Ronda Rousey and the Best and Worst Recent Heel and Face Turns in WWE
Whenever a Superstar reaches the point of stagnation, a face or heel turn can be just what they need to get their career back on track. Additionally, it can spice up a storyline and breathe new life into the WWE product as a whole.
WWE has turned a few wrestlers from face to heel and vice versa in the last six months or so, and at times the changes happened as a result of the fans forcing the company's hand. Regardless of how they came to be, though, a handful have flopped while others have been success stories.
The McMahon family were right when they said the WWE Universe should be able to dictate who and what they want to see. That couldn't be any more true with some of the recent turns, especially those that had been built up over a while.
Certain stars were just born to be a babyface or a heel because they are the roles they have always been the most comfortable in. There have also been instances of the turn itself being exciting and unpredictable, but the followup was so poor that WWE had no choice but to revert them back to what they were before.
Ronda Rousey is far from the only one who has experienced a change in character recently, although some have fared better than others.
Ronda Rousey (Best)
It was apparent from the moment Ronda Rousey arrived in WWE at Royal Rumble 2018 that she was bound to be a heel eventually based off the audible boos she was eliciting from a portion of the audience.
She was even more disliked by fans at Elimination Chamber the following month, though she ended up winning them over with a standout performance at WrestleMania 34 in April 2018.
Rousey has always been positioned against heels who were more hated than her, so there was no reason for fans to jeer her for the first several months of her WWE career.
It wasn't until the former UFC star began feuding with Becky Lynch that she finally met her match, and the crowd also cheered Charlotte Flair over her at Survivor Series in November.
What made matters worse was that the pay-per-view emanated from Rousey's home state of California, and the fans in attendance roared when she was getting brutally beaten down by The Queen.
WWE didn't pull the trigger on turning her heel there and then (ironically, it was designed to be a heel turn for Flair), but Rousey never forgot the reaction she received that night.
Almost four months later, Rousey finally snapped on the March 4 edition of Raw while sharing the ring with Lynch and Flair. She declared her days acting like a sweetheart and embracing the audience were over before blindsiding The Irish Lass Kicker and viciously attacking her to the end the show.
The Rowdy One proceeded to go off on the WWE Universe the next week on Raw, leading fans to ask why the company didn't turn her heel sooner. Regardless of the reason, she seems to be in her element as a villain and is now doing some of her best work ahead of WrestleMania 35.
Dean Ambrose (Worst)
Dean Ambrose was a heel—and an excellent one at that—for the better part of his time in WWE developmental, so it was strange seeing him emerge from The Shield in 2014 as a babyface.
That said, fans took to him almost instantly, and for a while, he was getting some of the strongest reactions out of any favorite on the WWE roster. It was only after the company started to script his promos more and give him a goofy direction that he felt like a watered-down version of his former self.
Ambrose should have turned heel back in 2016, but fans were relieved when it finally happened in October 2018. The timing couldn't have been better, either, with Roman Reigns taking a leave of absence that same night and Raw needing new main event players to fill the void he left behind.
His program with Seth Rollins had plenty of potential, but silly segments and an overall lack of direction caused it to lose steam within weeks. The Lunatic Fringe didn't come across as motivated as a heel, and once his match with Rollins at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs fell flat, fans lost all hope for his future in that role.
Their rivalry ended in anticlimactic fashion at the onset of 2019, leaving Ambrose to flounder for a while. Had it not been for the recent reuniting of The Shield, he still likely would be toiling away in the undercard of Raw, but at least he's back to being a babyface before he reportedly leaves WWE in April.
Daniel Bryan (Best)
At this time five years ago, Daniel Bryan was the biggest babyface WWE had seen in years during his heated feud with The Authority. He overcame every obstacle in his pursuit of becoming WWE world heavyweight champion in the main event of WrestleMania 30, and what a moment it was.
We'll never know how long he would have held the title due to the injuries he suffered shortly thereafter that caused him to retire from the ring in February 2016. Upon his return two years later, he was still receiving rock star-level reactions and was primed to reclaim his spot as the top babyface on SmackDown Live.
Several months removed from his hot comeback, Bryan fizzled out considerably and felt like just another wrestler on the roster. He desperately needed some sort of a change, and WWE picked the perfect time to turn him heel: on the go-home show before Survivor Series 2018.
AJ Styles had been WWE champion for over a year by that point, so Bryan beating him for the belt by resorting to underhanded tactics was an amazing swerve no one saw coming.
There were those who initially questioned the decision to transition him to the dark side because of how he's a natural face. However, once he started cutting promos about the environment and calling out fans as "fickle" for turning him, it was clear the company had made the right call.
Bryan has become an even better heel in recent weeks by adding Erick Rowan to his act and disposing of the leather WWE Championship strap in favor of a new eco-friendly title belt.
He's also a fantastic foil for faces such as Styles, Mustafa Ali and Kofi Kingston, so fingers crossed he'll remain a heel for a while to come.
Braun Strowman (Worst)
Braun Strowman's face turn in October 2017 had been a long time coming considering fans had already taken to cheering him months earlier.
His relentless attacks on Roman Reigns and violent acts of destruction led to The Monster Among Men becoming the most beloved babyface on Raw for a significant stretch of time, but WWE had to find a way to hinder his popularity.
The long and short of it is that Strowman has never been able to win when it has mattered most: He fell short of capturing the Universal Championship several times and wasn't involved in anything of note for the first half of 2018.
