Who Are the Greatest Mic Workers in WWE, WCW History?August 6, 2020
Who Are the Greatest Mic Workers in WWE, WCW History?
Masters of the mic.
They are the Superstars who have captivated audiences as much with their vocal styling as they did their in-ring exploits. They are engaging, real, smart, creative, charismatic and, in many cases, over-the-top.
The most accomplished talkers recognized the significance of putting themselves over without burying their opponent. After all, a one-sided battle is almost always worth zero dollars.
They also put over the enormity of an upcoming match or event, understanding the need to draw fans both from emotional and monetary perspectives.
Most importantly, strong interviews give fans a look at, and feel for, the character he or she is striving to portray. Otherwise, it is just another performer reciting hollow words not unlike any other the audience had heard before.
As B/R Wrestling celebrates Promo Day, enjoy this stroll through the annals of WWE and WCW history with its greatest, most effective and memorable talkers.
Wrestling history is dotted with an infinite number of entertaining and enthralling talkers, so much so that limiting a list to 15 is a daunting task in its own right.
In honor of those who just missed out on this list but absolutely deserve recognition for their extraordinary skills on the mic, these are the men and women who have more-than earned an honorable mention.
- Arn Anderson
- Bray Wyatt
- Brian Pillman
- Captain Lou Albano
- Ernie Ladd
- Harley Race
- Hulk Hogan
- Jerry "The King" Lawler
- Jesse "The Body" Ventura
- Jim Cornette
- John Bradshaw Layfield
- John Cena
- Kevin Sullivan
- Scott Steiner
- Stephanie McMahon
- Ted DiBiase
- William Regal
Update: Yes, The Miz absolutely belongs on here. His consistency over the last 10 years, as well as his Talking Smack promo on Daniel Bryan more than earned him an honorable mention, at the least. Apologies.
15. Terry Funk
"I said, 'woman, you didn't run over a jackass. You ran over Ric Flair!"
People tend to forget how good Terry Funk was on the mic.
He was unhinged and wild between the ropes, but he was equally as unpredictable with a microphone in hand and a camera pointed at him.
He may have teared up as he discussed the ramifications on his career a certain match may have had. He may have laughed uncontrollably as he tore down an opponent like Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat or The Great Muta. He may have even been intensely personal, depending on if he was addressing longtime friend Mick Foley or protege Tommy Dreamer.
You never really knew which one you were getting, but you knew, like everything else he did over the course of his critically acclaimed career, it would be memorable.
Funk's work in 1989 with Ric Flair remains some of the best, highest quality and over-the-top of his career, and no promo better encapsulates all of that than his "Beautiful Dream." His cadence was awesome, his retelling flawless and the punchline equating Flair to a smelly, horse-teethed jackass was equal parts hilarious and brilliant.
Not only does it often feel like Funk is left out of the greatest wrestler of all-time discussion by mainstream fans, but his promo work also does not get nearly enough credit for being as good, original and oftentimes ridiculous as it was. Hopefully, he gets his due sooner than later.
14. Jake "The Snake" Roberts
"If a man has enough power, he can speak softly and everyone will listen."
Jake "The Snake" Roberts was, and still is, the type of performer who never had to rely on loud, overbearing promos to get his point across. Instead, he understood the value of speaking softly, knowing fans would sit up and pay attention to every word that came out of his mouth because he was not the comically over-the-top promo that other stars of his era were.
He did not rely on analogies that made no sense. He wasn't tearing down any cockpit doors ala Hogan or The Ultimate Warrior. He was precise with his words, relying on proverbs to tell his stories. Like a snake, he slithered his way into and out of promos, carefully selecting everything that went into them while still managing to put his opponent over as a threat.
Roberts knew to be different, to separate himself from his peers, and the best way to do that was to tone things down and speak to the audience at a visceral, oftentimes disturbing level.
It worked. To this day, Roberts' promos rank among the best and are, at times, uncomfortable to watch. Just as he intended.
