Promos are an integral part of the professional wrestling business. Yes, the business centers around what happens in the ring, and the physical spectacle of everything that wrestlers do in matches and a variety of other confrontations are a huge part of the overall presentation. Promos tell stories, though. In addition to the predetermined outcomes, one of the defining characteristics of professional wrestling, and in particular professional wrestling in the last fifty years or so is the sense of ongoing storytelling. Wrestlers have wars of words and tell the audiences about their various motivations.
Not every wrestler is equipped to deliver a five star promo, though. Sometimes, guys who look like a million bucks, or who are even outstanding athletes nonetheless aren’t great orators or actors. Consequently, putting a live mic in their hands in front of a live audience doesn’t always lead to the best results.
Of course, there are also great speakers in wrestling who also have their flubs. After all, for talents who cut promos on a weekly basis or even more often, there’s bound to be a slip of the tongue every now and again. Sometimes, these slips are negligible. Other times, they go down in infamy on account of just how badly the talent misspoke or for accidentally saying something offensive.
In addition to actual wrestlers having their troubles on a live mic, the last three decades have seen a proliferation of celebrity involvement as visitors to television or PPV. These instances seem especially ripe for trouble on the mic.
This column looks back at 15 times in wrestling when something went terribly wrong with a live mic.
15. Sycho Sid Asks For A Do Over On Live TV
On live WWE TV, Sycho Sid stumbled over his words and blew a promo. These sorts of things happen, and wrestling fans are reasonably forgiving of the occasional slip of the tongue. This situation was different, however, for rather than carrying on Sid suggested, “Let’s do that again.” It was up to Good Ol’ J.R. to remind him that they were on live TV and thus the show must go on.
It’s an embarrassing, memorable moment from a guy who played a dominant, intimidating character. To be fair, it’s understandable how it would have happened given that Sid mostly worked in an era when WWE would pre-record series of promos for different markets in close succession, and given that this interview segment was filmed backstage like most of those.
14. Jeremy Piven Creates Summerfest
In 2009, WWE worked a convoluted angle that saw Donald Trump buy Monday Night Raw from Vince McMahon, only sell it back with the caveat that he needed to maintain the format of guest hosts that Trump had drawn up (it was absurd then, and is all the more so with the hindsight of Trump becoming the president, but I digress). Celebrity visitors took up residence on Raw. Many were innocuous, a few were even actively entertaining in their one off roles.
Jeremy Piven had potential, particularly if he were to tap into his loud mouthed Ari Gold persona from entourage to play a hellacious guest authority figure for the night. Instead, Piven largely stumbled over his lines, while sidekick Ken Jeong was insufferable in trying to squeeze in quips and insults. The lowest point of the evening, however, came in Piven booking for SummerSlam and accidentally calling the iconic traditional PPV “Summerfest.” The moment thoroughly confirmed Piven didn’t know the WWE product and killed off any remaining interest he may have had to fans in that environment.
13. Hulk Hogan References The Wrong Dome At WrestleMania
Hulk Hogan got tapped to play the guest host of WrestleMania 30. He was a fitting choice given his legendary status with the company and that he wasn’t in any shape to actually get in the ring for the thirtieth edition of the event he’d been so key in building decades earlier. Hogan opened the show with a promo before being joined by Steve Austin and then The Rock as a trio of true greats of the WrestleMania era.
The trouble is, things got off to a rough start for Hulkster when he referred to all the fans in the Silverdome. The Pontiac Silverdome was where he wrestled Andre the Giant at WrestleMania 3 for one of the most iconic wrestling showdowns of all time. Unfortunately for Hogan, WrestleMania XXX happened in New Orleans, at the Superdome.
The fans let Hogan know about his error and Austin and Rock ribbed him about it a bit. Things wrapped up well enough, and people likely would have forgotten the slip of the tongue—which Hogan chalked up to talking so much about WrestleMania 3 in interviews leading up to the show—had it not been a promo segment between such legends at such a major show.
12. LaMelo Ball Says The N-Word On Raw… Twice
WWE surely thought it had a good thing going when it booked the Ball family for Raw. LaMelo, a young basketball sensation, and his father LaVar were booked into a confrontation with The Miz, for which Dean Ambrose had their backs. While the incorporation of celebrities was a little forced, and particularly silly for LaVar’s overacting, it was a harmless enough celebrity endorsement and the kind of segment WWE loves for drawing a little extra mainstream attention.
Unfortunately, things unraveled. Particularly, when Dean Ambrose made his entrance, Lamelo called for him to “beat that n*****’s ass,” not just once but twice. The fact that a black man used the racial slur against a white man, and in a way that didn’t seem intended as racially biased didn’t cover up that this moment went from publicity stunt to a PR nightmare. Reportedly, WWE had planned for the Balls to remain in Ambrose’s corner for the match to follow, but scrapped those intentions and sent them backstage ASAP following the mess. The company issued an apology afterward, but was clear to distance themselves from the Balls as guests, as opposed to claiming them as part of the WWE Universe.
