The Greatest Villains/Heels in WWE History

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- A hero is nothing without a villain to vanquish, which is just as true in professional wrestling as it is in movies, television or books. WWE has no shortage of villains to choose from across its 60-year history, and there are hundreds of worthy candidates to make a list of "Greatest Villains/Heels."

But the best of the best deserve their own recognition for their work as villainous characters. As "Macho Man" Randy Savage once said, "the cream will rise to the top." So let's jump right in and take a look at the Top 15 Greatest Villains/Heels in WWE history.

15) "Superstar" Billy Graham

"Superstar" Billy Graham deserves a spot on this list simply for his historical significance as a heel. His 296-day reign as then-WWWF Champion from April 30, 1977 until Feb. 20, 1978 still stands as the longest uninterrupted reign for a villain. Graham's win over Bruno Sammartino and subsequent reign was previously unthinkable, as heels almost always immediately lost the title before it went to a babyface.

Graham was also one of the first so-called "cool heels" who stayed popular with fans despite his villainous status. He planted the seed for men such as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock to become antiheroes that fans would love.

 

14) "Macho Man" Randy Savage

Fans fondly remember the Macho Man nowadays, specifically after his death in 2011. But during his career, Savage put forth some of the greatest heel moments in WWE history.

Savage entered WWE in 1985 and numerous heel managers, including Bobby Heenan and "Classy" Freddie Blassie, tried to sign him. But the Macho Man went a different way and elected to have the gorgeous Miss Elizabeth manage him.

This is where Savage's heeling began in earnest, as he mistreated the lovely Miss Elizabeth on screen. Macho Man portrayed a paranoid bully who would threaten to beat the tar out of anyone who even glanced at his woman the wrong way.

But when talking about Savage's heel run in the 1980s, we must give credit to his all-time classic with Ricky Steamboat, whom some consider the ultimate babyface, for Savage's Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania III. In a contrast to the style of the day, in which wrestlers called most of their matches in the ring on the fly, Savage and Steamboat carefully planned out and rehearsed each moment of this match at Savage's Florida home.

The match contained 19 two-counts, but Steamboat ended the almost 14-month title reign when George "The Animal" Steele shoved Savage off the top rope.

Savage would again famously turn heel after he attacked Hulk Hogan to break up the Mega Powers. He would lose the WWE Championship to Hogan at WrestleMania V.

13) Nikolai Volkoff

The 1980s produced a multitude of "foreign heels," men who portrayed evil characters from other nations that... well, they weren't America, so that's about as far as the thought process went.

Nikolai Volkoff was one of those heels. He had a fantastic feud with Bruno Sammartino in the late 1970s and returned to WWE in 1984, when he had perhaps his best heel run.

He teamed with fellow foreign heel The Iron Sheik to form the Foreign Legion under the leadership of "Classy" Freddie Blassie. As the Cold War raged on, Volkoff garnered tremendous heat by singing the Soviet Union's national anthem before each match. Sheik would then often grab the microphone and say "Iran number one, Russia number one, USA (over-the-top spitting)."

Volkoff and Sheik took the Tag Team Championships from The U.S. Express at the first WrestleMania, and Volkoff later unsuccessfully challenged Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship.

12) Iron Sheik

If you follow the Iron Sheik on Twitter, then you know what kind of rambling, insane lunatic we're dealing with here. But in the 1980s, Sheiky Baby was one of hottest heels in the business.

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 helped popularize Sheik's gimmick, which started as The Great Hossein Arab in AWA. He made the move to WWE in 1979 but left in 1980, after which he re-debuted in the NWA as The Iron Sheik.

He would return to WWE in 1983 where he would have arguably his most infamous heel run. Sheik feuded with the all-American Hulk Hogan, and ultimately lost to him at Madison Square Garden in January 1984 to unofficially launch the era of Hulkamania.

11) Jake "The Snake" Roberts

Jake The Snake deserves a spot on this list simply for his mastery of psychology both in the ring and on the microphone. Many fans know Roberts for his trademark snakes that he would assault wrestlers with during matches, or, sadly, for the numerous off-screen problems that have plagued him throughout his life.

