Every WWE superstar dreams of walking through the curtain to the roar of the crowd chanting their name. To be the hero that everyone hopes to see overcome the odds and prevail. Not everyone needs the people though. Some superstars are simply out for themselves, even if they already have the love of millions.
Most of the time a heel turn is foreshadowed for the sake of character and logic, building up a stronger story when the turn happens. But sometimes a turn is a true swerve that seemingly comes out of nowhere, shocking audiences both in the arena and at home. The latter will be the focus here.
So André turning on Hogan will not be included, despite how shocking the idea of André turning heel after so many years as a face, he walked out of his own celebration the week before out of frustration. Chris Jericho throwing his idol Shawn Michaels through the JeriTron was an impactful betrayal, but Jericho had been having issues with his treachery for months.
This list will compile the type of heel turns that became water cooler talk, for better or worse. The ones that stunned fans to silence, or outraged many to almost riotous levels. Ones that excited, and even ones that simply left us scratching our heads.
20 Kane (2003)
Ever since Kane made his debut back at Badd Blood in 1997, the Big Red Machine had been masked in some form or another. This was due to his disfigured face as a result of being left in a fire at his family's funeral home that was started by his half-brother, The Undertaker.
Five years later, Kane was one of the top faces of the Raw brand and embroiled in one of the most infamous rivalries in professional wrestling history against Triple H. The Katie Vick angle was dropped, and Kane would move back to the tag team division with Rob Van Dam.
Their issues would not stop there though, as their feud would be reignited nine months later when Triple H offered Kane a spot in his Evolution stable. Instead, Kane would take up Raw co-General Manager, Steve Austin, up on his offer of a World Heavyweight Championship match against The Game. But not before the other co-GM, Eric Bischoff, added in the stipulation that he would have to unmask if he lost.
The following week in Madison Square Garden, Kane competed in one of the biggest matches of his career and lost. It could be argued that the most shocking part of this was Kane actually unmasking, a sight many wrestling fans thought they would never see. There was another surprise in store though, as Kane would attack his partner Rob Van Dam.
19 The Undertaker (2001)
Just after Survivor Series 2001, WCW and ECW's Alliance had fallen to the WWE. The ever forgiving Vince McMahon had started a 'Kiss My Ass Club' for what he considered the traitors. The second member to the club was to be WWE Champion, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Naturally, things didn't go well for the chairman, as Austin instead took to whipping McMahon's ass with his belt instead.
Viewers couldn't stop laughing at the turn of events, most importantly, Austin's good friend Jim Ross.
This didn't go unnoticed by Kurt Angle and McMahon, who turned their attention to the legendary commentator and dragged him to the ring to force him into the club. Cue The Deadman, seemingly coming down to save JR, or so we thought.
Instead, Undertaker pointed out that everyone from Hogan to Michaels has kissed Vince's ass at some point or another, the worst culprit being himself. He then asked what made JR think he was better than him and punched Ross and forced him to kiss McMahon's ass, all while the boss wore JR's signature hat. The turn didn't last very long, but it was a truly shocking moment.
18 Shawn Michaels (2005)
At WrestleMania 21, newly inducted Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan saved Eugene from an attack by anti-American duo Muhammad Hassan and his translator, Khosrow Daivari. The next night on Raw, Hassan and Daivari turned their attention to Shawn Michaels. Michaels tried to get a handicap match against the duo, but general manager Eric Bischoff would only allow Michaels the match if he could find himself a partner.
Michaels would publicly appeal to Hogan to return and team with him, an offer that Hogan would accept. The two legends would win with the tag match at Backlash.
Michaels would return the favour by helping out Hogan when he was attacked by Carlito and Kurt Angle on Independence Day, leading to a tag team match later that night. Michaels and Hogan were successful, for a patriotic moment seeing Hogan once again standing tall to the sound of Real American.
However, a different tune was playing in Shawn Michaels's mind. One of Sweet Chin Music, as he levelled his partner and turned his back on the WWE Universe for the first time since his return three years earlier. Michaels's heel turn would only last the month the two feuded, but provided a glimpse of the edgy character he was during the Attitude Era, as he pulled no punches in his mockery of his opponent.
17 CM Punk (2012)
In the summer of 2012, CM Punk was the hottest property in the entire WWE. He was even outselling John Cena's merchandise, a feat no one had done since Cena took a stranglehold of the sales. So it may come as no surprise that even Punk himself didn't want to turn heel. As he recently revealed during his controversial podcast, Vince had to talk the star into the move.
The execution was equally as surprising. During the massive Raw 1000 episode, CM Punk defended his WWE Championship against Money in the Bank winner John Cena. The match would be interrupted by the Big Show attacking his rival Cena. Cena's WrestleMania opponent, The Rock was at the show as a special guest and came down to save his former foe from the beating. Then the unexpected happened, as CM Punk interrupted the People's Elbow to deliver a GTS to the People's Champion.
