During the '70s, '80s, and '90s, wrestling fans often went with the flow: They almost always cheered for the faces and never gave an ounce of respect for the top heels. That is exactly how wrestling gurus like Vernge Gagne and Vince McMahon wanted it, and that's what they got.
However, during the Attitude Era and after WCW was bought out by the WWE, fans started to give themselves more power. Suddenly, being a "face" didn't buy all the fans love and cheers. And no matter how hard the villains tried to insult the fans and draw the hatred towards themselves, it wasn't working. The fans loved the wrestlers for their past and current contributions. The rare fans would simply cheer for the heels. Maybe they knew them personally or were like those guys in real-life. Either way, there are definitely more fans cheering for the bad guy and turning on the good guy.
But some crowd shifting emotions stood out more than others. Here are eight heels and eight faces who got the opposite reaction they ended to get from the fans.
16 Heel Cheered: nWo, 2002 No Way Out
Just a short amount of months after Vince McMahon bought out WCW, plenty of their superstars came over to WWE--including the trio of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Hulk Hogan. Those three, of course, wrestle in WWE nearly a decade earlier, and the three reunited the New World Order in WWE--appearing at No Way Out in 2002.
Even though it was clear that whey would follow the storyline of taking over and destroying WWE (like they did in WCW), the fans gave them a huge standing ovation and cheered them on heavily. The three even had a Handicap match against Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, who were WWE's top two faces, during a Monday Night Raw show in Detroit. Predictably, the crowd went nuts when Hogan pinned Rock for the victory.
In later segments before the group disbanded, the fans were always cheering for them. But can you blame them?
15 Face Booed: Rey Mysterio, 2014 Royal Rumble
Rey Mysterio has been an underdog wrestler his whole career, mainly due to his height of 5'6". He always feuded with the most despised wrestlers of The Attitude and Ruthless Aggression Eras. Plus, his lucha libre style of wrestling quickly revolutionized many of the cruiserweights.
However, the crowd at the 2014 Royal Rumble didn't treat him with the love he always received. We all know that the match itself was a huge disaster, most notably because the beloved Daniel Bryan didn't win like everyone expected. When Mysterio came out as the number 30 entry, the fans didn't cheer for him. It is unfortunate that he got the cold reception, because it wasn't his fault that WWE made the wrong decision.
And we all know how that match concluded. We may or may not get back to it later. Read on for more!
14 Heel Cheered: Kevin Owens, 2015 Elimination Chamber
Kevin Owens has been portrayed as a heel by the company during his whole tenure with WWE. He's had rivalries with Sami Zayn, Cesaro, and most recently Enzo and Cass. Despite all of this, Owens always seems to get heavy chants and cheers from the fans, no matter the face he's fighting.
So how did this all start? It's probably a safe bet to pinpoint it at his WWE debut at Elimination Chamber, 2015. It was a Champion vs. Champion match against WWE's top star, John Cena. Owens would win, and it oddly enough made the fans begin to love him right away. It's not all that hard to comprehend, though. Fans were starting to get bored of Cena winning all the time and it was a real enticing moment to see this NXT star come in and defeat THE guy (Sorry, Mr. Reigns). Owens has been the most popular "heel" since becoming part of the main-event roster.
13 Face Booed: Bob Backlund
Backlund had a career that lasted three decades, spending his most prominent years in WWF (now WWE). The two-time Heavyweight Champion was to the company in the '70s what Hulk Hogan was to them in the '80s. Backlund was the company's top star for many years and was the ultimate American icon of professional wrestling.
But Backlund went through the exact same trail that Cena has. Fans just got bored of seeing him main-event everything and win seemingly all but one or two matches a year. Backlund's admiration from the fans just grew boring real quick. Over the years, they just started to turn on him and got super bored. Vince McMahon wanted an official heel turn by trying to have Backlund become a heel and lose to the rising Hulkster. That obviously didn't take place. Ah, what could have been. Look at how Hogan rejuvenated his wrestling career when he decided to turn heel--after becoming a boring face to fans.
12 Heel Cheered: Seth Rollins After Return
Seth Rollins was the super heel of WWE after turning on The Shield and aligning himself with The Authority. But when he tore his ACL at a house show in 2015, the fans instantly hoped for a speedy recovery and cheered for him when he returned at the Slammy Awards. So it did make sense for him to get some ovations when Rollins came back at Extreme Rules.
A main reason the fans cheered for Rollins, however, was that Roman Reigns wasn't getting over with the crowd. Rollins came back the next day and cut a promo saying how he threw so many get well cards from fans in the trash. WWE knew the fans were cheering for him, so they were desperate to make him a villain. After regaining his WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Money in the Bank (before Dean Ambrose cashed in his MITB to take it away), Rollins got a huge standing ovation for taking down Reigns. Even in his entrances today, a decent amount of the crowd cheers loudly for Rollins.
WWE may have to accept the fact that face turn is in the future for Rollins.
