Mike Johns Something Completely Different: The Art of the Promo
By Mike Johns
Nov 23, 2011 - 8:00 AM
One of the most interesting aspects of the Art of Wrestling, outside of the actual in-ring action, has got to be, at least in my opinion, the Promotional Interview. Often shortened to "promo" by those inside and outside the Wresting business, a promo is essentially a commercial, whether it is for a specific match, an upcoming show, an on-going story arc, selling a character to the audience, or simply to get people fired up for the Main Event later in the evening. While it can take many different forms, the purpose of the promo is very simple - get people willing to pay to see you wrestle. A professional wrestler's primary job is to get fans to buy the show. Al Snow, on the ROH Secrets of the Ring DVD, uses the words "sell tickets." These days, though, there are more than tickets to be sold. There's Pay Per Views, DVDs, T-Shirts, Action Figures, and a slew of other merchandise you, as a performer, can sell in order to make your employer, and yourself, a lot of money. The Promo is one of many tools the professional wrestler has in order to sell those tickets, to get those PPV buys, and move that merchandise.
Like anything else in professional wrestling, there is both an art and a skill to cutting an effective promo. Sure, a writer can hand you a script, you can memorize some lines, then go out and recite them on a microphone, but this in and of itself isn't going to draw people into your character, or make them want to pay to see you or your matches going forward. A good promo, whether it is scripted, or ad-libbed, is able to draw the audience in, make them feel something, and make them want to pay see your match and your story unfold. It's one thing to get people to tune in to watch you on TV every week. It's another to get people to part with their cash in order to watch you wrestle, and, for many professional wrestlers, they don't have the opportunity to ply their craft on a weekly television show. For these folks, the Art of the Promo is even more important. Utilizing the modern world of social media, many Independent Wrestlers have taken to YouTube, uploading their own videos, hyping their upcoming matches. But whether you're a Mainstream Wrestling Star, trying to convince TV viewers to buy the upcoming PPV, or the Independent Wrestler trying to hype your upcoming matches, every wrestler is vying for your attention and your wrestling dollar. So, today, we're going to take a look at some promos, both from the Mainstream and Independent Wrestling Worlds, and talk about what makes an effective promo.
We'll start with perhaps one of the most famous promos in wrestling history, Steve Austin's King of the Ring victory speech from 1996 -
This, for those who may not know, was the birth of "Austin 3:16", a phrase that would go on to define an entire era of pro wrestling, becoming one of the top selling wrestling t-shirts of all time, as well as the defining trademark of the "Stone Cold" Steve Austin persona. Here, Steve Austin was given an opportunity to sell himself as a character to the WWF audience, and does so to near perfection. This would prove to be a defining moment for Austin, as his career would skyrocket in the following months, as crops of Austin 3:16 signs would pop up at arenas nationwide from fans who fully supported this new, badass character.
Perhaps a lesser known, but just as much a career-making speech is this one from the Miz, during his reign as United States Champion in early 2010 -
Here, the Miz tells us the story of his early days in the WWE, being kicked out of the Locker Room (supposedly by Chris Benoit, who, obviously, is not mentioned here) and constantly harassed by veterans like JBL. Miz then goes on to brag about how he has taken all that animosity and used it as fuel to better himself and become the superstar he is today. If anything else, this was the promo that took Mike Mizanin out of the midcard, and on the fast-track to becoming WWE Champion, a feat he accomplished last year after winning the Money in the Bank ladder match and cashing in on Randy Orton last November. Miz not only sold you a character, but a future match against MVP, and, in the process, proved to both the WWE Universe, and those in charge of WWE, that the Miz could be a serious Main Eventer.
