The Most Unexpected Heel Turns In AEW

A heel turn can be one of the most effective ways to shake up any wrestling promotion, from the ones filling up bingo halls to those packing arenas and stadiums. They can shock fans, but they also can excite fans. A heel turn can be telegraphed for weeks, months, or even come out of nowhere. They can add a new dimension to characters that have stagnated or potentially turn popular wrestlers into megastars. Most importantly, if done right, a heel turn can lead to fans wanting to continue to watch a given promotion just to see what happens next. After all, that is the goal for any promotion in the first place.

AEW was officially unveiled on January 1, 2019. Even in its short existence, the promotion has provided for some interesting heel turns on its pay-per-view events and its weekly programming. From the main event scene to the undercard and everywhere in between, here are 14 of AEW's most unexpected heel turns.

Christian Cage and Luchasaurus

Christian Cage played mentor to the Jurassic Express for nearly a year, but a particularly special connection was portrayed between Cage and "Jungle Boy" Jack Perry. The relationship dated back to 2021's Double or Nothing which saw Perry eliminate Cage in the Casino Battle Royale. While it seemed as if the relationship was a positive one, it was all part of a scheme by Captain Charisma to get back at Perry for eliminating him. This whole situation would reach its crescendo on the special "Road Rager" edition of "Dynamite" in June 2022. After Jurassic Express dropped the AEW World Tag Team Championship to the Young Bucks, Cage pulled Perry back into the ring and delivered a Killswitch followed by a Con-Chair-To. 

Weeks after the attack, Luchasaurus turned on his longtime tag partner out of nowhere and aligned with Cage. However, the wrestling dinosaur with a Master's degree briefly sided back with Perry in the lead-up to All Out, but then turned again at the PPV. Perry was set to face off against Cage at All Out, but Luchasaurus attacked Perry from behind as he was making his way to the ring and choke-slammed him off the entrance stage.

Serena Deeb

When Serena Deeb arrived at AEW, she quickly established a much-needed veteran presence on the women's roster that was undoubtedly tough, but fair in the ring. That all changed in October 2021 in a match against Hikaru Shida on "Dynamite." The match was being billed as potentially Shida's 50th win in AEW, making her the first woman to accomplish such a feat in the promotion. There was even a small, elegant trophy made for the occasion on a pedestal near ringside.

As the bout progressed, Deeb and Shida didn't hold anything back, and there were multiple, tense near falls, However, things came to a vicious close when Deeb raked the eyes of Shida, which was very surprising given the ring general/leader persona she had long presented. She repeatedly slammed Shida's left knee into the mat before applying the Serenity Lock and making Shida tap out. Deeb then grabbed the trophy from the pedestal at ringside and clocked Shida in the head, officially turning heel.

Will Hobbs

"Powerhouse" Hobbs had two notable heel turns during his time in AEW. The first came when he joined Team Taz. The faction had been trying to recruit Hobbs for weeks, despite him being presented as an up-and-coming strongman face. He officially committed to them on a November 2020 episode of "Dynamite." Brian Cage and Ricky Starks had a tag team match between Darby Allin and Cody. Cage and Starks were victorious but continued attacking Allin and Cody after the win. Hobbs ran down to the ring with a chair and gave the impression he was going to defend Allin and Cody, but then he aligned with Team Taz and hit Cody with the FTW belt.

Hobbs later stunned fans in July 2022 when he turned on Ricky Starks out of nowhere after he dropped the FTW belt to Hook. Starks was being interviewed by Tony Schiavone in the ring when Hobbs suddenly attacked his Team Taz stablemate. Shortly after the attack, Taz announced Team Taz was no more.

Anna Jay/Anna J.A.S.

Anna Jay also had two notable heel turns. The first came in June 2020 on "Dynamite." Jay was facing off against Abadon, who squashed the young wrestler. While still lying on the mat following the loss, the Dark Order emerged with Mr. Brodie Lee. Dark Order members entered the ring, helped Jay to her feet, exited the ring and walked her over to Lee who extended his hand to her.

