My three favorite wrestlers of all time are, in no particular order, Chris Jericho, Mick Foley, and Kurt Angle. As far as I’m concerned, the peak of their careers stands up to anyone. They’re also three very different type of wrestler. The one thing they have in common is their excellent promo skills. They could be legitimately funny, they could be serious, they could put over their opponent without burying them, and do anything else with a microphone that was needed.
The promo is a lost art, and I don’t think that’s a contentious thing to say. The last great promo was CM Punk’s “Pipe Bomb” promo, and that was almost 4 years ago. There are sometimes good promos, but there haven’t been any great ones. Everyone is fed the same lines, so no one is able to make an impact with their words. Roman Reigns gives the same promo that John Cena gives, Seth Rollins gives the same promo that Randy Orton gives, and HHH gives the same promo he’s been giving for the last 15 years to open every episode of Monday Night Raw.
Guys like Jericho, Foley, and Punk put emotion in their promos. And not John Cena light switch emotion (turn the switch up, he’s Angry John Cena, flip the switch down, he’s Poop Humor John Cena), but real emotion that builds up to a climax. For my money, Mick Foley is the best promo guy in the history of wrestling, and while I don’t expect all promo’s to reach his levels, is it to much to ask for the writers and wrestlers to watch his old promos and take a few notes?
A promo has one simple goal: Get your point across, whatever that is. If you’re seeking revenge, if you feel slighted, if you want to fight, the promo is your opportunity to make your case. You can use humor, you can be serious, you can sing a song or threaten someone’s family. A great promo sticks to a point, and uses a method to make that point.
A promo isn’t a one-trick pony though. A promo also can be an effective tool to show off your character. When the Rock gives a “Rock Concert”, he’s not just taunting his opponent, he’s expressing what makes him unique. It’s impossible to have a good promo if anyone can give it. Only Kurt Angle could make Jesus tap out, only Hulk Hogan could scream about the Garden of Eden, and only Steve Austin could take a Bible verse and turn it into Austin 3:16.
It’s definitely possible to do a promo wrong. As I’m typing this, Monday Night Raw is on. They opened with the same twenty minute promo they open with every week, that does NONE of the good stuff I talk about above. They set up matches for the rest of the show in the most boring way possible. The people, as they prove every week, are literally interchangeable. The only emotion I detect is boredom from doing the same thing every week. And sometimes it’s the wrestler’s fault. Sometimes people stumble over their words, ruining a moment. Sometimes the crowd throws a wrestler off his script. And sometimes Booker T calls Hulk Hogan the N-word. Countless number of things can go wrong, and it’s up to the wrestler to work around it.
A good promo can live on like a good match. Dusty Rhodes “Hard Times” promo on Ric Flair is infinitely better then any Dusty Rhodes match I’ve ever seen. Jericho is “The Man of 1004 Holds,” and Mick Foley hates the “Cane Dewey” sign, but those promos are just as entertaining as their best matches.