Whilst it obviously helps massively to be a vastly talented in-ring performer, often just as important in the wrestling business, even more so these days, is the ability and charisma to carry a good promo. Getting your character and personality over is imperative, as is knowing when to talk up your opponent or focus on the storylines that just so happen to be playing out. But more importantly, giving the right promo or interview at the right time can boost a wrestler’s stock to the stratosphere.
Sure, over the decades, there have been so many grapplers who just have “it” when it comes to picking up a microphone. For somebody like a Jake Roberts, a Hulk Hogan or a John Cena, there was never that one promo segment that instantly turned them into a legend or pushed them to the next level. For those fortunate folk, they’ve always been able to connect to a crowd from the moment the first picked up a mic.
For other superstars, though, there have been those special, one-off moments where they’ve delivered a promo or given an interview where something just clicked. Be it a catchphrase, a newfound intensity, or even a change of personality, sometimes something said or done in a promo just magically transforms a performer in the eyes of the fans, their fellow wrestlers, and, often most importantly, to Vince McMahon.
Some may have seen their careers hit unimaginable heights, whilst others saw their place on the card increased ten-fold, but here’s 15 examples over the years of how particular promos and interviews turned WWE superstars into WWE legends.
15. Rick Rude’s Pre-Match Promos
You could go into a “Ravishing” Rick Rude match without any sort of idea who Rude actually was, but before the bell even started you’d know that you were watching a true superstar.
Before the bell would sound, Ravishing would grab the mic and deliver a promo along the lines of “What I’d like to have right now, is for all of you fat, ugly [insert local town name here] sweathogs to keep the noise down while I take my robe off and show the ladies what a real sexy man looks like.” And just like that, Rick Rude would have told any newcomers everything they needed to know about him.
This pre-match ritual, coupled with his targeting of females in the audience before each match, put Rude on a different level to so many of his peers, and this along with his excellent ring skills see him revered to this day as a bona fide legend of the business. So much so that recent rumours suggest that this former Intercontinental Champion could be one of the names inducted as one of this year’s Hall of Fame class.
14. Being Fair To Flair
There’s no disputing that Ric Flair was already a legend of the business by the time he turned up in the then-WWF in the second half of 1991, but his run in Vince McMahon’s company put him front-and-centre for a whole new audience. Key to that was his post-match promo following his 1992 Royal Rumble win.
He told us all, with a tear in his eye, that the WWF World Heavyweight Championship was the only wrestling title in the world that mattered.
Flair had put in an hour-long stint in the Rumble match, and seeing him cutting one of his famed promos with the WWF Title over his shoulder validated him to the WWF audience at the time. Sure, he’d cut some great promos in the WWF already by then, but for those not well-versed in the NWA/WCW, Flair’s words were just that: words. By winning the Royal Rumble and the WWF Championship, Flair had proven that he was a man of action, and that instantly legitimized him to the portion of WWF fans who thought he was all hype and catchphrases.
13. The Ultimate Warrior’s Ultimate Promo
The Ultimate Warrior is well known for his intense promos. And by intense, that can sometimes mean erratic and nonsensical. Still, the Warrior was the Warrior and, if nothing else, he always did things his own way.
The Parts Unknown native made a near-instant impact in the then-WWF, rampaging through any and all who stood in his way. Be it Andre the Giant, Hercules, Honky Tonk Man, “Ravishing” Rick Rude or whoever, they all feel by the wayside when Ultimate Warrior stood across the ring from then. And then there was the classic meeting of the unstoppable force and the immovable object that was the WrestleMania VI bout between Warrior and Hulk Hogan.
Warrior’s promos were always largely the same, but it’s his ramblings on a March 10th, 1991 episode of WWF Superstars of Wrestling that added further to his legacy. Somehow the Intercontinental Champion related sacrificing pilots and crashing planes to his upcoming winner-takes-all match against WWF Champion, the Hulkster.
This was the Ultimate Warrior at his most Ultimate Warrior. Everything we all loved (or hated, in some cases) about the Warrior was here in exemplary fashion, and it’s this promo that many feel perfectly captures the legend of the Ultimate Warrior.
12. Bret Hart’s Main Event Push Starts
Now Bret Hart had been one of the most talented in-ring performers in the then-WWF ever since he debuted in the company in 1985. The Hitman’s ring prowess was never in doubt, but his promo work was something that Bret wasn’t quite as comfortable with.
The Hart Foundation split up following their Tag Team Championship loss to The Nasty Boys at WrestleMania VII, but Bret quickly found his feet as a solo act and bested Mr. Perfect to become the Intercontinental Champion at SummerSlam that year. Still, it wasn’t until his WrestleMania VIII bout with Roddy Piper that some took The Excellence of Execution as being a main event player.
Key to this was his pre-match promo with Piper. Despite Piper, a longtime legend and main eventer of his own by that point, cracking wise and looking to mess with Bret in the Mean Gene-fronted interview, The Hitman was quick to shut down Roddy. By having his all-business approach match Piper’s excellent promo work, Bret Hart had arrived as someone who could tussle with the best.