11. R-Truth Forgets He’s In Milwaukee
Before R-Truth had transitioned to his mentally unstable character that ultimately led him to his partnership and then feud with Goldust, he cut a memorably disastrous promo in Wisconsin. He tried to play to the crowd for some cheap favor, calling out the city’s name and asking “what’s up?” The promo went wrong because he addressed Green Bay when Raw was happening that night over a hundred miles south in Milwaukee.
The fans let Truth know about, chanting Mil-wauk-ee over his promo. There was little that he could do to recover their favor from there, even though he was playing a face character. The commentary team didn’t exactly do him in favors, poking fun at the slip up as he tried to continue on. Truth apologized for the gaffe on social media afterward.
10. Lex Luger Doesn’t Know The Name Of The Show
In 2004, Lex Luger appeared for NWA Shockwave. His indie run, well past his point as a relevant star on the national level would probably be forgotten if it weren’t for a strange promo immortalized by the still new YouTube and social media sites of the day. In the promo, Luger trips up over the word despicable and seems lost for the duration of his time on the mic that included seeming to forget the name of the show he’d be wrestling on.
While Luger was never known as a great promo man, he was competent in his prime, and particularly compelling as a tweener in WCW pre-nWo, for a run that included him putting his foot in his mouth by design and getting his buddy Sting into trouble. Sadly those struggles seemed to foreshadow real life ones as he wound up a struggling promo man in his final days as an active in ring performer.
9. Ozzy Osbourne Has No Idea What Is Happening
In what was a budding tradition for WrestleMania at the time, celebrities were a part of second iteration at three separate venues. Ozzy Osbourne was a fair enough score as a star musician who was very much current at the time, and he seemed like a fair enough fit as a corner man for his countrymen, The British Bulldogs.
Things went off the rails, however, when Osborne participated in a pre-match promo and appeared largely incoherent before the non-sequitur of screaming, “British Bulldogs forever!” For all the flack wrestlers tend to get from the public for being dumb or inarticulate, it’s telling that that the wrestlers he was backing came across as much more steady and in their right minds for his promo segment. Fortunately, Osbourne mostly stayed out of the way once the action got underway. He’d redeem himself a bit with a more coherent visit as a celebrity guest host for Raw many years later.
8. Michael Buffer Doesn’t Know Bret Hart’s Name
WCW used to make a habit out of bringing in Michael Buffer to announce for big shows, including most PPV events. On one hand, it was a nice touch for WCW to be affiliated with the most famous ring announcer from the boxing world, and Buffer’s appearances for main events lent a special, different feel to big matches. Heck, even WWE got in on the Buffer business, bringing him in for the 2008 Royal Rumble.
The trouble with Buffer was that he was hired for his services at big shows, and those specific services only. He wasn’t a wrestling guy, evidenced by a number of fumbled lines over the years, but few so profound as getting Bret Hart’s name wrong on a special episode of Nitro, calling him Bret “The Hitman” Clark. A slip up like this might have been forgivable for a lesser star, but Hart was one of the tip-top stars in the business at that point who the main event competitors were fighting over a chance to challenge for his title. All of the big-deal feel WWE was paying Buffer for went out the window with that gaffe, which Buffer didn’t even seem to notice as he rolled along with his introductions.
7. Bret Hart Forgets His Lines As Raw Goes Off The Air
While Bret Hart may have been the victim of Michael Buffer’s slip up, he wasn’t above the occasional error of his own. In the heat of the 1997 iteration of his feud with Shawn Michaels, the two were cooperating very, very tenuously. From Hart’s autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, he and Michaels had a good talk backstage and seemed to overcome some of their mounting jealousies and animosities. All of that went up in smoke one night, when they had the main event promo spot on an episode of Raw.
The plan was for Hart to dress down Michaels from a wheelchair, only for Michaels to super kick him right out of the wheelchair for unconventional spectacle of a moment. According to Hart, he completely blanked on the zinger he was supposed to wrap up his end of the promo and vamped a bit while he tried to remember what he was supposed to say. Unfortunately, he went a little too long, and while Michaels did hit him with Sweet Chin Music, he did so after Raw had already left off the air, so that all of the fans watching were left with the close of Hart insulting Michaels, and HBK standing there and taking it. According to Hart, Michaels wouldn’t listen to him when he said it was an honest mistake, and the two were back to square one with their beef.
