A heel turn is one of wrestling’s most popular tropes. Be it a sudden change that nobody saw coming, a satisfying conclusion to a drawn out build or a response to a souring fan reaction, a heel turn has all the potential to revitalize the career of a WWE Superstar.
Over the years, there have been a number of absolutely legendary heel turns and a noticeable amount that have fallen quite flat with the audience. For every Roman Reigns in 2020, there’s a Eugene in 2006 and you can’t really blame anyone for it. Some heel turns are just better or worse than others.
The success or failure of a heel turn often depends on the superstar’s subsequent run. However, there have been a number of turns that, for one reason or another, went completely over the fans’ heads to the point where they have had to be scrapped or re-done at a later date. Here are 5 such examples.
#5. Becky Lynch: 2018
In 2018, Becky Lynch’s popularity among the WWE Universe was reaching an all-time high. Despite being one of the Four Horsewomen of NXT and the inaugural Smackdown Women’s Champion, Lynch was viewed as being the most held back among her NXT contemporaries.
Having not competed for a championship in over a year and a half, fans began to clamor for the Irish superstar to get the opportunities they felt were long overdue for her. Organically winning the love of the fans, Lynch was scheduled to face her then-friend and Smackdown Women’s Champion, Charlotte Flair, for the title at Summerslam 2018.
Although both superstars were babyfaces and on-screen friends, the fans wanted their organic favorite, Lynch, to triumph over the handpicked champion, Flair. When Flair retained the title, the fans were quick to show their displeasure and when Lynch snapped and attacked Flair in what was supposed to be a heel turn, the fans instead burst into cheers for The Lass-Kicker.
In 2014, Sheamus appeared to have been lost in the shuffle. Following a two-year stint as one of WWE’s biggest babyfaces, The Celtic Warrior did not appear to know where he was headed next. He was already a multi-time world champion at that point and had won both the King of the Ring and Royal Rumble matches.
Although frequently a part of WWE TV, Sheamus was not locked in any sort of meaningful storyline throughout 2014. However, this was set to change on the May 5, 2014 episode of RAW. During The Shield’s feud with Evolution, Triple H would force then United States Champion Dean Ambrose to defend his title in an impromptu 20-man Battle Royal.
Lasting all the way to the end, Ambrose fought valiantly until he was blindsided by a Brogue Kick and eliminated by Sheamus. It was clearly a very unpopular decision to make Ambrose drop the title so unceremoniously, but at the same time, nobody could pick up on the fact that this undesired victory was meant to turn the Celtic Warrior heel.
Although it wasn’t the outcome the fans wanted, Sheamus’ actions were not explicitly villainous. He won the match fair and square and did little else to turn the fans against him. Realizing that the fans did not pick up on the turn, WWE kept Sheamus as a face until an injury later that year sidelined him.
When he returned the night after WrestleMania 31, WWE wasted no time turning Sheamus back into a dominant heel threat. This time, they made The Celtic Warrior’s alignment more than clear for all to see.
#3. Chris Jericho: 2015
In 2015, Chris Jericho had a rather interesting WWE role. Although affiliated with the company, Y2J did not appear on WWE TV that year but instead signed a contract that allowed him to work only on House Shows and certain WWE Network specials. He spent most of the year focusing on his musical career and hosting WWE Tough Enough while not being featured as a regular character in storylines.
However, at the 2015 Night of Champions, Jericho would make an unannounced, one-off appearance as the mystery partner of Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, replacing an injured Randy Orton in a 6-Man Tag match against The Wyatt Family. Jericho would cost his team the match after passing out to Braun Strowman’s Triangle Chokehold.
Following the match, Jericho would appear displeased with his teammates and the usually jovial Ayatollah of Rock n Rolla would uncharacteristically walk out on his team. Due to Jericho’s part-time status, fans did not assume that this angle would lead to anything further and it was soon forgotten.
