Is Chael the best Promo Man in the Business?

In light of tomorrow night’s showdown for the UFC light heavyweight title, a question started flying around the office. First, it was who in MMA is better at cutting promos than Chael Sonnen? Then it went to where would he fit among the best promo men in professional wrestling. That of course went to ask, who really are the best promo man in the history of professional wrestling? Which brings us to one of our not-so-famous lists.

First, take in Chael P. Sonnen at his best.

And now the guys who we say are the best. Note the lists here are very different, but there is no dispute on top of the list.


Armando’s Top 20 Casey’s Top 20
1. Ric Flair 11. Ted DiBiase 1. Ric Flair 11. Ted DiBiase
2. Mick Foley 12. Hulk Hogan 2. Mick Foley 12. Hulk Hogan
3. CM Punk 13. Samoa Joe 3. Roddy Piper 13. Shane Douglas
4. Jim Cornett 14. Shawn Michaels 4. Dusty Rhodes 14. Jerry Lawler
5. Shane Douglas 15. Sting 5. The Rock 15. Jake Roberts
6. Dusty Rhodes 16. Kevin Steen 6. Steve Austin 16. Paul Heyman
7. Scott Hall 17. Steve Austin 7. CM Punk 17. Jim Cornette
8. Raven 18. Roddy Piper 8. Raven 8. James Mitchell
9. The Rock 19. Chris Jericho 9. Terry Funk 19. Austin Idol
10. Paul Heyman 20. Edge 10. Chris Jericho 20. Jimmy Jacobs

As you’ll notice, I tend to skew a little bit towards the old school. I guess you’ll have that. Anyway, a little word on out selections.

#1 – Ric Flair
This was an easy selection. Say what you want about Flair’s exploits outside the ring, but the Nature Boy brought it every night on the mic and on the mat. As the leader of the Four Horsemen, nobody could make you hate them more than the champ. His series of matches with Ricky Steamboat in 1989 produced some of the best promos ever. And you can never mistake a Ric Flair promo. If Ric has a mic in his face, he’s probably going nuts. Here’s 15 minutes of brilliance from The Man.

#2 – Mick Foley
Mick Foley, in any incarnation, is a guy who always speaks with passion and the appropriate fervor. He always had that ability to pull some aspect of reality into his promos and make a connection between the character and his audience. This is the perfect example of that. Foley took the anger and frustration he was feeling with ECW and the ECW fans and turned it into a series of promos that many call the best in wrestling history.  I know many think the sit-down with JR is better, but this is true and angry Jack. Pure and uncut.

#3/7 – CM Punk
There’s a big discrepancy here between Armando and I here. Granted, Punk is at the top of his game. However, I still think that some of the legends are still ahead of him for now. We make this list again in 5 years, might be a different story. He’s been a great talker since his indy days, but its this series of worked shoots over the summer of 2011 that brought him to the forefront of the business. Punk is a throwback to the days where the promo was the first and only way to get people into the seats and his promos put life back into a sagging product.

#4/17 – Jim Cornette
If there’s someone that could give Bobby Heenan a run for his money, it’s Cornette. He’s proven that he has a great mind for the business. Not just in front of the camera, but behind it as well. Most newer fans probably don’t know that he’s managed some of the biggest names in the game, oh, and the greatest tag team of all time (Sorry, R&R and LOD fans). He is intense and harsh in a southernly gentleman kind of way. Here Corney goes after a popular target for all heels in Crockett’s territory, Dusty Rhodes.

#5/13 – Shane Douglas
You want to talk about intensity, the Franchise had it. He cut a decent promo while he was in WCW, but after he had his run-in with Slick Ric and was let go, it unleashed a fire. Shane Douglas took the pissed-off guy promo to a new level. He mixed the confidence of a world champion with the fire of a guy who had something to prove. He cut one of those promos that are a landmark in the business and it’s this one. August 27, 1994. Shane Douglas wins a one-night tournament for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, then swerves the wrestling world and throws the belt down.

#6/4 – Dusty Rhodes
Dusty connected with millions of people. He was a superstar that could rap with the common man. He was funny when he could be, intense when he needed to be and always backed up the talk. There are very few wrestlers that could invoke the kind of passion he did from fans, even later in his career when people got him in polka dots. This promo is probably one of his most well-known. In the middle of a war with Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen in 1985, Dusty returns from an injury on those hard time blues.

