At Sunday’s WWE Payback pay-per-view, World Wrestling Entertainment pulled off the incredibly rare “double turn” in the World Heavyweight Title match between then-champion Dolph Ziggler and new champion Alberto Del Rio.
I’m assuming most VOW readers are well aware what a double turn is, but for the sake of it, I’ll quickly review what exactly a double turn is.
In its simplest sense — a double turn is a match in which the heel going into the match turns babyface at some point and the babyface turns heel. This is done either to take a pre-existing feud to another level or direction or it is spawned by a company’s recognition of overwhelming, or at the very least, notable fan support for the heel or heat on the babyface.
Why Del Rio?! WHY?!
Sunday’s double turn happened for few reasons. First off, Del Rio’s face turn and subsequent face run may be one of the worst in history. The turn was so miscalculated and lazy; it took a shower of Red, Green and White balloons falling from the rafters for most fans to recognize Del Rio was now a good guy. For those that don’t remember Del Rio “turned face” when he saved his manager Ricardo Rodriguez from an attack at the hands of 3MB (Drew McIntyre, Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal) at December’s TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs pay-per-view. Most fans thought this was merely an on-off turn, a way to save his manager for the night but not a full-fledged turn.
It became official on the January 8 edition of Smackdown when Del Rio defeated The Big Show for the World Heavyweight Championship. After months of being the aristocratic Mexican superstar, the announcers were suddenly (literally overnight) lauding Del Rio as a hero for the Latino segment of the WWE Universe.
After this title win, it was full… well… mild steam ahead for the face Del Rio. He started a failed feud with Zeb Colter and Jack Swagger over immigration issues that did not grab the audience’s attention in anyway. We have discussed at length in previous VOW podcasts why the feud didn’t work, the least of which was the WWE’s hesitance to make Colter and Swagger truly evil people. Instead, Colter and Swagger’s platform centered on illegal immigrants coming into America, something a ton of people obviously (that is sarcasm, btw) support.
The feud just didn’t work and at the same time, it was killing Del Rio’s character. He wasn’t working as a babyface.
On the flipside, Dolph Ziggler has gained tremendous steam in the past few years highlighted by a main event victory over John Cena at the aforementioned TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs pay-per-view. Long a favorite of the smarks and internet wrestling community, Ziggler had been received a smattering of face reactions in certain towns. This was especially evident in his World Heavyweight Title victory over Del Rio the night after WrestleMania. Ziggler finally cashing in his long-held Money in the Bank briefcase and in defeating Del Rio generated one of the largest crowd reactions of the year. Granted, this was a largely “smark” crowd due to it being the night after WrestleMania but regardless casual fans were starting to warm up to Ziggler.
Unfortunately, Ziggler’s title reign came to a screeching halt at the May 7 SmackDown taping as he was diagnosed with a severe concussion and subsequently was taken off television for a month.
Ziggler’s concussion came at the wrong (or perhaps the perfect time for his well-being) in that the WWE had made a substantial gift to Boston’s Sports Legacy Institute in support of their continued cancer research. The Sports Legacy Institution is a non-profit with a mission to advance treatment and prevention of the effects of concussions in athletes. The SLI is of particular interest to the WWE as co-founder Chris Nowinski wrestled in the WWE for a number of years before a concussion in 2003 fueled his interest in the prevention and treatment.
His return match, Sunday’s Payback, saw Ziggler favoring his head, which in my opinion was a great touch and showed the seriousness of concussions in professional wrestling, a long way from the days of relentless and numerous unprotected chair shots. Regardless, Del Rio didn’t show sympathy. He continued to work on Ziggler’s head with malice. One spot saw a WWE doctor instructing Ziggler to please stop wrestling. Rodriguez screamed to Del Rio “He’s FINE!” and Del Rio continued the assault. It was paint by numbers double turn. Eventually, Del Rio was victorious after a sidekick to the head and followed the match up by returning to the ring to cut a promo about the fans booing him.
It was perfect and the double turn was complete — Ziggler is officially the sympathetic babyface and Del Rio the ruthless, opportunist heel. The essence of the double turn.
The rarest angle in the sport?
One unique aspect of the double turn is its extreme rarity. WWE and professional wrestling companies alike have a core rotation of angles and storylines that are dusted off, repeated or repurposed all the time. Most every angle can be traced back to something done only a few years ago, it’s only natural. The one angle that seems to have been protected and only used in the rarest of times is the double turn.
The making of a star
The most famous of which is the long revered double turn between Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13. Strangely enough, this turn happened in the same arena as Sunday’s Del Rio/Ziggler turn: Rosemont, IL’s Allstate Arena – then the Rosemont Horizon. I don’t have to give you much background into this feud and what led up to the double turn as it’s been burned into the mind of any WWE fan.
