While you may be the type of professional wrestling fan that admires a wrestler’s in-ring abilities more than how well they talk, there is no denying that some of wrestling’s biggest stars earned their reputation thanks to their ability to captivate an audience with their promos. You can be the master of a thousand holds, but if you can’t take that microphone, look into the camera and draw fans by the thousands with your mere words, there will always be a ceiling on how high you can go in professional wrestling. Like it or not, the best talkers rule the wrestling world.
That’s especially true of trash talkers. A good trash-talking wrestler is what promoters lie in bed at night dreaming about. Their ability to draw heat, sell tickets and keep fans coming back for more has been wrestling’s greatest draw ever since the first wrestler decided to run down a city’s professional sports team years ago. Still, there is a special spot of admiration reserved for the most relentless of put down professionals. These wrestlers don’t just insult someone’s hometown, they reach deep into their soul and yank out their dignity. They are the 15 most vicious trash talkers in professional wrestling history.
15 Enzo Amore
Too soon? Maybe. Enzo Amore has really only been on the scene for a few years and, even then, it took him some time for him to really find his character and groove as a trash talker. Although Enzo’s relative inexperience prevents him from taking a higher spot on this list, only a fool would dare to doubt the fact that this is one of the most naturally gifted belittlers in the history of wrestling. Enzo has stated in the past that he has hundreds of pages worth of trash talking material written down in a personal journal. While that’s impressive enough, what’s really shocking about Enzo is the way that he is able to roll with the punches of a live promo and work the crowd into a frenzy with only a few choice words. This man is already one of the most quotable wrestlers of all-time and his career has nowhere to go but up.
14 Scott Steiner
As a member of the Steiner Brothers, Scott Steiner liked to let his moves do the talking. He and Rick enjoyed a long stint as arguably the best tag team in the world and neither man found a reason to elaborate on that beating they just handed out via some well-placed trash talk. However, once Scott Steiner evolved into his final form of Big Poppa Pump, he began to embrace the art of the trash talk in a way that no other wrestler ever quite has. Scott Steiner’s promos during his championship days in WCW were so brutal that they legitimately caused other wrestlers to become violent towards the man. He had a fondness for going off-script and ripping into everyone from Bill Goldberg to WCW itself. It didn’t even matter that half of what Steiner said didn’t make sense, as the words that we were able to understand coming out of Steiner’s mouth made it perfectly clear that nobody was safe.
13 Superstar Billy Graham
Superstar Billy Graham was not a great in-ring wrestler. The guy looked like a rock star, but even in an era of limited moves, Billy Graham struggled to really pull off anything more impressive than a headlock designed to showcase his inhuman biceps. Because of these obvious shortcomings, Graham instead decided to save his best work for whenever someone put a microphone in his face. His promo style borrowed heavily from the great Muhammad Ali, but professional wrestling fans had never seen anyone quite like this guy. Here was a man who treated his opponents with no respect and treated himself as some kind of living god. This resulted in Billy Graham becoming the most hated wrestler of his generation and the blueprint for guys like Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura and Triple H. Billy Graham became the first wrestler who could sell out stadiums with nothing more than some choice trash talking.
12 Kurt Angle
When Kurt Angle first joined WWE, most people assumed he would be pretty good in the ring. While the Olympic wrestling style doesn’t directly translate to professional wrestling skills, it was hard to imagine that the guy wouldn’t eventually be able to put on some pretty good matches. What nobody was quite sure of, however, was how Kurt Angle would fare when it came to promos. In fact, most fans assumed that WWE would go out of their way to hide that element of his game. Instead, it only took Angle a few months to establish himself as a relentless trash talker. What started as a few jabs at the fans on his way to the match quickly evolved into some of the most brutal lines ever uttered in a professional wrestling ring. I mean, this is the man who once said “I have nothing against retards. Most of my fans are retards.” That’s just brutal.
