You can have the greatest technical wrestling match in history, but if nobody cares, then was it truly great? Traditionally, the best matches have benefited from great promos, as the involved wrestlers used their words to set up a match in which they would then use more physical means. It used to be a big part of the business model of pro wrestling: cut promos for free on television to make them want to pay to see a match at live events or Pay Per Views. And the true masters of the craft could make you want to see their matches without ever setting foot inside a ring. From Flair to Foley, from Austin to Savage, with many others in between, some of their best moments in wrestling haven’t involved any wrestling at all, and here are some of the best promos done by some of the best talkers in history.
10. Paul Heyman Tells Off Vince McMahon
The WCW/ECW Invasion of 2004 was terrible for many reasons. It was ill-planned, terribly booked, and saw a huge money-making opportunity that could have profited WWE for months and months flushed down the toilet in less than six. In a last-ditch effort to get something out of the whole debacle, a climactic “Winner Take All” match was set up for Survivor Series 2004, where the winning side would survive, and the losing side would disappear forever. There was little doubt who would ultimately win, but in order to sell just how big of a deal the match was, WWE turned to Paul Heyman, the original owner of ECW, and let him run absolutely wild on WWE owner Vince McMahon in a classic promo that should have been the centerpiece of the Invasion angle, rather than the last gasp before it ended.
9. Triple H Reforms D-Generation X
After WrestleMania 14, Shawn Michaels disappeared from WWE for nearly seven years, due to a crippling back injury he suffered at the Royal Rumble in 2004. This was a huge problem, since Shawn had been positioned as one of the biggest stars in the company, the main antagonist to new champion Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the head of D-Generation X. Many questioned what would happen to D-X in the wake of Shawn’s absence, since Triple H hadn’t really been portrayed as anything more than Shawn’s buddy and stooge, and certainly not a true main event star. The night after WrestleMania, however, Triple H came out and assumed control of D-X, declaring himself leader and introducing X-Pac, who had quietly jumped ship from WCW back to WWE, and proceeded to talk about exactly why he’d decided to do so. It was a watershed moment for WWE, as it showed that they were finally ready to compete with WCW in talent raids, and also re-established D-X as a major factor in WWE, as they would go on to become one of the most celebrated stables in wrestling history.
8. Ric Flair
Do you want to know how to find a great Ric Flair promo? You type the words “Ric Flair promo” into a search engine and you watch everything that comes up. Flair is almost a category unto himself, and narrowing it down to a single promo is nigh impossible, because every time he spoke, it was special. The most interesting part of Flair’s WCW promos, however, is how they always were set up to sell the next match. While Pay Per Views were part of business, they weren’t yet the every month affair we’ve grown accustomed to. It was live events, house shows, that drove most of the revenue for wrestling organizations. So when Flair cut promos on his opponent, he always made sure to tell you, multiple times, exactly when and where you could see him face his opponent next. Listen to this infamous Flair promo as he sells an upcoming match at the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta. In this promo, Flair actually forces himself to bleed from the forehead live on the air, which got him in serious trouble with the FCC and nearly got him taken off television by TBS.
7. Randy Savage Is The Cream of the Crop
Some say Randy Savage was crazy, some say he was a genius. He was definitely one of the most intense wrestlers ever to grace the squared circle, and his promos are the stuff that legends are made of. In the wake of his classic match with Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III, one of the greatest matches of all time, Randy Savage cut a promo using little individual portions of coffee creamer to help make his point. In the hands of most other wrestlers, it would seem ridiculous, but as Savage would say, the cream always rises to the top.
6. Welcome To Raw Is Jericho
It’s important to note that in WCW, Chris Jericho was next to nothing. Sure, he had some entertaining promos (most notably his famous list of the 1004 wrestling moves he knew, proving he was better than the “Master of 1001 Holds” Dean Malenko), but it was clear that WCW didn’t see him as anything more than just another guy in the middle of the pack, who wasn’t worthy of any sort of real push into the main event. When a proposed feud with rising star Goldberg was shot down, Jericho sought out another option, and jumped to WWF at the first opportunity. After weeks of a mysterious “Countdown to the Millenium” clock prepared the crowd for something special, during a completely unrelated promo by the Rock, Y2J made his official debut, and things would never, ever be the same again.