Despite his publicized backstage gripes with The Rock returning to main event WrestleMania over his own WWE Championship defence, Punk had not been used on camera with him prior to Raw 1000. Earlier in the evening Rock had interrupted Punk in the ring with Daniel Bryan to announce that he would be challenging for the title at the Royal Rumble, and that had seemingly been the breaking point for Punk, who was sick of his championship reign taking a back seat to a part-timer and the poster boy.
16 The Rock (1998)
Since leaving the Nation of Domination, The Rock's popularity had begun to soar. Vince McMahon had decided that he had a problem with 'The People' and so targeted the man labeling himself their champion. For a month he found himself at the wrath of the boss, who tried his best to keep him away from the WWE Championship.
Despite the best efforts of McMahon, The Rock still made it to the Deadly Game tournament at Survivor Series to crown a new WWE Champion. He managed to make it all the way to the final, where he would meet McMahon's prodigal son, Mankind.
The two battled in a hard-fought match, that saw a loose application of the rules - mostly to allow Mankind to get away with using anything at his disposal. The Rock finally landed the Rock Bottom, followed by locking Mankind into a Sharpshooter.
A complete re-run of the Montreal Screwjob ensued, as McMahon instantly called for the bell. However this time it saw 'The People's Champion' become the Corporate Champion.
15 Rikishi (2000)
For almost one entire year, the WWE was consumed by one big question: who ran over Stone Cold Steve Austin? Commissioner Mick Foley took it upon himself to find the culprit, with fellow top stars such as The Rock and Triple H emerging as front-runners. So when Mick Foley finally revealed the actual culprit, the world was in for a bit of a surprise.
Thanks to a slip of the tongue, unnoticed by all but Foley, the man behind the wheel was unveiled. Rikishi had been running with Too Cool, and his partner Scotty 2 Hotty had mentioned that he had been backstage that fateful night at Survivor Series. Yet Rikishi hadn't debuted on television. Bringing the almost year-long search to close as Rikishi admitted the crime and infamously stated that he did it "for The Rock." He stated that he was sick of Samoan wrestlers being held back for the "Great White Hope" to take the mantle, and was taking out Austin to allow the spotlight to be shifted to his cousin.
The turn failed to truly establish Rikishi as a main event level heel, and it would later turn out that Rikishi was actually working for Triple H.
14 Kevin Nash (1999)
The nWo may be best remembered as a black and white faction, but there was a point in time it had split into separate groups. nWo Hollywood and nWo Wolfpac . The two groups would battle each other repeatedly, with the fans siding with Nash's Wolfpac. This was no coincidence, as Nash had taken over as the booker for WCW.
So it may also come as little surprise that Nash made himself the man to end the undefeated streak of Bill Goldberg. In typical WCW fashion, the World Heavyweight Championship match between the two at Starrcade ended with interference galore - mostly notably Scott Hall using a taser to weaken the champ.
One week later, the two were set for a rematch on Nitro with the World Championship on the line. However, Goldberg got arrested and Hogan came out of retirement to take his place. The stage was set for a meeting of the leaders of the two nWo factions over the company's top prize. The infamous Finger Poke of Doom ensued.
This is one of the most reviled moments in wrestling history and, despite Nash's claims to the contrary, is cited as the night that the momentum moved from WCW to the WWE with 600,000 viewers switching to watch Mankind's championship win.
13 Vince McMahon (1999)
Although not generally remembered, there was a brief period of time during the Attitude Era that Vince McMahon spent as a face. This was because of the rise of The Ministry of Darkness, led by The Undertaker. Undertaker wanted control of the WWE, and had a plan to gain the power.
The Ministry kidnapped Stephanie McMahon with the idea of forcing her to marry Taker, resulting in him getting ownership of the company. This led to Vince forming an alliance with his enemy - Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin already had issues with Undertaker, and so the union was forged.
Austin saved Stephanie from the wedding, but things were not getting any better for the chairman. His son Shane joined forces with The Undertaker, taking with him The Corporation and creating the Corporate Ministry. Both men were taking orders from what they simply referred to as a "Higher Power" that one month later would be revealed to be Vince McMahon himself who had orchestrated the whole Corporate Ministry as a master plan to try and destroy his nemesis Stone Cold.
No one had thought that Vince would have kidnapped his own daughter and tried to force her to marry Undertaker, but despite the shock value, the whole angle would quietly fade away.
12 Barry Windham (1988)
At the Clash of the Champions event, Barry Windham teamed with former Horseman, Lex Luger to face Tag Team Champions Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard. Windham and Luger caused a huge upset by capturing the championships after some rare miscommunication by the experienced Brain Busters.
