In professional wrestling, promos are often just as vital as the in-ring action. From fiery rants born out of real-life frustrations to emotional confessions, in these ten unforgettable wrestling promos with their own secret backstory, the boundary between persona and reality led to some truly iconic moments!
1. Steve Austin ECW Promo (1995)
In 1995, WCW’s Eric Bischoff made one of the biggest blunders in wrestling history.
He didn’t see Steve Austin’s potential and unceremoniously released him after Steve was injured.
Soon after, ECW scooped him up and revitalized his character.
“I get all this credit because I put a microphone in front of Steve Austin and said, ‘Are you pissed off?'”
“As a courtesy, I offered Austin the opportunity to do his promos early.
"I always thought Steve was a first-class promo guy who was just never given the opportunity to let his real persona come out.
“But Austin didn’t want that courtesy. He wanted to be competitive. ‘If it’s all right with you,’ he said, ‘I’ll go last!’
“I told him: ‘LAST??? Last is around 4 in the morning!’
“‘I ain’t got nothing to do before I catch my plane. I’ll sleep tomorrow,’ he replied, as serious as I’ve ever seen him. ‘I wanna see what everyone else does, so I know who and what I have to top!’
“And then, it was time.
"Everyone had done their interviews. It was, as predicted, around 4 am.
"Steve turned to me and asked, ‘What do you want me to say?’
"The answer was easy.
"‘Tell everyone the truth.’
“What happened next is just one of those moments in time that you never forget.”
It was the catalyst for Austin’s career moving forward.
“There’s no one who can hold back Steve Austin now,” Austin stated. “ECW is going to find out firsthand what Steve Austin can do. What a true superstar is supposed to be.”
2. Dusty Rhodes Hard Times (1985)
The ‘American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes cut one of the most passionate promos ever.
Dusty Rhodes was at Mid-Atlantic Wrestling in 1985 and in a rivalry with Ric Flair.
He put hard times on Dusty Rhodes and his family.
“You don’t know what hard times are. And Ric Flair, you put hard times on this country takin’ Dusty Rhodes out; that’s hard times.”
Dusty believed the program between him and Flair was a catalyst for how promos became more impactful.
In an episode of WWE Rivalries, Dusty stated that promos became 75% of the wrestling industry.
“[Promos are] more important sometimes than the match. You relate to what was going on. It’s like people want to be a part of it.”
Over 30 years later, Cody Rhodes brought up his father’s promo with Paul Heyman on Monday Night Raw. He explained how Dusty was featured in ECW and how Heyman played a pivotal role in the Rhodes family’s success.
“The year was 2000. Hard times became more than just a promo. My family went broke. My dad was doing local car commercials and not for the money so that he could keep the car.”
Yes, sometimes promos become ever so real.
3. Jos LeDuc Blood Oath (1978)
Jos LeDuc was in a rage on 1978 TV, and you couldn’t take your eyes off of him.
“This is an axe, and this is an arm. I’m going to cut my arm. Now, do me a favor, Jerry Lawler. Do not show up Monday night at the Coliseum because this cut right here will get you hurt.”
LeDuc left, and the interviewer, Lance Russell, said, “The guy just loses touch with reality; that’s all there is to it. He did it.”
On his YouTube channel, Storytime with Dutch Mantell, Mantell talked about his relationship with LeDuc, mentioning the incident.
“I worked with [LeDuc] years ago when he was in Memphis. Jos LeDuc, to me, was one of the guys in wrestling I was kind of leary of.”
He remembered the blood oath promo.
“I did see one time he went on Memphis TV with an axe, and he put his arm up, and he cut his arm. If he doesn’t give a [darn] about himself, you know he doesn’t give a [care] about anybody else.”
Whether it was from an axe or a bloody brawl, Jos LeDuc knew how to keep the audience on the edge of their seat!
4. The Rock Armageddon Hell In A Cell Promo (2000)
Brian Gewirtz, head writer of WWE Raw from 2002-2012, pitched The Rock an idea to imitate all five competitors in the 6-on-6 Hell in a Cell match at 2000’s Armageddon pay-per-view.
He and The Rock collaborated on the promo together. Thus, on December 4th, 2000, The Rock cut a promo hyping up their match and mocked his opponents Kurt Angle, Rikishi, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, and The Undertaker.
Despite the wrestlers being given a notice from The Rock beforehand, they weren’t pleased. Instead of putting over the Hell in a Cell structure, The Rock turned it into a comedic skit.
“Even if that means The Rock will beat Kurt Angle, I’m going to have a big glass of milk, three chocolate chip cookies, and maybe I will take three Viagara!”
In Brian Gewirtz’s book, There’s Just One More Problem, he gave us insight into how the promo was constructed and received backstage.
“Officially, I had heard that their issue was Rock didn’t put over the severity of the Hell In A Cell structure enough. Technically speaking, if you watch the entire promo, Rock begins and ends on a serious note, selling the Cell’s severity. It’s just not the part people were talking about afterward.”