11 Face Booed: Roman Reigns, WrestleMania 32
To be fair, Reigns was getting booed heavily by fans before this match. But you had to figure the crowd would cheer for him over Triple H, the evil co-head of The Authority. During his entrance, he got a cold reception--indicating just maybe the crowd would finally accept Reigns.
What's odd is how much love he got from the fans when he embarked on a WWE World Heavyweight Championship reign (after Rollins had to relinquish it). Reigns was getting over with the fans quickly, but all of the sudden there was a day when it all stopped. But his match against Triple H at WrestleMania confirmed WWE's worst fears: That the wrestler they chose to be THE GUY wasn't accepted by the WWE Universe anymore. What a shame.
In feuds against A.J. Styles, Rollins, and Rusev, the fans haven't stopped booing Reigns. This is due in large part to his better mic skills, which actually have improved lately.
10 Heel Cheered: Randy Orton, SummerSlam 2004
Chris Benoit became one of the company's top faces when he stole the World Heavyweight Championship from Triple H at WrestleMania XX. He got over well with the fans, even though he was feuding with legends such as The Game and Kane. So when he faced Randy Orton, a member of Triple H's villainous Evolution stable, you thought it'd be easy for the crowd to make their pick.
Another thing helping Benoit is that SummerSlam 2004 took place in Toronto, Ontario--his home country. I mean look how great the receptions Edge and Chris Jericho receive(d) when they were heels and fought in The Great White North. Benoit and Orton put on a clinic, but the latter shocked the world when he pinned the former to win the title.
Oddly enough, the crowd actually went crazy for Orton--who had zero indications of turning a face. But the fans were smart, because Orton successfully defended his title against Benoit on the following Raw. That night, Triple H, Batista, and Ric Flair beat down Orton and kicked him out of the group, ensuring RKO would be a new top face in WWE. However, Orton would turn heel once again on the road to WrestleMania 21 as he prapred to face The Undertaker.
9 Face Booed: The Rock: SummerSlam 2002
The millions...AND MILLLLLLIOOOONNNNNNNS of Rock fans usually smelt what he was cooking, but not the fans of Uniondale, New York at SummerSlam, 2002. He was feuding with an up-and-coming Superstar in Brock Lesnar. You know he's a big deal now, but he was just getting started when these two faced off.
Lesnar and The Rock faced off for the WWE Undisputed Championship, with the latter being portrayed as the good guy, of course. Lesnar hadn't exactly made a huge name for himself at the time, and The Rock hadn't done anything to show he was on the verge of going heel. Lesnar pulled off the upset and became champion. Turns out the real reason fans shockingly turned on The Rock was the fact fans heard rumours of him going Hollywood.
The "You sold out," chants echoed the building and left The Rock in an awkward position. It would be a couple years later where he was out of wrestling, so the rumours actually turned true. But a friendly reminder to not believe EVERYTHING you read on the internet.
8 4. Heel Cheered: Brock Lesnar, SummerSlam 2015
Ladies and Gentlemen...My name is Alex H...And I am the non-official advocate historian of Brock Lesnar being a cheered-on heel.
Pardon my horrible introduction to this slide, I just love Paul Heyman. As everyone remembers, it was a huge surprise when Lesnar defeated The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX to end The Phenom's undefeated streak. That was one way for the WWE to make Lesnar an even more hated villain, as if he wasn't already enough. Everything worked to plan as the fans kept hating on Lesnar. Then it changed.
Weeks before his rematch with The Undertaker at last year's SummerSlam, the two got into a huge confrontation that won the fans over. That seemed to be enough for the crowd to cheer for Lesnar over The Undertaker at SummerSlam. When The Phenom had the controversial victory, many fans booed, and even more cheered when Heyman grabbed a mic and proclaimed Lesnar as the REAL winner.
7 Face Booed: Bret Hart, 1997
Bret Hart was WWE's top star of the '90s not named Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage. Even though he was Canadian and sometimes portrayed an anti-American wrestler, Hart was beloved equally on both sides of the border. To this day, millions of fans remain enraged over the infamous Montreal Screwjob incident.
So here's what happened with Hart: He got into a feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin which heightened in 1997. Before Hart's infamous departure from the company, the two would embark in many memorable matches, but Austin would also try to screw Hart over (like Mr. McMahon), by interfering in his title matches that didn't include The Texas Rattlesnake.
Though Austin wasn't quite the known babyface guy that he is today, he quickly won over with the fans. Suddenly, Hart was being booed as the crowd was buying into everything Austin was saying and doing. Though this wasn't fair for Hart, it helped launch the career of Stone Cold even more.
6 Heel Cheered: CM Punk, MITB 2011
Though many fans loved the leader of the Straight Edge Society as a top face at times, there's no denying that CM Punk was at his very best when he was a heel. If you don't believe me, consider he won a Loser Leaves WWE Steel Cage match for the World Heavyweight Championship against Jeff Hardy. The latter hasn't returned to the company since, so maybe I swerved your change of opinion.