Jericho would continue to perform as a babyface on House Shows and maintained this heroic character for a few months following his full-time return in early 2016. By the time the first Undisputed Champion had turned heel in the buildup to WrestleMania 32, this moment at Night of Champions 2015 had long slipped past the memory of the fans.
#2. Daniel Bryan: 2012
9 years ago today Daniel Bryan cashed in his MITB contract on the Big Show to win the World Heavyweight Title. Do you think we'll get a cash in at TLC 2020?pic.twitter.com/kLY9KBLbtU
— 𝙒𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙡𝙚𝙡𝙖𝙢𝙞𝙖 (@wrestlelamia) December 18, 2020
To this day, fans will always remember how Daniel Bryan’s 18-second world title loss to Sheamus would mark the beginning of the Yes Movement and the ascension of one of WWE’s most beloved superstars. However, fewer fans remember just exactly how he won that World Title in the first place.
While The American Dragon would develop his heelish persona and the iconic Yes chants during his time as World Heavyweight Champion, his initial title victory was met with a hero’s welcome. This was not meant to be the case.
When Bryan won the Money in the Bank briefcase in 2011, fans were pleasantly surprised and waited eagerly but with cautious optimism at how he would be booked into the World Championship scene. For the most part, Bryan remained in the same spot on the card that he had always been but had promised to cash in his briefcase at WrestleMania 28.
After a few run-ins with then-World Champion Mark Henry, Bryan seemed close to breaking that promise but kept his briefcase after a brief feud with the World’s Strongest Man.
However, when Henry dropped the title to The Big Show at TLC 2011, Bryan cashed in on the new champion and won the belt for himself, breaking his promise after all and betraying a fellow babyface wrestler. Despite this, fans did not treat this as a heel turn and instead celebrated alongside the new champion.
The reason fans did not pick up on the turn was firstly because of Bryan’s popularity and their desire to see him as a champion by hook or by crook.
Secondly, Bryan was never bound to keep his promise to cash in at WrestleMania and acted as most other MITB contract holders would. After all, even babyfaces have cashed in on weakened opponents in the past. WWE would soon properly turn Bryan heel by giving his character a cocky streak and making him the possessive boyfriend of AJ Lee.
#1. Undertaker: 2015
— WWE Network (@WWENetwork) July 19, 2020
By the mid-2010s, The Undertaker was a respected legend of WWE and fans were used to seeing him work a more limited schedule than earlier. With respect to his tenure as a performer and owing to the novelty of his increasingly rare appearances, people were always happy to see The Deadman when he arrived.
In 2015 however, it seemed that The Phenom was ready to work on one last extended program and he would be taking on a more heelish role. By mid-2015, Brock Lesnar had grown into something of a fan-favourite.
Despite breaking The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak just a year and a half prior, The Beast would become popular after decimating John Cena at Summerslam 2014 and putting on great matches against the likes of Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns in the following months.
By Battleground 2015, the fans were firmly in Lesnar’s corner as they clamored for him to take the WWE Title from The Authority’s golden boy, Seth Rollins. Just as victory was at hand, The Phenom would return with a newfound intensity and hit The Beast with an uncharacteristic low-blow, costing him the championship.
The story was quite explanatory, The Undertaker had become embittered at Lesnar for ending The Streak despite him winning the match fairly and had begun to resent the fans for embracing Lesnar so quickly after he broke The Streak.
However, the fans were just so happy to see The Phenom back on TV and looking healthier than ever that they just refused to boo the legend and continued to treat him as a hero.
Even a controversial Summerslam ending did not do much to sour their reaction to the Deadman. By the time, Lesnar and Undertaker had their rematch at Hell in a Cell 2015, the fans embraced both men equally and gave the Phenom a standing ovation despite his loss to The Mayor of Suplex City.
By the end of the night, Undertaker was once again a firm babyface after being attacked by the Wyatt Family. However, due to fans’ love and respect for him, he could not have been considered a heel to begin with. Thus, despite WWE’s efforts, this Undertaker heel turn went completely unnoticed by the WWE Universe.