MY HOMELESS COLUMN
The Screwing-Up of the Turn
(With apologies to Henry James)
Oh, mistakes made by the WWF hierarchy, let us count the ways. Actually, let's not and say we did. It's too depressing. However, there is one mistake that is so mind-baffling imponderable that it must be discussed. I refer to the Kurt Angle heel turn.
On a logistical level, it sort of makes sense. By the end of the month, you'd have three Uber-faces (Rock, Angle and the returning HHH) and one Uber-heel (Austin). With Angle now switching sides, it's a nice happy two apiece for each dressing room.
Other than that, it's just dopey. Were they not happy with the reaction Angle was getting in being the All-American hero, clad in his nationalistic/patriotic uniform in this post-attack country? Is it Angle's fault that he is booked as carbon copy Stone Cold one minute and a kid's hat-wearing nerd the other? But, as Ric Flair and others can tell you, the burden is heavy that wears the title belt. Ratings go down, attendance goes down and who gets blamed - the man with the gold.
So, will making Angle a heel again help things? No. Why? Because heel turns (and face turns too) aren't worth the paper that Vince Russo's scripts were written on. The more someone gets turned, the less the fans want to care about them, assuming they cared at all in the first place. You'll find this explanation in the mythical Encyclopedia of Pro Wrestling under the names Pfohl, Larry and Windham, Barry.
But, rather than gripe any more about how bad things are now, let's instead peer into the history books and take a look at some times when turns really did mean something. We present to you now the Top Ten Greatest Turns in Modern Wrestling History*. (* denotes that this list only 25 years or so. And it only includes events from the US. I couldn't think of any good Japanese turns (except Akira Maeda, but that was a shoot) and my Lucha history is unfortunately very shoddy (the only example I could think of was Eddy Guerrero's turn on Santo and joining Los Gringos Locos).
10. Clash of the Champions 9 - New York Knockout - After having a falling-out with the Midnight Express, Jim Cornette ends up managing the Dynamic Dudes. The two teams meet at the Clash and, while pretending to help Shane Douglas, he waffles the future Dean with a blast I dubbed "the Tennis Racket Shot Heard Around the World."
9. My favorite swerve/fake turn of all time. Eddie Gilbert suckers Bill Watts into the ring, claiming he will no longer manage Korsita Korchenko. It is all a trap, as Gilbert, Korchenko and the Koloffs brutalize Watts in the ring, burying him under a Russian flag. (Kids, get your parents to explain the Cold War during the Reagan administration to you.)
8. Paul Orndorff. Hulk Hogan. The phone call. It was a turn we all saw coming and we waited with baited breath to see when it would finally come. And when it did, it did humongous box office. See, when turns are done right, they can be profitable, both financially and aesthetically.
7. Clash 10 - the Horseman turn on Sting. The Horsemen weren't meant to be faces and they throw out Mr. Bleach Blonde Beach Bum. The angle would have been even better, had Sting not later in the show torn up his knee, delaying the Stinger's mega-push until the Bash months afterward.
6. The rare double turn. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin. Wrestlemania 13. A great match that managed to turn the heel (Austin) face and vice versa.
5. This will seem odd, after the rant in the column, but my number five picks involves both Lex Luger and Barry Windham. JJ Dillon plays Iago to Windham's Othello, whispering in his ear for weeks about Luger's dishonesty. Finally, BW turns on Luger and casts his lot with the Horsemen, helping Tully and Arn regain the tag team straps. The hundreds of turns the two would do later in their careers, against each other or someone else, doesn't diminish the greatness of this angle. Now, Dusty Rhodes' involvement does diminish it a little, but that's Dusty for you.
4. The Barber Shop. The break-up of the Rockers. The ascension of Shawn Michaels to superstar status. The phrase "plate-glass window" enters the wrestling lexicon.
3. I can't believe it. Two Hogan entries on the list. But you can't ignore the N.W.O. and the way it changed the business and revitalized the career of "Hollywoodland" Hogan. Too bad Nash and Hall were involved.
2. For this list, the granddaddy of all turns and another of the archetypes -- "teacher versus student." IN this case, it's Bruno Sammartino and the Human Rain Delay, Larry Zybszko. How big was this angle? They sold out Shea Stadium for a huge grudge match in a cage. On the undercard, a little thing called Hogan vs. Andre.
1. Lots have been written about this match in recent months, thanks to the death of one of the main participants. Dallas, Texas. Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich. Guarding the cage door: Terry "Bamm Bamm" Gordy. Boom! Gordy slams the door on Kerry and the hotter-than-hot Von Erich/Freedbird feud is born.
Honorable Mention: the Road Warriors turn on Dusty (spike to the eye motif), Nikita Koloff turns face (after Magnum TA's car accident), Ric Flair turns on Dusty in the genesis of the Horsemen, Ron Bass turns on Barry Windham in Florida and puts a saddle on BW's back and rides him around the ring, Terry Funk jumps Flair after the Nature Boy wins the title from Rick Steamboat and piledrives him through a table, the Rock and Vince McMahon reenact the Montreal finish at Survivor Series 1998.
Note to the WWF writing team: the less turns you make, the more effective they will be. And two wrong's don't make a right, but three rights make a left.