Turning a good guy into a bad guy can be a great way to reinvigorate a character.
When Hulk Hogan turned on WCW at the Bash at the Beach and became Hollywood Hogan, it shot new life into a stale character. Hogan was getting booed at arenas everywhere leading up to his heel turn, but when the WCW changed the character, he became a red-hot bad guy (and the focal point of pro-wrestling once again).
On the other hand, when a heel turn is performed poorly, it can be groan-inspiring at best and channel-changing at worst. Sometimes turning a character heel requires a wrestler being forced to do something outside of the norm, we just can’t buy into them as a bad guy. In WCW, they seemed to just turn guys from face to heel (and vice versa) just for the sake of having surprises on that particular show.
On the other hand, a heel turn can breathe new life into a stale character, and sometimes it just breathes terribleness into a character that had been doing just fine. These are 15 stories of heel turns gone wrong:
15 “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan - Joins Team Canada
For years, the lovable “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan waved the American flag and led crowds in chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” The gimmick worked so long that naturally Vince Russo felt compelled to completely ruin it.
Duggan had been assigned to referee a match between the leader of the “Team Canada” faction Lance Storm and the leader of the “Misfits in Action” group Hugh G. Rection. Naturally, the crowd thought that Duggan would favor the American-born wrestler over the Canadian patriot. Duggan turned heel, however, helping Storm win the match. Duggan then joined Team Canada in their feud with the MIA, shaving his beard and singing “Oh Canada” instead of shouting his trademark “Hooo!”
WCW only had a few months to live past this point.
14 Jim Ross - 1998 Heel Turn
Vince McMahon tried to turn Jim Ross heel twice; once in 1996 when JR was the force behind the fake Diesel and Razor Ramon coming into the company, and again in 1998. While each heel turn was horrible in its own right, we are giving the nod to the 1998 heel turn as having been particularly terrible.
Ross had left TV in 1998 as a result of suffering another attack of Bell’s palsy, leaving his face partially paralyzed. When Ross returned in early 1999, however, he accused Michael Cole of trying to steal his job and kicked him in the groin during a segment on Monday Night Raw. Ross would align himself with “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, and set up his own broadcast table at ringside.
The storyline was quickly dropped, as the fans were happy Ross was back and even cheered him over Michael Cole. Ross resumed his commentary duties for the WWE at WrestleMania XV.
13 Rikishi - “I did it for the Rock”
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin was run over in the parking lot at Survivor Series 1999, and as a result, was knocked out of action for nine months. In reality, Austin needed to take time off to have neck surgery, stemming from injuries that occurred during a botched piledriver back at SummerSlam 97.
For almost a year nobody knew who had been the mystery driver that ran Austin over. Much speculation led to it having been The Rock, but this was never proven. Mick Foley was the Commissioner during this period, and was leading the investigation. Finally, after almost a year after the incident occurred, Commissioner Foley revealed on RAW that it had not been the Rock who ran over Austin, but it had been the Rock’s family member Rikishi.
Rikishi admitted he was the driver, and said that the Rock had no role in the attack. Rikishi’s tag line regarding the incident was “I did it for the Rock,” as his motivation was to keep Austin from challenging the Rock. Rikishi would then have some forgettable matches with Austin and the Rock, before falling back down to mid-card status.
12 Matt Hardy - Turns on Jeff At Royal Rumble 2009
Brother on brother feuds are tough. Bret Hart and Owen Hart pulled it off, but you would be hard-pressed to find many other examples.
One example of it not working is Matt and Jeff Hardy in 2009. Matt was coming off being the ECW champion, after having lost that title to Jack Swagger early on during the Royal Rumble card. Later in the night Matt Hard interfered in a match between Jeff and Edge, allowing Edge (the guy who had an affair with Lita a few years back) to win the WWE Championship.
Matt stated that he was tired of sharing the spotlight with Jeff, and that he had actually been the one behind a series of “accidents” that had been occurring in Jeff’s life at the time (including a pyro accident that left him with burns, and his house burning down).