6. Alicia Fox Wants An Undefined Title
Alicia Fox was set to challenge Melina for the Divas Championship in the fall of 2010. That’s a fair enough matchup, particularly for its era, with a pair of women who were good athletes, demonstrated good longevity, and each had their character moments.. Of course, this was an era when people still didn’t take women’s wrestling all that seriously in WWE.
Fox didn’t help the division, her new program, or herself when she misspoke in a key promo, claiming that she was going to be crowned the “undefined Divas Champion.” She almost certainly meant undisputed, or potentially something like undeniable. The undefined descriptor took on a life of its own, though, with fans questioning what an undefined champion might be in a social media favorite at the time.
5. Brian Pillman Terrorizes Bobby Heenan
In 1996, Brian Pillman was getting into the groove of his Loose Cannon gimmick as a reckless crazy man. The character was well portrayed and fairly innovative for its time, in part for Pillman’s commitment to the bit. He worked fans, sure, but also worked the boys to a reasonable extent with suggestions he was actually losing his mind. In his book, Controversy Creates Cash, Eric Bischoff references that he ultimately let Pillman out of his contract to get the gimmick even more over in other promotions before coming back. While that claim seems a bit spurious, we’ll never know for sure given Pillman’s premature passing.
In the early days of the Loose Cannon, Pillman grabbed color commentator Bobby Heenan at ringside. Heenan was caught off guard, and was particularly on edge for having just returned to work from neck surgery. The unplanned physical contact prompted Heenan to scream into his headset “What the f*** are you doing?” before he walked from the announce position. Heenan would return and apologize to the fans for his language, but later cited it as just one of the key moments when his WCW tenure was out of control.
4. Stevie Ray Undersells The Audience
After having reasonable success in WCW rings as half of the Harlem Heat tag team with his real life brother Booker T, and later becoming a player with the New World Order, the company gave him a whirl as a commentator and interviewer. He was never particularly good in that role, but reached his lowest point in interviewing Lex Luger.
Luger asked Ray if what he said was between the two of them; Ray replied, “yes, and 5,000 viewers.” Maybe he meant five million, but the 5,000 number was a grossly under-whelming guess of WCW viewers, even after WCW was well past its prime. It did not help matters that Tony Schiavone jumped in to try to help, suggesting Ray meant five thousand viewers per home. At least Schiavone’s absurd number was an exaggeration in the right direction to, at least in theory, making the show look relevant.
3. Mike Adamle Cites Jeff “Harvey”
While Michael Buffer gets something of a pass for getting the names of wrestler’s wrong because he was never a full time employee for a wrestling company, Mike Adamle had no such excuse. After a successful career as a sportscaster, WWE brought him in first to do play by play and later as an authority figure, in each case proving himself woefully under informed about the WWE product.
Adamle reached a low point when he referred to Jeff Hardy as “Jeff Harvey.” Not so different from Buffer’s blown announcement of Bret Clark, Harvey was a marquee star at the time, not to mention one who’d been around for over a decade so it was pretty absurd to get that name wrong. While Adamle had a tendency to dig himself deeper, and it’s widely rumored WWE put him in a GM role to play an incompetent manager a la Steve Carrell’s character on The Office, this may have been the particular call that there was no coming back from.
2. Hulk Hogan Misnames The nWo
Bash at the Beach 1996 was an absolutely iconic event, highlighted by Hulk Hogan’s heel turn to join Scott Hall and Kevin Nash and formally launch the New World Order. The angle, and particularly the moment of the turn, drew nuclear heat from the WCW faithful. It’s widely considered responsible for kickstarting WCW’s wave of success that made them competitive with WWE, and arguably put them ahead of Vince McMahon and company for a period of years.
For as good as Hogan’s turn, and even the bulk of the promo to follow were, they are marred for fans who watched it in real time for Hogan’s reference to the “New World Organization.” Some have claimed that WCW hadn’t firmly settled on a name yet, or that the faction was an organization, so Hogan wasn’t technically wrong. Still, Hogan was announcing the launch of one of wrestling’s all time great stables, and identifying the wrong nWo initials wasn’t a particularly auspicious start.
1. Booker T Calls Hulk Hogan An N-Word
As time went on, the brotherly tag team of Booker T and Stevie Ray, Harlem Heat, grew a bit edgier and more heated. One night, however, they went a little too far. After talking smack to their opponents, Booker T got caught in the heat of the moment and proclaimed, “Hulk Hogan, we’re coming for you, n*****!”
Booker T clearly recognized his mistake immediately and appeared horribly embarrassed as manager Sherri tried to both comfort him and keep a straight face. The moment went down in infamy, to the point that Big E from The New Day teased saying the same line recently, in a bit of an insider rib, against The Usos. Booker T did not appreciate it, saying, in the aftermath, that The New Days should have left it alone.
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