Hart would win the match and IC Title, but his star was well on the rise. Headlining SummerSlam 92 was months away, in October of that year he’d beat Ric Flair for his first WWF Championship, and winning the King of the Ring was around the corner in 1993.
11. The Million Dollar Man Debuts His Own Title
For those unaware of Ted DiBiase’s pre-WWF career, he was a hugely talented performer and major name in the likes of Mid-South Wrestling, the NWA and its associates, and even in All Japan Pro Wrestling.
Upon returning to the WWF in 1987 – DiBiase had previously had a brief run there in 1979 – the Million Dollar Man gimmick was placed on Ted DiBiase, and instantly a star was born. You could argue that DiBiase was a made man from the moment the first Million Dollar Man vignette aired, in which he introduced himself from his limousine while talking about how he could buy whatever and whoever he wanted.
With him having been stripped of the WWF Championship that he’d purchased from Andrew the Giant, DiBiase grew frustrated with the WWF and President Jack Tunney, thus deciding to create his own championship. And so, the Million Dollar Championship was unveiled on an episode of Brother Love’s talk show.
10. The Boyhood Dream Becomes A Reality
Shawn Michaels has always been a performer who captured the imagination of many a wrestling fan, be it during his days as one half of The Rockers, his turning on Marty Jannetty and his subsequent change of persona, his role as plucky underdog babyface, his formation of D-Generation X, or his return from retirement.
Still, despite 1996 having seen The Heartbreak Kid recognised as one of the very best in the business for several years by that point, he’d yet to win the WWF Championship.
In the build up to WrestleMania XII and an Ironman Match confrontation with Bret Hart, the WWF began to run several vignettes, promos and interviews, often highlighting Shawn’s relationship with mentor Jose Lothario.
It was in these, coupled with Hart’s comments about how he was a far more suitable role model than the energetic, gyrating Michaels, where it really told that the WWF was about to shake things up and hand the ball to The Showstopper. And so it proved to be, with Michaels fulfilling his boyhood dream at the Showcase of the Immortals and taking his career to the next level.
9. Sierra Hotel India Echo Lima Delta
The introduction of The Shield at the 2012 Survivor Series and over the ensuing months is the perfect example of how to make a major star from the get-go. Heck, so well handled was the debut of The Shield, it helped make three huge stars in one go.
The trio of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns surprised everybody by helping CM Punk retain the WWE Championship at the Survivor Series, and the following night’s Raw saw them again make their presence known in the final segment. But it was the Raw after that where we finally got to hear the three of them talk.
Without giving too much away to the audience, this sit down interview with Michael Cole gave us an indication of what we needed to know about The Shield; that Dean Ambrose was the main mouthpiece, that Seth Rollins could hold his own on the mic too, and that Roman Reigns was the silent muscle of the group.
With curiosity piqued and with anticipation high, this brief-but-brilliant introduction to The Hounds of Justice put them on the map in a major way, and all three have since gone on to become World Champions.
8. The Cream Of The Crop
There’s no debating that Randy Savage gave some of the best, most memorable promos in wrestling history. To pick one promo or interview out as being the one that propelled the Macho Man to legendary status would likely be unfair on 20 other promos, but there is one that maybe just stands out above the others when it comes to the implications it had on Savage’s career.
Heading into WrestleMania III, Savage had been cutting some of his best promos of his career, most notably calling out Ricky Steamboat for his “cup of coffee in the big time”. But it was in the aftermath of that event – in which he lost the Intercontinental Championship to The Dragon – that the Macho Man cut a promo that changed the trajectory of his championship pursuits.
In his famous “I am the cream of the crop” interview, Savage not only put Steamboat on notice, but he also focussed his attention on Hulk Hogan and the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Sure, the Macho Man had set his eyes on that particular prize before, but this time it felt different.
7. “That’s Why I Kicked Your Leg Out Of Your Leg”
He may have flubbed his lines a little, but Owen Hart’s post-match promo at the 1994 Royal Rumble shot him to superstardom.
With Owen teaming with brother Bret Hart to challenge for The Quebecers’ WWF Tag Team Championship, the referee eventually called off the match due to Bret having injured his knee. Enraged, Owen turned on his older brother, which led to their famed classic bout at WrestleMania X.
As Bret lay injured in the ring, Owen had already left the scene of his crime, but he’d pop up on the video wall as The Hitman was helped to the back. It was there that The Rocket dropped the line of “That’s why I kicked your leg out of your leg” when talking about Bret’s apparently selfish actions.
And with that, Owen Hart went from being someone best known as being in a so-so tag team with Koko B. Ware and for being the younger brother of The Excellence of Execution, to becoming a bona fide main event star all of his own who would win The King of The Ring that year and headline SummerSlam.
6. Raw Is Jericho
In the weeks building up to August 9th, 1999, the Raw Titantron would regular display a “Countdown to the New Millennium” clock. With rumours running wild (brother!) on just who would be revealed as the mysterious Millennium Man when the countdown hit zero, the big reveal was that, yes, the clock was a unique and clever way to introduce none other than Chris Jericho, someone who at that point was best known for being a hugely entertaining performer in the rival WCW organisation.
