The job of the heel is simple. Generate heat by all means by either insulting fan favorites, insulting the crowd or their city, constantly winning by outside interference or cheating, brash behavior, and depending on the heel, showing cowardly or arrogant qualities. They are basically the antagonists of wrestling and if the crowd hate them, it means they're doing a good job.
Some examples of great heels who the fans love to hate are The Miz, Triple H, Vince McMahon and Randy Orton to name a few. These are figures who knew how to draw hate from the crowd and usually excel better as a heel than a face due to their actions and promos. They also proved to be the perfect foil for many top faces in the wrestling world because no one wanted to support them.
However, there is an exception to the rule. Sometimes, there emerges heels who the crowd can't help but love. This could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe their foes have been faces for way too long and the crowd just want to cheer for someone else but most of the time, it's because of the heel themselves.
Sometimes, a heel can be cheered simply due to their personality, promos (and ability to entertain) and wrestling ability. This is a rare feat to accomplish though. The heel still has to show heel-like mannerisms like cheating or being arrogant after all. Anyone can mock the crowd's city for example, but if you do it in a charismatic, memorable manner, the crowd will boo you but then proceed to laugh as well.
Eventually, heels get over so much that the creative team have no option but to prepare for a face turn. And so, we take a look at 15 of the best heels that we couldn't help but love in the wrestling world.
16 Dolph Ziggler
Despite aligning himself with Vickie Guerrero and displaying heel-like behavior (his Twitter handle is @HeelZiggler as well), it didn't take long for The Showoff to win over fans. With his charisma, attitude and excellent in-ring ability, this doesn't come as a surprise either as Ziggler simply connected with the fans. The very fact that as his music hit before he came to cash in his Money in the Bank against Alberto del Rio, the crowd erupted, further highlights how likeable Ziggler was as a heel.
While Edge was a remarkable heel, hated by most in the audience, he too, became a likeable figure. From his segments involving Lita to his antics in the ring, fans soon grew fond of the Ultimate Opportunist because they knew he could entertain them. The fact that his main event scene coincided with John Cena's superstardom also did him a few favors in that regard as smarks particularly, cheered for Edge especially when he first cashed in his Money in the Bank and did things like this to Cena.
14 Brock Lesnar
When Brock Lesnar first arrived in the WWE, he was a heel, terrorizing the roster right from his debut. He would slowly progress to the main event scene after winning the King of the Ring which led to a title match with The Rock at SummerSlam. Like he does so usually now, Brock conquered The Rock and was even cheered (though mainly because many grew frustrated with The Rock's absences due to his movie career) but he was being cheered before that as well.
Lesnar was simply entertaining in the ring and to top if off, he was a legitimate athlete like Kurt Angle. With Paul Heyman on his side as well, it wasn't long until he turned face. However, Lesnar is much better as a heel and fast forward to the present, and despite technically being a heel, Lesnar is still cheered today because fans know destruction (and as a result, entertainment) follows where The Beast goes. Hate him or love him, fans know a trip to Suplex City will never be boring and a presence like Lesnar is needed in the WWE.
As the Big Red Machine, Kane has been the pillar of the WWE, participating in more matches than any other superstar. Since his debut in 1997, Kane has commanded respect much like his brother, The Undertaker and with good reason. Terrorizing superstars and wreaking havoc each week, fans knew that when Kane entered, business was about to pick up. And so whether he was a heel or not, fans still liked him and his entrance, particularly his pyro, being super cool did him a few favors as well.
12 Shawn Michaels
HBK would embark on a prominent heel run as the leader of D-Generation X in 1997 alongside Triple H and Chyna. Already a heel, Michaels would go to new heights, feuding with The Hart Foundation with antics such as blowing his nose and humping the Canadian flag. As the degenerates continued to entertain, fans would soon grow fond of DX and Michaels in particular until his first retirement in 1998.
Michaels would return to the WWE in 2002, being a face for the majority of his second run. However, in 2005, he turned heel for a short bit, mocking Hulk Hogan (as well as Bret Hart) in what culminated in one of the best heel promos in recent times. HBK as a result, proved he could still entertain as a heel.
11 Ric Flair
You can't be the "Dirtiest Player in the Game" without some heel antics and Ric Flair had those in abundance. A true legend, having wrestled for decades, it didn't really matter whether he was a face, trying to screw over Vince McMahon or a heel, as part of Evolution, helping Triple H retain his championship just about every month. The fans simply couldn't get enough of Flair whether it was his flops, entrance, his iconic "Woo!" or his strut. Coupled alongside his antics when it came to distracting the referee or opponent, Flair was always entertaining.
10 The Undertaker
The Undertaker is a legend who commands respect, no matter if he is a heel or a face. While he's been a face for so long, it's easy to forget that he did have some prominent heel runs as well. The Ministry of Darkness era comes to mind in the late nineties while he also had a fierce heel run as the American Badass from late 2001 to 2002. The common similarity between the two runs is that The Deadman still had his fans because of the carnage and havoc that he brought in the squared circle during his peak.
