The pageantry, the drama, the over-the-top characters, the half dressed-men in make-up: Wrestling is like RuPaul’s Drag Race on steroids. Literally. Nobody is lipsyncing for their lives but there are acrobatic face-offs for custody of children. Essentially, Vince McMahon is the straight, white, masculine version of Ru Paul. In this essay, I will… OK, that might actually be a decent idea for another day. Before I get too carried away though, let’s get into the motormouth moments of vicious verbiage that have stood the test of time in the WWE. These wrestling promos either created or cemented legacies. Here are my Top 5 Iconic WWE Promos.
Please note these are all from the Attitude Era and after. I’ll be going into the archives for older promos for future Top 5’s.
5. Paul Heyman ECW One Night Stand
We didn’t get the original ECW on TV here in SA but I heard about it online and got to watch clips. It was violent and unhinged in a way that I’d never seen in wrestling before. As the man orchestrating the madness, Paul Heyman was the one who, for better or worse, was pushing the boundaries of wrestling to the limits that impacted the culture of mainstream wrestling going forward.
While he might not have been able to make the business side of ECW work in the long run, Paul Heyman has always known how to use a microphone to whip a crowd into a frenzy. This promo from ECW’s first PPV after being bought by WWE was the first time I really got to see Paul E Dangerously do his thing. I’ve been a fan ever since.
If you’ve never seen ECW One Night Stand, I recommend it for the time capsule that it is. WWE had bought ECW and put out The Rise and Fall of ECW DVD that sold extremely well. This lead RVD and a few other people to push for this PPV to be put together. The rest, they say, is barbwire under the table.
4. Mark Henry’s Fake Retirement
Witnessing this promo for the first time, I was completely sold. I think everyone was. Mark Henry tugged at the heartstrings with a sincere and emotional retirement speech that turned out to not be sincere at all.
If there is one thing to be taken from this promo, it’s that Mark Henry can ACT. The quivering lip. The submissive body language. The tears! It’s an absolute masterclass that ends in a betrayal Shakespeare would have been proud of. From the opening of “You can let your guard down,” to telling his wife and daughter he’s coming home, it was all a masterfully woven ruse.
It’s such a layered speech because everything he says about Cena comes across as sincere praise but really it’s sour grapes. WWE dropped the ball by not having him win the title and going on a Hall of Pain 2.0 run after this.
3. Chris Jericho’s WWE Debut
I think the arguments against Chris Jericho being the Greatest of All Time lessen by the day. Since leaving WWE, Jericho has proved that he’s a star wherever he goes and that he can reinvent himself at the drop of a hat.
While The Man of 1004 Holds earned notoriety as a Cruiserweight in WCW, his WWE debut set the stage for Jericho to be a main-eventer star. A clock had been appearing on the screen for months counting down to “Y2J” (If you’re under 20 just Google Y2K) and as fate would have it, the clock would strike zero whilst The Rock was in the ring talking smack. A pretty common occurrence for The Great One. Talking smack, that is. Not being interrupted by debuting wrestlers from other promotions who had been teased for months.
It’s incredible to watch this with hindsight and see just how good Jericho already was on the mic at this time. I think he’ll admit he was blessed with a hot crowd that night, but he knew how to work them and had them chanting “Go! Jericho! Go!” within 5 minutes of his first appearance. Granted, they wanted him to leave, but that was the point.
2. Austin 3:16
When it comes to wrestling promos that shaped the modern history of wrestling, it’s impossible not to mention Stone Cold Steve Austin’s beautifully blasphemous “Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass” promo. Austin is one of many cases of Vince being a dumbass and not knowing what he had on his hands. Originally bringing him in as “The Ringmaster”, a technical wrestler who didn’t talk, Vince had no clue that the Texan would lead the charge in making his company a part of the global cultural zeitgeist.
There are numerous elements that make this promo so iconic but equating his own name with one of the most quoted Bible verses turned out to be a stroke of genius that turned him into a global icon (and a national treasure). While he was already on his way to becoming one of the most popular wrestlers in the company, this was one of the defining moments that kicked off Austin’s legacy as a bad-ass SOB and it deserves to be in the Slander Hall of Fame.
1. CM Punk’s Pipebomb
To wrestling fans like me, 2011’s “Summer of Punk” was pure heroin. Here’s a straight-edge hardcore kid from Chicago making his impact felt on the biggest wrestling company in the world. Through nothing but sheer tenacity, creativity, and charisma. This infamous “pipebomb” promo was a surprising moment to witness on WWE programming. Punk essentially laid bare all his gripes with the company live on their own flagship show. He let out all his gripes with the company. From Cena’s fondness for the taste of Vince McMahon’s ass to Punk’s face not being on the collector’s cups. Punk said what a lot of fans at the time were feeling and the sentiments echo through to this day. (Not the collector’s cups so much but you know what I mean).
At the end of the day, Punk left his mark, made his money, and bounced. It’s hard to argue against him being the best at the time. It’s just a pity we never got to see him headline Mania or the heights he could have reached if things hadn’t ended on such a sour note.
So, that’s my Top 5. Which ones made your list too and which promos am I an idiot who doesn’t deserve to even write about wrestling for leaving off the list?