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Face Heel Turn / Professional Wrestling

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  • Countless competitors in Professional Wrestling (which is fitting, as it's the business that named the term/trope). Often, a heel turn will stem from a face feeling as though he doesn't have the respect of the fans or his fellow faces; this is sometimes set up by having the face lose for several weeks in a row, finally lose his temper and blame the fans or other faces. Usually, the new heel will prove his heelishness with a sneak attack on a former face ally, often aided by his new heel allies, and often followed by a Motive Rant about why they did it. Heel turns by wrestlers who constantly switch between heel and face (Lex Luger and Paul Wight are two examples) don't have all that much impact on the fans, but when a long-term face goes heel it's a big deal. The biggest example of this might be babyface Hulk Hogan's heel turn at WCW event Bash at the Beach in 1996 after over a decade of superheroics, which shocked fans and generated mainstream attention. A wrestler who turns often enough eventually occasionally settles into "tweener" mode, where they're considered neutral, and perform either face or heel tactics as the storyline demands.
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  • Perhaps the template for the face-heel turn came in 1980, when Bruno Sammartino's protege, Larry Zbyszko, during a "scientific match" pitting the teacher vs. the student, turned into a Zbyszko Curb Stomp battle. Zbyszko's reasoning: He was tired of being held back by Sammartino, he wasn't being given a fair shot at superstardom and during their match, he felt he was being made to look foolish (as Sammartino was countering Zbyszko at every turn). In the end, Zbyszko took a few cheap shots at his longtime mentor and then repeatedly broke a wooden folding chair over his head. Although a few sided with Zbyszko, fans were virtually unanimously in Sammartino's corner (as this was before kayfabe was exposed). Zbyszko's heel persona, by the way, would last well into the 1990s, as he played the cowardly heel role as AWA World Heavyweight Champion (1989-1990) as well as his WWF counterpart, Honky Tonk Man, would as Intercontinental Champion.
  • One of the biggest shockers in the 1980s was long-time face André the Giant turning on Hulk Hogan in dramatic fashion, aligning himself with Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, a villainous manager of many known heels in the WWF. Heenan had not only been trying to dethrone Hogan for the past three years up to that point, he'd also sent many of his proteges after Andre over the years. Nobody saw the turn coming, and Hogan seemed as much horrified as he was stunned by it. Andre took matters further, challenging Hogan for the WWF World Championship at WrestleMania III, and then proceeding to rip off Hogan's shirt and more importantly, his cross. Hogan, who in storylines (and apparently in real life) is a devout Christian (which denomination is unknown), was so shocked by this he actually started crying from the betrayal and was so enraged by the turn that he responded to Roddy Piper asking if he would take Andre's challenge with an absolutely massive yes (one of the rare cases of a Big "YES!" not indicating happiness). Andre stayed heel for nearly the remainder of his career, not changing alignments again until 1990 at WrestleMania VI, when a disastrous Tag Team Championship title defense led to Heenan (foolishly) slapping Andre. Andre left as a hero and remained a good guy for the rest of his life.
    • Another Face–Heel Turn involving Hogan came a year earlier with "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff. Starting in the late spring of 1986, an angle was started where Hogan and Orndorff were "best friends" and vowed to stand behind one another through thick and thin. Then a series of minor misunderstandings began to take place, something that "Adorable" Adrian Adonis had observed from afar and quietly picked up on, before bringing up the subject directly to Orndorff on Adonis' "Flower Shop" talk show set. As the misunderstandings (and one missed phone call) began to mount, Orndorff began teaming with Hogan in a series of matches, leading to a tag team match pitting the two against Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy. Late in the match, Bundy and Studd beat down Hogan, and Orndorff delayed running in for the save; Orndorff finally did knock Studd and Bundy out of the ring before helping Hogan to his feet and raising hand in victory ... before suddenly clotheslining him to the mat, then giving him a piledriver. Backstage, the whole thing was revealed to be a setup, all to lower Hogan's guard against Orndorff, who secretly wanted a shot at the World Championship but was denied because they were "friends." A few weeks later on TV, Hogan recounted their friendship, even noting that he had invited Orndorff to his family's Thanksgiving the previous year. Hogan then admitted that in hindsight he should have known something was up later on, before granting Orndorff a match. The resulting feud — which included a match fought before 70,000-plus fans at the Canadian National Exhibition Center in Toronto, Ontario; and capped off by a memorable steel cage match that aired on national television — led to sellout crowds and being voted Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine's Feud of the Year in 1986.
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    • The Face–Heel Turn of Randy Savage in 1989 was born out of jealousy, envy and, in part, anger and irritation due to Hogan upstaging him, the World Champion, and his overly friendly behavior toward Miss Elizabeth.
