Or is he a heel? Here's what everyone had to say.
Cold blooded warrior, jr.
To answer this question we'll have to unravel fact from fiction and account for cultural differences and prejudices. In Japan Hayabusa is clearly a face. He's based on Antonio Inoki, who's basically the most popular puroresu star of all time. Inoki's so important that he got to fight Muhammad Ali, which means he's on the same level as Superman. Considering his stature and the fact that Pro Wrestling came out during the last days of Inoki's dominance, it's surprising that the Inoki stand-in doesn't hold either the VWA or VWF championships at the start of the game. Perhaps that was changed for the American version. Inoki didn't compete regularly in America after the 1960s, but by the time the game was made it's difficult to imagine him appearing as anything over than a face, even in America. He was promoted as a respected foreign legend and special attraction during his sporadic US appearances in the 1980s.
But that's Inoki. We're talking about Hayabusa, and other than his appearance and finishing move there's no reason to think he's actually supposed to be Inoki. Although many Japanese wrestlers have worked as faces in America, the most memorable and successful have been heels. Even Americans of Asian descent historically have gotten over better as evil foreign menaces, such as Mr. Fuji and Professor Toru Tanaka. For a Japanese wrestler to be pushed heavily in America in the 1980s he pretty much would have to play a heel.
I see Hayabusa as a serious tough guy a la Harley Race, a no-nonsense, confident fighter who generally played it straight in the ring. He probably had a loud-mouth manager, though, a proven and hated heel to both brag for him and interfere when needed, and probably without Hayabusa even realising it. If Hayabusa was able to get over as a feared bad guy who retained a sense of honour, his inevitable face turn against his manager could have propelled him to the top. Or else he would have eventually given in to temptation and embraced blatant rule-breaking in order to succeed, intensifying his heel heat before eventually shuffling back to Japan after putting over any babyface who needed it.
So basically Hayabusa's like Bret Hart in 1997: It depends on what country he's in.
Verdict: 1/2 face, 1/2 heel.
A living karate tool
Fighter Hayabusa was always positioned as the hero or the face of Pro Wrestling — Nintendo makes him the default character when you first start up the game. And he's face-to-face with the frightening-looking Starman, who by comparison to Hayabusa's no-gimmick-at-all gimmick, comes across as a space- and time-travelling monster.
But I'm not buying it. There's something sinister about Hayabusa. He's like the seemingly innocuous neighbour who gives out the good candy on Halloween, but a stray dog digs up a ditch full of femurs in his backyard and the police find duffel bags full of heads in his basement. His specialty move essentially calls him on out on his "nice guy, hard fighting warrior of the people" bluff: it's the Back Brain Kick. Literally, Fighter Hayabusa will KICK YOU IN THE BACK OF THE HEAD without hesitation.
Attacks like this can and have killed people before. Starman's Somersault Kick is flashy, and it'll knock you down, but you'll be OK. Kin Corn Karn will sharp karate kick you to the floor, knocking the wind out of you, but that's about it. The Amazon's Pirahna Bite looks vicious because of all of that gushing blood, but sources tell me he's been tested rigorously and there's no risk of infection. A blunt kick to the back of the head? Have you seen how Hayabusa's opponents crumble to the ground following this maneuver? That's because they're death, or very well near it.
Verdict: Heel. All the way. Fighter Hayabusa is a merciless monster in and out of the ring, and he's not to be trusted.
Fighter Hayabusa is a heel. No question. First, his look. He's from Japan, but an angry looking Mobster with a nose that looks like Rocky punched it too many times. Adding to it, his finisher was a back brain kick ala Bad News Brown from the 1980s in the WWF. No face wrestler would have ever done that move in the United States. His nickname was Invincible Warrior, so he was also narcissistic.
Now for facts, he was based on Antonio Inoki in look and finisher, and Inoki was a monster face (Hulk Hogan-esqe) during the time frame that Pro Wrestling for the NES was released. Based on that, and how he was portrayed in the game, I'm thinking he's a heel to be different from the person he was modelled after. And seriously, look at him, he should have been named Vito Corleone, with a Mobster gimmick from Brooklyn. We would have embraced his gimmick then!
I wish this was as clear-cut as Mat Mania, where everyone was a heel and you were the only face. Well, Insane Warrior was more of a pathetic jobber, and Coco Savege (that is spelled correctly) just seemed misunderstood. But there was only one good guy, and that was you.
On Fighter Hayabusa I keep coming back to one distinguishing trait: He has a butt chin. Look at it, he has asscrack on his face. Butt chins are desirable. They're handsome. My brother has a butt chin, and I like my brother. Fighter Hayabusa, despite the dastardly back brain kick, struck me as a face the first time I saw him. Here, he's the first fighter offered, and they're not gonna give you the arsehole of the stable to start out, right?
But visit any phrenologist and they will tell you that butt chins are complex people capable of harbouring shocking secrets. My brother, for example, has a secret family in Cambodia. Nick, above, rightly suspects Fighter Hayabusa of being a serial killer. Know who else has a butt chin?
Now at first blush you might think, "Vince McMahon, the leader of the WWE/F: Heel." But remember, in the 1980s he was a babyface announcer taking abuse from Jesse Ventura. His heel turn came in the 1990s after the Montreal Screwjob and pretty much ended when the Attitude Era did. Whatever you think of him as the chief executive of the WWE, he's transitioned fully to face status.
So, much like Vince McMahon, my brother, and the proud legions of those with butt chins, there is more than meets the eye with Fighter Hayabusa.
Final tally: 2.5 Heel to 1.5 Face. Fighter Hayabusa is a heel. (Gee, thanks for splitting your vote, Garrett.)