Tiffany takes a look back at the face and heel turns that simply did not work. Did yours make the list?
Last week, I talked about why it’s not enough to turn a wrestler heel or face, there has to be a plan, the wrestler has to actually benefit, and, more importantly, the fans have to get behind it. Take any of those things out, and your turn falls apart like a cheap pair of shoes. However, there have been turns that REALLY didn’t work out or didn’t work as planned. Let’s take a look at those.
This took place in the 70s, which was before my time, but according to the lovely commenter that told me this story, Johnny Power was a SUPER over babyface for the Cleveland, Ohio based National Wrestling Federation, until he briefly turned heel against Ernie Ladd, with the help of Ox Baker, and the fan reaction was so violent that it began a cascade of events that basically killed the NWF. I’m not familiar with Power, but I’m going to guess that the fans didn’t get behind that turn.
Hacksaw Jim Duggan
If you’ve never heard this story, yes, Hacksaw Jim Duggan briefly turned heel, and turned his back on the United States and became Canadian. Fans didn’t get behind it because Duggan was a beloved figure, even if his days as a badass in Mid-South were long gone. However, the story behind it, as told by Lance Storm, of using Duggan’s RL cancer as the catalyst for the turn and his patriotism as the catalyst for the return, would’ve at least made for an interesting story.
Even though Dusty started out as a heel in the early days of his career, his turn in the 90s and run as manager of the Outsiders did NOT go well, from my understanding. No one could understand why Rhodes, who bled WCW and ran the company for years, would turn his back and join the nWo. Fortunately, it didn’t last long.
I have no idea what was going on with this, as I wasn’t watching WCW at the time, however, from doing research, and talking to people who DID watch WCW then, my understanding is that WCW was losing in the ratings and needed to do SOMETHING to try and get the fans back. I’m not sure just WHY they thought turning fan favorite Goldberg heel and having him sell out to Bischoff and Russo was the way to go. Needless to say, it flopped.
This was my first introduction to DDP and what makes it memorable to me was how ANGRY my boyfriend at the time, who was a HUGE WCW fan, was over this. DDP had been a heel several times in WCW and the tweener People’s Champion of WCW, but his revelation as the creepy stalker of Undertaker’s legit wife at the time, Sara, was not a great introduction for WWE faithful, or a good turn. DDP’s reasoning for the escapade ‘Make me famous!’ enraged fans like my ex, who RAGED that DDP didn’t need the Undertaker to be famous. DDP would eventually turn face-ish, but the horrible introduction and his sudden retirement due to injuries basically doomed the turn and his WWE run. My ex never forgave WWE for how they did DDP and Booker T, and having now seen them in WCW, I understand why he was so mad.
It’s hard to pin down any one particular face turn that flopped for Randy Orton, fans like him, heel or face, but I think we all have accepted by this point that Orton’s true form is as a psychotic, sadistic heel and trying to make him a babyface is pointless.
The McMahon Family
Much like Orton, while the McMahon Family have played the faces from time to time, but they’re at their maniacal best as the heel owners of WWE. I will say that Shane McMahon’s most recent return as a face and turn into an egotistical heel was quite a storyline.
Hulk Hogan (2002)
This was an interesting mirror image of Hogan’s heel turn in WCW. When Vince McMahon brought back the nWo as a way to keep WWE out of the grip of Ric Flair, his unwanted business partner, he’d counted on the fans embracing the once hot faction in its original form. There was just ONE little problem: The WWE faithful didn’t want to boo the still beloved Hulk Hogan. Not only that, but they also wanted THEIR Hulk Hogan back. Not the black and white, nWo, WCW version, but the ‘real’ Hogan, the Hogan that wore red and yellow.
Unlike his WCW run, where Hogan was up against the beloved Ric Flair, and his own less than stellar wrestling, and needed the heel turn to revive his career; in WWE, Hogan was still revered as the red and yellow superhero of the 80s and early 90s, and no amount of heelish acts, including nearly killing the Rock with an semi, could make the WWE Universe turn on their beloved Hulkster. Thankfully, Vince McMahon realized that he’d make more money with red and yellow Hogan of old, than the nWo version.