Daizee Haze is not likely to be known for her mic skills, but when given an opportunity to speak, she certainly delivers the goods, as you can see here, calling out Rebecca Knox in SHIMMER -
Unfortunately, the match Haze tries to sell here for SHIMMER Volume 7 did not happen. A few weeks before the event was set to take place, Knox suffered a severe head injury which essentially ended her wrestling career, and the match was canceled. It would have been the culmination of a three-way feud between Rebecca Knox, Allison Danger, and Daizee Haze, dating back to SHIMMER Volume 3, when Knox attacked Danger after faking an injury during their match. From there, Knox managed to steal a few victories over Haze, as well as defeat Danger again on Volume 6 in a ROH Pure Wrestling Rules match, a match Danger had asked for when she realized that Knox kept using the ropes for assistance in her matches. For new viewers unfamiliar with the show, Haze tells you everything you need to know about the promotion, her rivalry, the story so far, and why you should check out their next match.
Some of you may remember me talking about Sami Callihan's promos going into EVOLVE 9 this past summer, talking about his match against Dave "Fit" Finlay. If you haven't seen them already, here they are for you, now -
Here, you see Sami Callihan talking about his childhood experiences, seeing Fit Finlay on an early episode of WCW Monday Nitro, and how that impacted Sami's entire life, going forward. He explains that Finlay was not only a childhood hero of Callihan's, but one of his primary influences, not only to becoming a pro wrestler, but in the style Sami has utilized in his career. Sami then goes on to express, not only in words, but in his tone of voice, and how he presents himself, that this match at EVOLVE 9 is, in his mind, the most important match of his life. He explains why he feels that he has to go in there and punch Finlay directly in the face, in order to prove that he is worth of being a top guy in the wrestling world, and does so in a way that, I feel, encompasses his character very well. You can learn a lot about who Sami Callihan is and what drives him to be the competitor he is in these promos, and I dare you to watch these two, back to back, and not want to see this match afterwards. On the strength of these two promos, alone, I bought EVOLVE's first six shows. No joke. Seeing these two promos not only made me want to see the Callihan/Finlay encounter at EVOLVE 9, but made me want to check out everything that EVOLVE had to offer. Unfortunately, through no fault of Sami Callihan's, I found myself more or less disappointed in the overall EVOLVE product, but the show does have potential. If guys like Callihan can continue to bring out performances like this, not only in his promos, but in the various matches I've seen of his recently, it's very likely he could sell me on giving EVOLVE a second chance down the line.
More recently, Eddie Kingston took to CHIKARA's YouTube page to talk about his High Noon showdown against Mike Quackenbush for the CHIKARA Grand Championship -
Here, Kingston talks about how he sees the CHIKARA Grand Championship as his redemption for all the bad things he's done in his life, all the people he's ever let down, and all the pain he's gone through in his life. While never going into too much detail, you get the idea that Kingston has had a hard life, having made mistakes that have hurt not only his career, but the people he cares about. He also talks about his friend, his brother, Larry Sweeney, who took his own life earlier this year following years of depression and drug problems. The 12 Large Tournament to crown a Grand Champion was named in Sweeney's honor, and Eddie not only wants to seek his redemption, but to make his friend, his brother, proud of him. With this, you are not only sold a character with real heart and real emotion, but along the way, he sells the match, the upcoming fight for his redemption against Mike Quackenbush.
Up next, we have the famous sit-down interview with Davey Richards that was originally broadcast as a part of Ring of Honor's Glory By Honor IX last September, where Davey announced that he would not be retiring at the end of the year, like many had been speculating throughout 2010 -
Here, Davey basically explains where he's coming from, why he considered retirement, and why he chose to remain with ROH. He talks about his family, his ex, all the trials he's been through both personally and professionally, and how, through everything, wrestling remained. Here, Davey isn't trying to push something on you or deceive you, he's asking you to believe in him, and he does so by being forthcoming, direct, and honest. The more cynical of us would refer to this as the "Cult of Personality" approach, with ROH setting Davey up more as a folk hero in today's wrestling world, the guy who isn't just here to move merch or sell a ticket, but a man who honestly believes in what he is doing and is deeply passionate about his craft. Davey, to his credit, does this masterfully, drawing you in with his honesty and presenting himself as the dedicated, passionate athlete many wrestling fans, and ROH fans in particular, want to see in their superstars.
