HEAT WEEK: 25 Greatest Wrestling Villains Ever

In the fifth and final installment of Heat Week, John Corrigan counts down the 25 greatest heels ever.
Credit: Wikimedia.org
Credit: Wikimedia.org

We’ve looked back on the great villains of yesteryear, the greatest betrayals and the hottest moments. We’ve also determined the top villains in 2016. Now there’s only one list left to make: Who are the greatest bad guys ever?

25. Ivan Koloff

The Russian Bear preyed upon Cold War fears throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mauling Americans up and down the East Coast. Some say The Streak ending was the most shocking finish in wrestling history, but historian Bill Apter thought he went deaf the night Koloff defeated Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship in 1971.

24. Andre the Giant

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 as clear as his intentions: three years is a long time to be champion, but 15 years is a long time to go undefeated. It was time for a change.

In retrospect, fans prefer to idolize Andre because of his pop culture presence and his now fabled wrasslin’ past. But never forget that without his turn to the dark side, WrestleMania III would have never become the gold standard it is today.

23. Shawn Michaels

In the summer of 2005, the Heartbreak Kid became must-see TV as he pulled back the curtain and exposed Hulk Hogan’s real-life hypocrisies. For kids of the John Cena generation, it was shocking. For fans of the Attitude Era, it was the Show Stoppa returning to his controversial roots.

Shawn Michaels is the guy who threw his tag team partner into a window. He’s the guy who screwed Bret Hart, insinuating on national television that he cheated on his wife and enlisting his D-X brethren to pummel Hart’s family members. Shawn Michaels is the guy who would tell you that he’d steal your girl, actually do it, then send her back pregnant, sticking you with the child support payments.

22. Ernie Ladd

The Big Cat became one of the first black villains in wrasslin’. A pro football star turned squared circle giant, Ernie Ladd used his immense size and surprising agility to dominate pro wrestling, eventually crowning himself “The King.” Fans recoiled as Ladd used his taped thumb to score controversial victories while berating the fans for supporting losers.

21. Stan Hansen

Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016, Stan “The Man” Hansen established his legacy in Japan as a merciless foreign conqueror. Spitting tobacco juice and swinging his bullrope, the Bad Man from Borger, Texas attacked fans and opponents alike with his decapitating Lariat, even breaking Bruno’s neck in the 1970s.

20. Edge

Imagine all the heinous acts a man must do to earn the reputation of “Rated-R Superstar.” Excessive violence, profanity, sexual content—all trademarks of Edge’s meteoric rise in the mid-2000s and all stemming from the ultimate dick move BEHIND the scenes: having an affair with (on-screen rival, yet real-life friend) Matt Hardy’s girlfriend, Lita.

19. Paul Orndorff

“Mr. Wonderful” became Hulkamaniacs’ No.1 enemy when he closelined and piledrived the Hulkster during a tag team match between the supposed pals. Adding “The Brain” as his manager was icing on the cake as fans came out in droves to arenas across the country to witness Hogan get his revenge on the cocky jock.

18. “Classy” Freddie Blassie

Listen up, you pencil-neck geek. The “Hollywood Fashion Plate” followed Gorgeous George’s footsteps by becoming the next mainstream villain, achieving global hatred for barking at fans and slicing opponents with his filed teeth, earning the moniker “Vampire.” Blassie developed his reputation in Georgia, receiving jeers for being a successful Yankee. Then he took over the West Coast, rubbing shoulders with Regis and Muhammad Ali.

Transitioning into managing, Blassie became one of the most despised managers in WWE history, leading Iron Sheik to win the WWE Championship from “All-American Boy” Bob Backlund one day after Christmas 1983.

17. Nick Bockwinkel

The perennial AWA World Heavyweight Champion paved the way for Chris Jericho’s dastardly intellectual run at the end of the last decade. Crisp suits, slicked blonde hair, a thesaurus of insults, Nick Bockwinkel was a consummate professional who knew how to rub those Midwesterners the wrong way for years and years.

16. Stephanie McMahon

She emasculates everybody on the roster and belittles fans in every city. She flaunts her authority which was earned strictly by birthright. She never gets hit and she rarely competes.

The “Billion Dollar Princess” has become the corrupt Queen of WWE, abusing her power both in and out of the ring, channeling her father’s venom for a new generation.

15. Chris Jericho

At the end of his “Breaking the Code” DVD, Chris Jericho says he’d love to be carried off into the sunset by security as fans spit and throw piss cups at him. In summary, he loves being the bad guy. And he’s the best in the world at it.

