Part of what has made WrestleMania so special goes beyond the matches. It’s those career-defining moments, the big surprises, the moments that are etched in your memory forever. One of the most enjoyable aspects of professional wrestling, when done right, is when a superstar undergoes a babyface or heel turn. A longtime fan favorite becomes despised, or a hated villain becomes a newfound hero. When these moments occur at WrestleMania, the significance is amplified to a greater degree. In 30 years of WrestleMania, several have happened, some forever immortalized. This list will revisit the top 10 face/heel turns in the history of the event. They will be ordered based on the moment itself, the success of that superstar’s subsequent turn and the impact it had on the WWE.
Mike Tyson Counts for Stone Cold – WrestleMania XIV:
Great moment, but a great turn? Tyson was part of the heel faction of DX, but only for a few weeks and was gone after WrestleMania. Best celebrity involvement? Possibly. Iconic? Yes. However, we’ll stick to wrestlers.
Trish Stratus Slaps Mr.McMahon – WrestleMania X-Seven
Trish Stratus slapping the most hated villain of the era was a slam dunk in terms of getting the great pop from the crowd. After months of being McMahon‘s mistress, then being humiliated at the hands of Vince and Stephanie McMahon, Stratus got retribution on the grandest stage at WrestleMania X-Seven. She slapped Vince in the middle of his street fight with his son Shane. It was a great moment, but Trish’s career as an active wrestler didn’t quite catapult from this moment. It took many months of mastering her craft before that happened, and she became the most beloved Women’s Champion of all time. Nevertheless, it was a great moment.
10. Andre the Giant Leaves the Bobby Heenan Family – WrestleMania VI
Andre the Giant‘s heel turn in 1987 had a far greater impact on the business, as it led to Andre vs. Hogan at WrestleMania III, but sticking to WrestleMania, his return to being a fan favourite at WrestleMania VI is still a fond moment.
Having been associated with perhaps the most hated villain in WWE, (albeit the most entertaining) for three years, Andre left the Skydome at WrestleMania VI with the audience embracing him once again. Following the Colossal Connection (Andre and Haku) losing their tag titles to Demoltion, Heenan scolded Andre, blaming him for the loss. After Heenan slapped the Giant, Andre grabbed the weasel by the throat and decked him. The Toronto gave the legend his due, fitting, as it was his last hurrah at a WrestleMania (not including a run-in he did the following year).
Unfortunately, Andre the Giant’s health was gradually declining due to his acromegaly disease. He eventually succumbed to congestive heart failure in 1993. Looking back, it had no great impact on the WWE, but it remains a nice moment seeing one of wrestling’s greatest legends leaving the squared circle to cheers.
9. Trish Stratus Turns on Chris Jericho – WrestleMania XX
The only female to make this list, Trish Stratus. After years of working as a face, Trish Stratus engaged in a romantic storyline with Chris Jericho. It all started with Jericho betting his buddy Christian one Canadian dollar that he could bed Trish before Christian could seduce Lita. While Trish found out about the bet, Jericho actually turned face, as it was revealed he had developed feelings for Trish. Christian berated his friend and turned on him.
At WrestleMania XX, Christian and Y2J had their grudge match. Trish came down to the ring, seemingly to help her new friend/romantic interest. It seemed Jericho and Stratus would reunite and share a WrestleMania kiss. However, Trish inadvertently cost Y2J the match (or so it seemed). Following Christian’s victory, Trish explained to Jericho it was an accident. All seemed to be forgiven, until… Whack! Trish slapped Jericho, allowing Christian to sneak in another killswitch. It was then revealed Trish and Christian had in fact become lovers and the two shared a lustful kiss leaving Jericho in disgust.
Stratus went on to have a successful heel run, adding new dimensions to her character. She had grown so much as an in-ring performer and her heel turn allowed her to take on new challenges in the divas division.
8. Kurt Angle Congratulates Brock Lesnar – WrestleMania XIX
Kurt Angle came into WrestleMania XIX as a heel champion taking on the rookie Brock Lesnar for the WWE championship. After a classic match, Angle shook Lesnar’s hand and raised it in victory with the title.
