Since changing their television format during the introduction of the Attitude Era, WWE has had an extremely well produced visual presentation. Seemingly overnight, wrestling shows evolved from a single camera set, to a mega production with endless vantage points. Besides the added immersion in the product, wrestlers themselves benefitted by being portrayed on television more as rock stars than athletes.
The addition of cameras and mics allowed WWE to cut together media packages, which truly transitioned the WWE from a sport, into a sports entertainment company. WWE's entertainment has come by the way of visual storytelling, accessible to old fans and new fans alike. Specifically, WWE has done a fantastic job at using pre-match promos to summarize months (sometimes years) worth of content into a short film.
As a testament to the quality of their promos, WWE will always answer three important questions by the end of the package. Viewers will understand who is the villain/hero, what is the motivation of the conflict at hand, and finally fans will know what is at stake in the match to follow.
While the pre-match promo is one area where WWE has rarely dropped the ball, there are cases of promos seeming generic; but never bad. Bland promos are only seen as “meh” worthy because we hold the WWE to such a high standard in their production value. Between the perfectly chosen music, smooth cuts between transitions, and sparing use of special effects, the following list is the best of the best that WWE has ever put out.
Keep in mind that this list is not considering the match at all, rather just the pre-match promo as it stands on its own. So if you think that the match is a stinker, do yourself a favor and just watch the promo. As always let us know what you think in the comments below.
15 Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair - Wrestlemania XXIV
When Ric Flair challenged Shawn Michaels to a career ending match at WrestleMania, fans everywhere knew it could be the last time they ever saw The Nature Boy in the WWE. This made every promo leading up to the match gut wrenching for fans who didn’t want to see Flair retire. The promo itself is chalked full of nostalgic clips from Flair’s career, and for that reason alone it deserves to be on this list.
14 Triple H’s Dominance - Wrestlemania XXX
Fans were absolutely livid at Triple H leading up to Wrestlemania XXX, due to his perceived booking of Daniel Bryan. Not only was Bryan not going to be guaranteed a spot in the main event, but he would have to wrestle Triple H first in order to even qualify for it. Fans may have been angry at the circumstances, but the match was arguably the best of the night, with Bryan going over clean.
Though many promos aired leading up to the match, the best by far was Triple H’s history of dominance. Narrated by Stephanie McMahon, the promo detailed the Cerebral Assassin systematically destroying some of the biggest fan favorites of all time. If the IWC hasn’t learned yet, Triple H wants you to hate him, which is why promos like this are fantastic.
13 13. The Miz - Wrestlemania XXVII
Everyone hates The Miz, which makes it even more appropriate that his WrestleMania XXVII promo would feature rapper Nas’ “Hate Me Now” as a backdrop to images of the World Champion being booed by the crowds. Before even getting to the music, the promo cuts back and forth between the biggest wrestling stars of all time, and The Miz during his ascension to the top of the WWE. About halfway through, the promo changes to Miz literally embracing the hate that has been thrusted upon him; happily doing so.
12 Ric Flair vs. Vince McMahon - Royal Rumble 2002
After the widely panned Invasion storyline ran its course, it was time for a different approach to the WCW acquisition for Vince McMahon. After Shane and Stephanie McMahon sold their stocks of WWE to Ric Flair, the Nature Boy became a 50% owner of WWE - instantly creating a rivalry between the two big egos. The feud became a more intimate WCW vs. WWE story, using figureheads from both companies as the opponents, instead of mid-carders.
The promo shows the escalating tension between the two men, by interweaving clips of a demented Vince McMahon talking over Ric Flair’s career highlights. Add in a few Ric Flair catchphrases towards the end, and you’ve got yourself an A+ promo.
11 John Cena vs. R-Truth - Capitol Punishment 2011
Besides R-Truth being a criminally underrated talent in the ring, the man creates some really good sound bites for promos. Truth’s “conspiracy” promo before Capitol Punishment in 2011 was AMAZING, and has never gotten the praise it deserved. The package set Truth up to be the number one heel in the company moving forward, but sadly WWE never jumped at the opportunity.
The promo itself is crazy, literally crazy, but has subtle undertones of truth about WWE using a propaganda machine to push John Cena and his family friendly agenda. Just go watch it and you will understand.
10 Undertaker vs. Kane - Wrestlemania XIV
During the height of the Attitude Era, many storylines were so outrageous that they haven’t been able to withstand the test of time. One exception to that rule is the legendary rivalry between Kane and The Undertaker. Taker would refuse to fight his younger brother, despite Kane’s constant attacks on The Phenom. The match would culminate in a WrestleMania match, but the lead up to this story which included lighting, fire, caskets, red house lights, and a heck of backstory were the real stars of this feud.