From his days in Japan as part of the nefarious Team No Respect to his hilarious mocking of Stinko Malenko and Goldberg’s security to crushing Chyna’s thumb with a hammer, Y2J has proven he’ll do whatever it takes to get under the skin of his opponent as well as the fans.

In 2008, though, he went overboard. The Ayatollah of Rock N’ Rolla ditched his long locks and rock star jackets for business-professional attire. His vocabulary replaced catchphrases with words only heard during spelling bees. He didn’t scream—he whispered, demanding attention.

It was an evolution of not just Chris Jericho but of pro wrestling villainy.

Drink it in, maaaaan.

14. Fabulous Freebirds

When Terry Gordy slammed the cage door on Kerry Von Erich, the Freebirds became the most hated group in Texas since liberals. Michael “P.S.” Hayes riled the fans with trash talk, Buddy Roberts played the decoy in the ring and “Bam Bam” provided the muscle. The Hall of Fame trio paved the way for New Day, The Shield and all other groups considering themselves brothers in battles.

13. “Hollywood” Hogan

“As far as I’m concerned, all this crap in the ring represents these fans out here.”

Oh…my…Gawd. When Hulk Hogan revealed himself to be the third man, dropping the leg on Randy Savage, WCW and all his Hulkamaniacs, the childhoods of Rock N Wrestling fans died. The red and yellow were dyed black and white and he clean cut American icon grew out a Fu Manchu, pledging allegiance to the New World Order.

From 1996 until 1999, the Hulkster transformed into the ultimate villain, surrounding himself with henchmen and power brokers, scratching and clawing to retain his precious World Heavyweight Championship.

12. Jerry Lawler

Throughout his illustrious career, Jerry Lawler perfected the art of pissing off fans and hiding foreign objects in his singlet. He may be the King of Memphis, but in ECW, he was a royal pain in the ass. Lawler spent weeks on RAW mocking Philly’s warzone, calling it “Extremely Crappy Wrestling” and challenging Paul Heyman and his cohorts to a fight.

When Lawler finally arrived at the corner of Swanson and Ritner, he injured ECW’s heart and soul (Tommy Dreamer) and caused a riot.

11. Triple H

Before the success of NXT and the returns of Bruno Sammartino and Ultimate Warrior, people HATED Triple H. There are remnants of that hatred today, but nowhere near the amount as during the 2000s when the Internet Wrestling Community drew their pitchforks and virally harpooned The Game for abusing his real-life power and “burying” his peers: RVD, Kurt Angle, Kane, Booker T, Goldberg, Scott Steiner, Hurricane, etc. etc. etc.

Now that was all off-screen. To the casual wrestling fan, Triple H was the Cerebral Assassin, a power-hungry, technically sound champion who brainwashed the boss’ daughter and destroyed all foes before him.

And they say wrestling is fake.

10. Ted DiBiase

Nobody likes rich people. Even rich people don’t like other rich people. That’s why Ted DiBiase had such a successful, lengthy run (1987-1996) as the “Million Dollar Man,” paying peasants to humiliate themselves by kissing his feet and dribbling a ball for his amusement. He even had a silent, jacked “servant” to chauffeur him and intimidate the rest of us.

9. Tully Blanchard

Perhaps the most underrated heel of all time, Tully Blanchard exuded arrogance and rage, making him a lethal weapon inside the ring. A second-generation performer, pro wrestling came natural to the Horseman. His teaming with Gino Hernandez on the West Coast and Arn Anderson on the East Coast proved that he was a dastardly yet successful technician.

Although his career was cut short due to politics and drug abuse, the born again preacher was truly God’s gift to the squared circle.

8. Terry Funk

To all the egg-sucking dogs out there, Terry Funk is the master. A wild brawler with technical expertise, the Double Cross Rancher stormed across territories, never overstaying his welcome but leaving a hellacious impact.

Middle aged and crazy, The Funker needed only one night in 1989, nearly 15 years since his NWA World Heavyweight Championship reign, to remind the wrasslin’ world just how dangerous he is, sucker punching Ric Flair and piledriving the Nature Boy on a table—unprecedented on national TV.

7. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan

The greatest manager in pro wrestling history earned his sacred status by leading the top stars to victory over the 1960s, 70s, 80s and early 90s. But these weren’t just any stars—they were the top villains: Nick Bockwinkel, Ray Stevens, Big John Studd, King Kong Bundy, Mr. Perfect, Rick Rude, Harley Race, Paul Orndorff, to name a few.

However, the Weasel’s heat was so strong that by just walking out with him, Andre the Giant became the baddest man on the planet. As we’ve said in the past, Hulk Hogan’s top rival wasn’t Randy Savage or Roddy Piper—it was The Brain.