#7/- – Scott Hall
Hall’s mic skills are often forgotten about in his sea of personal problems. But he could sell seats. During his WWF run, he took a character that could be over the top and ran with it, making Razor Ramon a feared heel and then a loved face. While he did most of his best work in the ring, he also cut one of those turning point promos in wrestling. You know who I am, but you don’t know why I’m here…

#8 – Raven
Scott Levy is a creative, well-spoken, highly intelligent individual. So is the man he’s become over the last twenty plus years, Raven. Known for his gritty promos in ECW and increasing sociopathic tendencies, Raven took his promos to a deep, dark place and enjoyed every minute of it. While some of his most intense work lies in ECW, this quick promo from early TNA shows Raven at his manic best.

#9/5 – The Rock
The Rock can pop a crowd better than any man in the history of the business. Yes, better than Hogan. I feel he did his best work as the angry heel in the late 90’s in the Nation of Domination. After that, I felt he leaned too much on catch-phrases but regardless he still garnered some of the biggest reactions ever. Only Austin’s pops ever came close to Rocky’s. Since he became a part-time wrestler/actor, he’s diversified his promos even more. He wears the swagger that comes with being in the GOAT category. There’s too many great Rock promos to choose from, but I’m a fan of this one from Wrestlemania 19. Minutes before one of the biggest matches in Mania history, the Rock cuts one on Stone Cold.

#10/16 – Paul Heyman
The Mad Scientist of Wrestling, Paul Heyman is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of the business. He is a genius when it comes to an angle, business acumen aside. He’s another guy whose intensity often overtook him and sent promos into a heavy place. He was great as the devious Smackdown GM and conniving manager of Brock Lesnar and others. But he was at his sharp-tongued best in ECW. Much like Shane Douglas, he had a grievance against WCW and eventually WWE and he used his own platform to unleash his anger in a poetic rage. His shoot at the first ECW One Night Stand was a total work and Edge gave it away for a spit take (way to kill that heat…) but this one against the network airing his show was blistering.

Paul Heyman Shoot on TNN

#11 – Ted DiBiase
Ted DiBiase was a great talker long before he went north. But when given the Million Dollar Man gimmick, DiBiase became the hottest heel of the era. He could incite a crowd simply by flashing the money and his attempt to buy the WWF title off Hogan cemented his position as the top guy everyone wanted to hate. Here is the Million Dollar Man summed up in a three minute segment.

#12 – Hulk Hogan
As the top draw of all-time, you’d think he’d be much closer to the top. However, in my eyes, he was good but those above were better. Hogan really only had about 3 different promos while he was in the WWF. You just swapped out names, cities and catch phrases and you got every Hogan promo during Hulkamania. It wasn’t until he went down south and turned heel that he really got down to business.

#13/- – Samoa Joe
I’ve been a long-time mark for Joe. I love the way he works. He’s another intense promo guy that has transcended the angry guy stereotype. Not to mention, I like it any time a guy takes Kevin Nash down a peg or two…

#14/- – Shawn Michaels
   I’m sure that I’ll take some heat for not including HBK on my list. However, to me, his best assets have always been in-ring and the promos were incidental at best. If you wanna focus on the prime of his career as a promo man, look no further than 1997. In the run up to the Montreal Screwjob and DX, Michaels cut a brilliant series of shoot/works on Taker and Bret Hart. He seems to be shooting on McMahon himself in this lead-up to his match with Taker in September 97.

#15/- – Sting
Here’s the only time I’m gonna make fun of an Armando pick, because he’s not here to defend himself. I felt Sting was at his best when his character did no talking. He had one of the very few characters who didn’t need to talk to get over. He defined over in WCW and all you had to do was put his picture up on TV and people watched. He had a charismatic, over-the-top style in his early days, which worked perfectly for the Stinger, but it wasn’t until he became the Crow that he really took off as a character, in my opinion.

#16/- – Kevin Steen
 Don’t get me wrong, I love Kevin Steen. No one has pulled of the maniacal sociopath like Steen since Jake Roberts. I love the character. I just think there are still some guys ahead of him. Here’s a nifty little piece from the middle of his war on ROH. Steen hacks the ROH website so that instead of getting the fan forums, you’d get this vid. Quite the innovative touch.

