HEAT WEEK: 25 Greatest Heel Turns

In the second installment of Heat Week, John Corrigan counts down the greatest betrayals in wrestling history.

Ever since Cain killed Abel, betrayal has been a pillar of storytelling. In professional wrestling, sticking a knife in the back of a friend or family member (or even lover) has led to new alliances, blood feuds and sometimes, burgeoning careers. The quickest way to create a new star is to pair them with someone else and then let human nature take its course.

After all, if we all loved everyone, we’d never leave our house. Thanks to these 25 great heel turns, we left the house to witness retribution.

25. “Let’s Get Ready to…”

During the original brand extension in 2002, Triple H had the option of choosing either RAW or Smackdown. Rather than work for his wife, The Game was recruited by Shawn Michaels to relive their old D-X days on RAW. The familiar theme played, the crowd went wild, and as HHH began the introductions, he kicked Michaels and delivered a pedigree. This was the catalyst for HBK’s miraculous return to the ring after a four-year absence.

24. The Canadian Jezebel

Despite Chris Jericho and Christian making a friendly bet on who could sleep with Trish or Lita first, Stratus eventually overlooked Y2J’s sophomoric shenanigans and embraced his affection after he fell for the yoga goddess. However, she was simply playing possum and slapped the maple syrup out of his mouth at WrestleMania XX, costing him the match and then playing tonsil hockey with Christian.

23. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Hypocrisy

On the Fourth of July 2005, Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels defeated Muhammad Haasan and Daivari. As the Hulkster posed in his traditional post-match celebration, he walked into Sweet Chin Music. The crowd shit themselves as the Heartbreak Kid returned to his controversial ways.

22. The Worst Is Yet to Come

On the most memorable edition of The Highlight Reel, Chris Jericho slowly scratched away on Shawn Michaels’ history of hypocrisy. Michaels lied to Jericho about a knee injury that he feigned in order to score a win over Batista, and Jericho was frustrated that the fans still adored HBK. Unable to come to terms with his popularity crashing, Y2J exploded—attacking Michaels, lowblowing him and then smashing his face in the JeriTron ala the Barbershop Window.

21. CM Punk Turns on ROH

Six years before dropping the pipebomb heard round the world, CM Punk delivered another scathing speech. Moments after defeating Austin Aries for the Ring of Honor World Championship, Punk revealed that he was taking the title hostage and fleeing to WWE.

20. Batista Snaps

The Animal unleashed on Rey Mysterio in disturbing fashion, calmly informing his friend that he was about to rip his head off.

19. Windham Joins the Horsemen

In a rematch from Clash of the Champions, Barry Windham and Lex Luger battled Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson for the Tag Team Titles. During the battle, Windham kept looking for a tag, but Luger was hurt on the outside. When the “Total Package” finally made it to the apron, Windham snapped. He slapped Luger’s hand, slammed him into the ring and then nailed him with the best damn closeline you’ve ever seen.

18. The Steiners Split

At SuperBrawl VIII, the Steiners defended the Tag Team Titles against the Outsiders. After Rick cleared the ring and crawled under his brother in their trademark pose, Scott knocked his brother down and suplexed him. One of the greatest tag teams had split and Big Poppa Pump was born.

17. “You’re Not Gonna Be a Horseman Anymore”

Sting joining the Four Horsemen seems like a disaster waiting to happen and it sure did on the Clash of the Champions in early 1990. As Ole Anderson informed Sting that he was kicked out of the Horsemen, he offered Sting the chance to cancel his title shot against Ric Flair or else he’d become another victim. Well, the Stinger refused to back down and the beatdown was on.

16. Cactus Jack Hates ECW

In the land of extreme, Cactus Jack was a forefather. But that meant new generations were coming to raise the stakes and maximize the risks. And if you know Mick Foley, you know the cuddly, charitable, family man couldn’t accept his role in the national carnage about to ensue. So Cactus Jack changed, according to the ECW faithful, for the worse. He traded his hardcore style for headlocks and armbars. He fixed up his appearance and he pleaded with Tommy Dreamer to follow his lead because the bloodthirsty fans, who branded signs of “Cane Dewey” (Foley’s son), didn’t appreciate the bodily harm Dreamer committed on a weekly basis.

Eventually Cactus moved on to WWE and about a decade later, reprised his anti-ECW stance for One Night Stand 2006.

15. Tommy Rich Attacks Lawler

Launching one of the greatest rivalries in Memphis history, “Wildfire” Tommy Rich made an offhand remark regarding Jerry Lawler receiving another title shot against AWA kingpin Nick Bockwinkel. Lawler had caused Rich to get disqualified in a match the next week so Rich intervened in Lawler’s match and accidentally bumped heads. By the time Bockwinkel arrived in town for the title match, Rich wasn’t the only man jealous of the King: Austin Idol had a complaint as well.

14. Slaughter Betrays America

During the Gulf War, Sgt. Slaughter returned to WWE after a five-year hiatus and disparaged the United States for accepting former Russian foe Nikolai Volkoff. America’s hero had turned his back on the country he once served, now supporting the Iraqi cause and enlisting the services of Saddam Hussein.