Less than a month later, the rematch was set in Jacksonville, Florida. Windham would shock the world though, as he turned on his partner during the match to give the victory and championships to the Brain Busters, and join them in the Four Horseman.
Unlike other entries in the list, there was a bit of foreshadowing for this turn. In December 1987, Ric Flair had extended an invitation to Windham to join the Four Horseman.
11 Trish Stratus (2004)
Trish Stratus had established herself as the face of the WWE Divas division. She had captured the Women's Championship four times in her two year wrestling career, and was one of the most popular members of the entire WWE roster. She entered a storyline with on-again, off-again friend Lita and the duo of Chris Jericho and Christian.
Jericho and Christian had made a bet with each other, about who could sleep with their respective diva first. Jericho had actually begun to develop feelings for Trish, which caused a rift between him and Christian. Jericho chose her over his friend, and the two entered a bitter feud that culminated at WrestleMania XX. Stratus would accidentally cost her man the match or so it seemed. Afterwards, she slapped Jericho around the face several times and proceeded to lock lips with Christian, stating that she wanted a "real man."
Stratus was the literal poster girl for the divas division, so her turn - especially during a storyline where she wasn't a leading player - came as a big shock and an equally big risk. Fortunately for WWE, it paid off and Trish was a revelation in the role and continued her classic rivalry with Lita from a new perspective.
10 Bret Hart (1997)
Double turns are rare in wrestling and for good reason. They are incredibly effective when pulled off right, and downright confusing if not. Unquestionably, the most effective double turn happened on the biggest stage possible - WrestleMania.
It was a natural decision, yet still shocking in execution. Stone Cold Steve Austin was a brash superstar whose star was fast rising, and the fans were getting behind it. Meanwhile, the Hitman's support was fading. After returning from a hiatus, Hart found that the rebel attitude of his new rival Austin was more popular than his clean cut image.
Eventually everything fell into place and at WrestleMania 13 the two men met in an I Quit Match. Hart had been acting questionable in the builld-up to the event, with the most notable incident being shoving commentator Vince McMahon and launching into a worked shoot - an incredibly rare thing for the time. During the match the blurred lines became clear, and Hart fully embraced his new villainous stance while Austin's refusal to quit saw him fully embraced by the audience.
9 Larry Zbyszko (1980)
A classic case of student turning on teacher, this Larry Zbyszko would challenge Bruno Sammartino to an exhibition match, getting him to reluctantly agree after stating he would retire if he didn't get his opportunity.
Unfortunately for Sammartino, Zbyszko's idea of making his own name didn't involve beating him. After being dominated, Zbyszko grabbed a wooden chair and attacked his master, leaving him a bloody mess.
The shocking turn would see him become one of the most hated figures of the entire decade, labelled "Judas" by his rival and genuinely attacked by fans in day-to-day life, including getting stabbed and getting his taxis overturned. It would do wonders for his career though, as the two had a long feud throughout 1980. Despite losing their final showdown, he referred to himself as the "New Living Legend" (a play on Sammartino's moniker) and claimed to be the reason his foe retired a year later.
8 Paul Bearer (1996)
Managers may not be a big feature in modern wrestling, but there was a time when the fastest way to create a new star was by association. Bobby Heenan, Jim Cornette, Mr Fuji and more were all used as a mouthpiece to create some of the biggest names in wrestling. What the vast majority of these managers all have in common is that they lacked loyalty. There is one manager in particular whose loyalty was never questioned - Paul Bearer.
For six years, Paul Bearer never wavered from the side of The Undertaker. And no one ever thought he would. In the summer of 1996, Undertaker was locked in a bitter feud with the psychologically disturbed newcomer Mankind. The two would meet at SummerSlam in a Boiler Room Brawl, with the aim of reaching the ring to take the urn from Bearer.
Undertaker would seem to have the match won, but Bearer turned his back on his associate as Mankind attacked. The stunned crowd watched silently, not quite believing their eyes as he actually joined in the beating.
7 Goldberg (2000)
It may be long forgotten in the annals of wrestling history, but during WCW's dying days their desperation reached a baffling new level. WCW had invested a lot into making Bill Goldberg their biggest star and it worked. Fans had started to tire of it, but an injury caused by destroying a limousine had provided him some time off, recharging interest for his return.
WCW would decide to turn their golden boy heel. A month after his return, Goldberg interfered in the World Championship match to help Jeff Jarrett defeat Kevin Nash. This would put Goldberg in the New Blood stable. He would suffer another injury before eventually facing Nash and defeating him.
However it was clear that the whole thing was a disaster and he was reverted back to a face the next month, quitting the New Blood stable, but the damage was done to both the company and Goldberg himself.
6 Sting (1999)
Another ill-advised and failed WCW heel turn that valued shock over rational thought. Sting had been one of WCW's top stars since the 80s, and during the nWo days he had reinvented his persona and stepped up to be the biggest star battling for the side of the company.
