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A Mark’s Eye View: The night the Killer Bees turned heel

If a tag team turns heel and a camera doesn’t capture it, did it actually happen?

A Mark’s Eye View is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling. 

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly wrestling podcast, PTW!

Heel and face turns are an accepted part of professional wrestling. The practice goes back decades — sometimes, men like Paul Orndorff, Lex Luger, and the Big Show switch so often it becomes a running joke. Still, fans except these changes. So much so, that three out of Hulk Hogan‘s four partners for the inaugural Survivor Series had been opponents in previous years.

On the other side of the coin, there are the wrestlers who never turned in their entire career. Ricky Steamboat is the most famous. Kerry Von Erich also gets mentioned a lot. (To be fair, Kerry cut a number of heel promos in Florida where brother David was most definitely a bad guy.) The Killer Bees are often put on that list as well — the WWF mainstays never turned their backs on the fans.

Until the one night they did.

Their heel turn is one of the most mysterious in wrestling history. A part of this is due to it happening in the 1980s. During a time where there weren’t cameras at every event, it was possible for promotions to try different things at house shows few fans would ever see. This led to odd matchups and finishes that turned into urban legend.

The Killer Bees

This particular event is different, though — many fans remember exact details. The incident happened at the Spectrum in Philadelphia during a lumberjack match between Hulk Hogan and hated rival Ted DiBiase. The Killer Bees came out wearing their masks and cheered Hogan on in the early parts of the match. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary.

Later in the match, the Hulkster was thrown to the side of the ring where all the faces were. At first, the Bees went over to help Hogan. It was all a ruse, however, and the two proceeded to beat him down. Hogan managed to fight the duo off and went on to win the match.

Afterwards, the Bees attacked him yet again. If it wasn’t clear before that the once-beloved team had a change of attitude, it was now. Once again, Hulk was too much for the team. He even unmasked one of them, revealing…another mask.

A Mark's Eye View: The night the Killer Bees turned heel

Commentators speculated whether the two had been bought off by The Million Dollar Man. It seemed like the start of a heel run for a tag team who had seemed to wear out their welcome. It worked for The Fabulous Rougeaus, after all.

For some reason, nothing ever came of it. The two would soon be broken up and were scheduled to be on different teams at Survivor Series. Brian Blair ended up no-showing the event, and Jim Brunzell was back to wearing his tie dyed High Flyers gear. It’s one of wrestling’s greatest what ifs.

Would a heel Killer Bees have been successful in the WWF? The masked switcheroo gimmick was certainly heelish, but it also had a short shelf life. Blair and Brunzell were great workers, but they lacked edge. They probably would have remained lower mid card jobbers.

A Mark's Eye View: The night the Killer Bees turned heel

A bigger question is why. At this point (no one seems to know exactly when it happened, but early 1988 seems the best bet), fans barely cared about the Bees, and a heel turn would likely not have changed that. It seems like it was one of those house show things that was done just because.

The Killer Bees are one of the most recognizable teams of the 1980s. As the sport became more outlandish, the two were left behind. A mask gimmick did little to make fans pay attention to them. As it turns out, even a heel turn against the most popular wrestler in the entire world is little more than a footnote.

Next week: The most pretentious wrestler ever!

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