Everyone loves a great heel turn. It's the easiest way to add drama to angles and breathe new life into stale characters. But they must be used sparingly. Big Show (and Lex Luger back in the day) has turned so many times it's become meaningless. The only surprise is that anyone trusts him to begin with.
Hogan's turn was monumental because he bled yellow and red for over a decade through wrestling's golden era. His matches and feuds had become so predictable that fans didn't see it coming. After 10 straight years of watching him Hulk-Up and leg drop a monster heel, his TWO leg drops on a helpless Savage were mind-blowing. Although it's quite easy to find heelish behaviors from the Hulkster (eye-rake, cheating, pouting over his Royal Rumble elimination and pulling Sid Justice from outside the ring) this was official. Heels had said Hulkamania was dead countless times before but it took Hogan to truly kill it.
John 'Super' Cena has had a similar career arc to Hogan's and many fans wonder if he'll ever turn as well. But isn't he already wrestling's greatest heel? The kids love him of course, but to the older crowd he is their sworn enemy. He has become the next evolution of the villain. Hated for the same reasons he is loved, it just depends on your perspective. To turn him traditionally heel would kill his marketability on both sides. The kids would be crushed and the smarks would never fully accept him. Look at Roman Reigns, the crowd clamored for this guy to get a push, and when he did, half (or more) of the fans rejected him. The WWE needs to keep a finger on the pulse of the fans, but they can't listen to every beck and call.
Turning a character is a huge gamble. It can make or break careers and livelihoods and is nothing to be trifled with. So lets take a look at ten times it was a bad idea.
10 Kevin Nash - Finger Poke of Doom
The adage that Kevin Nash booked himself to beat Goldberg is an awful notion taken out of context. In reality, Nash was almost as popular and fans were tiring of Goldberg's streak. When WCW tried to sneak in an extra 20 wins, it was over. Fans will play along but the ones who pay attention do not appreciate being lied to.
What could have led to a fantastic program between the two fell apart. Pitting the two most popular WCW faces should have been compelling entertainment, but like most problems in the WCW, it all goes back to Hogan. Nash immediately handed the belt over to Hogan with the poke, reunited the nWo and destroyed everything they had built up. The war was over, WWE had won, and WCW was a dead promotion walking.
9 Steve Austin - WrestleMania X-Seven
Arguably the greatest WrestleMania ever, it finished with Austin's controversial turn. The first problem was that they did it in Texas. Austin could have slit The Rock's throat and drank the blood and they still would have cheered him like a hero. In fact, when Austin and Vince joined forces, the majority of the crowd most likely thought Vince was turning face!
The Invasion angle definitely didn't help and further muddied the waters. Austin's turn is actually a great landmark for the end of the Attitude Era and the WWE's fall from grace.
The timing and location were the major faults of the plan, but his actual performance and character development were fantastic. Austin proved his legendary talent had another gear and he greatly expanded his promos, by creating his infamous 'what?' catchphrase, a phrase so popular it's still used today by the WWE Universe. He also helped elevate Angle and Jericho into true superstars.
8 Tatanka sells out
Turning an established face heel is supposed to breathe new life into their career, not kill it off, but that's what happened to poor Chris Chavis.
He was given a huge push from day one, building up an undefeated streak that included victories at WrestleMania VIII and IX over Rick Martel and Shawn Michaels respectively.
An angle began that hinted Lex Luger might turn heel for Ted DiBiase. Unfortunately, they turned Tatanka instead and the fans could not have cared less. His position on the depth chart dropped considerably and it wasn't too long before he was out of the company.
Turning Tatanka also robbed us of the perfect Luger turn. After his enormous push to replace Hogan flopped, it would have made perfect sense for him to turn on the fans who didn't hop on the Lex Express.
7 Sgt. Slaughter - Desert Bore
Slaughter was an incredibly popular face throughout the 80s (he had his own G.I. Joe toys until this turn) but when the world was dealing with the crisis in Kuwait, McMahon saw a way to exploit it for his own benefit.
Slaughter was a great performer but compared to Hogan's previous opponents, he was far less exciting. Andre/Bundy had the size, Warrior was a white-hot face, and Macho Man needs no explanation. They were banking exclusively on the Iraq angle but there was one problem. The war had already ended before the match.
The WWE had hoped this WrestleMania would bring in 100,000 to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, but poor ticket sales prompted a switch to the much smaller neighboring Sports Arena. This resulted in the modest 16,158. The WWE blamed the death threats Slaughter was receiving for the venue change, but anyone who thinks McMahon would let silly threats get in the way of ticket sales is a fool.
6 Jim Duggan - CA-NA-DA! CA-NA-DA!
Jim Duggan has gotten an incredible amount of mileage out of a fairly shallow character. So it made little sense to turn him heel and take away the few tools he had. Obviously a Canadian sympathizer would have to lose the USA chant, but why would a heel stop using a great foreign object like the 2x4?
