It’s been over two months now since Seth Rollins turned against his allies in the Shield to pursue a more sinister path, and the move still has wrestling fans talking. Will Rollins succeed as a bad guy? Should it have been Dean Ambrose making the move? Will the breakup of the group be—pardon the wording—what’s best for business?
Heel turns always bring out both analysis and in the best cases excitement. While athletes get booed in sports for being jerks or cheaters and characters in all forms of fiction can jump sides from hero to villain, the shift from virtue to vice has a unique zest in wrestling. Turning a protagonist into an antagonist in the squared circle can revitalize—or kill—a worn out character and, in the best cases, buoy a whole company.
Take a look at the heel turns that shocked, delighted and astounded us here at Place to Be Nation the most.
5. SHAWN MICHAELS (1991)
Thought about putting Bret Hart’s 1997 turn here, but as ever, I show my “Heartbreak Kid” fandom and pick Shawn over “The Hitman.” To this day, the idea of a tag team breaking up with “one being Shawn and one being Marty,” not to mention the visual and language of tossing somebody through a “Barbershop window” to indicate betrayal remains a part of wrestling. This turn gave us HBK, for my money one of the best personas ever, and has stayed vital and memorable.
4. THE ROCK (1998)
Vince Russo’s masterpiece, the Rock’s heel turn had more intricacy and nuance than just about any other in history; for once, the swerves paid off. Every step along the way in the weeks leading up and then each turning point the night of the Survivor Series only improved the final moment.
Two years into his career in the WWF, Rocky Maivia had built such a passionate relationship with the fans that only he could have pulled off his role as “Corporate Champion” as well as he did. The audience had turned him heel the first time and seemed thrilled to be a part of making him their hero, which made his ultimate betrayal more heartbreaking and delicious. The Rock eventually made a tremendous babyface, but you could tell he also relished the chance to stick it to the people who refused to cheer him one more time first.
3. ANDRE THE GIANT (1987)
By 1987, the idea of Hulk Hogan’s allies turning on him didn’t present something entirely new, as Paul Orndorff had done it rather famously, but nobody ever thought Andre the Giant would follow the same path—and they thought wrong.
Andre’s betrayal of the “Hulkster” and employment of the nefarious Bobby Heenan as a manager to aid his pursuit of the WWF title represented the first truly significant heel turn of the modern era. While smaller scale stars had blurred the lines between good and evil and tweeners like Ric Flair would sometimes break the fans hearts, a superstar of Andre’s stature—literally and figuratively—had never turned his back on heroism.
It took guts to turn the much-loved Andre into a bad guy, both on the part of Vince McMahon and the Giant himself; if it hadn’t worked, the WWF had lost a bankable attraction, and one of the game’s titans had sacrificed his career for nothing. Fortunately, it worked in spades, packing the Silverdome for WrestleMania III, and by the time he had to retire, Andre remained beloved despite his flirtation with the dark side.
2. VINCE MCMAHON (1997)
Given his reputation as a total control freak, it’s ironic that Vince McMahon saw the salvation of his company and perhaps his lasting legacy to most fans come about from something he might have never planned.
After feeling his hand forced in “screwing” the beloved Bret Hart out of the WWF title on his way out the door to WCW, McMahon, since the 1980’s known on-screen only as the company’s lead commentator, came out from behind the curtain, acknowledging his status as owner and attempting to explain his actions. The “Bret screwed Bret” rationale came off flimsy to most fans, seeming more arrogant than justified at least on camera, and Vince the announcer went away…
…gradually giving way to Mr. McMahon, head of the WWF and the perfect foil to anti-authority anti-hero “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Over the course of 1998, morphing from stuffy suit to full-fledged villain, McMahon in large part helped his federation gain the ground it had lost to chief competitor WCW and take back the grown as wrestling’s top promotion. He captured fandom’s imagination, giving them a relatable thorn in the overbearing boss and allowing them to live vicariously through Austin as he ran roughshod.
Vince seemed instantly more comfortable as megalomaniacal mastermind than he had as good guy shill, working a cranked up to 11 version of his own type A personality into one of the most memorable characters ever in WWE. He changed the landscape in the 1980’s by taking the WWF national, then revitalized the business again in the 90’s, simply by being himself.