Nobody really bought it, though. Matt defeated Jeff at WrestleMania, but shortly after, Matt was drafted to RAW while Jeff remained on SmackDown. The family feud didn’t last more than a few months.
11 Linda McMahon - Fires Jim Ross
Ross has been fired from the WWE in and out of story lines numerous times. In 2005, Vince decided to let his wife in on the fun.
Linda McMahon, wife of Vince McMahon, has appeared on camera sporadically throughout the years. When she does pop up, however, it is usually to prevent Vince or Stephanie McMahon from doing something particularly heinous. She was seen as the rational, good and centered voice of reason in the McMahon family.
In 2005, however, Linda had all she could take. Steve Austin, who had retired by this point, was making sporadic appearances for the company and giving out Stunners, whenever the moment felt right. One such occurrence happened on the October 3rd episode of RAW, when Linda found herself victim of a Stone Cold Stunner, something Austin did to Shane McMahon, Vince, and Stephanie just minutes before.
Linda was irate the next week on RAW and turned heel on J.R., publicly firing him and then giving him a low blow. In reality, J.R. needed to take time off for colon surgery. Linda never had the same kind of stage presence that Vince or her children did, so they never really followed up on her heel turn.
10 Tatanka - Joins Dibiase’s Million Dollar Corporation
Tatanka originally debuted under his real name Chris Chavis in 1991. He would eventually rediscover his Native American roots and adopt the name “Tatanka” whilst adorning more traditional Native American attire. From there, Tatanka would be a solid mid-carder for a few years, feuding with names like Rick Martel and Shawn Michaels.
In 1994, however, Tatanka began accusing Lex Luger (the All-American Lex Luger at this point) of having sold-out to the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. Tatanka would then reveal it was actually he who had sold out to DiBiase at SummerSlam 1995, attacking Lex Luger and joining the Million Dollar Corporation.
The turn reduced Tatanka from a mid-to-top of the card babyface to a bottom-of-the-card heel. He became the guy in DiBiase’s stable who would lose to names like Luger, and later Bam Bam Bigelow. Tatanka was out of WWE by 1996, opting to leave the WWE and turning down an offer from the WCW in favor of working a lighter schedule on the independent scene.
9 Sapphire - Turns on Dusty Rhodes
When Dusty Rhodes debuted in the WWF, he was portrayed as the American every-man, a blue-collar man that represented the hardworking people all across the land.
Sapphire, real name Juanita Wright, was shown in the crowd during Dusty Rhodes matches and was portrayed as his real-life biggest fan. She then began to manage Rhodes, and the two would wear matching polka dot outfits. Sapphire was the “Every Woman” to go along with Rhodes’ “Every Man.”
In April 1990, vignettes started to show Sapphire receiving mystery gifts from a secret admirer, one that would be revealed at SummerSlam in August. During the event, Dusty was shown in the back looking for Sapphire, only for DiBiase to reveal that Sapphire was with him - and that he had been the mystery admirer. A distraught Rhodes lost a quick match to Randy Savage that night.
In the weeks that followed Sapphire was shown in vignettes doing tasks for DiBiase, such as ironing his money (money really shouldn’t have crinkles). Sapphire would be gone from the WWF a short while later. It is rumored that Sapphire was a huge Dusty Rhodes fan in real life, and found it hard to be interested in wrestling when their pairing was over.
8 Lita - 2005 Heel Turn
Lita had been a red-hot babyface from 2000 to 2005. After having debuted alongside Essa Rios, she would become the 3rd member of Team Xtream, along with the Hardy Boyz. During this time. Lita began a relationship with Matt Hardy. The relationship would end in 2005 after Lita begun having an affair with Edge. The affair became public after Matt called into a WWE radio show that Lita was on and talked about her affair.
Following the incident, Matt Hardy was fired from WWE, though they would hire him back shortly after due to fans chanting for him at live events. The WWE turned the affair between Edge and Lita into a story line, turning Lita heel and pairing the two together. The most infamous moment between the two occurred the night after Edge won the WWE title, as they engaged in a “Live Sex Celebration” segment, which garnered monster ratings.
