Microphone skills are just as important in the world of professional wrestling as actual in-ring talent. An excellent in-ring tactician will only go so far in the business, if he is not able to engage audiences during interview segments and while cutting promos inside of the ring, on a stage, behind the curtain or at press events. This is not unique to pro wrestling organizations such as World Wrestling Entertainment, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, Ring of Honor and other promotions. Mixed martial arts promotions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator have also realized the importance of performers making headlines via electric promos. Conor McGregor is not one of the biggest stars in the genre only because he has won fights, after all.
It should be pointed out this is not necessarily a list of the greatest pro wrestling promos in history. This, rather, is a look at different types of mind-blowing and memorable promos cut by legends of the industry and also by performers who made waves with their words. Some of these were “worked shoots” and completely planned portions of shows, some mixed portions of truth and also storyline, and others were legitimately genuine. All 15 examples offer reasons for why the WWE should seriously consider eliminating fully-scripted promos in favor of a system that provides talented speakers with platforms to get over on their own. It worked years and decades ago, and it would probably work for the WWE in 2017.
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15 Joey Styles: Shoot on WWE
When Joey Styles walked away from Jerry “The King” Lawler and from the Raw announce desk to “quit” the program, he subsequently cut one of the best promos of his wrestling career. He and the WWE were furthering a storyline that was all about rebooting the former Extreme Championship Wrestling brand that had been acquired by the WWE in the early 2000s.
There was probably more than a little truth in Styles’ words on that memorable evening, however, as he had more than a few grievances to share when speaking to Lawler, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and even to WWE fans. While Styles did draw some boos from the in-arena audience on that night, this promo allowed his on-air character to seamlessly make the jump from Raw to the ECW brand. Unfortunately for all involved, the experiment that was the ECW brand extension failed miserably, but it did lead to the birth of the current edition of NXT.
14 Daniel Bryan: Retirement Speech
This was no ordinary classic pro wrestling promo. It was a real goodbye to fans given by one of the most beloved babyfaces the WWE has featured in many years. Wrestling fans around the world were truly shocked and saddened to learn on February 2016 that Bryan Danielson, better known to WWE audiences as Daniel Bryan, had to immediately retire from in-ring action because of issues stemming from the many concussions he had suffered while wrestling around the world and underneath the WWE umbrella.
This was not a storyline, as Bryan learned he would never again be cleared to wrestle so long as his WWE contract remained valid and intact. Bryan, thus, went before a hometown audience and delivered what may be the greatest WWE retirement speech that will ever air on live television. While we would love to see Bryan make a return to the ring, we understand that it's not in his best interest.
13 Shawn Michaels: Montreal 2005
We are glad that "The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels defeated the demons that plagued him throughout the 1990s. Michaels has repeatedly credited his strong Christian beliefs for helping him get past such issues and for aiding him in making a return to in-ring action following a back injury that sidelined him for roughly four years.
With that said, Michaels reminded us all that he could still be a fantastic heel while feuding with Hulk Hogan in the summer of 2005. Michaels returned to Montreal, the home of the infamous “Montreal Screwjob,” during an edition of Raw that year and HBK infuriated fans by taunting them about that famous night in 1997 and even teased that Bret “The Hitman” Hart would return to get revenge on Michaels that very night. Promos such as this one remind us that Michaels could do it all inside of the ring and on the microphone, and HBK may very well be the greatest WWE Superstar in history.
12 The Rock: Returns in 2011
Here is an example of a wrestling promo that involved portions of storyline mixed with real emotions felt by the man speaking. The Rock became one of the biggest movie stars in the world after he walked away from the WWE to pursue an acting career and he returned to the WWE during an edition of Raw in February 2011.
It was during that promo when Rock called out John Cena, who had become the top face of the company after Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin parted ways with the WWE for different reasons. Rock and Cena had spoken out against each other via different forums before this legendary promo, and thus fans believed Rock viewed the leader of the CeNation as a "bowl of Fruity Pebbles.” This eventually led to a pair of WrestleMania matches between the two icons of the industry, but the promo also serves as a reminder that nobody in the WWE today can touch the Rock as it pertains to overall talent.