13. Owen Breaks Bret’s Hart

At the 1994 Royal Rumble, the Hart brothers challenged the Quebecers for the Tag Team Titles. Owen, already feeling trapped in his older brother’s shadow, demanded a tag while Bret suffered with a knee injury. When the ref finally called for the bell to stop the match, Owen flipped out and kicked his wounded brother. Thus, the “King of Harts” was well on his way to ascending the throne of WWE.

12. Middle-Aged and Crazy

After Ric Flair had just won back the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from Ricky Steamboat, concluding their historic 1989 trilogy, Terry Funk congratulated Naitch on his victory and asked to be his first challenger. Flair denied Funk’s request due to the veteran being away from the ring for so long to focus on Hollywood and not being part of the top ten contenders.

However, nobody tells the Funker no.

11. Austin Signs His Soul

Hell froze over on April 1, 2001 as Stone Cold Steve Austin made a deal with the devil and enlisted the help of Vince McMahon to defeat The Rock and win the WWE Championship. If the heel turn hadn’t flopped, this would be a top 3 for sure. But fans just couldn’t find it in their hearts to boo the Texas Rattlesnake.

10. Larry Zbyszko Attacks His Mentor

Bruno Sammartino and his protégé Larry Zbyszko were having a friendly exhibition match when Larry grew frustrated that his mentor was outwrestling him. After Bruno reversed a hammerlock, sending Z to the floor, Larry snapped. He mauled Bruno with punches and kicks, then grabbed a chair and smashed Bruno three times, becoming a “made man” in pro wrestling.

9. Orndorff Turns On Hogan

If the Hulkster would have just answered the phone, “Mr. Wonderful” wouldn’t have had to send him a message.

8. The Mega Powers Explode

After a year of Hulk Hogan inserting himself into the spotlight, Randy Savage had enough. He spotted Hulk’s jealous eyes for Miss Elizabeth. And he also saw Hulk’s jealous eyes for Savage’s WWE Championship. To this day, the question remains: was “Macho Man” really the villain in this scenario?

7. Rollins Sells Out

The architect of The Shield stunned the WWE Universe by swinging a chair into the backs of Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, ending an 18-month run as the most dominant trio in WWE history. All three would go on to become main eventers, but Rollins ascended the ladder the fastest by joining The Authority.

6. The McMahon-Helmsley Era Begins

Never before has a storyline had such real-life ramifications on the business. As Stephanie and Test were having their wedding ceremony on RAW, Triple H interrupted the proceedings to show some special footage of him taking a drugged Steph to a drive-thru wedding chapel and getting married. Steph was crestfallen, Test was furious and Vince couldn’t believe it.

Weeks later, Vince faced off with his son-in-law at Armageddon 1999 in a street fight. McMahon soon realized the fight was for nothing as Daddy’s Little Girl sided with The Game and the next generation of WWE began.


5. Gordy Slams the Cage Door

Kerry Von Erich challenged NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair in a steel cage with Michael Hayes as the special guest referee. Flair bent a few too many rules and Hayes got involved to administer some southern justice. Well, Kerry wanted to win on his own terms and accidentally struck Hayes.

Of course, that didn’t sit well with fellow Freebird Terry Gordy, who slammed the cage door into Von Erich’s head, spawning one of the hottest rivalries of all time.

4. The Rock Goes Corporate

It was a swerve of Russo proportions as the McMahons pretended to stack the deck against the People’s Champ at the 1998 Survivor Series’ Deadly Games tournament to crown a new WWE Champion. In the first round, Rock’s scheduled opponent Triple H was scratched due to injury, so Bossman ran down the ramp and walked into an inside cradle for a quick loss.

In the second round, Bossman threw his nightstick to Ken Shamrock, but Rock snatched it and cracked “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” to advance. In the semifinals, the Undertaker had Rock defeated until Kane interfered, chokeslamming Rock and causing a DQ.

In the finals, Rock had Mankind locked in the sharpshooter when Vince ordered the ref to ring the bell ala Survivor Series 1997. The Corporate Champion had been appointed.

3. Andre Aligns with The Brain

When Andre walked onto Piper’s Pit with Bobby Heenan, the earth stopped turning. The beloved giant had joined forces with the weasel and betrayed his buddy Hulk Hogan. Andre’s rationale was clear as were his intentions: three years is a long time to be champion, but 15 years is a long time to go undefeated. It was the heel turn that set the stage for WrestleMania III…nuff said.

2. HBK Shatters The Rockers

It’s still the greatest tag team split. When Shawn Michaels threw Marty Jannetty into The Barbershop window, it didn’t just shatter The Rockers—it was the Heartbreak Kid shattering the glass ceiling in the land of the giants.

1. The Third Man

Who would be Kevin Nash and Scott Hall’s partner? That was the question on everyone’s minds heading into Bash at the Beach 1996 and halfway through the main event: a 6 man-tag team battle pitting WCW stalwarts Randy Savage, Sting and Lex Luger against the Outsiders and their mystery man.

After Luger was stretchered out, Nash low blowed Savage leaving everybody lying. Then Hulk Hogan came out to seemingly fend off the Outsiders until…BAM.

The Immortal One, the American hero, the man who carried pro wrestling into the mainstream, dropped a leg on the Macho Man, shocking the world and officially turning his back on the millions of Hulksters.

The NWO arrived and nothing has ever been the same.

John Corrigan
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John Corrigan

Columnist / Assistant Editor at Wrestledelphia.com
John Corrigan
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