In wrestling, as with any other form of storytelling, the heroes are only as good as the villains they face. Most fans watch wrestling in hopes that the deserving party will eventually get their asses whupped. Whether it’s the arrogance of Mr. Perfect or Ric Flair, the ruthlessness of Triple H or Jake the Snake Roberts, or the flat-out insanity of the Iron Shiek or Roddy Piper, we hope you agree that these 25 were the most deserving of all!
25. Nikita Koloff
A 6’2”, 285 pound man can be quite intimidating. Now imagine he doesn’t like you. Nelson Scott Simpson(that doesn’t sound too scary) originally wanted to play for the NFL, but after trying wrestling as something to have to fall back on, he was hired by Jim Crockett’s NWA. Despite not actually being Russian, he was given that persona and immediately joined with his “uncle” Ivan Koloff and Don Kernoodle. As you can assume, Russian characters in the 1980’s were usually heels, which isn’t a tough way to get heat, but Koloff played it so well that he received death threats. But he loved playing the character so much that he legally changed his name to Nikita Koloff. Nikita eventually became a top heel and received an NWA Title shot against Ric Flair for The Great American Bash in 1985. Although he lost the match, it didn’t slow him down (Side note: Koloff was even attacked by a fan in that match). He became a multiple-time tag champ and NWA National Heavyweight & United States Heavyweight Champion.
To a generation, Edge (with Christian) represented the pinnacle of Tag Team wrestling. In a time where the business was already seeing perhaps its greatest popularity, Edge was an important part of keeping Tag Teams in the spotlight. Whether a lovable goofball or a brooding vampire, his hard work paid off and the crowd grew to admire him. To the next generation, he was something else entirely. As the good guy faded and “The Ultimate Opportunist” arose, Edge showed that he could not only move into singles competition successfully, but became one of the greatest villains to ever grace the ring. A “Rated R Superstar” who once promised (and kind of delivered) a live sex celebration. Though he would face many opponents during his run at the top, it was John Cena that grew to be his arch rival. Neither have had such an opponent since. For that reason amongst others, WWE Hall of Famer Edge makes the list.
23. William Regal
With his snobbish, aristocratic attitude that he’s had for most of his career (we don’t count the “Real Man’s Man” gimmick…at all), William Regal has been an incredible heel for years. Wrestling fans aren’t big fans of British characters for some reason, and Regal used that to his favor every time he opened his mouth. The constant turning up of his nose was a heat magnet, let alone his accent. His time as the WWF Commissioner (even though it was as a more comedic heel) in the early 2000s was good enough by itself. And he’s such a good technical worker that for years the WWE has put him in matches against younger talents to help them look good and get better in the ring. An incredible heel that deserved a World Title run, Regal would have made any worker looked like they deserved a shot at his title. Don’t ever besmirch his name around me.
22. The Ace, “Cowboy” Bob Orton
Sometimes a broken arm just never heals. Second generation superstar Bob Orton Jr. was already a big name before 1984. Son of former US Heavyweight Champion Bob Orton, “Cowboy” had no trouble filling his father’s boots. By the early ’80s, Orton had already challenged for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship and wrestled through most of the country’s major territories. Who would have known that his greatest work would come as a bodyguard? In 1984, Orton found himself aligned with none other than “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. It was Piper who would popularize the nickname of “The Ace.” Though rarely in title contention from that point on, Orton was one of the chosen few leading the charge into the first Wrestlemania. Legitimately breaking his arm early in these feuds, Orton never seemed to get over his injury and many opponents would feel the crack of a cast over their heads. Even when Orton isn’t in the ring, do-gooders like Hulk Hogan better watch their backs.
21. Tully Blanchard
Tully Blanchard is perhaps the most underappreciated heel of his time. Though he is most often remembered for his run with The Four Horsemen (Woooooooooo!), his career is far more expansive. In fact, when the Horsemen were first founded, Blanchard was one of the most hated men in the NWA. Having come off lucrative runs with the legendary Magnum TA and Dusty Rhodes, Blanchard helped to elevate the US title even further. Blanchard was portrayed as a true threat to any face the National Wrestling Alliance put in front of him. The Horsemen seemed an almost untouchable force with such power on their side. After leaving the NWA, Blanchard along with Arn Anderson would capture the WWF Tag Team Championship within a year of their debut. Perhaps it was Blanchard’s absence from television in the early ’90s that faded his memory from the mind of fans. Regardless of his quiet retirement, he takes his rightful place on this list.