11 Triple H
It’s a good thing that HHH’s legacy among hardcore WWE fans has taken a turn for the better in recent years as it means that the man’s rightful place as a world-class mic worker can now be properly admired. Though HHH’s WCW tenure as the unfortunately named Terra Ryzing and his early days as the blueblood Hunter Hearst Helmsley didn’t exactly allow him to showcase any extraordinary smack-talk skills, the moment that Hunter formed DX with Shawn Michaels, we were all gifted with a steady stream of professional grade insults that live in infamy to this day.
Still, for as good as those DX insults were, Triple H would really elevate his belittling game once he struck out on his own. No longer content with using bathroom humor to mock his opponents, Triple H began to cut semi-shoot style promos that tore at the core of a wrestler’s very existence and expertly played off their real-life insecurities.
10 Vince McMahon
If you were to go back to the early ‘90s and tell someone that Vince McMahon would become one of the greatest trash talkers that wrestling has ever seen, you would get nothing but confused stares in response to your claims. At that time, Vince McMahon could barely call a match without fumbling his words much less talk trash on a live microphone. That all changed, of course, with the rise of the “Mr. McMahon” character. Once Vince McMahon began to throw around his considerable power and belittle everyone that was under his employment, he began to produce pure venom in the form of choice insults. What’s so great about Vince McMahon as a trash talker is that his position within the company allows him to attack anyone he pleases. From Stone Cold Steve Austin to God himself, nobody is safe from a McMahon verbal teardown.
9 Bobby Heenan
In another life, Bobby Heenan might be remembered as a great one-liner stand-up comedian. Heenan could cut a long promo if you asked him to, but where the man truly shined was in his ability to pick a target, throw out an insult that kind of lingers in the air before it strikes its victim right in the heart at terminal velocity and then walk away while one of his clients cleans up the mess he just left. Whether he’s claiming that Hulk Hogan’s theme song is his second favorite song ever behind a tie between every other song ever written or he’s calling Roddy Piper a skirt wearing freak, Heenan simply took no prisoners in his pursuit of finding that one perfect insult that would stick with a wrestler no matter how accomplished they were. So far as that goes, he remains the greatest heel manager of all time.
8 John Cena
Do you want to know why everyone is always begging for the return of heel John Cena? It’s because heel John Cena so happened to be one of the most ruthless and vicious put-down artists that ever graced professional wrestling with his presence. Much like Enzo Amore, John Cena got a lot of mileage out of using a rap battle promo style to systematically dissect his opponents and the fans. Unlike Enzo Amore (at least so far) Cena was able to parlay this style into a career main event spot. At a time when WWE was slowly starting to back away from more risqué content, Cena was a blast from the Attitude Era past. His profanity and innuendo-filled promos cut even guys like The Undertaker down to their knees and put them at the young heel’s level. Even today, Cena will still occasionally dip back into his trash talking past just to prove that he’s still one of the best.
7 Steve Austin
Although it’s likely that Steve Austin was simply born as a naturally gifted talker, it’s interesting to note how a few bumps in Austin’s career road really shaped him into becoming one of the best the industry has ever seen. Had Austin not been shoved into a team with Brian Pillman because the writers didn’t have anything better for them to do, we would have never seen Austin rip apart the likes of Ric Flair as a member of the Hollywood Blondes. Had WCW not been stupid enough to let Austin go, he would have never gotten the chance to lay the ground work for his Stone Cold character as a member of ECW. Eventually, however, these circumstances lead to Steve Austin becoming a force of belittling nature. Austin could stand toe-to-toe with some of the best microphone wizards of all time and somehow make them look tiny in comparison.
6 CM Punk
CM Punk was scrawny, weird and, to be perfectly honest, not that great of an in-ring wrestler when he first started out. The one thing that the kid did have going for him, though, was the ability to turn a microphone into a pipe-bomb that devastated anyone caught in its audio radius. By dialing his straight-edge persona up to 11, CM Punk was able to fashion one of the most creative villains wrestling has ever known early on in his career. He could find a vice or flaw in just about every wrestler that he came across and use them as fuel for his hate-filled teardowns.