After Hulk Hogan had returned to the red and yellow and captured the WCW World Championship Sting was set to challenge him. Questions were raised during the run-up about whether Hogan could be trusted, but during the match itself it turned out that Sting was the untrustworthy one, hitting Hogan with his baseball bat to win the championship.
Unsurprisingly, the WCW fans continued to cheer Sting despite his new attitude and heel ways. Worse still, they turned on Hogan, who they still viewed as the WWE guy and so, Sting was turned face soon after.
5 Seth Rollins (2014)
Arguably the most shocking moment in the WWE since CM Punk's pipebomb was the implosion of The Shield. Most fans knew that the groups days were numbered, and had been for months, but what was completely unknown was how and when. The biggest shock would end up coming from the who.
Rollins, the fearless daredevil of the group, would betray his 'brothers' the night after they convincingly defeated Evolution. As Triple H claimed he had a "Plan B" after Batista quit WWE, he walked confidently to the ring accompanied by Randy Orton and a sledgehammer. His confidence was soon shared with the world, as Rollins smashed a chair across the back of Roman Reigns.
There is no denying the success the move has had, with Rollins now the top heel in the company and Ambrose and Reigns both stars in their own right.
4 Sgt. Slaughter (1991)
When wrestling fans think of American patriotism they think of two men. Hulk Hogan and Sergeant Slaughter. The latter's support as such stretched so far that his popularity matched that of Hogan and Hasbro based a G.I. Joe character on him, that became their best selling action figure for five years straight. The combination made Slaughter so beloved that a heel turn would seem the furthest thing from most peoples minds.
Vince McMahon is not most people. Arguably bitter at Slaughter leaving the company to allow Hasbro to use his likeness, when he reached out to return, Vince didn't want him to return as the hero he left as. Hogan wanted to face Slaughter at WrestleMania, and Vince wanted a heel.
Slaughter reluctantly signed on, returning as an Iraqi sympathizer. The turn was a huge success in making him the most hated figure around, to the point that he and his family needed armed protection and McMahon reportedly moved WrestleMania VII to an indoor venue over security concerns.
Slaughter would soon need to turn back to face for safety concerns, but he would never achieve the popularity heights he had before the turn.
3 Stone Cold Steve Austin (2001)
At WrestleMania X-Seven, the unthinkable would happen. In front of Austin's home crowd, he would turn his back on the fans and forge an allegiance with Vince McMahon himself. The next night Austin would align with another fierce rival, Triple H, to create the Two-Man Power Trip.
The decision to turn Austin heel was a poor one, and one that Austin himself openly regrets to this day - despite it being his idea. Despite being unanimously agreed that the turn didn't work, it would be interesting to see if the talk would've been different if Triple H hadn't got injured and the two had met at SummerSlam with Hunter as a face.
2 Shane Douglas (And ECW)
Despite how shocking it was, it wasn't a move out nowhere, at least behind the scenes. Former WCW owner Jim Crockett had approached ECW owner Tod Gordon to stage a tournament to crown a new NWA World Heavyweight Champion after WCW had separated from the organization and left the title vacant. NWA President Dennis Coralluzo didn't trust Crockett to not monopolize the belt the way that he did in WCW, and oversaw the tournament while refusing to give the approval of the board.
Gordon didn't take kindly to the power play, and with Paul Heyman the wheels were set in motion to leave the secretly leave the NWA. The only person left to convince was Douglas himself. Douglas ultimately chose to follow his dead father's advice of "doing right by the people who do right by you" and stuck by Heyman over Coralluzo, who he had previous issues with.
All that was left was to perform the shocking betrayal of the NWA, ultimately causing their downfall, and turn heel in the eyes of NWA traditionalists.
1 Hulk Hogan (1996)
Perhaps the most celebrated heel turn in wrestling history, as the incorruptible Hulk Hogan turned his back on the legions of Hulkamaniacs. For months, former WWE stars Kevin Nash and Scott Hall declared war on WCW as outsiders and promised that they had a third man with them to take over. What they didn't mention was that the third man was already in the company.
Beginning the Hostile Takeover six-man tag team match with just the two Outsiders was a bold statement, but the boldest was still to come. Luger would get taken out of the match injured, leaving a traditional tag match. With all four men down, Hulk Hogan came from the back, presumably to take the place of Luger to defend WCW. Instead, Hogan hit several leg drops on his old friend Randy Savage to reveal himself as the third member.
They would declare themselves the New World Order and would be successful in taking over WCW, and the ratings of the Monday Night Wars. The timing was great for Hogan himself, as WCW fans had failed to take to his gimmick as a goody-two-shoes and the fact he was the former WWE poster boy, so they were wanting to hate him anyway. While the company's inability to move on from the nWo would become a big part of their downfall, there is no denying the success of the group and Hogan's reveal.