15/08/2022

Austin and McMahon shaking hands in the ring at the end of WrestleMania X-Seven, signalling that the unthinkable had happened. Photo Credit: WWE

The heel turn, when done perfectly, is an amazing tool in wrestling psychology. It is shocking, exciting, and really tugs at the emotional heartstrings of the viewer, and in some cases, creates a lifelong hatred of the person who made the turn.

Not every heel turn can do this. There are some heel turns you can see coming from a mile away, but the best are never seen in advance. 

There is also a difference between what are the greatest and most important, despite there being overlap between the two categories. Just because a heel turn was great, such as Kevin Owens turning on Chris Jericho at the Festival of Friendship, it does not mean it is important to wrestling history overall.

With that, here are the 10 most important heel turns in WWE history.

10. Bayley in 2019

Bayley was a superstar in NXT, her gimmick absolutely connected with the NXT fans, and it showed with how much she was adored by everyone. After a couple of years on the main roster however, the gimmick began to grow stale, and it was clear a shake-up was needed.

That shake-up came in the form of a heel turn on the September 2, 2019 episode of Raw, when Bayley helped Sasha Banks attack Becky Lynch.

The line would be teetered on for a few weeks until the October 11 episode of Smackdown, where she would debut a completely new look, and destroy the ‘Bayley Buddies’, before beating Charlotte to regain the Smackdown Women’s Championship.

This heel turn would allow Bayley to thrive in a way that she had not been able to previously, and in doing so, prolonged her stay in WWE to become one of the best heels in recent WWE memory.

9. Roman Reigns in 2020

After the break-up of The Shield, Reigns was pushed very heavily as the baby-faced big man that we all know Vince McMahon loves, following in the footsteps of stars such as John Cena and Hulk Hogan.

But the fans did not take to Reigns. The fans hated him as a singles star, which would have been fantastic if he was a heel, but he was portrayed as a babyface. The hatred went on for years, and after an absence for health-related reasons during COVID-19, Reigns would return in late 2020.

But this time it would be as a heel, under the guidance of one of the greatest antagonists of all time, Paul Heyman.

Roman Reigns stands in the ring with Paul Heyman during a promo on Smackdown. Photo Credit: WWE

The creation of ‘The Tribal Chief’ character has given the WWE the ability to push Reigns at the top without the fan backlash it had previously, cementing him as a cornerstone piece of the WWE roster in a way that was not possible during his face run in years prior.

The fans acknowledged Reigns as a great heel, which is why this turn was important and during the pandemic with no crowds was the perfect time to do it.

8. Triple H attacks Shawn Michaels in 2002

The return of Shawn Michaels in 2002 after his first retirement in 1998 could have ended badly, He was around WWE programming during that time including a stint in the WWE version of the nWo, however “The Heartbreak Kid” had not returned to in-ring competition.

After the disbanding of the nWo, Triple H and Shawn Michaels appeared to make amends and get D-Generation X back together on Raw. Midway through their return however, Triple H would attack Michaels with a Pedigree.

This would lead to the two facing off at SummerSlam in a non-sanctioned “fight”.

The reason this heel turn was important was that Michaels’ return opponent was someone he had a lot of chemistry with and someone who could work safely as Shawn found his feet inside the ring, while also being believable as the bad guy.

It allowed Michaels to get back to the heights of the in-ring work he had in the mid-90’s, thus giving us another eight years of “The Showstopper”.

7. “This is our moment… and this is MY moment.” 

Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa formed DIY during their time in NXT and from 2015 to 2017 they were crowd favourites, having epic matches with the likes of The Revival and the Authors of Pain. 

After the first ever NXT Tag Team Championship ladder match at NXT TakeOver: Chicago, in which DIY lost to the Authors of Pain, Ciampa did the unthinkable.

As the show was going off the air, Gargano and Ciampa embraced at the top of the entrance ramp to the applause of the crowd in attendance, before Ciampa muttered the words “This is our moment…and this is MY moment,” shocking the world and throwing Gargano into the titantron before beginning to clobber him, leaving his former friend lying motionless on the stage.

The ensuing rivalry between the two was not as good as it could have been, due to injuries, but it was a good storyline, and the two would eventually reunite in 2019, before feuding on and off over the next couple of years.

The importance of this comes from how shocking the betrayal was and the risk associated with breaking up one of the hottest tag teams in the company and leaving a gaping hole in the NXT Tag Team division.

The turn just worked with Ciampa becoming one of the best heels in NXT, and it created a major rivalry in NXT which would get heavy investment from the fans.

6. Triple H attacks Daniel Bryan in 2013

John Cena, who needed time off due to an injury, picked Daniel Bryan to be his opponent for the WWE Championship at that year’s Summerslam. In the build-up, Bryan would get involved in the ongoing rivalry with the McMahon family, with Triple H taking the side of Bryan.

At Summerslam, Triple H would be the special guest referee for the match between Bryan and Cena, and after Bryan won the title he would be attacked by Triple H, allowing Randy Orton to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Bryan. 

Triple H would turn on Daniel Bryan, attacking him during Bryan’s post-match celebration. Photo Credit: WWE

The importance of this heel turn was not shown in the immediate aftermath of the event, but over the coming months, as Bryan would enter into a feud with The Authority, led by “The Cerebral Assassin”, with the eventual payoff coming at WrestleMania 30.

