Pro Wrestling

The 10 Most Shocking Heel Turns In Wrestling Source:

Sometimes it seems like you can’t trust anyone in wrestling. Tag team partners, managers, even your best friend in the world might betray you at any second for any number of reasons. Often, there’s a story behind it, one that the fans can see building for many weeks until it finally happens. But other times, it comes out of nowhere, and suddenly, to the surprise of everyone, there’s a knife in your back and someone you had trusted right up until that very moment is standing there, mocking you. Heel turns in wrestling can be like watching Game of Thrones: no matter how prepared you think you are, sometimes, you just don’t see it coming. With that in mind, here’s a list of some of the most sudden and surprising heel turns to happen in pro wrestling.

10. Kevin Owens Betrays His Best Friend

As incredible a bad guy as Kevin Owens has been for his admittedly brief WWE career, would it surprise you to know that he entered WWE as a face? In the tradition of other highly-touted independent signings like Hideo Itami and Finn Balor, Owens was brought in with much fanfare and anticipation from both those in charge of NXT and the waiting audience. His first official match in NXT was heavily promoted ahead of time, and took place at NXT Takeover: R-Evolution, against a heel character if there ever was one, the annoyingly evil hippie environmentalist C.J. Parker. Owens basically destroyed Parker to the delight of the NXT crowd, receiving a thunderous ovation. Then, at the end of the night, he was the first one in the ring with a celebratory hug for his best friend, Sami Zayn, when Zayn finally managed to win the NXT Championship after trying for so long. Owens was also the last one to leave, arm firmly over Zayn’s shoulder, as the final chyron for the Pay Per View flashed on the screen for viewers at home. And that’s when he struck, driving an exhausted Zayn to the ground, then powerbombing him onto the ring apron. The character of Kevin Owens was immediately established: he had no friends, only obstacles between him and whatever title he wanted to win. Source:

9. The Rock Becomes The Corporate Champion

Going into Survivor Series 1998, a tournament was set up to crown a new WWF Champion, as the title had been held up as part of Vince McMahon’s ongoing war with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin was screwed out of a victory by referee Shane McMahon and eliminated early, and the consensus favorite had to be Mankind, who had become something of an unwitting puppet for McMahon in the weeks leading up to the show. After Mankind breezed his way to the final through horribly contrived matches clearly set up for him to win, he would face off against none other than The Rock, who was on his way to becoming The People’s Champion in more than just name since the Nation of Domination had disbanded (admittedly, that was at least partially The Rock’s fault, due to a power struggle with Faarooq). However, in the final match, Rock placed Mankind in a Sharpshooter, and in a direct homage to the Montreal Screwjob of the year prior, Vince ordered the bell rung, making The Rock his Corporate Champion. Source:

8. The Nexus Forms

Newer fans might not be aware, but NXT was originally, basically, a pseudo-reality show created to showcase a small amount of developmental talent, each paired with a WWE Superstar as their “mentor”, in a staged game show. After several weeks of vaguely wrestling-related competitions, a fan vote determined a winner from the final two remaining, who would immediately become a real WWE Superstar. The first “season” was mostly notable for having independent legend “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson (go ahead, guess what his WWE name is) as one of the competitors, but sadly, he was eliminated early in the competition (presumably just to mess with people, since he was headed for WWE eventually anyway). At any rate, some guy named Wade Barrett won the competition and became a WWE Superstar, and that looked to be that for the first season. That is, until the very next episode of Raw, where all eight NXT competitors appeared from the crowd during the main event, surrounded the ring, and proceeded to beat the crap out of John Cena, CM Punk, the referee, the ring announcer, and anyone else nearby, destroying the ring and ringside area in the process. A week later, they named themselves “The Nexus”, and declared that they were going to take their spot in WWE, rather than win it through a competition. Source:

7. Chris Jericho Breaks The JeriTron 5000

At WrestleMania XXIV, Shawn Michaels was forced to make a terrible decision and defeat the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, in a match where it had been declared that if Flair lost, he would have to retire. Shawn was clearly broken up about it, but he was accosted by other wrestlers, notably a former pupil of Flair’s, Batista, and also Chris Jericho, who took umbrage with Shawn’s decision to retire one of the greatest wrestlers in history. After Shawn defeated the angry Batista in a match, partially due to clearly pretending to fake an injury, Jericho continued to attack the Heartbreak Kid’s true intentions, saying that for all Shawn’s claims of being a good guy, he was clearly someone who took shortcuts and only looked out for himself. This all culminated on an episode of The Highlight Reel, where Shawn admitted that he had faked an injury in the Batista match, without remorse. In response, a clearly unhinged Jericho attacked Michaels, throwing him face-first through the obscenely expensive JeriTron 5000. This ignited a blood feud that would last months, and lead to some of the most brutal matches of both men’s careers. Source:

