The turn is a very key thing in wrestling. Work it properly and it can lead to massive success. Think Andre turning on Hogan, Hogan turning heel to create the New World Order and Seth Rollins turning on The Shield. Face turns can be just as big as John Cena started as a heel before his turn led to his massive success and we’ve seen various shifts back and forth. Some folks work better as a heel than a face and vice versa and finding the right way to go can change a guy’s career.
Sadly, too many times, a turn just doesn’t work as planned. A guy doesn’t take right to his new way or the turn is badly done. Kane and Big Show have flipped between heel and face so many times, it’s hard to keep up. Many a time, a guy is just so perfect in one slot that going the other way hurts their career massively. The turn is bad and it ultimately leads to nothing major down the line and often the guy just turned back. Here are 15 things a major turned didn’t work out as planned and how pulling it off is much trickier than it looks.
His gimmick may seem insulting but he was hardly the first Native-American in wrestling and not bad in the ring either. He was geared more for kids and did a good job as a mid-card guy, even shots at the IC title. In 1994, Tatanka made noise about Lex Luger selling out to Ted DiBiase, setting up a match at SummerSlam where pretty much everyone saw what was coming. Sure enough, Tatanka turned on Luger to join DiBiase himself and slam his heritage. Problem was, the guy was already stiff on the mic and turning heel did nothing to salvage that, no compelling reason for the fans to boo him. He went from mid-card to lower-card, even jobber status, lost amid the various talents as DiBiase’s “Corporation” never did major business. A true case of how a turn helped ruin a possibly rising career with bad planning.
You look at Vader and you see a perfect heel, a true monster whose stiff work is still legendary in the business and a harsh attitude to boot. Backing it up with great skill (including moonsaults), Vader was terrific, dominating WCW as World Champion and getting fans to hate him for how he crushed opponents. His career first suffered when Hogan no-sold his dreaded power bomb before their big SuperClash match but Vader still had potential. So having him join with Hogan, Savage and Sting for Fall Brawl ’95 was an odd move, Vader not looking right as Hogan’s buddy. It turned out for naught as Vader would have his infamous backstage fight with Paul Orndorff that led to his firing from WCW.
In WWE, he was booked once more as a monster heel beating up guys but in 1997, suddenly turned face for no reason against the Hart Foundation. Again, Vader as a face just didn’t click with fans and it led to a downturn with his leaving the company in early 1998. When a guy is built as a monster, it’s best to book him as such and monsters always make better heels.
13 Ron Simmons
A good worker already, Simmons took off as part of tag team champions Doom and was popular when they split for a face run. In 1992, he won the WCW World title, a historic moment although marred by bad challengers and some fan backlash. When he lost the belt in 1993, Simmons was pushed to a heel with the idea of turning dirty to get ahead but he didn’t seem to click in the role at all, wasted in the mid-card and failing to capitalize on his heat.
Later, in 1996, Simmons had become Farooq. He was the leader of the Nation of Domination until the growing popularity of The Rock pushed him to get The Nation to turn on Farooq. WWE tried to then push him as a face but Simmons didn’t work out there, the fans not eager to cheer a guy who’d been a major heel for so long and the feud ended up fizzling. Simmons would get back on top with the APA and his popular “DAMN!” catchphrase but it's a shame a good worker had to be spoiled by some bad turns.
Note to any future bookers out there: Never start a long-range “mystery” storyline if you don’t have some idea how to solve it. Such a case was in 1999 when Steve Austin was run down at the Survivor Series (the excuse to have the injured Austin out of the show). When he returned nearly a year later, it finally hit WWE they needed to have someone driving the car. After various investigations, the guilty party was revealed: Rikishi. Yep, the guy with a brief IC title run who’d been dancing around and sticking his rear in people’s faces was the guilty party.
Even crazier was his excuse, that he “did it for The Rock,” to give The Rock a shot at being the top star in the company. It was very badly done, an obvious last-minute choice and Rikishi was not suited for a heel at all. His career never really recovered from there. All told, one of the worst wrap-ups of a storyline ever to hurt an otherwise good year for WWE.
11 Alberto Del Rio
Del Rio was a guy made for heeldom. His arrogant demeanor, his cocky walk, his aura, boasting of his greatness, this guy was a ready-made heel. His in-ring work was rough at times and fans not taking to his big push, but Del Rio clearly was the sort of heel who could get the crowd to hate him in the right way. So for WWE to suddenly decide to remake him as a “Latino hero” was a baffling move. The man had been pushed as an arrogant aristocrat, but was now talking of “fighting for the little guy” and it came off as just fake talk.
