The 50 best talkers in wrestling history
March 18, 2014
Think talk is cheap? Try telling that to the 50 Superstars on this list. From an arrogant former reality TV star with an attitude problem to a wildly charismatic plumber's son, these men have packed arenas and glued millions of fans to their television screens with their unique ability to inspire passion, fear, anger and laughter through their captivating interviews. Nearly every Superstar who ever set foot in the ring has spoken on the microphone, but these 49 men — and one woman — did it best.
Scott Steiner is proof that enunciation isn’t integral to being an effective speaker. Part Superstar Billy Graham, part Andrew Dice Clay, Big Poppa Pump serenaded audiences with uncouth rhymes, barking about his “peaks and freaks.” He talked trash with seeming impunity. All the while, “The Genetic Freak’s” redline intensity was so great that it trampled his speech, often to hilarious results.
Angry slurring aside, the former Michigan State All-American was “mesmermizing” for his unhinged quality. Steiner’s foul-mouthed, innuendo-packed jabber made Standards and Practices nervous. Nobody was sacrosanct. He’d launch into tirades against opponents, entire locker rooms, fans, management, and his criticisms were always cutting. Yet, Big Poppa Pump also found time to reference the Earth’s axial tilt and do math equations mid-interview. Whether he was making you laugh, making you angry or making you scratch your head, Steiner was always entertaining when he had a live mic in hand. — JOHN CLAPP
“Joel Gertner couldn’t help but talk down to anyone with whom he was conversing. He was the Ivy League-educated rich boy with no street smarts that you just wanted to punch in the face. He threw around his vocabulary as if it was a weapon, and many times it was. And he had the smug look on his face that no matter how badly you saw him get beaten up, it was never quite enough.
“I think Joel primed the audience to where they were aching to smack him across the face, but they knew that they couldn’t get close to him, because he was surrounded by The Dudley Boyz. When Bubba grabbed the mic, we were entering into a whole other zone at that point.” — PAUL HEYMAN, as told to ZACH LINDER
If you took a cursory glance at Jimmy Valiant in his heyday, you’d probably think he was a hobo that stumbled into the arena. But once he opened his mouth, “The Boogie Woogie Man” enamored the fans.
With a voice that sounded like he gargled gravel every morning, Valiant bounced around like a pinball as he bellowed interviews full of soul that spoke to his “street people.” Looking back on them, “The Boogie Woogie Man’s” interviews were a tad unusual for one of the Mid-Atlantic area’s biggest heroes. Take, for example, his reasoning for why fans should trust his buddy Charlie Brown from Outta Town: “I know he’s cool, daddy, because I met him in jail,” Valiant roared from behind his bushy beard.
Rap sheet aside, Valiant’s eccentric interviews kept fans from Memphis to Florida tuning in every week for the next chapter of his never-ending rivalry with Paul Jones and made him one of the more memorable characters of his era. — BOBBY MELOK
On Feb. 11, 2013, WWE got itself a heavy dose of patriotism in the person of Zeb Colter. Spouting rhetoric with the conviction and charisma of a cable news talking head, Colter managed to offend every single member of the WWE Universe, and (surprise, surprise) even get a rise out of Fox News’ Glenn Beck! So much so that when WWE invited Mr. Beck to Raw, he refused, avoiding a verbal smackdown from Mr. Colter.
There’s one thing for sure, Zeb Colter loves his country and he’s not afraid to tell you about it. So as you finish reading this please rise, put your hand over your heart and in a loud, clear voice say it along with us, “We the people!” — TOM LIODICE
“In this business, the old adage is to take your true personality and embellish it, exaggerate it, ramp it up to the red line so that the audience gets a larger-than-life picture of who you are. New Jack made people uncomfortable, because what you saw was an honest portrayal of the human being behind the character, because the character was the real-life human being. When New Jack talked about wanting to kidnap somebody, he wasn’t kidding! And he expressed that from his real-life experiences. It’s one thing to see someone play a gangster — it’s another thing to be in the presence of one. And New Jack was, to the core, a 100-hundred percent bona fide legitimate gangster.” — PAUL HEYMAN, as told to ZACH LINDER
The Grand Wizard of Wrestling
A perennial thorn in the side of WWE heroes like Bob Backlund, The Grand Wizard of Wrestling captured the attention of WWE fans in the 1970s with his outlandish outfits, but the WWE Hall of Famer held their interest with his uncanny ability to verbally incite their emotions — a talent he’d cultivated during his stint as a radio DJ before entering the squared circle.
