It takes multiple talents to become a successful professional wrestler, and unfortunately, some prospective superstars are more adept in certain elements of that skill set than others. Not only do wrestlers need to be able to put on a show in the ring, perhaps even more importantly, they need to give interviews and otherwise interact with fans in a manner that lets their charisma and personality shine through. While in-ring performance is the foundation of a wrestler’s career, if they find themselves unable to get the audience to connect with them through their words, that audience is never going to care about what the wrestler is capable of in the ring. Luckily, the sports entertainment industry has a go-to solution in the easy to imagine scenario when a wrestler has a considerable amount of wrestling acumen, but isn’t quite as smooth on the microphone, and that solution is called a manager.
There have been countless wrestling managers throughout WWE and sports entertainment history in general, all of whom made their indelible marks on the industry in unique, creative, and oftentimes hilarious ways. Being a wrestling manager is tricky business, though, as a manager can’t become a major success entirely on their own. In order to truly excel, a wrestling manager needs to be paired up with a client in a manner both the manager and the wrestler are able to benefit from. Certain pairings have a natural connection with one another, and others are able to find that connection fairly quickly thanks to their boundless talents. It doesn’t always work out that way, though, and on at least a few occasions, a manager has been paired with a wrestler so disparate from their own mentality that WWE would probably just forget about the team altogether. Keep reading to learn about 15 bizarre manager-wrestler pairings that dragged both members of the union down.
15. Zeb Colter and Alberto Del Rio
Zeb Colter had a problematic and borderline racist gimmick from the day Dutch Mantell debuted the character in WWE. Colter began as the manager of Jack Swagger, parodying/advocating the views of the controversial right-wing Tea Party, particularly their strong support of anti-immigration laws. Swagger’s character was equally conservative, and the team was bolstered by the addition of Cesaro, a foreigner who justified the group by claiming he was the ideal immigrant, as opposed to the many illegal immigrants they rallied against. Cesaro ultimately left the group, and Colter stayed with Swagger until December of 2014.
Colter surprisingly returned to WWE in late 2015 to manage the returning Alberto Del Rio, referring to the new union as “MexAmerica.” The concept stood against everything Colter’s character had previously stood for, and this would have been fine should the company justify it in some way, but they more or less refused to do so. The duo briefly feuded with John Cena and Jack Swagger, after which Del Rio turned on Colter. Considering how quickly the two broke up, it’s likely even WWE was starting to understand what a bad idea they had in putting these two together.
14. Reverend Slick and Kamala
Slick was truly a historic sports entertainer, in that he was the first African American to become a manager in WWE. While Slick definitely deserves some credit for breaking the race barrier, if fans take a closer look at some of his clients upon his doing so, the accomplishment may seem like less of a victory for civil rights. Slick initially managed Butch Reed, The Iron Sheik, and Nikolai Volkoff, and started to cement his place in history by managing The Twin Towers, Big Bossman and Akeem. While Bossman has gone down in WWE history, Akeem is less likely to do so, as his gimmick of a white African reconnecting with his roots comes off as offensive in any era. Slick somehow managed to make it work, but he wouldn’t be so lucky with his final charge.
Given how quickly Slick became a major success, it might be a little surprising to realize he only spent around six years in the wrestling industry. Slick took a brief amount of time off in 1991 in order to return with the new character Reverend Slick, a reformed preacher. The change of heart allowed Slick to turn face, and also allowed him to begin an even more racist gimmick than Akeem. Reverend Slick started hanging out with the Ugandan Giant Kamala, attempting to “civilize the savage.” Slick’s management at this point mostly consisted of teaching Kamala non-wrestling sports, often with unfunny and offensive results.
13. Brother Love and The Undertaker
The Undertaker has been cited as the greatest performer in WWE history by so many sources it can almost be accepted as fact. Virtually every fan in WWE, young or old, has seen the video of his debut at the 1990 Survivor Series more than once, and still revel in awe over the aura Undertaker was able to present from his very first walk to the ring. One thing that has been forgotten about his debut was the fact he did so not with Paul Bearer, but with his original manager: Brother Love.
Paul Bearer was such a perfect addition to The Undertaker’s character that it sometimes feels like he was there from the very beginning, but in fact it was Brother Love who first introduced the Dead Man to WWE. The pairing made a small amount of sense, in that a preacher would presumably spend some time in graveyards, but the actual execution of the characters couldn’t have been more dichotomous. Love was loud, brash, and intentionally annoying, while The Undertaker was quiet, cold, and calculated to an almost robotic extent. The two just didn’t work together, and had WWE execs not figured that out extremely fast, The Undertaker might not have become what he is today.