13. Randy Savage
"History beckons The Macho Man. Oooh yeah!"
The 1980s WWE product brought with it many a screaming adonis, their over-the-top promo style reflective of the larger-than-life product Vince McMahon was hellbent on promoting. While Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior may have been most guilty of it, there was no mainstream icon of that era better at it than "Macho Man" Randy Savage.
His memorable, booming voice, as well as his unique analogies and his raw intensity, made him a must-see promo.
Whether he was labeling himself "the cream of the crop" or harshly criticizing Hogan for having lust in his eyes for Miss Elizabeth, he was an engaging promo who had fans buying into every word he spoke.
Sure, he was guilty of the same thing Hogan and Warrior were, that being his tendency to go too far out into left field with some of his words, but he had a way of getting the story across in a realistic and understandable manner that his peers oftentimes could not replicate.
No matter how "big" the promos may have been, they were always rooted in a realism that separated him from the rest of the pack.
Whether he conveyed jealousy, frustration, fury or appreciation, Savage never cut a promo that was not steeped in emotion. It is that attribute that remains such an enduring part of his legacy nearly a decade after his untimely passing.
12. Bobby "The Brain" Heenan
"They say money doesn't buy you happiness. I say 'give me 50 bucks and watch me smile!'"
Bobby Heenan, in this writer's humble opinion, is the greatest performer in pro wrestling history. Witty, funny and smart, he could take even the most serious of situations and cut a one-liner that would have fans and even commentary partner Gorilla Monsoon chuckling.
As a manager, he would cut threatening promos to the likes of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Hacksaw Duggan and The Ultimate Warrior on behalf of his clients, including "Ravishing" Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect and Andre the Giant.
He could also bump, but it was his promo abilities that made Heenan one of the most must-see performers in an age of over-the-top personalities. As insightful as he was over-the-top at times, Heenan understood what to say and do, and when to say or do them, to generate the desired reaction. He was a master crowd manipulator while managing, and the voice of an entire generation of fans while commentating.
Heenan could infuriate and incite near riotous situations if he wanted, or he could passionately denounce the perceived injustices that befell his charges when they set foot in the ring with The Hulkster. He was a multi-faceted performer and one who, like Terry Funk earlier on the list, doesn't seem to get the credit he deserves for being as good as he was, even if the respect is certainly there.
11. Mr. McMahon
"I have balls the size of grapefruits, and this Sunday, you'll be spitting out the seeds."
To denounce the evil, megalomaniacal Mr. McMahon's place on this list would be akin to discrediting his role in the Attitude Era. His promos, in which he lashed out against rebels like Steve Austin and The Rock or touted his fortitude in the form of "grapefruits," were every bit as important to WWE's victory in the Monday Night Wars as anything Stone Cold or The Great One did.
He was the antagonist. He had a knack for infuriating the protagonists and fans to such a degree that the audience would tune in every week to see the billionaire businessman get his comeuppance.
That Vince was never afraid to go completely over the top, portraying an unhinged madman pushed to the brink by his rebellious employees, only helped solidify his case for inclusion on this countdown.
After all, it's not every day the owner of a billion-dollar company gleefully orders an employee to literally kiss his ass or threatens to inject said company with a lethal dose of poison if he does not get his way.
10. "Superstar" Billy Graham
"I lift barbell plates. I eat T-bone steaks. I'm sweeter than a German chocolate cake."
An entire generation of stars owes it promo stylings to "Superstar" Billy Graham.
Inspired, himself, by the great Muhammad Ali, Graham would get in front of a mic and fire off a promo full of rhymes. He was a rapper before anyone knew what that musical art form was, and the fans ate it up. He bragged about himself, naturally, but did so in a series of promos that were easily recitable.
He was wholly engaging and, along with Dusty Rhodes, set the standard for what wrestling promos would become in the years that followed.
The wrestling industry had so long been dominated by loud heels and humble babyfaces that fans had never seen someone with the showmanship of Graham come along on a grand scale. At least not since Gorgeous George. His presentation and his work on the mic took precedence over his in-ring work, and it made him as memorable a character as he was a wrestler.
