Why Do Wrestling Fans Chant “What?”

Wrestling fans across the globe chant “What?” during superstar promos to provoke a response. It’s somewhat referred to as trolling behaviour especially when it’s overused.

Where did the “What?” chant come from?

Where did the “What?” chant come from?

The “What?” chant first started back in 2001 when WWE superstar, Stone Cold Steve Austin left an innocuous voicemail on Christian Cage’s answering service.

In an interview with Chris Van Vliet, Stone Cold Steve Austin would go on to say:

“It really does [surprise me], but it’s a testament to how impacted people were to that. You know, that started off as me leaving a voice message on Christian’s phone,” 

“I was working heel at the time, and I said hey man, this is a really good way to F with people and get on their nerves and under their skin. Because if you tell me something I just say What? And I throw it back at you, and it’s irritating, it’s what it was designed to be.

Then I turned it into something that worked for me as babyface as a way to mock a certain situation. With cadence and delivery, people can escape it as far as talent doing a promo.

But it’s very, it’s flattering to still see it around, but I have had so many people cussing me out and hating it. We ended up putting it on the t-shirt for God’s sake, and it sold a ton.

So, I am thankful for the word, but if it disappeared tomorrow then I wouldn’t complain. I’m honored that it is still here.”

Steve Austin speaking to Chris Van Vliet

What started as simple kayfabe jab, of which Steve Austin had plenty would soon evolve into a mainstay of live crowd reactions, not only in the WWE but at nearly any wrestling event it could gain traction with the audience.

Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was one of the best promo people in WWE took the signature interaction to amazing heights. See how swept up the crowd gets with the Texas Rattlesnake interrupting Stephanie McMahon in 2002:

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s greatest “What?!”-filled interview: Royal Rumble 2002

Was the “What?” Chant Good for WWE?

The viral behaviour of yelling “What?” whenever anyone grabbed the microphone became a blight on the television event.

The single word chant would be inserted in between pauses when a superstar would recite a monologue on the mic. It wasn’t just heels that were plagued by “What?” after every sentence either, even babyfaced superstars weren’t safe.

WWE executives, superstars and fans soon had a problem with the constant, annoying and disrespectful chant, likening it to trolling behaviour when it was overused, especially in particularly sensitive or inappropriate circumstances.

How did Superstars Deal with the “What?” Chant?

To avoid being buried in the “What?” chant and having what needed to be said ruined, many superstars developed their own methods to remove its effectiveness or even play off the energy, heightening audience engagement.

People’s champ, The Rock recently made a return to SmackDown to affirm his allegiance to the Bloodline. The man who is no stranger to “What?” chants, being a common adversary of Stone Cold in the Attitude era came prepared against a booing audience when they lunged into yelling “What?” at every chance given.

Times WWE Superstars beat the “What?!” chants

Crowd Reactions are Overall Still a Good Thing

Crowd reactions are a great thing and can go a long way to making a show more exciting. When we see the pop from CM Punk’s return at Survivor Series to the “This is awesome” chant in electrifying matches we can’t help but get excited. Hype is infectious.

The dangerous thing about the “What?” chant is that it is easy to fall into rhythm for both the crowd and the superstar speaking. At that point if the wrestler is unable to deal with it, sensibility potentially goes out the window, possibly derailing the segment or offending the people who put so much work into these performances.



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