12. Michael Hayes and The Hardy Boyz
Every superstar who makes it to the top of WWE has his or her own unique story, and The Hardy Boyz are no different in that respect. Matt and Jeff Hardy first started making appearances on Monday Night Raw while still in their teens, jobbing to major superstars like Razor Ramon and Owen Hart in singles matches. By the end of the decade, the brothers were wrestling as a tag team, and far more regularly, but were still essentially jobbers until they came under the management of Michael Hayes. Hayes quickly lead the Hardys to their first WWE World Tag Team Championship reign, making the brothers one of the youngest duos to hold the belts.
Hayes and the Hardys didn’t last as a team together very long, and part of the reason had to be that their characters never worked together. At this point in their careers, the Hardys were flashy in the ring, but had to develop any form of personality whatsoever. Hayes had his reputation as a Freebird to rely on, but the Hardys were nothing like the obnoxious 1980s Southern rock inspired trio, and Hayes wasn’t as charismatic as he used to be, to begin with. Barely over a month after helping the team achieve their first taste of gold, the Hardys dropped Hayes, and their union was never mentioned again.
11. Thea Vidale and Shelton Benjamin
Sometimes with wrestling crap, the concept itself is the problem. Of course, that doesn’t mean things can’t be made exponentially worse by the execution, as well. Shelton Benjamin was one of the most underrated performers on the WWE roster the entire time he worked for the company. He made his high-profile debut as a member of Team Angle, later called the World’s Greatest Tag Team, but as soon as that team split and Benjamin went solo, it was clear WWE didn’t know how to capitalize on his potential. In late 2005, they proved the situation was even worse than that when they did something so stupid it nearly killed his career before it took off.
Thea Vidale is a stand-up comedian and actress who was most famous in the mid to late 1990s. For whatever reason, WWE decided to hire her as Shelton Benjamin’s “Momma,” portrayed in the most stereotypical and cliché fashion possible. No reference was made to the fact Vidale was a famous actress because that would have ruined the entire illusion, but plenty of fans were able to recognize her and pick up on the stupidity. Instead of just dropping it, WWE made things worse by attempting to write Shelton’s Momma out of the show, doing so by having her fake a heart attack.
10. Tiger Ali Singh and Lo Down
The longer a wrestling career lasts, the more likely it is to be filled with ups and downs. Sometimes, however, it only takes a few months for a wrestler to come as close as they’ve ever been to the top, only to fall all the way back down to the bottom. D’Lo Brown was one of the fastest rising stars in WWE throughout the summer of 1999, capped on August 2 of that year when he became the first man to hold both the WWE European and Intercontinental Championships. Tragically, it was only a few months later Brown was also involved in the accident that paralyzed Droz, and his career took a serious nose-dive as a result.
Nobody blamed D’Lo for Droz getting injured, but he fell down the card hard and fast immediately after the injury occurred. D’Lo went from a top singles contender to doing almost nothing for an entire year, followed by a drastic character change that was never explained. During this time, Headbanger Mosh was also experiencing some ridiculous plot twists, and somehow this lead to the two teaming up as Low Down. Considering this had no explanation, that would have been strange enough, but WWE one-upped themselves by giving the team Tiger Ali Singh as a manager, and forced a racist Sikh gimmick on the team of Americans.
9. Mr. Fuji and Jeff Jarrett
Most of the gimmicks on this list bombed so bad that even WWE had to take notice and do something about it, which is why few of them lasted more than a few months or even weeks. This pairing might take the cake, though, considering there is only one documented example of the two actually working together, but the combination is so completely bizarre it bears mention anyway. Mr. Fuji was a WWE legend and Hall of Famer notable for his multiple evil foreigner gimmick, relying on his Japanese ancestry and cartoonish facial expressions to rile crowds throughout generations. Jeff Jarrett went on to great fame himself, but his team with Fuji occurred during the very first year of his WWE career, when he was an aspiring country singer.
