In wrestling, the role of a heel is fundamental for the success of the show. The bad guy must be hated, he must become public enemy number one and push people to cheer on the good guy.
Just as much of the audience is there to see them get defeated and humiliated as are there to see their heroes. When this happens, in the middle of the ring with spotlights on, you have the magic of wrestling.
There are many types of heels: the supervillain, the arrogant one, the coward, the cheater, the unstoppable monster heel, the “cool” heel.
Today we are going to look back at some of those great heels from long ago. In no particular order, this is
The 10 best wrestling heels in the early 80s.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper
The irascible Scotsman, ready to use any impropriety in order to win.
Microphone phenomenon and excellent brawler in the ring, he was the nemesis of Hulk Hogan during the period of the “Rock’N Wrestling Connection,” recording very high ratings in his battles against Hulk Hogan.
He also participated in the first main event of Wrestlemania and in a match boxing against Mr. T the following year.
The “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
The main heel of the NWA, the historical rival of the WWF.
Fantastic athlete in the ring, charismatic and phenomenal on the mic, Ric monopolized the NWA main event of the 80s as world champion, occasionally losing his belt, but regaining it almost immediately.
The character of the rich womanizer was perfectly the opposite of the common man, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and the two feuded for years.
Then of course there was the legendary trilogy of matches with Ricky Steamboat in 1989, which help get Flair over with the crowds.
The Iron Sheik
The Iron Sheik was one of the main heels of the early 80s. Really born in Iran, he was an Olympic athlete capable of dominating anyone with his Greco-Roman fighting grips.
He managed to defeat Bob Backlund in 1983, becoming a WWF champion and losing the title on January 23, 1984, in Madison Square Garden against Hulk Hogan on the date that kicks off the Hulkamania.
In 1987 he was stopped by the police together with his arch-enemy in the ring Jim Duggan in possession of drugs. Wrestling detractors used this to communicate to viewers that WWF wrestlers played characters and didn’t really hate each other. The scandal marks the end of his career at high levels.
The communist who demanded that all the Americans remain silent while he sang the Russian anthem.
For years, he played a parody of communism, challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF title and being defeated in a short time.
His best run was when he partnered up with the Iron Sheik, becoming Tag-Team champions, There is no tag team in history that got more heat than these two.
As heel as Volkoff was, there was that one time he turned face to by becoming a defector. Of course who better to feud with but the Iraqi sympathizer, Sgt Slaughter. Who writes this stuff, lol.
Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
Born in 1951 in Seattle, Washington, Jonathan Anthony Wisniski is a professional we know better as Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.
Greg dropped out of college to become a professional wrestler. He made his debut in 1970. Excellent in the ring and on the mic, he knew how to sell.
While he had a short run as a face, Greg was a career heel. He held numerous WWF titles, including the United States Championship, Tag Team Championship, and Intercontinental championship.
Greg, the Hammer Valentine joined other legends into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
“Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff
Paul Parlette Orndorff became a popular figure in the world of professional wrestling in the early 80s. With his “Wonderful” physique, excellent in-ring work, and matching mic work, he was easy to hate.
During the mid-80s, he rose to fame, mainly because he feuded with the legendary Hulk Hogan. He left the WWF in 1988 and joined the WCW, World Championship Wrestling, and after his retirement, Orndorff started working as a professional trainer.
Orndorff was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. However, after going through a series of treatments, he was cancer-free by the end of the year.
Don Muraco was a classic era wrestler that made a name for himself in the WWF from 1981 to 1988.
During his stay in WWF, Muraco won the Intercontinental Championship two times. He also won the very first King of the Ring tournament in 1985.
With his size and skill, it is surprising he didn’t make it farther. Perhaps if he stayed heel instead of the disastrous face attempt in 1987 he could have continued the momentum.
The WWE Hall of Fame inducted Muraco into the Class of 2004. He is now retired at his residence in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Big John Studd
John William Minton was one of the most reputed wrestlers in the world during the 70s and early 80s.
Big, Tall, and menacing. At 6 foot 10, it was easy to put him in as an obstacle for anyone they wanted to put over. To me, he was just as much a “giant” as Andre was.
Apart from wrestling, Studd was also a very talented actor. He did a lot of successful films including, the Protector, Double Agent, Harley Davidson, and the Marlboro man. He also did some television shows, including Beauty and the Beast, Hunter, and The A-Team.
Cowboy Bob Orton
Following the footsteps of his father Bob Orton Sr., Cowboy Bob Orton Jr., became a professional wrestler. Another classic-era veteran, Orton spent the 80s bouncing back and forward between WWF and NWA.
What I remember the most is the cast he would use to bash just about anybody who got in his way. This was not even an angle as he legit broke his arm fighting against Jimmy Snuka. It seems like it was broken for years though. I guess smashing it across others’ heads prolongs healing.
He was one of the first wrestlers to use the Superplex as a finishing move and won numerous titles at both the NWA and WWF.
Apart from the popular name Sgt Slaughter, his other titles include Bob slaughter, the Executioner, and Commissioner Slaughter.
It’s hard to think of the pro-American Hall of Famer as a heel, but for most of the 80s, that’s what he was. Accompanied by the Grand Wizard he mostly feuded back and forward with Backlund over a few runs in the WWF.
As a pro wrestler, Sgt Slaughter worked for both NWA and WWF. During his prime days, he achieved a lot of success including the WWF heavyweight championship.
Of course, most remember his career after he turned face to feud with the Sheik, but if you are old enough, Slaughter was one of the most hated wrestling heels in the early 80s
Did you have any wrestlers that you loved to hate in the early 80s? Let us know in the comments.