Seth Rollins and the 10 Greatest Heel Turns in WWE History
Seth Rollins' betrayal of The Shield stunned WWE fans, but the moment didn't have the weight that two great heel turns from the late '80s had.
WWE has showcased heroes becoming villains countless times. Only the most powerful of those acts of treason are permanently lodged in fans' minds.
It's too early to know how long and far Rollins cracking a steel chair against his brothers' backs will reverberate.
Should Rollins' turn lead to him becoming one of the top stars in company history or sets off a feud that will be remembered forever, then this list will have to be revisited. For now, though, two of Hulk Hogan's former allies rank at No. 1 and No. 2.
Ranked on the thrill/shock of the turn itself, the story leading up to it and the historical impact it had on the wrestlers involved and WWE as a whole, here the the 10 best heel turns in company history.
Note that ones that occurred elsewhere (e.g., Hogan in 1996 for WCW) weren't considered for this list.
The Rock (1998)
The Rock became "The Corporate Champion" at Survivor Series 1998. It looked throughout this tournament like The Rock was the one who was outnumbered by Vince McMahon and company.
He joined forces with WWE's evil boss, paralleling the Montreal Screwjob when McMahon called for the bell with Mankind in the Sharpshooter.
The moment left fans shocked, as WWE threw one of its better curveballs that night.
The surprise alone gets it a spot on the list, but it didn't leave the kind of impression that turns on the list proper did. That's partly because The Rock has turned so often in his career and partly because WWE didn't do as good a job of foreshadowing this as it did with others.
Maivia turned on his tag team partner Bob Backlund. Backlund, at the top of the WWE at the time, started shouting like a madman when he realized his partner had deserted him mid-match.
This gets high marks for emotion and for unexpectedness. More violent and more involved turns push this out of the top 10 and force it into the less appreciated category.
Bearer broke away from The Undertaker to join Mankind. The strength of Bearer and Undertaker's bond made this one of the more shocking turns WWE has ever produced.
It just barely slips out of the top 10, though. Other turns had better buildups and more memorable aftermaths.
10. Paul Orndorff (1986)
Jealousy ate away at Paul Orndorff and Hulk Hogan's alliance.
Hogan was the bigger star. Orndorff began to believe he was the underappreciated workhorse of the pair.
During a tag team match against King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd, Hogan inadvertently knocked into him. That was the indignity that finally drove Mr. Wonderful into the darkness. He attacked Hogan after the match, stunning the crowd in the process.
The many seeds WWE planted before harvesting this climax has it lock up the No. 10 spot.
It was a logical turn, the compelling story of a man who grew frustrated from wrestling in a megastar's shadow. The resulting feud wasn't nearly as effective as the storytelling leading up to it, though. That's likely why less fans remember Orndorff's backstabbing than more famous incidents.
9. Chris Jericho (2008)
Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels dominated 2008 in terms of enthralling WWE fans.
Their highly memorable feud began with Jericho's equally memorable heel turn. He invited Michaels to his "Highlight Reel" segment and picked him apart in front of the audience, calling him a liar.
In what felt like a homage to Michaels famously smashing Marty Jannetty's head into a barbershop window, Jericho forced Michaels' face through the Jeritron. A splash of glass shards, Michaels writhing on the mat and Jericho snarling above him make it an image that will long be a part of WWE lore.
Shock value and intensity are abundant with this moment, but it didn't have the elite level of buildup that the turns ranked above it do.
8. Larry Zbyszko (1980)
Patient storytelling paid off with an explosive heel turn that remains one of WWE's best ever.
Bruno Sammartino was not only the company's champion, he was the unarguable top star for the bulk of the '60s and '70s. He was Larry Zbyszko's mentor closer to the end of his career.
Eventually, the student turned on the teacher in what was an unforgettable moment.
It was supposed to be a friendly exhibition when these two men in the ring on Jan. 22, 1980. It began that way, but Zbyszko eventually went into a rage, beating on his mentor with a chair. That began an intense feud, which was a highlight of the year, leading to a Steel Cage match at Shea Stadium.
The appeal of this story of a frustrated pupil makes this one of the most memorable heel turns in WWE history.
The company has since had numerous opportunities to top it and has done so only seven times. More intense climaxes and turns that impacted more than a single feud slide ahead of it.
7. Bret Hart (1997)
So many heel turns are just a case of a guy attacking his partner for reasons he has to explain later. That's certainly a shocking route, but not one that had the kind of depth that Bret Hart's switch from fan favorite to heel had.
It was a turn months in the making.
During his feud with Steve Austin, fans began to cheer for the bad guy. Hart took notice. He found it insulting that crowds favored a guy as vulgar and disrespectful as "Stone Cold."
At WrestleMania 13, Hart entered his bout against Austin as the hero, even if he was on shaky ground with the fans, and exited as the bad guy thanks to him turning to viciousness. Austin, in the meantime, turned the opposite way.
The slow-building turn saw a frustrated Hart berate fans on Raw the night after WrestleMania.
The fact that Hart had been a fan favorite for so long and was seen as such a clean-cut guy made this surprising, even if WWE had been telling us all along that it was coming.
What pushes this ahead of turns like Larry Zbyszko and Chris Jericho is that it helped launch an era. The Attitude Era emerged out of Hart's new-found aggression, his rivalry with Austin and eventually him inspiring Vince McMahon to step from away from the announce desk and into the role of Mr. McMahon.