20. Vader (Big Van Vader)
Vader was a monster. He was big, strong, and forceful, but could move well. In Japan, Vader became a star because of those traits. At 6’4” and 450lbs, he was like Godzilla overseas. When you have a bad guy that size who can keep up with guys who had more agility, that’s a dangerous (and great) combination. Feuds in WCW with Sting and Ric Flair showed that despite his size, he could have good matches and not just squashes and make smaller guys look good in the ring. He did have a reputation for sometimes being too stiff in the ring, and when a certain “sexy boy” complained that he wouldn’t put him over for the WWF World Title because that would mean rematches, that ended Vader’s title future. After feuds with Undertaker and Goldust, Vader left WWF. He’s been semi-retired since, but occasionally has matches in Japan.
It isn’t what Raven did, it’s what he didn’t do. Though his persona was castrated during his run in the WWF, in ECW and WCW Raven didn’t have to do his own dirty work. Always followed by a Stevie Richards or a Billy Kidman, Raven would launch his initial assaults on his enemies often without appearing himself. An enigmatic cult leader whose mere presence at ringside did more than many failed characters could do in the ring. Early in his WCW run, he wasn’t even portrayed as a WCW competitor, just a poison seeping into the company from ringside, a potential storyline that never truly came to fruition in the company’s heyday. The point is, when Raven actually did anything, it was a big deal. Win or lose, seeing Raven compete was something special in itself. Though this formula would see attempts at replication (Ministry Undertaker may be the most successful attempt), the “Raven Effect” has never truly been duplicated.
18. Triple H
Triple H was a heel for years before really making his name in the early 2000s. The seed was when he and Stephanie McMahon plotted to marry after Vince McMahon used her and the rest of his family to get revenge against Steve Austin. HHH then had a match with Vince and hurt him so badly that Stephanie (and her new husband) took over the WWF. Thus the fantastic McMahon-Helmsley Era was born. He really found his character during this time when he became intense with a smart and brutal mean streak. Helmsley started having incredible feuds and was getting wins over everyone the fans loved like The Rock, Undertaker, and Mick Foley (whom he “retired”). He was even the one behind Rikishi hitting Austin with a car to take him out of action. If you were in his way, he did his damnedest to get rid of you.
17. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Spin the wheel, make a deal. Jake Roberts wasn’t consistently a heel over his career, but that’s only because of how great he was at it. One of the few wrestlers who could cut a genuinely creepy promo, the haunting Roberts always made an impression. His innovative DDT set him apart from the rest of the mid-eighties WWF roster and has become a hallmark move of the industry. As legend goes, “The Snake” was next in line for a run at Hulk Hogan when the plug was pulled. The reason: WWF officials were afraid that Roberts’ popularity would overwhelm his dastardly deeds. The few times that they toyed with the idea, they found the crowd cheering for the DDT instead of Hogan. Though this charismatic superstar has faced his share of troubles of the years, he’s already rumored to be making an appearance at the 2014 Royal Rumble. Perhaps the superstars of today are about to feel the bite.
16. “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig
When your moniker is “Mr. Perfect,” you’re just asking for heat. His vignettes where he could throw football passes to himself and score baskets from anywhere on a basketball court showed how much better than you he was at everything, and the fans hated it. Add Bobby “The Brain” Heenan as your manager, and you’re definitely a heel. For a year he went undefeated in matches on television (although did lose at a few house shows). He’s widely recognized as one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions ever. Unfortunately you can only be “perfect” for so long, so in his later years, having some physical complications but still being a good worker, he took on the role of a more ruthless heel. Curt passed away in 2003. Current WWE Intercontinental Champion “Curtis Axel” is Curt’s son.
15. CM Punk
Though he began his years in the WWE as a fan favorite, some of us knew what would eventually come. In ROH, CM Punk was the most effective heel the independents had seen in years. A challenge to the everyman, Punk preached a gospel of a drug and alcohol free lifestyle, and claimed the few “strong enough” to join him as his disciples. In short, CM Punk believes he’s better than you. His arrogance was put on the back burner in the WWE, until he cashed in his Money in the Bank on Jeff Hardy, the perfect target for Punk’s criticism. Hardy, having struggled with drug problems for many years maintained the admiration of the crowd and when Punk went after the easy buttons, he became the biggest heel in the company. As time went on, Punk was pushed out of the spotlight, but not out of the minds of the fans. Then, he cut THE promo. Though he’s played face since then, CM Punk is the greatest heel of the modern era. CM Punk is the best in the world.