Punk has also had feuds as a top-notch heel with The Undertaker and Rey Mysterio. But to the surprise of nobody, the Illinois crowd was cheering for Punk when he beat John Cena for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank, 2011. Why is it easy to understand? Punk himself is a Chicago native, and the event took place in Rosemont. Fans often cheer for their home state Superstars, heel or face. But considering the stipulation was Cena would be "fired" if he lost, it was surprising to some to see the crowd cheer for Punk.
And by the way, Cena stayed on as a wrestler despite being fired.
5 Face Booed: John Cena, SummerSlam 2016
One of my close friends used to scream "JOHN CENA SUCKS," in the tune of his theme song. At the time, I thought he was being a hater--because I never heard that chant screamed with such passion.
Well, the fans at the Barclays Center spoke. With Cena facing A.J. Styles (a heel who fans were actually booing and hating on), you'd expect the crowd to still stick with Cena. Another factor is how Styles came over from TNA, WWE's "rival" company. Wouldn't the old-timers stay loyal to Cena?
No sir. That "John Cena Sucks," scream was louder than his own entrance music, and WWE has some pretty high quality speakers and sound systems. The crowd cheered heavily for Styles all match as if he was the company's top face at a live WrestleMania. When Styles won, the crowd became absolutely electric. It's just more evidence that a Cena heel turn needs to take place, because fans are losing interest in his run as a face.
4 Heel Cheered: Triple H, WrestleMania 22
One thing I love about Triple H is how no other Superstar could be the ultimate heel or the top face of the company--without getting boring in any sense. Triple H has undergone many gimmicks, but always found a way to entertain. Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and John Cena could not succeed as long-term faces. Triple H could, though.
That being said, his legacy shall always be remembered with him as the real heel. Aside from his days with D-Generation X, Triple H was the leader of Evolution and co-leader of The Authority--two of his most prominent characters.
When he faced John Cena at WrestleMania 22, it was easy to believe the crowd would once again boo him and that the leader of Cenation would welcome a rocking audience. Remember, Cena became the WWE's main face in 2005 and was only in the middle of his prime years as the fan favourite. But it wasn't to be on this night, as the crowd sided with the Cerebral Assassin.
3 Face Booed: Batista, 2014 Royal Rumble
Batista was a late bloomer in the WWE--not getting over and becoming a main-event star until he was 35 and won the World Heavyweight Championship from Triple H at WrestleMania 21. The Animal would enjoy several strong years as one of the top Superstars, but his heel runs were probably the ones we'll remember most.
The Animal had an odd departure from the company in 2010, screaming he quit (when in reality, he didn't like the direction of WWE). But in 2014, the company thought it'd be a great idea to bring him back for the Royal Rumble.
He came out and was booed right away. Throughout the match, he didn't gain any cheers. Though Reigns was also a "face," getting booed by fans, the crowd was even more furious when Batista eliminated him to win his second Royal Rumble. Batista allegedly threatened to "snap a fan in half," and flipped off the crowd on screen. The WWE Universe was devastated that Daniel Bryan didn't win the event, which he should have.
In interviews, Batists admitted that he hated the idea of returning as a face and should have came back as a heel. Batista, Orton, and Triple H reformed Evolution to feud with The Shield. That was unsuccessful and The Animal "quit" WWE again.
2 Heel Cheered: Hulk Hogan, WrestleMania X8
We talked earlier about how the nWo entered WWE as a villainous stable, but the crowd welcomed them back with thunderous cheers. Hogan, Nash, and Hall would do some work here and there to get more boos, and it did actually seem like Hulkster was going to be the real bad guy at WrestleMania X8.
In match dubbed as "Icon vs. Icon," Hogan faced The Rock, with the storyline being how each Superstar represented the true "icon," of their respective Eras. The match took place in Toronto, Ontario. What happened next surprised millions and is still arguably the most memorable part of WrestleMania X8.
Hogan's nWo music played and he made his epic entrance with the air-guitar whil;e the Skydome going absolutely crazy for him. Hogan finished his entrance, the music stopped and the fans screamed "HOGAN! HOGAN! HOGAN." It remains one of the most chilling-induced moments ever, just showing how much respect Hogan earned from the fans.
1 Face Booed: The Rock, WrestleMania X8
And the eruption Hogan got from the Toronto fans wasn't possible or memorable without his opponent, The Rock. The nWo unleashed some savage beatdowns on The Rock. As we said earlier, all signs pointed to The Rock being cheered on hard by the fans at WrestleMania, with Hogan getting booed just as his character was trying to draw in.
But when his entrance music played, the SkyDome booed him. During the match, fans went insane over any move of offence made by Hogan, but they booed or made very little noise when The Rock gained the upper hand. Oddly enough, the fans did cheer for him when he dropped the People's Elbow to win, but he didn't get the warm reception that was expected. All these years later, Hogan and Rock have discussed how they changed the rhythm of the match, feeding off of the crowd energy.
In fact, The Rock and Hogan shook hands and held them up high together, ensuring that Hulkster was once again a babyface. It ended with Nash and Hall attacking Hogan, only for The Rock to come to his defence and earn major ovations for both Superstars.