“He came through your television and captivated you with the inflections in his voice,” Matt Striker told WWE.com of the man who managed the likes of “Superstar” Billy Graham and Sgt. Slaughter. “His hat and his glasses and his jacket — all of that was there, but his substance far outweighed his style.” — RYAN MURPHY
“Brian Pillman’s magic was that at any moment you knew he could become totally unhinged. There was always an element of danger in Brian Pillman even in his early years when he was playing up to the fans. Pillman was uninhibited in his choice of words and delivery and that element of danger always made him must-see TV.” — PAUL HEYMAN, as told to DUSTIN WALLACE
JBL wasn’t always blessed with the gift of gab in his WWE career, but when he found it, he became one of the most despised WWE Champions of all time. Having come into considerable wealth on Wall Street, JBL took pride in being a member of the mega-rich that looked down on the common man. He made sure to point this out in every interview while projecting his own perception of an ideal America on the WWE Universe.
Perhaps the strongest asset of JBL’s on-the-mic work is his intelligence and quick wit, which has made him a seriously divisive commentator. Whether it’s using his intellect to rationalize the misdeeds of villainous Superstars, or shooting a quick barb at Jerry Lawler or Michael Cole, everything out of JBL’s mouth in the booth carries truth or wisdom that few can match. — MIKE MURPHY
“Thunderbolt was before his time. He made new times. He created new avenues for the television audience. He had a style that was like a Southern preacher. He was not a Muhammad Ali-type with phrasing. He had a way that was simple, but the way he presented it is what made him good. He made it interesting to listen to him.
“When I heard him talk like that on TV and pertain it to a wrestling match I said, ‘Wow, man, that’s pretty cool.’ I grew up in that neighborhood myself with Baptist ministers. The slang from hip hop today, we were doing it in a different way back in the early ’60s in high school. I was blessed being able to grow up around guys like that and Thunderbolt. He was definitely a great communicator.” — DUSTY RHODES, as told to RYAN MURPHY
After parlaying his “Real World” reality show fame into an impressive run on WWE’s “Tough Enough” competition, The Miz managed to develop into one of the most influential talkers in WWE history. The man who once proclaimed himself a “chick magnet” has always exhibited a remarkable ability to get under the skin of fellow Superstars, relishing in the role of obnoxious antagonist.
The Awesome One began fulfilling his fate as a great gabber when he co-hosted the WWE.com original series “The Dirt Sheet” with former tag team partner John Morrison. The provocative show propelled The Miz into the spotlight, providing a welcome comfort zone for the brash Superstar. Further cementing his status as an elite loud mouth, The Miz also hosts “Miz TV,” which continues to stand as the backdrop to several epic Superstar showdowns. Whether it’s obnoxiously asking “Really?” or sparking a scuffle with his divisive discourse, there’s no outdoing this cocky communicator, because he’s The Miz and he’s awesome. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Kevin Sullivan convinced the state of Florida that he was the spawn of Satan. Proclaiming himself “The Prince of Darkness,” this short, stocky brawler from Massachusetts frightened fans with speeches about wandering through the streets of Singapore, eating the cosmic cookie and entering the closet of anxieties with his mystic master, The Abudadein.
He went on to weave terrifying tales about the monsters he surrounded himself with. Whether it was the demonic seaside ceremony that brought forth Purple Haze or his journey through the sewers and gutters of Calcutta to find Maya Singh, Sullivan knew how to get under the skin of foes and fans alike.
