There are times in a pro wrestler’s career, when you just hit a wall. Whether it is creatively or just plain stagnant….sometimes a wrestler needs a boost to his or her career. Repackaging a wrestler’s gimmick can help if done properly….as can a well timed heel turn. This piece will look at some of the better heel turns in pro wrestling that may have saved a wrestler’s career from obscurity, boredom or even the unemployment line. Heel turns that gave wrestlers that extra added “oomph” that they so desperately needed to get to the next level.
The biggest and perhaps one of the most successful heel turns in pro wrestling history was the turn of the Iconic Hulk Hogan in 1996. The goody two shoes character that made so much money in the 80’s and early 90’s was quickly becoming bland and outdated. No doubt, when Hogan turned on WCW and formed the nWo with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall…it was a renaissance in Hogan’s career. Something that seemed cheesy and passe…was now hip and relevant again.
Second generation wrestler Barry Windham was always known as an extremely talented performer. The problem was he was considered a tag team specialist in the WWF and a perennial mid carder or runner up to the main event talent in the NWA. When he turned heel on his tag team partner Lex Luger and joined the elite Four Horsemen, his fortunes quickly changed. No longer was he just another wasted talent on the NWA roster…but a semi main event talent.
He went on to win the United States title and helped elevate the Horsemen to another level. While he still played second banana to Ric Flair, Windham helped his career by playing the ultimate heel. The turn itself was extremely successful and unexpected.
When Rocky Maivia debuted in the WWF in 1996…he was met with a mixed fan reaction at best. As his push continued…more and more fans began turning on the “Blue Chipper.” Fans would chant “Rocky Sucks” and bring signs that said…”Die Rocky Die.” It seemed the third generation wrestler’s career would be deemed a failed project until he turned heel and joined The Nation of Domination in 1997.
It was then that Dwayne Johnson showed a talent not seen with the initial Rocky Maivia character…mic skills. Slowly, Rocky Maivia transformed into being known simply as ‘The Rock’ and became a lightning rod for fan hatred and heat…good heat. It was that initial heel turn that not only saved his wrestling career…but also eventually landed him Hollywood movie roles.
While I’ve never been a fan of disbanding real solid tag teams….the heel turn and subsequent break up of the Rockers was something that made sense and paid big time dividends for Michaels solo career. If the turn never took place, who knows if Shawn Michaels ever got the opportunity to become the ‘Heartbreak Kid.’ We might be discussing if the Rockers were one of the all time best tag teams or if Shawn Michaels was the ultimate tag team specialist.
While Sgt Slaughter played a heel previously in his career…it was his heel turn during the twilight of his career in 1990 that gave the Sarge a few more years of shelf life. Transforming from American hero to American turncoat and Iraqi sympathizer during the early stages of the initial US/Iraq war was just the boost Slaughter needed. Not only did he become the WWF’s top heel, he also defeated the Ultimate Warrior to become the WWF champion. His first and only world title in his 30 plus years as an active wrestler.
Andre the Giant
If Andre had retired as a babyface in the WWF without ever turning heel and challenging Hulk Hogan…he would still be considered a legend. The heel turn on Hogan, however, was ultra effective and gave Andre one last push to main event status.
Staying with wrestlers in the twilight of their careers…Bob Backlund had returned to the WWF in 1992 and remained the same character he was during his heyday in the 70’s and early 80’s. By that time, the WWF had morphed into a much more cartoonish and edgier promotion. With his gimmick completely outdated, Backlund turned into a crazed psychopath. It worked with fans and gave Backlund another run at the WWF title albeit brief.
Bubba Ray Dudley
Before his initial heel turn in ECW, Buh Buh Ray Dudley was a goofy, stuttering comedic character. When he did a heel turn and joined forces with D-Von Dudley…the comedy skits stopped and he and D-Von became one of the greatest tag teams in not only ECW history…but pro wrestling history.
The Honkytonk Man
Many fans forget that The Honky Tonk Man debuted in the WWF as a babyface in 1986. I guess Vince McMahon envisioned Honky to be the WWF’s version of ‘The Boogie Woogie Man’ Jimmy Valiant. His early WWF career, however, flatlined almost immediately. In a clever write in campaign where Honky asked fans for a “vote of confidence,” Honky turned heel and alligned himself with Jimmy Hart…becoming one of the top heels in the WWF during the 1980’s.
On a much smaller scale, Santino’s heel turn after a few months with the WWE in 2007, paid off big time for him. After winning the Intercontinental title in his very first night with the company….Santino was immediately stagnant. There were even reports on hotlines and dirt sheets that Vince McMahon was not a fan of the character and Santino’s days on the WWE roster may be coming to an end. Once, Santino did his heel turn…his comedic side started to shine through. It gave him and his career a reprieve and gave him a ton of TV time for years to come.
Known as ‘The Gentleman’ Chris Adams….an Englishman with manners and sportsmanship…When Adams turned heel and aligned himself with manager Gary Hart and the ‘Handsome Half Breed’ Gino Hernandez to form the Dynamic Duo..Adams career skyrocked in the territories..especially World Class Championship Wrestling.
Speaking of WCCW, the heel turn by Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy on Kerry Von Erich on Christmas day in 1982…set off one of the most popular feuds in pro wrestling history between the Freebirds and the Von Erich family. Gordy and Hayes had success in other territories like Georgia before this heel turn in Texas….but it was that incident that launched the ‘birds into mega stars.