In a year that saw the rise of Daniel Bryan, the wrath of Brock Lesnar and the crowning of the first-ever WWE World Heavyweight Champion, it wasn’t always the physical altercations that stole the show. More often than not, it was the words. While standbys like CM Punk and John Cena never disappoint on the microphone, surprising newcomers and even non-competitors unleashed stinging oratories that bonded us to the ring’s most captivating rivalries.
The past 12 months included no shortage of impressive and memorable statements. From a volcano personified to a #pipebombshell, we spoke to the performers who articulated these verbal barbs to learn the motivation behind the messages.
10.) "You're not just a Superstar. You're a philosophy"
"To me, John Cena is a Disney character. He eats, breathes and sleeps WWE, but he’s the embodiment of a Muppet. It’s a lot of catchphrases, bright colors and t-shirts — its marketing. I’ve never been a guy interested in those things. I’ve been wrestling since I was 16. It’s about getting it done in the ring. You don’t owe anything to these people except your performance in the ring. I’m out there doing my thing and you’re lucky enough to be able to watch me.
“The people I grew up idolizing are completely different than who John Cena is — the outlaws of our industry: Terry Funk, Roddy Piper, Killer Karl Kox, Dick Murdoch, The Four Horsemen, The Midnight Express and The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. Those guys are all wild men. This business is built on wild men. I always wanted to be one of the cowboys who rolls into town, does his business and you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of ‘em.
“I relish the opportunity to go out there and say some things I truly believe, and if anybody got mad about it, I don’t really care.” — DEAN AMBROSE
9.) "I've walked these filthy streets of New York."
“I named every demographic and culture group in the city. I said I’d heard such languages as Italian and got a big reaction. ’Hey, that’s us!’ Then Greek. ’Yay!’ Then German, Chinese, Spanish and something called Yiddish. It was a big reaction all over. So I knew who was in the crowd. They identified themselves. With the Yiddish, I acted like I didn’t know what it was. I laughed about it myself.
“It was effective, and I didn’t even notice at the time that I was the only one who did an interview that night. It was all video packages and wrestling. I guess that was my WrestleMania moment. It really was awesome, to tell you the truth. You’d think that speaking in front of 81,000 people live that I’d have a little bit of nervousness, but I wasn’t nervous at all and I didn’t even understand it myself. I felt confident in my ability. I’m just delivering a message that people speak privately.” — ZEB COLTER
8.) "I don't change for no one."
“Saying the NFL stood for 'Not For Long' was paraphrasing Jerry Glanville, head coach of the Atlanta Falcons in the early ’90s. I believe that was a situation where everything needed to be put in perspective. Taking nothing away from Daniel Bryan, but so many people, when they come into WWE — and I know this to be true, this is how to make an impression — you pick a fight with the toughest kid in the bar. And it just so happens, the toughest kid in the bar is not ready to get his @$$ whipped yet.
“That was just one of those situations where he wasn’t the first, he won’t be the last. The line is extremely long when it comes to that. Even past Superstars like The Rock have tried the same approach and I certainly don’t mind being bested, but I will not go down without a fight.
“I think it all has to do with environment. When the audience wants to have fun, you’d be remiss not to have fun with them. The stuff that Daniel Bryan was alluding to — I believe he called me, 'a parody of wrestling' — everyone has their opinion and they’re entitled to it, but every action induces an equal and opposite reaction. He thought he might be able to get away with it with no repercussions. I think Bryan probably did believe what he said until we actually got a chance to compete against each other, in which case he won. That night he was the better man, but if you asked him now, in terms of respect, his tune will change.” — JOHN CENA
7.) "You reach down because of the love of your children."
“It was true, raw emotion, from me and Vince’s hug in the back to when I went out there. I got caught up in the emotion. It was purely happening and I was saying what was in my heart and soul. To be a part of that at my age, especially with my two kids, I don’t see Archie Manning going out and throwing touchdown passes. But I threw a touchdown pass and I did it with my boys.
“Virgil Runnels has two sons — one that’s fought back and persevered from battling his demons and one that’s the consummate player from the word ’go.’ They’re two different guys and I was there as their dad that night. So I said my real name to put everybody in the audience at ease. I didn’t want the audience chanting, ’Dusty, Dusty, Dusty’ or calling me The American Dream.
“There is nothing I would not do for my children. The American Dream is out there, I’m just one guy that represents it. I wanted to make a statement that night and I think we did. It felt right.” — DUSTY RHODES
6.) "There ain't no such thing as a hero."
As with any of Bray Wyatt’s maniacal declarations, we can’t be entirely sure what The Eater of Worlds meant in his rambling spiel to a Brooklyn, N.Y. crowd. Following a brutal attack on R-Truth by Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, Bray began one of his cryptic diatribes, but it wasn’t clear if he was speaking to Truth directly or to the fans in attendance. Either way, this statement was perhaps his most compelling.
