The way that World Wrestling Entertainment fans view unscripted promos that air during a broadcast changed in the summer of 2011 when CM Punk made his way out onto the top of the WWE Raw ramp. Punk then informed those inside of the arena and television viewers that he was fed up with those running the WWE, that he was soon going to be out of a contract with the company, and that he was, before he left to pursue other interests, going to defeat John Cena and win the WWE championship in his final match. It was the promo that kicked off WWE’s version of the “Summer of Punk,” and it was also the berth of the term “pipe bomb” being used for such promos.
That was hardly the first time that Punk gained attention for his mic work. Some would, in fact, argue that a similar incident involving Punk that took place inside of a Ring of Honor ring was superior to his WWE pipe bomb. Punk was the best interview/promo man in WWE for his last several years in the company whether he was a babyface or a heel, going above and beyond any other active wrestler within the company. Any professional wrestling company on the planet would be lucky to have a great overall talent such as Punk, and WWE will be worse off now that the Straightedge Superstar has moved on to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Punk’s pipe bomb is the inspiration for the title of this piece, but it is not the top overall promo in the history of North American pro wrestling. That honor instead goes to an in-ring interview that launched the famous war involving two companies and, in the process, made history. The great irony, of course, is that the moment helped World Championship Wrestling make millions of dollars and it also put WCW out of business. Without it, however, that company may not have crashed and burned less than five years after that version of a pipe bomb was dropped during a pay-per-view broadcast.
20. Punk turns heel in ROH
It is only fitting that this list begins with the man who launched the pipe bomb that led to the creation of this piece. Punk, upon holding the Ring of Honor Championship inside of the ring, grabbed the attention of what was, at the start of the night, an adoring audience and he crushed their spirits by announcing that he was “the devil himself.” By declaring himself the greatest pro wrestler walking the face of the earth today while burying each of his foes, Punk offered a preview of famous words he would say while working for World Wrestling Entertainment.
19. Vince Russo being Vince Russo
It did World Championship Wrestling zero good when Vince Russo walked into the ring at the 2000 Bash at the Beach pay-per-view event. In fact, it probably made things even worse for a company that was spiraling out of control. Russo’s WCW stint from start to finish is a lesson for promoters on what not to do if one wishes to run a successful pro wrestling company, and that includes this peek behind the curtain that Russo gave fans during the WCW’s last year of existence. Russo dropped a pipe bomb that night, and it exploded right in his face.
18. Jake Roberts at Heroes of Wrestling
Roberts was a master on the microphone in his prime, a haunting figure who could hold attention spans in the palms of his hands whether he was a babyface or a heel. This, however, was not one of his finer moments. A visibly impaired Roberts stumbled over his words, incoherently referencing gamblers and snakes and whatever else he was trying to say. It has, however, become maybe the most famous promo Roberts ever cut as an active wrestler, and thus it checks in here on the list. Roberts has taken steps to get his life in order, and he is hoping that he has defeated his demons once and for all.
17. Paul Heyman vs. “The Network”
The feud involving Extreme Championship Wrestling head Paul Heyman and cable station TNN was very real behind the scenes during their brief relationship. Heyman felt that the network handcuffed his creativity, and he freely spoke about it on numerous occasions. World Wrestling Entertainment, which now owns the ECW library, has blocked the famous promo Heyman cut when he dared TNN to “throw him the hell off the air.” You will instead have to live with Heyman’s not-safe-for-work comments, which he made during an ECW event leading up to what was the company’s demise, unless you can find Heyman’s other TNN-related promo on the WWE Network.
16. Birth of The Rock
Before he was the most electrifying man in sports entertainment, The Rock was a smiling babyface who loved everybody and everything about being a pro wrestler. Fans wanted more during the early years of the Attitude Era, and they quickly turned on the to-be movie star. The Rock, in response, turned on the fans, and he went on to prove his “Rocky Maivia is a lot of things, but ‘sucks’ isn’t one of them” comment to be 100 percent accurate. What was to be one of the greatest careers in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment began with these famous words.