But Roberts' work as a heel was masterful in so many ways. His promos were not just threats of how he would beat his opponent in their next match; they were psychological torture designed to disorient his foe.

He also excelled at manipulating the crowd. In one famous instance, he mouthed words for several moments but did not make any sound. The interviewer and crew thought they had audio issues, but Roberts suddenly spoke and pointed out that he had just taken control of the entire crowd at home and in the arena without even trying.

Here's hoping Roberts stays on the right track and gets healthy again.

10) Triple H

Okay, so this picture of Triple H is obviously a joke, but come on, look at it!

Triple H's career spans multiple eras of wrestling, and he has managed to remain one of the most hated characters in the business through all of it. In the Attitude Era of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Triple H was the cocky but cowardly champion who basically controlled the WWF and used nefarious means to keep himself on top.

In 2000, we learned he masterminded a plot to run over "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in a reveal that made announcer Jim Ross ask "Why Triple H? Why?!"

When his best friend, Shawn Michaels, returned after a four-year hiatus in 2002, Triple H greeted him with a Pedigree.

As the leader of Evolution, he once again dominated the WWE as World Heavyweight Champion on the Raw brand from late 2002 to early 2005.

He turned face for several years until SummerSlam 2013 when he Pedigreed Daniel Bryan, and the fans' hopes, into the mat just after the underdog had won the WWE Championship. For the next year, he served as the villainous on-screen boss in a fictionalized version of his real-life role as COO of the company until Dolph Ziggler and Sting stripped him of his power at Survivor Series 2014 by leading Team Cena to a win over Team Authority.

But part of the reason fans disliked Triple H so much is their perception of him as an entitled prince of sorts. He married Stephanie McMahon, the boss' daughter, in 2003 after years of an on-screen romance. Eric Bischoff literally gifted him the World Heavyweight Championship in 2002. Some fans think he buries talent that doesn't fit his supposed model of what a wrestler should be. Just Google "Triple H shovel" and you'll get the idea.

9) "Rowdy" Roddy Piper

Piper was the perfect foil for Hulk Hogan in the 1980s. He built his heel persona through his talk show, Piper's Pit, in which he antagonized other wrestlers and more often than not brawled with them by the end of the segment.

The most famous instance occurred when Piper insulted "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka's Polynesian heritage by decorating the set with coconuts, bananas and pineapples. He then smashed one of the coconuts over Snuka's head and shoved a banana in his face.

Piper eventually feuded with Hogan and helped start the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection when he kicked singer Cyndi Lauper in the head. He faced Hogan at The War to Settle the Score on MTV, which eventually set up the first WrestleMania main event. This led to a boom for WWE in the 1980s.

8) "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase

Ted DiBiase, on screen, was a jerk, plain and simple. Moreover, he was a rich jerk, which made him draw even more hate from the fans. The only story you really need to know about Ted DiBiase and his commitment to his character is the most famous one.

DiBiase had so much money that he would offer it to fans if they would humiliate themselves for it by kissing his feet, for example. On one occasion, he asked a young boy to come on stage and told him he would give him $500 if he could bounce a basketball 15 times in a row. On the 14th bounce, DiBiase kicked the ball away and sent the kid back to his seat with nothing. He notes in his autobiography, though, that anyone not paid on screen would receive money off camera.

WWE was so committed to his character that the office actually gave him first-class accommodations and large stipends so that he could over tip and pay in $100 bills in public to maintain his persona.

7) Shawn Michaels

The Heartbreak Kid has worked extended periods of his career as both a heel and a face, but his work as a villain was simply exceptional. During the 1990s, Michaels was a jerk both in and out of the ring, and he'd be the first person to admit it. Part of what made Michaels so great in a villain role was his heel turns and the Sweet Chin Music, an excellent move for such a shocking event.

He turned on his friend and tag team partner, Marty Jannetty, when he superkicked him and threw him through a glass window in 1991.

He helped plan and execute the Montreal Screwjob, the most controversial moment in the history of WWE, when he locked Bret Hart in his own move, the Sharpshooter, at Survivor Series in 1997 to steal the WWF Championship.

