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From bad to good: 10 unforgettable changes of heart
Face it, it’s not always cool to be bad. Sure, the villains might get to wear the shades, the leather jackets and do what they want, when they want. But in the world of sports-entertainment, everyone needs a hero every now and then.
Here at WWEClassics.com, we can’t help but leap to our feet during those moments of heroism when despised baddies trade the black hat for a white coat. Come face to face with 10 of the most unforgettable sinner-to-saint transformations and feel the love for yourself.
"Macho Man" Randy Savage
After Randy Savage replaced Miss Elizabeth with the terrifying Sherri in the fallout from his big loss to Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” went from being an overbearing egomaniac to just plain vicious. The “Macho King,” as he came to be known, was a ruthless ruler who forced broadcasters to bow in his presence, degraded “Common Man” Dusty Rhodes and unleashed a cowardly attack on The Ultimate Warrior.
That all changed when Warrior defeated Savage in a Retirement Match at WrestleMania VII. Elizabeth, who had been watching from the crowd, couldn’t bear to see her former beau be attacked by a frustrated Sherri. The First Lady of Professional Wrestling ran to the ring, rid it of the face painted witch and revived a dazed Savage. The victim slowly stood and stared into the eyes of his former love. Finally, they embraced and the WWE Universe exploded. In an iconic moment, Savage hoisted Elizabeth on his shoulder. Once again, “Macho” was her hero, but, more importantly, he was ours.
Kurt Angle was never supposed to be a villain. Only three years removed from winning an Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Summer Games, Angle should have arrived in WWE as a lauded American hero. But with anti-heroism on the rise during the chaotic Attitude Era, the only person that believed Angle to be a true hero was Kurt himself. The holier-than-thou technician was heavily booed for much of the next two years, until fans found a reason to cheer for him.
As invading WCW and forces began inserting themselves into WWE programming during summer 2001, Angle stood firmly in the corner of Team WWE. And at Invasion, when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin turned his back on the company that made him a household name to align with The Alliance, Kurt became WWE’s shining star. The following week on SmackDown, the Olympic gold medalist returned home to Pittsburgh as the hero he always knew himself to be, and received a raucous hometown ovation. That night, Angle defeated Booker T to become the first WWE star to win the WCW Championship, finally giving fans something to cheer for.
Andre the Giant
Many WWE fans remember Andre the Giant as the terrifying goliath that nearly crushed Hulkamania in front of more than 93,000 spectators at WrestleMania III. But that historic night is only a chapter in the amazing life story of the first WWE Hall of Famer. Ask anybody that knew the 7-foot-4 Frenchman, and they’ll tell you Andre was the one of the kindest, gentlest souls to ever stand in a wrestling ring.
Following The Eighth Wonder of the World’s crushing loss to Hogan, the Grenoble native continued his association Bobby Heenan, who teamed up Andre with Haku as The Colossal Connection. The dangerous duo defeated Demolition for the World Tag Team Championships, but Ax and Smash regained the titles at WrestleMania VI. After the contest, Heenan entered the ring, and furiously chewed out his massive client, berating and slapping the behemoth across the face. Andre responded with a slap of his own, sending “The Brain” tumbling through the ropes. Hearing cheers for the first time in more than three years, Andre departed Toronto's Skydome a beloved figure. And that’s exactly how he should be remembered.
It didn’t matter if he was the manipulative leader of The New Nexus who had tortured men like Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio and John Cena. CM Punk was already a cult hero in the eyes of many sports-entertainment fans. The Straight Edge Superstar was an agent of the counterculture, a beacon for change and, in many ways, a modern day “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
Perhaps, then, it was no surprise when The Second City Savior sat cross-legged on a stage in Las Vegas in a “Stone Cold” crewneck tee and delivered the most famous sports-entertainment speech since Austin himself coined “3:16.” Denouncing WWE’s backstage politics, letting loose his workplace frustrations and directly targeting WWE brass, Punk became a hero to anybody sick and tired of going to work. But when Punk punched out, he took the WWE Title with him.
For the first six months of his WWE tenure, Lex Luger — a former WCW Champion — was as despised as they come. Arriving in early 1993, “The Narcissist” entered the ring in shimmery robes, posed in front of fireworks-spouting mirrors and illegally used a metal plate in his forearm to incapacitate opponents, including Mr. Perfect at WrestleMania IX. But following Hulk Hogan’s departure from WWE after losing to Yokozuna, there was suddenly a vacancy in WWE’s American hero wing. In stepped Luger.
On Independence Day in 1993, the massive Yokozuna and his manager Mr. Fuji hosted The Stars and Stripes Challenge on the U.S.S. Intrepid in New York City’s Hudson River. NFL, NHL and NBA players, along with the strongest WWE Superstars, all attempted to bodyslam the 600-pounder, but all were unsuccessful. Finally, a helicopter landed on the deck of the ship, and out strutted Luger in an American flag shirt and cowboy boots as our nation’s last hope. He hoisted Yoko up and slammed him to the canvas. “The Narcissist” had vanished and the Lex Express had revved its engines.
