Best promos of the year in professional wrestling

The Miz and Daniel Bryan butted heads on numerous occasions in the second half of 2016, but on Aug. 23, The Miz laid into Bryan with the most vicious promo of his career during an episode of "Talking Smack." Courtesy of WWE

As much as the in-ring action is what drives the story forward in the world of professional wrestling, the best talkers in the business help tie it all together and drive interest in the various rivalries that populate "Raw," "SmackDown Live," "NXT" and almost any other wrestling program you might watch.

There are moments in any given year during which you're watching a show and the hairs on your arm suddenly stand up, or you snap to attention -- knowing you've just seen something that, intentionally or not, will have a lasting impact on the wrestling world.

Whether you watched a live TV broadcast, an internet stream or caught it later on social media, there were a few promos and moments in wrestling that separated themselves from the rest of the pack. As we draw closer to the end of the year, our WWE on ESPN contributors are here to recognize a handful of the best wrestling promos of 2016 -- and it all kicks off with a moment that few saw coming on a brand-new medium that was just a few weeks old at the time.

The Miz gets personal with Daniel Bryan

"Talking Smack," Aug. 23


Few WWE superstars can say they took their game to such new and dizzying heights as The Miz did in 2016. One of the company's few genuine heels who will get booed out of every building, The Miz cut the promo of his life in August -- only it didn't happen on that week's episode of "SmackDown Live." Rather, it happened within the confines of SmackDown's brand-new weekly post-show, "Talking Smack." Just like a lot of the most iconic promos in the pantheon, Miz blended fact and fiction to color a rivalry with Daniel Bryan that is rooted in real life and stretches back years to Bryan's days as Miz's "rookie" on the old contest-show-style format of "NXT." Given a live microphone on a format that allowed him a platform any he'd ever had, and sick of Bryan's criticism of his style, Miz said the reason he wrestles the way he does is so he can do it every day for another 10 years. He followed that by telling Bryan, who was forced to retire by WWE doctors, to go back to the bingo halls on the indie scene if he loves wrestling so much. This was one of the best segments of WWE television in quite some time, with an emotional Bryan storming off set. The perfect "worked shoot," as it was -- and many seem to think it was never supposed to happen that way in the first place. -- Nic Atkin

In this era of wrestling, the most memorable promos combine a healthy mix of honesty and raw emotion while adhering to a well-developed storyline. The Miz hit them all out of the park when he went after Bryan, the Smackdown GM, who had said earlier in the segment that Miz wrestles "like a coward." The steady buildup of anger led Miz to fire back and declare Bryan a coward for not quitting WWE and going back to the independents instead of remaining out of the ring due to lingering effects of his multiple concussions and other injuries. Miz questioned Bryan's love for the fans, saying he's continually walked away from them. Bryan walked off the set and then The Miz turned to the camera and demanded respect as the WWE Intercontinental champion. The entire segment was so well done that it left the wrestling world buzzing and wondering if the viewers had witnessed a raw, honest interaction, rather than a planned promo. -- Andy Smith

Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose put their hearts into it

"SmackDown Live," Aug. 16


The go-home episode of "SmackDown Live" heading into SummerSlam started the same way a lot of episodes of SmackDown began in 2016 -- with Miz TV. The Miz didn't factor into this situation for long, however, as he was quickly interrupted by Dean Ambrose, then the WWE world champion, and then Dolph Ziggler. What followed was 12 minutes of solid gold from Ziggler and Ambrose, who played perfectly off of one another. For Ziggler, it likely was the best promo of his career and an argument for him to finally get a shot at running with the WWE world title at some point in the future. While the match itself at SummerSlam left something to be desired, Ziggler would follow that up with a rivalry with The Miz that was one for the ages. Between this particular promo and several key moments in his feud with The Miz, Ziggler proved that, when called upon, he has what it takes to be a top guy in this company. -- Tim Fiorvanti

Daniel Bryan's retirement speech

"Monday Night Raw," Feb. 8


I know this isn't necessarily categorized as a "promo" in the traditional sense ... but have you ever cried while watching wrestling? I may have once when I was a kid, when Bret Hart lost to Yokozuna, but other than that, nope, and certainly not in my 30s. Well, I definitely shed a few on Feb. 8 when Daniel Bryan -- Bryan Danielson, the guy who got me back into the WWE -- retired from the ring. His words invoked multiple emotions from sad to happy to even funny (go back and watch and wait for the Brie joke). You could write 1,000 words on this moment and how emotional it truly was, so I'm not sure this paragraph will do it justice. Go back and rewatch it -- and don't forget to keep a few tissues nearby -- Steve Braband

