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If there is anything that signifies old-school wrestling, it is the use of managers to help get wrestlers over. Wrestling during the territory days was all about the ability to generate either heat or favor from the fans inside the wrestling ring. For a long time, there was no better way to do that then to invoke a dastardly manager into the mix. Those managers who were truly gifted at generating heat from the audience parlayed that into the top positions in wrestling.
The Grand Wizard of Wrestling in many ways was the prototype for managers of the later years. The Wizard originally appeared as Abdullah Farouk in Detroit, pretending to have been sent by The Sheik's wealthy family to handle The Sheik's career in the United States. This role was when The Wizard really developed his character, and began to wear his trademark turban and wrap-around sunglasses. The utter flamboyance of his character was a rarity in the 1960s, and The Wizard soon became a top name all over the country.
His most notable work occurred in the WWWF in the 1970s, where he managed Stan Stasiak to a WWWF Championship victory, and then began his alliance with Superstar Billy Graham. Graham would develop a great deal of his flamboyant personality under The Wizard, and Graham's personality would have a great deal of impact on other top wrestlers down the road, including Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura and many others.
If The Wizard was joined by Captain Lou Albano and Classy Freddie Blassie who formed the dastardly trio in the WWF known as "The Three Wise Men of the East" and under their influence was essentially every heel in the company.
Albano was a former wrestler who was mostly known for training tag teams in the WWF. Albano was famous for his bizarre attire, with a wardrobe made up entirely of Hawaiian T-Shirts and rubber bands, and his trailblazing, incoherent rambling promos that worked like magic when it came to drawing the ire of the fans. Albano was in the corner of Ivan Koloff when Koloff pulled off arguably the greatest heel victory off all-time, when he defeated Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Championship. Albano would go on to manage Pat Patterson to the first Intercontinental Championship, and then manage Ken Patera who usurped Patterson for the IC title. Captain Lou's finger prints where all over the history of the WWF.
Freddie Blassie went directly from being the top heel in the world to being the top heel manager in the country. Blassie had trademarked many of the heel tactics as a wrestler that we see today, so it was always likely that he would become a fantastic manager. Blassie was a true genius when it came to working the crowd and his trademarked "Pencil Necked Geeks" was repeated over and over again for generations.
Blassie managed a who's who of professional wrestlers, from The Iron Sheik, to Peter Maivia, to Adrian Adonis to a young Hulk Hogan. Hell, he even managed Muhammad Ali in his infamous match against Antonio Inoki in 1976. Blassie was the most influential manager when it came to straight heeling, and combined with The Wizard's flamboyance, they would influence the greatest manager in history.
Bobby Heenan is still probably the most underappreciated person in wrestling lore. While we are always quick to heap praise upon Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon for creating a global wrestling empire, Heenan sometimes gets overlooked. However, Heenan is easily the most important bad guy of that time period, and wrestling would not be where it is today without Heenan's influence.
A star in the AWA, Heenan was lured away like many other regional stars to the WWF in 1984. Heenan originally worked with Big John Studd in his feud against Andre the Giant, an important step in the early days of Wrestlemania. Heenan would then go on to manage King Kong Bundy to the main event of Wrestlemania II. Bundy was a limited worker who got into his position simply because he was associated with Heenan, a trend that pretty much characterized Heenan's ability as a manager.
The sprawling Heenan family which began to rival Brigham Young's in numeracy was essentially a training camp for heels in the WWF. If you had a guy that you thought had potential, all you needed to do is associate them with Heenan and they received instant heat. Heenan literally managed every heel in the WWF in the late-80s. Rick Rude, Andre the Giant, Bundy, The Brainbusters, Rick Rude, Hercules Hernandez, Mr. Perfect, Harley Race and many, many more.
After Heenan went into virtual retirement as a brilliant commentator, the void in heel managing was left to open. Jim Cornette was fantastic in the NWA and Smoky Mountain Wrestling, but he never really cracked the national stage after the late 1980s and was never as prominent as men like Heenan, Blassie and The Wizard were. Other managers of the late-80s and early-90s like the Reverend Slick, Theodore Long and Harvey Wippleman where talented but never really made it to the main-event like the greats of the past.
It was not until Paul Heyman, an underrated manager in the NWA in the late-1980s, began to manage Brock Lesnar did we see a true-blue manager working with a heel champion. Heyman, like Heenan, Blassie and Cornette, is a truly gifted talker on the mic and really carries himself as a dishonest scumbag with a perverse sense of pride.
In the last 10-15 years, the manager role has sort of been passed over in favor of either female valet's that occasionally get involved, or by people in powerful positions that align themselves with a top heel (think Triple H and Randy Orton). While still effective, it is just not the same anymore. Sure, Summer Rae is nicer to look at then Lou Albano, but it is a lot harder for fans to hate a pretty woman then it is to hate a fat sleezeball.
Although managers are a dying breed, the ones that are still in prominent in wrestling are amongst the most hated people in the business, showing that the practice still works just as well as it used to. The most hated person in the WWE over the last five years has been Vickie Guerrero, consistently generating the most heat from even the saddest of crowds. Scott D'Amore and James Mitchell were very over in TNA, Shane Hagadorn and the brilliant Prince Nana tore up Ring of Honor and the talented Larry Sweeney was very popular all over the independent scene. I think a lot of the stuff that was great in the past would not work in today's wrestling world, but I think that a greater focus on managers would be something that could really benefit a wrestling company, especially in an era where heat is harder to get then it ever has been.
Who is your favorite manager of all-time? Sound off below.