Just over two years later, Jay surprisingly turned heel again and joined another faction: The Jericho Appreciation Society (J.A.S.). It happened during the "Barbed Wire Everywhere Match" between Chris Jericho and Eddie Kingston at the "Fyter Fest" edition of "Dynamite" in July 2022. A number of J.A.S. members were locked in a shark cage suspended near the ring to prevent them from interfering. Ruby Soho was put in charge of the controls of the shark cage. J.A.S. member Tay Conti, who Jay partnered with many times in tag team bouts, attacked Soho. This led to Jay to run down to ringside to presumably defend Soho, since she had been a face with the Dark Order, who had abandoned their heel ways shortly after the death of Mr. Brodie Lee. Instead, Jay delivered a punch to Soho, thus, turning her heel and becoming the newest J.A.S. member. Shortly thereafter, she changed her ring name to Anna J.A.S.

Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D.

Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D. was the first woman to sign with AEW back in 2019. Since she also took part in the historic All In PPV in September 2018, her signing to the promotion was a signal to many that Baker would be one of the focal points of the women's division. There was a bit of a problem, though, because a "face" Baker just wasn't getting over with the AEW fans. It was clear something needed to change.

Baker turned heel in January 2020 on "Dynamite," which took place on "Chris Jericho's Rock 'N' Wrestling Rager at Sea." Following a win against Priscilla Kelly, Tony Schiavone interviewed Baker, who then verbally attacked the commentator for the brief time he worked at Starbucks. After that, Baker really leaned into her new heel persona and finally got over with fans, becoming not just a centerpiece of the women's division, but all of AEW. 

Baker later said on a March 2021 episode of "The Sessions with Renee Paquette" about turning heel, "That was all Kenny [Omega]'s idea to turn me heel. I was scared but, of course, I was going to do it. I'm not going to say no, but I was nervous. I never had been a heel before. I didn't know anything about heat. That's the best thing that ever happened to me, honestly."

Kenny Omega

Kenny Omega's heel turn was the capper on an already-eventful night that also saw the debut of Sting. It was a heel turn somewhat telegraphed thanks to Omega's on-screen partnership with Don Callis, who was still working for Impact at the time, but it was still surprising given his EVP status with AEW. During the "Winter is Coming" special on "Dynamite" in December 2020, the main event featured Omega challenging Jon Moxley for the AEW World Championship. As expected, the match was a stiff affair.

Toward the end of the match, Moxley delivered a Paradigm Shift to Omega into some heating lamps near ringside. This caused medical personnel to tend to Omega and for Callis to emerge from backstage to check on him. Moxley dragged Omega back into the ring, which led to Callis jumping up on the ramp connected to the ring apron with a microphone in hand. Moxley punched Callis to the ground causing the microphone to drop inside the ring. Omega picked the mic up and knocked Moxley out with it and busting him open. Four V-Triggers and a One-Winged Angel later, and Omega is the new champion.

Omega and Callis then ran out of Daily's Place with Callis teasing Omega's appearance on the next episode of Impact Wrestling, which ended up being the start of Omega's "Belt Collector" era. Omega's heel turn was confirmed on the next episode of Being the Elite, which was aptly titled "Heel Turn."

The Young Bucks

Following Omega's heel turn, The Young Bucks followed suit, but it would take months for it to happen. It was almost to the point where it felt like it would never happen and would lead to some sort of feud with Omega. In the time leading up to their heel turn, Omega's appearances on Impact Wrestling led to him teaming back up with "The Good Brothers" Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows and forming The Super Elite.

Things finally culminated on an April 2021 episode of "Dynamite." The Super Elite faced off in a six-man tag against The Young Bucks and Jon Moxley. Both Matt and Nick Jackson delivered super kicks to a frustrated Moxley during the match when the Bucks appeared torn on hitting Omega with a BTE-Trigger. "The Good Brothers" dragged Omega on top of Moxley for the pin and the win. Gallows and Anderson then held a battered Moxley up, and the Bucks hit him with another set of super kicks. "Dynamite" came to a close with the Bucks, Omega, Gallows, Anderson, and Don Callis hugging "Curtain Call" style.

