Because the results in pro wrestling are predetermined, more important than anything WWE superstars do inside the ring is how the audience responds to them when the action unfolds. Good guys, or what the industry calls babyfaces, are ideally cheered for everything they do, while the big bad heels likewise get booed out of the building for mere dirty looks. Of course, these extreme reactions only necessarily need apply to the main event, yet a good enough wrestler on either side of the spectrum should nonetheless be able to get fans involved in the show in one way or another no matter where they appear on the show.
While a truly well rounded sports entertainer can excel as a heel or face with ease, bouncing back and forth between the two throughout his or her career, some wrestlers appear to be capable of only playing one role or the other. In some instances, fans simply may not know how a given performer would have done playing against type, so used to their given role as a career hero or villain. Other wrestlers have actually tried being both heel and face, discovering they probably should stop experimenting in the future and stick with the role that better fit their personalities. For all the specifics, keep reading to see 8 pro wrestlers who were only good as heels and 7 who could only play face.
15 HEEL: Bob Backlund
Before anyone jumps on the decades long trend of ragging on the smiling country boy version of Bob Backlund who reigned as WWE Champion for nearly six full years, let’s get something clear. No matter what role he played, when Backlund was in his prime, he truly was one of the best wrestlers in the world. However, this applied exclusively to his in-ring performance, and his value harshly diminished when placed behind a microphone. As a babyface, Backlund simply had nothing interesting to say nor did he know how to present his bland thoughts in an entertaining manner. A full decade after his historic reign as WWE Champion ended, Backlund made a shocking comeback and finally turned heel in the process, his character having gone mad at the corrupt wrestlers who rose to fame in his absence. Suddenly, Backlund’s promos were amongst the best things on WWE television, and far more fans remember evil Mr. Backlund over his Howdy Doody era as champion.
14 FACE: The Sandman
A necessary caveat to the argument that The Sandman could only play babyface is that heel or face, his character would never work in the mainstream. That said, independent hardcore-based companies like Extreme Championship Wrestling or any of it’s many offshoots will always see Sandman as their drunken anti-hero. This is probably for the better, as his early career attempts at playing a heel were disjointed and confusing, and at one point involved him wearing a surfer suit. Ironically, however, he was pretty good at cheap heel mannerisms like sneering and throwing beer at everyone, which in the ‘90s ECW environment was exactly why fans treated him like the company’s messiah. Part of the issue may be that Sandman was absolutely horrible in the ring his whole career, and thus had to rely on those cheap tricks alone, using them to whatever end they offered.
13 HEEL: Rick Rude
Truth be told, the one time Rick Rude turned face that we’re aware of did result in the man earning lots of cheers, yet the circumstance meant he would have received them regardless of what he did. In any event, a few months in ECW antagonizing Shane Douglas hardly outweighs a full decade as one of the most hated heels absolutely everywhere the Ravishing One travelled. Rude was decent on the mic when trying to play to ECW’s mutants, but in no way could it compare to his mastery at being a bad guy, easily making arenas with tens of thousands of people hate him simply by taking off his robe. In fact, even those ECW diehards who were happy to see a true legend in their ring started booing Rude before long, as the man was just too bad to be good.
12 FACE: Rey Mysterio
Given his smaller size and never say die attitude, Rey Mysterio, Jr. has always been pro wrestling’s true ultimate underdog. This didn’t stop him from becoming a Giant Killer as well, though, reaching the peak of the industry with two WWE World Championships. With his ability to garner sympathy second-to-none, Mysterio was a babyface throughout the entire 13 years he worked for Vince McMahon, and has remained such everywhere that would hire him since. The only noteworthy piece of his career left to discuss is WCW, and of course the brain trusts at that company tried doing the impossible and getting Mysterio booed. Unsurprisingly, Mysterio’s one short heel run failed miserably, in fact even backfiring and getting him and the supposedly villainous Filthy Animals cheered in the process. As it turns out, the only way Mysterio could actually be a villain is if fans wanted to see someone else in his place.
