You know the type of promo - the ones in which fans scramble to Twitter, Reddit, and the like, to breathlessly ask, "Was that real?" The blurred lines of kayfabe and reality, especially in these modern times where fans are smarter to the patterns (and thus are more cynical), hold plenty of appeal. When a wrestler can deftly convince the fans that what they've seen is the antithesis of a carefully-constructed plan, then the hooks are dug in.
The following list looks at some of the all-time best promos that have blurred those lines, making fans question whether or not what they just saw was some rogue performer deviating from the script in order to make their voice heard. Even when fans discovered that the speeches in question were in fact part of the scripted designs, it didn't take away their potency any.
10. Vince Russo Crosses Hulk Hogan (Bash At The Beach 2000)
It didn't lead to a money-drawing angle (Hogan never worked for WCW again, and would in fact sue Russo and WCW for character defamation), but it merits at least a spot on this list, simply because the incident is one of the few truly memorable moments in the dying days of WCW.
Although the entire situation is quite confusing, what's known is that WCW Champion Jeff Jarrett was supposed to simply lay down for Hogan at Bash at the Beach, and a disgruntled Hogan would leave with the belt, kicking off an upcoming storyline. Sometime after that angle played out, renegade-minded Russo returned to the ring and shot on Hogan, calling the angle BS, that Hogan politicked to get the belt, and that we would never see Hogan again. So it began as a work, turned into a shoot, so that makes it....well, not a worked shoot, but a work-shoot, I guess?
9. AJ Lee Roasts The Total Divas Cast (26 August 2013)
Total Divas premiered in 2013, and one of the women who declined an opportunity to be on the show was the then-Divas Champion AJ Lee. She was then told to put her disinterest in the show into words, which she would do on Raw in a barbed tirade against the Bella Twins, Eva Marie, and the others. Figuring her words were going to be caustic, AJ apologized to the women in advance for what she was going to say.
"You will never be able to lace up my Chuck Taylors", Lee rasped at the Total Divas cast, earning some raves and respect for the manner in which she cut the reality TV stars down. Given how a large portion of the viewing audience appreciates women who strive to deliver strong performances between the ropes, Lee was preaching to a good-sized choir.
8. Joey Styles Quits Raw (1 May 2006)
On the eve of ECW's launch as a WWE-operated TV brand, the voice of the Extreme promotion needed a way to migrate over to that show. The night after Backlash (or, as Styles would call it, BackLAASSSH), an irritate Styles took one jibe too many from a playful Jerry Lawler, and ended up smacking "The King" across the face. Lawler shoved him to the ground, and Styles stormed out of the arena.
He would return moments later at Lawler's request, but refused to rejoin him at the commentary desk. Instead, Styles lambasted WWE's model of superficial storytelling, and how it undermined his talents and instincts as an announcer. Styles also chastised Vince McMahon's ego, before announcing that he was quitting Raw.
7. The Undertaker Pulls Back The Curtain (1 June 1998)
Previously, speeches from WWE's Grim Reaper would be confined to serious threats with a zombie's growl. There would always be a ghoulish theatricality to Undertaker's fighting words, but not on this occasion. Dressed in black sweats with none of the macabre make-up that came standard with his wrestling persona, The Undertaker wove reality into the script when discussing how WWE's marketing preferences worked.
Before ultimately demanding a title shot from Stone Cold Steve Austin, a plain-spoken (but no less authoritative) Undertaker talked about how his designation in WWE was to be the monster that destroyed the other monsters, so that Vince's "hand-picked" champions could remain untarnished. Undertaker made sure to note that he'd "never lost his smile" and stayed loyal when others headed for "greener pastures", but now he'd had enough, and wanted what was coming to him.
6. The Miz Talks Smack (23 August 2016)
When fans say they want Talking Smack back, it's for reasons like this. The Miz and Daniel Bryan were in the midst of a simple disagreement in wrestling philosophy, in which Bryan criticized Miz's more conservative work inside the ring. At that point, something inside Miz went haywire, because the typically-smug Miz was replaced by a defensive, teeth-gnashing replacement.
Miz fired back at Bryan, noting that Bryan's own riskiness is what caused him to be forced into retirement in the first place. Almost stumbling over his words due to being so wound up, Miz defended his style of wrestling, continuing to angrily cut Bryan down until the then-SmackDown GM walked off the set. For even Miz's biggest haters, his outburst was seen as something of a revelation, winning him the respect of those who appreciated seeing his unfettered passion for wrestling in a new light.
5. Paul Heyman Condemns Vince McMahon (15 November 2001)
On the eve of the 2001 Survivor Series, the event that brought the limping wreck of the Invasion storyline to its final breaths, the former owner of ECW had something to say to the owner of the American pro wrestling monopoly. In typical Heyman fashion, there was no lack of exuberance, aggression, or poetic wordsmithery.