#17/6 – Steve Austin
Steve Austin was a hand in the ring in WCW, but it wasn’t until he made a stop in ECW that his brilliance on the mic was revealed. A series of angry promos against his former employer (seems to be a pattern in ECW) got the attention of the WWF. And once they let him be himself, he exploded. Austin had the same connection to the every man that Big Dust had, but there was a maniacal edge to Austin. People loved him and he loved the tweener status that let him enjoy huge reactions and not have to change his heel style in the ring. While his ECW promos were great, this is the iconic speech that solidified who Stone Cold was.

#18/3 – Roddy Piper
Piper was bad before bad was cool. Piper’s Pit was great and he always innovative. But some of his promos in Portland, Georgia and the Mid-Atlantic were gold. No one could tell a story like Piper. He innovated most of the technique that wrestlers that came after when it came to cutting promos. There’s a brilliant one he cut in Vancouver to put a point on his feud with the Sheepherders (The Bushwhackers, just hardcore), Piper shatters a beer bottle on his own face to show them, there’s nothing they can do to him to stop him that he can’t do to himself.

#19/10 – Chris Jericho
Jericho is great whether heel or face. He finds ways to blend humor into his promos like none other. He has a very direct style that is sets his opponents ablaze. He’s got the antagonistic promo down pat, even in this selection where he’s the face. It’s the prodding that gives his opponents a motivation and the fans an instant angle.

#20/- – Edge
I take it back, I am gonna slam another of Armando’s pick. There’s more personal bias in this one though. I haven’t liked the Edge character since… well, since the feud with Kurt Angle. When he came back from his neck injury, to me, he came back as “generic angry guy”. The only non-angry Edge promos I remember are the couple of times he was dry humping Lita in bed in the middle of the ring. So, I picked one I could stand to watch; one that had Mick Foley in it.

# -/9 – Terry Funk
Terry Funk was the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. He was an all-American, red, white and blue, never swore and never threw a punch. After his run as champion, he reinvented himself into the more familiar picture of Funk: the hardcore, crazy bastard. It didn’t matter who he was facing or where the match was, Funk always made you think that he was inches from the edge and genuinely terrified fans. As Joey Styles put it, “That can’t be an act.” Here, Jerry Lawler is the object of Funk’s desire to destroy.

# -/14 – Jerry Lawler
   An annoying heel to WWF fans and a God amoung men in Memphis, The King Jerry Lawler cut one of the most self-confident promos in wrestling history. Whether heel or face, Lawler packed the Mid-South Coliseum every Monday night for years. Not to mention his years behind the microphone as the color commentator on Raw. Here Lawler, the CWA World Heavyweight Champion, gets ready to take on the AWA World Heavyweight Champion Nick Bockwinkle.

# -/18 – James Mitchell
I like the guys that can take a dark character and make it their own. Wrestling has played with demonic characters in the past, but James Mitchell wrapped himself in it. As the Sinister Minister in ECW, Mitchell made a career of walking that fine line between the demonic and the insane. When he got control of Mikey Whipwreck and Yoshihiro Taijri, he got willing foils in his well-spoken insanity, like in this clip. When he got to TNA and lead the New Church, he continued his Sinister Minister persona. But when he obtained Abyss as his charge, his character went from demonic to Machiavellian. The fact the he doesn’t have a job right now shows how little emphasis is put on managers these days and it’s a damn shame.

# -/19 – Austin Idol
A name often forgotten outside of the south, Idol was one of the biggest draws in the late 70’s/early 80’s in the southern and Midwest territories. His biggest angle, like many guys who came through Memphis, came as a villain against Jerry Lawler.

# -/20 – Jimmy Jacobs
Jacobs is a strange individual. His promos are usually just as strange. But unlike many wrestlers who try to do the dark, strange characters, Jacobs is always believable and never comes off as over the top. This particular one from September of 2007 to mark the debut of the Age of the Fall is one of the most gruesome promos ever.

Honorable Mention (Guys That Just Missed Our Lists):

  • Curt Hennig
  • Lou Albano
  • Arn Anderson

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