8 Superstars who broke bad to greatness
While it is true that anything can happen in the unpredictable world of WWE, it is also inevitable that all good things must eventually come to an end. However, every once in a while, that dark conclusion is just a necessary transformation into something even more extraordinary than before.
With that in mind, WWE.com looks back at eight beloved Superstars who spit in the face of everything from friendship to the establishment in order to reach a higher level of legendary notoriety.
Hulk Hogan goes "Hollywood"
If you grew up in the 1980s, there’s a good chance that you “said your prayers and took your vitamins” like a good little Hulkamaniac. One of the biggest stars ever to grace the squared circle, countless members of the WWE Universe donned the Hulkster’s iconic red and yellow as he turned back everyone and anyone that stood in the way of what was right.
But all that would change in 1996, when Hulk Hogan delivered his signature leg drop to “Macho Man” Randy Savage, forsaking WCW and legions of fans to join forces with “The Outsiders,” Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. Adopting a new, edgier look and calling himself “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, he would go on to lead the notorious nWo’s assault on the organization, dominating WCW for the remainder of the `90s.
The viewers would ultimately welcome Hogan back into their hearts in 2002. But, perhaps more importantly, the “Hollywood” Era would give the famed icon membership to a select club – as one of the few Superstars that were both the most loved and most reviled at different points of their illustrious career.
HBK 'kicks' off solo career
In January 1992, tensions mounted between The Rockers – Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty – when they appeared on Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake's "Barber Shop."
And while Jannetty offered to bury the hatchet with a handshake, “The Heartbreak Kid” would choose a different path, executing Sweet Chin Music on his unsuspecting comrade. If that wasn’t shocking enough, the future WWE Hall of Famer put an exclamation point on his sneak attack by hurling Jannetty's head through the Barber Shop's plate-glass window.
Though Michael’s betrayal of friendship marked the demise of an explosive WWE tag team, it ultimately allowed HBK to lay the foundation for one of the most storied careers in WWE history – living proof that sometimes, to do something great, you have to do something incredibly bad.
The Rock joins The Nation
Despite being the grandson of the renowned “High Chief” Peter Maivia, son of WWE Hall of Famer Rocky Johnson and golden child of the storied Anoa’i wrestling family, the straight-laced “blue chipper” Rocky Maivia was ushered into WWE with a sea of “Die Rocky die!” chants.
The WWE Universe simply no longer wanted a good-looking kid who always did the right thing. Instead, they were drawn to the likes of the rebellious “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Frustrated and disheartened, Rocky turned his back on the WWE Universe and sought the direction with an aggressive faction of thugs known as The Nation of Domination.
Eventually usurping control of the group, a complete rebirth of the young Superstar followed. He began calling himself as The Rock, wearing $500 shirts, custom-made shoes, adapting an interview style in which he’d refer to himself in the third person and warning the WWE Universe to “know [their] role and shut [their] mouth!”
While it was fall true from grace as far as the fans were concerned, the rising Great One would go on to become a movie star, a pop culture icon and one of the most popular Superstars in WWE history.
Andre’s giant betrayal
In February 1987 – boasting a 15-year undefeated record – beloved Superstar Andre the Giant journeyed to “Piper’s Pit” on a mission. Backed by hated manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, The Eighth Wonder of the World proceeded to rip the crucifix and shirt off WWE Champion Hulk Hogan, challenging his trusted friend and ally for the title at WrestleMania III.
Andre felt slighted, not only by the outpouring of long-time adoration for The Hulkster, but also because, for more than three years, he was never given a title opportunity. In that moment, he chose the temptation of championship glory over friendship.
Andre’s betrayal will forever live in infamy. However, no one can deny the greatness it ushered in. The Hogan vs. Andre showdown at WrestleMania III became one of the most highly anticipated main events in WrestleMania history, playing out in front of the 93,000-plus in the Pontiac Silverdome crowd.
