There’s a very popular belief in pro wrestling that it is easier to play the villain than the hero. When asked in interviews, the majority of wrestlers state they have more fun playing the heel and it’s an easier role. The work of convincing a crowd to like you is significantly more difficult than getting a crowd to hate you. This is a product of human nature. It takes very little for us to develop a dislike for something but there’s a tougher process in convincing us to like someone.
The work of a face always has more variables than that of a heel. The same principles apply to all villains. Do bad things. Heels can get you to dislike them by insulting the viewer, being cruel to the popular wrestlers or by just cheating. The classic example of a heel getting easy heat from the crowd is when they reference a local sports team or athlete of the hometown crowd in a negative manner. Considering the crossover of fans in attendance that likely support the team or athlete insulted, it leads to automatic boos. It isn’t as simple for a face to get cheers.
If a face talks about how much they love the local community or respect the hometown crowd’s favorite athlete, it can look like the wrestler is pandering and no one wants to cheer a suck-up. The face has to figure out what each fan base they wrestle in front of wants to cheer and stay true to their character for the television audience watching at home. There have been many wrestlers who excelled as heels but flopped as babyfaces because of the nature of the landscape. The story of wrestlers to underwhelm as heels but succeed as faces is less common. We’re going to examine those as we look at the top fifteen wrestlers that were much better as faces than heels.
14 Rob Van Dam
Rob Van Dam’s early time in ECW was spent as a heel teaming with Sabu but his in-ring work was so good that the fans quickly fell in love with him. RVD’s egotistical personality and desire to show off just made the crowd cheer for him and he organically became the most popular star in the company because he could back it up. WWE signed RVD and the same thing happened. Originally debuting as a member of the heel Alliance faction, fans cheered Van Dam and turned him into a popular face. RVD has spent the rest of his career playing the face role and never looked back.
13 Billy Kidman
The WCW Cruiserweight division was one of the best things the company ever created. Billy Kidman was one of the cornerstones of the division and became a popular face, as both a singles star and in a tag team with Rey Mysterio. Then, WCW tried a youth movement, with many new stars getting pushes into the main event scene in 2000. One of those stars was Kidman, who worked as a heel against Hulk Hogan. As talented as Kidman was, his heel promos were forced and felt unnatural. WWE also tried turning Kidman heel, by having him turn on tag partner Paul London, and it once again fell flat for him.
12 Jim Ross
The overwhelming choice for the greatest wrestling announcer of all time would be Jim Ross. The play-by-play commentator for WWE’s most successful years, Ross had the perfect mix of passion and knowledge. Most of all, fans loved Ross because his character was extremely likable and he felt like a fellow wrestling fan who loved the business.
At one point, WWE had the idea to turn Ross heel in the 90s. He threatened to bring back Kevin Nash and Scott Hall but ended up bringing in impostors to play the Diesel and Razor Ramon characters. It was hilariously bad and it’s still remembered as one of the dumbest storylines in WWE history.
11 Al Snow
Al Snow was most successful as a face character that would talk to a mannequin. New fans reading this probably find that hard to believe, but the Attitude Era was a weird time. Snow was one of the more popular midcarders in the company and whenever he'd emerge, fans would instantly starting chanting for Head (the name of his mannequin head). Double entendres were quite popular at the time.
Well, Snow eventually turned heel and his character had no legs, even in a small feud with main eventer Mick Foley. For the remainder of his career, Snow would use the nostalgia of his face character instead of his weak heel work.
10 A.J. Styles
A.J. Styles is easily the greatest start in TNA history. He was the first talent who was TNA made to become a main eventer and, in turn, he became the face of the franchise. Styles would switch back and forth between face and heel, but he only impressed as a fan favorite. His ability to do exciting things in the ring and present a naturally likable personality made Styles a star and his heel tenures would take away from that, especially when he had blonde highlights in his hair and started cosplaying as Ric Flair.
9 Dusty Rhodes
“The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes was one of the most beloved wrestlers of his time because of how he could connect with wrestling fans. Rhodes represented the “common man” but his unbelievable promos and great matches were anything but common. Rhodes' heel work was extremely limited and video of it is hard to find from the territory days. There was also his heel turn in WCW when Rhodes joined the New World Order as a manager. As humorous as the image of Dusty in the nWo t-shirt was, he had almost no impact. Rhodes was just meant to be a face. Everyone loved and respected him.