11 HEEL: Ted DiBiase
Believe it or not, long before Ted DiBiase became the Million Dollar Man, there were actually a few noteworthy runs as a babyface in his early career. Not only that, but it might be a little unfair saying he was exclusively good at playing heel, as some of the angles he was involved with remain memorable, albeit if only to diehard NWA fans who want to know everything about the territories. More casual fans are only interested about DiBiase after he started getting famous, though, and that rise to the top was wholly due to his excellence in playing a rich, arrogant jerk. DiBiase rode his millions to a long run in the main event, challenging for the WWE Championship on a number of occasions. Vince McMahon knew he struck gold and kept DiBiase a heel from then on, yet once again, WCW tried to be weird with it and turn DiBiase face near the end of his career. As expected, fans had trouble buying it, and he soon faded into obscurity.
10 FACE: “Diamond” Dallas Page
After getting his start in wrestling at a relatively late age to begin with, it took “Diamond” Dallas Page a full eight years in WCW before winning his first World Championship. Part of the problem may have been that he spent the first six of those years as a heel, and the man was a born babyface from the start. It wasn’t until DDP refused the nWo’s advances and became a man of the people that fans truly accepted him, at which point they turned him into one of the most beloved men in WCW virtually overnight. In classic boneheaded WCW fashion, the company still tried turning him back into heel a few times anyway, including right before that big World Championship win, and crowds always wound up rejecting DDP as a mere midcarder as a result. When WWE tried debuting DDP as a heel a few years later, it pretty much killed his career there from the start.
9 HEEL: Jake Roberts
All of the wrestlers on the heel side of this list are good at being bad, but only Jake Roberts was so good at being bad he made the very idea of evil look downright cool. With all due respect to the Snake, he did indeed have several successful runs as a babyface in WWE and territorial companies before that, even getting cheered over Hulk Hogan in an infamous moment. However, the fact of the matter is that Roberts was always kind of playing the villain at these points in his careers, it’s just that crowds happened to identify with a darkly charismatic trickster who carried around a reptile as a weapon. Then, whenever Roberts actually went full heel, he immediately became the most hated person in wrestling for his over-the-top evil antics. Honestly, we might just be placing him on this half of the list because his comeback attempt at a Bible-thumping babyface in the mid-‘90s still made us want to boo him more than his peak heel performances.
8 FACE: Jeff Hardy
Quite frankly, it can sometimes be hard to understand why WWE audiences respond to Jeff Hardy as rapturously as they have. Yes, the man is a bona fide daredevil who tries some risky things in the ring that usually pay off, and he’s able to garner a great deal of sympathy when getting beat up. On the other hand, he’s just no good on the microphone, unable to give passionate promos as either a face or heel. This is all well and good if he can take off his shirt and get the female audience to scream for him anyway, but if Hardy is supposed to be a bad guy, the formula falls flat immediately. Heels who try flashy moves are bound to start getting cheered for it, especially when they don’t exactly do or say anything outside the ring to make people dislike them. By and large, WWE has understood this and primarily pushed Hardy as a face, but leave it to a company like TNA to have tried pushing him as a heel on multiple occasions.
7 HEEL: Christian
At this point in time, should retired former World Champion Christian make an appearance in WWE or elsewhere, he would probably earn massive applause in honor of his past accomplishments. That’s certainly fair, though if one were to really evaluate his career and point out the highlights, they would realize Captain Charisma was always significantly more entertaining when allowed to be a huge jerk. While his initial run with Edge would later reveal an ability to flow back and forth between good and bad, whenever Christian tried to follow him onto the light side, there would be noticeably less vigor in his promos, and the crowds lost interest in his matches. Christian was more than talented enough in the ring to make up for it and remain at least a midcarder regardless of his disposition, but it was as a heel that fans were actually begging for him to enter the main event.
6 FACE: Goldberg
Based solely on how crowds react to the way Goldberg was booked, it’s hard to argue with WWE Hall of Fame Bobby Heenan’s argument the guy never should have lost a single match in his career. Wrestling has seen countless monsters in the sport’s long history, yet no one man has left a path of destruction as impressive as Goldberg. Oddly, WCW was trying to push him as a heel when he suddenly became their most popular superstar, and his popularity only exploded from there when they realized the mistake. Of course, in classic WCW fashion, they couldn’t let a good thing last and attempting to turn Goldberg heel in the summer of 2000. The idea of Goldberg turning his back on the fans to align with Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff bombed so spectacularly it was scrapped in mere weeks, and the idea of Goldberg as a villain was rightly forgotten about along with it.