Hell, Sullivan was so convincing with a microphone in his hand that he singlehandedly made WCW’s goofy Dungeon of Doom seem like a threat to the unstoppable force of Hulkamania. Now that’s truly frightening. — BOBBY MELOK
William Regal has often said he would have been a comedian if he wasn’t a wrestler. Watching his best interviews, it’s clear he would have made a fine actor, too. Melding broad, physical comedy with the scenery chewing ire of a “Game of Thrones” lead, this charming man created a unique brand of ring villainy on the microphone where he could humiliate an opponent just as easily as he could humilate himself. His fearlessness as a performer has allowed Regal to throw himself completely into whatever he’s doing, so he sounds just as convincing threatening Dean Ambrose as he does freestyle rapping in the ring. And what other Superstar could make the word “sunshine” sound so damn menacing? — RYAN MURPHY
“Tazz believed in himself. There are a lot of people in this business that you have to pull aside and inform them, ‘Hey, don’t believe your own hype.’ With Tazz, believing his own hype was gold at the box office. When Tazz would go on television and say he could step into the ring right now with the WWE, WCW and UFC Champions of the world and pile them up one on top of the other after he chokes them out, he absolutely believed what he was saying. This wasn’t someone who learned how to deliver a line — this was a man who was sincerely of the mindset that there was no one in sports, entertainment or sports-entertainment that could touch him. Not a boxer. Not a wrestler. Not a mixed martial artist. Tazz believed he was the single most skilled fighter on the planet, and the intensity with which he delivered those statements conveyed that.” — PAUL HEYMAN, as told to ZACH LINDER
If you think Mr. McMahon is the most intimidating member of WWE’s first family, clearly you haven’t heard Stephanie McMahon grab hold of the mic in a while. It’s true, the principal owner of WWE doesn’t stand on ceremony like her father does when she addresses the masses. Instead, she goes straight for the jugular, zoning in on a Superstar’s deepest insecurities, from time-honored ambassadors (The Miz) to bona-fide giants (Big Show) before prying them out with her bare hands and exposing them for all the WWE Universe to see. (To put this in meme-ification terms: A Mr. McMahon .gif is probably his signature strut. A Stephanie McMahon .gif is her slapping the stubble off Big Show and firing him). With her combination of business savvy and budding McMahon ruthlessness, she’s more than just The King of Kings’ better half: She’s the power behind the throne. On your knees, dog. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
“Ernie Ladd was a master of understanding that in order to draw money the audience needs to be apprised of who these two Superstars are, why they are fighting and why the audience should pay to see them. Ernie Ladd’s progressive understanding of explaining his role to the audience and confirming his opponent’s role at the same time was always based on a fundamental equation: How do the words that I’m speaking entice the audience to pay for a ticket? He was truly an attraction and he understood how to accelerate his brand and the brand of his opponents.” — PAUL HEYMAN, as told to DUSTIN WALLACE
Hyped as the only Olympic Gold Medalist in WWE history, Kurt Angle was expected to be all ability and no personality. But when the American hero finally debuted after weeks of touting his the three I’s — Intensity, Integrity and Intelligence — the WWE Universe was introduced to one of the most charismatic Superstars of all-time.
Confident — often to the point of arrogance — in his interviews, Angle was witty enough to go word-for-word with heavyweights like The Rock and Chris Jericho. Whether he was battle rapping John Cena or harmonizing with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Angle was just as talented on the stick as he was on the mat. Oh, it’s true. It’s damn true. — KEVIN POWERS
“Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, “Breakfast of Champions”
Though he hasn’t been around for long, Bray Wyatt has already made an impression.
Whether he’s preaching the gospel of Sister Abigail, or singing a twisted psalm, Wyatt has brought his backwoods book of evil to WWE and he’s not so subtly swayed the psyche of the WWE Universe in the process.
Above all else, Wyatt understands that words have weight and carry meaning, even if the message is (purposefully) muddied. Speaking in riddles and dealing in rhyme, Wyatt has both confounded and mystified everyone from Kane (no stranger to theatrics himself) and John Cena (a fellow top talker, for sure) over the course of his ascension through the ranks in WWE. — ALEX GIANNINI
"Ravishing" Rick Rude
Rick Rude wasn't the first abdominally inclined Superstar to insult the physiques of everyone in his presence, but he may have been the best at it. With his lips curled under his impeccable mustache, the self-proclaimed "sexiest man alive" took slow pleasure in running down the inferior upper body development of the "sweat hogs" in the arena before showing their wives what "a real man looks like." When The Ravishing One was satisfied with offending the WWE Universe, he would finally drop his robe and flex for the cameras, because sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. — RYAN MURPHY
“What made Gary Hart so good is that he made an event seem really huge. If it was me, The American Dream, and he was the manager of The Korean Assassin, he made that event feel like Korea was going against America. He did a great job of making you really hate him without screaming or hollering. I called him ‘The Flimflam Man from Chicago’ and he lived up to that. He could talk you into buying a car you knew had no engine.
“He was the first guy that I really had an opportunity to battle back and forth with on the mic. Being able to talk about him and the match and whoever he was managing, it made me better. If you don’t have someone to compete with then you don’t evolve. And being able to evolve is what kept me alive in this sport.” — DUSTY RHODES, as told to RYAN MURPHY
Ric Flair may have gotten fans’ attention with his talk of “limousine ridin’” back in the day, but Ultimate Warrior was completely blowing minds with intense monologues about “crashing the plane.”
