Nothing gets better for me than the drama of a great heel turn. The WWE has featured some of the best over the last several decades. Thanks to memory and a little bit of YouTube I was able to go back and pontificate on what I found to be the 10 best heel turns in WWE history.
I have always loved a great heel turn. The problem with most heel turns today and for the last decade is that they are just too predictable. Sometimes predictability isn’t a bad thing as we will see with some of the choices below. Yet for whatever reason the difference between a great heel turn and just a heel turn are the levels of drama, intensity, and suspense. I think I have captured ten of the best with my picks below.
Peter Maivia turns on Bob Backlund (1978) - This one if a little before my time yet it deserves a spot on the list. From all reports this was a huge angle at the time and a rare big time turn during this era of the WWE. The turn came during a tag team match between regular partners WWWF champion Bob Backlund and Maivia. The two were wrestling Spiros Arion and Victor Rivera. Maivia refused to help Backlund as he took a lot of punishment and was thrown outside of the ring. Backlund’s manager Arnold Skaaland got into Maivia’s face about it on the ring apron and the High Chief beat the living hell out of the Golden Boy. The maniac Maivia ripped off Skaaland’s shirt and started choking him with it. A beaten Backlund tried to lay on top of Skaaland but Maivia threw him off and Arion and Rivera held Backlund. Officials had to pull Maivia off of Backlund. This was awesome! It is currently available on YouTube if you care to check it out.
Paul Orndorff turns on Hulk Hogan (1986) - This is probably my favorite turn of all-time. I have a soft spot for this one as it went down during my favorite era of WWE history. Paul Orndorff and Hulk Hogan were not what I’d call regular tag team partners although they obviously had an alliance. What was really cool about this was no matter how predictable it was, it still worked. How often can you say that? Orndorff began getting upset that Hogan was getting more attention from the fans during their tag team matches. The big spot before the turn was a segment in which Orndorff called Hogan but couldn’t get the Hulkster on the phone because the champ was too busy training. In hindsight you’d think that would make Hogan the heel. Orndorff finally had enough in a tag match with Hogan against Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy on a television match (a huge match for TV). Orndorff started getting annoyed by Hogan’s cheers again. Orndorff and Hogan collide and Orndorff starts selling an eye injury. Orndorff won’t get in and help Hogan as he continues selling the eye. Vince McMahon is yelling at Paul to get in there. In one of Vince’s best moments as an announcer, Vince screams “Oh no!” as Orndorff finally clotheslines Hogan and solidifies his turn. There are rumors that Orndorff turned as a backup in case Andre the Giant couldn’t go at WrestleMania III although I don’t know if that has ever been confirmed. The two went on to draw huge money together and leaving a legacy behind as one of the best feuds in WWE history.
Shawn Michaels turns on Marty Jannetty (1992) - Of all the turns between mid-card WWE wrestlers this may be the most memorable. Quite frankly I don’t even know why this was so memorable but it certainly has stood the test of time. Michaels had been teasing a turn for a few weeks. Brutus Beefcake confronted them on rumors of a split on it when he had The Rockers in the Barber Shop. Michaels quickly pointed out in the segment that he was the team captain as a surprised Marty looked on. The two started arguing, blaming each other for recent losses. Jannetty told Michaels that he was going to turn his back and when he turned back around, everything would be water under the bridge. Jannetty turned around, turned back, and the two shook hands and hugged. Michaels held up Jannetty’s hand before nailing him with Sweet Chin Music. Michaels then proceeded to throw Jannetty through the glass window. In retrospect I guess what made this so memorable is that you never saw anything like that in regards to a guy going through glass. The rest is a lot of history!
Randy Savage turns on Hulk Hogan (1989) - Some have called this the greatest angle in WWE history. The year-long angle is certainly up there as the top five most memorable of all-time for sure. I wrote a little about this in a previous blog taking a look at the entire feud. Here is how I described it.
“The seeds were planted a year out from Hogan and Savage’s biggest match. Savage won the WWF title at WrestleMania IV. Hogan came into the ring and put Elizabeth on his shoulders. Savage gave Hogan a subtle glare which planted the seed of doubt into Savage’s babyface intentions. A brilliant idea that most fans didn’t even catch until the tape was replayed a year later.
