The Power of the Face/Heel Turn
The turn from Face to Heel, or vice versa, has been an important aspect of wrestling for decades. This turn from either good to evil, or evil to good, can happen gradually throughout a course of many weeks or in a single night.
The turn can also come about from a switch to another major promotion.
In many cases, whether slow or sudden, the turn seems to have a great effect.
It can make or destroy the careers of wrestlers for one simple reason, some people are good at being bad guys, some were born to be good guys, and then there are the gifted few who are masters at both.
Those who were born to play the role of face or heel have left incredible marks on wrestling history due to their turns.
Allow me to show you some of the truly notable times (and less than notable) where this has happened.
Walter "Killer" Kowalski
Killer Kowalski has left an undeniable mark upon the wrestling business, though many of today's younger fans know him for his famous students and older fans know him for the pure evil heel that he played throughout the late 40s, 50s, 60s, all the way to the late 70s.
A little-known fact is that Kowalski actually started his career as a face, known mostly as Tarzan Kowalski.
He eventually turned heel and became far more known after a number of incidents, one of which came about in 1954 when he accidentally severed the ear of a wrestler by the name of Yukon Eric.
Kowalski went to visit Yukon in the hospital and shared a laugh with him over how stupid the bandages he was wearing looked.
The media reported that Kowalski was laughing at Yukon rather than with him. After this report, he earned his keepsake nickname: "Killer."
Another well-known incident happened in Australia in 1967, when Don Lane, a top-rated talk show host, irritated him during an interview. Kowalski attacked the talk show host and applied the Clawhold.
In December 1972, he became the first man to pin Andre the Giant in North America and is noted as being a frequent enemy of Bruno Sammartino throughout the late 60s and 70s.
He would also go on to win the WWWF tag team titles with “Big” John Studd in 1976. He retired in 1977.
The magic power of the turn has worked not once, not twice, but multiple times for Hogan. However, the following are the two most powerful instances.
Hulk Hogan's initial run in the WWF was in 1980 when he started as a heel. This early tenure was not very successful and he later left to wrestle in Japan and the AWA.
Hogan was ridiculously popular in Japan and gained a great deal of popularity in the AWA. It was in the AWA that the turn worked its magic on him for the first time.
The AWA bookers turned Hogan face. Hogan gained incredible popularity in the AWA but politics kept him from winning the title.
Hogan tired of the politics and of AWA owner, Verne Gagne, left the company and joined the WWF now under the control of Vince McMahon. The rest, as they say, is, Hulkama-sorry, history.
The next time it worked its miraculous magic was in 1996 when Hogan was in WCW. He had come out victorious in multiple feuds throughout 1994 and 1995.
He held the WCW title since his debut match with Flair, however Hogan soon got stale and in early 1996, he was only used on television occasionally.
At Bash at the Beach 1996, Hogan joined Scott Hall and Kevin Nash as their mystery partner fighting Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger.
This action turned Hogan heel for the first time in 10 years and created what may quite possibly be one of the greatest factions ever to exist, The Original nWo.
Chris Jericho....what can I say about this man? Well to start with he is a freaking genius. He is honestly in the top five pro wrestlers going today.
He is one of select few wrestlers that have the rare ability to be able to play both the role of face or heel with skill and ease.
Chris Jericho was trained by the Hart family and after two months began to wrestle on the Indy circuit. He first got big in WCW where he wrestled for the cruiserweight title and world television title.
He entered the WWF in 1999 and was instantly put in the IC title picture. He started a long feud with China and became a face through just pure crowd reaction and mic work.
In 2001 he was noted for becoming the first ever WWF undisputed champion after winning both the WCW title and the WWF title in the same night.
After feuding with Rock, Stone Cold and Triple H for the title, he would eventually make his way back to the mid-card, winning the IC Title on several occasions and a few tag titles. In mid 2005 he opted to go on a hiatus. He would return near the end of 2007.
