Fan favorites have no purpose without them. They’re what makes a wrestling program gripping. They’re the guys who are spectacular performers, yet know how to get all fans to hate their guts. They’re what drives a feud, and without them, wrestling would get boring pretty fast. They are of course, the villains of wrestling, heels.
Every babyface in wrestling needs a good heel to rival, or else the babyface gets stale fast and the company doesn’t make money. While the heels don’t technically sell seats, pay-per-views or merchandise to the extent babyfaces do, their presence is still essential in garnering interest. Imagine Batman without the Joker. Imagine Star Wars without Darth Vader. Villains are often times more interesting than protagonists, and the great ones in wrestling make you hate them so much you want to pay to see them get what’s coming to them.
Here are the top 10 heels in WWE history. This list isn’t limited to wrestlers. Managers or authority figures make great heels as well and could be a great driving force in a storyline. Remember, this is just WWE history, so you won’t see Hollywood Hulk Hogan, or even Ric Flair on this list, as their great heel work came in WCW.
10) Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho‘s versatility is hard to match. He not only can he play both a babyface and a heel extraordinarily well, but he can play both in many different ways.
He can be a goofy loudmouth type of heel, or he can be the heel we saw towards the end of his second WWE run, from 2008 up until 2010 when he left for about 18 months.
He remained a flamboyant, obnoxious heel for most of his tenure, until he left in 2005. His masterful work as a villain would come during his feud with Shawn Michaels in 2008. Calling his hero a hypocrite and a coward, Jericho’s feud with HBK became personal very fast.
Jericho also quickly dissolved into a narcissistic sociopath, speaking very slowly, in a cold tone, saying he had outgrown his former self and had outgrown his fans. He pulled it off beautifully and it was arguably his best career work.
9) Shawn Michaels
While Shawn Michaels made for a great babyface at his seasoned age, many forget how great of a heel he was earlier on in his career. They also don’t realize that he wasn’t all that effective as a babyface, particularly in the mid ’90s. Sure, he was still without question the greatest performer in the business, but his prima donna character (real or kayfabe) didn’t really mesh well with the male portion of the audience. He was a far better heel, as demonstrated when he first turned on Marty Janetty and then again with DX in the stable’s early stages, which ran from the summer of 1997 right up until WrestleMania XIV where he put Stone Cold over.
His brief heel turn in 2005 as part of his feud with Hulk Hogan was a stark reminder of how great the Heartbreak Kid was as a villain. The promo he cut on the Montreal crowd shown here shows you just how easily he can wrap a crowd around his finger.
8) Jake The Snake Roberts
Jake the Snake Roberts never had to raise his voice to get his point across. His eerily calm and calculated tone was all he needed to sell himself as a dastardly heel.
Roberts’ first major feud in the WWE was with Ricky Steamboat in 1986, when Roberts delivered a DDT to the Dragon on the concrete floor right in front of his wife. He then rested his snake on the helpless Steamboat.
The feud went on to last the rest of the year and both men have stated it is among their favorite feuds. Roberts eventually turned face due to increasing support from fans.
He wouldn’t turn heel again until 1991, where he joined forces with The Undertaker against the Ultimate Warrior. He betrayed Warrior and capped it off by saying, “never trust a snake.” Roberts would feud with Randy Savage, who had reunited with Miss Elizabeth, ruining their wedding celebration by putting a snake in their gift box.
As Roberts continually tried to terrorize Elizabeth, Undertaker eventually broke off from Roberts, setting up a feud between the two for WrestleMania. This helped Undertaker get over as a babyface in a huge way and Roberts further cemented himself as an effective heel.
7) CM Punk
Whether CM Punk was playing the straight edge savior, or simply aligning himself with Paul Heyman and antagonizing the crowd. Punk would be the first to admit that he’s kind of a jerk, and his onscreen character highlighted it beautifully.
He was the WWE’s best performer in his time as a heel, from cutting his pipe bomb promo in 2011, to the work he did while he was champion for 434 days, as he loved to point that out every week.
He was a great heel for John Cena to work with as well, and it helped Cena regain some of the edge he had lost in his character, as he finally had a worthy heel to go up against. That’s the sign of a truly great heel, one than can elevate performance of the babyface.
6) Superstar Billy Graham
Susperstar Billy Graham was an important heel in the WWE’s history. Bruno Sammartino was champion for so long with so much success. However, after Graham ended Sammartino’s second title reign, he proved having a heel as champion could be just as, if not more effective for business. As we’ve seen time and time again, there’s interest in a babyface chasing a heel champion, making the payoff sweet when the heel loses.
Graham sold out 19 of 20 events at Madison Square Garden in his 10-month run as WWE champion. Coming down to the ring in bleach blonde hair, feather boas and an impressive physique, he was a pioneer for heels after him. He proved that heels can do big business if they’re great at what they do.
5) Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
How can the greatest manager in history not make it? Managers have long been proven to draw heat for their clients. They’re the mouthpieces for the wrestlers they manage and Bobby the Brain Heenan constantly was able to draw heat and not only make fans want to see babyfaces defeat his clients, but to get a piece of Heenan too!
Heenan managed the likes of Andre the Giant, Rick Rude and Mr. Perfect. He not only was a great heel manager, but then became a great heel announcer alongside Gorilla Monsoon. Heenan was always a real obnoxious a-hole on screen, but damned if he wasn’t entertaining.
4) Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase
Ted DiBiase sure gave credence to the notion that money is the root of all evil. Imagine a wealthy man telling you right to your face that he could buy and sell someone like you any time he wanted, and then constantly doing it to others. Imagine him always taunting you with his wealth and telling you you’re nothing, because you don’t have the fortune he does.
DiBiase’s character was created by Vince McMahon, essentially with McMahon envisioning what he would be like if he had been a wrestler, as was his first dream.
A highlight moment was DiBiase offering a youngster from the audience $500 if he could dribble a basketball 15 times. On the 14th dribble, DiBiase kicked the ball away, and called the boy a loser.
DiBiase also humiliated all his opponents by stuffing $100 bills in their mouths every time he would defeat them. How could you not despise a man like that? How satisfying was it for fans when a babyface would knock off DiBiase?
3) Triple H
Whether as a wrestler, or now as an authority figure, Triple H has always been an effective heel, easily among the best in history.
His role was crucial as he came into his prime when Stone Cold and The Rock were the undisputed top babyfaces in the wrestling industry. Having a great heel to feud with was essential for those two, particularly for The Rock when Stone Cold was out of action through most of 2000 with a neck injury.
As part of the McMahon/Helmsley era, Triple H really stepped up to a whole new level as a bad guy. He ended Mick Foley‘s in-ring career, cementing him as a force to be reckoned with and he was the perfect opponent for The Rock.
Nicknamed the Cerebral Assassin, there were no lows Triple H wouldn’t stoop to in order to win or keep his title. The 13-time champion committed heinous acts, be it in or out of matches, to eliminate his competition.
He orchestrated a plot to run over Stone Cold, turned on his best friend Shawn Michaels and formed Evolution in 2003, all as a plan to stay on top as long as possible. Now as the COO, he plays a villainous, fictionalized version of himself on WWE programming and he continues to show how great of a heel he is.
Adding fuel to the fire is the perception of Triple H the person from fans. For years, fans have seen him as an entitled, overrated star who married the boss’s daughter and held young talent back through backstage politics all to remain on top. Well, whatever the truth is, it works on screen.
2) Rowdy Roddy Piper
Hulkamania’s good guy act would’ve fizzled out pretty quickly if he didn’t have a villain like Rowdy Roddy Piper to overcome.
Piper’s dastardly acts as a heel are every bit as enraging as they were in his heyday, including bullying a little person on Piper’s Pit and cracking a coconut over Jimmy Snuka’s head.
He headlined the first WrestleMania alongside Paul Orndorff against Hogan and Mr. T. Piper was the perfect counter for the ultimate hero that was Hulk Hogan. It’s what helped the WWE take off into a boom period.
1) Vince McMahon
Don’t say anything about the Mr. McMahon character not being a full-time wrestler. The bottom line is, no heel was more effective than Vince McMahon. His feud with Austin cemented the fact that a babyface needs the perfect antagonist. The fact that he indeed is the owner and chairman of the WWE made it that much better and more believable.
McMahon’s demented, ego-maniacal billionaire persona was the perfect compliment to the blue-collared rebellious Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Plus, look at the evil acts McMahon committed, He had his own daughter kidnapped in order to goad Austin into a trap. He sedated his wife Linda for months and openly cheated on her while doing so. He mocked those with less than him and was the biggest bully you’ll ever see on a wrestling show. He made people literally kiss his bare ass to keep their jobs. He even had the audacity to say he was greater than God!
His run as a villain all started with his real-life conspiracy that is known as the Montreal Screwjob. While trying to pin the blame on Bret Hart with his infamous “Bret screwed Bret” speech, fans instead saw him as a heartless chairman, as the devil himself.
He would relish that role for years and years. Whenever a babyface needed a great program or a boost in their career, they would simply work a program with McMahon and were instantly elevated. It was so easy for fans to get behind anybody opposing McMahon. He’s among the greatest performers in the history of the business and he was unquestionably the best heel.
He made every fan relate to their real life. Every person who has to put up with crap from their boss in order to provide for their family. Seeing him knocked off his pedestal was always a sweet sight and it allowed fans to live vicariously through WWE programming. No one else ever generated emotions as powerful as Mr. McMahon.