16 years later, and Mr. McMahon can still be counted on as one of the greatest performers in wrestling, as a loathsome heel or a growling babyface—but we all love to hate him just a bit more.
1. HULK HOGAN (1996)
By the summer of 1996, after over a decade on top of the pro wrestling world as the number one hero to Hulkamaniacs everywhere, Hulk Hogan had seen his act grow stale and his fans begin to erode. Rather than ride off into the sunset or continue to run his remaining popularity further into the ground, he did the seemingly unthinkable, transforming into “Hollywood” Hogan, a nefarious villain, and joining the New World Order as their third member.
“Hollywood” Hogan became such an effective villain in large part because while Hulk changed his outward appearance—trading red and yellow for white and black—when it came to just about everything else, he stayed remarkably consistent and just tweaked slightly things people had wanted to boo about him for years. His in-ring style had always included back rakes and eye gouges, but now he made them more blatant; the long hiatuses to film movies or months without defending his title fans once overlooked became pointed reasons to hate him more. Even Hogan’s interview style had always been somewhat pompous and aggrandizing, but he put just enough extra on it to cross the line from eccentric to aggravating.
The heel turn of Hulk Hogan not only revitalized his career, it helped WCW finally, at long last, turn the corner as a company and gain a pronounced—if temporary—edge over the WWF. With Hogan as the most hated man in wrestling and one the business’ most interesting characters period, WCW rode the nWo wave to the top, never looking back…which perhaps led to their eventual demise, but that’s another story.
There had never been—and I’d argue still hasn’t been and never will be—a heel turn as momentous simply because there had never been a babyface the caliber of Hulk Hogan. He had been a bad guy during the earliest days of his career, but that period had grown so far removed it might as well have not existed; we only knew the over-the-top “Hulkster” who encouraged us to say our prayers and take our vitamins. It remains shocking and brilliant to this day.
5. TRIPLE H (2002)
One might consider this kissing up to the boss around here, especially considering it leads to Triple H’s reign of terror with the World title that pretty much runs from September of 2002 through March of 2005 if you want to be complete about this particular run on top. But, you can’t deny the whole process of the turn being one of the top notch ways of doing a turn.
Oh sure, Shawn Michaels was pretty much turned into a now aimless de facto face when Vince McMahon ended the Michaels-led nWo with a brief mention in the “Ruthless Aggression” promo and it was needed to set up his “one last stand” return at SummerSlam. But making Michaels a face again made the wooing of Triple H to Raw a little more palpable than trying to keep the nWo’s heat alive with Triple H going through their ranks.
It would also effectively kill off, at the time anyway, any nostalgic hopes of another stable making a return, with the turn happening in midst of a vintage D-X promo. So with one fell swoop of a few weeks period, you saw the ending of the two most important, and popular, factions of the late 1990’s. And it returned Triple H to a character that he was much more comfortable being, even if you say what you will about what the character was doing during his feuds of this run.
4. STEVE AUSTIN (2001)
Okay, one can point to this as being one of the worst heel turns ever (and Austin himself would agree with that point, not to mention Jim Ross comparing it to making John Wayne the villain in a movie), but you can’t deny the effectiveness of the moment. After all those years of battling each other, Austin so desperate to regain what he had lost and couldn’t go after for more than a year, would sink so low as to align himself with his most hated rival and on the grandest stage possible (kind of amusing that the year before Triple H popped the “no heel ends WrestleMania champion” cherry and then they conduct the champion turning heel at the end angle the following year).
It really isn’t anyone’s fault that the WWF fan base still wanted to cheer for old “Stone Cold,” and it wasn’t from a lack of trying on Austin’s part as fans got a kick out of just about everything he tried to do in order to separate this heel character from his uber popular face character. How else can you explain a simple phrase used as a way an annoying leader humiliates his subordinates turn into a way to annoy and distract heels some 13 years later, and in arenas Austin, nor the WWE is anywhere near! WHAT indeed!