Even more important for the perception of Jericho from the get-go was that the countdown happened to hit zero whilst The Rock was in the ring. So, not only did Jericho debut as part of a memorable countdown, but he also got to interrupt one of the hottest stars in the business at that point in time.
The “Raw is Jericho” line was born that night, as was the Y2J nickname, and by the time all was said and done, Chris Jericho had arrived in a huge way.
Of course, The Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah would initially take his time to find his feet in the WWF, but he’s gone on to be revered as one of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of boots and he’s now got an impressive six World Championship wins under his belt.
5. Mankind Sits Down With Jim Ross
It was the middle of 1997 and Mankind had just come off a series of battles against The Undertaker, but Mick Foley needed something a little extra to take his career to the next level. Then came his legendary sit down interview segments with Jim Ross.
In a subdued, enlightening discussion, this multi-part talk started off with Mankind discussing the pain and torment of his childhood. But what really stands out and what really shocked the world was the final part of all of this, in which Mankind took umbrage with some of Ross’ questions. From there, he snapped and attacked JR in one of the most memorable moments of the ‘90s.
Sure, some may cite Foley’s promo work in ECW – particularly his famous “Cane Dewey” promo – as playing a huge part in his legacy, and that’s rightly true, but his sit down interview segments with JR took Foley to an entirely different level. In fact, it was due to Mick’s work here that Vince McMahon realised what a true top tier talent he had on his hands in Mick Foley.
4. “I Am The ****ing Game!”
In terms of single interviews that launched wrestlers to superstardom, Triple H’s sit down talk with Jim Ross in the build-up to SummerSlam 1999 is the stuff of legend.
By that point in time, Hunter had gone from the arrogant aristocrat to a degenerate. Even when Shawn Michaels had “retired” and Triple H brought back D-Generation X, he still couldn’t quite get to the main event scene. Forever on the cusp of the top tier of the card and the WWF Championship that came with it, Triple H was looking for his breakthrough.
Channeling his frustrations of years of being overlooked and being made the scapegoat for the infamous Curtain Call, Hunter delivered a worked shoot promo that instantly saw him become a main event superstar in the eyes of any doubters.
“You guys talk about being students of the game? I am the ****ing game, JR! There is nobody that eats, sleeps, and breathes this business more than me!”
3. CM Punk’s Pipebomb
*Sigh* Man, the current WWE product could sure do with CM Punk these days. Sadly that’s about as likely to happen as the company taking Roman Reigns out of the main event scene. But I digress, let’s take things back to when things were great and CM Punk was the hottest star in the wrestling business.
CM Punk had been doing some of the best work of his career in the first half of 2011, and it felt like he was on the cusp of something special as his WWE contract wound down in the lead-up to one final match at Money in the Bank against John Cena.
Then came the June 27th edition of Raw.
It was there that, with John Cena in a heap in the ring, Punk sat down on the stage and cut one of the greatest promos in wrestling history.
Punk, of course, would famously beat Cena for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank and take the title “home” with him as he left the company. When the Straightedge Superstar returned to the fold later in the year, he was the biggest star in the wrestling world and soon went on to have a massive 434-day run as WWE Champion.
2. Rocky Maivia Becomes The Rock
These days, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is one of the very biggest celebrities on the planet. Having transcended the wrestling business like no one else before him or since, Johnson is a huge presence in movies, TV, and just simply in the public eye. But that wasn’t always the case.
Following his 1996 WWF debut as Rocky Maivia, this third generation superstar was regularly booed out of buildings. That would be great, only at the time Maivia was supposed to be the all-smiling, whiter-than-white good guy. By the time the Intercontinental Championship ended up around his waist just months into his wrestling career, crowds were already chanting “Rocky sucks!” and the extreme “Die, Rocky, die!”
An injury was around the corner, and when Maivia returned to action in August ’97 after nearly 4 months on the shelf, he turned heel and became part of The Nation of Domination. It was in his first promo as part of The Nation, though, that his career turned around. Condemning the fans for their hateful chants, Maivia started to refer to himself as The Rock as his personality began to shine through. The rest, as they say, is history.
1. Austin 3:16
Of course, topping this last has to be “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s legendary 3:16 promo at the 1996 King of the Ring.
Having managed to shake off the whole Ringmaster gimmick, Austin had started to see his stock majorly rise during 1996. As an intense, aggressive, no BS competitor, Stone Cold was edging ever-closer to the top of the WWF tree. Like so many, he just needed something to give him an extra nudge in the right direction.
That nudge just so happened to happen during Austin’s King of the Ring coronation. When interviewed by Dok Hendrix, The Texas Rattlesnake dropped the Austin 3:16 line as a dig at the man he’d just bested for the crown, the newly-religious Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
And there you had it – by the next night’s Raw show, the crowd was full of Austin 3:16 signs.
Austin was now a major player in the WWF, and the next year or so saw him tangling with Bret “The Hitman” Hart and The Hart Foundation, in turn becoming a huge babyface and ultimately defeating Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship at WrestleMania XIV.