From the moment he arrived, The Undertaker was the personification of pure evil. Seemingly impervious to pain, The Deadman stalked to the ring with the ghostly Paul Bearer in tow and frightened each and every child that watched him terrorize opponents on Saturday morning television. He dispatched longtime favorite “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka at WrestleMania VII to begin his vaunted Streak, sealed The Ultimate Warrior in a coffin and pinned “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan to win the WWE Championship.
The Phenom began to see eye-to-eye with another nefarious sinner, Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Together, the pair became an unstoppable force of brawn and brains, and they targeted “Macho Man” Randy Savage. When Savage defeated Roberts in 1992, a frustrated “Snake” lurked backstage, ready to smash “Macho” or Elizabeth with a steel chair the moment they stepped through the curtain. Undertaker had seen enough. Saving the lovebirds from certain injury, he snatched the chair away from Roberts and nailed his own villainous ally instead. The Phenom had solidified himself as an unlikely hero, and remained that way for seven years.
A decade before Bill Goldberg built his remarkable undefeated streak, Mr. Perfect lived up to his name by maintaining a “perfect record” in WWE for a year and a half. In one of the most heinous acts ever seen on WWE television, Perfect stole Hulk Hogan’s WWE Title and smashed it to bits with a hammer. It might have been a replaceable material object, but the destruction represented the desecration of Hulkamania and the revered lineage of the WWE Championship.
He later enlisted the sniveling Bobby Heenan as his manager, won the Intercontinental Title and defeated a litany of WWE Hall of Famers, including Tito Santana, Kerry Von Erich and Bret Hart. When Ric Flair arrived in WWE, Perfect took a leave of absence from active competition and was regularly in the corner of The Nature Boy, along with Heenan. But when Randy Savage was left without a partner to face off with Flair and Razor Ramon at 1992’s Survivor Series, he requested some perfect help. After “The Brain” attempted to deliver an answer for his client, the former Intercontinental champ became furious, poured a pitcher of water over the “wet weasel” and proclaimed he was back. And he was more perfect than ever.
Virgil may never have been a true villain, but he had the dubious distinction of being the attaché of the tyrannical “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. For a notorious three and a half year period, Virgil bit his tongue as he held DiBiase’s cash, did his bidding and was on the receiving end of constant humiliation. Still, it was hard to cheer for a man who was aligned with one of the most loathsome individuals to ever don a pair of boots.
At Royal Rumble 1991, Virgil had enough. After he and DiBiase defeated the father-son duo of Dusty and Dustin Rhodes, The Million Dollar Man began the usual degradation of his ally. Something snapped in Virgil at that moment, as the bodyguard lifted the Million Dollar Championship and planted it between the eyes of his longtime superior. The 16,000 in attendance blew the roof of the Miami Arena. Later that year, Virgil defeated the loudmouth for DiBiase’s precious Million Dollar Title. And that gave The Million Dollar Man nothing to cackle about.
The moment fans set their eyes on Batista, they knew one mean dude had just walked into WWE. Triple H also knew the 6-foot-6, near 300-pounder was something special. The Game recruited Batista to join Evolution alongside himself, Randy Orton and Ric Flair — a group representing the past, present and future of squared circle greatness. But after Orton won the World Heavyweight Championship — a title Triple H believed was rightfully his — Evolution became a self-fulfilling prophecy and The Cerebral Assassin knew he needed to make sure that never happened again.
With his 2005 Royal Rumble Match victory, Batista was tasked with making the decision of switching to SmackDown and challenging JBL for the WWE Championship, or face his own ally, Triple H, for the World Heavyweight Title. In a LeBron-like moment, Batista was set to make his choice in the ring live on Raw. Flair and The Game did their best to convince the Rumble winner to select JBL, but big Dave had discovered their planned backstabbing machinations. Batista gave Triple H the proverbial thumbs-down and delivered a devastating Batista Bomb to the shocked champion.
The Big Boss Man
A former prison guard from Cobb County, Ga., The Big Boss Man was one man in uniform no one wanted to mess with. Managed by Slick, the bruising 6-foot-7, 330-pounder was paired up with Akeem as The Twin Towers. Together, the behemoths targeted Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, battling The Mega Powers in a series of high-profile contests. With or without The African Dream in his corner, Boss Man was as dangerous as they come.
In 1990, the big man was inserted into the rivalry between Ted DiBiase and Jake Roberts via his own manager. DiBiase had paid Slick to have his client help recover his Million Dollar Championship, which had been stolen by Roberts and stuffed into the same bag as Jake’s pet python, Damien. “The Snake” was handcuffed to the ring ropes, but as the exchange was set to happen on The Brother Love Show, Boss Man became incensed when he discovered that Slick had not given him a cut of DiBiase’s payment. He got in the face of both Slick and The Million Dollar Man, headed to the ring, and gave both the bag and the handcuff key to Roberts. He was still the same nightstick-wielding officer of the law, but now he was enforcing good.