He seemed a little okay against Big Show but the feud with Zeb Coulter and Jack Swagger was rough as fans took to the more charismatic Coulter and Swagger rather than Del Rio, who was weaker on the mic. Also, Latino fans just didn’t take to him either and even slammed WWE for asking them to cheer Del Rio simply because he was Mexican. A double turn would get Del Rio back as a heel which worked better and proves how just slapping a hero label on anyone doesn’t work out.
10 Ed Leslie
Best known as Brutus Beefcake, Leslie had been a decent worker in WWE, first as tag team champion and then taking off as “The Barber” but mostly helped by his long friendship with Hulk Hogan. In 1990, Beefcake was set to get the IC title but a parasailing accident nearly killed him and it derailed his run. In 1994, Leslie followed Hogan to WCW as “Brother Bruti,”. At Halloween Havoc, Hogan beat Ric Flair in a “retirement” match and was attacked by a masked man who’d interfered beforehand. Hogan responded by unmasking him to reveal Leslie, who soon took the name of “The Butcher” to challenge Hogan.
The problem was that fans were asked to buy a lifelong mid-carder challenging for the World title and the whole “Hogan betrayed by a close friend” angle had already been done far better. Starrcade 94 was a horrible show and Leslie’s turn just led to various idiotic identities like Zodiac and the Booty Man. It was the first major sign Hogan’s WCW tenure was going to be a rough one.
9 Ken Patera
A terrific worker as a strongman, Patera had been among the top heel workers of the early 1980s, holding the IC title among various other belts and taking it to Bob Backlund in title bouts. Arrogant and brutal, Patera’s career was rocked when he was arrested for smashing up a diner and spent two years in prison. When he finally got out, WWE took the bizarre idea of trying to have Patera become a face with the story of him out for redemption (this despite the fact he’d continually denied the charges against him).
It was odd, especially given Patera was out of the spotlight for so long. Even attacking Bobby Heenan and teaming up with Hulk Hogan didn’t give Patera the rub. The guy just seemed lost on the mic and on his own. He never rose high and was gone from WWE a year later, showing the “redemption arc” doesn’t work without the right guy.
8 Ricky Steamboat
When lists of the greatest face wrestlers are made, Steamboat is usually at the top. “The Dragon” was unique in that his entire career was as a babyface and it made sense. His great skill in the ring was matched by his uncanny ability to sell and attack like no one else and helped him win multiple championships in NWA, WCW and WWE. Retired in 1994 due to a back injury, Steamboat mostly stayed away from the business but in 2002, was talked into showing up for the newly established TNA.
After a few shots as a ref, Steamboat was shown on TV talking of a comeback but sounding harsher than usual, angry at Vince McMahon for his treatment years ago and thus, for the first time ever, threatened to go heel. It could have been a unique turn but after just a few appearances, Steamboat left the company and the whole thing was dropped. The fact is, Steamboat was just so beloved and brilliant as a face that having him go heel at all would have never worked and Steamboat’s legacy as one of the very few life-long faces remains intact.
7 Randy Orton
Orton himself is up front on how terrible this move was and wished he’s spoken up about it at the time. The guy was taking off as a major star as an IC champion and proving himself against Mick Foley in a brutal fight. He was cocky and arrogant, boasting of his greatness, all the ingredients needed to be a great heel. When he beat Chris Benoit for the World title, the logic seemed obvious for Orton to use this to push HHH out of Evolution and take over himself for a long run as a top star. Instead, the very next night, Evolution turned on Orton to beat him down. Orton just wasn’t suited as a face, not at this time anyway, as there was no reason to cheer him except “he’s not Triple H.” After just a month, Orton lost the title to Hunter and his career would drift for a while. He’s gotten himself back on top as champion and has even had some successful face runs but this early turn nearly wrecked Orton’s career early and shows how if a guy is a great heel, he should just stay that way.
6 Brian Pillman
The Hollywood Blondes were one of the absolute best teams in WCW. Steve Austin and Brian Pillman were fantastic in the ring while also perfect acting like arrogant jerks stealing victories and fantastic on the mic. As tag team champions, they were riding high but messed up by the terrible politics of WCW as they lost the belts when Steven Regal subbed for an injured Pillman. Still, they had the skills and drive and were just about to hit their height as a team.