This was also shortly after he took a brutal beating for refusing to denounce America. The turn made little sense and felt forced. It felt like a pale imitation of Hogan's famed turn in '96. Turning a longtime ex-WWE babyfaced American patriot heel worked for Hogan, not for Duggan.
5 The Road Warriors turn, but the fans don't
Lots of wrestling history colliding around this time. The Road Warriors actually saved Sting's job in the NWA in the late 80s. They convinced management to retain Sting as a singles-version of their popular gimmick and that they could take him in as a 'brother-in-paint'.
NWA built the heel turn over a few months and the culminating moment came during a Six-Man Tag-Team Championship match. (Didn't know they had those)
The problem was that the fans didn't care for anyone more than the Warriors. When they betrayed Sting during the match, beating him down and giving him the Doomsday Device, the fans were still going crazy for them! The NWA was in danger of having the fans turn on all the faces instead.
4 Rikishi 'Did it... For The Rock'
Sometimes it feels like a story is started before the ending has been completely worked out. In the case of Austin getting run over by a mystery driver, it definitely felt like it was a mystery to creative as well.
The reveal ended up being everyone's favorite dancing Samoan, Rikishi. But why?
Racism was the answer given. Tired of the white man getting all the opportunities, Rikishi wanted to show Samoan pride by committing attempted vehicular homicide.
A terrible choice. Rikishi had finally broken through and was extremely over with fans who didn't want to boo him. Triple H was revealed as the ultimate mastermind which quickly relegated him as a sideman.
3 Curt Hennig ditches the Horsemen
The Four Horsemen making their pitch to Curt Hennig was one of the great moments for fans of true old-school 'rasslin'. Monday Nitro was in Ric Flair's home state of North Carolina and the crowd was hot. Mene Gene gave one of my favorite performances as he marked out introducing the group. He even timed his announcement with Flair's music.
The Horsemen were one of the strongest stables in WCW. They were the outlaw good guys who could have stood up to the nWo. Imagine Flair, Hennig, Benoit, and Malenko (with Sting as the wildcard vigilante) in the battle of the century. The Horsemen were Batman, serving up justice by any means necessary. Hennig had the tweeter capability, skill, and charisma to carry the load.
But it didn't go that way. Hennig turned heel by slamming a cage door on Flair's head for a fantastic short-term pop that unfortunately hurt the Horsemen's long-term effectiveness. Without a strong enough replacement for Flair, the Horsemen would fade away.
Hennig joined the nWo and so did EVERYONE else. Vincent is the frequently mentioned tipping point, but how about guys like Scott Norton? He was a legend in Japan and served as WCW 'security' when the Outsiders were first running amok. He could have been a badass WCW guardian, and instead he floundered on the B-team.
2 Good ol' J.R
Nobody hates Jim Ross. He is the greatest wrestling commentator of all time and it's not even close. Gordon Solie is no.2, Monsoon/Heenan were a fantastic combo, but Ross is God on the headset.
He brought a seriousness and intensity to the action and always got the angle over. He made you believe in the excitement you were seeing. We believed that Mick Foley was broken in half. Whether it was violent or goofy, Ross made it seem legit.
To turn him heel would take a face of epic proportions, but the WWE used Michael Cole instead.
There's nothing Ross could have done to make fans cheer Cole. There's nothing anyone can do ever for as long as we all shall live that will make the fans cheer Cole. Although the video above cuts it off, after J.R. says, "I'm going back to work at ringside!" the crowd delivered a loud pop, as we all have at home whenever Ross graces us with his commentary.
Oh, and the attempted turn of J.R. in 1996, coinciding with the arrival of the new Diesel and Razor didn't go over well either.
In the dying days of WCW, everything was getting thrown at the wall, and most of it should have been thrown in the garbage instead. Goldberg was a rare diamond; an actual WCW-grown superstar. He was their most popular face character and could have been a Sting-like vigilante outside of the New Blood/Millionaire's Club mess. But WCW wanted to give fans the 'ultimate surprise' and Goldberg turning heel was what they came up with.
The idea was half-baked and half-hearted. The fans didn't want to boo him (they just wanted to boo the awful PPV) and he didn't seem too into it either.
Shoot interviews have painted Goldberg as someone who believed his own hype. This is a guy who refused to lose to Scott Steiner (getting lawyers involved) because he thought "if it was real, Steiner would lose". Right! Scott Steiner, an ACTUAL amateur wrestler in "real life" (and slightly crazy person) would lose to a wrestler whose nickname is "greenberg".
The angle was abandoned quickly (like so many others) and Russo would be hitting him with a foam pipe a few PPVs later.
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