With Warrior, there was no room for the generic. While a roster of Superstars took the mic to speak about “rising to the top” and issue the standard warnings of defeat to their enemies, the face-painted powerhouse spoke in strange tongues, native perhaps to Parts Unknown. It was all descriptive language and head-scratching (yet awesome) metaphor — intimidating for opposition, vision-casting for WWE fans. Warrior’s soliloquys were simply unlike anything anyone in the WWE Universe had ever seen or heard before.
Like a WWE DaVinci Code, Ultimate Warrior’s perplexing bellows are still being deciphered by loyal fans years after they were first uttered. And in doing so, they get to relive the musings of a colorful wild man and champion of sports-entertainment. — CRAIG TELLO
Michael "P.S." Hayes
David, Kerry and Kevin Von Erich were rock stars in Dallas, so much so that their mere presence caused a riot that shut down Six Flags amusement park. No matter what villainous entity reared its head in Cowboy country, The Von Erichs would run them out of town. Then the Fabulous Freebirds arrived from Georgia Championship Wrestling like a Texas twister. Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy was the muscle, Buddy “Jack” Roberts was the troublemaker and Michael “P.S.” Hayes was the group’s frontman and mouthpiece. The Boys vs. The Birds remains one of sports-entertainment’s great rivalries, and while nobody can deny the wild brawls between the six men were must-see matches, it was Hayes’ mouth that talked fans into The Sportatorium every Saturday night. — @JOEYSTYLES
Forgive the pretense, but Nick Bockwinkel was Voltaire. He was Isaac Newton. He was an intellect in an age of barbarians whose focus on brainy discourse pulled sports-entertainment out of the dark ages and into a much needed enlightenment.
A villain who relied on brainpower over power moves, the four-time AWA Champion could expound on the intricacies of his Sleeper Hold like a college professor holding a master's class. And where other bad guys would resort to ugly rants of frustration in the face of unbeatable Midwestern jocks like Verne Gagne, “Wicked Nick” kept his cool, taking a mental approach to the dissection of a rival. “You seem upset already,” he once told Rick Martel before a title match. “That’s perfectly all right with me.” Only Bockwinkel could sound so refined and so threatening all at once. — RYAN MURPHY
“Scott Levy doesn’t get the credit that he deserves for being one of the most brilliant method actors to ever perform in this industry. [Raven] didn’t truly live inside Scott Levy’s psyche. Scott Levy created the concept for the poet of the macabre and would literally walk in the skin of that character. There was definitely a transformation like Jekyll and Hyde that would occur before your very eyes, because Scott Levy and Raven couldn’t be any further apart and more different.
“Raven tapped into modern-day problems and the audience truly resented him, because they wanted to feel sympathy for him — especially when he exposed his vulnerability. But his actions in working out these cathartic moments against his opponents made you resent him all the more. He was so in tune with the sensitivities of that generation that I strongly suggest no one in the mid-90s could touch him.” — PAUL HEYMAN, as told to ZACH LINDER
Jesse "The Body" Ventura
He was known as “The Body,” but Jesse Ventura will long be remembered for his in-ring flamboyance and his knack for having the gift of gab. The man who said that he would “tell it like it is” did just that, catapulting himself to a new level of success with his uncanny ability to be quick on his feet when working with Vince McMahon on Saturday Night’s Main Event, numerous pay-per-views with Gorilla Monsoon (including the first six WrestleManias) and his own recurring segment called “The Body Shop." A member of the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2004, Ventura reprised his broadcast partnership with McMahon on Nov. 23, 2009, during an episode of Monday Night Raw. It was like he never left, as he provided color commentary that was as loquacious as ever. — HOWARD FINKEL
Jerry "The King" Lawler
Those WWE fans raised on Jerry Lawler’s particular brand of comic patter — think an unproduced “Porky’s” sequel written by a “Borscht Belt” comedian — might be surprised to learn how gripping The King could be. He showed that prideful side on a landmark 1982 episode of “Late Night with David Letterman” when Lawler squared off with comedian Andy Kaufman. When pushed, this son of Memphis stood his ground, and the poise with which he handled the impetuousness of a Hollywood brat led to one of the most riveting moments in television history — and that’s not an overstatement.
The King was just as good at turning people against him as he was at pulling them behind him. Who else would have the guts to compare the ECW Arena to toilet paper while standing smack dab in the middle of the thing?