Hogan finally returned to active wrestling in the summer of 1988. Hogan and Savage teamed up as the “Mega Powers” to take on Andre the Giant and Ted Dibiase at SummerSlam. The two would continue to team on big shows including the Survivor Series. The tension began to mount when Hogan took Savage’s manager Elizabeth as his own manager around this time.
Savage’s legendary jealousy behind the scenes would be the catalyst for one of the greatest feuds of all-time. Savage’s off-screen jealousy was written into the storyline. Savage finally had enough and attacked Hogan following a tag team match on The Main Event. This last attack would finally make the match that had been built up for almost one year between the Mega Powers.”
Larry Zbysko turns on Bruno Sammartino (1982) - Many wrestling fans would put this right up there with Hogan vs. Savage as the greatest angle in WWE history. Over 30 years later and several generations of fans, the legacy of this great moment continues to live on. This was billed as the “Student vs. Teacher” feud. Bruno was Larry’s legit mentor outside of the ring for years. Larry started to become jealous of his teacher and challenged his mentor to a “gentleman’s” wrestling match. Larry was certainly no gentleman when the Living Legend started to get the best of him. Larry wound up nailing Bruno over the head with a chair in one of the most famous chair shots of all-time. The feud was so big that it wound up drawing (although Hulk Hogan said it was him and Andre the Giant in his book) over 30,000 fans to Shea Stadium to see Bruno get his revenge on his former student.
Stephanie McMahon turns on Vince McMahon (1999) – I call it like I see it and this was one of those moments that nobody saw coming when it went down. The Billion Dollar Princess was engaged to the late Test when Triple H did the unthinkable. Triple H kidnapped and drugged the boss’s daughter, took her to a Las Vegas drive-thru chapel, and married her. Stephanie sold it like she was devastated when in reality she was in on it all along. Stephanie shocked her family when she assisted her new husband Triple H in a match against her father. Vince handed Steph the sledgehammer to finish off Hunter at Armageddon. She couldn’t do it. Tripls proceeded to use the sledgehammer on his father-in-law and get the win. Jim Ross was awesome here when Triple H lined up the sledgehammer like he was going to hit Stephanie. Instead the two embraced and shocked the world. Jim Ross’ reaction to the embrace was one of his all-time best calls.
Andre the Giant turns on Hulk Hogan (1987) – I will go back to my childhood (well teenage years) for another one of these memorable angles. The angle started when Andre was presented a trophy for his 15-year undefeated streak only to have Hogan interrupt and receive a bigger trophy than the giant. Andre the Giant had finally had enough. After 15-years of remaining undefeated the giant finally wanted a WWE championship title match. It was no more Mr. Nice Guy as Andre not only associated himself with his arch enemy Bobby “The Brain” Heenan but ripped off Hulk Hogan’s cross on Piper’s Pit. While many WWE fans had just seen this feud seven years earlier, it was still a welcomed rivalry. Of course the two met in what is arguably the most epic WrestleMania match in history.
Steve Austin turns on The Rock (2001) – It didn’t pay off as you would expect but it still goes down as one of the all-time best. What I liked about this turn as compared to a few others is that it wasn’t predictable. Unfortunately that is also what may have hurt it as fans weren’t primed for an Austin-McMahon alliance. The thought of these two teaming up should have turned stomachs yet the fans just didn’t want to boo Stone Cold. Vince hobbling to the ring with a steel chair at WrestleMania 17 is certainly one of the most memorable moments in Mania history. McMahon pulled The Rock off of Austin turning himself babyface to the Houston crowd. Austin and McMahon eventually work over The Rock with assistance from a chair to get the win. Turning Austin and putting him over for the title in his hometown stadium certainly didn’t help Austin earn any boos on that night.
Paul Bearer turns on The Undertaker (1996) - I remember being real surprised at this one as I remember it coming out of nowhere. Taker and Bearer had a great six year run together that came to an end at SummerSlam 1996. The Undertaker sought powers from the urn at the end of his Boiler Room Brawl match against Mankind. Bearer refused to the give him those powers, turned his back, and Mankind was able to use the mandible claw for the win. The big shocker came when Bearer crashed the urn down on Taker’s head following the match. Bearer said he was tired of carrying the Undertaker the next night on RAW. Of course the two would reunite later down the line but on this night it would be Paul Bearer who shocked the world.