Adam Cole

Adam Cole didn't waste any time turning heel out the gate during his debut at 2021's All Out. Following the main event, which saw Kenny Omega defeat Christian Cage and retain the AEW World Championship, there was a brawl between The Super Elite and Jurassic Express, but Jurassic Express and Cage were easily beat down. Cole made his surprise debut after Omega said the only people that ever have a chance to beat him for the title were "either not here [in AEW], already retired or they are already dead." (The "already dead" remark was a call back to Cole being killed off Being The Elite in May 2017 before he signed with WWE.) However, instead of going after Omega, Cole super kicked "Jungle Boy" Jack Perry and then embraced the Young Bucks.

His second heel turn came during an August 2022 episode of "Dynamite." At this point, Cole, the Young Bucks and reDRagon (Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish) had formed The Undisputed Elite. As a stable, there was always a bit of tension between the Bucks and reDRagon seemingly over which tag team Cole preferred. AEW was about to hold the inaugural tournament that would crown the first AEW World Trios Championship, and there was confusion on who Cole would align with for the tournament. Due to injury, Cole, O'Reilly and Fish couldn't compete, but that didn't stop the three of them from formally aligning and turning on the Bucks, attacking them to try and prevent them from competing, too.

Matt Hardy

Matt Hardy's heel turn was one that happened suddenly after he returned from injury. The veteran wrestler suffered a nasty fall where his head hit the concrete in the concourse of Daily's Place during his "Broken Rules" match against Sammy Guevara at 2020's All Out. Upon his return, Hardy adopted the "Big Money" persona, without it really being teased at all, and then began managing Private Party, who were still a face tag team.

While managing Private Party, Hardy would take opportunities to cheat during matches involving Private Party and tip the match in their favor. Private Party seemed uneasy about Hardy taking liberties during their matches for their benefit, but the tag team cemented Hardy's heel turn by surprisingly turning heel themselves during a January 2021 episode of "Dynamite" in a match against Matt Sydal and Top Flight. This led to the formation of the Hardy Family Office faction, which later recruited The Hybrid 2 and The Butcher and The Blade, as well as their valet, The Bunny.

Bryan Danielson

Bryan Danielson's heel turn was another that happened suddenly after only being in AEW for just over two months, but it seemingly only lasted a matter of weeks. The heel turn happened on the episode of "Dynamite" following 2021's Full Gear, which saw "Hangman" Adam Page defeat Kenny Omega to become the AEW World Champion. Page's championship celebration on "Dynamite" with the Dark Order was interrupted by Danielson, who defeated Miro at Full Gear in the final of the AEW World Championship Eliminator Tournament, earning him a future shot at the AEW World Championship.

Danielson congratulated Page on his win but expressed he was "surprised and a little disappointed" that he wasn't going to be challenging Omega for the title. He then criticized Page for having a celebration on "Dynamite" in the first place mentioning how when he won the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX, he defended that title the next night on "Monday Night Raw." They seemed like very uncharacteristic comments coming from a wrestler who was presented as one of AEW's top faces.

A month later, Danielson and Page faced off at the special "Winter is Coming" episode of "Dynamite" in a 60-minute time limit draw that became an instant five-star classic. Afterwards, Danielson settled into a "tweener" persona that he's had ever since.

Jonathan Gresham

Jonathan Gresham's heel turn came with a unique circumstance due to Tony Khan's purchase of Ring of Honor (ROH) in March 2022 and some alleged backstage drama.

In the early days of the pandemic, ROH was on hiatus. The promotion returned in August 2020. Once ROH returned, Gresham won a tournament to become the new ROH Pure Champion, a title that had been reactivated after a 14-year absence. He dropped the title to Josh Woods at Death Before Dishonor XVIII in September 2021. However, Gresham went on to win the ROH World Championship that December and was a face champion when Khan purchased ROH.