The Rock (2003)
Even though the Rock’s initial heel turn in 1998 made him a huge fan favorite, his heel turn in 2003 went less well. While fans had embraced Rock as a heel in 98, his return as an arrogant, Hollywood heel and screwing over Hogan at the behest of Vince McMahon, went over like a lead balloon. About the only thing remotely interesting about that turn was Rock vs Goldberg, which is pretty sad. Rock would get a pyrrhic victory over Stone Cold Steve Austin, but that was after Austin had been gone for nearly a year after a falling out with Vince McMahon.
The Midnight Express
I didn’t watch WCW as a child, but listening to Jim Cornette, the manager of the Midnight Express, talk about the group’s final years in WCW, as well as as a group, and watching WCW on the Network, made this turn very interesting. The Midnight Express had been proud heels, as well as one of the best tag teams in the business, when Dusty Rhodes, the booker of WCW, decided to turn the Midnight Express face in order for them to feud with the Original Midnight Express, managed by Paul Heyman.
I can’t really say this turn didn’t go as planned, the fans seemed to enjoy being able to cheer for the Midnight Express, but the turn didn’t really fit a group that had been so proudly heel. When they turned heel on the Dynamic Dudes, the fans were ecstatic, though that could also be because the Dynamic Dudes SUCKED!
The Road Warriors
If there was ever an example of a heel turn not only not going as planned, but having some wild, unintended consequences, it’s this one. Even though the Road Warriors started out, and looked like, badass heels, they’d quickly gotten over as babyfaces. However, in 1988, Dusty Rhodes, the booker for WCW, decided to turn them heel, by having them beat the shit out of the heel Midnight Express before the match even started.
However, the turn didn’t work because the fans didn’t want to boo the Road Warriors and, I’m guessing, to try and get the the heel turn back on track, Rhodes booked the infamous ‘Spike’ angle where the Road Warriors drove one of their spikes into Rhodes’ eye. If that sounds familiar, that’s because AEW, headed by Rhodes’ son, Cody, rebooted that angle with Chris Jericho, his Inner Circle faction, and Jon Moxley, to much more success. For Rhodes Sr, the angle lead to his ouster as booker, which lead to his departure from WCW, and left the booking in the hands a rotating cast of people, including the infamous Jim Herd, who didn’t know wrestling and ran off most of the established talent that DID know wrestling. That’s a whole lot of mess stemming from an attempt to get a heel turn over.
The Four Horsemen
Yes, that did happen. For a brief time in 1989-90, the Four Horsemen, one of the most notorious, and influential, heel factions of all time, were babyfaces, even including Flair’s arch-rival, Sting. However, thankfully, the turn turned out to be a ruse and they turned on Sting, and returned to their natural state as heels.
This was actually going to be included in the first article, but I forgot. The Usos had been DESPERATELY needing to get away from their babyface gimmick which had gotten stale, especially against New Day, so when WWE decided to turn them heel in 2017, it did make the Usos hot again, but it didn’t make them heels because the fans cheered even louder for them, over the beloved New Day. The Usos officially turned face again by helping Roman Reigns in his feud with Baron Corbin.
As I said in my first article on this, there’s more to a successful heel or face turn than just the wrestler snapping or seeing the error of their ways. There has to be a plan, but it’s clear that no amount of planning will work if the fans aren’t into the turn, or if they don’t react the way the booker expects them to and, as much as we mock them, the fans make the business move and they’ll always have the final say on whether a turn works or not.
Note: I forgot to mention them last week, but I owe a HUGE amount of thanks to @view_raw, @rbonne1, @ChairshotGreg, and @HeelWillMahoney for all their help with these two articles. I also want to thank Richard C for the Johnny Power story that spawned this.