Heyman accused McMahon of building the WWE empire on the blood and backs of the stars that he used and abused, callously ruining other promoters, and co-opting the ECW flavour under the brand of "Attitude". Heyman even flung his baseball cap at McMahon like a dodgeball to drive home how much he hated Vince's guts. Much of that sentiment toward McMahon had been felt by many individuals over the years, and leave it to ECW's psycho-yuppie to compose it all into one epic rant.
4. Hulk Hogan Justifies Joining The New World Order (Bash At The Beach 1996)
This one isn't often thought of as a "pipe bomb" in the academic sense, since the moment is more notable for the simple headline of: "Hulk Hogan betrays WCW and joins The Outsiders to form The New World Order." It's a shame, because this particular promo is probably the absolute best of Hogan's long career.
Hogan spoke disgustedly about how the fans turned their backs on him (especially in places where Ric Flair was king) after he did so much to make them happy over the years, and how he gave so much of his time, money, and energy to charities (especially ones involving kids). Hogan's name and star power had helped professional wrestling reach heights never before imagined, and his spoken disbelief that fans, and other wrestlers, wanted him to go away rang clearly. His words worked for the angle, his justification for turning heel, but as the pre-eminent face of professional wrestling, Hogan's verbiage sounded like it came at least somewhat from the heart.
3. Ric Flair Rips Eric Bischoff Apart (14 September 1998)
Flair and Bischoff had a major falling out in April 1998, as Bischoff sued Flair for breach of contract (Flair was attending son Reid's AAU National Wrestling Tournament, and refused to return to WCW programming during that stretch). Bischoff reportedly went as far as to air his frustrations toward Flair in a meeting with other WCW wrestlers, with Bischoff apparently going as far as saying he was going to starve Flair and his family.
Five months later, in an emotionally-charged moment on WCW Nitro in Greenville, SC, Flair returned to the promotion in a Four Horsemen reunion, earning an ungodly reaction from the fans in Horsemen Country. With tears in his eyes, Flair began with genuine graciousness before doing a 180, lambasting Bischoff for his actions at the start of, and during, the five months of acrimony, going as far as to scream that Bischoff was an "overbearing asshole,"among other derogatory terms. As Bischoff arrived to try and cut him off, Flair famously grunted, "Fire me! I'm already fired!"
2. Brian Pillman Confuses Everyone (WCW Superbrawl VI & ECW CyberSlam 1996)
Brian Pillman remains enigmatic, more than 20 years after his death. Even when Pillman was completely out of control, he was perfectly in control, and no speaker in wrestling has ever sniffed the manic unpredictability of the 'Loose Cannon'. His finest hour came one week in February 1996, when he appeared for two major promotions six nights apart, with elaborate works on both shows.
At WCW Superbrawl, Pillman appeared to quit the company after breaking character, telling Kevin Sullivan: "I respect you, BOOKERMAN!" before walking out on their strap match. Pillman was fired by Bischoff, but Bischoff was in on this part of the plan - Pillman was supposed to raise hell elsewhere before returning as the ultimate heat magnet. He gained his legitimate release (never intending to return, but Bischoff didn't know this), and popped up at ECW's CyberSlam, where his promo was much more caustic. He ran down Bischoff, before turning on the gleeful fans by referring to them as a bunch of smart marks.
He then threatened to whip his genitals out and piss all over the mat before Heyman, Shane Douglas, and others stopped him. Then, for good measure, Pillman dragged a planted fan into the ring and began stabbing him with a fork. Really, the written word cannot do justice the sight of Brian Pillman making even his closest friends think he was living on the fringes of sanity. This was Andy Kaufman-meets-The Joker type of madness!
1. CM Punk Drops The Pipebomb (27 June 2011)
This moment wouldn't be referred to as a 'pipebomb' until Punk himself coined the phrase in a later promo. Its retroactive label is all the shorthand that fans need to remember the night that Punk sat atop the stage of Monday Night Raw in Las Vegas, and (mostly) calmly bared his frustrations toward the world.
The speech went on for too long for it to have been anything but a preordained work, but Punk's sentiment still rang as true. In between promising to leave WWE with John Cena's WWE Championship after Money in the Bank, Punk sharply criticized the WWE corporate infrastructure, the obvious hypocrisies, and how Vince McMahon was actually an underachiever due to his own stubbornness and short-sightedness (not to mention the apparent lies that he consumes from his yes-men). The internet was abuzz in the minutes afterwards, as the obvious question was asked: was that real? The answer was simple: not really, but that doesn't matter.