He turned heel for the first time since his return in 2002 when he superkicked his tag team partner, Hulk Hogan, on the July 4, 2005 episode of Raw. The match at SummerSlam between the two icons featured numerous oversells by Michaels, including one of the most hilarious ones you'll ever see at the end of the match.

Michaels won the Tag Team Championships with John Cena in early 2007 and earned a shot against Cena for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 23. For weeks, WWE played on the almost-joke that HBK always turns on his partners, even though he swore he would not do it to Cena. The champ watched his back every week and Michaels never delivered the Sweet Chin Music...until the Raw right before Mania when he kicked Cena square in the face.

He has since made peace with Bret Hart and has become a man of faith, but Michaels' persona in and out of the ring definitely earns him a spot on this list.

6) Bobby "The Brain" Heenan

Some believe that Bobby Heenan is the greatest manager in pro wrestling history. Paul Heyman, another candidate for that accolade, has himself stated its impossible to have the conversation about greatest manager without mentioning Heenan's name.

And rightfully so, as Heenan exemplified what it meant to be a heel manager. He would consistently interfere in matches on behalf of his clients to ensure their victories. But Heenan was not afraid to take some punishment, too. When it was time for the good guy to get justice, Heenan was always willing to take the hits.

Heenan is still alive at age 70, but he has dealt with some health problems in the past several years, including a battle with throat cancer, broken hips, a broken pelvis, and a broken shoulder.

5) CM Punk

CM Punk is a man for whom fans love to cheer, but he is also one of the greatest heels to ever step between the ropes. Punk would be the first man to admit he's kind of a jerk, and he used that brilliantly in his on-screen character.

Punk's first major heel turn at the WWE level occurred in 2009 when he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on fan favorite Jeff Hardy at Extreme Rules to become World Heavyweight Champion. This blossomed into a feud that blended reality and story line, as Punk is straight edge in real life, while Hardy had numerous issues with drugs.

This eventually led to Punk's formation of the Straight Edge Society, a stable that included his friend Luke Gallows and Serena, both of whom shaved their heads. The atheist Punk grew out his hair and grew a beard to resemble the popular depiction of Jesus. He tried to convert others to his straight edge lifestyle and considered himself better than the heathens in the crowd. He would give sermons during matches, even during the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber matches.

Punk was such an effective heel during this time that an elderly female fan actually yelled at him to tell him that he would burn for his sins, as he revealed on his Best in the World documentary.

Punk was a heel when he delivered his famous pipe bomb promo in 2011, but fans liked him so much that he turned face. This ended on the 1,000th episode of Raw, when he attacked The Rock. He subsequently demanded that everyone show him the respect he felt he had not been receiving.

His latest heel stretch came in the buildup to his match with the Undertaker at WrestleMania 29. Taker's mentor and friend, Paul Bearer (real name William Moody) had passed away. On screen, Punk desecrated Bearer's memory by mocking his voice, kicking around the urn that (in story line) contained his ashes and dumping said ashes all over his body.

Of course, Punk turned heel in the eyes of some when he left the WWE the night after the Royal Rumble this year, but that's a debate for another time.

4) "Classy" Freddie Blassie

"Classy" Freddie Blassie is the quintessential example of an old-school heel. Before the days of the Internet when everyone was in on the secrets of pro wrestling, people HATED this guy. Blassie was so committed to his villainous persona that he used to sharpen his teeth just to scare the bejesus of Japanese fans.

He cheated during matches when the referee wasn't looking to ensure the victory. Fans would get so incensed that they would throws trash at him in the ring and even vandalize his car. A few extreme fans even stabbed him. Let me repeat that for you. People hated this character so much that they put a knife into his body.

3) Hollywood Hulk Hogan

Hulk Hogan is the most famous wrestler in history thanks to his time in the red and yellow Hulkamania days of the 1980s. He left WWF in 1993 and joined its rival, WCW, in 1994 and continued his face run.

That all ended on July 7, 1996, when Hogan revealed himself as the third man of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall's trio, which Hogan dubbed the New World Order (of Wrestling, brother). Hogan traded in his red and yellow trunks for black and white and became "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan.