While the crowd went bananas, the wrestlers involved backstage were none too pleased.
Gewirtz explained, “Kurt, as I expected, didn’t care about the comedy, but he did confirm the other main eventers weren’t exactly among the millions and millions enjoying the promo.
“In one fell swoop, I managed to [anger] a good portion of the top guys in the company, so I chose to deal with the issue as any real man would – I approached no one and hoped it would all be forgiven.”
The Rock didn’t win the match (Kurt Angle did), but his theatrics have left an impression on WWE fans decades later despite the heat he received backstage in the aftermath.
5. “I Got Kids” – Heath Slater (2016)
When the WWE Draft returned in July of 2016, the only wrestler not drafted to a brand was none other than Heath Slater.
Slater was featured as a free agent during a segment with Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar one month later. He addressed Lesnar, and what happened next wasn’t in the script.
“Don’t disrespect me. I got kids that depend on me, so if that says I have to go against Brock Lesnar to get a contract…”
Lesnar interrupted to welcome Slater into the ring before saying, “I don’t give a **** about your kids!”
Slater responded by saying, “All these people here know I am going to get my *** whipped. I know I’m going to get my *** whipped, but I have to do this.”
In an interview with Rewind Recap Relive, Slater addressed the promo.
“Vince thought it was a goldmine. ‘Look at that country boy out there saying ‘I got kids.””
Brock agreed, and the rest was history.
In regard to Brock Lesnar planning a match, Heath Slater added that Brock stated, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Just be ready.”
“I didn’t know that I was going to get a German Suplex from him; he didn’t tell me,” Slater admitted.
“He told me he was going to F-5 me. Clothesline. F-5. Done. But, it was a clothesline, a couple of Germans, and an F-5. You could see a picture of him holding me, and my feet were at least six inches off the ground.”
Slater continued, “Sometimes when you get a script from the writers, you tend to forget ****.
“What do you want me to hit? Let me say it my way, and it will get over with the fans and me. If you try to get me to memorize this crap, it’s not going to come off well.”
During an interview with Chris Van Vliet, Slater described further what happened when in the ring with Brock.
“I had a promo with Brock, and halfway through the promo, I just forgot my next line. I just went off and said whatever I wanted to where at least the people liked that. I guess Vince heard it and said, ‘That’s obnoxious, I love it!'”
In the aftermath, Heath Slater got a shirt saying, “I got kids,” which became the first merchandise he ever received as a solo wrestler.
Slater would introduce his family to the WWE fans weeks later and earned a contract on Smackdown.
This segment and promo didn’t go according to plan, but all parties involved seemed to think it turned out well. It was one of those situations where improvisation plays a part in a wrestler’s career and turns a real-life scenario into a storyline.
6. Romans Reigns and Leukemia (2018)
Roman Reigns giving up his WWE Universal Championship in 2018 was a moving moment where a real-life difficult circumstance took precedence over the storyline, creating one of the most unforgettable wrestling promos of all time.
“My real name is Joe, and I’ve been living with leukemia for the past eleven years, and unfortunately, it’s back,” Roman Reigns addressed the crowd. “I have to relinquish the Universal Championship.
“When I was 22 years old, I was diagnosed with this, but I was able to put it into remission.
“I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have money, I didn’t have a home, and I had a baby on the way, and football was done for me. But you want to know who gave me a chance? The team that gave me a chance was the WWE.
“They put me in front of all of you, the WWE Universe. And to be honest, y’all have made my dreams come true. You reacted to me, and for that, I have to say thank you so much.”
Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins came out to hug Reigns and did their Shield pose before heading backstage.
Roman Reign’s announcement was only one piece of the puzzle, as Ambrose turned on Rollins to close the show.
On Gorilla Position Live, Rollins described that night and shed light on Dean’s turn.
“There were maybe a handful of people who were aware of what was going to happen; myself and Ambrose were not two of those people. The plan was to do the turn that night before the diagnosis came in that week.
“After the announcement was made, and we got all the emotional stuff out of the way, Triple H came to us and told [us] that it was our decision. Ambrose and I collectively decided it was best to do it that night.
“We thought the emotional response would be proper. We are in the business of telling stories that involve emotional roller coasters, so from a storytelling perspective, it did really well. Had we carried the story better after that, it would’ve been an awesome match heading into WrestleMania.”
Five months later, in February 2019, Reigns returned and thanked the fans for their outreach before announcing he was in remission.
However, over a year later, the pandemic hit, forcing Reigns into a leave of absence due to being immunocompromised.
After the SummerSlam main event between Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, Reigns returned and was presented as a heel aligning with Paul Heyman. Eventually, Reigns captured the WWE Universal Championship and has since had one of the longest reigns in WWE history.
His comeback is an inspiration to many.
