The Heel Turn

Tomorrow night is Survivor Series, and there is only one match there that has any decent build and is of any important. The WWE World Heavyweight Title will be decided, and there are only a few possible outcomes. Either Face Roman Reigns overcomes the odds and beats the heel United States champion and the heel Intercontinental champion, or Roman Reigns turns Heel and beats Dean Ambrose, or Ambrose turns Hell and beats Roman Reigns. There’s a very slim possibility we get Face Reigns versus Face Ambrose with no heel turn and a Sheamus Money in the Bank cash-in, and it’s even more unlikely that WWE says “fuck it” and gives the belt to Kevin Owens.  The event doesn’t really merit a full preview, but it’s also pretty impossible to predict where the WWE is going to go here. Since they aren’t going to do the Roman Reigns heel turn I predicted last time, my best guess is WWE will stay the course and have Reigns beat all the bad guys and hope that at least some of the crowd cheers him.

But there’s a good chance someone is turning heel, so I figured this is a good look at how to do a heel turn. I’m going to paraphrase Mick Foley from Have A Nice Day (essential reading, by far the best biography of a wrestler out there), who said that the key to a successful heel is that he has to believe he is in the right. I’m pretty sure he was quoting someone else there, probably Terry Funk. In any case, it’s absolutely correct. The best heel turns happen not because a wrestler is evil or mean, but because the wrestler believes what he is doing is the right thing.

Survivor Series itself has a history of people turning heel. In 1998, the Rock went from the People’s Champion to the Corporate Champion, aligning himself with Vince McMahon to capture the WWE title. Before that, Rocky Maivia turned heel when he joined the Nation of Domination. And much later, the Rock would turn heel again after coming back to the WWE from making movies in Hollywood. Each heel turn was different, distinct, and had different motivating factors behind it. Rocky Maivia joined the Nation because the crowd hated him as a babyface, filling the arena with “Die Rocky Die” chants. The Rock joined the Corporation to finally become WWE Champion. And Hollywood Rock became a heel because he was too big for the WWE, and to big for the fans that made him popular in the first place. Each turn was justified, at least in the Rock’s own mind.

A heel turn should be shocking. The most famous heel turn was easily Hulk Hogan joining the NWO. Hulk Hogan had been the unstoppable face for the last decade, and though his character was stale as dirt, no one thought they would actually pull the trigger and turn Hogan heel. John Cena is in the same state right now, though a heel turn for him is even more unlikely. Seth Rollins shocked everyone when he turned on the Shield, Andre the Giant shocked everyone when he showed up to challenge Hogan with Bobby Heenan, and Steve Austin shocked everyone when he joined up with his nemesis Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania. In order for these events to feel important, they must be rare, and they must be a surprise. This is why no one cares when the Big Show does his twice-a-year heel turn.

Above all though, a heel turn needs to be entertaining. If you are boring, no one will care. Unless you are so boring you circle back around to be entertaining. In New Japan Pro Wrestling, Naito went from being a two-dimensional babyface to the most entertaining character on the roster, strictly because his lackadaisical attitude is such a contrast to everyone else in NJPW. Chris Jericho returned to the WWE in 2012 and trolled everyone with his light up jacket and his refusal to do a promo or even wrestle in matches. But entertaining doesn’t mean being a joke either. Edge was an entertaining heel because he was unpredictable, for example. Brock Lesnar has transcended face and heel definitions, but he’s always entertaining because he has Paul Heyman and throws people around like rag dolls. Bray Wyatt may not make any sense, and he may lose every match, but at least he does these things in an way that is mostly enjoyable to watch. Entertainment is one reason Seth Rollin’s heel turn has been disappointing. We had the justification, we had the surprise, but the character outside the ring has not been fun to watch.

WWE needs a new top heel with Seth Rollins gone. Kevin Owens could fill that void, but there’s a decent chance one of his former Shield partners will take Rollin’s spot in the Authority. Let’s hope they do it well.


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