14. Harley Race
Many heels cheat to win, but when you are a tough son of a gun and a great wrestler like Harley Race, you intended to win one way or another. He was an 8-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion at a time when titles weren’t just given, but voted on by committees. Between the AWA and the NWA, he had legendary matches and feuds with Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes, and Jack Briscoe in a time where vicious, hour-long matches were the norm almost every night. During his later feud with Ric Flair for the NWA World Title, Race put a bounty out on Flair. Not only is that a heel move, that’s also a great angle! It culminated in a brutal cage match at the inaugural Starcade event in 1983. Harley Race is often mentioned by peers as the toughest and most bad-ass worker in the history of wrestling.
13. The Iron Sheik
The anti-American is always a heat magnet, but can be tricky to get over. The Iron Sheik was the right guy in the right place at the right time for his character. Plus, he could work good matches. Bob Backlund didn’t have a lot of charisma, but he was the WWF World Heavyweight Champion and a huge babyface. The fans immediately hated Sheik for taking the title from Backlund. Sheik drew huge heat by pretending to spit at the fans and berating our country. He then had a few big matches with Hogan, who was about to become the superhero of the WWF when he beat Sheik for the WWF Title. After that, Sheik had another great run against Sgt. Slaughter, another hero in the company who became even more of one after battling Sheik. Sheik continued to “despise” the US and made it work until he retired.
12. The Rock
After starting off as a super babyface, the fans turned on Rocky Maivia fairly quickly at the start of the Attitude Era. “Die, Rocky, Die” was a great chant. He dubbed himself “The Rock” and became even more hated, but a better character. What really helped put him over as a great bad guy were his promos. Not only was he great on the mic, but he took ridiculous terms like “roody-poo candy ass” or “jabroni” and taunted his opponents with them, and they acted like he was offending their mothers. A good heel gets the fans to dislike, but not hate, him. And that’s exactly what The Rock did, to the point where they actually started to like him as a heel. Feuds against good workers like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Mick Foley made him grow as a performer in the ring. Eventually, like all liked heels, he turned face. When he “returned” from Hollywood in 2003 as a cockier, “movie star” Rock, he took it to another level.
11. Nick Bockwinkel
The AWA was sort of a mess. Verne Gagne’s apparent unwillingness to promote new talent at a top level hurt the otherwise fantastic roster’s potential. Even Hulk Hogan was “screwed” out of the title by Gagne’s trusted top heel. That man was Nick Bockwinkel. Bockwinkel, who by the way was not even allowed to take the belt off of Gagne clean, raged as the company’s main antagonist for the better part of a decade. One of the most technically sound wrestlers to ever compete, Bockwinkel was also a masterful speaker. Though Bockwinkel had a subtle intellectual gimmick, his strength came from his believable and natural delivery, an aspect of the art that even some at the top of the roster struggle with. At age 52, he would end his final run as AWA champion losing to Curt Hennig. In typical AWA fashion, Hennig cheated. After going into semi-retirement, Bockwinkel worked as an agent for the WWF, and would enter their Hall of Fame in 2007.
10. Vince McMahon (Mr. McMahon)
Since most people at some time would love to punch their boss, who would be a more perfect heel in a wrestling company than the owner? It’s been done before, but Vince perfected it. After allegedly “screwing Bret” at Survivor Series ’97, Vince turned the heat on himself to create one of the best villains ever: the evil Chairman of the WWF, “Mr. McMahon.” You would see things his way and do what he asked, or you’d be fired, arrested, or even possibly have to face him in a match. No one learned this lesson better than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and thus the incredible Austin vs. McMahon feud was born. For years Mr. McMahon has been going up against top faces in the compan…sometimes even in the ring. And to this day when his music hits and he comes strutting that Vince-strut down the aisle, you don’t know which Vince you’re going to get. “Don’t Cross The Boss.”