11 The Miz: Talking Smack
Passionate WWE fans loved this segment between The Miz and Daniel Bryan for a variety of reasons. For starters, it aired on Talking Smack, the WWE Network post-SmackDown program, and thus we believed it was less-scripted than what we see on WWE shows featured on cable television. It's also not difficult to imagine Miz and Daniel Bryan would have some harsh feelings toward each other. Miz had to prove, on multiple occasions, over the years that he was more than a reality television star who had a job in the WWE only because he appeared on MTV shows in the past. Bryan, meanwhile, wrestled all over the world before being given a legitimate shot in the WWE, and thus we can understand why he may view Miz as somebody who works a “soft” WWE style and gets by only because of his celebrity status.
Real, scripted or somewhere in-between, this promo was some of the best work we’ve seen from Miz since he was given a chance to carry the WWE Championship.
10 Paul Heyman: Shoot on Vince McMahon
The entire landscape of the pro wrestling industry had changed in the months leading up to this epic promo cut by former ECW owner Paul Heyman. Both ECW and World Championship Wrestling had closed their doors and been acquired by the WWE, and the WWE had squandered the “Invasion” storyline that should’ve made the company a boatload of cash and furthered the industry well beyond 2001.
On this night, Heyman entered the ring and confronted Vince McMahon regarding a variety of issues. Heyman correctly pointed out how McMahon had destroyed and swallowed smaller wrestling territories and Heyman also explained how McMahon “borrowed” ideas first featured on ECW television. This all played into the storyline airing on WWE programming at the time, but fans didn’t have to suspend disbelief while hearing Heyman’s words. McMahon is unquestionably the most successful wrestling promoter in the history of the North America, but he stepped on more than a few toes while getting to where he is today.
9 Dusty Rhodes: Hard Times
“The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes was not a classic babyface. He did not possess movie-star good looks, nor was he as skilled in the ring as wrestlers such as Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. One thing Rhodes could do was cut a promo as well as any other wrestler of his time and this, arguably, is the best example of Rhodes’ ability to draw fans and make money using only his words.
The “Hard Times” promo remains the most-famous of Rhodes’ legendary career, and it's one that is relevant and important to this very day. Rhodes comparing himself to blue-collar workers around the United States was nothing short of genius, as was Rhodes asking viewers watching at home to reach their hands out toward his. Everybody, heel or babyface, making his or her way through the WWE developmental system needs to spend hours studying Rhodes’ promos before picking a character.
8 Ric Flair: Rolex Wearing
The truth of the matter is that we could produce an entire piece of 15 mind-blowing and epic promos cut by “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair throughout his iconic wrestling career. Instead, we decided to give you the promo that lives on in the wrestling and sports communities decades after Flair spoke these famous words:
“It’s so hard for me to sit back here in this studio, looking at a guy out here, hollering my name!—When last year I spent more money, on spilled liquor, in bars from one side of this world to the other, than you made! You’re talking to the Rolex wearing, diamond ring wearing, kiss stealing, WOO! wheelin dealin’, limousine riding, jet flying son of a gun and I’m having a hard time holding these alligators down!”
It’s no wonder UFC personality Conor McGregor has taken parts of Flair’s gimmick. McGregor knows greatness when he sees it. Thanks for everything, Nature Boy.
7 Andy Kaufman Versus Jerry Lawler
The storyline feud between Hollywood personality Andy Kaufman and wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler continues to fascinate pockets of wrestling fans who weren’t even alive when this entire thing occurred because it’s so difficult to imagine it playing out today in a world of social media and when we all know pro wrestling is scripted.
Kaufman and Lawler were able to sell this feud because both perfectly played their parts,and also because they were able to perform on programs such as a late night talk show hosted by David Letterman. Both Kaufman and Lawler cut handfuls of amazing promos during this story, but the segment that will live on for years and decades to come is the one that occurred while Letterman interviewed the two. Kayfabe may now be a thing of the past, but fans wanted to believe, at the time, that Kaufman and Lawler really hated each other.
6 Vince McMahon: Bret Screwed Bret
So much happened before, during and after the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” that resulted in Shawn Michaels defeating Bret Hart for the WWE Championship at the 1997 Survivor Series that some may overlook the importance of this promo cut by Vince McMahon.