All the best talkers are able to shift between serious and hilarious with equal success. None were better at it than The King. — RYAN MURPHY
The Million Dollar Man
In a business where talkers flourish, The Million Dollar Man was truly money in the bank. While his skillful — and often notorious — battles in the ring were nothing short of exceptional, it was what he did on the microphone that made him a star. Whether he was preaching his famous mantra of “everyone has a price,” promising to buy the WWE Title, humiliating audience members, backing The Million Dollar Corporation or managing a greenhorn Steve Austin, Ted DiBiase’s powerful words ring in the ears of an entire generation of WWE fans to this day. — MIKE BURDICK
“To me, Terry Funk was the most believable interview. He would put fear into the hearts of wrestling fans where you believed that there was something major at stake for your favorite when Terry Funk was wrestling that person.
“I love the way he would balance serious, frightening images with humor. When he would come out and ridicule Ric Flair, he’d dress somebody up in a robe and make you laugh, but then cut you off. He was like the drill sergeant in ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ He had that ability to make you laugh, then make you feel bad about laughing. It’s fair to say I borrowed — or blatantly stole — some of what I did from Terry Funk.” — MICK FOLEY, as told to ZACH LINDER
As one half of the bandana-clad Rockers with Marty Jannetty, Shawn Michaels wasn’t known for microphone mastery. However, as a founding member of DX, his outlandish orations catapulted WWE into The Attitude Era. The verbal venom he spit at Bret Hart before and after the infamous Montreal Screwjob became must-see TV. Towards the end of his career — as he cemented his legacy as Mr. WrestleMania — a more mature Michaels captivated the WWE Universe as he spoke to them.
HBK's two WrestleMania matches against The Undertaker were both preceded by his most powerful promos as Michaels dared to mock The Deadman as only he could. Because Michaels’ in-ring abilities were flawless and may never again be matched, people tend to forget how good he was with a microphone in hand. They shouldn’t. — @JOEYSTYLES
Harley Race spoke with conviction. Or, as Dusty Rhodes phrased it to WWE.com: “When he said he was going to kick your @$$, you really believed that he was going to kick your @$$.”
Indeed, few wrestlers had the savage reputation of Harley, and his interviews conveyed that. Talking in the confident, controlled tones of someone who had walked into ugly situations and came out on the other side as the better man, Race sounded like the guy in a bar you immediately wished you hadn’t picked a fight with, because that’s what he was. If that tattoo on his forearm — inked there at a time when only bad men and sailors had tattoos — didn’t tip you off, the chewed glass timbre of his speech certainly would. And if the tone of that voice raised — as it did when he famously implored someone to “take the damn money!” he was offering as a bounty on Ric Flair’s head — it was already too late. — RYAN MURPHY
From the moment Edge first grabbed the microphone as a member of The Brood, it was clear he had potential. He lived up to it as he morphed from a goofball slacker alongside Christian into a lewd and outspoken Rated-R Superstar. Be it as a crowd favorite or hated villain, Edge knew exactly what to say to get his desired response from the WWE Universe.
“He thrived on pressure, he embraced the ridiculous and he was brilliant as far as making people hate a really good guy,” Mick Foley told WWE.com.
Edge’s mic work became such a valuable skill that the WWE Hall of Famer was eventually given his own talk show, “The Cutting Edge,” so that he could evoke those very same reactions from his fellow Superstars and Divas. The Rated-R Superstar has hosted the show as recently as last September, proving that even years after retirement, Edge’s skills still reek of awesomeness. — MIKE MURPHY
Captain Lou Albano
“I don’t think there was ever a more unfiltered, unedited and uninhibited talker in this industry than Captain Lou Albano. He just went with whatever was coming out of his mouth, and sometimes what he was saying made no sense whatsoever. And, yet, he could gather these abstract statements at the end, and have it all make sense for the box office.
"Albano wasn’t playing someone out of his mind — he truly was insane. You never knew what he was going to say, because he never knew what he was going to say! And I don’t think anyone around him knew what he was going to say. He was just going with anything that he could spew out of his voice box until someone gave him the wrap-up cue, which made every one of his promos quite the adventure.” — PAUL HEYMAN, as told to ZACH LINDER
It’s hard to believe that the buttoned-up figurehead of The Authority was once a crotch-chopping degenerate with two words for upper management, but its Triple H’s ability to adapt and evolve that makes him one of WWE’s most captivating figures. Casting aside the flowery trappings of his early Connecticut Blueblood persona and embracing The Attitude Era’s most formidable weapon — a live microphone —Triple H went from co-founder to leader of D-Generation X before embarking on his own as the sledgehammer-wielding Cerebral Assassin. When he barked that he was “that damn good,” who would dare disagree with him?