It is also why he had so much success as WWE Champion, despite his role as a heel in a traditional babyface territory like New York.
Though he makes headlines today for his sometimes controversial comments about Vince McMahon and the stars of today, no star burned brighter on the mic during the height of his career, nor influenced as many after him (including Hulk Hogan), as Graham.
9. CM Punk
"Understand when you step in the ring, your arms are just too short to box with God."
CM Punk may best be known for his angry, disenfranchised Pipebomb Promo from June 27, 2011, but to suggest that was the only type of promo he could effectively cut would be doing a great disservice to the talker himself.
The Chicago native was an engaging and compelling promo who could legitimately infuriate an entire arena full of fans with his anti-drug rhetoric as the leader of The Straight Edge Society or motivate them with a fiery babyface promo.
He was passionate, absolutely believed every word that came out of his mouth and spoke with such conviction that it was not a stretch for the audience to buy into what he said. He was equal parts sarcastic and intense, but regardless of the tone he took, you knew there was a hint of truth behind his words.
He could stand toe-to-toe with John Cena, The Rock, Mr. McMahon, Triple H and The Undertaker and outduel every single one of them on the mic, earning his place at or near the top of the best talkers of his generation.
8. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
"You talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16. Well, Austin 3:16 says I just whupped your ass!"
Angry, pissed off, and rebellious.
Those are the three best ways to describe "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's promo style as he tore through WWE en route to becoming the biggest star in Vince McMahon's company's history. An anti-authority badass with a penchant for raising hell, Austin had no problem grabbing a mic and tearing anyone in power a new one.
He repeatedly threatened his boss, verbally waged war with The Rock, vowed to stomp a mudhole in The Undertaker and Kane's asses, and he manipulated the crowd into chanting "WHAT?!" every single week. He still does when he pops up for special editions of Raw every so often.
Unafraid to unleash his venom on anyone around him, Austin became the voice of the disenfranchised blue-collar workers who dreamed of one day sticking it to his or her boss. He took an industry full of gimmicks and outdated tropes and turned it on its side, championing attitude and ruling the mic while doing so.
He spoke with purpose, never allowing a meaningless line to infiltrate his latest verbal beating. The fans ate it up, reciting his catchphrases with him, including the iconic "Austin 3:16 says I just whupped your ass!"
Stone Cold may play his greatest hits when he returns now, but there was a time when his anger reflected an entire fanbase, igniting a spark that changed pro wrestling forever. For that, he absolutely deserves recognition as one of the best orators of his, or any, generation.
7. Chris Jericho
"Welcome to Raw...is...Jericho!"
From the moment he cut the glorious promo on Dean Malenko's father, disrespectfully-yet-hilariously naming him "Stinko," we knew Chris Jericho was going to be one of those talkers who commanded the attention of the audience. By the time he broke out the list of 1,004 holds in WCW, every other one being "armbar," it became clear he was going to be one of those generational talkers.
And he was.
Whether he was delusionally cutting a promo on Goldberg or The Rock, dubbing himself "The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla" or lashing out at "dirty, disgusting, brutal, bottom-feeding, trashbag ho" Stephanie McMahon, Jericho popped fans and brought a heaping dose of humor to his trash talk.
It was not until his 2008 heel turn, where he learned the value of speaking softly and delivering his point in a more subdued manner, that we saw just how great Y2J really was on the mic. He could be cerebral, cunning, witty or downright frightening when he addressed the WWE Universe, depending on the tone of his ongoing program.
Jericho's ability to walk the fine line between serious and lighthearted made him invaluable and allowed fans to run the gamut of emotions with him. It is a trait that continues to make him one of the most must-see promos in all of wrestling as he forges the latest chapter of his career in All Elite Wrestling, where he has also dabbled (quite successfully) in color commentary.