It was a very simple, but effective way to turn Angle face and it set the two up for several more great and compelling matches. Angle took a few months off to have neck surgery and when he came back, he and Lesnar built a friendship on screen, based on mutual respect.
Once Angle recaptured the title from Lesnar, Brock turned on his friend, siding with Mr. McMahon and the two had a great rematch at SummerSlam and a great Ironman match on SmackDown. It was a great program overall between the two and turning Angle face at WrestleMania opened the door for SmackDown to have one of the best feuds in the show’s history.
7. Mr. McMahon Turns on The Rock – WrestleMania 2000
The Fatal Four-Way elimination match, the main evented WrestleMania 2000, featured a McMahon in every corner. Vince came in on The Rock‘s side, in order to go up against his son-in-law Triple H, and his daughter Stephanie, who had turned on him a few months earlier. Mr. McMahon vowed he would, “make it right.”
Those words foreshadowed a shocking ending. Mr. McMahon turned on The Rock, allowing Triple H to retain his title and re-united with Stephanie and embraced his son-in-law. McMahon is at his best as a heel and the turn helped launch the WWE’s most successful business year, in 2000.
The Rock’s ongoing feud with Triple H and the McMahons helped set house show records, TV ratings records and PPV buy rates were sky high. The turn had it all; shock value, a great run for Vince as a heel again, and it did great business.
6. Triple H Leaves DX and Joins the Corporation – WrestleMania XV
Triple H made a risky career move that paid off at WrestleMania XV. Despite being the leader of the popular group, D-Generation X, he saw an opportunity to be the top heel in wrestling. A reunion with Chyna at WrestleMania appeared to be the reunion of DX, but it was all a ruse to kick Kane out of the Corporation and bring in Triple H.
Triple H cost his friend X-Pac the European title that night, joining the Corporation and beginning an incredible run as the most hated wrestler in the business (for the right reasons).
By the summer, Triple H captured the WWE title and went on to have career-making feuds with Mick Foley, The Rock and Stone Cold. It was a gutsy move by Triple H to turn heel, as he was an established mid-card babyface star, but with Austin and Rock as the most popular stars, Triple H saw the opening of the company’s top villain, (outside of Mr. McMahon), took it and ran with it.
When you look at Triple H’s career as a main eventer, you can credit his heel turn at WrestleMania XV for getting him there.
5. Bret Hart Begins Rise to the Top – WrestleMania IV
At WrestleMania IV, Bret Hart and Bad News Brown appeared to be sharing a victory in a Battle Royal, but Bad News turned on Hart, taking the trophy and prize money for himself. Hart then destroyed the trophy and gained the support of the crowd. The moment itself isn’t all that great, but the historical significance of it certainly is.
Hart’s run as a babyface began that night and it led to a slow, yet perhaps the most organic rise to the top the WWE has ever seen. He remained part of the Hart Foundation with Jim Neidhart, but once the group was split up, Hart took off as a singles star and kept becoming more and more popular with fans.
The WWE’s steroid scandal of 1992 and the departure of Hulk Hogan left them in need of a clean cut, grounded and realistic hero. Hart fit the bill, going on to win five WWE championships and the Intercontinental title and lead the WWE through their new generation.
He was never meant to be a top star, but this night at WrestleMania IV proved to be the start of him clawing up the ladder and going on to be one of the most beloved superstars in history.
4. Hulkamania Runs Wild Again – WrestleMania X-8
Following Hulk Hogan‘s ugly divorce with WWE in the early 90s, it seemed he’d never enter a WWE ring again. It also looked like wrestling fans would never embrace him again, the world of sports entertainment seemingly having passed him by. How wrong we were.
Hogan returned to WWE as part of the nWo. He was slated to face The Rock at WrestleMania X-8 as a heel, but building up to the event, despite the dastardly things Hogan did and said, Hulkamania was reborn at WrestleMania.
Hogan came out to the Skydome to massive cheers, as nostalgia consumed the Toronto crowd, wanting to see the Hulkster emerge victorious on the grand stage, even if it meant beating The Rock.
