Professional wrestling is a wonderful blend of athleticism and storytelling. While the physical spectacles which take place often require some of the most impressive physical conditioning of any sport, the storytelling aspect requires an in-depth development of characters over several weeks and months.
In developing a story for fans to invest in, characters are given dispositions as good guys (faces) and bad guys (heels). While the fans will typically cheer for the faces and boo the heels, sometimes the live audience doesn’t quite conform to WWE's expectations. These are ten characters that the fans made up their own minds about, regardless of how the character was portrayed or booked.
10 Face: Lex Luger
Lex Luger would experience several face and heel turns throughout his time with WCW and WWF in the 1990s. While each turn was met with varying success, his stint with WWF from 1993 to 1995 was particularly disappointing.
Initially painted as the heel “Narcissus” in 1993, Luger would quickly transition to “The All-American” face gimmick in order to captivated fans of Hulk Hogan following his departure. While Luger was a big man with the look many would have wanted, his face run over the two years which followed never really gained much traction. Luger fell miles short of Hulk Hogan.
9 Heel: Daniel Bryan
Energetic and charismatic with a captivating in-ring style, Daniel Bryan has enjoyed monumental success with crowds in and out of WWE. Despite the positive reactions he received, WWE booked Bryan as a heel in 2012, focusing on his “No!” chants to fans.
Much of this persona was a response to fans cheering Bryan’s catchphrase “Yes!” to him, and his responses to them. Despite this heel gimmick being a direct response to fans of his face run, Bryan maintained popularity and added depth to his character through this period. What he failed to do was lose the adoration of fans.
8 Face: Edge
“The Rated R Superstar” makes this list not for any true failure of character, but for the sheer magnificence of his time as a heel. In truth, Edge spent most of his career as a heel, playing the part magnificently. Due to his successes, his time spent as a face in the company paled in comparison and was mostly forgettable.
Edge was always fantastic inside the ring, but as a face, he was never truly embraced by the fans. Thankfully, his time spent in this role was extremely limited, as he truly shined in every heel angle he portrayed.
7 Heel: CM Punk
Always a fan favorite before his departure, CM Punk portrayed a sort of anti-hero character which resonated with fans. Whether he was challenging the authority in WWE, breaking the fourth wall to criticize faces pushed on fans against their wishes such as Cena, or leading the Straight Edge Society to challenge lifestyles, fans flocked to the charismatic competitor.
To this day, arenas will light up with CM Punk chants. There could be no truer testament to his character than the fan following he amassed despite spending most of his tenure with WWE locked into heel angles.
6 Face: Kurt Angle
For whatever reason, the Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle was never able to gain his footing as a face in the WWE. To be clear, he was a superb face character with TNA and during his returns to WWE, but his initial run never saw him cheered in traditional fashion.
Angle’s rebuttal from the fans was never more apparent than during his WWE debut in 1999 when Angle was booked as a role model and hero. Angle was booed night after night by fans until he eventually turned on them.
5 Heel: Undertaker
In 1999, WWF was still firmly in the midst of the Attitude Era. Through the Attitude Era, it was a bit tougher to distinguish faces from heels. Despite this challenge, 1999 saw Undertaker re-debut as a cryptic leader of the seemingly Satanic “Ministry of Darkness.”
As the leader of The Ministry, Undertaker would frequently perform “sacrifices” and target popular babyfaces. At one point, Undertaker went so far as to kidnap Stephanie McMahon for one of his sacrifices. Despite all of this, Undertaker maintained popularity with the fans, and The Ministry remains one of the most popular factions in professional wrestling history.
4 Face: John Cena
Anyone who tuned in for an episode of WWE programming from about 2005 onward could probably have guessed this one. As far back as his original face turn into “The Champ,” Cena has been met by jeering chants from live crowds all over. This trend has been so universal that Cena himself has involved the fan reaction in his own promo work.
Many reasons are often cited for this reaction. Chief among these are Cena’s limited moveset, his clean-cut hero demeanor, and his penchant for never allowing younger talent to gain the upper hand. Despite crowd reactions, Cena has only briefly shown shades of his original “Dr. of Thuganomics” persona, avoiding a heel run altogether.
The crowd has slightly warmed up to him lately since his absence from television, but this is more akin to the reaction which most part-time talents receive when they make a cameo.
3 Heels: The Bar
Technically a double entry, but Sheamus and Cesaro’s union known as The Bar was a beloved team which really solidified the position of both competitors in WWE. While both individuals were extremely talented, they had failed to find relevant booking before they joined together for a Raw Tag Team Championship run in 2016.
Despite being a heel duo, the in-ring ingenuity of the two would repeatedly captivate audiences. Coupled with the authentic charisma which they displayed together, The Bar remained fan favorites despite solid heel booking.
2 Face: Roman Reigns
To say that Roman Reigns’ solo career has followed the same trajectory as Cena’s would be an understatement. “The Big Dog” has stayed in the main event spotlight ever since The Shield split up, being pushed as a strong, virtuous, intimidating, hero.
Unfortunately, the effort placed into this push has not been reciprocated. Despite all his in-ring success, fans have never gotten behind Reigns. Most will cite the ferocity with which he is pushed as their main reason for opposition. Having subpar mic skills and a moveset regarded by many as overrated, Roman is unlikely to reach the same status with fans as he has in the eyes of the writing staff.
1 Heel: Bray Wyatt
Before The Fiend and the Firefly Funhouse, Bray Wyatt was booked as the cult leader of the Wyatt Family. Wyatt was a dark character, seemingly evil, who terrorized other superstars and spoke in cryptic riddles. To say that ignoring a push for Wyatt at this point in his career was a wasted opportunity is a gross understatement.
Despite the dark nature of the character and his repeated feuds with faces in WWE, Wyatt won over more and more of the crowd. During his entrances, many fans could always be seen interacting with Wyatt’s entrance, visually demonstrating his level of success with the fanbase. Despite the response, Wyatt’s character would never shift from its dark roots, and he never saw the level of success fans desired.