Speaking of Cults of Personality, I'd be remiss not to include CM Punk's moment of glory from this past July -
I really don't need to say much about this promo, at all. Punk said all the things about WWE that many wrestling fans, and many folks in the wrestling business, have wanted to say on WWE TV for almost a decade, now. Some would call this a shoot, but, really, this was little more than a perfectly crafted piece of fiction mixed with reality. CM Punk found a way to resonate with fans in a way that no one in WWE has been able to do since Steve Austin, and with that, quickly became the talk of the wrestling industry. This moment sold out an arena, did great numbers on PPV, moved a ton of merchandise, and created a moment in wrestling history that will never be replicated. Whether or not WWE truly capitalized on what Punk created here in this moment is debatable. What is certain, however, is that this is the moment that immortalized CM Punk.
Finally, we have what may very well be my favorite Ric Flair promo, ever. My stepdad had a tape of WCW's Capitol Combat '90, which I saw for the first time back in 1999. It was interesting for the simple fact that it had Cactus Jack in his first WCW run, as well as a match featuring Mean Mark Callous, the man who would go on to become the Undertaker. Beyond that, though, the show was a bit bland, and, in some places, outright silly. Teddy Long fought Paul Ellering in a Hair vs. Hair match, which, for those who read Mick Foley's first book may remember for being the showdown of a balding man vs. a bald man. Yes, WCW actually did that, and I have this on tape! On top of that, Robocop appeared on the show, running off the Horsemen after they had locked Sting in a shark cage at ringside. Needless to say, the show had its share of stupid moments. About halfway through the show, I was ready to turn the tape off, but just as I was about to give up on the show entirely, the Four Horsemen come out to cut the following promo, hyping Flair's match later that night against Lex Luger -
The line, "When you walk that aisle, you pay the price, for thinking that one day in your life, you are half the man I am every day, as your world heavyweight wrestling champion," was enough to glue me to my seat and sit through every last painfully ridiculous second of that show. If anything, Flair's promo saved the show. It's almost as if WCW knew people would be tempted to walk out halfway through, so they sent Flair and the Horsemen out to convince folks to stick around for the Main Event, and by god if Flair's promo didn't do just that. Now, unfortunately, that match, much like the rest of the show, was god-awfully stupid, but to this day, that line, "when you walk that aisle, you pay the price, for thinking that one day in your life, you are half the man I am every day, as your world heavyweight wrestling champion," epitomizes everything I love about Ric Flair and the Art of Professional Wrestling.
These are just a few examples of what I would personally call good, effective promos. They each served a purpose, whether it was to sell you a match, a character, merchandise, a PPV, a ticket to a live event, a DVD release, or what have you. They also show these performers in their best light as characters - who they are, what the represent, and why you as a fan should either support or despise them. There are no cheap ploys, no pandering to the local sports teams or slagging off about them in order to get heat. These people aren't necessarily relying on one-liners or silly catchphrases to seem hip or clever, and at no point do they lose focus of their job - to sell something to you, the fan, whether it's a match, a piece of merchandise, or simply asking you to believe in them. Just because I may be one of the few people willing to come out and say that ROH is building a Cult of Personality around Davey Richards doesn't mean I'm saying that's a bad thing. Vince McMahon has made millions off of Cults of Personality surrounding icons such as Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, the Undertaker, The Rock and John Cena. WCW tried to do the same with Sting for the longest time. WCCW lived and died off the Cult of Personality created by the Von Erich Family, and Paul Heyman, to this day, still gets more credit than he likely deserves for simply being good at his job because of the Cult of Personality he created around himself. This is how the business works, and it's smart for promoters to take advantage of it, because when you can get people to truly believe in a hero like Hulk Hogan, or Bret Hart, or the Von Erichs, or Paul Heyman, or Davey Richards, they'll follow you through almost anything. That's what makes a great promo, in my opinion - the ability to get the fans to believe in you just enough to follow you anywhere you go.
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