Ronda Rousey, CM Punk and the Most Shocking Shoot Promos in WWE History
Professional wrestling is entertainment, driven largely by stories written to be fantastical and over the top. However, unlike all other long-form storytelling, this is an art form wherein reality often blends with the fictional.
Even if fans know the competitors are not trying to hurt each other, good work in the ring can allow everyone to suspend their disbelief. This is especially easy when the stories utilize real-world events as context for the performances.
A shoot promo is any time a Superstar speaks on real-life events, often unscripted and sometimes unplanned. Most shoots in WWE are worked because the company has to OK the competitor to speak his or her mind, but the words hold weight because of their honesty.
A great shoot promo does not just reference reality but embraces it, blurring the lines between the wrestling persona and the person behind the character. Often, these moments can change the careers of those cutting them and even push the business in a new direction.
Recently, Ronda Rousey's work has blurred those lines so heavily that fans have not been able to differentiate her from her character. Others, such as CM Punk and Bret Hart, have spoken up at just the right time to radically change the promotion.
These are the defining shoot promos in WWE history, setting the stage for massive shifts in direction that have made the company better.
Ronda Rousey, March 10, 2019
When the Raw women's champion was first signed to WWE in 2018, she was meant to help fan the flames of a growing revolution in the business, adding a legitimate fighter and star to the business. She has mostly succeeded, especially in bringing widespread attention with her words and actions.
While Rousey's shoot promo was not on a major stage, that was to the benefit of The Baddest Woman on the Planet. Her heel turn on Monday Night Raw allowed Rousey to say whatever she wanted, and she got everyone talking in a video she made that followed her turn.
She ran down WWE, as well as the ideas that the company is built on. As a UFC Hall of Famer, she berated a company that would consider her to ever be beneath talent who could have never made it in mixed martial arts.
It was a dangerous promo to cut but the effects have been exactly what everyone rooting for the WrestleMania showdown between Rousey, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair would have wanted. It got people talking and excited about what could come next.
The rest of this list will be defined by shoot promos that changed the direction of wrestlers' careers and the company itself, and this might end up standing alongside those. It's a matter of what comes next—particularly on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
Matt Hardy, Monday Night Raw, August 1, 2005
Few have ever pushed the limits on a shoot promo quite like Matt Hardy, who willingly dived into his own real-life drama to tell perhaps the biggest singles story of his career.
Matt's long-term relationship with Lita turned sour behind the scenes when she cheated on him with Edge, and that drama bled into the programming. Matt was fired for breaking kayfabe repeatedly in the wake of the situation but was rehired in August and finally allowed to speak his mind.
While The Man Who Will Not Die was never a great mic worker, the frustration boiling over in this shoot was palpable and ended up elevating Matt to a higher level than he had previously reached in WWE. He spoke his mind and did not shy away from stating that he wanted to Edge to die.
This is the type of promo that only works because it had to be said. Edge and Lita nearly ruined Matt's life, and it was likely only fan reactions that brought him back. This is hopefully the type of shoot that never has to happen again, but it made its mark.
The Miz, Talking Smack, August 13, 2016
The Miz has never shied away from speaking his mind. His first memorable shoot promo from January 11, 2010, on Monday Night Raw elevated him to the WWE Championship, but it was a promo six years later that ended up making clear he was a vital star in WWE.
At a time when The Most Must-See WWE Superstar was putting in the best work of his life, he was still getting called out for the same weaknesses that defined his early career. Instead of taking it on Talking Smack, he went off on then-SmackDown GM Daniel Bryan, calling him the true coward and forcing him to walk away.
This promo has gained a surprising amount of new context in recent months, with Bryan returning to action and The A-Lister allowed to be himself more with a recent babyface turn. While likely not all truth, there was frustration behind those words about how he is treated and seen by fans and fellow wrestlers.
Nearly three years past this moment, Miz has shown more and more that he is a true star in this business who deserves everything he has been given. In a decade, this may be a moment everyone looks back on as the night that solidified a Hall of Fame career.
