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.
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