Naturally, WCW’s logical move was to split them up. With no warning, Robert Parker came out to praise Austin but slam Pillman and Austin suddenly turned on his partner. Pillman had been a fantastic heel so having him suddenly act as a smiling babyface didn’t work out for him, stuck in the lower cards for over a year. Both men were upset with WCW over this as splitting up their best act truly hurt the company.
5 Steve Austin
As much as The Rock and HHH may have threatened, no one in WWE could touch Steve Austin’s popularity from 1998 to 2001. Despite injuries slowing him down, the Rattlesnake was still loved for his hard ring attitude, beer drinking and of course, his hate for Vince McMahon. Despite acting like a heel a lot, Austin was still loved and that led to WrestleMania X-Seven as he boasted he’d do whatever it took to win the WWE title off The Rock. This led to Vince McMahon coming out to help Austin with a chair to win and the two hated foes shaking hands. This could have led to a new bit of Austin as the hated monster champ but it didn’t work as soon Austin was shown singing songs to Vince and the mess of the Invasion ruined much of his reign. Also, fans just weren’t that eager to boo Austin despite his actions and were still buying his merchandise.
Austin has said that if he had to do it over, he’d have called an audible, hit a Stunner on Vince and walked out still the hero as his heel turn ended up sending his career into a downslide.
Sting is just so amazing as a face that trying to make him a heel is futile. WCW attempted it, however, when Hogan decided to go back to his red and yellow hero look in 1999. To give him a major foe, WCW decided to have Sting turn heel and attack Hogan to hold the World title. However, asking WCW fans to boo the man who they recognized as the heart and soul of the company was a wasted exercise. They still cheered Sting hard, no matter what he did and thus, WCW had to have him switch back to being a face without any fanfare.
Sting would play with a heel persona in TNA as well but again, the man was made to be a hero. Trying to be the bad guy was a wasted effort and it showed how the Stinger was too popular to go bad.
In 2000, WCW was hurting with bad attendance and ratings, low merchandise sales and an overall feeling of things coming apart. Vince Russo’s brilliant solution to fix this? Take Goldberg, the one truly over guy in the company, coming back after a long injury, and turn him heel. It was hated from the very start and not in the good way, as Goldberg was just not suited for the heel persona despite his attempts. It wasn’t helped by the ridiculous booking of WCW at the time that failed to give him proper challengers or helpers and made the monster look weaker than usual.
The whole thing was dropped fast, the “big shock” having no real effect and yet another blow to an already bad year for WCW.
Goldberg was the one monster that only worked well on the side of good. Goldberg's career was never really the same after this terrible decision by WCW.
2 Monty Brown
Of all the many dropped balls of TNA, this may be the worst. Brown was a great home-grown talent for the company, good on the mic and while a bit green, showed improvement with fans enjoying him a lot. The “Alpha Male” had a good presence, a cool-looking finisher and was rising with several NWA title matches. He was on the rise and looked ready for a good future. Thus, it was a major shock at Destination X 2005 when, with absolutely no build-up, Brown attacked DDP and allied himself with Jeff Jarrett. It never made sense and Brown’s career was never the same.
He had a few shots at the belt here and there but mostly stuck in the mid-card and forgettable feuds before finally leaving TNA in 2007. This was a man who could have been the future of the company but turning him heel ruined so much of that drive and this was yet another of TNA’s many mistakes.
1 The Road Warriors
When they entered Jim Crockett Promotions, most thought it just a matter of time before Hawk and Animal had the tag team titles. It didn’t happen as Crockett assumed they were way too over already to give them the belts, gypping them a few times (most notably Starrcade '87) and ignoring how the Warriors were the most over team in the company. Finally, in 1988, Crockett did a bit where the Warriors turned on ultra-popular Sting in a tag match and declared they were tired of being held back and were now out for themselves. They followed that with a brutal attack on Dusty Rhodes and finally earned the tag titles over the Midnight Express, prepared to dominate as monster heels.
There was just one problem: The fans LIKED the Warriors being ruthless and brutal. It was how they got over in the first place. Rather than booing, the fans cheered the Warriors on, even against Sting and Dusty. They kept getting cheers more and more and eventually, WCW realized there was no use keeping to this so they just changed the Warriors back to faces. Fans just love the Legion of Doom as hard-ass monsters and trying to get them to boo the Warriors was futile from the start as they would hit a height of the company at last.