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Top 5: Heel Turns

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The Rock WWF Champion Heel

One of the most entertaining aspects of WWE television lately has been Shinsuke Nakamura’s emergence as an evildoer. He had been a generally well-mannered individual during his first couple of years under the WWE umbrella. Something inside him snapped after losing to AJ Styles at WrestleMania 34, and he’s been hitting people in the lower nutsac region ever since. He also has periods of time where he can’t speak English.

Some guys are just better off as bad guys. A turn to the dark side can revitalize a career. Shinsuke seemed to be running out of things to do in WWE. Now, the sky’s the limit. He’s learned what many people before him have…it pays to be bad.

Here are the Top 5 Heel Turns in wrestling history.

5. Andre the Giant

Andre had been used as a good guy pretty much everywhere he went across the world for fifteen years. He drew tons of fans wherever he went & was one of the most popular wrestlers in the world for the lion’s share of his career. Given the nature of his career traveling from territory to territory as a special attraction, titles weren’t something he focused on.

Until 1987. A series of trophy presentations where Hulk Hogan upstaged the Giant enabled Bobby “The Brain” Heenan to convince Andre that Hogan & the WWF promoters took him for granted. Andre joined with Heenan & demanded a title shot.

There weren’t very many matches that could fill the Pontiac Silverdome in 1987. WrestleMania was big, but it wasn’t what it is today. Andre the Giant as a heel challenging Hulk Hogan filled that dome. The Giant was breaking down physically & didn’t have much left, so it was time to establish the next generation. Andre’s run as a heel didn’t result in a ton of classic matches, but he did help stars like Hogan, Jake Roberts & the Ultimate Warrior reach another level.

4. Chris Jericho

Jericho has turned a number of times during his career. The shock factor has never really been there with him like it was for most of the turns on this list. Fortunately, Jericho makes up for that weakness by being wildly entertaining as a bad guy. His WCW heel run put him on the map, but his most successful stint as a bad guy came after he turned against Shawn Michaels in 2008.

The Y2J character had become hackneyed & played out, so it was time for Jericho to turn over a new leaf. He got out his Nick Bockwinkel DVDs, brushed up on his vocabulary & went from being a colorful rockstar to a monotone suit-wearing braggart. The new persona cemented Jericho’s status as one of the most critically-acclaimed wrestlers of his generation.

3. Shawn Michaels

Although HBK was the target of Jericho’s wrath in 2008, he should have identified with the situation. Michaels’ Rockers tag team with Marty Jannetty had run its course towards the end of 1991. After years of great matches, they were nowhere near title contention. If Michaels was going to live up to the potential people thought he had, change needed to be made.

A barbershop window would have to pay the price.

We all know where Michaels’ career went after that. The Heartbreak Kid worked his way up to the IC title level as a bad guy & established himself as one of the best wrestlers in the company. Nowadays he’s considered one of the best of all time. It all started with the run he had after turning against Jannetty.

2. Hollywood Hogan

Hulk Hogan’s move to WCW didn’t exactly go the way people had hoped. While the company gained more notoriety & got on more even footing with the WWF, Hogan’s babyface character was running out of steam. Traditionally, wrestlers turn heel when that happens. This was Hulk Hogan, brother. The idea of him turning heel was as ridiculous as it would be for John Cena to turn heel. Or even for Roman Reigns to turn heel, brother!

They did it.

Hogan went from being on his way out to the biggest name in wrestling once again. He & the NWO took WCW to the top of the business. Hogan’s heel run was great because it played into all the complaints his haters had over the years. People loved to see him lose on the rare occasions it happened.

Honorable Mention: Tommaso Ciampa

I don’t think there’s been a better-executed heel turn during this decade than Ciampa’s attack against his longtime tag team partner Johnny Gargano. Gargano has this certain factor about him that fans just get behind. Not many people can pull off the whitemeat babyface act these days, but he does it. Ciampa’s attack on Gargano stunned the NXT Universe.

The only problem: Ciampa was injured & wouldn’t wrestle for months afterward. Fortunately, Twitter is a thing now & Ciampa is one of the best at it.

I agree with Bill Watts. It’s not just enough to be a heel in the ring & on television. To achieve your true evil potential, you have to be a heel everywhere. Ciampa knows this.

1. The Rock

Rocky Maivia was going to be a superstar. Everybody knew this. That was exactly the problem. Fans in the late 1990s were tired of happy-go-lucky babyfaces that were destined to be superstars the moment they entered the business. Especially if that whole smiling act seemed fake, which it did with Rocky. The turn itself, when he randomly came back from an injury, helped Faarooq win a match & joined the Nation of Domination, wasn’t much. It was what came after that made The Rock a superstar.

Once Rock was allowed to be himself, he became exactly what WWE management thought he would be. Rock changed sides of the fence a handful of times during his career, with each turn gaining him more & more momentum. Becoming Mr. McMahon’s Corporate Champion right when the people were really getting behind him put Rock in the main event picture for good. Capitalizing off of fans’ annoyance with Rock always being going to do movies led to the Hollywood Rock character that was one of the most entertaining of all time.

Rock’s time as a heel didn’t last long. But he managed to accomplish in scant years what takes mortal men decades.


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