My dad and I would always watch wrestling together. One of his favorite wrestlers was High Chief Peter Maivia. He was always happy and had both his legs covered in tattoos. It was 1978 and my dad and I watched he and Bob Backlund fight Victor Rivera and Spiros Arion. Bob Backlund reached for the tag and instead Maivia attacked him. The crowd went wild and my dad was speechless. Most heel turns are so telegraphed you can see it coming from the moon BUT when a heel turn happens suddenly, and for good reason, it changes the game! Here are five of the most shocking heel turns.
Larry Zbyszko: This is a heel turn so shocking he’d hardly ever be a face again in his career. In the 70’s and 80’s, it was normal for a hero to have a protege to help get a person over. Sgt Slaughter had Corporal Kirchner, Hulk Hogan had Hillbilly Jim and Bruno Sammartino had Larry Zbyszko. Zbyszko was the ultimate face helping Sammartino wrestle Bugsy McGraw, Superstar Billy Graham and other villains at the time.
Over time Zbyszko wanted to break out of Sammartino’s shadow and challenged him to an exhibition match in Allentown, PA. He said if Sammartino did not agree to the match he’d retire. Sammartino agreed and dominated the match. After Zbyszko was thrown out of the ring, he grabbed a wooden chair and bloodied Sammartino. Zbyszko instantly went from being one of the biggest faces to one of the most dastardly heels all with one chair shot.
Hulk Hogan: If you weren’t around in the ‘80’s it’s hard to understand just how popular Hogan was. He was a walking talking cartoon. He never lost, he never showed true vulnerability, hell, you’d be lucky to get him down. He was THE face. When he left the WWE and went to WCW it was big news but he played the same character. Cartoonish hero winning against all the heels. During Bash at the Beach in 1996, the unthinkable happened. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall (still known as the Outsiders at that time) were running roughshod over WCW.
Finally, three WCW heroes had enough and Sting, Lex Luger and Randy Savage were set to avenge WCW in a 6 man tag match. The Outsiders wouldn’t say who their 3rd man was and wrestled most of the match as a 3 vs 2 contest. Finally, at the end of the match, Luger and Sting were taken out and Savage was getting a beating from Hall and Nash only for Hulk Hogan to run down and leg drop… Randy Savage becoming the heel Hollywood Hogan. I can’t tell you how shocking this was. It had been more than 10 years since Hogan was a villain when he started the NWO, with Hall and Nash, one of the most successful heel stables of all time.
Kevin Nash: Kevin Nash spent most of his time in WCW as a heel member of the NWO. But in 1998 the NWO split in two with Nash becoming the leader of the NWO Wolfpac alongside Sting, Konnan, and others. The two NWOs feuded for a year leading to Hollywood Hogan’s retirement and Scott Hall fighting with his former best friend. Finally, at Starrcade 1998 Kevin Nash earned a match against the undefeated WCW champ Goldberg. The match was rough but with no real cheating. With Kevin Nash distracted, Scott Hall used a stun gun on Goldberg allowing Nash the victory. Nash denied any knowledge of Hall’s actions and offered to give Goldberg a rematch in January 1999.
On January 4th the match was set but Goldberg couldn’t make it because…..he was “arrested” for sexually harassing NWO member Miss Elizabeth (ugh). Hollywood Hogan showed up in Goldberg’s place making the whole thing look like a plot of the original NWO. Nash and Hogan went to lock up when in what became known as the “Fingerpoke Of Doom” Hogan poked Nash on the chest, Nash fell down, and Hogan won the title and the villainous NWO, including Nash, were back together.
Bret Hart: Bret Hart started in the WWE as a heel along with the rest of the Hart Foundation under manager Jimmy Hart. But after Hart and Jim Neidhart broke up Hart had been one of the top faces in the WWE. From 1991-1997 Hart fought just about every heel in the WWE. In 1996, however, Hart began a feud with the hot heel Steve Austin. They set the stage nicely with Hart being very by the book and Austin being a rebel. Hart even began to argue with fans who were starting to embrace Austin.
At Wrestlemania 13, Hart and Austin met in a “submission match” for the title. Although Hart won, Austin never gave up having passed out from the pain of the Sharpshooter and blood loss. Hart continued to attack Austin after the match and in a double turn Austin emerged as the face and Hart the heel
Undertaker: Undertaker switched from face to heel many times in his career but after returning from a groin injury in 2000, he was firmly a good guy with a new biker personality. Taker took aim at all the heels in the WWE. Around this time the evil Mr. McMahon had begun his “Kiss my a**” club where various people would have to kiss his butt to keep their job. McMahon pushed his luck when he tried this with Steve Austin and got whipped for the error of his ways.
However, at ringside, Jim Ross, calling the action, was happy to have a laugh at Mr. McMahon’s expense. Just as Kurt Angle and Mr. McMahon were about to force Jim Ross to pucker up, the Undertaker’s music started and he drove down to ringside. Instead of helping Ross, however, the Undertaker joined with Mr. McMahon and forced Ross’s face against McMahon’s behind. This started a new “Big Evil” character for the Undertaker.
Sometimes a heel turn is shocking for who turned and sometimes for how they turned but in the five instances above no one saw the turn coming. That’s what makes a heel turn memorable.