So while Austin, as he freely admits, probably would have been just as over as he was if he stunned Vince after the handshake in true DTA Rattlesnake fashion and stayed in his anti-hero babyface persona, it still belongs on the list due to the storytelling aspect of the turn.
3. RANDY SAVAGE (1989)
Probably the apex of the “Hulk Hogan’s running buddy turns on him trope” was Mach’s, yes even more so that Andre’s turn three years earlier. The key was to do a slow burn towards the climax.
First you lay in little seeds early on, hints of a possible jealously from the champion for his more popular partner. As well as classic jealous husband paranoia, thinking every action with Hogan and his manager (still just kayfabe manager at this point) has a romantic interest in it (figure they couldn’t get away with Triple H going behind Trish Stratus as Stephanie walks in on them in those days).
And then the implosion happens after nearly a year of building in one of the greatest turns of all-time, and beginning another great heel run by Savage which would include being crowned “Macho King” and aligning himself with Sherri Martel later in the year (though the less said about Zeus’ involvement with Savage, the better).
Though he would lose the title to Hogan at WrestleMania, this is probably one of the defining moments of the character and career of the “Macho Man.”
2. LARRY ZBYSZKO (1980)
The WWE’s history can be considered a lot like the NFL’s, in that there is a line of demarcation in the sand when it comes to discussion in mainstream circles. For the National Football League, it is the first Super Bowl and the end of the war between themselves and the American Football League that would lead to the merger in 1970. For the WWE, or WWF at the time, it is the first WrestleMania, set at the apex of the famed Rock ‘N Wrestling Connection era. Because of this attitude, generally the pre-1985 (well really the timeline starts with Hulk Hogan’s return from the AWA and beating The Iron Sheik for the heavyweight belt in January of 1984) company gets the short shrift. Even when it became in vogue for the promotion itself to start embracing its past, the time before Hogan’s first title reign is a bit shrouded by referring to it in broad strokes, and just the bare facts about the champions get discussed.
But the times did provide some classic moments, and even some interesting angles. One such is the story of Larry Zbyszko. Zbyszko was brought in as a babyface, and was used as the protégé of two time champion and “Living Legend,” Bruno Sammartino, who by this time was a commentator and occasionally worked matches. Suddenly Zbyszko started to seem a bit sullen as losses would pile up, and he figured the best way to prove himself was to goad Sammartino into having an exhibition. Sammartino refused as he looked at Zbyszko like a son or a brother. They ended up finally having a match in Allentown, PA, which would lead to Zbyszko getting quite vicious with Sammartino, eventually breaking a chair over his about to be former mentor.
This would turn (no pun intended) into the hottest feud in the promotion, culminating in a cage match at a mega show at Shea Stadium. The feud was helped tremendously by the natural heel work of Zbyszko, whom would stay in the persona of the weaselly, yet calculating heel for pretty much the rest of his career.
For more on this legendary angle, check out Titans of Wrestling podcast episodes; #9 featuring discussions of the promos leading up to the turn in Allentown and the match itself, #10, #12, #13, #14, and #16 which looks at the Shea blow off match.
1. HULK HOGAN (1996)
So you are Hulk Hogan in the spring of 1996. You are still widely acknowledged as the face of professional wrestling, but in your own promotion you are considered stale and a relic of a bygone era. So, what to do?
Why you turn heel for the first time in well over a decade and join up with the hottest angle on the planet!
It all makes perfect sense in the grand scheme of things and therefore a rare sign of good writing by WCW’s booking at the time, you take the iconic fan favorite in Hogan, pair him up with the two “invading” newcomers, and voila! Instant uber over faction!
Of course there are plenty of reasons why after the initial success that the nWo crashed and burned, repeatedly, and Hogan himself is among them, but the best turns are sometimes the ones that not only are the least expected, but when you stop and think about it, it makes all the sense in the world.
And Hogan needed a fresh new direction at the time which he would achieve by going full throttle with the egotistical and narcissistic “Hollywood” character, and being the leader of the nWo was just the thing to give Hogan some more time in the spotlight.
I’m not sure there’s anything better in life than a great heel turn. Food ? No. Sex? No. Cats? Maybe. My natural inclination was to always cheer the heel (I wanted Gaston to win in his match in “Beauty and The Beast”) so most of these turns laid the groundwork for some of my favorite guys to watch.