In the promo, McMahon explained why Hart had to drop the title to Michaels before parting ways with the WWE and becoming an active member of the WCW roster. The behind-the-scenes boss of the WWE also turned heel during this segment and the Mr. McMahon character was born with the words “Bret screwed Bret.” We cannot say, for sure, what would’ve happened had McMahon chosen to not deliver this interview, but we do know the Mr. McMahon character was vital in getting Steve Austin over as a defiant babyface who refused to play by McMahon’s rules. Yes, Austin was key to the WWE defeating WCW, but Austin may not have become as big a Superstar had he not feuded with McMahon.
5 Triple H: The Game is Born
The story of Triple H is one of the most fascinating in the history of North American pro wrestling. He was a mid-card act lucky enough to befriend, among others, Shawn Michaels, and that relationship ultimately resulted in Triple H becoming the leader of D-Generation-X. It was only after he split from that group and became “The Game,” largely because of this very promo, that Triple H went from being a mid-card act to one of the top heels of his generation.
Triple H’s raw emotion when speaking about how far he had come, to this point, makes this promo arguably the best that he ever cut. In a way, this promo also set into motion the sequence of events that resulted in Triple H becoming a champion, getting involved with Stephanie McMahon and evolving into the man who will one day legitimately run the WWE. Imagine thinking, at the time, the man cutting this promo would eventually become the next Vince McMahon.
4 Shane Douglas: Birth of ECW
Shane Douglas had to do more than cut a promo that established himself as a heel when he threw the National Wrestling Alliance belt down and replaced it with what he referred to as the ECW World Heavyweight Championship. Douglas, via his own words, ignited “the new flame of the sport of professional wrestling” when he unofficially announced the birth of what became Extreme Championship Wrestling.
An event that largely went ignored by casual wrestling fans around the United States when it occurred became a pivotal moment in the history of the industry because of what ECW became and due to what that promotion provided to both WCW and WWE. ECW was about more than hardcore matches and goofball stunts, and the argument could be made that the so-called “Monday Night Wars” would’ve gone much differently had Douglas botched this promo or not cut it in the first place.
3 Steve Austin: Austin 3:16
History tells us that Steve Austin became a mega-star not long after he delivered his famous “Austin 3:16” speech following his defeat of Jake “The Snake” Roberts in the final of the 1996 King of the Ring tournament. That is not entirely accurate. In fact, there were groups of parents and other individuals around the United States who were truly offended a pro wrestler would disrespect a verse straight out of the Bible while children watched.
This was uncharted territory for the WWE, and the reality of the situation is that the stunt could’ve blown up in the faces of all involved had Austin gone one step too far. Any possible backlash generated following Austin’s promo was eventually eclipsed by positive reactions to the character, and Austin 3:16 became one of the most famous sayings in WWE history. In fact, it is something that is still spoofed by wrestlers as of the fall of 2016.
2 CM Punk's Pipe Bomb
Perhaps the best part about the “Pipe Bomb” promo delivered by CM Punk is that we had little reason to expect it before Punk grabbed a microphone and took a seat at the top of the ramp during an edition of Raw. Sure, it was known via internet stories that Punk’s contract with the WWE was set to run out later that year, but wrestling fans could not have guessed, before this promo, that the WWE would attempt its own “Summer of Punk” storyline originally offered by Ring of Honor.
The WWE eventually messed the whole thing up in spite of itself, but that doesn’t take anything away from Punk’s masterful performance on this evening. It is the best promo Punk ever cut as a member of the WWE roster and this segment is a reason so many fans want to see Punk make a return to the WWE one day. Imagine what Punk would have to say if the WWE were to give him a live microphone in 2017. We can only dream, fellow wrestling fans.
1 Hulk Hogan Turns Heel
Say whatever you will about every other promo mentioned in this piece. Hulk Hogan turning heel and announcing the creation of the New World Order in the summer of 1996 has to be considered the most important promo in the history of North American pro wrestling. Hogan’s original arrival to WCW made positive headlines for the promotion, but the nWo changed things for the organization and for the wrestling business. Hogan turning heel gave WCW a bump in the ratings, as he and the nWo became must-see television every Monday night.
WCW went from being competition behind the WWE to the biggest wrestling company in the world for a period of time following the birth of the nWo, and this storyline eventually forced those running the WWE to make significant changes to programming in order to keep up with WCW. Wrestling companies are still searching for ways to recreate the magic of the original nWo story.
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