9 Daniel Bryan
While Daniel Bryan plays the underdog so well, he has also shown that he can be an amazing heel. Back when he was with AJ Lee, Bryan - the World Heavyweight Champion at the time - was cocky, arrogant and over celebrated wins with his "Yes" chants (which would later become legendary). Along with this, he played the bad boyfriend to AJ, never saying he loved her back and pretty much treating her like garbage. When AJ left Bryan at the altar, it was the start of the "No" chants and hilarity ensued as despite his heelish antics, Bryan was very much over with the crowd.
8 Razor Ramon
Before The Rock, Shawn Michaels and more, there was Razor Ramon - the original bad guy. Making his debut in the WWE after a series of vignettes, Ramon was a breath of fresh air with a Scarface-like gimmick which quickly caught on with the fans. However, Ramon was just too cool and charismatic to be booed by the fans and was even cheered by most after some time. Regarded as the first tweener in the WWE, Ramon's heel run didn't last long because he was constantly getting cheered. While he did fare well as a face, he'll always be remembered as, the bad guy.
7 Chris Jericho
If anyone could play the heel, it was Chris Jericho. Jericho was obnoxious, arrogant and even played the part outside the ring. However, his charisma, in-ring ability and overall swagger made it hard for fans to hate the first ever Undisputed Champion for long. His Highlight Reel segments were always something to look forward to while very few could handle Y2J on the mic. It's not a surprise that even though he was a heel during his return in 2012, fans were still cheering him on - such was their love for Jericho.
6 CM Punk
The self proclaimed "Best in the World" is another wrestler who was beloved as a heel. With his cult following from his days at Ring of Honor, Punk already had his fair share of fans when he debuted in the WWE, such that even as a heel, he was getting cheered. Punk's prominent heel runs came when he was the leader of the hot Straight Edge Society and the New Nexus, however it was in 2011 when he really got going. Following his infamous Pipe Bomb promo, Punk was getting bigger and bigger and despite being a heel and up against John Cena, he was still cheered. Punk eventually became a face before reverting back to a heel alongside Paul Heyman but the end result was the same - fans still loved Punk.
5 Kurt Angle
Like Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle will still get cheered regardless if he's a heel or a face because of his wrestling ability as a legitimate athlete. However, there was more to Angle than just wrestling. He had the perfect theme song to which fans chanted "You Suck!" not because he sucked, but because it invoked hilarious reactions from Angle such as this classic RAW moment. With his mic skills, Angle was the perfect comedic heel, with hilarious segments with The Rock, Stone Cold, Vince McMahon and more. While Angle has also demonstrated a fierce heel side as well, fans couldn't help but love Angle as a comedic heel.
When Hulk Hogan made his long awaited heel turn, joining forces with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, they formed the New World Order. A stable that would revolutionize pro wrestling, despite their heelish antics, the nWo were cheered by fans. They were just too cool to be hated as their promos, catchphrases and even theme song won over the masses. Nearly everyone in a WCW arena had an nWo shirt on as the legendary group were just "too sweet."
3 Stone Cold Steve Austin
Probably the biggest babyface of the last 20 years, Austin however, started his WWE career as a heel, first in the Ringmaster gimmick before transitioning into the popular Stone Cold gimmick. Fans would soon start rooting for Austin thanks to his unique Stone Cold stunner which helped him beat Jake "The Snake" Roberts in the King of the Ring finals before cutting his iconic 3:16 promo (a catalyst for the Attitude Era).
Austin would then feud with Bret Hart, a face, culminating in a match at WrestleMania where in a unique double turn, Austin turned face and Hart turned heel after the bleeding Rattlesnake passed out to Hart's sharpshooter. Austin wouldn't turn heel again until 2001 where with the help of Vince McMahon, he'd beat The Rock at WrestleMania 17. A controversial heel turn given Austin's popularity, it seemed to work at first as siding with Triple H, the duo gained a lot of heat as the Two Man Power Trip. Austin however, would be on his own once Triple H suffered a long term injury and became more of a comedic heel with some hilarious segments with Debra, Spike Dudley, Kurt Angle and McMahon.
2 The Rock
Even though The Rock has been a face longer than a heel, some would argue that he was better off being the bad guy. When he became the Corporate Champion in 1998, siding with the McMahons, The Great One became public enemy number one. Booed out of every arena, The Rock knew how to gain heat but the WWE realized something. Slowly, The Rock's charisma, promos and unique catchphrases were catching on with the fans. No longer were they booing The Rock just for the heck of it but to provoke an entertaining response from the Brahma Bull. Fans even produced loud ovations when The Rock's music hit, because they knew he'd have something good for them.
However, it was in 2003 where The Rock pulled off the perfect heel gimmick. With fans tired of him going back to Hollywood, The Rock embraced the hate and adopted the hot shot movie star gimmick, giving it to every arena that booed him. With Rock concerts and hilarious promos, fans would boo The Rock but then, end up laughing because even as a heel, he'd entertain the whole arena.
1 Vince McMahon
When it's all said and done, Vince McMahon has to go down as one of the most popular and beloved heels. This might sound crazy or weird to some considering he usually had the gimmick of the 'evil boss' but McMahon and his promos, selling and general segments simply entertained people, making them want more from the chairman of the WWE. Everyone took notice when his theme song hit the arena.
From his selling of the famous beer truck episode to the infamous power walk to his facial expressions - even if he interrupted a fan favorite to insult them, you couldn't help but cheer or get entertained by McMahon even though he's been a heel for the best part of the last 25 years.