Wrestling’s a funny business. Rarely in any other form of sport are there overt heroes, or all the less so villains who are actively trying to get fans to rally against them. Similarly, in most forms of storytelling, we may see characters evolve and change, but rarely take sharp turn to being good or being bad.
Wrestling, however, leans into heel and face turns as dramatic devices to tell compelling stories, besides which a good heel or face turn can be a critical way of freshening someone’s character and regenerating fan interest for someone.
The rules of wrestling have changed to an extent. There are characters like Kane who flip-flopped from heel to face so often that he fans came to accept his behavior is less good or evil than simply erratic. Moreover, the business has shifted. A guy like Brock Lesnar leans toward heel mannerisms, but can just as easily be booked against a heel challenger like Samoa Joe because Lesnar is so popular and respected, regardless of his actions.
Still, faces and heels do exist and a well chosen, well timed turn can work wonders. Take what happened when Sheamus and Cesaro turned on the Hardys—a largely directionless team snapped into focus and making the most of their run as pair now. They aren’t the only ones who have or who could benefit from such a change. This list looks at eight current WWE stars who would be best served to turn heel, and seven who should turn face.
15 Turn Heel: Dean Ambrose
There was a time when Dean Ambrose was the most overtly heelish member of The Shield. When the group launched, Ambrose was the most experienced member of the trio, with the most pronounced personality. He captured a masterful combination of sleazy and crazy that seemed like it could only work as a heel. Even after The Shield turned face and was arguably even more successful, fans still suspected Ambrose would eventually turn heel on his teammates.
The funny thing is that over three years have passed and Ambrose still hasn’t turned heel. He had a great face singles run, particularly in his initial feud with Seth Rollins, and he felt like he regained a lot of momentum in 2016 when he won his first WWE Championship. In between and after these peaks, however, the Ambrose character has often as not felt stale and directionless. It’s noteworthy that Ambrose was the only Shield member not get onto the main card at WrestleMania. Also, now that all three are on Raw, it’s interesting to see Rollins and Reigns so entrenched in the upper card and main event scene, while Ambrose seems like a clear cut a mid-carder.
A heel turn could give Ambrose the chance to revisit the mean streak and the edge that got him over in the first place. Besides that the top of the Raw card is just too heavy on faces for Ambrose to really get a shot right now, but a heel turn might make him a fringe main eventer again over night.
14 Turn Face: Rusev
When Rusev debuted, he seemed like a bit of an anachronism—a big heel foreigner in an age when wrestling had largely moved on from big men and jingoism. The guy proved himself though, as a rock solid monster heel with stellar in ring skills.
Rusev ran his course as a heel, though. After coming out the worse from feuds with John Cena, Roman Reigns, and even Dolph Ziggler, he just doesn’t look viable as a main eventer and he’s been largely directionless as a mid card talent.
A face run for Rusev could be a lot of fun. He’s proven himself capable of comedy, and working face would also set him up for a fresh string of match ups, particularly on Smackdown, opposite former tag team partner Jinder Mahal, and against Kevin Owens or Baron Corbin. He might remain a mid-carder, but at least be a mid carder with purpose and meaningful storylines.
13 Turn Heel: American Alpha
American Alpha is such a good tag team and, ironically, I actually think they do work best as faces, as demonstrated in their wildly successful NXT run and particularly their great program with The Revival. Unfortunately, the team has largely floundered since reaching the main roster, often as not left off TV, or relegated to short, throw-away matches with little meaning.
A heel turn might afford Chad Gable and Jason Jordan a fresh start at having personality and a story to pursue. And while I feel like each man’s explosive flurries of offense are best suited to face work, their amateur wrestling-based skills also give them the sense of legitimacy and technical holds based offense that they should work as heels, too. Hopefully, Alpha will get a chance to shine before WWE squanders their considerable talents altogether.
12 Turn Face: Nia Jax
There are many ways in which Nia Jax is a natural heel. First and foremost, her large size makes her an easy fit into the monster heel mold. Moreover, while she’s surrounded talent like Sasha Banks with a flashier move set, and Bayley with more inherent face charisma, Jax seems to fit better as an antagonist.