The Game plays DX
It is hard to argue with success. And although many in the WWE Universe oppose his methods from time-to-time, few Superstars have proven more successful than 13-time World Champion Triple H.
And at Wrestlemania XV, The Game created a sea of controversy when, after rising to prominence as a part of the rebellious D-Generation X, he suddenly chose to come to Shane McMahon’s aid – flooring long-time friend and partner X-Pac with a particularly punishing Pedigree to join the Corporation.
While it proved to be an unpopular decision with many in the WWE Universe and locker room, it would ultimately elevate The Cerebral Assassin. The as-of-yet-uncrowned King of Kings would score his first of many World Championships less than six months later, putting himself on a trajectory that would take him through a highly decorated career, ultimately landing in the COO’s chair at WWE Headquarters.
A beloved patriot turns his back on the U.S.A.
In 1990, Sgt. Slaughter – a true American hero and one of the most beloved Superstars in WWE history – decided to turn his back on not only fans, but his entire country, by casting aside the good ol' U.S.A. and becoming an Iraqi sympathizer. This all happened just as the U.S. was embroiled in the Gulf War.
After going so far as to reveal he had been given a pair of boots by then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Slaughter went on to reign supreme over WWE Champion The Ultimate Warrior at Royal Rumble 1991 – a simultaneous slap in the face to the entire nation.
The hatred brought unprecedented fan response – including threats against the Superstar’s home and the WWE headquarters and a change in the location of WrestleMania VII to the Los Angeles Sports Arena to secure his safety.
Though Slaughter would one day redeem himself in the eyes of fans, the dark place to which he took the WWE Universe will stand forever in infamy. Still, his betrayal helped him capture his first-ever WWE Title and forge a whole new chapter in the career of the legendary warrior.
The "Hit Man" opens fire
On March 17, 1997, after losing a steel cage rematch for the WWE Title – and after enduring months of interference from the likes of “Stone Cold" Steve Austin – the always cool and collected Bret "Hit Man" Hart finally reached his boiling point and let off verbal fire on the final Raw before WrestleMania 13.
In the wake of his unjust defeat, a highly agitated Hart would shove then-announcer Mr. McMahon to the canvas – the first time anyone had ever truly put their hands on WWE’s Chairman.
With the WWE Universe frozen in response to the rarely seen outburst, the disgusted Excellence of Execution proceeded to unleash an incisive tirade on the prevalent treachery and corruption of a WWE on the cusp of an attitudinal revolution.
While he would, inadvertently, initiate his own descent from electric pink beacon of respect and righteousness to villain, Hart’s action are credited by many as opening the floodgates in WWE for all-out lawlessness, the foundation of the dawning Attitude Era.
Beyond that, the frustration consuming the five-time WWE Champion would permanently alter his career as Hart was driven from WWE later that year. Ironically, Bret returned in 2010 to right the wrongs he first cited on this Raw in 1997, following up on his shove to McMahon with a gratifying Sharpshooter and one-on-one triumph at WrestleMania XXVI.
Punk’s pipebomb insurrection
Prior to the summer of 2011, CM Punk was already an established success in WWE – a three-time World Heavyweight Champion, two-time Money in the Bank Ladder Match winner, as well as Intercontinental, ECW and World Tag Team Champion. But it wasn’t until The Second City Saint chose to opening lambaste WWE’s top brass in his now-infamous Pipebomb on Monday Night Raw, that he set himself on the path to becoming the juggernaut he is today.
With one microphone tirade, The Straight Edge Superstar shattered the fourth wall, calling-out the McMahon Family, John Cena and the entire WWE establishment.
From that launching point, Punk went on to beat Cena for the WWE Championship at 2011’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view and leave the company with the title. He would only go higher from there, returning to unify the gold at SummerSlam – after a second WWE Title was established in his absence – and later, going on a 434-day reign as WWE Champion. And his new level of prominence all started when he openly defied the powers-that-be.