5. THE ROCK (2003)
When The Rock began to criticize Hulk Hogan on SmackDown we knew that something was up with his character. When he spit in the Immortal One’s face and proceeded to make the audience wait for 45 minutes for him as is helicopter flew over the city in his Titantron video we knew we were on to something special. I’d like to think though that the heel turn was completed the night he lashed out at the city of Toronto, mocking them for cheering the name of their town and removing their sing-a-long privileges. What followed was one of the all time greatest heel runs (sprints?) filled with awesome Rock concerts and Haku Machenteys. The turn may have been somewhat of a slow burn but the result was a fantastic run by a guy at the top of his game. After all who else could be loved by my fellows Canadians after so beautifully singing about our lack of class?
4. JOHN CENA (2005)
We all waited with baited breath to see who the final man drafted to Raw would be in the summer of 2005. On Chris Jericho’s highlight reel we finally got our answer. Coming through the curtain was the man who would dominate the heel ledger for the next decade. John Cena nailed the character from the start, walking out with smiling with his arms spread like some sort of dumb ass bird. His blatant patronization of the audience was palpable and he was immediately programmed into feuds with super hot babyfaces Christian, Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle. It would take a while for Cena to take on all the subtleties of the only heel to main event five WrestleManias would be known for: pretending to be a soldier, no selling life, jumping up and down with a broken leg or concussion, the Denzel Washington impression, stealing Zack Ryder’s girlfriend, cheating on his wife, whelp, etc… But that didn’t matter it all came together in one red/yellow/orange/cancer/green ball of hate that will undoubtedly be on our televisions until the end of conceivable time.
3. HULK HOGAN (1996)
Admittedly I was never a big WCW guy growing up, (hell I didn’t even vote for the Four Horsemen in the factions Five Count) but this turn rocked the wrestling world. We’ve all seen the moment by now when Hogan comes down and drops three big legs on Randy Savage to the shock of everyone in the galaxy, he joins the NWO/Bilderberg group, paints his beard and runs roughshod over the promotion. Turning Hulk Hogan was a brilliant move which totally revitalized the company and even made WCW a thing up north here in Canada. None of it would have worked though had Hogan been an ineffective heel, which is why we should all be grateful that our orange hero knocked it out of the park with his first trip to the dark side in over a decade. “Hollywood” was despised in a group of loved outsiders, and it’s so easy to look over the great work he did to make himself both hate-able and relevant again.
2. VINCE MCMAHON (1997)
“Bret screwed Bret, I have absolutely no sympathy for Bret Hart.” With those words, said in the voice we’d come to know and resent as the voice of the WWF, the greatest heel in the history of wrestling was born. That one promo coupled with the real life screwing of a company stalwart turned Vince McMahon who people like to boo because he was such a cheese ball into Mr. McMahon the biggest asshole on the planet. Again, like so many others on this list it would take a while for him to evolve onto the incarnation of evil we know him as today (Aw, son of a bitch…) the bleeding of real life into storyline was incredibly effective in creating an entirely new and captivating villain for the wrestling world. The truth of it all put it over the top, as you could see McMahon the businessman not giving a shit about his employees. Wait why am I supporting this man again? I’m simultaneously interested and terrified with how close this incarnation of Mr. McMahon is to himself in real life. I could totally see him berating his employees with two barking German dogs by his side. The Bret screwed Bret interview was just the tip of the iceberg to this titanic run which would culminate in his untimely death by explosion.