6. Paul Heyman
"Though I walk through the valley of the Deadman, I fear no evil, for I walk beside Brock Lesnar"
Paul Heyman is the gift that keeps on giving to wrestling fans. Though he rose to prominence in the late-1980s and during his run as the promoter and owner of Extreme Championship Wrestling, it is the current incarnation of Heyman that earned him placement on this list.
As the advocate for both CM Punk and Brock Lesnar, Heyman has had the opportunity to free himself of the burden of having to "shoot" to get his point across or win over the smart audience and focus primarily on putting over the athletes themselves, the feuds they are in and the upcoming matches in which they will compete.
The result has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Heyman has continuously injected life into Lesnar’s "Beast Incarnate" character, even when WWE Creative stopped caring about developing him beyond "big and scary monster." The ultimate hype man, he walks to the ring, puts his client over as a destructive force and unprejudiced ass-kicker and leaves. When he does, the fans know exactly what they are getting out of Brock come the next big match or pay-per-view appearance, and that is the true sign of a virtuoso promo.
He does not even have to say much. "Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Paul Heyman, and I am the advocate for the reigning, defending, undisputed WWE champion Brock Lesnar." With that one sentence, he has introduced himself and Lesnar to the audience. Everything that follows is focused on telling a story, wasting no breath and putting everyone involved in exactly the right position to succeed.
He is surgical with his approach, every word or phrase absolutely intentional. He can do braggadocios as well as he can do terrified. His flexibility, his showmanship helps elevate an act that otherwise would be Lesnar standing emotionless in the ring.
Heyman is absolutely as significant a part of that presentation as Lesnar himself and, given his ability to talk fans into investing themselves in any given match, maybe even more important.
5. Mick Foley
"Do you know what you've done?! You've created a monster. You've brought back to life the Hardcore Legend."
You immediately knew the gravity of any situation playing out on WCW or WWE television based on the Mick Foley that was on your television screen. He could be funny and lighthearted, throwing in a random or obscure joke as his New York Times bestselling author self. He could also be demented and deranged as the maniacal Mankind, vowing violence in retaliation for emotional anguish.
He could generate a cheap pop merely by mentioning a city's name or sell the hell out of a pay-per-view event by conveying the significance of an upcoming match. His greatest attribute, though, was his ability to put his opponent over.
Whether he was introducing a more aggressive and intense version of The Undertaker, or grabbing hold of Randy Orton and carrying him to the defining matches and promos of his young career in 2004, there was no denying that if you needed to convey a new side of a Superstar or elevate them in a single promo, Foley was your guy.
He was extremely giving on the mic, a masterful talker who could elicit whatever reaction from the crowd he damn well saw fit, and he did, usually to the benefit of whomever he was working with.
Sting, Vader, The Nasty Boys, Undertaker, The Rock, Randy Orton and Edge all owe a great deal of their success to Foley, who not only made them look good in their wild and chaotic brawls but put them over on the mic before they ever set foot inside a squared circle.
4. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper
"Just when you think you know the answers, I change the questions."
The term "spittin' fire" probably can be traced back to "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, an unabashed trash-talker who ran down every babyface from Hulk Hogan to Andre the Giant to Jimmy Snuka. He did so gleefully, unafraid of repercussions because he knew he could throw down when necessary.
As tenacious a talker as he was a fighter, he quickly won over the WWE fans for his bluntness, becoming a babyface by the time 1987 rolled around. As one of the most beloved babyfaces in the company, he continued to cut the same honest, brash and loud Superstar he always had been.
And his skills never diminished.
Piper was as good on the mic in November 2010, during an edition of Piper's Pit with John Cena as his guest, as he was in 1984. Maybe even more so because he was smarter and less spontaneous. He could tell a story, still throw in that Piper flair, and the result was the most engaging segment on whichever show he appeared.
Unfortunately, Piper was taken from us far too soon, an entire generation of fans and wrestlers alike robbed of his contributions to an era that certainly could have used them.
3. Ric Flair
"With a tear in my eye, this is the greatest moment of my life."