9. Gorgeous George
The Human Orchid. The Toast of the Coast. The Sensation of the Nation. George Wagner did not start as any of these things. A true story of the golden age of professional wrestling, the man who would become Gorgeous George started where the industry itself did, at fairs and carnivals. Somewhere along the line, the competent but not popular worker decided he needed to draw more attention to himself. In the early 40s, George put his gimmick into action and the timing could not have been better. Gorgeous George found himself at the dawn of television, and became not only the hottest property in professional wrestling but one of the first true television celebrities. The father of the Professional Wrestling heel, George’s influence not only spread to through the industry, but into all of popular culture. Even Muhammad Ali cited George’s persona as an influence on his own. The pair even got to meet!
8. “Classy” Freddie Blassie
If anyone could write a book on being a great heel, it was Freddie Blassie (who actually did write his autobiography). His little cheats when the ref wasn’t looking would get incredible heat. In fact, Blassie was a heat magnet. Not only would he get trash thrown at him, his car was vandalized and he was even stabbed a few times. This was an era where fans took it all seriously and weren’t above stabbing a heel. But Blassie loved it because he knew he was an effective bad guy. The man used to file his teeth into sharp points to scare the hell out of Japanese fans. Not only is that dedication to your craft and your character, but you’re messing with your teeth! After he retired from wrestling, he went on to manage heel wrestlers such as The Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, and even Hulk Hogan in the days before Hulkamania.
7. “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels
He thinks he’s cute, he knows he’s sexy. After super-kicking his best friend through a barber shop window, things really changed for Shawn Michaels. For years, fans cheered the young heart-throb and his innovative ring style as he competed in the Tag Team division. What they didn’t realize at the time is they were seeing just the first chapter in one of the greatest careers they would ever bear witness too. Once in singles competition, Michaels took on the persona of the smug blue chipper. A talent too big to be fired, but an ego willing to exploit that all the way. With the crowd’s approval, this persona would frequently sway into face territory, but if given enough time would always swing back. Perhaps the pinnacle of HBK’s heel potential manifested in D-Generation X. The stable played off of the supposed political manipulation of Michael’s and his friends, creating a group of sophomoric pranksters who were simply too important to fire. Some argue that Michaels was the greatest to ever enter the ring, even if that isn’t the case, he sure acted like he was.
6. “Superstar” Billy Graham
“The man of the hour, the man with the power, the man that’s too sweet to be sour.” The prototype for guys like Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Hulk Hogan, and even Scott Steiner, “Superstar” is thought of as the first guy to break out from the old school way of working. He was 6’4”, 275lbs., extremely flashy with an incredible tanned physique, bleached blond hair, which was quite different from guys like Bruno Sammartino, Dusty Rhodes, and Verne Gagne. He ended Bruno’s long reign as WWWF Champion, and remained the champ for almost a year(he was beaten for the title by Bob Backlund). “Superstar” is also considered to be one of the first wrestlers who wasn’t totally good or bad (called “tweeners”, just like Steve Austin was in ‘97) despite his ego and cheating in matches. Graham wasn’t the greatest technical worker, but could hold his own with anyone in any match. And there’s no way we can forget the man’s promos.
5. “Hollywood” Hogan
Let me tell you something, brother. Hulk Hogan was the biggest hero in the history of professional wrestling. As his star waned, some fans called for his retirement. Boy, did he get ’em. By turning heel and forming the new World Order, Hogan not only re-invigorated his career but found himself as the x-factor in what some consider (myself included) the greatest angle in the history of the business. While there was some debate over which member of the nWo deserved this spot (we even toyed with putting the stable on the list), Hogan was chosen for a few specific reasons. It was Hogan who would typically provide the big promo, reminding the crowd how dastardly the organization was. Additionally, while many members of the nWo (especially The Outsiders) had a cool, calm appeal, Hogan almost universally had opponents who were believable threats. Hogan would in turn respond with some cowardice, affirming his position as heel. Hogan became the rat that Bobby Heenan always claimed he was. In doing so, he also proved that anything can happen in Professional Wrestling.
4. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
The arrogant loudmouth known as “The Macho Man” may only be second to Hulk Hogan when it comes to the general public’s perception of Professional Wrestling. “Ooooooooooh Yeah” still rings true in the audience’s ears and comes up in nearly every conversation about the sport (or snack meats.) Almost makes you forget how much of a jerk he could be. An abusive boyfriend and egotistical weirdo, the Macho Man persona could have been a complete disaster. Without Savage’s genius promos and unparalleled ring work, one of the greatest villains in the history of wrestling would never have been born. Bobby Heenan frequently referred to Savage as the most dangerous man in any sport, and his multiple World title reigns only served to back this argument. Macho’s unique speech patterns and off-the-wall promos were the perfect combination with his masterful ringwork. After his performance at Wrestlemania III, he affirmed his position as a true legend. Hopefully he’ll get his deserved spot in the Hall of Fame soon. Savage was the total package, and any superstar of any era would be hard pressed to match him.
3. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
One job of a heel is to make the face look good, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is the man that helped create the biggest face in wrestling history. Say what you want about Hulk Hogan and/or Vince McMahon, but Piper deserves just as much credit for the wrestling boom of the 1980s. Even before coming to the WWF, Piper had big feuds with the Guerrero family, Ric Flair, and a brutal and incredible Dog Collar Match with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine at the first Starcade. Piper was a good wrestler with good in-ring psychology, but was an eccentric interview. When he came to the WWF, they didn’t know how to use him, and after a few matches Piper suggested giving him a talk show, thus, the birth of Piper’s Pit. He eventually started the legendary feud with Hulk Hogan, and the Rock ‘N Wrestling era began. Oh, and he hit broke a coconut over Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s head. What a bastard.
2. Andre The Giant
Andre was one of the most beloved attractions in wrestling history. Near undefeated, Andre was portrayed as a lovable warrior, a man of the people. He was probably the most popular hero in wrestling history, until Hulk Hogan showed up. Hogan changed the company, and with the hard work of many, became the face of the WWF’s global expansion. Andre, still wildly popular, needed a role. That role was heel. Playing off the storyline undefeated streak, Andre claimed that he should have been champion all along. With the help of the greatest wrestling manager of all time (quote me on that) Bobby Heenan, the 8th Wonder of the World was put in direct opposition of Hogan. Though not the technical masterpiece of Savage/Steamboat, Hogan/Andre is the undying image of Wrestlemania III. The conflict of two men who legitimately seemed unstoppable and Andre’s ultimate defeat started a hot streak for the company that would last for years. Andre slowed after Wrestlemania III, but his presence continued to loom large.
1. “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair
To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. Ric Flair’s gimmick may not have been the most original, but he undoubtedly made more of it than anyone else. With one of the longest runs in the business, the 16 (or 21, depends who you ask) time world heavyweight champion has done it all. However, it was his runs as NWA champion that truly fortify his position on this list. The last great territorial champion, the arrogant Flair rolled into the area to fight the hometown hero, and did more than just beat them. Flair would take them to 1 hour draws, or cheat to win, simply to make sure that the hero looked like they deserved the belt. All while cutting some of the greatest promos in the history of Professional Wrestling. Along the road, the self proclaimed greatest professional athlete in the world garnered a reputation of excess and debauchery. By most accounts, a good portion of this was well deserved. Jet Flyin’ and Limousine Ridin’ were not just a gimmick. As he aged, Flair would sometimes fight on the side of the angels, but Naitch was always Naitch. Though less active than in the past, Ric Flair is still finds himself involved in the action and still lives the Wheelin’ Dealin’ lifestyle he’s preached for years. Current superstars should still watch out for the dirtiest player in the game. (Vinny)
When you think of the archetypical “old school” wrestler working his ass off in matches 7 days a week and twice on Sundays, you automatically think of Ric Flair. Part of the job of a heel is to make the face look great, and Flair could make almost anyone look good in the ring. He’s thought of as the guy who could wrestle a proverbial broomstick and have a good match. Not only an incredible wrestler, he’s probably the greatest talker in the business. His cockiness in his promos is unmatched. But he could back up everything he said whether he had help from The Four Horsemen or not. He and The Horsemen were the first heel group that were cool to like. He was one of the best at taking advantage of cheating to win. He wasn’t dubbed “The Dirtiest Player In The Game” for nothing. Flair could draw heat even if you liked him. The “Limousine-ridin’, jet-flyin’, son of a gun” wasn’t just a gimmick, it was a lifestyle he created and lived. “Diamonds are forever, and so is Ric Flair.” (Jesse)