6. The Sheik

Throwing fireballs and stabbing foreheads, The Sheik was the forefather of ECW’s hardcore style. The wealthy, unpredictable Syrian exploded into territories like an inferno—his matches didn’t last long, but there was carnage everywhere. His legacy lived on through his nephew, the suicidal, homicidal, genocidal Sabu.

5. Mr. McMahon

Despite all the attempts over the past two decades to recreate the evil authority figure, no one comes close to Vince McMahon. As a performer, he’s untouchable—facial expressions, Adam’s Apple bob, that fucking walk. His words hit you right where it hurts because most of his promos are based in truth, and you know how we hate that.

It’s funny because McMahon has been a fixture of wrestling television since the 1970s, but when he screwed Bret Hart in 1997, he morphed into a pop culture icon. The Chairman is the ultimate boss, controlling a monopoly of pro wrestling and manipulating the fans into giving him their hard earned money.

4. Randy Savage

Pomp and circumstance for a new generation, Macho Man was the cocky jock with the pretty girl, proving our worst fear had come true: high school never ends. Intensity personified, Randy Savage perpetually stalked his prey; whether that be opponents like George Steele and Tito Santana, or innocent announcers like “Mean” Gene Okerlund. His real-life paranoia over Miss Elizabeth boiled onto television, spawning feuds centered around jealousy, i.e., the Mega Powers explode.

His defining treacherous act happened in November of 1986 when Savage crushed Ricky Steamboat’s larynx with the ring bell, silencing The Dragon for weeks. It was an attempt to eliminate Steamboat as a challenger for the Intercontinental Championship, but unfortunately for Macho and fortunately for the fans, it was unsuccessful as The Dragon returned for revenge at WrestleMania III, capturing the gold in one of the greatest matches of all time.

3. Gorgeous George

Pro wrestling wouldn’t exist without Gorgeous George. As television emerged in American households, the cape-wearing, blonde pretty boy, tossing bobbypins into the crowd and sauntering to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance, captivated the nation.

Gorgeous George transformed wrestling from sport to entertainment, defining the role of the villain and subsequently igniting the boxing world by inspiring Muhammad Ali.

He developed the permanent business strategy: rile the fans up to the point they’ll spend money on seeing you get your ass kicked. Some may have done it better, but George did it first.

2. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper

Regardless of what any historian or journalist claims, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T played major roles in WrestleMania, but there would be NO WrestleMania without Roddy Piper. The other heels on the roster, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Big John Studd, and so forth, simply didn’t clench the audience’s attention and most importantly, hatred, as HotRod did. Hulkamania felt truly threatened by the Rowdy One, and people of all ages salivated at the chance to witness Piper finally silenced.

He incited riots, cussing out blacks and Mexicans and gays and women, mocking the elderly and frightening the youth. His words cost him; three stabbings, a broken eardrum, a hip replacement and gallons of blood spilled throughout arenas around the world.

He redefined the art of promos, roasting opponents while Jeff Ross was still goo-goo, gah-gahing the seven dirty words. Piper’s quick wit, high-pitched howls, and blunt insults simultaneously infuriated and entertained fans.

Piper’s Pit, his cutting-edge talk show, provided the perfect platform for HotRod to spew his venom and captivate the audience. Shaving Haiti Kid’s head, luring Bruno Sammartino out of retirement, smashing the coconut over Jimmy Snuka’s noggin…hell, perennial schmuck Frankie Williams will always be remembered, thanks to the Pit!

1. Ric Flair


C’mon now, who else could it be? Slick Ric is the dirtiest player in the game. He dominated an entire decade, rarely without the World Heavyweight Championship, and broke every rule in the book to hold on to the gold.

He traveled across the nation (and the globe) boasting about his big house on the hill, his Rolex watches, his alligator shoes and his Cadillacs. Always dressed like a GQ model, Flair strutted around the cameras, inviting women to ride Space Mountain while their husbands and boyfriends had to wait outside the park.

You wanted to be like the Nature Boy, but you knew you never could. And he’d rub it in your face.

When he finally did meet his match in the ring, whether it be Dusty Rhodes or Ricky Steamboat or Sting, Flair always had a backup plan as the Horsemen would interfere on his behalf. What truly separated him from the rest was his mean streak: behind the suits and sunglasses was a sinister athlete hellbent on hurting anyone trying to take his title. He turned on Sting countless times, put Dusty on Hard Times and grinded Steamboat’s/Ricky Morton’s face into the concrete.

To be the man, you have to beat the man and when it comes to the most evil, ain’t nobody topping Ric Flair.

John Corrigan
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John Corrigan

Columnist / Assistant Editor at Wrestledelphia.com
John Corrigan
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