Take one young professional wrestler. Generously douse him in athleticism and mat skills with the ability to throw a solid right hook with a sprinkling of promising technique and finesse. Sounds promising am I right? Of course I am. However, a key component of this sports entertainment elixir eludes this superstar. The gift of the gab. The only remedy? One word? Manager.
A wrestling manager can make you care about the greenest of superstars, no matter how devoid of emotion they may be. If a guy’s got the charisma of an apple, throw a Bobby Heenan his way and watch the fans interest in him peak. Got a young gun who’s not quite confident enough to carry himself on the stick? Not to worry, Jimmy Hart or Paul Ellering will see to it that his shortcomings are slid under the rug away from prying eyes.
Unfortunately, this practice is all but dead in modern day pro wrestling.
It’s sad to say, but wrestling management is a dying art. Long gone are the days of the aforementioned Heenans, Harts and Ellerings. Cornette, Fuji, Dangerously, Albano and Bearer are confined to the history books as well. It’s a sad state of affairs.
So how did it happen?
A great manager is as effective a heat magnet as a superstar could hope for. Every wrestling promoter knows this. Hence why in early 2006 Shelton Benjamin’s ?Momma? was introduced to the WWE fans. For all Benjamin’s immense athletic prowess, he couldn?t and still can?t cut a half decent promo to save his life. However ?Momma? debuts and suddenly people give a damn about him and were willing to invest in Benjamin as a character, something he had never been before. He?d simply been a wrestler. Now he was a momma’s boy and people bought it. People actually bought into Shelton Benjamin. Since Momma left has anyone bought into him? Benjamin’s constant drafting around the brands and stop start pushes suggest not.
Umaga is another recent case in point. Being a Samoan savage, the late Umaga’s vocabulary didn?t stretch much beyond ?UGH WAH UH MUH AAAAH?. Pretty one dimensional huh? So how does a Samoan Savage evolve beyond that? In the 21st century, guttural mumblings are only going to get you so far. Had this been a more cartoon driven era of wrestling such as the 80’s or early 90’s then Umaga could have got on fine without the help of a certain Armanda Alejandro Estrada. Not only was Estrada Umaga’s manager and mouth piece, he was essentially his salesman. Before every match he would make his pitch to the crowd, championing Umaga’s then incumbent undefeated streak, his victims along that path and heralding him as the Samoan Bulldozer.
See, connection with your audience is everything in wrestling. Everybody knows that, from the most casual of fan to the ardent die hard smark. If a fan doesn?t feel a connection with what a wrestler is doing, then why are they supposed to care? Umaga’s lack of linguistics rendered him pretty one dimensional despite his fantastic in ring skills. Sure he was over during his solo run in the WWE, but that was only once Estrada’s work was done. The detestable Estrada bragged about his villain’s conquests at the expense of our heroes on a weekly basis. He drove Umaga to the brink of WWE Title glory, whilst sporting an incessant shit eating grin throughout. And no one could wait to see it wiped from his face.
It’s these modern day examples which puzzle me as to why wrestling companies have all but given up on bringing managers up through the ranks. God knows we?ve seen enough clueless rookies be given more than enough TV time, so why is so much time being wasted on talent solely because of their last name (COUGH Hart Dynasty COUGH) when some of that time could be spent remembering how important good manager’s are to professional wrestling.
I can?t begin to tell you how much I used to sit in front of the TV urging anyone with every ounce of strength in my body to beat The Nasty Boys because I couldn?t stand Jimmy Hart. I also screamed blue murder every time a member of The Dangerous Alliance picked up a victory due to my immense hatred of Paul Heyman and his horrific ponytail and 80’s mobile phone combo. Even with supremely talented guys, these guys were so phenomenal that they made you take even more interest in workers who were already incredibly popular. JJ Dillon’s alignment with the 4 Horsemen is testament to this, as is Bobby Heenan’s management of Ric Flair upon his arrival in the WWF in 1991.
In this case, it’s the frustration that boils inside of fans because they see these managers as parasites, hitching a ride on the coat tails of their client’s success rather than contributing anything constructive themselves. I mean, when you look at the Horsemen do you really see a weak link? So why was Dillon around them in the first place?
Simply put, he added another dimension to the group. Flair was The Man, Arn was The Enforcer, Ole/Windham/Luger were the extra muscle and Tully was the second coming of Naitch. They could all take care of themselves and were ruthless in getting what they wanted. Dillon, on the other hand, was an out of shape older man who ran his mouth and hid behind the Horsemen’s success. Flair was still great without him, Arn was still meaner than a thousand Clint Eastwood films and Tully was still a cocky, conniving, successful douche.
It’s not just what manager’s add to individuals either. It’s what they bring to matches. It’s the outside drama, the distractions and the up close and personal riling of the crowds. They can turn a poor match into a decent match and a good match into a great spectacle. I mean who can forget Jimmy Hart and his megaphone or Mr. Fuji and his trusty handful of powder? And it would be remiss of me to not mention James E. Cornette who got perhaps the greatest comeuppance of any wrestling manager in history (sorry I simply cannot include Paul Bearer’s concrete burial in that list) at Starrcade ?86 when The Road Warriors sent him plummeting 20 feet from a scaffold to the ring below. The fact that Cornette and The Midnight Express had to have a police escort from arenas to city limits goes to show the effect a great manager can have and how appreciative fans are of seeing them finally receiving their due.
I take a look at the superstars of today and yearn for a return of these golden years where the manager reigned supreme. What I wouldn?t give for a 21st Century Heenan Family. And don?t be fooled, this isn?t nostalgia talking here. This is the desire to see young superstars realising their potential, something which a simple mouthpiece can help them achieve. It?d do wonders for countless young guys right now. It doesn?t need to bring them a World Title or a Wrestlemania main event, just some help and some recognition. Hell, anyone to take the attention off Jack Swagger’s lisp would be a tremendous help.
And so we come to the end of Part One of this call to arms for wrestling managers. Next week, I highlight the career of a man who many, including myself, regard as the greatest wrestling manager of all time. Bobby ?The Brain? Heenan. I hope you?ll pay me another visit for it.
Until next time,