For those who missed the previous three installments of our list of the best talkers in wrestling history, check out the following links:
Ready for some real controversy? Let’s take a look at who we considered to be the top five best talkers in the history of wrestling. Let the criticism begin!
#5. Mick Foley
Bang! Bang! Mick Foley has time and time again proved himself to be absolute magic on the “stick.” When it comes to cutting a pro wrestling promo, few are even in Mick Foley’s league. Dating back to his Cactus Jack promos in his early days in WCW, Foley was a naturally gifted talker from the word “go.” His character promos as Cactus Jack, while he borrowed his style from some famous movie characters, were still thoroughly entertaining.
Cactus Jack later entered the picture in the “hardcore grounds” of Extreme Championship Wrestling. Who could ever forget “Cane Dewey” or the many anti-hardcore promos Foley designed to get himself heat with an audience that loved him for embodying the hardcore style of wrestling they cherished? Mick Foley found a way to reach his goal of getting heat despite being beloved. That was his job, and while he may have taken a shortcut or two by embracing the god-awful “Dungeon of Doom” or his “Uncle Eric (Bischoff)” he still found a way to get the job done.
When Foley entered WWE as Mankind, he developed a new style of promos. One of his first classic promos in WWE was a lengthy sit-down interview with Jim Ross, a classic piece that spanned multiple episodes of WWE RAW and told the tale of a young kid growing up in Long Island with visions of one day being a professional wrestler. That series of promos made Vince McMahon a personal fan of Mick Foley, that’s how good they were. Again, they were different, but at the time his goal was to get over in the one promotion that everyone told him he never could, and as usual — Mick Foley got the job done.
Later in his career, Foley became infamous for pulling socks out of his tights and embracing the “cheap (local) pops,” but long before those days, Foley entertained the masses not only by putting his body on the line, but by putting his emotions and inner-desires on the line verbally. Mick Foley — god bless you, and “have a nice day!”
#4. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Piper’s Pit. What else needs to be said? “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was so good at talking that Vince McMahon ran with him as strictly a talker by giving him his own talking segment. A first of its kind, and one that has been mimicked dozens of times since, Piper revolutionized the promo during his run in WWE. He was a loose cannon long before the late Brian Pillman decided to play the character with the only difference being — Roddy Piper was the real thing.
Long before entering WWE, Piper was known for his entertaining style of verbal bravado. His ability to talk was so superior that at times, when he was placed next to the legendary Gordon Solie for NWA television broadcasts, he out-shined who along with Jim Ross, many consider to be the best announcer in professional wrestling history.
Anyone who was listened to WZRtv knows that I consider the “Hot Rod” my single favorite pro wrestler as a kid growing up. No one was more entertaining to a young Matt Boone than the “Rowdy One.” His style was unlike anything I had ever seen, and while I fell in love with pro wrestling due to the in-ring aspect of the business, Piper helped me learn to love the verbal side of the business as much, if not more, as I continued to watch pro wrestling growing up.
Interviewing Roddy Piper six times on WZR Radio is one of the highlights of my near 15-year career as an internet wrestling journalist. Having to stick by my best friend and fellow eWrestlingNews.com writer Ryan Clark through his “war” with Piper last year was incredibly difficult. I’m a loyal guy, so I stuck by my friend, but there has been nothing I have hated doing more in my career than being on the opposite end of a Roddy Piper verbal tirade. I will admit, however, that the kid in me was still entertained by his comments, even though I was being insulted by association in many of them.
Roddy Piper comes in at number four on my list of the 20 best talkers in wrestling history. As far as my own personal preference is concerned, Piper is my all-time favorite. I will recognize the fact, however, that there have been a few guys who have taken verbal performance to another level. With that being said, let’s jump into the top three.
#3. Ric Flair
If ranking Piper as low as four didn’t blow your minds just yet, I’m sure I’ve got you here. That’s right, I’m ranking “Nature Boy” Ric Flair as the third best talker in wrestling history. What two men could possibly be ahead of Flair on a list that focuses on the verbal side of wrestling? More on that in a few moments.
Ric Flair patterned a lot of his style off of the original “Nature Boy,” the legendary Buddy Rogers. While Flair took the “Nature Boy” act to another level, and as years went by completely became his own man, he wasn’t always an original. In addition to his mimicking of Rogers’ style early on, Flair also borrowed a few things from “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Flair, an admitted fan of Rhodes when he came into the business, originally intended to call himself, “Ramblin’ Ricky Rhodes.” Could you imagine?
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s look at the positive. When you put the complete package together, I can’t think of one human being who would deserve to be ahead of Ric Flair. When you look at his skills in the ring, there is an argument to be made for a couple of guys to be ranked ahead of him. When you look at his promo ability, which we’re doing here, there is an argument to be made for a few guys to be ranked ahead of him, which is what I’m about to do. When you add in charisma and several other factors and look at the full picture of what a pro wrestler should and could be, from top-to-bottom, no one is ahead of Ric Flair.