Amazingly, despite being the shortest lived and perhaps least logical pairing to feature on our list, the union of Jeff Jarrett and Mr. Fuji actually made perfect sense, all things considered. Fuji was feuding Lex Luger at the time by way of his clients Crush and Yokozuna, and Jarrett wrestled Luger as part of the 1994 King of the Ring tournament. Fuji managed Jarrett for the match, and only that match, but it only took one match for the mental image of Fuji waving the Japanese flag in support of a country singer to leave us completely confused about what was going on.
8. Sunny and The Godwinns
Television has a long history of matching beautiful women with men significantly less aesthetically pleasing, and wrestling is no different in this respect. In fact, considering how beautiful the ladies of sports entertainment can be, only a small handful of wrestlers might have the looks to live up to their female counterparts. Of course, love works in mysterious ways, and this hasn’t prevented some of these gorgeous women from linking up with superstars a bit under their league, both on TV and in real life. However, there are always limitations to this sort of thing, and we’re drawing the line at Sunny managing The Godwinns.
Sunny debuted with her real boyfriend Chris Candido, portraying fitness freaks known as The Bodydonnas. Candido teamed with Tom Prichard to win the WWE World Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania 12, only for Sunny to turn on the team in favor of The Godwinns several weeks later. Sunny’s defection allowed The Godwinns to win the title, but the team wouldn’t last long, as Sunny would, in turn, betray The Godwinns in favor of The Smoking Gunns only one week later. Given how short lived and mismatched the team was, to begin with, it’s likely most fans already forgot about this team, long before WWE tried to make them do so.
7. Jose Lothario and Shawn Michaels
Watch any video of Vince McMahon introducing Shawn Michaels to the ring during his peak as a performer in the mid-1990s and you’re bound to hear Vince call HBK “the most charismatic performer in wrestling history” in one way or another. In one respect, this was an obvious example of a promoter boasting about their top star, but in many ways, Vince wasn’t just bragging. Michaels truly was one of the most flamboyant and bombastic superstars in wrestling, especially at the time he first became a top star. This makes it all the more confusing why WWE would decide to pair him with an elderly man with no particular microphone skills to speak of.
Jose Lothario was a decently successful wrestler in Texas during the territorial era, but his personality wasn’t exactly his strong suit. Lothario had tried his hand at becoming a star around the world, but he generally was used as a jobber given his extreme lack of charisma and inability to connect with fans. He did, however, train Shawn Michaels in the 1980s, which is why he was chosen as HBK’s manager when the time was right for him to have one. Unfortunately, WWE executives were the only ones who though it was that time, as most fans instinctively knew HBK was much better off on his own.
6. Bobby Heenan and The Brooklyn Brawler
Wrestling fans will debate just about anything, with some fans calling wrestlers and matches other fans hate the greatest of all time. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things amongst fans that are more or less universal. One such universal truth of the wrestling industry is the fact Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was one of the greatest managers in history, and more or less the archetype for everything a good manager is supposed to be. Heenan was loud, angry, and most of all funny, and he was able to use these skills to make absolutely anyone a star. Well, almost anyone.
The entire point of pairing Heenan with The Brooklyn Brawler was the fact no one thought it would work. Heenan had just been fired by The Red Rooster, and was out to prove his clients were as disposable to him as he was to them. Brawler lost virtually every encounter of the feud and The Brain was left with egg on his face once again, but at least this time, that was the point. The saga doesn’t translate quite as well today, though, so the company line will probably be to forget it ever happened.
5. Ricardo Rodriguez and Rob Van Dam
There have been more than a few manager-client combinations created on the philosophy that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and while that mantra does make sense from a basic storytelling perspective, it’s an extremely short-sighted idea that only works in the long term if some serious effort is put into play. Rob Van Dam is a talented wrestler, but his WWE career can be summed up with the words “cool, whatever.” Ricardo Rodriguez had a somewhat deeper personality, but the crux of his character was his connection to Alberto Del Rio. Naturally, it was because RVD and Del Rio were feuding that Rodriguez wound up managing RVD.
Rodriguez spent his first three years in WWE with Del Rio, acting as his personal ring announcer. Del Rio ultimately turned on him in late 2013, at which point Rodriguez introduced RVD as his new client. Alberto Del Rio was World Heavyweight Champion at the time, and the main goal of the Rodriguez-RVD union was to defeat Del Rio for his title. They never achieved their goal, and RVD left the company for several months upon his final defeat. Rodriguez was released from WWE shortly thereafter, and RVD was once again without management when he made his return.