1. RANDY SAVAGE (1989)
Savage turning on Hogan and forcing the Mega Powers to explode is far and away my favorite heel turn of all time. A storyline over a year in the making, the bookers had been planting seeds of this betrayal for many months prior, and their hard work and attention to detail coupled with Savage’s awesome paranoia are a marvel to behold. After many moments of Hulk Hogan getting just a bit too comfortable with Elizabeth, we arrive in February and in a match against the Twin Towers, Elizabeth is hurt and Hogan leaves Savage to the bisons (I wanted to say wolves but it didn’t seem appropriate) while he tends to the first lady of wrestling. The match ends the way every Hogan match ends, and then we are treated to the backstage skits to end all backstage skits. All of Savage’s frustration from the entire year boil over as he claims “I was number three in the Mega Powers and you were number one,” he then proceeds to accuse Hogan of having lust in his eyes for Elizabeth before sneak attacking him and beating the living shit out of him on the floor of the infirmary. It’s a great psychotic turn, that’s not only near perfect in execution but also nearly entirely justified. Hogan was a jerk; Savage was a great champion who deserved better, Brutus Beefcake was too early for his cue… This one left a huge mark on me as a kid and for the first time, but thankfully not the last, I was going to be cheering for a bad guy in a match.
Though Marc was able to submit a full list, he couldn’t provide write-ups for his last two entries due to travel.
5. RANDY SAVAGE (1989)
The #5 spot was by far the toughest for me to pick, as ultimately I would have to exclude one of the best heel turns of all time, that being Larry Zbyszko turning on his mentor, Bruno Sammartino. But as great as that heel turn was played out, it didn’t have the impact or wide-ranging effect as the rest on this list. And on a personal level, it didn’t carry the emotion of my number 5 pick: Randy Savage turning on Hulk Hogan.
One of my first wrestling memories is of Hulk Hogan helping the “Macho Man” defeat the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase to become WWF Champion at WrestleMania IV. This was the first chapter in a year-long soap opera that saw Hogan and Savage develop first into best friends, forming the “Mega Powers” to battle against the likes of DiBiase, Andre the Giant, and the Twin Towers. But eventually cracks in the friendship would form. Hogan would “accidentally” eliminate Savage in the 1989 Royal Rumble, and tensions would continue to mount over the attention Hogan was giving to Savage’s valet, Miss Elizabeth. Finally, the emotions boiled over on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event in a tag team match against the Twin Towers, culminating in the “slap heard ‘round the world,” as Savage walked out on his partner and went on a classic dressing room tirade and attack on Hogan to cement his heel turn.
Watching all of this back as an adult, it becomes more apparent that Hogan was the real heel here, constantly hogging the attention of the fans and of Elizabeth. But this is ‘80’s wrestling; it didn’t need to make sense to have the emotion carry over into the heart of eight-year-old me, and cement it’s status in the top five heel turns.
4. SHAWN MICHAELS (1992)
In the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s I was glued to the TV every time wrestling came on. And when the high-flying Rockers were on, the glue became Super Glue. I wasn’t budging. They enthralled me with their high-flying antics at a time when most tag teams were bruising brawlers like Demolitions or had more straight-forward wrestling styles like the Hart Foundation and Brainbusters. But the Rockers always stood out, bouncing from rope to rope, and dazzling opponents seemingly twice their size with their aerial maneuvers.
And then, it happened. I didn’t see it coming. The subtleties of Shawn’s slowly hinted at heel turn were lost on 11-year-old me, and I was confused by the tension between Shawn and Marty when they appeared on Brutus Beefcake’s “Barbershop” interview segment together. Thankfully, all seemed to be well as the two shook hands and made up…until….
WHAM! A superkick and a smash of glass later, and I had witnessed one of the most shockingly brutal moments on wrestling TV at the time, as Shawn smashed Marty’s head through the “glass” barbershop window, drawing the blood of his former partner. This is the day the “Heartbreak Kid” was born, launching the legendary singles career of HBK. While many will justifiably criticize Michaels for his backstage politics, just about every wrestling fan will concede that, when he wants to be, he is one of the greatest in-ring performers of all time. And it all started with this, the #4 heel turn on my list.
3. BRET HART (1997)
Bret Hart’s heel turn in 1997 may be one of the best developed heel turns of all time, and its genesis can be traced back to the his loss to Shawn Michaels one year earlier at WrestleMania XII. After a dramatic “sudden death” loss of his Iron Man match for the WWF title, Hart disappeared from TV for six months. When Hart returned, he began feuding with Steve Austin, who would frustrate Hart at every turn as he attempted to regain his title.