With the ROH purchase, a variety of talent appeared on AEW programming, including Gresham. On the July 8 edition of "Rampage," Gresham turned on tag partner Lee Moriarty during a match against The Gates of Agony. He then joined the new Tully Blanchard Enterprises stable, which included The Gates of Agony as members. Now a heel and still ROH World Champion, Gresham reportedly asked Khan for his release before the ROH Death Before Dishonor PPV where he was set to face Claudio Castagnoli in a ROH World Championship match. Castagnoli ended up winning that match and becoming the new champion. Reports surfaced later stating Gresham got very heated backstage with Khan after the match stemming from his frustration with the creative direction of his character and the lack of communication he had with Khan. Gresham hasn't been seen on AEW programming since.

Sonny Kiss

Sonny Kiss's heel turn was sudden and shocking, especially since she had been a face ever since she signed with AEW during the early days of the promotion.  After a nearly two-year absence from AEW television, Kiss appeared on the August 2022 "Quake By the Lake" edition of "Rampage." She faced Parker Boudreaux from the TrustBusters stable but lost in a very quick squash match.

In the main event, TrustBusters member Ari Daivari faced Orange Cassidy. At ringside were the Best Friends in Cassidy's corner, while Boudreaux and Slim J were in Daivari's corner. Cassidy won the bout, but Slim J attacked him after the win. Best Friends attacked Slim J and threw him out of the ring. This led to Boudreaux taking out the Best Friends. Cassidy came to and confronted Boudreaux. Kiss then ran to the ring and appeared to be there to provide some support against Boudreaux. However, the "Concrete Rose" delivered a low blow on Cassidy, thus, confirming her alignment with the TrustBusters and surprising both commentary and those in attendance.

Red Velvet

Red Velvet had long been a face in AEW. She was a solid face, which made her heel turn raise some eyebrows, but her heel turn sort of came out of necessity. The wrestler touched on it on a June 2022 appearance on "Fightful Wrestling Podcast's Grapsody Interviews." She said, "It took a turn when I got booed when I was going against Willow [Nightingale]. That was the perfect time to pull the trigger. It wasn't the first time I had gotten booed. It was, if I can count correctly, the third time I had been booed. The fans are honest, so you can't be upset with that. It started off in Pittsburgh against Britt [Baker], it was bound to happen. Then it went on to Chicago with Skye Blue and then the final strike was against Willow. We pulled the trigger there and Tony [Khan] agreed that he thought it was time to go heel."

After turning heel, Red Velvet soon joined Jade Cargill's Baddie Section. She said that "It's been great. I love being a Baddie. It's good to be bad."

The Gunn Club

The Gunn Club has been predominantly presented as a goofy family faction. In spite of this, they somehow had two different heel turns. The first happened just before 2021's All Out. On the September 1 episode of "Dynamite" leading into the PPV, QT Marshall called out Paul Wight in the lead up to their All Out match. Marshall was flanked by the Factory, who immediately attacked Wight once he entered the ring. While Wight was able to handle the Factory on his own, The Gunn Club ran to the ring to help even the odds. Marshall tried to enter the ring with a chair, but Billy Gunn ripped the chair from him. He then struck Wight from behind with the chair and delivered a second chair shot to Wight's head.

The following year in July 2022 after forming a partnership with The Acclaimed, The Gunn Club turned on Max Caster and Anthony Bowens on "Dynamite" after a match with Ruffin It and Fuego Del Sol. In August 2022, Austin and Colton Gunn turned on their father, Billy, joining Stokley Hathaway's stable, The Firm, following a squash against the Varsity Blondes on "Dynamite." While being pummeled by his own sons, The Acclaimed came to Billy Gunn's rescue. After chasing away Austin and Colton, Bowens got on the mic and yelled, "Scissor me, Daddy Ass!" Billy obliged and joined up again with The Acclaimed.

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