The thing is, Jax has also largely stalled out as a heel. She’s neither as compelling nor as talented as Alexa Bliss in contention for the spot of top female heel on Raw, and she’s already traded wins with the high profile faces. A face turn, with Jax playing the friendly giant akin to Andre the Giant pre-80s turn, or The Big Show now, could be a fun detour that rounds out her wrestling repertoire and further diversify the women’s ranks. Moreover, a face run could set her up for a red hot heel turn when she goes back again and really gets to realize all of her monster heel potential.
11 Turn Heel: Austin Aries
Since debuting as an in ring competitor on the main roster, Austin Aries has only played a face. He’s decent enough at the role, and it set him up for very good matches opposite Neville. The thing is, while Aries is a perfectly competent face, he’s an awesome heel, as proven on the indies and TNA.
From his arrogance, to his mean streak, to his holds-based offense, Aries is super compelling bad guy. While there’s not really a spot for him to be his best self at the top of 205 Live while Neville is dominating the cruiserweight ranks, the switch would set him up well as either Neville’s ally, or a second tier cruiserweight heel, and perhaps something of a gatekeeper for challengers on the rise to face Neville.
10 Turn Face: Natalya
Natalya is on the short list for most talented female performers currently working for WWE, but she’s also past her prime and increasingly lost in the women’s shuffle with fresher faces like Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss, and now Carmella streaking past her. It’s unfortunate that Natalya reached her prime before WWE started taking women’s wrestling seriously, and that she’s now mostly relegated to a supporting role.
To at least freshen up that supporting role, it would be interesting to see Natalya turn face again. She’s got an infectious personality and the bonus of instantly appealing to Canadian fans based on her family lineage. Overall, Natalya is the kind of performer no one would mind seeing turn face and it would be nice to see her have the interest attached to a face turn for one more solid run before she rides off into the sunset.
9 Turn Heel: Matt Hardy
Matt Hardy transformed himself from a has-been most folks had written off to one of the most interesting, most talked about wrestlers in the world during his time with TNA as he developed his Broken persona. Since returning to WWE, he’s shown tidbits of his broken flair, but has more generally played it straight as his old self.
I don’t actually want to see Hardy wind up a heel in the long run, but I’m among those fans who would love to see the Broken character in WWE (or something to the same effect if intellectual property issues with TNA persist). The most logical route there is something like what TNA did in having him lose his mind and turn heel first to set up the eccentric face character to follow.
As a nostalgia act, the Hardys over now. A heel turn for Matt, and a reprise of his Broken Brilliance, on the grand stage of WWE, can push the veteran star to brand new heights.
8 Turn Face: Braun Strowman
Braun Strowman is a tricky one to call for a list like this. On one hand, a monster of a man often works best as a heel, because he’s so easily intimidating, and because it can be so difficult for him to generate sympathy because who is really going to believe he’s getting physically beaten? Moreover, Strowman has done well as a menacing monster heel.
On the other hand, Strowman has also gotten more over more quickly than I think anyone realistically anticipated. Stunts like overturning an ambulance appealed to the imagination of fans, and fans have also appreciated his old school sensibility as a guy who is just an awesome physical specimen and wrestles a relatively basic style.
While, in the long run, Strrowman is probably best served to work as a heel, a face run could open interesting possibilities and cash in on the intrigue he’s generated around himself these past few months.
7 Turn Heel: Finn Balor
Finn Balor is very good as a never say die face, and the fast paced, aerial elements of his offense are very fan friendly. Just the same, for all of his work in NXT and now on the main roster, he’s never had the opportunity to work as a heel. His sharp, sometimes vicious in ring style, paired with the demon persona that could easily be a sinister heel element of his character make him appealing as a wrestling villain.
Perhaps the most compelling piece of all is Balor’s previous work in Japan as part of The Bullet Club—arguably his best work prior to arriving in WWE. While Balor is perpetually on the cusp of getting lost in the shuffle behind Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and others on Raw, turning heel, and potentially realigning with AJ Styles could represent all kinds of potential.