It was The Game’s keen intellect and ability to command attention on the mic that ultimately allowed Triple H to dominate WWE’s corporate arena as well as the ring. Even though he might not elicit the cheers he once garnered, the WWE COO has become someone the WWE Universe can’t help but love to hate. That’s not just entertainment — that’s “best for business.” — JAMES WORTMAN
"Macho Man" Randy Savage
There are few voices in American pop culture history as instantly recognizable as that of the late, great “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
His was the voice of a generation of wrestling fans, and whether professing his love for Elizabeth, explaining why he was the cream of the crop or convincing us all to snap into a Slim Jim, Savage’s unmistakably gravely tones and unorthodox delivery method played as the soundtrack to some of sports-entertainment’s greatest interviews and most memorable sound bites.
His voice rising and falling in a manic tidal wave, pinky out as he alternated between looking directly into the camera and up at the heavens, it was impossible not to lean in close to the television when “Macho Man” was talking.
And, even though we might not have known exactly what he was talking about all the time, with legendary mic work rivaled only by his in-ring abilities, Randy Savage was truly one of a kind. — ALEX GIANNINI
He was so hated in the South that fans actually cheered when he fell from a 20-foot scaffold and shattered both of his knees at Starrcade in 1986. But if the audience loathed Jim Cornette, then they were giving him exactly what he wanted. A spoiled momma’s boy who hid behind charges like The Midnight Express and Yokozuna, he first positioned himself as a grating coward in garish suits. But it was when The Louisville Lip found the confidence to publically speak out on what was right and wrong about sports-entertainment that he became a truly captivating talker.
“Cornette is known within the business for his combative personality and the occasional rant,” Jim Ross wrote of his longtime friend in a 2012 WWE.com article. “None of it was an act as Jim Cornette is as passionate as anyone that I’ve ever met within the wrestling business.” — RYAN MURPHY
“I’ve always viewed CM Punk’s promos as the cry of the wounded child. ‘I love you, don’t you love me? Am I not worthy of your love? Why don’t you love me? Look at the actions I’m driven to to earn your attention.’
“You’re talking about someone who spent his entire childhood being neglected. He was driven to do things to earn the attention that he coveted. So when CM Punk bares his soul, which he does in every single one of his promos, it’s mesmerizing to watch, because you’re seeing someone with, obviously, a hard-shell exterior exposing his own frailties. I don’t think there was ever a more cathartic statement delivered in WWE history than the moment CM Punk came out to the ring and said, ‘Do I have your attention now?’ ” — PAUL HEYMAN, as told to ZACH LINDER
Ric Flair may have flaunted greed and excess as the leader of The Four Horsemen, but at the group’s moral center stood Arn Anderson, a blue-collar poet whose best phrases — like The Horsemen name itself — were plucked directly from The Good Book. If Anderson was a sinner, he was an embattled one and his most compelling interviews always seemed to play out as public confessionals on the topic of whatever crime he’d just been an accessory to.
His own internal struggles aside, The Enforcer remained forever loyal to the flexible ethics of the streets. Something best summed up in a grave warning he once sent to The New World Order: “There's one rule of gang fighting … They send one of yours to the hospital; you send two of theirs to the morgue.” — RYAN MURPHY
"Superstar" Billy Graham
He was the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour. He was “Superstar” Billy Graham and the tongue twisting tirades he delivered as WWE Champion in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in the sweltering summer of 1977 — the same summer that brought on a citywide blackout, the Son of Sam serial killer and the opening of disco wonderland Studio 54 — seemed to capture every bit of the bravado and madness of an American metropolis at unrest. Little surprise then that this superman in tie-dye became as influential as the culture that created him.
“If you need me to explain to your readers how great a personality ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham was,” Paul Heyman told WWE.com, “keep this in mind: From Big Poppa Pump to Jesse Ventura to Hulk Hogan himself, they all patterned themselves after one man and that man was ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham.’” — RYAN MURPHY
You could never doubt Mr. McMahon’s speaking abilities as a play-by-play commentator in the ’80s and ’90s, but on Nov. 10, 1997 — one night after The Montreal Screwjob — McMahon proclaimed to the WWE Universe that “Bret screwed Bret.” It was at that moment that Mr. McMahon was born.