At the event, Bryan defeated Triple H before going on later that night to defeat Orton and Batista in a triple threat match to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

This heel turn led to a feud that had such heavy fan investment, it led to the creation of the Yes chants which would transcend the WWE and become a part of pop culture, during one of the best slow-burn rivalries ever executed in wrestling.

5. There’s Always a Plan B

The epic rivalry between The Shield and The Authority/Evolution ended sharply and suddenly in 2014, with Seth Rollins blasting Roman Reigns in the back with a steel chair, before also attacking fellow Shield member Dean Ambrose, thus aligning himself with Triple H and The Authority in the process. 

The importance of this heel turn is simplistic in nature, it broke up The Shield.

This was a trio of superstars who, outside of Daniel Bryan, were the hottest thing in WWE at the time. It was a calculated gamble to break up The Shield, and Rollins would go on to have a fantastic heel run until his injury in late 2015.

This heel run would pave the pathway for Rollins to become one of the top heels in the company a few years later, so the risk to break up The Shield definitely paid off.

The split also led to Ambrose and Reigns being pushed as singles competitors, with Reigns not being accepted as such, as previously mentioned.

The Shield would eventually reunite in 2017 for a brief run as a unit before the three competitors went their separate ways once again.

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4. Shawn Michaels destroys Marty Janetty in The Barbershop

The Rockers were a tag team for 7 years between 1985 and 1992, across both the WWE and other promotions, during their time together they had plenty of success and were rather popular.

What saw the team break up was backstage dissension and politics around a supposed departure for the two to World Championship Wrestling (WCW), a move that Michaels did not want. On-screen, the two began to show signs of tension amongst each other in the storyline.

These tensions would come to a head in early 1992 when during a Brutus Beefcake’s Barbershop promo, Michaels appeared to make up with Janetty, before kicking him in the head and throwing him through the glass window of the Barbershop, disbanding the tag team.

The importance of this heel turn is that it would allow Michaels to go on and become a singles superstar and one of the most important wrestlers in the WWE until his first retirement in 1998.

This would not have happened had The Rockers stayed together.

3. Bret Hart screwed Bret Hart

While this was not the creation of the Mr. McMahon character, the Montreal Screwjob would be the most defining moment, and with the delivery of the “Bret Hart screwed Bret Hart” line the next night on Raw, it would confirm the McMahon heel turn.

Given that McMahon became one of the earliest examples of a heel authority figure, it would begin a run which saw him feud, and/or align with, basically every top star in the company at one point or another over the next few years. 

Bret Hart realises he’s been screwed out of the WWE title by McMahon. Photo Credit: WWE

The importance of this is that it would change the WWE forever, giving the company a pure heel who had the ability to make himself as hated as possible, and the feuds he would enter in with ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin would shape the history of the company, as Austin would be the only top superstar of the WWE to never align himself with McMahon.

Until,

2. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin attacks The Rock with the “McMahon endorsed steel chair”

At WrestleMania X-Seven, the main event would see Austin challenge The Rock for the WWE Championship, which was changed to a No Disqualification match during the show.

Towards the end of the match, McMahon would get himself involved, as he stopped The Rock from pinning Austin, before eventually handing his former foe a steel chair.

Austin would then go on to hit The Rock repeatedly with the chair, before pinning him and winning the title.

The show would end with Austin and McMahon in the ring shaking hands, confirming a heel turn for Austin.

Austin and McMahon shaking hands in the ring at the end of WrestleMania X-Seven, signalling that the unthinkable had happened. Photo Credit: WWE

While Austin’s run as a heel would not last long, it was a key part of the WWE in 2001, as he would go on to form The Two-Man Power Trip with Triple H, until his partner’s quad injury would force him onto the sidelines, Austin would turn face not long after The Invasion storyline. 

The importance of this heel turn, while it was not successful long term, can be best summed up in a single sentence.

No one is immune to the allure of Mr. McMahon.

1. Rocky Maivia joins The Nation of Domination

The most important heel turn in WWE history is Rocky Maivia joining The Nation of Domination. 

As Maivia entered the WWE in 1996, he was pushed as a face, and never quite caught on with the crowd.

Returning in 1997 from an injury, he would emerge from the crowd, helping Faarooq win a match. The two would pose together post-match in the ring, with Maivia joining The Nation.

After joining, Maivia would go on to become known simply as The Rock, which is exactly why this is the most important heel turn in WWE history.

The Rock would go on to become one of, if not the biggest star in WWE history, as he finally found his groove as a heel, delivering amazing promos and incredible in-ring performances as a charismatic superstar.

He would also go on to become one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood, and every time he comes back to the WWE, the audience hangs onto every single movement and every single word The People’s Champion delivers.

It paved the way for John Cena to follow a similar career trajectory, although Cena didn’t turn heel

Despite a fair amount of wrestling fans disliking Cena for the on-screen character he portrays, Cena’s departure to being a movie star has allowed him to be liked when he makes a rare appearance on WWE programming now, something that would not have been possible without The Rock.

Without this heel turn, it is unknown what would have happened with The Rock, but that is something we do not have to think about, because Maivia joining The Nation of Domination led to the birth of The Great One.

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