Vince McMahon names brand-split commissioners

"Monday Night Raw," July 11


OK, so it wasn't the best promo per se, but it very well could have been the most important one of the year as WWE owner Vince McMahon gave us a sense as to the direction the Raw/SmackDown Live brand split was heading. Although McMahon's decision was predictable in naming his children, Stephanie (Raw) and Shane (SmackDown Live), as the leaders of those respective shows, the announcement finally allowed new narratives to blossom. The brand split, for better or for worse, was the single most important takeaway from 2016 -- and this moment shaped everything that followed. -- Matt Wilansky

Charlotte betrays Ric Flair ... again

"Monday Night Raw," Dec. 5


Charlotte Flair's passionate promo teasing a public apology to her father, Ric Flair, was featured in the main event slot on the Dec. 5 edition of "Raw," and for good reason. It came a week after we witnessed Ric congratulate Sasha Banks on her Raw women's championship victory over his own daughter (who had previously turned on him in another devastating moment on "Monday Night Raw" a few months prior). The range of emotion and overall mic work displayed by Charlotte resulted in the best promo of the year. She presented a phony apology to her father in such a believable, sincere way that it drew her father out from backstage. They embraced in a hug before the promo did a complete 180, which led to a venomous slap to Ric's face. Charlotte's tone switched immediately to one of malice, as she angrily uttered, "I'm your daughter! I'm your flesh and your blood!" Her ability to present two polar-opposite emotions in a convincing fashion confirms just how far Charlotte has come and just how thoroughly she can own a segment. She's one of the best heels in the company, male or female -- and this is a prime example. -- Sean Coyle

Goldberg's return

"Monday Night Raw," Oct. 17


Bill Goldberg might not have been known for his promo skills during his prime, save for a "Who's next?" growl. But whether it was nostalgia for Goldberg's past kicking in, or just the fact that he seemed so earnest in his speech about the world needing more superheroes and that his wife and son had never seen him wrestle live, the crowd got fired up for the potential of a Goldberg-Brock Lesnar match at Survivor Series. Add in a "You're last!" dig at Lesnar to wrap things up, and you've got lots of people suddenly caring about this match, which is what a good promo is supposed to accomplish. -- James Quintong

Broken Matt vs. Brother Nero

"Impact Wrestling," May 30


In the grand scheme of things, professional wrestling is different because we must try our best to suspend reality. There's no better example of that than Broken Matt Hardy and Brother Nero (aka Jeff Hardy) fighting over the Hardy name. The buildup to Slammiversary was unlike anything we've really seen in professional wrestling, past present or future. The contract signing leading to their Slammiversary match begins with Broken Matt explaining that this is Brother Nero's "Armageddon," perhaps a slight jab at Jeff's first WWE title win. Brother Nero's first interaction doesn't come with his brother -- but Matt's wife Reby and their infant son, Maxel. And then the most memorable line of the promo -- the one that would be repeated over and over again -- as Broken Matt plays the piano: "Brother Nero, I knew you'd come!" The promo shifts to a wrestling ring outside of Matt's house, where it is revealed to be a setup to trap Brother Nero, as he had suspected all along but followed through anyway. If you have five minutes, watch this groundbreaking promo that led to the now-infamous "The Final Deletion" a few weeks later and several different events within the "Broken Matt" universe that continue to this day. And if you don't know why fans at wrestling events around the world keep chanting "Delete," well, you'll soon find out -- Andrew Davis

Paul Heyman does what he does best

"Monday Night Raw," Nov. 28


It's often attention to detail that makes a match or storyline memorable enough to stand the test of time. It's the same with great promos. This one from Paul Heyman, in the wake of his client Lesnar's shocking defeat to Goldberg at Survivor Series, wasn't lacking in that department. To sell the desperation in his voice, Heyman was unshaven and jittery with bloodshot eyes and tears. It was perfect. Heyman perfectly sold how it was possible Lesnar could lose so suddenly while promising "The Beast" would get his violent comeuppance down the line at the Royal Rumble. Heyman has become so good at his craft that many of his best performances tend to run together -- but this one was extra special for the dark intensity he channeled. -- Brian Campbell