Ranking the Most Epic Heel Turns in WWE and WCW History
Wrestling is built on a simple dynamic: good vs. bad, hero vs. villain, face vs. heel. No matter what name it goes by, the business is defined by that dynamic, and often the easiest way to change a company is with a major heel turn.
Almost every wrestler in the business has played both roles. The longer a Superstar stays in the business, the more likely it is they will change sides.
WWE has been around for decades (under a few different names), and many major heel turns have defined the business. WCW similarly has a legacy defined by these events where the company evolves with a single performer.
These moments are great for their immediate impact as well as their long-term consequences. Fans remember these turns because of the surprise and aftermath.
These are the heel turns that defined the wrestling business; the moments that will never be forgotten as a treasured hero turned dark.
The Four Horsemen Excommunicate Sting: At Clash of Champions X, The Four Horsemen turned against rising star Sting and kicked him out of the group. The faction all became heels while Sting was solidified as a future rising star in WCW.
Larry Zbyszko Turns on Mentor Bruno Sammartino: While most have likely never seen it, this heel turn remains one of the most iconic in WWE history. Zbysko turned on his mentor and friend to finally get a chance at standing at the top of the business.
Stephanie McMahon Chooses Love Over Family: It's difficult to imagine a time before Stephanie was one of WWE's top heels. Her romance with Triple H blended together kayfabe and reality and ultimately defined the company to this day. Before she chose The Game over the McMahons, her character was so much different to the one she portrays today.
Owen Hart's Jealousy Breaks Up a Family: Before his tragic death, few could make more of so little than Owen Hart. When he turned against his brother, Bret, it was the defining run of his career. If he had lasted longer at the top, it would be one of the truly greatest turns in wrestling.
Tommaso Ciampa Breaks Johnny Gargano's Heart: This heel turn remains fresh, perhaps too fresh to rank too highly. However, it is impossible to forget how NXT's defining feud started. The steadfast friendship of the brand turned sour when Ciampa decided he was done with his DIY teammate, Gargano, in May 2017.
Becky Lynch Snaps on Charlotte Flair: The landscape in the WWE women's division would look completely different if Lynch had won the SmackDown Women's Championship in 2018 rather than losing to Charlotte. However, this turn was temporary as fans soon forced the company to accept she was still a fan favorite.
10. Triple H's 'Plan B' Destroys The Shield
The Shield defined modern wrestling at a level that seems almost impossible. Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose revitalized the business and put on some of the greatest six-man tag team matches in WWE history.
However, it was the group's ending in June 2014 that truly defined the legacy of The Shield. After running through the entire roster including Evolution twice, Triple H had a "plan B" to stop the trio. He had to break them up from within.
Most expected Ambrose would be the one to turn. No one thought Rollins, the man who first brought them all together, would be the one who tore them apart.
The Architect hit his friends in the back with a steel chair and stood tall with Triple H. He ended The Shield and gave new life to The Authority. The heartbreak of this moment immediately created three singles stars.
While the follow-up was far from perfect, there is no doubt The Shield was elevated by this moment in the long run, and Rollins became one of the defining stars of the generation as did Reigns.
Ambrose also became a huge star, but he ended up finding his true place outside of WWE in AEW where he has returned to his old ring name, Jon Moxley.
9. Chris Jericho Blinds Shawn Michaels
Chris Jericho has repeatedly reinvented himself in his career. From wacky cruiserweight in WCW to one of the biggest names in wrestling after his jump to WWE, he knew better than anyone how to keep himself fresh.
After a two-year hiatus, he returned to WWE in 2007 to little fanfare. He was not clicking with fans and needed a fresh start. He found that in what may be the most defining feud of 2008.
Jericho had always idolized Shawn Michaels, but he also knew HBK was a liar and a cheat. When the fans refused to join him in his outcry against his idol's antics, Y2J took his shot. He smashed the face of Michaels into the Jeritron 6000, nearly blinding the WWE Hall of Famer.
The subsequent feud defined the best run of Jericho's career and some of the last great matches of HBK's career. It was also the moment that made Y2J a legend in the business.
The shock of the moment, and some of the best follow-up on any turn in WWE history, made this one of the most defining heel turns of the generation.
8. Andre the Giant Turns on Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan was often at the center of shocking heel turns. While he was often protected, anyone else was willing and ready to turn against him.
No turn better defined WWE than that of Andre the Giant in 1987. When the undefeated big man grew jealous of the attention Hogan continued to get as champion, he chose to walk out on him, letting Bobby "The Brain" Heenan speak for him.
The Brain explained Andre's frustration, which broke The Hulkster's heart. Hogan pleaded with his friend only for Andre to rip his shirt and pull off his cruficix, leaving a scratch on his chest from the powerful strike.
By today's standards, it wasn't the most exciting turn, but it became an iconic moment. No one was ready for just how big Hogan and WWE would become when the climactic match happened at WrestleMania III.
The bodyslam heard around the world left Hogan as champion and created the defining star in WWE's pantheon of legends.
7. A Deal with the Devil
Never assume you truly know anything for certain in wrestling. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had defined himself for so long by battling against Vince McMahon. Their rivalry was legendary.
However, approaching WrestleMania X-Seven in 2001, The Texas Rattlesnake began to doubt himself and made a deal no one could have possibly expected: He chose to align himself with his nemesis.