15. Joey Styles on WWE
The former voice of Extreme Championship Wrestling was calling a Raw broadcast in 2006 when he, somewhat out of nowhere, arose from his chair, grabbed a microphone and let out some steam regarding his time with World Wrestling Entertainment. Styles hit out at the fact that he was overlooked to call pay-per-view event Backlash, and he bashed WWE Chairman Vince McMahon for “mocking God” while McMahon and his son were feuding with The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels. Styles now works for the WWE website, which is an awful waste considering his on-the-mic talent and looking at who the company has calling matches right now.
14. Shawn Michaels: I Screwed Bret
The Heartbreak Kid was in the middle of a feud with living legend Hulk Hogan when he entered a ring inside of the building where the Montreal Screwjob occurred in the fall of 1997. With the crowd jeering Michaels from the opening note of his theme song, HBK let loose on the audience beginning with a “Who’s your daddy, Montreal?!?” Michaels even delivered a figurative Sweet Chin Music to the crowd when he had Bret Hart‘s theme music and Titantron video play, leading the audience to believe that the Hitman was coming to seek revenge on his hated rival.
13. ECW Arrives
Shane Douglas was supposed to be the new face of the renewed National Wrestling Alliance when he won a tournament for the vacant NWA title in 1993. He instead helped launch a small company that would go on to change North American pro wrestling forever. Douglas defiantly stated that former NWA champions could all “kiss his ass,” and he then tossed the belt aside in favor of what he called the Extreme Championship Wrestling title. The rest was history, as ECW grew and began what would be known as the Attitude Era that guided the World Wrestling Federation past World Championship Wrestling in the Monday Night War.
12. Bret Hart Returns
12 years after the Montreal Screwjob, Bret Hart returned to a World Wrestling Entertainment ring to confront Shawn Michaels. The long-time rivals stood eye-to-eye, and Michaels stated that Hart “deserved” what had happened to him on the most famous night in WWE history. A rematch was not in the cards, due largely to Hart’s real-life health issues, and thus the two embraced – only after Michaels brilliantly teased one final Sweet Chin Music on the Hitman. Hart and Michaels went on to film a fascinating documentary on their rivalry that can be viewed via DVD or on the WWE Network.
11. Paul Heyman on Vince McMahon
That the former head of Extreme Championship Wrestling is not the lead writer for World Wrestling Entertainment shows that those running WWE have no idea what they had/have in Heyman. On the final television event before the 2001 Survivor Series that saw the then WWF take on The Alliance in a power struggle for pro wrestling supremacy, Heyman took fans on a journey down memory lane and back to the days of the original ECW. With McMahon standing in silence, Heyman went on a rant for the ages that, unfortunately for the character, did not propel the ECW/WCW Alliance to a win.
10. That Pipe Bomb
Punk‘s famous pipe bomb delivered in the summer of 2011 could and should have been in the top-three of this list if not No. 1 overall. It falls to tenth, however, because World Wrestling Entertainment squandered an incredible storyline. Punk did go on to defeat John Cena before literally sending a goodbye kiss to Vince McMahon at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view, but WWE then had the Straightedge Superstar return to the company a couple of weeks later. Punk went from being an outsider and a rebel to just another guy in the company, one who got a new contract and his desired theme song.
9. Ric Flair is Great
Do yourself a favor right now and do a quick “Ric Flair promo” YouTube search. Picking just one Ric Flair promo to spotlight in this piece would be like going outside in the winter and locating the one perfect snowflake. It’s not happening, and you’d just be wasting your time. This isn’t to say that Flair’s “Silver Spoon” comments were not tremendous and some of his best work on the mic. Flair has, simply put, been responsible for more than 20 incredible promos over the years, and that even includes his time spent in pro wrestling laughingstock TNA Wrestling.