7. AJ Lee Pipe Bombshell Promo (2013)
In August 2013, AJ Lee stood on the ramp and cut a promo on all the women in the ring who were on “Total Divas.”
“I didn’t get here because I was cute or because I came from some famous wrestling family, or because I sucked up to the right people. I got here because I am good.
“I earned this championship, and no matter how many red carpets you want to walk in your 4,000 ridiculous heels, you will never be able to lace up my Chuck Taylors.”
The rest of the ladies weren’t pleased as AJ Lee delivered the promo, but one person approved the matter.
“The Pipe Bombshell, I loved that one. I remember I got bullet points from Vince- that was our thing. He’d give me bullet points and then just trust me.
“I remember I came to the back, and he gave me a kiss on the cheek, and he said, ‘Great job.! And then he said don’t pace as much initially- be a little more steady on your feet. But I remember we had that kind of relationship where he was very proud of promo stuff.”
Although a revolution might’ve taken a few years, AJ Lee changed the women’s scene.
8. CM Punk’s Pipebomb Promo (2011)
On the June 27, 2011 episode of WWE Raw, CM Punk did a promo for the ages.
During a match between R-Truth and John Cena, CM Punk prevented Cena from winning the match by moving the table out of the way when Cena performed an Attitude Adjustment. Cena lost the match after being distracted by Punk, and Truth speared him through a table.
With Cena laying there, Punk headed toward the ramp to air his grievances while R-Truth left the stage.
CM Punk sat on the ramp and aired his grievances.
“I don’t hate you, John. I don’t even dislike you. I do like you. I like you a hell of a lot more than I like most people in the back. I hate this idea that you’re the best. Because you’re not. I’m the best. I’m the best in the world.”
How much of it was blurred lines, and how much was scripted?
CM Punk revealed in an interview via The Spotlight YouTube channel that Vince McMahon assisted and allowed him to cut it. The reality was that Punk’s contract was up in two weeks.
“[Vince] gave a couple of notes, some of which I used. One was, ‘Don’t mention Kevin Dunn,’ who [was] the guy in the production truck; ‘mention someone else.’
“What I did was go out there and said a bunch of stuff on WWE television that you weren’t supposed to say. The whole air of it was 100% real. This is a guy who was leaving in two weeks, and he just didn’t give a ****.”
Brian Gewirtz revealed in an interview with Ariel Helwani the extent to which the promo was scripted.
“There were backstage tensions in terms of performer and management. That was something Vince and company knew; we had it scheduled in segment 11 for [him] to come out and cut a promo, but Punk brought so many elements of that himself in terms of sitting down as opposed to standing.”
It’s a testament to Punk that he delivered that unforgettable promo so well and that people still question it today.
When reality met, wrestling and genuine feelings were expressed, and an organic promo was born.
9. “I Lost My Smile” – Shawn Michaels (1997)
Another superstar who was having a hard time at one point or another was Shawn Michaels.
He had injured his back in a casket match against the Undertaker and relinquished the WWF World Heavyweight Championship soon after. On Monday Night Raw in 1997, Michaels explained the situation to the fans, and the camera panned to a woman crying in the seats.
“I know that over the last several months, I’ve lost a lot of things, and one of them has been my smile.
“I know it doesn’t mean a whole lot to everybody else, but it means a lot to me. So I have to go back and fix myself and take care of myself, and I have to go back and find my smile because somewhere along the line, I lost it.”
In a WWE DX documentary, Shawn Michaels shed light on the situation.
“I wasn’t in a great place. I just thought it’d be better for everyone and everything that you let me move on.”
The original plan before Shawn forfeited the title was to lose to Sycho Sid in a quick match and write him off, but Shawn wouldn’t do it in this unforgettable wrestling promo.
“Shawn felt that he wanted to go in the ring and forfeit the title,” Bruce Prichard said in an episode of Something to Wrestle With.
“At no time did anyone know that he was going to lose his smile in the middle of the promo.”
What fans witnessed was raw, emotional, and human.
10. Paul Heyman ECW One Night Stand Promo (2005)
Things got memorably ugly between ECW and John Bradshaw Layfield at the One Night Stand pay-per-view in 2005.
“From all of us to you, since you want to shoot Cowboy, the only reason you’re WWE Champion for a year is because Triple H didn’t want to work Tuesdays.”
This promo was received well by the ECW audience, and Layfield acted like his reputation was hurt.
Later in the show, Layfield bloodied Blue Meanie, whom he had previously met after Meanie publicly called him out for bullying.
“The locker room sentiment seemed decidedly anti-JBL, and a lot of people backstage enjoyed Paul putting him in his place during his promo,” Conrad Thompson began.
“JBL did step onto the bus after the event and told a large group of ECW wrestlers that he loved the show and really appreciated what they did.
The roster gave his gesture mixed reviews.
As Dusty Rhodes once famously said, a wrestling promo can sometimes be more important than the match itself. These ten unforgettable promos serve as a testament to that!
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