The common narrative is that Austin’s career catapulted to the next level because of his King of the Ring 1996 victory and “Austin 3:16” promo afterwards. That’s not entirely the case, while it showed WWE’s faith in Austin, he followed up that historic win with a DNP at the next month’s In Your House and an opening match with the then-9,000 lb Yokozuna at SummerSlam 1996.
No, Austin’s career went to the next level in November of 1996, when he called out the soon-to-return Bret Hart. The Excellence of Execution had taken time off following his WrestleMania XII title loss to Shawn Michaels. Austin, still a relative midcarder, began calling out the Hitman and openly challenging him to a match when he returned. Their back and forth culminated in a number one contender’s match Survivor Series 1996 and given the location of the event (New York City’s Madison Square Garden – another haven of smark-dom), the crowd’s relatively warm reaction to Austin foreshadowed the eventual double turn.
Hart also came back with a new edge, gone was the smiley happy go-lucky Hart. In was the bitter, edgy Hart who felt he was screwed out of the WWE Championship at WrestleMania and was on the warpath to get his title back. After their Survivor Series match, Hart and Austin were a part of In Your House 13: Final Four’s main event for the recently vacated (one of Shawn Michaels’ 15 title vacations) WWETitle. Austin was the first eliminated and Hart went on to win his fourth WWE Title.
Hart, however, lost the title to Sycho Sid on the following night’s Raw is War setting the stage for their WrestleMania 13 rematch — a submission match with UFC’s Ken Shamrock as the guest referee.
I don’t need to tell you how awesome this match was, you know. However, the double turn occurred when Austin, already bleeding profusely from his face, refused to tap out when Hart locked him in his patented Sharpshooter. Austin eventually passed out from the blood loss. After the bell had already ringed, Hart continued his assault on the laid-out Austin as the crowd began relentlessly booing the long-time babyface. Hart eventually had a shoving match with the guest referee Shamrock before eventually retreating the back and clearly playing heel to the audience. Austin eventually got up on his own power and refused any assistance on his way back to the locker room.
The double turn was completed. This turn became the standard-bearer for double turns and it’s hard to argue with its effectiveness. Austin obviously went on to become a mega superstar as a babyface, bringing the WWE to new heights while Hart had a fantastic run in 1997 as a heel before leaving the WWE in the wake of the Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997.
Here comes the Ax…
A famed double turn of yesteryear included the Powers of Pain and Demolition at Survivor Series 1988. The match, a 20-man Survivor Series –elimination style match, saw Demolition’s manager Mr. Fuji flip to the Powers of Pain in turn, making them the heels and the ditched Demolition the babyfaces.
The most interesting part of this turn is how it happened. It wasn’t hinted throughout the match and was the directly a result of how the match played out.
After seeing the chances of his team fading, Fuji simply turned on his team. Demolition Smash was being manhandled by the Power of Pain’s Barbarian, which led to Fuji climbing up to the apron, in turn distracting Smash. Fuji followed by opening the rope causing Smash to tumble to the floor. Initially, this just looked like a heel manager costing his team the match through attempted but failed nefarious methods but oh no, it was much more.
Smash was eliminated, thus eliminating Demolition from 10-team Survivor Series contest. Demolition Ax confronted Fuji after the count out; eventually Ax turned his back and got a Fuji cane shot to the back. The Demolition collective responded by attacking Fuji including a body slam onto the floor.
Demolition exited the ring and in very odd fashion The Powers of Pain (initially the babyface’s) casually walked over to the downed Fuji, picked him up and brought him to their corner — the double turn was completed.
This is the grandfather of double turns and it shows. The turn was awkward, unexplained and slightly confusing. Regardless it deserves mention and merit because it was one of the first mainstream double turns, certainly the first on a WWE pay-per-view.
There’s a chance this turn would’ve been significantly more potent if there was a better manager in the turn role (Bobby Heenan or Jimmy Hart) or better performers (unless of course Warlord is your idea of a great worker). Mr. Fuji and The Powers of Pain had the subtly of a hand grenade and when it came time for him to “switch sides” they literally walked over, picked him up and brought them to his side. They didn’t help when he was being attacked, but, hey, who’s counting?
We’ll be back with Part 2 in a few days covering a few others you may have forgotten including a First Blood Match that ended with a pinfall.
.@voiceswrestling Is there a candidate for best double turn that even comes close to Austin-Hart?
— Jason Mann (@wrestlespective) June 21, 2013