8. Summer of Punk 1.0
Punk‘s most memorable mic moment occurred in World Wrestling Entertainment, but his best promo occurred while he was Ring of Honor champion. Preparing for a real-life stint in WWE, Punk, the ROH Champion at the time, stood in the ring and gave the “minor league” company the ultimate sign of disrespect: He signed his WWE contract while the paper was on top of the ROH belt. Unlike when WWE wasted Punk’s talents again and again until he headed for greener pastures, ROH and Punk got it spot-on here. There are some who would argue that Punk’s finest work came at this point of his career.
7. Foley Against ECW
Years after he cut a legendary promo while working for Extreme Championship Wrestling, a bloodied Mick Foley sat in a World Wrestling Entertainment ring preparing to speak about his past experiences with ECW. What followed was several minutes of chilling dialogue, as Foley explained how ECW was like “the girl I can’t let go.” In a moment of pro wrestling genius, Foley also propped up rival Tommy Dreamer leading up to a match involving the two, reminding all that a good heel knows to not make a babyface appear to be weak or soft at any point during a feud.
6. Cane Dewey
Before he was Mankind and Dude Love in the World Wrestling Entertainment, Mick Foley was Cactus Jack in multiple companies, including Extreme Championship Wrestling. Foley, in a soliloquy, explained the emotional pain that he felt upon seeing a sign at an event calling for his son to be caned: “You ripped out my heart!! You took everything I believed in and you flushed it down the damn toilet! You flushed my heart! You flushed my soul!!” Foley then renounced his hardcore style of wrestling, turning into one of the biggest heels and most hated men in all of ECW at the time.
5. I’m Breathing!
World Wrestling Entertainment has blocked uploads of this Dusty Rhodes promo, which is a shame as it is a personal favorite and one that is worth paying NINE NINETY-NINE (depending on where you live) if you’ve never before seen it. Lance Storm jotted down the memorable points of what Rhodes said leading up to Starcade 1988 in a 2011 column:
“If Sting has to carry me on his back damn it all…if he has to drag me in a wagon…I’m breathing, you understand what I’m saying, I’m breathing…You should have got it done. It’s violence for the sake of violence, but I will turn it around…to my violence, to my thunder, to my lightning bolt.”
4. Hard Times
You could do a top-20 list on just the great promos cut by all-time great The American Dream Dusty Rhodes during his legendary career. This would be his most famous. While in the midst of a feud with Nature Boy Ric Flair, Rhodes, who was wearing a suit that didn’t match those worn by the Dirtiest Player in the Game, explained that, like many of the viewers watching, he was down but definitely not yet defeated. Rhodes, to this day, is a throwback, a guy who made it in pro wrestling despite the fact that he did not have a bodybuilder physique or model good looks.
3. Bret Screwed Bret
World Wrestling Federation Chairman Vince McMahon was always going to be the most hated man in the company following the “Montreal Screwjob” that saw Bret Hart lose his title to hated rival Shawn Michaels in Hart’s final appearance with the WWF before joining up with World Championship Wrestling. Rather than lie and try to save face, McMahon, as smart promoters do, used real life to make money, turning himself into the Mr. McMahon character who would go on to feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Without this promo, the WWF may have lost the Monday Night War to WCW.
2. Austin 3:16
The man who had been “Stunning” and a “Ringmaster” became downright Stone Cold after defeating born-again Christian Jake Roberts in the 1996 King of the Ring Final. As the injured Roberts required help to limp back to the locker room, Austin stared at the camera and told the world that “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” A wrestling icon, not to mention the biggest draw in the business who would help the World Wrestling Federation defeat World Championship Wrestling in the Monday Night War, was born, and Austin remains one of the more popular figures in the business nearly 20 years after that fateful night.
1. nWo Forms
It has been regarded as the most important interview in the history of pro wrestling. Hulk Hogan, after shocking the world and joining up with The Outsiders in their mission to destroy World Championship Wrestling, delivered what was, to date, the biggest shot fired during the so-called Monday Night War involving WCW and the World Wrestling Federation, launching the foundation of the new World order at the 1996 edition of Bash at the Beach. Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash ultimately achieved their objective in real life, unintentionally helping to destroy WCW and shaping what became the North American pro wrestling world that exists today.