There are so many more elements to professional wrestling than what goes on in the squared circle. Wrestlers need to have a compelling character, talking ability and a way for the crowd to get behind them if they’re a babyface or generate heat if they are a heel. Not every wrestler has the ability to do that. Many have showcased their talent in the ring, but didn’t quite have the ability to sell themselves to the crowd. This is when the role of the manager becomes such a crucial part of professional wrestling. The best managers in wrestling find a way to make the fans care about the wrestler they’re managing. Their job could be to get the fans to love or hate the wrestler, but what really matters is getting a reaction. Not all wrestlers are able to do it themselves and benefit from a mouthpiece. Some managers were so good though, that they transcended the wrestlers they were managing. Sure, their primary goal is to bring the attention to wrestlers, but the good ones are just so entertaining and build up a great name for themselves, fans can’t help but start taking a liking to these non-wrestling figures.
There’s also the role of a valet, usually reserved for women, who are seen more as eye-candy to the audience, yet carry themselves with a strong presence. Valets don’t tend to be quite the mouthpieces managers are, but they definitely get fans to pay attention and some even outgrow the wrestler they support. Miss Elizabeth didn’t outgrow Randy Savage, but she definitely is always thought of when people think of him. Valets like Sunny and Sable definitely outgrew the Body Donnas and Marc Mero, respectively. Trish Stratus outgrew Test and Albert, and Sensational Sherri helped make Shawn Michaels a star.
Here are the top 10 managers in wrestling history. Perhaps some day you’ll get a list of top 10 valets, but for now we’ll stick with the more traditional managers.
10. The Grand Wizard
Ernie Roth was originally best known as Abdullah Farouk, a man from the Middle East who was sent by the Sheik’s wealthy family to look after their son. Farouk became a shady, underhanded character, beginning the trend of managers interfering in matches on behalf of their wrestlers, and insulted fans anywhere he went. He truly was the pioneer of managers and laid the blueprint of what a manager should be. Roth eventually began with the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) and became known as ‘The Grand Wizard of Wrestling’.
He arrived in the company in 1972 and managed Mr. Fuji and Prof. Toru Tanaka to multiple tag team title runs. He also managed Stan Stasiak to a world title win over Pedro Morales on December 1, 1973 in Philadelphia. It was short-lived though, as Stasiak lost the belt to Bruno Sammartino just nine days later. The Grand Wizard would manage more superstars to success, including Superstar Billy Graham in 1977, who defeated Sammartino to end his second run. Graham and the Wizard made a great team, pioneering the way a manager and wrestler should interact with a crowd. Graham lost the title to Bob Backlund on February 20, 1978. It was the last time the Wizard would manage a world champion. Some of his other notable pupils included Sgt. Slaughter, The Iron Sheik and Cowboy Bob Orton.
Roth suddenly died of a heart attack in 1983. He likely would’ve had several more great years as a manger. Many may feel The Grand Wizard should be higher on this list, but I have to go with what I’ve seen. I’m only 22 and haven’t seen much of Wizard’s work, but I understand he’s the pioneer of this list and belongs on it. He paved the way for the others who follow here.
9. Paul Ellering
Why does Paul Ellering make this list? Talk about longevity! Ellering managed the Road Warriors for 15 years, which is an eternity in pro wrestling. Perhaps the most successful babyface manager, Ellering was a great component for the greatest tag team of all time.
Ellering’s also the most legitimate manager on this list. Why? Ellering actually managed the Road Warriors behind the scenes. He booked their matches, took care of their traveling arrangements and managed their expenses. Ellering did it all for the Legion of Doom. Whether the team was in the AWA, NWA, New Japan Pro Wrestling or the WWE, he was right there with them.
Ellering was originally a wrestler before a severe knee injury ended his in-ring career. However Ole Anderson of Georgia Championship Wrestling saw Ellering’s ability as a talker, and gave him a job as an on-screen manager. Thanks Ole! Ellering’s on-screen ties with the Road Warriors ended in 1998 when he turned on them and managed D.O.A. The betrayal didn’t last long, as Ellering found it difficult to verbally bash a team he was so close to for so long. Ellering went back to managing the team before they left the WWE in 1999. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011.