Despite the ratings success, many fans saw the Edge-Lita saga as a low-point for the WWE, since it played off the real-life personal lives of those involved. Lita would never turn face again before her retirement at the Survivor Series in 2006.
7 Bob Backlund - Snaps In 1992
Bob Backlund had been a huge star for the WWF prior to Vince McMahon Jr. taking over from Vince Sr. At the time Vince Jr. took over, Backlund was the WWF Champion, but Vince wanted to put the belt on the man he saw as the future of wrestling, Hulk Hogan.
Hogan was coming off of his appearance in the movie Rocky 3, and had previously been wrestling in the AWA. Backlund refused to lose the title to Hogan, stating he would only lose the belt to someone with an amateur wrestling background. The Iron Sheik, who competed in the 1968 Olympics, was chosen to be the one to defeat Backlund, and Hogan would beat the Sheik shortly after.
Backlund returned to the WWF in 1992, and was booked in another WWF Championship match, this time against champion Bret Hart. Hart defeated Backlund on an episode of Superstars and offered a handshake to Bob after the match. Backlund repeatedly refused the handshake from the champion and then “snapped,” attacking Bret. After the attack, Backlund, shocked by what he had just done, would stare at his hands in disbelief. This trend would continue for Backlund and eventually he was portrayed as being completely out of his mind, even teasing that he was going to run for President- something Hulk Hogan would also do a few years later.
6 Sergeant Slaughter - Iraqi Sympathizer
During the lead-up to the first Gulf War, Vince McMahon decided to turn a real-life situation into a wrestling angle. Sgt. Slaughter had been a fan-favorite during his early run in the WWF, but had left the territory in order to be able to sign a deal with Hasbro, the makers of GI Joe. Slaughter would appear on the GI Joe cartoon occasionally, and have his own GI Joe action figure.
Slaughter wrote Vince McMahon a letter after WrestleMania VI saying that he enjoyed the product, and Vince made him an offer to come back under one condition: he would have to turn against America.
Slaughter would cut promos about how much he admired Saddam Hussein, and how the USA was too “cowardly” to go to war. Slaughter gladly showed off a pair of boots that he claimed had been given to him by Hussein. Vince asked Slaughter to burn an American flag on television, but Slaughter refused, so instead they showed him burning a Hulk Hogan t-shirt. It is said that Slaughter received death threats during this time, and needed to wear a bulletproof vest in public.
The heel turn was to build towards a match against Hulk Hogan in the main event of WrestleMania. The angle, while having left a lasting memory in the minds of fans, was a big flop. The ticket sales for the event were so far below expectations that they actually had to change venues from the LA Memorial Coliseum to the lesser-capacity Sports Arena, so that the show wouldn’t look so sparsely attended.
5 Sting - WCW September 1999
Let me properly set the stage for you:
It is September of 1999, WCW is sinking fast and trying to pull out all the stops. One of those stops was returning Hollywood Hulk Hogan to his old red and yellow attire and turning him face. That had basically fizzled out during this period, but nobody bothered to mention it. Evidently, the WCW felt they needed some strong heels to feud with good guy Hogan, and having had success turning big-name good guys into big-name bad guys before, they decided to give it a shot with Sting.
Sting turned heel and aligned with DDP and Lex Luger against Hulk Hogan on Sept. 9, 1999 edition of Nitro. But the story line didn’t go too far, as shortly after the debacle, Vince Russo was brought in to “right the ship” of WCW. Russo came in and flipped everything upside down and Sting was a face again soon after.
The fans never bought Sting as a heel and nobody ever tried to make him one again.
4 Goldberg - WCW Great American Bash 2000
WCW was already dead at this point; they just didn’t know it yet. After Ted Turner sent Eric Bischoff home to sit out the remainder of his contract they brought in Vince Russo to help improve the show. Vince Russo did not improve the product (he did not do so in the slightest). After Russo didn’t work out, WCW decided,“why not take two people who didn’t work out and make them work together ... surely that will work right?”