5. Austin 3:16 is Born
Don’t tell Stone Cold Steve Austin that the Butterfly Effect isn’t a real thing. Austin was never supposed to win the 1996 King of the Ring tournament. That prize was to belong to Triple H, who was being groomed as a future main event talent. Unfortunately for Triple H, he took part in the infamous Madison Square Garden “Curtain Call” (where several wrestlers broke character to say goodbye to Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, who were leaving WWF for WCW, in front of the entire arena), and was punished by having the King of the Ring victory taken away from him. Instead, Austin was given the victory, and as winner, a short bit of promo time. Mostly directed at his opponent in the finals that night, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, in mockery of his “born-again Christian” gimmick, Austin invented the concept of “Austin 3:16” on the spot, and though it wouldn’t happen immediately, that catchphrase would soon be plastered on one of the best-selling t-shirts in WWE history, and Austin would be the biggest Superstar of all time.
4. Jim Ross Interviews Mankind
In choosing Mick Foley’s best promo, many would prefer his famous “Cane Dewey” anti-hardcore promo that he cut while part of ECW, and it’s true, that is one of his classics. Unfortunately, due to a rash of copyright claims, the only copy to be found on the whole Internet is embedded inside this WWE.com interview. So instead, here is the series of interviews with Jim Ross, which established the Mankind character as something similar to that of Foley himself, blending his own childhood stories with the attitude of a deranged maniac to create something that would catapult Mankind into the spotlight. Foley himself has called these interviews one of the best things he’s ever done in pro wrestling, and who are we to argue?
3. Hulk Hogan Joins the nWo
It was possibly the most shocking moment to ever take place in professional wrestling. The Immortal Hulk Hogan, idol of millions of fans, who had spent years telling kids to “drink their milk and eat their vitamins”, turned his back on them and joined with the invading forces of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, forming the New World Order of wrestling and officially kicking off the biggest boom period in wrestling history. From this came The Monday Night Wars, when pro wrestling was as mainstream as it has ever been, with WCW and WWF fighting tooth and nail for ratings supremacy. And it also allowed Hulk Hogan to completely re-invent himself, from a squeaky clean babyface to a narcissistic Hollywood heel, making himself one of the biggest stars in wrestling for a second time. In this post-match promo, Hogan spews so much anger towards the fans that it leaves the WCW commentary team nearly at a loss for words, with Tony Schiavone’s final statement underlining the new era of wrestling we had just entered into, as he said “Hulk Hogan…you can go to hell. Straight to hell.”
2. CM Punk Drops A Pipebomb
It was just supposed to be a throwaway title defense for John Cena. CM Punk’s contract was ending, and he was on the fence about coming back to WWE. He felt like he’d put in his hard work and hadn’t been given the opportunities that he deserved. So, WWE put him up against Cena, the unstoppable hero of millions, reasoning that if all else failed, they could have Punk put Cena over in a match before he left. And in order to give the match something resembling meaning, because the two hadn’t actually been feuding up until that point, WWE sent CM Punk out with a live microphone and told him to get some things off his chest. The result was the infamous “Pipe Bomb” promo which set off the Summer of Punk, turning CM Punk into a household name nearly overnight and making him one of the biggest stars in the business. Unfortunately, the entire angle was mishandled almost immediately, as Punk was shuffled out of his prospective feud with Triple H due to the return of (for no adequately explained reason, since he wasn’t even cleared to wrestle) Kevin Nash, but this promo still stands as one of the greatest ever.
1. Dusty Rhodes Talks About Hard Times
Well, it wouldn’t be a list of great promos without an entry from Dusty, daddy! And this is the Dusty promo that everyone knows, the classic “Hard Times” promo where he talks about coming back from a Horseman-inflicted injury, and how he’s coming for Ric Flair and the Horseman, not just for himself, but for all the hard-working people of America. This promo is the best example of why Dusty was so beloved as a performer, and why he was known as The American Dream. Jokes have been made about his “son of a plumber” gimmick (which he was), but it was his appeal to the blue-collar culture that endeared him to wrestling fans. Before Steve Austin showed how to fight back against your boss, Dusty was there fighting that same fight, giving hope to the downtrodden, the working men and women who felt like they would never get a break, showing that anything was possible if you tried hard and believed enough, and that is why Dusty Rhodes will always be considered one of the greats.