Mr. McMahon helped Austin defeat The Rock on The Grandest Stage of Them All, stopping The Brahma Bull from getting the pinfall and handing Stone Cold the chair he used to win. It is an iconic moment in WWE that remains one of the most shocking heel turns in the business.
While it was a powerful moment, its aftermath is varied. A heel Austin should have dominated the business, but a lack of consistent storytelling doomed him to fall by the wayside in the last run of his career.
6. Rocky Maivia Becomes The Rock
Only one era had true two bona fide mainstream faces of the company. The Attitude Era was driven by Steve Austin, but The Rock brilliantly carried the torch along the way as well.
He would not have done so if he had not turned on the fans when he did. Rocky Maivia had wrestling in his blood, but the crowd hated him. The vile chants included "Die, Rocky, die."
After a serious injury in 1997, though, he returned with a new look and attitude. The Rock decried the fans for everything they had said to him. He denounced them and allied himself with The Nation of Domination. What came next is part of WWE history.
Step by step, he took over the stable and soon WWE as a whole. It was an incredible turn at the perfect time, creating a star no one would forget.
This may not have an iconic beatdown or double-cross, but it was a huge turning point for the company and The Rock. The fans had changed him, and he was never going back.
5. The Mega Powers Implode
Iconic heel turns at the expense of Hulk Hogan were common in WWE. No one could touch the crown jewel of the company, so even popular stars such as "Macho Man" Randy Savage had to turn to make a true main event push.
The Mega Powers fell victim to that in 1989. Hogan and Savage had been unstoppable, and the two biggest stars in the business had fans on their feet. However, jealousy then began to come into play.
The Macho Man was often protective and possessive of his then-wife, Miss Elizabeth. When he began to suspect that The Hulkster was interested in her, he was done playing nice. He slapped his teammate and started a feud that turned into one of the best matches of the era at WrestleMania V.
This moment solidified Hogan's position at the top of the industry. Even Savage could never dethrone him. He did end up earning future opportunities near the top, but the face of the business was always The Hulkster.
The only person who could stop Hogan was Father Time, though politics and money played a unique role.
4. The Barber-Shop Superkick
WWE has been chasing moments such as the fateful barber-shop turn for decades. It's not often that a tag team can break up like this and launch a career.
Shawn Michaels turned on Rockers teammate Marty Jannetty on Brutus Beefcake's Barber Shop, hurling him through a window. This unforgettable moment showed everyone that HBK was not just a high-flying pretty boy. He was a dangerous egocentric opportunist.
Jannetty would go on to manage a fine career, but next to the incredible run of Michaels, he was forgotten not too long after he went through that window in 1992.
Michaels went to become one of WWE's greatest. Some would argue he is the greatest. The Rockers may have been a good tag team, but this moment changed everything.
No break-up has resonated this much. No moment has ever been this clear and loud: HBK had arrived.
3. The Legendary Double Turn
When Hulkamania ended, Bret Hart was left to try to pick up the pieces. He did an admirable job and is considered one of WWE's greats, but he could never be the marketing sensation Hogan was.
In order to compensate, WWE shifted focus in what is one of the first true moments of the Attitude Era: The Hitman turned against America.
His first act was against the man who did manage to take Hogan's place at the top of the business.
In a brutal Submission match at WrestleMania 13, Hart pulled no punches against Steve Austin even after he started bleeding profusely. He made him pass out to the Sharpshooter, winning by referee stoppage. Afterward, he attacked an unconscious Rattlesnake until special guest referee Ken Shamrock stopped him.
Double turns are a rare moment in wrestling, but none have been as impactful as Hart vs. Austin. While this slide is focused on The Hitman becoming a heel, Stone Cold benefited far more from this moment and went on to become a household name.
Hart did define the business in a variety of ways, though, including one of the biggest moments in wrestling history.
2. Vince McMahon Screws Bret Hart
It is crazy to think about a time before Vince McMahon was known to be the man behind it all in WWE. He remained in the background beyond working commentary for a long time.
All of that changed at Survivor Series in 1997. Bret Hart walked in as champion and refused to lose to Shawn Michaels in Montreal. What followed was a breach of trust as referee Earl Hebner called for the bell on the orders of McMahon as The Hitman was in a Sharpshooter, awarding the victory to Michaels.
HBK would go on to run with the title for a while, but the true heel here was McMahon. The Boss had emerged as real-life drama transformed the story into what became the Attitude Era.
While decades will be spent questioning who was in the right, the end result was that Mr. McMahon took over the business with a heel turn pushed by real circumstances that more or less lasted into the modern day.
1. Hulk Hogan Joins NWO
Given the various moments already included on this list, it is only right to end with Hulk Hogan and the most shocking heel turn in the business. After decades in the business, no one could take his top spot as the biggest star in wrestling.
After years in WWE, though, Hogan left in 1993. He sat out his contract and headed to WCW. There, it was business as usual until the New World Order arrived.
The Outsiders team of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall promised a third man would join them in their hostile takeover of WCW in 1996. Hogan emerged and hit a series of leg drops on Randy Savage in a defiant statement of intent.
It was such an incredible moment that fans bought in completely. They threw garbage into the ring as Hogan announced the nWo was the future of wrestling.
After more than a decade as the lead babyface in the industry, Hogan had traded roles. No heel turn will likely make more of an impact.