When he won the Money in the Bank briefcase last summer, WWE had already decided Reigns was going to be the lead face on the red brand. That resulted in officials randomly turning Strowman heel eight days removed from SummerSlam and aligning him with Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre.
Fans didn't dislike him for his inexplicably heinous actions. Instead, they were apathetic toward the turn and largely sat on their hands whenever he emerged.
Needless to say, the heel Strowman experiment failed miserably. The return of Reigns' leukemia in October caused WWE to panic and revert The Monster Among Men back to his babyface roots almost overnight.
The character remains in a state of flux by virtue of how badly he's been booked over the past year.
The Miz (Best)
No one in WWE today is a better bad guy than The Miz. As a heel at heart, it's incredibly easy for him to get under the skin of the audience and turn them against him within seconds.
After all, when his hand goes up, your mouth goes shut.
The A-Lister has received his fair share of cheers from fans in recent years due to how well he plays the bad guy. In fact, by late 2018, he had enough fanfare that WWE felt it was time to try him out as a babyface.
Surprisingly, he has flourished in the role and will only continue to grow as a face the longer his feud with Shane McMahon lasts. The two came together for the common goal of becoming the SmackDown tag team champions, but Shane-O-Mac kicked Miz to the curb and embarrassed him in front of his own father at Fastlane.
It can be argued Miz is merely in the honeymoon phase of his face turn at the moment, and the fans will go back to booing him on a regular basis once that wears off. However, the goodwill he's built up with the audience over the years will be what helps him stay successful as a face going forward.
The feud with McMahon, which has been in the works since Crown Jewel in November, should lead to The A-Lister winning his first singles match on the main card at WrestleMania for eight years. From there, he can rekindle his rivalry with Daniel Bryan, this time with the roles reversed.
Shinsuke Nakamura (Worst)
Shinsuke Nakamura seemed to be on the brink of superstardom heading into WrestleMania 34, where he was set to contend for the WWE Championship against AJ Styles.
All signs pointed to him taking the title from The Phenomenal One on The Grandest Stage of Them All...until he didn't, at which point fans didn't know how to react.
That likely would have been it for Nakamura had he not proceeded to turn heel by delivering a low blow to Styles. The moment was totally unexpected and appeared to be a real turning point in his WWE career.
The King of Strong Style came across as more comfortable on the mic from that point forward. WWE never fully fleshed out his character as a face, so turning him heel was a worth a shot, even if it meant changing up his entrance theme (which helped him get over with the audience in the first place).
The biggest issue with Nakamura's heel run was that he never once backed up his claims of being the best SmackDown Live had to offer. Styles beat him in decisive fashion every time they clashed, and eventually he was forced to settle for the United States title.
He has fallen far since his stint as a babyface and has shown no signs of redeeming himself any time soon. His recent partnership with Rusev has hardly done him any favors, either.
Charlotte Flair (Best)
Charlotte Flair proved in her first few months on the main roster that being a babyface simply wasn't her forte. During her heel run that lasted over a year, she won the Divas and Raw Women's Championships multiple times and redefined women's wrestling with her stellar series of matches against Sasha Banks.
Her move to SmackDown Live in the spring of 2017 was a necessary one, though she oddly transitioned into a babyface role upon her arrival on the blue brand. It didn't help that the show lacked strong heels at the time, so in addition to being miscast, Flair was also overshadowed by other fan favorites at first including Naomi and Becky Lynch.
Flair spent the next year as a face, and although there were several occasions when WWE could have flipped the switch with her, officials were adamant she be cheered no matter what (a la Roman Reigns).
Around Survivor Series season in 2018, Lynch gradually got over as a babyface again, meaning Charlotte almost had to go heel in order to remain relevant. Sure enough, she went rogue at the event by getting herself intentionally disqualified against Ronda Rousey and battering her with a kendo stick.
The explanation Flair offered for her actions was nothing short of glorious and only reaffirmed what most fans already believed—she should have been a heel all along.
Her recent heel work ultimately earned her a spot in the upcoming Raw Women's Championship main event at WrestleMania 35, so there is certainly something to be said for it.
Elias is one of the few Superstars who accomplished nothing in NXT but has exceeded expectations on Raw. He hasn't won any titles (yet) since debuting two years ago, but his heel shtick has become an entertaining staple of the show every week.
Similar to Braun Strowman, WWE needed more babyfaces when Roman Reigns had to take time off last year, so WWE turned Elias in October. Despite not being carefully planned out, the abrupt shift from heel to face for Elias allowed fans to finally cheer him after months of wanting to.
He immediately entered rivalries with Baron Corbin and Bobby Lashley, and with each passing week, the reactions he received grew louder. It looked like he'd be a breakout babyface wearing gold around his waist in no time, but WWE suddenly seemed to lose all interest in pushing him as a fan favorite.
After Elias lost back-to-back bouts to Corbin in clean fashion, WWE decided to turn him heel again after the Royal Rumble. The babyface rival he was placed in a program with soon after? Jeff Jarrett.
When that rivalry wrapped up in early February, Elias went back to doing recurring concerts on Raw and getting interrupted by everyone under the sun.
Currently, he doesn't appear to have a WrestleMania match lined up—aside from perhaps the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal—so why WWE bothered to turn him heel when he was working so well as a face is uncertain.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.