You know something mean gene!? Sometimes words do speak louder than actions.
Certainly in the world of professional wrestling, the right words can be more effective than a well timed suplex. You’d be hard pressed to find many main event superstars in pro wrestling who can’t handle themselves on the mic. The promoter wants the fight to sell, and the talent wants to be booked. What better way to ensure you get the spotlight than to deliver an impactful diatribe towards your opponent? The right turn of phrase can often have fans scrambling in their pockets to buy your match on pay-per-view.
But what makes a good promo?
Unfortunately the best person to ask is no longer with us. “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Famed for his off the cuff, jive talk. Dusty is one of history’s greatest talkers, and a man who’s impact on the current generation is undoubted.
A puppet of Dusty still sits above the practice camera at WWEs talent performance centre. Those who would flourish in training would be affectionally referred to as “Dusty’s kids”
“Dusty would always just preach being real. For me he would always tell me to be myself and not to worry don’t think about lines or this or that just know the direction and how you feel it’s more about why you feel that way.” – Juice Robinson (Former IWGP United States Champion and protege of Dusty Rhodes)
If you follow wrestling, you’ll likely be aware of the vast chasm of quality between the WWE main product, and their developmental brand NXT (the proving ground of the aforementioned “Dusty’s Kids”). If you don’t follow wrestling, you may be surprised to know that NXT is actually the far more polished brand. Not only from an in-ring perspective, but also from a promo standpoint. Where the WWE product is heavily scripted and micro-managed, Down in NXT, the talent are given leash to create, grow, and imprint their own personality into their characters.
Aside from the importance of the promo within wrestling, it is perhaps professional wrestling’s biggest gift to the sports and entertainment world at large.
It’s important to remember, when contending in any sport at the highest level, there are never any guarantees, and you only have a short window in which you can make your mark. So you need to make yourself as commercially viable as you possibly can. Not just to those who are dedicated to the sport in question, but to the casual fan. Your legacy is far more prevailing when accompanied by iconic sound bytes.
The most famous example of the power of the promo comes from Arguably history’s most iconic athlete, Muhammad Ali. Famously citing Pro-Wrestler Gorgeous George as his inspiration for elevating his personality. He was already an obvious talent prior to meeting George in 1961, but he was missing that special something that would make him a household name.
I talked with Gorgeous for five minutes after the match and started being a big-mouth and a bragger. He told me people would come to see me get beat. Others would come to see me win. I’d get ’em coming and going.” – Muhammad Ali
This is professional wrestling ladies and gentlemen, and it’s not just Ali. Countless athletes have realised the correlation between extracurricular antics and increased pay-per-view buys. MMA maverick Conor McGregor is a more recent example, lifting a large part of his schtick from Former NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Pro- wrestling might be often looked upon as somewhat of a joke. But the impact the business has made throughout popular culture is indelible.
The professional wrestling promo is an ever changing and evolving art form. From the early days likes of Billy Graham and Hulk Hogan, to The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, the rule book is forever being ripped apart and rewritten. Perhaps the most iconic promo of the modern era is CM Punk’s pipe-bomb, a promo so groundbreaking it’s the reason I took another look into pro-wrestling after after a 5 year hiatus. That same rule book is still being ravaged today.
Perhaps the most impressive promo by today’s standards is UK wrestler Zach Gibson, I cant do justice to the reactions this man gets when he starts to speak, he manages to summon a chorus of jeers and boos unlike any you will ever hear. I could go on for ages about the evolution of the promo and the key moments in history, and that’s exactly what we intend to do on the next episode of Staring at the Lights, so to hear us cut our own promos, and dive deep into history’s greatest talkers, tune in on Apple podcasts, and keep up to date on Twitter @thelightspod and @staringatthelights on Instagram.