    • And, of course, the infamous "Hulk goes Hollywood" at Bash at the Beach '96, in which Hogan gave a "Reason You Suck" Speech to the fans, breaking his long streak as a Face in a major way.
  • Vince McMahon's heel turn came very gradually and very subtly, not fully being sown until after the Montreal Screwjob at the 1997 Survivor Series. It all began during a routine episode of Monday Night Raw in the fall of 1996 when, irritated at being relegated to analyst instead of lead play-by-play, Jim Ross delivered a worked shoot promo insulting McMahon, outing him as WWF owner and accusing him of holding him back. That angle — which infamously incorporated the "Fake Diesel"/"Fake Razor Ramon" characters — eventually went nowhere, but then more seeds were planted when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, during an in-ring promo, insulted Gorilla Monsoon (who was then in the role of "WWF President," while still doing occasional commentary) and called him McMahon's puppet. Throughout the winter, more occasional hints were dropped that McMahon was WWF owner, although he never acknowledged his true role and remained the amiable face-leaning play-by-play "voice of the WWF." In March 1997, after Bret Hart went on an angry rant against McMahon and WWF management (following a loss to Psycho Sid on national television) and even shoved him to the ground during a post-match interview, McMahon went into a rage before calming down. McMahon still remained the face-leaning, amiable voice of the WWF. The seeds of McMahon's heel turn didn't really start to begin blooming, then, until the fall of 1997 when — still as the WWF's lead announcer — his style subtly began to become more neutral, with hidden hints of praise for the heel wrestlers, particularly those who were aligned against Austin. One key event in this was the September 22, 1997, Monday Night RAW show at New York City's Madison Square Garden, where Austin attacked McMahon after being told he was still injured (from a legitimate neck injury, suffered in an earlier match against Owen Hart). McMahon's last episode, where it was clear something was going to happen, came on November 3, 1997.
  • Another famous tag team split occurred in the late 80's in the Jim Crockett NWA, when Lex Luger and Barry Windham were the top faces, feuding with Ric Flair's devious Four Horsemen stable. In the weeks prior to a huge tag team title match, the Horsemen constantly told Windham that Luger (who had recently left the Horsemen in a Heel–Face Turn) was only out for himself and would abandon Windham when he needed him most, teasing that Luger would turn on him and join the Horsemen. In the match itself, a badly beaten Windham tried to tag his partner, but Luger had just been knocked off the ring apron by Horsemen associates, thereby "proving" that he wasn't there when he needed him, and prompting Windham to turn on Luger and join the Horsemen himself.
  • The heel turn is a popular way to split up a face tag team, especially when one member of the team is thought to have more potential as a singles wrestler. One of the most famous of these (and the former Trope Namer for that trope) was when the Rockers, a pair of high-flying pretty-boy faces, appeared on Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake's talk show "The Barbershop" to air out their tensions of preceding weeks. After seeming to reconcile with a hug, Shawn Michaels proceeded to kick Marty Jannetty in the face and toss him through the (fake) glass window of the set, setting up his new persona of The Heartbreak Kid and a lifetime of superstardom.
  • Another contender for biggest face heel turn, especially of the 1990s though it was overlooked by most fans in the USA, was that of El Hijo Del Santo, when he disguised himself as Felino to attack Felino's brother, Negro Casas. Along with actually pushing younger talent, it is credited with turning around CMLL, which had to deal with AAA breaking away and a recession in Mexico.
  • The Rock established his popularity with one of these. After being introduced as a Boring Invincible Hero, his unpopularity with fans was used as the rationale for him turning heel. It worked, and he won over the crowds to his side and went face again.
    • Years later, after a long run as a face, he played with this again. In 2002, despite being a Face, he was still getting booed and receiving negative reactions from the fans in some of his matches (such as the WrestleMania X8 match against Hogan). During the Summerslam 2002 buildup, it was learned that The Rock was leaving the WWE for a while to go shoot a movie. So he returned to the WWE in 2003 as a Heel.
    • However, The Rock's natural charm couldn't be hidden by his heel-ness and he often had to try really, REALLY hard to keep fans booing him. The fans could tell that, underneath the obnoxious villain, there was still the entertaining face everybody loved. By the time of his match with Goldberg at Backlash '03, it seemed he just stopped trying to get fans to hate him and accepted his role as a fan favorite.
  • By the end of WCW's life, writers were doing this with everybody whether it made sense or not, possibly hoping they could reignite the excitement of the Hogan turn with someone else. It didn't work, but that didn't stop WCW from doing it every week. Fans were more confused than anything, as they couldn't tell from week to week who was a face and who was a heel. By the time they pulled one with their cash cow, Goldberg of all people, fans simply stopped watching out of frustration and WCW went belly up not long after that.