Joey Styles, Monday Night Raw, May 1, 2006
Joey Styles may not be a massive name in the industry, but his career has gone much the same way as ECW did. The commentator carved his own legacy in that company before venturing into WWE, where he was never allowed to stand out.
His final promo may forever be the rallying call of his career. As he quit the WWE, Styles went on a tirade that feels as relevant today as it did at the time. He made it clear that he was done playing WWE's game of belittling the work of the athletes.
Of all these promos, there may never be a more memorable line than Styles' emphatic frustration as he stated "I'm not good enough to call Backlash?" Few heels have cut better promos in their careers, and every word was dripping with truth.
You can tell from the moment he starts how much it means to Styles to be a wrestling fan and how much working for WWE pained him. It's the type of promo that should have changed the business far more than it did.
CM Punk, Monday Night Raw, June 27, 2011
Wrestling eras are a messy topic, as it is often hard to define when the business changed from one focus to the next. However, it was pretty clear that WWE was stuck far too long in one era going into 2011. The PG Era was an overlong near-decade of wrestling that rarely evolved.
No one could have expected it would end when CM Punk sat down on the entrance ramp after a John Cena vs. R-Truth tables match and announced that he was done playing WWE's games. It was an effective moment in which everyone was shocked by every word until The Straight Edge Superstar's mic was cut.
He changed the way wrestlers were allowed to talk with one simple opportunity. He became a star overnight, and many others benefited from the spotlight he created, even if he did not. Moreover, he set the stage for one of the biggest matches in modern WWE: his title match against Cena at Money in the Bank the following month.
While many could argue that this has not aged as well as many of the other featured promos because Punk left the wrestling industry only a few years later, that only lends more credence to the honesty behind each word.
This is a man who still loves the business and wants it to change. While it did not alter quite as fast as he would have liked, the ramifications are clear. We are heading into a WrestleMania where Cena isn't even booked while Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles are in major singles matches.
Bret Hart, Monday Night Raw, March 17, 1997
Sometimes, not much has to be said to make an impact. Bret Hart has always been a man of few words, but he will always tell it as he sees it. In this promo just ahead of WrestleMania 13, he lost his mind after having lost out on a chance to become WWE champion.
The Hall of Famer denounced the company and the man interviewing him, Vince McMahon, who had been outed as the chairman of WWE only recently. When he blamed McMahon for his problems and pushed him to the floor, he began a story that would change WWE.
Not six months after this outburst, The Hitman got screwed at Survivor Series and exited the company, leaving an air of confusion and apprehension that set WWE on the course to The Attitude Era. Suddenly, it was far less clear what was real and what was fiction.
While there had been major shoot promos before this, few left as indelible a mark on the business. This shoot redefined what could and could not be said in wrestling in a way that every promotion has attempted to replicate in the proceeding decades.
Paul Heyman, SmackDown, November 15, 2001
Talking down Mr. McMahon is a common topic for shoot promos for a reason. Those in power get there and stay there by bringing down those who compete with them. Perhaps no one felt this more than Paul Heyman because his baby, ECW, fell apart—and one of the reasons for that was WWE.
One of the best mic workers in the business, he has more than once been allowed to denigrate the company that killed his creation, but it was never as clear and memorable as the moment when The Advocate got to belittle The Chairman to his face.
Despite being the heel in this story, there was a clear honesty behind his words and pain for how McMahon had changed the business. Even today, this promo can be felt in the way WWE has morphed the word "wrestling" to "sports entertainment" and made many great performers feel diminished on the big stage.
Heyman articulates an idea that has lived on with fans for more than a decade. These words are a rallying cry that others have gotten behind in their own attempts to be an alternative to the juggernaut of the industry.
While Heyman has found his way in the business, carving a second legacy as a manager in WWE, it is hard not to feel every word as he drives home how much it meant to him to lose.