9 Scott Hall vs. Stone Cold - Wrestlemania X-8
Although this match is probably one of the worst on this list, the pre-match promo is actually pretty good. Scott Hall and Stone Cold played second fiddle to the Hogan/Rock match on the card at WreslteMania X-8, but was poised to be a great match up. The promo while short is effective in the way it starts with Vince McMahon’s famous nWo injection speech along with its use of music to build it up the anticipation for the two future Hall of Famers eventual clash.
8 Undertaker vs. Stone Cold - Rock Bottom 1998
When you end a promo with one man being sacrificed on a cross by his opponent, you know that you are in the Attitude Era. Despite how silly that concept may sound, the feud between Steve Austin and the entire Ministry of Darkness was epic. If you went back and tried to watch the storyline sequentially it may not hold up, luckily we have this promo to highlight the best parts. The promo condensed all of the filler content that had been building up for weeks into one neat package.
7 Hulk Hogan vs. The Undertaker- Judgment Day 2002
During the Backlash pay per view in 2002, The Undertaker became the number one contender for the Heavyweight Championship, and Hulk Hogan became the Undisputed Champion later that night. The two men would obviously engage in a feud, meeting at Judgement Day a month later.
The promo that played prior to their match featured harsh words towards each other, that seemed to have a hint of truth behind them. The highlight of the promo is watching Hulk Hogan get tied to the back of a motorcycle, and being dragged into boxes and poles by The American Bad Ass.
6 Christian vs. Randy Orton - SummerSlam 2011
This promo is visually awesome, and should be on this list for that alone. Most people know that Randy Orton is a hot head in the ring, and this promo mimicked his short temper by using special effects. As Orton becomes manic after suffering a loss to Christian, so does the screen, filling up with fast cuts and fog around the edges. You almost get the feeling that the screen is showing fans what Orton is seeing in his fit of rage. The promo much like this great summer rivalry is very underrated.
5 CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar - SummerSlam 2013
“The Beast vs. The Best” was the moniker that WWE was using to promote the SummerSlam match up between Brock Lesnar and CM Punk. In reality the match wasn’t really about Lesnar at all, but more so about the fractured relationship between Paul Heyman (Lesnar’s manager) and CM Punk.
The promo details the bond that Heyman and Punk had, pulling quotes from Punk’s DVD, and their run as a heel duo. When Heyman turns on Punk, the video packages transitions into Lesnar being “Heyman’s Beast”; indicating that in the end he is just a pawn in Heyman’s game.
4 John Cena vs. Kevin Owens - Money in the Bank 2015
The most recent entry on this list is the rematch between Kevin Owens and John Cena at Money in the Bank this year. While the other two matches had excellent promos, the MITB promo is clearly the best of the three. It displays so much intensity from both men, using Owens’ son and his fandom of Cena as a focal point regarding their personal issues. Cena actually gets pretty firey in this promo too, despite it being his same speech, it works in the moment.
3 The Rock vs. Stone Cold - Wrestlemania X-Seven
Here is the one that you have seen on every other list like this, and for good reason. When Stone Cold Steve Austin met The Rock for a second time at Wrestlemania X-Seven, the stage was set for an epic resolution to a fantastic build up. The promo that played prior to the match was beautifully, set to Limp Bizkit’s “My Way”, and the series of clips not only captured their current feud, but showed the rivalry that had built up over the past four years.
You could easily change one or two small things in the promo and use that same package for WrestleMania XV and XXIX, and no one would bat an eye; it was that good.
2 John Cena vs. CM Punk - Money in the Bank 2011
Reminiscent of a piece of political propaganda, CM Punk’s promo that aired prior to his match with John Cena at Money in the Bank in 2011 was awesome. This was the first time that WWE produced something that seemed like it was bashing their own company, and fans appreciated that.
There are so many nice touches throughout the promo, like the flashing subliminal messages, or the echoing voice of Punk in the background, that this promo has to make it into the top three of all time.
1 Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania XXVI
The promo that led into the rematch of the classic Wrestlemania XXV bout between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels is to promos, what the match was to wrestling. It is untouchable in every way, perfect down to every detail and intricacy. Placebo’s “Running Up That Hill” played during the promo, and perfectly illustrates Michaels’ obsession with defeating The Undertaker. The promo usually gets lost in the shuffle, but definitely deserves the top spot on this list.