9. Shane McMahon
Shane McMahon's inclusion on this list is funny considering his father and sister were/are both incredible heel characters but underwhelming babyfaces. It was the opposite for Shane as he had a more naturally likable personality. His times as a heel weren’t terrible but it just didn't feel as natural to hate him in comparison to the rest of his family (except for Linda). Shane served the company much better as a face with his cool demeanor and risk-taking moments in wrestling matches. It’s impossible to not respect someone that was suplexed through glass or who jumped off the top of the titantron.
8 Diamond Dallas Page
With a late start to his in-ring career, Diamond Dallas Page quickly worked his way into relevancy in WCW. Page had something special about him and started to stand out as someone fans cared about. His heel work was serviceable but it wasn’t until he turned into a face that DDP became a huge star for WCW. Towards the end of WCW, Page was arguably the most loved wrestler on the roster and had it all going for him. His entrance, gear, moveset, finisher and personality all came together to create the perfect babyface. When Page joined the WWE as a heel, the character bombed and he became an enhancement talent shortly after.
7 Road Dogg
The most underrated member of D-Generation X has to be “Road Dogg” Jesse James. With a humorous and entertaining personality, James helped DX become one of the most fun factions of the late 90s. Road Dogg would do his own ring introductions as he walked to the ring and live crowds would eat it up, as fans would chant and sing along to his catch phrases. The peaks of his in-ring skillset were also fun moves that featured dancing or crowd interaction. Considering his success was based of positive crowd interaction, all of his following heel work didn’t come across well and he was less noteworthy for it.
6 Hacksaw Jim Duggan
With his fun mix of patriotism and a friendly personality, Hacksaw Jim Duggan spent the majority of his career working as a face. Duggan was loved by the crowd and they'd always chant "USA" or his trademark “hoooooo” in support of him. Most of Duggan’s success came from his WWE tenure but WCW also used him as a face in a similar character until Vince Russo joined the company. Duggan turned heel and joined Team Canada, but no one bought it or cared about the storyline. Duggan could not turn his supporters into haters and they rather became apathetic towards him.
5 Tommy Dreamer
Tommy Dreamer was the heart and soul of ECW and it carried him for years after the company went out of business. Dreamer had the ability to earn a spot in the hearts of the average fan and he still shows that skill today in the indies. When you’re watching Dreamer work, you know he is busting his ass and wants to give the fans their money’s worth. You simply can’t help but love someone like that.
WWE signed Dreamer and originally tried to make him wrestle as a heel in the Alliance faction but it just didn't work. The things that make Dreamer special are things a fan will love and he was never able to play a heel because of that.
The phenomenon of Bill Goldberg was a rare story of an unknown talent becoming a superstar in WCW. Goldberg would have a 173-0 undefeated streak that featured him demolishing his opponents in a destructive fashion. Fans loved Goldberg and he was the example of a character that would only work well as a face. WCW decided to turn him heel and have him join the heel power duo of Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo. The heel run was an eventful and lackluster time for the star. You can’t really hate a heel unless he makes a fool of himself or cheats to win. Goldberg’s character was a serious ass-kicker that would always win with ease, so it was destined to fail from the start.
Sting was another WCW star who spent the majority of his career as a face. Between the cool face paint and unparalleled energy, the Stinger was a talent tailor-made to work as a face. Sting has been loved throughout his long career in WCW, TNA and now WWE.
There were two examples of him failing as a heel. Sting turned on Hulk Hogan in 1999 to win the WCW Championship but there was nothing memorable about his heel run and WCW changed him back into a face after two months. TNA tried making Sting heel for a short time and it didn’t make any sense. The fans never truly disliked him, even when he was hitting faces like RVD with a baseball bat over and over.
2 Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio is the most likable character possible. He is the ultimate underdog that is small in size but succeeds with hard work and heart. Mysterio wrestled his way into our hearts in both WCW and WWE with his incredible matches and there are very few wrestlers in the history of the business with as strong of a “greatest hits” library as Mysterio. WCW made two idiotic decisions when they unmasked Rey and eventually turned him into a heel.. Thankfully, WWE saw how dumb this was and let him wrestle with his mask again as he became one of the most loved stars in company history.
1 Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy has a free spirit and takes insane bumps in dangerous matches. Those are two of many attributes that made Hardy one of the most loved wrestlers in the business and his WWE Championship wins came due to the fans making him one of the most over acts in the company. At his peak, Hardy rivaled John Cena as a top singles babyface. TNA signed Hardy and made a terrible decision by having him turn heel. They tried to create the New World Order with Hardy’s heel turn emulating Hulk Hogan becoming a villain in 1996. Hardy came off quite weak as a heel and it was the worst period of his career. Some wrestlers should never turn and Jeff Hardy is the best case of that.