The "jet flying, limousine riding, kiss stealing, wheeling and dealing son-of-a-gun" is one of, if not the, most parodied and imitated talkers in professional wrestling history.
And with good reason.
The arrogant-yet-charismatic, braggadocios-yet-emotional orator had a, well, flair for recognizing exactly what promo to cut and when. If he was putting over his Nature Boy heel act, he would tout his thousand-dollar suits and crocodile shoes. If he was a babyface putting over the threat of Terry Funk or Big Van Vader, he would appeal to the fans in a more down-to-earth and serious manner. And when the time called for it, he would open up like a faucet, tears freely flowing as he put over the (sometimes very real) emotion of an upcoming match.
Later in his career, as his focus shifted from putting himself over to helping boost the future of the industry, he became an incredibly effective mouthpiece for young Randy Orton and Dave Batista as part of Evolution. Still aware of the magnitude of the moment, he again dug deep into his arsenal and pulled out whichever Flair trait was needed at the time, often to the benefit of all involved.
He could be angry, irate and vengeful just as easily as he could be cocky and conceited; humble and thankful as easily as he could be deceitful and conniving. His ability to adapt from feud to feud, while never losing his passion, makes him one of the best to ever hold a mic on a pro wrestling show.
2. The Rock
"The Rock says know your damn role and shut your damn mouth!"
The Rock is, was and always will be the exception to great promos in pro wrestling.
While others spent at least a portion of their promo putting their opponent over in an attempt to generate excitement for an upcoming match, even if it was backhanded, The Great One unabashedly tore them down. Rock was a trash-talker, and gleefully so. He would come up with one-liners or entire minutes-long jokes to bury his opponent, all the while inciting a sing-a-long atmosphere with fans.
They would chant along with his catchphrases, feeling every bit a part of the show as he was. Rock's promos were inclusive, encouraging fan involvement as he completely denounced the idea of Billy Gunn beating him to "God" or openly mocking The Undertaker's deadman gimmick—something that just didn't happen.
He was charismatic, funny and engaging. It was those qualities that helped him make the successful jump to Hollywood. Then, when he returned triumphantly, the biggest star in the movie industry, he would show off humility and appreciation for the business that afforded him a life of luxury.
Whether he was the cocky guy who first coined the "...if ya smell what I'm cooking" catchphrase during his WrestleMania XIV promo with Gennifer Flowers, or a focused, intense returning hero verbally sparring with John Cena, Rock had the innate ability to suck fans in and leave them hanging on every word.
It is for that reason he lands so high on this countdown.
1. Dusty Rhodes
"I have wined and dined with kings and queens, and I've slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans."
Dusty Rhodes is the greatest talker in the history of professional wrestling and absolutely deserves the top spot in this countdown.
He was a common man, the son of a plumber, who never forgot where he came from. He could easily talk trash to Ric Flair and The Four Horseman, wage war with Paul Jones and his latest monster, but it was his ability to connect with an audience consisting of the blue-collar workers and every-mans that made him unforgettable.
His impassioned "Hard Times" promo, in which he discussed the men and women in America who were laid off their jobs, replaced by computers, remains the hallmark of his career, but it was hardly the only great promo he delivered.
The American Dream had a way of discovering a cadence, weaving his words, one-liners and longer phrases in an out like a rapper might years later. He was a mic magician, spitting lines that commanded not only the attention of the audience but also its emotional investment.
There was no better big-game talker than Dusty. He knew where any one of his given feuds were at in their progression and knew exactly when to turn the dial all the way up on the mic. He could be intense, emotional, raw, hilarious or sullen when necessary, but he always knew how and when to put the upcoming match or event over.
You can watch any Dusty promo today and still encounter the feelings fans got watching them some 35 years ago. They are timeless works of art, the sort of things that belong not to the company that owns the footage, but the men and women who experienced them at a guttural level. They are his legacy, one that continues to burn bright in those he called family and anyone lucky enough to have learned from him in his famed "promo classes" in the WWE Performance Center.