While the art of the promo isn't a lost one as some people would have you believe, it definitely isn't used as effectively as it used to be. Once upon a time, wrestlers could talk people into a building every week just by cutting a good promo on TV.
As much as I don't miss the endless squash matches that used to fill TV, I do miss the hot promos that ran between squash matches. Fact is, they were often the highlight of weekly shows. Sure, once in a while there'd be a name match but it usually ended controversially in order to set up a match at a house show (which makes perfect sense as promoters almost never made money off of TV and derived just about all their income from house show tickets).
This was the golden age of talkers. Guys like Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts, Sgt. Slaughter, and Randy Savage all were so good at talking that I probably would listen to them read the weather forecast. That's how good they were. Whether it was Flair boasting about his lavish lifestyle, Roberts incorporating catchy song lyrics into his promos, or Savage cutting fantastical promos about himself, these guys knew how to talk and how to get the fans excited about their matches. It didn't matter if Ric Flair was wrestling Harley Race or Ron Ritchie; "The Nature Boy" made you feel that you were going to miss the match of the century if you didn't attend the local house show.
What's interesting to me is that even the guys who weren't blessed with a silver tongue were usually good enough to get fans interested in a house show. One reliable trick was to make fun of the local town and/or their sports team. Coming to New York City? Run down the Yankees or the Mets (although making fun of the Mets is like shooting fish in a barrel). Coming to Boston? Make fun of the Celtics or the Sox. It wasn't rocket science and it didn't take a script writer for guys to talk the fans into building.
One of the more unusual promos I ever saw resulted in a prime example of wrestlers talking the fans into a building. The year was 1985 and WWE Hall of Famer "Cowboy" Bob Orton was coming to Buffalo for a house show. Looking back at Orton's promos, the guy wasn't in the league of guys like Flair, Savage, Roberts, or Piper but he could hold his own (and he certainly didn't need a manager) and this particular promo was something special. Here, Orton managed not only to make fun of Buffalo but during the promo, he took a shot at musician John Fogerty. Fogerty had just released a comeback album called Centerfield and he was back in the public eye after years since his glory days in Creedance Clearwater Revival.
Orton's promo struck a nerve with one of my friends who was a big Fogerty fan. Terry was a wrestling fan as well but not a diehard like myself and some of our friends. However when he heard the Orton comment, he was livid and made sure he was included in our regular sojourn to Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium to see the latest WWF house show. This was a classic case of someone getting caught up by a promo. Not only did our friend buy his ticket but he made an anti-Orton sign and talked about little else but seeing Orton get his comeuppance.
The night of the show, Fogerty's #1 fan made it clear to Bob Orton that he hadn't forgotten his deregatory remarks about rock star John Fogerty. As soon as Orton made his way down the aisle, Terry began to bad mouth Orton and couldn't wait to see Orton get some much deserved punishment in the ring. Sadly, Orton's scheduled opponent wasn't there and instead, semi-retired veteran grappler Billy "Red" Lyons (who was quite a competitor in his prime but who was now relegated to announcing matches for Jack Tunney's Maple Leaf Wrestling). We all knew that Lyons didn't stand a chance and he lived down to our expectations, falling to Orton after filling as many minutes of the card as he could. Terry wasn't too happy but then again neither were the fans who had paid to see Orton take on a name opponent (DAMN those "card subject to change without notice" disclaimers!). His only satisfaction was getting to berate Orton in person for mocking John Fogerty.
Nowadays the WWE comes to town two or three times a year, usually with one house show and a RAW or SmackDown! taping. The WWE usually gets a good attendance but I can't help but wonder how many more shows they could run if they relied more on the classic promo. Chances are, you're not going to see them coming back but it's yet another old school trick that promoters everywhere could benefit from bringing back. Don't believe me? Just look at the guy who paid money to see Bob Orton Jr. just because he mocked John Forgety.
7 years ago