4. Lita and Essa Rios
In total fairness to WWE, the pairing of Lita and Essa Rios only looks ridiculous in hindsight. The duo debuted together in February of 2000, with Rios winning the WWE Light Heavyweight Championship in his first official match in the company. Despite the fast success, the pairing was given almost no personality or reason for their union, aside from the fact both had vaguely Hispanic backgrounds and fiery red hair. Nonetheless, Lita was able to quickly make them both stand out by mimicking the moonsaults and hurricanranas her wrestler would use to finish his opponents, and before long, Lita was ten times the star Rios ever was.
Essa Rios basically faded into obscurity only a few months after his debut, rapidly dropping off the card after he and Lita parted ways. Lita’s career went in the polar opposite direction, as she began teaming with The Hardy Boyz, which in turn lead to her first WWE Women’s Championship run in August 2000. Lita would go on to get inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014, and unpredictably, no mention of Essa Rios was made during her induction ceremony.
3. Paul Bearer and Vader
Most managers who are considered amongst the true greats of the industry earn that reputation through success with multiple clients. Of course, there will always be the one big standout who fans forever connect with the manager, but the best in the business were able to achieve a series of successes with a variety of charges, thus proving no part of their career was a lucky break or a fluke. Paul Bearer is the rare exception to this rule, in that while he was able to bring quite a few wrestlers to success, he will forever be known first and foremost as the manager of The Undertaker.
Paul Bearer actually managed a great deal of wrestlers before ever entering WWE, usually performing under the name Percy Pringle III. Pringle was a typical arrogant jerk in the style of Bobby Heenan, and insiders agree he saved his career with the macabre rehaul to Paul Bearer. The only flaw with the Paul Bearer character is that it only works when directly connected with The Undertaker. Bearer also managed Kane and Mankind in memorable fashion, proving it didn’t need to be the Dead Man himself, but Bearer’s wrestlers needed to have some connection to the dark side in order to make sense. Vader completely lacked this demonic edge, and only received Bearer’s help due to, obviously, a feud with Taker. Once that feud was over and the pair was still working together, WWE fans immediately realized there was no reason for them to do so.
2. Trish Stratus and Steve Blackman
The entire world is familiar with the social rebound, the idea of a person dating someone a little bit beneath them after a particularly harsh breakup. As it would turn out, the concept completely applies to the wrestling world, as well, and that of managers and their clients. Trish Stratus spent the first half of the year 2001 as the personal assistant/sex object of WWE owner Vince McMahon, only to be regularly embarrassed and humiliated by him when he grew bored with her. Stratus got her revenge by leaving Vince at WrestleMania X7, at which point her attentions turned to Steve Blackman.
Steve Blackman was a moderately popular and decently successful wrestler, but he was hardly the same caliber of star as his boss. Coincidentally, Blackman’s biggest claim to fame was a feud with Shane McMahon that took place over the summer of 2000 surrounding the WWE Hardcore Championship. By the time Trish started showing interest, though, Blackman was out of the hardcore division and had moved on to a series of comedic tag teams, from Al Snow to Grandmaster Sexay. Trish was drawn to Steve despite his low placement on the card, but perhaps it was the lack of upward mobility that made her drop Blackman and focus on the Women’s Championship by the end of the year.
1. Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel
WWE has intentionally or not been reducing the role managers from an almost omnipresent workforce to a more or less one-man job. Fans who miss the great managers of yesteryear have long decried the loss of a once great art form, but at least the man keeping the idea of a wrestling manager alive is one of the best of all time. Paul Heyman has become so synonymous with the concept of sports entertainment management prospective superstars dreaming of becoming “Paul Heyman Guys/Girls,” a term for wrestlers talented enough to earn his tutelage.
Unfortunately, one cannot become a Paul Heyman Guy through sheer force of will alone. Heyman’s reputation as the pinnacle of managerial skills was birthed through his alliances with Brock Lesnar, CM Punk and Kurt Angle in WWE, along with earlier successes in ECW and WCW including Sabu, Arn Anderson, and Steve Austin. Curtis Axel is a decent talent with an impressive lineage, but he isn’t exactly the caliber of star on par with these other legends. Not even Heyman can turn coal into diamonds, and Paul himself admitted the pairing just didn’t work. Axel won the WWE Intercontinental Championship with Heyman’s help, but the failure of that title reign merely served to prove fans weren’t going to accept the duo as a major act.
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