6. Shawn Michaels (1992)
Shawn Michaels leaped from a floor covered in broken glass to the Hall of Fame.
Breaking away from his longtime tag team partner catapulted him into a singles career that saw him win world titles, headline WrestleManias and force himself into the debate for greatest WWE wrestler of all time. He began that journey teeming with momentum thanks to his heel turn.
The Rockers had experienced tension in the weeks leading up to this moment. Fans wondered when the two met on Brutus Beefcake's "The Barber Shop" segment if they would each go their own way or repair the fractures between them.
Michaels superkicked his friend before smashing his face into the barbershop window.
This has become one of WWE's most indelible moments. Allies had attacked each other before, but the sound of the glass breaking, the violence of the act and closeness these partners had showed in the past made it especially powerful.
5. Steve Austin (2001)
Seeing Steve Austin shake hands with Vince McMahon after the WrestleMania X-Seven main event was like watching The Punisher join Kingpin's crew.
McMahon hovered around the ring as The Rock and Austin went at it. One would have assumed that McMahon was the snake waiting for his prey to slow down enough to bite him. Instead, Austin aligned himself with that snake.
After years of being rivals, the ultimate rebel and the ultimate authority figure joined forces to cheat The Rock out of the WWE title. The shock of enemies merging is enough to push this turn into this spot on its own.
It's enough to somewhat make up for very little foreshadowing beforehand, more surprise than story and the fact that the subsequent heel run was one of Austin's least memorable stretches. WWE made full use of what it created with Austin and McMahon in the past.
This story didn't have much worth talking about after the famous handshake, though.
4. Sgt. Slaughter (1990)
Call it cheap or a case of going too far, but few WWE moments were as shocking as Sgt. Slaughter becoming an Iraqi sympathizer.
Slaughter was so associated with the U.S.A. and the military that he was a character on the GI: Joe cartoon. During The Gulf War, WWE walked a controversial path in turning him pro-Iraq.
The kind of heat wrestling heels get today is nothing compared to the rage that burned in WWE fans during this angle.
It eventually set up the natural collision between a man who came to the ring to the tune of "Real American" and a traitor.
Slaughter's turn did rely far more on shock value than a build to a climax, though. There wasn't a natural way to have Slaughter to turn on his country, and the explanation he had didn't make all that much sense. Heel turns with more lasting impacts and better storytelling keep it out of the top three.
3. Vince McMahon (1997)
Vince McMahon's heel turn didn't come at a particular instant. Like many great stories, it happened gradually.
McMahon began to take on more power onscreen. On TV, he had mostly just been an announcer. Soon, he'd become the vile tyrant in charge of the company, playing on his real-life duties and becoming a caricature of an evil corporate boss.
Fans saw glimpses of what would become Mr. McMahon beforehand, but it was after the Montreal Screwjob that his villainy emerged.
WWE infused the real-life story of McMahon forcing the WWE title off Bret Hart into what took place on TV. The eventual result was the birth of Steve Austin's archenemy and the foundation on which WWE's hottest period was built.
It takes two superbly crafted turns to top it. They didn't have as great a historical impact but were more exciting, shocking and well told.
2. Andre the Giant (1987)
WWE's two top babyfaces in the '80s eventually met as enemies at WrestleMania III.
A souped-up version of the jealousy angle WWE had produced with Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff reemerged, this time with a massive star opposite Hogan. During a "Piper's Pit" segment, Hogan and Andre were supposed to both receive awards.
The former earned his for being WWE champ for three years. Andre got his own trophy for supposedly going undefeated for 15 years.
A smaller trophy and watching Hogan carry out the WWE title frustrated him. When they met later, Andre tore the crucifix from Hogan's chest, ending their alliance and setting up a feud that ended with a match that helped build the modern WWE.
WrestleMania can thank the dream match of Hogan and Andre for truly establishing it as a premier event. Their feud elevated Hogan immensely as well, giving him the rub of being the man to finally bodyslam the giant and end his undefeated streak.
It all began with Andre's turn.
1. Randy Savage (1989)
WWE surpassed the story of Andre the Giant turning on Hulk Hogan just two years later.
Jealousy, a love triangle and oversized egos powered a fantastic feud. Hogan was at the center of the narrative once again as Randy Savage transitioned into an enraged villain.
WWE took its time with this story, having The Mega Powers' split come after the cracks between the two men grew too big.
The partners showed signs of tension, including when Hogan accidentally eliminated Savage from the Royal Rumble match. The tipping point came when Savage's manager/love interest Elizabeth needed medical attention after falling off the ring apron during a match on Saturday Night's Main Event.
Hogan took her to the locker room, causing Savage to lose his mind. The Macho Man attacked him with his championship belt as Elizabeth screamed.
At WrestleMania IV, Hogan helped Savage win the WWE title. A year later, their alliance no more, Hogan and Savage met for the same championship at WrestleMania V.
Angles don't often begin and end that far apart. They rarely create the kind of emotion that this one did either.
Savage's journey from hero to heel had the advantage of a long buildup, his own crazed energy and star power few feuds have ever seen. It remains vivid in fans' minds despite happening 25 years ago.