What really separates Punk from a legion of other smack talkers, though, is that you really could buy into everything that he was saying. There were times when it was simply impossible to separate CM Punk the character from Phillip Brooks. Punk would eventually ride this skill all the way to the top of the wrestling world.
5 Chris Jericho
Say what you will about WCW’s “We don’t care about anyone whose name isn’t Hulk Hogan” booking policy, but their relaxed attitude towards what the rest of the roster was up to did lead to the emergence of a few great stars. Of course, there is perhaps no greater beneficiary of this policy than Chris Jericho. Jericho may have been brought in as a cruiserweight sensation, but it wasn’t long before he used his unscripted microphone time to start tearing the rest of his division to shreds. Jericho was really one of the great innovators of the “cool heel” concept in that you still rooted for many of the babyface wrestlers that opposed him, but you also didn’t really want to see him lose as you couldn’t wait to hear what he was going to say next. He’s always excelled in the fine art of belittling his opponents while still making them seem like threats.
4 Jerry Lawler
As a young WWE fan, I had no clue who Jerry “The King” Lawler was. I had no idea that this man had one over 160 championships across the course of his career, nor that he took part in one of the most important wrestling angles of all-time when he broke the lines of reality during a feud with Andy Kaufman. The only thing I knew is that I hated Jerry Lawler. Here was this old guy who was not only beating down the likes of Bret Hart in the ring, but disrespecting his opponents through a series of verbal tirades that caused parents to scramble for the remotes whenever Lawler would grab the microphone.
That’s what was special about Jerry Lawler, though. He was one of the few wrestlers of that era that was able to use his trash talking abilities not to make himself look cool, but to cause nearly every wrestling fan in the world to simply hate his guts.
3 Roddy Piper
During his days as a heel wrestler, Roddy Piper’s only goal in life was to make sure that he was the most hated man that was going to take the ring that night. This is especially true of his days working the California scene in NWA where Piper would cause actual riots by cutting unbelievably derogatory promos against the area’s Mexican community and their hero Chavo Guerrero Sr. But that was the great thing about Piper. He either lacked that filter in his head that most of us have that keeps us from saying something that is definitively over the line, or he was simply able to ignore it in favor of cutting his opponent’s as deep as words possibly could.
It’s a big part of the reason why long-time wrestling fans roll their eyes whenever they see another Piper’s Pit imitator spring up. They know that no matter how skilled the wrestler hosting the segment may be, nobody will ever be able to use their time to tear apart an opponent quite like Piper could.
2 Ric Flair
Watching Ric Flair talk trash in the world of ‘80s professional wrestling is a lot like watching Steph Curry play basketball against a group of infants; it’s just not fair and fundamentally wrong. Flair may not have been the first trash talker in professional wrestling , but nothing that came before could have possibly prepared fans for the kind of derogatory promos that Flair would cut with seeming ease. The type of blue-collar crowd that wrestling typically attracted at the time didn’t know what to make of this man who wore the World Championship around his $1,000 suits and claimed to have more cars than most people have friends.
In a way, the fact that Flair could back up everything that he said (no matter how ludicrous) with his work in the ring made his trash talking that much worse. You kept waiting for someone to shut him up, but time and time again, Flair would get the best of everyone.
1 The Rock
There will never be another professional wrestler like The Rock. Dwayne Johnson may have debuted with a stupid grin on his face and a silver spoon in his mouth, but it wasn’t long before Rocky Maivia began to turn against the fans and adopt a sports jock persona known as The Rock. While most young wrestlers would struggle with such a transition at first, The Rock’s inhuman levels of charisma allowed him to quickly become the smoothest run down machine the world’s ever seen. Every single week, The Rock managed to outdo himself with a promo so vicious that you actually started to feel bad for any wrestler that had to go up against him.
It wasn’t long before people who had never seen a professional wrestling match in their life soon became infatuated with this wrestler whose gift for gab was simply electric. A few have come close, but nobody has ever been able to match The Rock when it comes to laying the verbal smackdown.