6 Turn Face: The Ascension
Few are the acts that have had a wider gap in level of success between their NXT run and their main roster run than The Ascension. After a dominant tenure as a monster heel team akin to The Road Warriors in NXT, The Ascension started out hot on the main roster only to almost immediately fizzle. Their victories have been few and far between, and feuding with (and mostly losing to) Breezango has only dropped their stock further.
If there’s anything that might redeem The Ascension as a team, it may well be giving them a whirl as faces might breathe some new life into the act, even if they were still in the lower mid card. The only other options at this stage would seem to be heading back to NXT for repackaging, or getting released altogether.
5 Turn Heel: Kurt Angle
One of the best parts of this past year’s WrestleMania weekend was the reintroduction of Kurt Angle to the WWE audience. The Olympic hero looked genuinely grateful for the opportunity and fans greeted him warmly as an all time legend they were pleased to welcome back to the family.
Angle has been perfectly OK as a GM since his return, but for a performer with his charisma and talking skills, you might hope for more than OK. While fans love him, the fact of the matter is that Angle has always been better as a heel, and particularly so in the WWE framework where his comedic abilities tend to play in—that element of his character could play especially well as an authority figure. Being a comedic heel GM would offset him from the more serious Authority act, and freshen up things on Raw.
4 Turn Face: Stephanie McMahon
Plenty of folks have suggested Stephanie McMahon is her father’s daughter when it comes to her behind the scenes perspective on wrestling, her work ethic, and even her ability to play a heel authority figure character. Particularly an on screen perspective, she seemed to put the pieces together summer 2014 playing a magnificent villainess for a summer rivalry with Brie Bella.
For as good as Stephanie can be as a heel, she’s also a good face, as demonstrated in her original run with the company as Vince’s innocent daughter, and her run as SmackDown GM in the early 2000s. While she may be better as a heel on the whole, she’s played her current role for more or less four years running now, since her husband turned heel on Daniel Bryan, and fans are ready for something different out of the Billion Dollar Princess. On top of that, WWE could open some particularly interesting possibilities if it were to put face Stephanie at odds with her still-heel husband.
3 Turn Heel: Sasha Banks
Sasha Banks has done good work as a face on the main roster. Her fire and her diminutive size both lends themselves well to a face dynamic, particularly against larger opponents like Charlotte Flair and Nia Jax. But while Banks makes a top notch face, NXT fans know full well that she’s even better as a heel.
Cast as an antagonist opposite Bayley in NXT, Banks had a glorious run as dominant champion. Among her finest work: the Iron Man Match against Bayley that main evented NXT TakeOver: Respect, and reached its climax with Banks stealing the headband from Bayley’s sobbing child fan, Izzy.
Banks’s sense of ease about portraying arrogance, and her ability to portray a mean streak lend themselves very, very nicely to working as a heel, and you have to suspect her best work on the main roster is still ahead of her once WWE flips that switch.
2 Turn Face: Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt’s character is a natural fit for a heel role—a mystical, rambling swamp cult leader. Just the same, in this modern age, fans like him. They turn on the flashlights on their cell phones to enhance his entrance. They cheered when he won the WWE Championship. And when WWE teased at a face turn a couple years back, the fans were all too eager to bite on it.
Wyatt remains a heel for now, and I can only assume it’s because WWE still sees mileage on him in that role. To be fair, moving to Raw has given him some new faces to work singles program with like Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. Just the same, a character that’s always been treated as upper card would have the potential to really break out on a new level as an off beat face. Here’s hoping WWE gives him that chance.
1 Turn Heel: Roman Reigns
There may be no more popular pick for a countdown like this than Roman Reigns. The idea of turning him heel is hardly original, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do.
WWE seems as though it’s trying to have Reigns follow in John Cena’s footsteps. Sure, a vocal portion of the audience boos him, but WWE figures if they stay the course he’ll get over and the character will be stronger for the consistency.
I’d argue, however, that a strong heel run would only get Reigns more over. Fans would get the opportunity to boo him the way they want to and Reigns’s size and style would lend themselves well to heel work in the interim before face turn could make him the hero WWE always intended for him to be. A heel turn won’t solve Reigns’s every problem, but it’s an experiment the fans are more than ready for and that could really elevate him in the long run on a trajectory more similar to The Rock in the late 1990s than Cena.