As much as we all say that we want more action and less talking in professional wrestling, the fact remains that being good on the microphone can be a key component in getting to the top of WWE. I’m not saying that every single person who gets to the top of the mountain has been good on the mic, as we’ll see in a few instances once we get into this list, but the overwhelming majority of the people that are looked at as legends in the industry have been able to work a crowd with their words.
I think we can all agree that Hulk Hogan will never be looked at as the greatest technical wrestler of all time, but it was his ability to work the microphone to push storylines to new heights and his ability to entertain that set him apart from so many others when he was coming up. It was his mic skills that made him one of the best babyfaces in history as well as one of the most successful heels. He could get a crowd behind him in an instant and when he got the chance, he was able to make them turn on him just as quickly.
Do you really think Steve Austin would have reached the heights he reached without being able to work that microphone? In fact, the Attitude Era would have been nothing without all of those performers being able to go out and entertain. There was probably just as much talking then as there is now, but the difference was that almost every person on the roster knew how to go out and cut a good promo.
Being the WWE World Heavyweight Champion (or having the Big Gold Belt when it was still around) usually means one of three things. You are either a really good wrestler or a really good entertainer, or maybe you just have the look that Vince McMahon likes, but one thing is for sure. Not every champion has been good on the microphone.
15. Bret Hart
This is obviously one guy whose wrestling ability was able to overshadow his lackluster mic work, which Bret himself has admitted was the weakest part of his career. His promos just always seemed so scripted, and most of the time just lacked passion and creativity to make them sound authentic. As happens with most wrestlers, he improved when he got the chance to be a heel, but even then, he still struggled a bit. He’s right up there with guys like Shawn Michaels when it comes to in-ring work, but he always came up short against Michaels in the mic department. However, he is one of the biggest examples of how to be successful in the business without being the greatest on the stick.
14. Randy Orton
Randy Orton has had some points in his career when he has in fact been very good on promos, but somewhere down the line, he’s seemed to have lost it. His character has been pretty stale for years and it was evident in his more recent world title reign. Whether it was being hampered by his affiliation with The Authority, or just having a boring character, his promos weren’t interesting at all. His voice is often robotic and his work has nowhere near the impact it did in say, his run as the Legend Killer.
13. Pedro Morales
Pedro Morales is probably the biggest superstar to ever come out of Puerto Rico. He’s a Hall of Famer and rightfully so. He held the title for nearly three years, and this was in the Bruno Sammartino era. He would later win an Intercontinental Championship and the Tag Team titles with Bob Backlund, but he couldn’t work a microphone at all, and it wasn’t just the accent that gave him problems. Not that the entertainment part was as big back then, but him mixing up his words on a constant basis necessitated inclusion on this list.
12. The Iron Sheik
If you’re following The Iron Sheik on Twitter these days, and I highly recommend that you do, or listen to him in current interviews, you might have no idea that in his prime, he really struggled when he cut promos. He would constantly switch between speaking English and Iranian, and sometimes, you just couldn’t understand one word that he was saying. When he moved to the tag team division with Nikolai Volkoff, some of that pressure was taken off of him, especially when Volkoff’s Russian national anthem took center stage.
11. Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger is one of the most athletically gifted guys in the company, but he has never really been viewed as one of the top guys in the company, even during his nearly three-month title reign. He’s been through many stretches in his career when he’s been taken off of television due to creative having nothing for him. One of the big parts of that is that he could never get over with the crowd, good or bad, when it came to the promo side of things. He still can’t. Things got so bad that the company brought a mouthpiece in for him in Zeb Colter, which worked to a degree, but I think there’s really only one guy that can pull that off on a long-term basis, and we’ll get to him later.
10. Bob Backlund
Bob Backlund easily has the longest title reign of anyone on this list, holding the title for almost six years before losing it to The Iron Shiek. He also had a three-day run in the 90s before dropping the belt to Kevin Nash in an eight-second squash, and it’s a good thing that he could wrestle so well. I’ll admit that the bow-tied psychopath Backlund was mildly entertaining, but before that, he was as boring as boring could possibly be. Perhaps that’s what makes his lengthy title run so legendary, but much like Morales, the “sports entertainment” side of the business wasn’t quite as prevalent as it is today, but trust me, he was really bad.
9. Roman Reigns
The best part of the 5 minutes and 15 seconds that Roman Reigns recently won the title is that I can technically put him on this list. Plus, it’s not like that was his last reign. The writing is on the wall that WWE is going to give Reigns a lengthy title run in the near future. The guy has a great look and I think if given the chance to be a heel, he could really come out of his shell as far as promos are concerned. But right now, they are just really, really awful.