Hogan hulked up during the match, but his true babyface turn to those watching around the world came after the match. He shook The Rock’s hand, congratulating him on his victory. Hogan’s nWo buddies came out and turned on Hogan, prompting The Rock to make the save. Hogan then did the iconic poses for all his Hulkamaniacs and once again became a fan favourite. Man, what a WrestleMania moment that was.
Hogan then went on to have a short, but successful farewell run as a top babyface through 2002, putting over younger stars and allowing fans to refuel their inner Hulkamaniac.
3. Stone Cold Steve Austin Sells Out to Mr.McMahon – WrestleMania X-Seven
The most shocking turn on this list lands the third spot. Facing The Rock for the WWE title at WrestleMania X-Seven in perhaps the greatest main event in the show’s history, Austin did the unthinkable. He enlisted the help of his longtime arch nemesis Mr. McMahon to defeat The Rock and recapture the title, having lost it a year and a half earlier.
Fans didn’t quite know why McMahon was helping Austin win until after the match, when the Texas Rattlesnake sold his soul to Mr.McMahon, cementing it with a handshake and sharing a beer with, as Jim Ross said, “Satan himself!”
The moment is also what many consider to be the end of the Attitude Era, as it put an stop to going up against authority, with the fans’ hero selling them out.
Why isn’t it no.1? Well, because Austin’s subsequent heel run wasn’t so successful. While he held the title for most of 2001, he was never quite able to be the hated heel he wanted to be. Fans didn’t want to boo him. If anything, the Houston crowd was still happy to see him win at WrestleMania and afterwards, fans still weren’t ready to hate Austin.
Still the moment is well done and unforgettable, even if the aftermath wasn’t as successful as Austin and the company had hoped it would be.
2. Macho Man Randy Savage and Elizabeth Reunite – WrestleMania VII
When an established legend turns babyface, fans are rarely reluctant to embrace them. Savage‘s face turn and reunion with Miss Elizabeth at WrestleMania VII remains the most heart-warming moment in the show’s history.
Following his loss in a retirement match against the Ultimate Warrior, the heel Macho King Randy Savage was attacked by Queen Sherri. Miss Elizabeth came to the rescue for her former love.
After a long staredown and the crowd begging for the two to embrace, they did. Professional wrestling’s first couple reunited, bringing the LA Sports Arena to tears and cheers, something wrestling is rarely able to pull off. Even watching the moment 23 years later still leaves you with a smile on your face.
Savage’s ‘retirement’ didn’t last, as he returned to the ring in late 1991 and won the WWE title for a second time at WrestleMania VIII from Ric Flair. Savage would never turn heel again in WWE and fans never stopped loving the late legend.
Macho Man and Elizabeth truly were the best couple in the history of professional wrestling. The emotions of the crowd says it all in this moment.
1. The Stone Cold/Bret Hart Double Turn – WrestleMania 13
This remains not only the greatest turn in WrestleMania history, but perhaps the greatest in wrestling history, period. The double turn which occurred at WrestleMania 13 is something that will perhaps never be duplicated again. I can’t see anyone pulling this off with the aftermath being as successful as it was.
After months of being screwed at the hands of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bret Hart met his foe at WrestleMania in a submission match. After an incredible brawl between the two, Hart clamped on the Sharpshooter on a bloody Stone Cold. Austin fought it as long as he could, never giving up. The crowd got behind him, but Austin passed out from the pain, giving Hart the win.
Hart, with no remorse, kept attacking Austin after the match, attracting jeers from the crowd. Austin was cemented as a top babyface. He was still a badass and certainly not a traditional babyface, but his toughness, his courage and his never-say-die spirit led the fans to embrace him and turned the more traditional babyface Hart into a villain (in the United States).
While King of the Ring was the birth of Austin 3:16, this match made Stone Cold. A classic match, followed by an amazing double-turn, which launched one man as the top star in professional wrestling. This was as perfect a match as you’ll ever see and has forever set the bar in how to make a star. It defines WrestleMania and it is undoubtedly the best turn ever.