    • To further illustrate how bad this got, WCW once attempted to turn Sting heel by having him sucker-punch Hulk Hogan. It didn't work, because kayfabe or not, no wrestling fan at that time (late 1999) was going to buy Hulk Hogan as a more heroic figure than Sting. Sting was universally cheered for punking Hogan.
  • During the infamous Invasion angle, everyone representing WCW and ECW became heels regardless of prior status. In particular, Booker T went from being a highly competent champion face in WCW proper to a fairly inept heel during the Invasion who couldn't keep his title unless guys like Steve Austin and Shane McMahon got involved.
    • The one exception at that event was Rob Van Dam. As one of the ECW invaders, he behaved like a Dirty Coward in his Ladder Match with Jeff Hardy for the WWE Hardcore Championship but got cheered anyway - and won!
    • On the other side, all WWF superstars were supposed to be faces. They forgot why X-Pac has his own trope and he was booed in his match with Kidman. He quickly blamed the fans and so at Summerslam every match was WWF vs. Alliance except his.
    • Along with RVD, the only other Alliance member who WWE could not get the fans to oppose, for completely different reasons of course, was Stacy Keibler.
  • There seems to be a distressing tendency for a wrestler's Face–Heel Turn to coincide with his winning a championship title. Supposedly, this is to maintain the "underdog" status of the face wrestler, and let the fans root for him against the Jerkass with the title. Sometimes the turn happens in the title match itself, if the 'underdog' wins the title through a particularly cheap method (use of foreign object, another wrestler interfering with the match, and so on).
    • Chris Jericho is a shining example of this. Jericho has never... EVER won a World Championship as a face. When he was a face, he played the perfect underdog - being screwed over by anyone with a shiny waist.
    • One prominent example of this would be "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's turn on The Rock at WrestleMania X-Seven, where he teamed up with his hated nemesis Vince McMahon due to desperation to become WWE Champ. Somewhat narmed by the Texas crowd acting as if it was a Heel–Face Turn for Vince, as Stone Cold is a local hero there.
    • After winning his first WWE Championship in 1999, it took Triple H eight years to win the title as a face for the first time.
      • Triple H was the Designated Hero for the main event against Chris Jericho at WrestleMania X8 in 2002 mostly because 1.) many fans believed he Took a Level in Badass by coming back from his infamous quad injury like a true Determinator and 2.) he was feuding with Stephanie McMahon while she was in full-on spoiled brat mode and supporting Jericho in their match. He won against Jericho and then immediately started his heel turn by picking a fight with perennial fan favorite Hogan. Once he attacked Shawn Michaels, it was complete.
    • Daniel Bryan won WWE's World Heavyweight Championship as a plucky underdog face and gradually morphed into an arrogant, Large Ham heel loudly over-celebrating all his victories with a Big "YES!" chant. His heelish acts such as tricking Mark Henry into pushing him just so he didn't have to beat Big Show and using A.J. Lee as a human shield also helped behavior-wise.
    • CM Punk's heel turn in 2009 started when he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Jeff Hardy. The fans were very pissed off because Hardy just won what was only his second world title and it was taken away from him in a matter of minutes. Punk started to enforce his straight-edge lifestyle on both Hardy and all of the WWE fans. He finally completed his heel turn one day when he hit Hardy in the head with a microphone and beat him up.
      • Punk would yet again turn heel in Summer 2012 after nearly a year as an edgy Anti-Hero face. This time around, his heel turn was facilitated by feelings of being overshadowed by stars like John Cena and The Rock despite being the WWE Champion. Punk attacking The Rock at the end of the 1,000th episode of Monday Night Raw started this turn off slowly, and said turn was made complete by the time Paul Heyman officially affiliated himself with Punk in early September.
    • When Kane won the World Heavyweight Title in 2010, it started a feud between him and underdog face Rey Mysterio Jr.. Eventually he confessed that he attacked The Undertaker that Memorial Day weekend, fully completing his turn.
  • Trish Stratus was WWE's biggest babyface Diva ever since Wrestle Mania X-Seven when she turned on Vince. However three years later (notably when the equally popular Lita had returned) she turned heel at Wrestle Mania XX when she slapped Chris Jerichonote  and allied herself with his Arch-Enemy Christian. Several critics who thought the PPV was disappointing praised the turn as one of the few high points of the night.
  • Lita herself also had to turn heel due to real life issues. She had been in a relationship with Matt Hardy and it was revealed she'd had an affair with Edge. When that became public knowledge, crowds began to chant "slut" and "You screwed Matt!" at her. Thus they turned her heel for the first time ever in her wrestling career and paired her with Edge on screen. This actually resulted in her abrupt retirement from wrestling a year later as she kept getting excessive abuse from Matt's fans.
