Ah the 80’s: cartoonish WWF at its finest. Definite goods guys versus definite bad guys, kayfabe in full force in a family-friendly setting. Those were the days.
Unlike today, the lines between face and heel were clear both inside the ring and outside. Oftentimes during their career, a wrestler would “shift sides” and turn from face to heel or vice-versa, typically in an attempt to rejuvenate interest in their career or forward a storyline.
Some notorious heels made the transition with great success: the late Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff jump immediately to mind. Then there were a handful of heels that didn’t exactly ease gracefully into their new role with the fans.
Case # 1: Don Muraco. The “Magnificent One” was one of the premier heels in the WWF at the time. Backed by “The Devious One”, the late Mr. Fuji, Muraco would feud with the most popular faces of the day like Ricky Steamboat and the late Jimmy Snuka, often taking tremendous bumps in the process. This was man that fans wanted to see beaten up; this was the man that helped destroy the Piper’s Pit set; this was one mean, hated hombre.
What did the WWF do? Turn him face! Muraco was teamed with fellow heel Cowboy Bob Orton Jr. and the two were a formidable team. They would often squabble with one another after match losses and then out of the clear blue, Muraco accidentally struck Orton during a bout and the two came to fisticuffs with Muraco becoming the good guy.
The face Muraco then started calling himself “The Rock” (decades before Dwayne Johnson did) and became a crusader for the ailing “Superstar” Billy Graham. Muraco’s career went nowhere thereafter. Apart from a stint on Hulk Hogan’s team at the inaugural Survivor Series (which he was eliminated from), his career went to the pits.
Case # 2: Greg Valentine. The Hammer was as tough as they come: known for his stiff style in the ring, as well as respected scientific skills, Valentine feuded with some of the top faces including the late Junkyard Dog at the inaugural WrestleMania and had some classic bouts over the Intercontinental title against Tito Santana.
Once again, seemingly out of nowhere, Valentine had a match against Saba Simba (Tony Atlas) and was accidentally struck by manager Jimmy ”Mouth of the South” Hart with Honky Tonk Man’s guitar causing a rare instance of blood to appear on WWF programming. Thus began a downward spiral in his career as a face with no major feuds or championship runs to speak of. He quietly faded from the spotlight thereafter.
Case # 3: Big John Studd. A member of Bobby “The Weasel” Heenan’s family, Studd along with Olympic strongman Ken Patera wreaked havoc and made life miserable for the popular face Andre the Giant. Studd would generate true heel heat with open challenges for anyone who could bodyslam him with a $50,000 purse if they could. Studd and Patera also cut off Andre’s hair during a televised bout on the WWF’s “Championship Wrestling” show.
After an absence from the camera due to injuries and illness, Studd made his triumphant return on the “Brother Love” show and fired Heenan owing to Heenan’s acquisition of Andre the Giant, turning him face. Granted, he did win the Royal Rumble that year, but did absolutely nothing thereafter apart from act as a referee in a match pitting Jake “The Snake” Roberts against Andre at WrestleMania V. He quietly disappeared within one year of returning.
Case #4: Ken Patera. Patera was once a hated member of the Heenan Family (see Big John Studd) before he went to jail for a short stint involving throwing a boulder through a McDonald’s window. Upon his much touted return, Patera had long, brown hair and a huge vendetta against Heenan who “sold him down the river” when he was a convict. Patera loused up a televised debate with Heenan by having no comebacks to Heenan’s profanity-laden tirade against him. His “war” against members of the Heenan family amounted to nothing and he became nothing more than a jobber until finally calling it quits in 1988.
There you have it. Despite talent and despite pushes, sometimes heels just weren’t meant to go to the “other side” as it could mean a rapid end to their in-ring careers.