Maybe my wish came true.
John Cena addressed directly the fans putting him in harm’s way this Monday on RAW. He sounded hurt, tired, and aware that a lot of time had passed. It was excellent, full of everything I’d asked for. It wasn’t even the best part, though.
Bray Wyatt delivered, with few words, an epic, scary, amazing promo, one that got St. Louis on Cena’s side and himself booed. A children’s choir, the picture of innocence, singing the song Bray has sung for weeks. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” an old gospel song, turned into a twisted metaphor for Cena’s dominant run by Wyatt, who then led the children in singing, and put the lights out, only to have them come up with Erick Rowan’s sheep masks on the entire choir, and one of the children rocking with Bray in his chair.
It was a brilliant heel promo, one of the best we’d ever seen in RAW’s 21 years. I was astonished at how Bray, without saying much of anything besides leading children in song and cackling in his rocking chair, had unsettled the fans, messed with Cena’s head, and left an indelible image in the heads of fans worldwide.
It got me to thinking: what best makes a heel promo? There’s been some greats over the years, from the arrogance of Ric Flair to the smugness of Roddy Piper. The dark, angry emotion of Mick Foley as both Cactus Jack and Mankind to the quiet, eerie rasp of Jake “The Snake” Roberts. What elements does a heel need to cut a top-notch promo? I’m going to attempt to cover the bases here and go over the elements of great heel promos.
1. Have legitimate motivations.
Brandon Stroud over at With Leather has talked about this a lot. The heels are usually the ones who have simple, easy to understand, legitimate motivations for their actions. In the modern era especially, those have become easy to understand and often cheer, which is why Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind and CM Punk, to name a few, started as top heels and become top faces. The fans understood their motivations, liked what they had to say, and started to cheer them. Eventually it turns into turning some of them, and in the case of Punk, the things that turned him face eventually helped turn him heel again, because he started to resent that he was still second banana, even with the longest title reign in 25 years.
Best example: CM Punk’s “pipe bomb” promo.
Runner-ups: More Punk, taking it to Jeff Hardy, rooted in his real-life hate of drugs.
2. Power, glory, fame, money and the desire for it all.
This area is where Ric Flair excelled. The Nature Boy was the absolute master of this category. He showed off his women, he showed off his plane, his sports cars, his fancy suits, his Rolex watches. He wanted to hold on to the world championship because it represented the big paydays, it drew the women to him, it paid for his plane and cars and clothes. Flair was nothing without those things, in his mind, and it drove him. A natural braggart, Flair became that much more inflated by holding the title. 1980s Ric Flair cut some of the best heel promos of all time, and what made them better was he didn’t care about whether you were a heel or a face, he cared first and foremost about himself.
Hell, you can just type in “Ric Flair promo” on YouTube and you’ll get more examples than you can dream of. The Ric Flair collection that WWE released in 2003 included a bunch of them, including some hidden ones only accessible when you played the DVD on a computer. Really, the man will die as a top five promo man in history, and will stay there forever.
3. Sometimes it’s just pure evil.
Vader just enjoyed hurting people. Jake Roberts attacked Ricky Steamboat because “he gets off on it.” 2009 Randy Orton was sadistic, handcuffing HHH, attacking his wife, Stephanie McMahon, and then kissing her unconscious self. And some of the promos that came from moments like that and others were golden. This category, above all else, I think was owned by Jake Roberts. “The Snake” had an aura about him. He never screamed, in fact, he barely raised his voice an octave. The cold look in his eyes, combined with the menace in his voice, was the purest form of evil I could imagine as a child. And, oh, did he do some EVIL things.
Jake turns on the Ultimate Warrior (this scared me as a child):
Jake gets off on hurting people:
4. And finally, sometimes they’re simply an asshole.
Some guys can’t help it. They’re just natural assholes. They love treating others like crap, not because they’re evil, but because they find it funny, or they love getting a reaction. There’s a few people who fit into this category, but only one who truly tops it, and that’s Rowdy Roddy Piper. Hod Rod in the mid-80s was the greatest asshole alive. He taunted everyone, he abused people, he loved getting a crowd worked into a lather, and yes, he was an integral part in selling Wrestlemania and Wrestlemania 2. Without Piper playing the heel role to its hilt, cutting merciless promos on Mr. T, having bashed Jimmy Snuka’s head with a coconut, shaving midget wrestler The Haiti Kid of his hair as practice for Mr. T, and so much more, Wrestlemania would not have succeeded the way it did. In the mid-80s, Piper was the king of Heel Mountain.
Piper about San Francisco and Paul Orndorff:
Piper about Jimmy Snuka:
Piper on Boston and Bruno Sammartino:
I’d love to hear thoughts on anyone else who should have been included or what other parts you think should be in here. Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.