Flair’s promo style focused heavily on his ability to talk down to a wrestler or audience by propping himself up. Classic heel work, and no one did it better than “Naitch.” Flair would brag about his airplane rides, his limousine rides, his Rolex watches, custom made clothes and expensive homes. Flair would brag about being “Space Mountain” and other references to being a ladies man. The guy was an unbelievable entertainer, especially on the mic. I feel sorry for many of the newer fans of pro wrestling who missed the Ric Flair era. It was such an incredible ride, and as a fan, I feel privileged to have lived through it.
“Nature Boy” Ric Flair comes in at number three on our list of the 20 best talkers in wrestling history. If that’s the case, then, my god Matt, who could the two guys be that are ahead of him? Let’s find out …
#2. Paul Heyman
Paul Heyman is the best non-athlete talker in the history of sports entertainment. You’ll never convince me otherwise. When it comes to the verbal side of Heyman’s on-air performances, few can match his passion and storytelling abilities. The guy draws you in, tells a story, conveys a ton of passion whether it be to evoke hatred from fans, or rally them into a frenzy as he did in his days as the promoter of the original Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) promotion.
When you look at Heyman’s career, one thing remains consistent: anytime a microphone is in his hand, he entertains. Period. What else needs to be said? He is one of the most consistent entertainers in the history of the sport.
Looking back at Heyman’s career, right out of the gate in Verne Gagne’s AWA promotion, as the cell-phone holding heel manager character, Heyman “got it.” He just knows the game so well. As he entered WCW, he immediately became one of their top heel acts. Certainly, along with Jim Cornette, he was again the most consistent non-athlete performer in the business. His “Dangerous Alliance” faction was a great stable for its’ time, and it was held together by the verbal-efforts of Paul E. Dangerously, the on-air character name he had at the time.
As time rolled on, Heyman became first a manager in ECW, and before long, he was running the show behind-the-scenes. In addition to hitting home-runs on a regular basis in front of the camera, Heyman’s verbal ability motivated many of the talent that worked for the company into brutalizing their bodies on a regular basis for little money. His pre-show speeches backstage at ECW shows are the stuff of legend. One famous pre-show speech from Heyman can be viewed in the “Beyond The Mat” documentary, which chronicled among other things, the first pay-per-view event of the original ECW.
Heyman’s ability as a talker landed him a gig replacing Jerry “The King” Lawler alongside Jim Ross as the on-air commentary team for WWE. At the time, Lawler had walked out of the company alongside his wife at the time, Stacy Carter, who he felt did not deserve to be let go. Heyman immediately filled a gap that seemed irreplaceable, and within a few shows, fans either loved, or hated, the Heyman-JR duo. And that’s exactly the reaction he wanted from you.
Fast-forward to present-day WWE, Paul Heyman’s on-air role as a manager is once again one of the best characters in the business. On a regular basis Heyman’s promo segments on RAW are in my opinion, easily the most entertaining parts of the show. Along with CM Punk, Heyman is really one of few people who have the art of the promo down to a science.
Paul Heyman earns the silver medal in my list of “The 20 Best Talkers In Wrestling History.”
#1. The Rock
Is The Rock my favorite talker in wrestling history? No. He’s certainly up there, but not my personal favorite. As far as the past is concerned, Roddy Piper was my favorite talker. As far as today is concerned, Paul Heyman is my favorite talker. But I simply can’t, and won’t, deny the fact that The Rock’s verbal ability has taken him further than anyone who has ever set foot in a pro wrestling ring, or held a microphone and spoke into it in front of a camera on WWE televised programming.
When you look at The Rock’s career, especially now where he is becoming one of the biggest stars in all of Hollywood, you can’t really argue that he is the best talker in wrestling history. You can say he isn’t your favorite, because opinions are opinions and everyone is entitled to theirs. You can’t argue that he isn’t the best. It wasn’t his matches that made Hollywood gobble him up and take him away from the world of professional wrestling. It was his undeniable charisma and ability to entertain through verbalization that enabled Rocky to become a mega-star in the movies.
The Rock has had too many classic promo moments to even mention some. Anytime he picked up a microphone, people listened. Intently, too. The Rock had an ability to hold a crowd in the palm of his hands unlike any other performer in the history of the sport, and he did so with his words.
So is The Rock my favorite talker of all-time? Nope. Like I said, if we’re looking at my personal favorites, he would still make a top ten list. Is he the best talker in wrestling history? Absolutely. The guy has an ability that no other performer in the history of wrestling has had, at least not on his level.
The Rock comes in at number one on the list of “The 20 Best Talkers In Wrestling History.”
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