The result was that Bischoff and Russo booked themselves as the leaders of the new heel group The New Blood. The New Blood would feud with a group named The Millionaires Club, made up of all-star veterans on the roster. Russo and Bischoff evidently felt like they needed a “big surprise” at the Great American Bash in 2000, so they tried to turn Goldberg heel. Goldberg speared Kevin Nash to help Jeff Jarrett win the World Title in the main event. The fans didn’t buy it, and Goldberg turned face and started feuding with Russo a few months later. WCW would officially be dead within a year.
3 Michael Cole - Heel Announcer
During 2010, the GM duties of RAW had been turned over to the “Anonymous GM,” who would announce decisions via email. A computer was set up at ringside and a tone was played every time an email from the GM was received. Being the play-by-play commentator Michael Cole became the defacto “voice of the GM.” Cole would read the emails smugly, using the phrase “And I quote..” before delivering the message. The fans began to really turn on Cole, and he started to be used more in story lines. Cole would feud with Jerry Lawler, even costing him a Ladder Match for the WWE Championship. Lawler and Cole would meet at WrestleMania XXVII, and although it appeared that Lawler had won the match, the Anonymous RAW GM sent an email explaining that Lawler had been disqualified.
There was nothing wrong with how Cole played the heel; the issue was that he was still doing the play-by-play commentary, so the entire show had his annoying heel tone to it. Fans complained that the heel announcer angle went on far too long.
Finally in 2012, after Jerry Lawler suffered a heart attack during a live broadcast, Cole was turned face again after fans appreciated how he handled the situation.
2 Stone Cold Steve Austin - WrestleMania X-7
It just didn’t make any sense.
After winning his 3rd Royal Rumble in January of 2001, Austin was set to meet the Rock in the main event of WrestleMania for a second time. The first time the two met in the main event of WrestleMania was at WrestleMania 15, when the Rock was “the Corporate Champion” and aligned himself with the McMahon family while Austin was the anti-establishment hell raiser.
This time, both were good-guys heading into the match. During the match, Vince McMahon came down to ringside and prevented the Rock from getting the pin on Austin. Vince then gave Austin a chair who used it to beat down the Rock and get the pin.
After the match Austin toasted McMahon with a foamy beer, in a moment that seemed far too out of character for “Stone Cold” fans to buy.
It got even worse in the months following WrestleMania. Austin, the man who for years had given Stunners to anybody he considered “corporate,” started sucking up to Vince and giving him gifts. Austin would tease a face-turn during the Invasion angle, but ultimately stayed heel by turning on WWE and Vince (who was now a face). After the Invasion ended, Austin turned face again by aligning with the returning Ric Flair to go up against Vince and Kurt Angle.
1 NWO Wolfpac - The “Finger-Poke of Doom”
This moment will go down as one of, if not the worst, moments in the history of WCW.
The New World Order had been divided into 2 factions: NWO Hollywood (Black and White) and NWO Wolfpac (Red and Black). The Wolfpac were the good guys and consisted of Nash, Luger, Sting (now with red face paint), Konnan, and briefly Randy Savage. The main NWO Hollywood guys were Scott Steiner, Giant, Buff Bagwell and a few others. Hogan had “kayfabe” retired and was absent for a few months (once even teasing a Presidential run) leaving Scott Steiner as the new leader of the Black and White.
The heel turned occurred on Nitro the night after Starccade, where Kevin Nash, with the help of Scott Hall, ended Goldberg’s streak and was now the World Champion. That night on Nitro, Miss Elizabeth had made allegations of assault against Goldberg, which caused him to get arrested for a brief time and not be at the building to prevent a title match between Nash and Hogan from occurring.
In the title match between Nash and Hogan, Hogan just gently tapped Nash in the chest with his finger and Nash fell to the mat, allowing Hogan to pin him. They both jumped up and revealed that they had all been in it together, and the NWO Wolfpac and NWO Hollywood would merge together to take on Goldberg. The segment degraded the title and instilled the idea to viewers that WCW was just going to keep presenting the same recycled storylines to them. Many view the finger-poke of doom to have been the beginning of the end for WCW.