Every single word that he says is so robotic and until you’re at a level where you’re really solid on the microphone, saying the word “son” so many times is going to get old really fast. The crowd is obviously bored when he steps in the ring for a promo, and even the backstage interviews are bad. Believe that.
I think it’s safe to say that Batista fits in the “look that Vince McMahon likes” category of getting to the top of WWE. I don’t want to say that every single match that Batista had was bad, because it wasn’t, but he always needed someone to carry him. For example, The Undertaker made him look amazing throughout much of 2007. However, it’s hard to get help when you’re on that microphone, and that’s something that Batista could never grasp, until his heel turn late in his career.
He would stumble over his own words, and he just wasn’t that entertaining. Luckily, he had guys like Triple H and Ric Flair to carry him through that portion of things in Evolution. If he had ever been as entertaining in WWE as he was in Guardians of the Galaxy, I would have been a much bigger fan.
Speaking of having the look, Goldberg certainly had that, but much like Batista, that was about it. He was a powerful guy, but his actual wrestling ability was nothing to brag about, and that was brought to light by William Regal, but he got over and got over quick in WCW. I understand if he didn’t grasp the entertainment part right away, but by the time he got to WWE in 2003, he’d have to figure it out by then, right? Wrong.
Even his debut on RAW left something to be desired, which is why I could never get on the Goldberg train. Every single word sounded scripted, and if anyone ever deserved the “BORING! BORING!” chants, it was this guy.
6. Rob Van Dam
Is it just me, or did every single interview that Rob Van Dam ever give sound the same? He just sounded high every single time. Oh, wait…that’s right. I know that was part of who he was as a performer, and he was a good one at that, but his promos almost put me to sleep. But I suppose it’s hard to argue his success in the business due to that persona. Sure, you can be annoyed with the hippie, but it’s hard to hate him, which is probably why RVD was rarely a heel during the course of his career.
5. Jeff Hardy
Speaking of getting high…okay, I can’t confirm that during his time in the WWE, but with the nonsense that came out of his mouth, it wouldn’t surprise me. For a guy who had such a high level of charisma, it never transferred to his mic work. I wish I could say that his brother was better, but that would be a bold-faced lie, wouldn’t it? At least Matt had a small sense of comedy when they broke away from each other, and certainly, for obvious reasons, had some real anger during his feud with Edge. Although Jeff was an amazingly talented performer, the fact is that for years and years, his promos never improved.
Call him Sid Vicious, Sid Justice or whatever you like, but no matter what the name, Sid couldn’t talk. He was Sycho Sid when he won the WWE Championship, and even with a psychotic gimmick, he still couldn’t make it work. I think my favorite interview came backstage at an In Your House as he fumbled a few words and asked to do it again, thinking it was a taped segment until Jim Ross reminded him that they were live. There’s also the “you’re only half the man that I am, and I have half the brain that you do” promo. Classic Sid.
For the longest time, Yokozuna didn’t have to talk much at all. He was a big, powerful guy that did his talking in the ring. A nice bonus was that he had Mr. Fuji, who always made the most of his television time, as a mouthpiece, and also later had Jim Cornette, who has never been shy with words.
Once they did let Yokozuna get on the mic, it was crystal clear why they didn’t let him do it that often. I don’t know if it was because he was supposed to sound Japanese, even though he was a full-blooded Samoan, but it’s for the best that he stayed relatively quiet throughout his career.
2. Brock Lesnar
Whether you like the part-time status or not, Brock Lesnar is an attraction. He’s a freak of an athlete, and took to the business quicker than most people could ever dream of, minus the talking part of it. Remember earlier when I mentioned that there was only one guy who could pull off being one of the biggest stars in the company without having to say much? This is the guy. He never has to say anything. Would it be nice to hear him cut a monster promo? Of course it would. But we heard him try that back when he first came to WWE, and it did not go so well. Enter Paul Heyman. Problem solved.
1. The Great Khali
I shouldn’t even really have to explain this one. First of all, it’s sad that the belt was ever put on him in the first place. The guy could barely move around the ring at all, and if I were to make a list of the worst wrestlers in history, he might be right here in this same number one spot. The sad thing is that as bad as he was in the ring, he might have actually been worse on the microphone. His English was absolutely terrible, he had zero charisma, but he was still given a microphone on a constant basis for reasons I will never understand.
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