He, however, didn't reach the benchmark of career until he turned heel after the retiring of Ric Flair at the hands of Shawn Michaels in 2008. He abandoned his wild and crazy Y2J gimmick completing a 180 degree turn and formed a strict no-nonsense, holier-than-thou attitude.
It was after this he went on to win two world titles, a slammy award for superstar of the year, his record setting 9th IC title reign, the undisputed tag team titles, and have a feud of the year with Shawn Michaels.
Chris Jericho...a man who draws the fans love as The Ayatollah of Rock 'n' Rolla, their eternal scorn as Chris Jericho, honest man, a surefire hall of famer, but beyond a shadow of a doubt the turn has worked wonders for Jericho and taken his career to new heights.
In 1991, The Showstopper, The Heartbreak Kid, The Icon, Mr. Wrestlemania, Shawn Michaels was in a tag team with Marty Jannetty known as The Rockers.
The Rockers had been together since 1986 originally competing in AWA as The Midnight Rockers, they would go on to win the promotion's top tag team titles, shortly afterwards they go to the WWF, be released due to a misunderstanding, wrestle in CWA and AWA again before making their way back to the WWF.
This time around, the Rockers were far more successful. They had matches with a good majority of the top teams in the WWF at the time including an extensive feud with the Brainbusters, The Twin Towers, The Fabulous Rougeaus, The Orient Express and The Hart Foundation.
However even after all this success the team was going nowhere fast, as they were trapped in the mid-card, not to mention, Jannetty and Michaels were having personal problems.
Then the infamous Barbershop incident occurred when Shawn threw Marty through the window. That incident that successfully turned Shawn into a legitimate heel in the WWF for the first time.
He would go on to solid mid-card success winning the IC title twice and the tag team championship once.
In 1995 his career started to pick up again after he invoked the power of the turn for a second time and turned face.
He went on to win his third IC title and the next year he began his infamous feud with Bret, winning the Royal Rumble for the second time and facing off against Bret at Wrestlemania 12, winning the World championship.
Roughly two years later, at the height of his career Shawn Michaels would suffer a terrible back injury in a casket match against the Undertaker and leave pro wrestling as an active wrestler for four years.
Larry "The Axe" Hennig
Larry Hennig, whom many modern fans likely don't know but should recognize the last name, originally started his career in the AWA in 1963 wrestling as a babyface technical wrestler trained by Verne Gagne.
He found minor success as a tag champion; however, he lost quite often to more experienced wrestlers.
Later that summer Hennig, left the AWA to wrestle in some Texas promotions. It was there he met Harley Race and the two struck up a friendship.
They teamed together under the gimmick of a pair of pretty boys who did not hesitate to break the rules to win. He also adopted a much more brutal style of power wrestling and brawling, Hennig had effectively turned himself heel.
The turn did wonders for Hennig as he won the AWA tag titles three times and became one half of the first IWA tag team champions with Harley Race.
They also had a well-known feud with Hennig's former mentor, Verne Gagne, whom teamed with several different partners in attempts to defeat them. After Harley left the company for the NWA, Larry's career started to go downhill for the next several years partnering with several people and wrestling as a singles star for a little while.
In 1974, Hennig used the mythical power of the turn again, becoming a face, and started to call himself the Axe. He went on to have several notable feuds with some of the AWA's top heels.
The Axe, however, wouldn't hold any more titles until his final title run along side his son Curt Hennig in 1982 as the two held the NWA Pacific Northwest tag team championship together. He retired in 1985.
Sidenote: His grandson, Joe Hennig, is currently in the WWE developmental ground.
Final Thoughts/Possible Sequel
The power of the face/heel turn has allowed some wrestlers to save dying careers, turned lackluster wrestlers into superstars, and superstars into legends.
The power of the turn has indeed helped far more wrestlers than the five mentioned above.
If you can think of any and would like me to do a sequel please let me know in comments.