Turning corporate speak into a battle cry, The Chairman edged out Donald Trump by decreeing “You’re fired!” to countless Superstars years before “The Apprentice” hit the air. And his verbal rivalry with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin did more to define The Attitude Era than any broken table could. Perhaps more than any man on this list, Mr. McMahon said what was on his mind. After all, who was going to tell him not to? — TOM LIODICE
From slaying foes with slick rhymes as The Doctor of Thuganomics to delivering impassioned addresses on behalf of the Cenation faithful, John Cena has been honing his power of proclamation for more than a decade. Though he’s less likely to spark battle raps these days — Cena now reserves his 16-bar assaults for special occasions — the 14-time World Champion can still fire up a crowd (and humiliate an adversary) like few others.
As entertaining as it is to witness Cena gain the upper hand in verbal jousts with microphone masters like The Rock, Triple H and relative newcomer Bray Wyatt, it’s his ability to use his words to inspire that makes Cena one of sports-entertainment’s most remarkable orators. Bolstering his physical feats in the ring with empowering messages of self-determination, Cena has gone above and beyond to prove that “Hustle, Loyalty and Respect” aren’t mere words on a T-shirt. They’re a way of life. — JAMES WORTMAN
Jake "The Snake" Roberts
“Jake may be the best of all-time, because he never needed to raise his voice. No one else has ever been able to accomplish that. To give interviews on that level without ever getting angry? Amazing.
“He taught me maybe the greatest lesson of all, which is that a wise man knows where to steal his material. Jake would reference things that were known, and subliminally create the image that what he had said was credible because it had somehow been heard before, but not so obvious that people knew where they heard it. ‘Don’t you know never to trust a snake?’ It was like he was writing an Aesop fable.” — MICK FOLEY, as told to ZACH LINDER
Picture the last quarter-century of sports-entertainment without the contributions of Chris Jericho.
Sure, some other Superstar would own the lofty distinction of being the first Undisputed WWE Champion in history. Those nine Intercontinental Title reigns might adorn someone else’s resume. Yet, that only covers half of Y2J’s influences on the history of the squared circle.
Would the WWE Universe recall Dean Malenko so fondly if The Iceman wasn’t tormented by the self-proclaimed “Master of 1,004 Holds” at every turn? Could any Superstar summon the courage to make his WWE debut by introducing himself while The Rock was in the ring? How many other competitors consistently won the war of words against outspoken grapplers like Shawn Michaels and CM Punk?
Jericho — who honed his chatty chops in WCW before perfecting them in WWE — can still captivate any audience with words alone. Y2J’s unparalleled ability to rock a mic ensured that the expectations for any 21st century Superstar with the ability to speak would never be the same … again. — MATTHEW ARTUS
No performer in sports-entertainment history could deliver a message with the intensity and electricity of “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan. With his 24-inch pythons flexed and his handlebar mustache quivering with anticipation, the bronzed god implored his legions of Hulkamaniacs to "train, say your prayers and eat your vitamins" and intimidated his rivals with the classic line, "Whatcha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you?"
“If you’re red-blooded and breathing and you watch a Hulk Hogan promo and you’re not excited about the day, then there’s something wrong with you,” Cody Rhodes told WWE.com. “And you should see a doctor immediately.” — RYAN MURPHY
Bobby "The Brain" Heenan
As the mouthpiece behind intimidating villains like Andre the Giant and Big John Studd, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan talked the talk and relied on his fearsome faction of giants to walk the walk. This ability to run his mouth and rarely suffer the consequences gave The Weasel free reign to cut into Tito Santana ("It'll take a good man to beat Tito Santana. It just won't take him very long."), “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan ("His grandmother was a taped fist champion. His father was an Irish setter.") and wrestling fans (or “humanoids”) at large.
“Not only could he articulately describe the reasons you should pay to see his clients — he himself was a personality as well,” Paul Heyman told WWE.com. “He was a personality to such a degree that people would pay money to see him get his comeuppance. And when he got his comeuppance no one took that beating better than Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan.” — RYAN MURPHY
Mick Foley is now known as a Santa Claus-loving, stand-up comic who delights audiences with “cheap pops.” However, years ago, a not-so-lovable Foley mesmerized TV viewers with tortured and deranged diatribes.