6. Dude Love Saves His Boss

It was no secret, back at WrestleMania XIV, that Vince McMahon wasn’t fond of the idea of Stone Cold Steve Austin as WWF Champion. But when Austin won the title from Shawn Michaels, Vince tried to make things work, and even offered him two choices: play ball with Vince, or do things the hard way. Unsurprisingly, Austin chose the hard way, and somehow this all ended up with Vince challenging Austin to a match on Raw. However, just before the match began, it was interrupted by an unlikely source. Dude Love, a former tag team partner of Austin and the coolest, most laid-back version of Mick Foley, shockingly prevented Austin from beating up Vince, because Vince was his boss, and signed the paychecks that let the Dude live the life he wanted. Presumably deciding to use whatever tools were willing to present themselves, McMahon supported Dude Love’s actions, and pushed him into WWE Championship matches against Austin. This led to a ridiculous (but incredible) match where Vince and his cronies acted as referee, timekeeper, and ring announcer, in an attempt to impossibly stack the deck and get the title off of Austin. As an extra bit of trivia, the Raw which promoted the Austin-McMahon match which never happened was the first Raw to beat WCW Monday Nitro in the TV ratings in 84 consecutive weeks, and the beginning of the end of WCW’s dominance in the Monday Night Wars. Source:

5. Seth Rollins Destroys The Shield

Since their debut in WWE, The Shield had always been united as a single unit. At times, they may have had internal difficulties, but they always stuck together. In 2014, the dominance of The Shield hit its peak, as they were defeating all challengers, including the recently resurrected Evolution stable consisting of WWE Chief Operating Officer Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista, who were already irritated by being unable to prevent Daniel Bryan from winning the WWE World Heavyweight title at WrestleMania XXX. Following yet another defeat by The Shield at the Payback Pay Per View, Batista became disillusioned with the group’s motivations and walked out of WWE, leaving Orton and Triple H at their lowest point. However, Triple H claimed that he had a “Plan B”, and by the end of the night, that backup plan was revealed to be Seth Rollins, who broke from the men he’d always called his “brothers”, laying both of them out with shots from a steel chair, officially joining The Authority. Source:

4. Trish Stratus Becomes A Bad Girl

After starting as a fitness model and working her way up, Trish Stratus had become the crown jewel and beloved face of the Divas division, on her way to a Hall of Fame career. And Chris Jericho wanted to date her. Okay, originally, he and his tag team partner Christian only tried to date Trish and her best friend Lita over a silly $1 (Canadian) bet, but even after their scheme was found out, Jericho continued to pursue Stratus. At a certain point, it even seemed like Trish might finally reciprocate those feelings towards Jericho. This caused dissension between Jericho and Christian, however, to such an extent that the two decided to settle things in a match at WrestleMania XX. And during that match, when Jericho seemed on the brink of victory, Trish Stratus appeared to unintentionally distract him, allowing Christian to pick up the win. Afterwards, Stratus approached Jericho, seemingly apologetic…and then she slapped him across the face. It turned out, Christian and Trish had been playing Jericho for a fool, and the now-evil Stratus would go on to new heights as a surprisingly great heel character. Source:

3. Paul Bearer Denies The Undertaker

For years, Paul Bearer was a constant companion of the phenom known as The Undertaker. While Undertaker could speak, it was Bearer who did most of the talking, with an eerie, high-pitched voice that sent shivers down the spine. Ostensibly, Bearer’s job was to be the keeper of the mystical urn which was purported to be the source of The Undertaker’s powers. Therefore, when it was determined that the victory condition for the first-ever Boiler Room Brawl at SummerSlam 1996, between The Undertaker and Mankind, was to be the first to reach the ring and gain control of the urn, it was only fitting that Paul Bearer be the one who watched over it during the match. Over the previous months, it seemed like Mankind had gained some sort of psychological edge over the Dead Man, and perhaps it was that weakness, never before seen in the seemingly unstoppable Undertaker, that influenced Bearer’s actions that night. At the climax of the match, Bearer not only denied Undertaker the urn and the victory, but slammed it into his former charge’s head repeatedly, giving the win to the deranged Mankind and becoming his manager in the process. Source:

2. Shawn Michaels In The Barber Shop

Let’s just state it one more time for posterity: Shawn Michaels did not actually Superkick Marty Jannetty through the Barber Shop window. He did Superkick Jannetty out of nowhere to break up their tag team, but then he threw him through the window. This is the heel turn that all tag team break-ups are compared to, both for its unexpected and brutal nature, and also for the creation of the eternal question of every tag team. Namely, which member of the team, once they break up, will go on to the Hall of Fame career similar to Shawn Michaels, and which will sadly end up with far less success in the wrestling business, as happened to Jannetty. It also began a precedent of Shawn Michaels ultimately turning on his best friends and tag partners, one which dogged him right up until retirement. At the time, nobody was quite sure that Michaels would go on to be anything special, but he immediately reinvented himself as The Heartbreak Kid, and the rest, as they say, is history. Source:

1. Hulk Hogan Is The Third Man

It was the first official confrontation between WCW and the two Outsiders who had claimed that they were going to take over. A six-man tag match was set for Bash at the Beach 1996, with Hall and Nash claiming that they would have a partner joining them against the team of Sting, Randy Savage, and Lex Luger. The so-called “third man” did not appear for the start of the match, but as it devolved into chaos, Hogan appeared, presumably to replace an injured Luger for the WCW team. Instead, to the shock and dismay of millions of Hulkamaniacs, Hogan hit Randy Savage with an Atomic Legdrop and revealed himself to be the newest member of the invading force, which would become known as the New World Order. Since breaking onto the scene as Hulk Hogan, he had never been a bad guy, and this development sent shockwaves through the wrestling world, kick-starting the feud between WCW and WWE, and beginning the Monday Night Wars in earnest. Source:
Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.