By claiming that WWE’s true heroes no longer exist, The Wyatt Family’s leader made an abstract implication that only he was able to rescue the suffering from further harm, and all others claiming otherwise were merely liars. Whether the cynical Barclays Center crowd — and fans across the globe — bought it that night is one thing, but Wyatt’s undeniable influence and frightening charisma is another matter entirely.
5.) "For the love of God, I'm Shawn Michaels."
“It’s tough love. To be a good bad guy, there’s got to be an element of truth. You always try to rationalize what you did. People said, ’I can’t believe you gave Bryan Sweet Chin Music.’ How can you not believe I did that? I kicked everybody for 25 years. If you don’t think you’re getting kicked by me at some point, that’s just being naïve, isn’t it? That makes a good bad guy — rationalizing and justifying doing something that’s not what the fans want, but there is a point.
“The best way to be a great champion is to get all experiences under your belt and be ready for everything. It’s like having to discipline your children. Nobody ever likes it, but it’s something you do because you feel like they’re going to be better for it in the end. They’re going to learn a valuable lesson not to do something again. That’s what I want Daniel to learn. Being a wrestler is a great job. It’s one of the greatest ways in the world to make a living, but you can’t get comfortable. You can’t allow yourself to be seduced into being somebody’s pal. There can only be one guy. You better get used to sleeping with one eye open.
“Let’s face it. There’s a little bit of evil in all of us.” — SHAWN MICHAELS
4.) "I'm cold-hearted. And I'm calculated. And I'm in control."
“There’s an old adage that says revenge is a dish best served cold, because someone seeking vengeance with a passion leaves themselves open to make a fatal mistake. My hope was that CM Punk’s hatred for me would outweigh any intelligent strategy he had coming into battle. I wanted to give a demonstration of what happens when a thinking man — and make no mistake about it, CM Punk is a thinking fighter — loses his composure and approaches a fight with emotion. And then I wanted to make the point that my emotions won’t get the best of me. And I’m willing to serve my revenge on a cold dish. The odds were actually in my favor. It just didn’t work out that way.
“I’ve had as much response this year speaking one word at a time as I’ve had going halfway off the rails. It all depends on the emotion of the moment. It’s like asking, which is better for you — cardio or lifting weights? Well, what are you training for? But that speech fit the moment. It delivered the message.” — PAUL HEYMAN
3.) "Your arms are just too short to box with God."
“I competed in a TLC Match against Ryback three weeks after I had knee surgery. It was a busy night. Everybody was excited that The Rock was going to be back, and I felt that he was jumping right into the deep water and I didn’t think he could swim. Given all his past accomplishments, I have tremendous respect for what he does and what he has done. I just think he took the current scene in WWE way too lightly. I don’t think he rose to the occasion. That was my plan: to show him it was a different landscape, and if he wanted to hang, that was a hell of an introduction for him to realize he needs to step up.
“I called Tyson Kidd a workhorse and said Brodus Clay shucks and jives. All inside jokes, obviously, but props to Tyson Kidd. He’s a guy who doesn’t get a whole lot of credit. To me, the marquee still says wrestling, and he’s a hell of a wrestler.
“When I said, ’box with God,’ anytime you mention anything religious, people get uneasy, but it was a metaphoric way to let The Rock know he couldn’t hang with me. And that was part of my intention — to make people a little uneasy. That’s always my intention.” — CM PUNK
2.) "I have saved your Divas division. I have shattered glass celiings."
“I had been asked to be on [’Total Divas’] and said, ’No.’ That didn’t rub people the right way. Somewhere along the line, someone said, ’Well if she doesn’t want to do it, let her tell us why.’ That was the freedom I was given, and I went out there ready to tear people apart. That was awesome.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to say, and that was why you see very visceral, real reactions from the girls, because they didn’t know what was going to happen. It was just coming out of my mouth. I just went off on what I actually feel is important, and that’s wrestling. That’s what I think we need to focus on in our business. We have a title for wrestlers, not for ‘Cutest Girl’ or ’Miss Popularity.’ I wasn’t trying to get cheers or boos. I was just trying to speak my mind, and it just so happens that our fans side with me on that.
“When I got backstage, everyone was really pissed at me. That was a very real, raw moment. No pun intended. It stung, but the truth hurts.” — AJ LEE
1.) "Baby, I'm coming home!"
“I was getting ready to pull the wool over the eyes of every wrestling fan and every guy that sits back and thinks they know everything about the business. And every one of those people, I got ‘em. I had Arsenio Hall, Jay Mohr and a lot of celebrities that called and said, ’You bastard, you got me. How’d you do that? Why’d you do that?’ Big Show called me mad as hell, threatening to kill me because I made him cry. I did my job.
“When I got backstage, people were shaking their heads saying things like, ’I cannot believe you used your family. You had me. You went a month telling people you were going to retire.’ I got 'em. I got everybody.
“I never got a chance to be WWE Champion. I still want to be WWE Champion. That’s the only feather that I don’t have in my hat. In the future, I won’t be able to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes, but I’m going to get it. It’s not a question of how much I’ve got left in the tank, but how much I’m going to use.
“That speech should be No. 1 on this list. It’s the one that people are still talking about today.” — MARK HENRY