Image via Ring of Honor.
Image via Ring of Honor.
Pro wrestling's biggest moment of 2011 didn't happen during a match; it happened when one man picked up a microphone and just talked some shit. That man was CM Punk, and he ended an episode of Monday Night Raw by verbally eviscerating the entire WWE and everything within the company that was keeping him from being its biggest star. He named names, mentioned things that nobody had mentioned on WWE TV, and ended only when somebody cut off his mic. Punk’s rant was planned, but it didn't feel planned, mostly because of the biblical fury that Punk brought to every syllable and the crease of concentration that stayed on his forehead throughout. That fiery promo was an instant YouTube classic and the sort of thing they should show in rhetoric classes. And a little while after it aired, Punk became, more or less, the company's biggest star.
Promo speeches like that one are a hugely important part of wrestling; you generally don't get to be a big star, or a beloved figure, if you can't convincingly and compellingly make the verbal case that you're ready to beat somebody's ass. That Punk promo was, by far, last year's best. But my second-favorite was one that never appeared on TV. It came from the Briscoe Brothers, a pair of tatted-up skinheaded goons who have been fixtures of the indie-wrestling company Ring of Honor's tag-team division for ROH's entire decade-long lifespan. More specifically, this YouTube-circulated stemwinder came from Jay Briscoe, the better talker of the two. Mark Briscoe, the elder brother, spent most of it lurking in the background, cleaning a pistol.
I've driven through the state of Delaware many, many times, paying the near-larcenous highway tolls that the state collects from anyone for the privilege of driving the tiny strip of I-95 that cuts across a small corner of it. But before watching the Briscoes’ promo, I wasn't quite aware that the state had any terrifying rednecks. That's what the Briscoes are. They're a pair of chicken farmers from Sandy Fork, a town that doesn't appear on Google Maps. It's near the southern tip of the state, way the hell out on the DelMarVa peninsula, a geographically isolated strip of sand whose greatest cultural feature is the tourist resort hell Ocean City. People from the Eastern Shore don't sound like people from anywhere else. When you make the for-drinking-purposes-only drive from Baltimore to Ocean City, as every middle-class Baltimorean does at one point or another, you feel like you're entering a wormhole as you cross the Bay Bridge, finding a tiny patch of deepest hick-town Appalachia inexplicably situated on the mid-Atlantic seaside.
The Briscoes are Eastern Shore as fuck. They've got hard, lined faces with patchy beards and skin that looks like it's been cooking on a stovetop for the past 15 minutes. Their tattoos are terrible. Mark is missing about four front teeth. Jay has eyes that drip with hate even in those rare moments when you see him smiling. For reasons I can't begin to understand, they both love the Raiders. They seem to keep giant hunks of chaw in their cheeks at all times. When they make their entrances in ROH, the first thing you hear is the first eight notes from "Dueling Banjos," followed by a gunshot. They are great wrestlers, hard and physical and happy to bleed all over canvas. But they're even better when someone points a camera at them and gives them a chance to talk shit about other wrestlers.
That promo, called "Day 1," is seven-and-a-half minutes of Jay Briscoe's unmitigated fury at the very idea that the Briscoes would not be Ring of Honor tag-team champions by the time the company had its first TV taping for its new owners, the UHF TV concern Sinclair Media. Jay's reasoning, such as it was: The Briscoes are Ring of Honor diehards, people who'd bled buckets to help build the company into what it was. He somehow kept his intensity on Defcon-1 levels even when he was turning that argument into a gore-spattered trip down memory lane: "Blood all on my face! Open your eyes and all you see is red! Ain't nothing like that in the world! The greatest feeling in the world! Blood all over your face. Ain't a high like that in the entire world, and believe me, I've done a lot of crazy shit!" You watch him, and you're inclined to believe him.
When Jay records these rants, the Briscoes are usually on the grounds of their chicken farm, sometimes with the breeze drowning out some of his words. Mark is usually in the background, shoveling dirt or throwing dead chickens around, interjecting garbled exclamations whenever the mood strikes him. And Jay is staring into the Flipcam, beating his chest, turning even redder, giving that Iversonian impression that the world has done him dirty and he intends to address the situation.
That feeling, incensed indignity spilling over into bloodlust, is always the main takeaway from a Briscoe Brothers promo. But Jay is also an eloquent orator, in his own way, illustrating his threats with stories and digressions and moral stands. Talking about the beating he was about to give the World's Greatest Tag Team, a pair of WWE veterans, Jay answered a question I've always had about the Briscoes by telling the tale of their own interaction with the company: They'd had some tryouts but been passed over for not being "cosmetically pleasing." Talking about the he was about to give Davey Richards and Kyle O'Reilly, he clowned that team's MMA affectations by invoking the names of pro-wrestling saints: "Terry Funk ain't wear no damn mouth piece! Bruiser Brody ain't wear no mouth piece! Doing your little jiujitsu, getting focused and shit." Talking about an ass-beating they were about to hand the Young Bucks, he devolved into rage-out screaming—not because of the Bucks, but because they'd just lost a whole flock of chickens to some epidemic.
The Briscoes can be funny—see here or here—but even then, they make you feel something. Even when they're just talking, the Briscoe Brothers are scary men. And scary men are the people who make professional wrestling work.