While Hart’s “official” heel turn occurred as part of the “double turn” during the classic match with Austin at WrestleMania 13, the turn had been building for months. Hart’s continued frustration came to a boiling point after he lost the WWF Championship he had recently regained at In Your House: Final Four to Psycho Sid due to Austin’s interference, and then lost his rematch in a steel cage match after interference by both Austin and Taker. Vince McMahon went to interview Hart afterwards, who grabbed the mic and went on a profanity-laced tirade.
This was Hart’s real heel turn, and it was cemented as he beat Steve Austin to a bloody pulp at WrestleMania 13, and refused to let go of the Sharpshooter, continuing to take out his frustration on a passed out Austin. This completed the nearly year-long heel turn; one that would in effect usher in the Attitude Era through Austin’s ascension as the top star in the WWF. Without Hart’s heel turn and the ensuing Attitude Era, the results of the Monday Night Wars may have been vastly different.
2. ANDRE THE GIANT (1987)
1. HULK HOGAN (1996)
5. BATISTA (2009)
I went with a heel turn at #5 that might fall under the radar for most of the other contributors, but was a favorite of mine. Ever since he had moved over to SmackDown as the World Champion in 2005, fans had begrudgingly hoped for Dave Batista to stop with the smiling babyface act that Vince McMahon had stuck him with and start getting badass. That evolution from good guy to bad guy finally came at Bragging Rights on October 25, 2009, right after losing in a four-way match for the title to The Undertaker.
Rey Mysterio, who had been an ally of Batista’s for the previous months, had interrupted a count for Batista, and for whatever reason, Dave chose this moment as his excuse to snap. What was unique about Batista’s actual turn was not just how brutally he beat down Mysterio after the match but how nonchalantly he explained to his former friend how he was sick of helping others out and how he was going to beat the crud out of the masked man. And Batista did just that, infamously yelling, “You were supposed to be my friend!” and kicking off a heel run that may have been Batista’s best one as a WWE character. It may have occurred in the middle of a run-of-the-mill show, but I always remembered when the “Animal” unleashed on Rey Mysterio.
4. BARRY WINDHAM (1988)
The idea of the young, plucky Barry Windham as a bad guy was almost considered unthinkable for many wrestling fans back in the day. After proving his worth as a future star by nearly beating the NWA World Champion Ric Flair in 1987, Windham started out 1988 by teaming up with Lex Luger, a former member of the Four Horsemen who took Windham by his side to help fight off the stable. With that struggle came success as Windham and Luger teamed up to beat Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard for the NWA World Tag Team title at the very first Clash of the Champions in a classic match in March.
But I don’t think anyone was prepared for what would happen only three weeks later in Jacksonville, FL.
During a title defense against Anderson and Blanchard, Luger made a desperate tag to Windham only for him to tag Luger back in, powerslam his drained body and give him his trademark Lariat clothesline to the total shock of the crowd. Arn and Tully won the titles back and Windham became the newest member of the Four Horsemen, using a black glove as his weapon of choice and holding the United States title for nine months. Windham would bounce back to being a babyface only a few years later and his career never became what some envisioned, but for one moment in 1988, Barry Windham shocked the wrestling world.
3. SHAWN MICHAELS (1992)
Let’s be serious: Any top five list without this one in there feels a little bit empty. While Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty were barely at the mid card level in the WWF by early 1992, it was the event that permanently broke up the beloved Rockers that no one would ever forget. Shawn had become more and more demonstrative with his displeasure as he would worry more about himself and less about his partner Jannetty in their tag team matches and would get irate after losses. It was a small case of art imitating life as Shawn had walked into Vince’s office backstage one night and demanded to get a singles push.
Vince’s reply to the young and talented Michaels was to prove himself worthy of such a push, and Shawn knew he needed to start out with a bang. Well, what happened at the Barbershop in January of 1992 didn’t have a bang in it as much as it did a crack. That came in the form of broken glass as Shawn faked a reconciling with Marty on Brutus Beefcake’s segment and blindsided him with a superkick (Bobby Heenan: “I knew he was gonna do that!”) Then came the breaking point as Michaels threw Jannetty threw the window, busting him open and leaving kids at ringside in tears. We all knew what wound up happening for the “Heartbreak Kid” after ripping up the magazine photo with the Rockers on it, but it made sure we never forgot where Michaels came from…and how he broke away from it.