5 HEEL: Yokozuna
The flipside to a dominant and heroic monster like Goldberg is a heartless and violent beast like Yokozuna, who stood almost as a complete opposite to WCW’s greatest creation. The only difference is that Vince McMahon knew Yoko was going to be a villain from the start, yet just like his rivals in WCW, he would go and ruin a good thing in due time. Before that could happen, though, McMahon spent four years booking Yokozuna in exactly the right way, making him one of the most feared and hated WWE Champions of his era. It all fell apart at the very end of Yoko’s WWE tenure, when McMahon had the gigantic athlete split from Camp Cornette and briefly try to earn the crowd’s favor as a babyface. Fans entirely rejected the idea of cheering Yokozuna, and he didn’t have much time to change their minds, as his weight problem got so out of control WWE needed to let him go.
4 FACE: Sting
Looking at pictures of Steve Borden from very early in his career, it’s tempting to say he had the markings of a classic monster heel. Big and buff with a background as a weightlifter from California, the man wrestling fans call Sting was a competent bad guy at the start of his career, but things would take off for him in a major way after finding his calling as a hero. Painting his face in bright colors and screaming his lungs out, Sting found a way to connect with NWA and WCW audiences like no other, reaching a popularity virtually unmatched in his era. Even as WCW underwent massive changes during the nWo era, Sting remained the most popular star around, adapting with the times by taking on his famous Crow-inspired black and white persona. Once again, though, WCW had to go and screw it up by trying to make him a heel at Fall Brawl 2000 by attacking Hulk Hogan with a baseball bat, a move that backfired so spectacularly he earned massive applause for it.
3 HEEL: Randy Orton
Large portions of the WWE Universe are split on the talents of Randy Orton, some finding him a skilled in-ring performer with a penchant for playing bad guys, and others thinking he’s bland and boring no matter how the company books his character. Either way, almost everyone agrees he’s even worse at being a good guy than a bad guy, with one of his few unquestionable qualities the fact he excels at giving the audience dirty looks and acting like a total jerk. Whenever Orton has been a babyface, his promos get even more bland and irrelevant than usual, leaving fans with absolutely nothing to cheer for except his patented RKO out of nowhere. While that heralded move is one of the few things audiences get excited for anymore, it’s not enough to justify Orton’s continued time on top, especially not in a role he doesn’t know how to perform.
2 FACE: Ricky Steamboat
Despite having a name that sounds like that of a karate movie villain, Richard Blood has gone down in wrestling history as perhaps the most consummate babyface the industry has ever seen. Of course, he had to tweak his name to do so, dropping his villain-sounding surname for a friendlier moniker in Ricky Steamboat. Throughout the many territories of the NWA he called home as well as the WWE Universe, Steamboat always managed to become a huge star in short order due to his sympathetic looks and intensity in the ring, and crowds always adored him for it. Steamboat was such a good face that he never once turned heel throughout his two-decade career, although he did once suggest the idea to Pat Patterson. Speaking for the fans, Patterson told Steamboat he simply thought it would never work, because people couldn’t possibly boo a guy like him.
1 HEEL: Triple H
Despite accepting that D-Generation X were a pretty big deal in their heyday, and that Triple H’s role as the group’s second leader had a lot to do with that, the vast majority of the WWE Universe will always see him as one of the most detestable villains in industry history. Triple H has attempted to be a babyface on many occasions, and sometimes he did so to decent acclaim, though his peak moments in the sport have always resulted in resounding boos, which is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. When a babyface, HHH largely relies on cliché superhero tactics and horribly sophomoric jokes, which only work on a small portion of the audience. However, digging into his worst tendencies as a Cerebral Assassin and bragging about his status as the supreme Authority in WWE will always get a rile out of fans, so Triple H should just stick to what works from now on.