It's almost impossible to understate what a momentous turn of events this was in 1996. Imagine if Superman suddenly joined Lex Luthor because he was tired of saving everyone. Or, and this would never happen, imagine if John Cena suddenly decided he wanted to be a bad guy and stopped caring about his young fans. Hogan spat in the face of those who supported him and didn't look back.

Remarkably, Hogan worked great as a heel. He was a world-class jerk to the fans and the rest of the on-screen talent. Some fans also disliked Hogan for his real-life, backstage politicking and desire to keep himself at the top of the mountain at the expense of everyone else. The most egregious example of this was The Fingerpoke of Doom on Jan. 4, 1999 when Kevin Nash hit the mat after one finger poke from Hogan, who pinned him to regain the WCW Championship and reform the NWO.

Writer Vince Russo went on a profanity-laced tirade against Hogan at the infamous Bash at the Beach in 2000 during WCW's final months. He accused Hogan of conniving backstage and keeping down talents like Booker T and Jeff Jarrett.

Nowadays, the Hulkster is back in the red and yellow in WWE and is as beloved as ever. Amazing what time does, isn't it?

2) Ric Flair

MMMMEEEEAAAANNNN...WOOOOOOOOOO...BY GOD...GENE!

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

Ric Flair has been a certifiable lunatic in pro wrestling for decades, but he has also been one of the greatest heels to ever grace the ring. You don't get the nickname "The Dirtiest Player in the Game" for nothing.

The Nature Boy was NWA Champion eight times and almost exclusively cheated his way through those title reigns. He would often lose the belt only to almost immediately regain it, such as when he lost to Harley Race in New Zealand in 1984 only to win the title back three days later.

Flair also led one of the greatest stables in pro wrestling history, The Four Horsemen, alongside Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson and Tully Blanchard. He found success with this formula again in the 2000s with Evolution alongside Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista.

But the true genius of Flair's work as a heel outside the ring was his personality. He was, as he so famously put it, a "limousine -ridin', jet-flyin', kiss stealin', wheelin' dealin', son-of-a-gun." He was the guy who had the looks, the money and the women, but he'd still take yours if he wanted to and there was nothing you could do about it. And you know why? Because he was born with a golden spoon.

In his later years, Flair more or less became a nut job who claimed he survived getting struck by lightning, which jumped to the guy next to him and killed him. 


1) Vince McMahon

Vince McMahon truly became an on-screen bad guy in Nov. 1997 when the real-life owner prevented Bret Hart from going to rival WCW with the WWF Championship via the Montreal Screwjob. But he truly catapulted himself into the top spot on this list when he had his famous feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1998 and 1999.

If Austin is the top good guy in WWE history, and many would argue he is, then it's only fitting that McMahon would be the greatest villain. Not only was Vince deliciously evil, he legitimately had all the power. He could create wild match stipulations, stack the deck against his opponents and could throw money at any problem. In the late 1990s, he embodied the corporate power, while Austin was like the rest of us blue-collar workers who wanted nothing more than to deliver a Stone Cold Stunner to our bosses.

What made Vince's heel work even greater was his willingness, even his desire, to make himself look like a complete fool on worldwide television. He's been covered in feces, bled like a stuck pig at the hands of Austin, buried under a stage...The list goes on and on.

Vince also did all the little things well. Look at this swagger when he walks out onto the stage. Look at this face he made when he revealed himself as The Greater Power just to torment Stone Cold in a story line that most fans would probably like to forget. Listen to this speech that ends with five extremely depressing words.

And Vince was always willing to step into the ring when necessary (sometimes too willing). He let Stone Cold beat the pants off him in a steel cage. He fought his own son, Shane McMahon, in a street fight at WrestleMania 17 during which he flaunted his on-screen affair in front of his catatonic wife. He even fought then-WWE Champion CM Punk in a no disqualification match in late 2012 at age 66!

When it comes to great heels, Vince McMahon tops the list.

Did your favorite heel make the list? Do you agree or disagree with our choices? Drop a comment to let us know.

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