2. RANDY SAVAGE (1989)
Long before he went to the dark side in 1989, Randy “Macho Man” Savage had already gotten a head start learning how to be a diabolical heel at the Memphis territory. He continued his heel run in the WWF as the Intercontinental Champion before famously dropping the title to Ricky Steamboat and slowly becoming a fan favorite. His WWF title win at WrestleMania IV not only made him a main event star but made a friend in Hulk Hogan as the Mega Powers ran wild in 1988.
But the cracks slowly started to emerge later that year and culminated at Saturday Night’s Main Event when Hogan took an injured Miss Elizabeth to the back and left the Macho Man behind during a tag match. The break-up became official in the training room as Savage accused Hogan of deceiving him in order to get closer to Elizabeth, then blasted Hogan with the WWF title belt and beat him up. Savage became a man possessed to bring down Hulkamania and prove to the fans that Macho Madness was the stronger force. We all know how that went down at WrestleMania V, but it was Savage’s memorable conflict with Hogan that led to one of the greatest events in pro wrestling: The Explosion of the Mega Powers.
1. HULK HOGAN (1996)
The “Hulkster” has always been considered by many as the Michael Jordan of pro wrestling, the man who turned sports entertainment into a global commercialized industry. Well, imagine if, in tune to LeBron James’ shocking betrayal of his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, Jordan had bailed on the Chicago Bulls in his prime to play for another team? Well, a good 14 years before LeBron did the ultimate sports heel turn on Cleveland, the “Immortal One” did just that in WCW in 1996. For years, it seemed like there was no answer to one of the most asked questions in wrestling over the years: Who is the person can bring an end to Hulkamania? It turned out that the answer was the man himself.
As the Monday Night War was starting to gear up between the WWF and WCW in 1996, Eric Bischoff crafted the concept that turned WCW into the leading wrestling company in North America for more than a year. Bischoff brought in Scott Hall and Kevin Nash as outsiders from the other company who were invading WCW with the intention of killing the promotion from the inside. Hall and Nash were big stars already, but Bischoff knew that this renegade group needed something more in order to really make people believe in the storyline. Enter Hogan, who walked down the aisle at the end of the Hostile Takeover tag match at Bash at the Beach. After the classic ripping of the shirt in red and yellow, Hogan pulled off a switcheroo on the man who had betrayed him seven years earlier in the WWF.
As Randy Savage writhed on the mat, instead of helping him up, Hogan dropped the leg and put the crowd, and millions of Hulkamaniacs, to stunned silence, prompting a heel turn so unbelievable that it literally took days for fans to accept the truth behind the New World Order of wrestling. Not only was the leg drop a shocking moment, but Hogan’s seething, unapologetic interview with Mean Gene marked the dawn of the nWo, as if Superman had decided that the world was not worth saving after all. The ring became littered with garbage as the crowd went from catatonic to rage with every word of evil coming out of Hogan’s mouth. There was no heel turn more shocking because it would literally take more than a decade of building up wrestling’s greatest good guy to pull it off. The nWo may not have been “4 Life” after all, but this heel turn will be at the top of my list for life, for sure.
And now, our overall Five Count…
5. SHAWN MICHAELS (1991)
A trip through the barbershop window for Marty Jannetty ends the Rockers and introduces the “Heartbreak Kid.”
4. ANDRE THE GIANT (1987)
Of all the friends who turned on Hulk Hogan over his career, this one cut the fans deepest and set up a mega match.
3. VINCE MCMAHON (1997)
The WWF’s boss revitalized his business by becoming a villain and created one of wrestling’s most memorable characters.
2. RANDY SAVAGE (1989)
Paying off a year-long storyline, the “Macho Man” explodes the Mega Powers with seething jealousy and unmatchable fury.
1. HULK HOGAN (1996)
The biggest babyface in the history of wrestling does the unthinkable, becoming the biggest heel, rejuvenating his own career and reversing the fortunes of an entire company in the process.