  • Batista finally turned heel in the fall of 2009 after nearly five years of being a face. Funny thing is, WWE had attempted to turn him heel twice before, but without success. They had him betray the Undertaker in 2007, but the fans still cheered for him. Then they had him mete out some Disproportionate Retribution to Shawn Michaels in 2008, but that didn't go over, either. Finally, they had him beat the shit out of Rey Mysterio Jr.. Since Mysterio is so squeaky-clean good, the best way to turn another wrestler heel is to have him pick on the Ultimate Underdog (as was done with both Eddie and Chavo Guerrero Jr.).
    • The reason it was even more effective is that Batista and Rey were Heterosexual Life-Partners...seriously, the Ho Yay was palpable. Both of them were good friends of the late Eddie Guerrero, they had each others' back for years, and both were among the top babyfaces in the company. With the heel turn, and still armed with his customary Genre Savvy, Batista was on the cusp of real magnificence. (Too bad it ended almost as soon as it had begun.)
    • Even then, Batista was still cheered at the start, thanks to the backlash stemming from Rey's suspension.
  • Play-by-play commentator Michael Cole did an odd form of this. In early 2010 he was still a face on RAW, but on the debut episode of WWE NXT he lit the Internet on fire with his de facto burial of "debuting" underdog face Daniel Bryan and didn't let up for months, verbally bickering with face NXT commentator Josh Matthews who continually calls him out on acting like an establishment mouthpiece, with even heel Chris Jericho has joined in mocking Cole when guest commentating. By October 2010, Cole began making the transition to being a heel on RAW as well, serving as the unctuous "mouthpiece" for the brand's mysterious General Manager, who communicated with the arena via e-mail alerts. Cole Took a Level in Jerkass in December when he cost his colleague Jerry Lawler the title against the superstar he praises over all others The Miz. He played the Dirty Coward role for all it's worth and entered the ring against Lawler at WrestleMania XXVII. He won after the General Manager reversed the decision. Teaming with Jack Swagger, he continued to antagonize Lawler and Jim Ross for a few more months, before he lost the final blowoff match with Lawyer and endured a Humiliation Conga to end the feud. While this toned down his more abrasive aspects, Cole would still act heelish until Lawler's real-life on-air heart attack several months later, during which his professional conduct and real life pain and fear immediately turned him face again.
  • Eve Torres spent five years of her career as a face and her heel turn came completely out of left field. She was being stalked by Kane for weeks and when John Cena rescued her from an attack, she passionately kissed him. She was supposed to be having a thing with Cena's best friend (and super over) Zack Ryder. The storyline seemed set up to have Kane manipulating Eve but it's likely WWE took note of the insane amount of heat she was getting. Thus the next week she abruptly announced she'd been using Zack all along and ended up getting branded a "Hoeski"note  by Cena in the middle of the ring. The turn paid off as she became WWE Divas' Champion for the third time before the end of the year.
  • A.J. Lee had a heel turn that took six months to properly complete. After she accidentally cost beau Daniel Bryan the title at Wrestle Mania, he told her he wished she had never been born. AJ actually snapped and became a loose cannon, attacking her former best friend Kaitlyn and eventually developing some disturbing Yandere tendencies towards Bryan, Kane and CM Punk. A heel turn was teased when Daniel Bryan eventually proposed to her but she left him at the altar in favour of becoming the Raw General Manager. She finally turned heel properly at the last PPV of 2012 as she cost John Cena a match against Dolph Ziggler.
  • Played for Laughs in Summer Slam 2015, guest host Jon Stewart (recently retired from The Daily Show) turns "heel" by hitting John Cena with a chair.
  • One of the most surprising heel turns in recent history was Sami Zayn's heel turn at Hell in a Cell 2017, due to Zayn being a career babyface. While on the indies as El Generico, he'd played a heel on rare occasions, but was never as successful or as beloved as when he was the Big Good to Kevin Steen's Big Bad. Upon entering NXT, Zayn remained one of the most over babyfaces on the roster (as evidenced by his Red Baron, "The Underdog from the Underground"), becoming involved in feud after feud as the scrappy-but-beloved babyface standing up to the (frequently) larger monster heels. This all changed at Hell in a Cell, when Zayn ran in during the Owens-McMahon main event, not to assist Shane, but to pull his Arch-Enemy Owens to safety after a Leap of Faith off the Cell. To the shock of many fans, Zayn has become one of the most entertaining heels on the roster, twisting many of his formerly babyface mannerisms and qualities into obnoxious and hilarious heel traits.
  • Tommaso Ciampa's heel turn in May 2017 is considered by many to be played to perfection. After brutally betraying his best friend Johnny Gargano, he disappeared for the rest of the year due to a legitimate injury before returning in the winter of 2018, continually taunting the ultra popular Gargano to the point where he is getting some of the most harsh reactions in all of the WWE.


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