As Cactus Jack in ECW, Foley absorbed the insensitivity of the callous South Philly fans, magnified it and spit it back at them with unbridled rage. As Mankind in WWE, The Hardcore Legend spoke more softly and deliberately, but was every bit as terrifying. Just the fact that Foley’s wild way with words made the WWE Universe fear for The Undertaker’s well-being earns him a place as one of sports-entertainment’s all-time best talkers. — @JOEYSTYLES
There is nobody in sports-entertainment today who is even a close second to Paul Heyman on the microphone. However, the advocate for Brock Lesnar and Cesaro has been a master of the mic for decades.
As a cellphone-toting New York yuppie, Heyman was a pioneer in Florida, Memphis, the AWA and WCW as Paul E. Dangerously. As the owner of ECW, Heyman espoused the truth — both good and bad — to the delight of ECW fans and the horror of WWE, WCW and, especially, network executives. Today, 27 years after he debuted, Heyman has perfected the promo with flawless timing, annunciation, inflection, facial expressions and, above all else, message. By the way, in case you hadn’t heard, his client Brock Lesnar conquered The Streak. — @JOEYSTYLES
“People will say it’s the lisp or the rhyming. It’s not. It’s where it came from. It came from that spot deep in his belly that was real. It was almost like going to church and hearing a preacher talk about the savior. Dusty Rhodes was fighting a real battle as far as trying to stay on top and the only way he could stay on top was by being the guy who sold the most tickets. So the pride he had in the fans and the pride he had in himself was real. Perhaps the things that happened with The Four Horsemen were entertainment, but Dusty Rhodes was real. That to me was bigger than the lisp and the rhyming.” — CODY RHODES, as told to ZACH LINDER
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin
“I was able to see the maturation of Steve Austin in ECW. He was taking in everything he could and when he had the chance to let loose in WWE, he was ready.
“Sometimes circumstance ends up defining who we are. A perfect example of that is Steve with 15 or 16 stitches in his lip, not only defeating Jake Roberts, but giving what certainly seemed to be an off-the-cuff remark about Austin 3:16 that turned into a universal slogan. I’d been on hand a month earlier when Steve was told that the company didn’t see any potential in merchandising him. Austin 3:16 went on to be the biggest selling shirt in the history of our business. He was able to change some minds in a hurry with that promo. It was like turning on a light switch. Boom.” — MICK FOLEY, as told to ZACH LINDER
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper
A stream-of-conscious madness mixed with a jolly sense of impending doom, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s mic work mystified, terrified and energized an audience like no other Superstar. What made Piper so dangerous on the stick wasn’t just that nobody could prepare for him, but the fact that prospective opponents almost always walked into a beating on top of the dressing-down Piper delivered on the mic.
The Hot Scot famously looked to “change the questions” and shake up anyone who dared to step into that viper’s nest that was “Piper’s Pit,” but that’s probably an oversimplification of the dismantling that waited for prospective opponents. Seemingly reading off a script that existed only in his mind and packed as many twists as your average episode of “Lost,” Piper not only changed the questions, he rewrote the answers to boot.
“Piper was just chaos,” Cody Rhodes told WWE.com. “But he was controlled chaos. It wasn’t just chaos for chaos sake. There was a point. You went on the same ride you did in a match as you did in his promos.” — ANTHONY BENIGNO
“That’s a once-in-a-generation guy. He could create a catchphrase almost immediately. He’d come up with something one day and it became a part of wrestling lexicon the next day. He changed the landscape of promos, because it became so inclusive. I don’t know if anybody had done that before — certainly not to the degree that he did where people were chanting along with his catchphrases even when he was a bad guy.
“Fifteen years after we teamed up, I’m still paying tribute to those catchphrases anytime I go out in public and I say, ‘Dozens and dozens!’ It is a testament to how popular his phrases were that someone can come along, steal those catchphrases and turn them into his own.” — MICK FOLEY, as told to ZACH LINDER
“Ric Flair was what hip hop is now. ‘I have this. I’m living like this. You are aspiring to be like this. You may talk about an expensive watch, but I have a Rolex that costs as much as your house. You may have seen a private plane, but I just came in off one.’
“Years later, Jay Z said, ‘I don't land at an airport, I call it the clearport,’ because he doesn’t have to go through security, because he’s flying on a private jet. There are not many people who truly know about that. They may say something about a Gulfstream in one of their raps, but they’ve never been on one. I believed Flair was doing everything he said he was. Hip hop has taken that high roller lifestyle and embraced it. He was doing it before the streets were.” — JOHN CENA, as told to ZACH LINDER