8. JJ Dillon
JJ Dillon managed perhaps the coolest faction in the history of professional wrestling, the Four Horsemen. Of course he makes this list. The legendary faction consisted of Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson and Tully Blanchard. In addition to his work with the Four Horsemen, he guided many other wrestlers to singles and tag team titles in the NWA.
While you could argue that the Four Horsemen didn’t really need a mouthpiece, having one of the greatest talkers in wrestling history in Ric Flair as their leader, Dillon helped build the group’s credibility. He is a big part of the legendary faction and it’s still hard to imagine the group without him.
7. Paul Bearer
Ohhh yeeessss! Would the Undertaker have ever grown into the legend he is without the presence of Paul Bearer? Highly doubtful. While the Undertaker character was compelling and had such a larger-than-life presence, Bearer was there to be the main mouthpiece while Mark Calaway had a chance to grow into his character. Less was more originally when it came to the Undertaker speaking. We all know he eventually became one of the greatest on promos in history but Bearer helped grow the character’s mystique.
William Moody began his managerial career as Percy Pringle, managing ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin, Rick Rude and Mark Calaway early in his career.
He adopted the role of Paul Bearer when he came to the WWE in 1991. Playing the role of the haunted funeral director, Bearer carried the mystical urn, which gave the Undertaker super human powers. Thank goodness Brother Love passed the Undertaker on to Paul Bearer to be managed.
Bearer did betray the Undertaker on numerous occasions, siding with Mankind in the duo’s 1996 feud and introducing the world to the Undertaker’s half-brother Kane in 1997. Bearer would cement himself further as a great manager by taking the silent monster Kane to the top of the WWE. He managed both the Undertaker and Kane to world title runs, albeit both were short lived.
After retiring as a manger in 2000, Bearer eventually came back to manage a reborn Deadman in 2004 at WrestleMania XX. He came back again in 2010 to manage Kane once more.
William Moody passed away last year at the age of 58. He has been rumoured to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year and should take his rightful place very soon.
6. Classy Freddie Blassie
Listen up you pencil-neck geeks!
Perhaps no other manager mastered the art of generating heat and transferring that heat to the superstars he managed as Classy Freddie Blassie did. Blassie had a successful in-ring career before retiring in 1974. He was 55 and could no longer receive a wrestling license. Never fear though, because fate, and California state law, allowed fans to be entertained by Classy Freddie Blassie in a whole new way. He would manage for 12 years in the World Wrestling Federation, representing guys like Nikolai Volkoff, High Chief Peter Maivia, Jesse Ventura, the Iron Sheik, George the Animal Steele, and even Hulk Hogan in his initial WWF run.
He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1994 and passed away in June, 2003. Classy until the end.
5. Paul Heyman
Paul Heyman has helped remind us of how much we missed managers. Following his return to the WWE in 2012, Heyman has remained the mouthpiece for Brock Lesnar and even made a great team along with a heel CM Punk as champion. Before he was the mastermind behind ECW, Heyman enjoyed success as a manger, as Paul E. Dangerously.
He managed the Midnight Express in WCW in the late 80’s as well as “Mean” Mark Callous. Who was that, you ask? You now know him as the Undertaker. Heyman would later manage the ‘Dangerous Alliance’ with Madusa as his assistant. The group included Rick Rude, Stunning Steve Austin, Larry Zbyszko, Bobby Eaton and Arn Anderson.
Heyman ventured on his own to form ECW in 1993. Following the company’s demise, he came to the WWE in 2001 as an announcer and began managing Brock Lesnar in 2002, billing him ‘The Next Big Thing’. Lesnar’s skills on the mic have never been his strongest quality, so having Heyman alongside him helped him generate heat. Since Lesnar’s return to the WWE in 2012, Heyman has been right there with him, serving as his voice to the crowd and showing that he clearly still has it. He’s reminded us of how much we loved the role of managers. Heyman even joined CM Punk during his 434-day title run and made it all the more memorable. Heyman turned on Punk this past July and now he mainly serves as Lesnar’s manager. He plays the brash, underhanded, lying, backstabbing coward perfectly.
4. Captain Lou Albano
In an astonishing 42-year career, Captain Lou Albano helped 15 tag teams and four singles competitors to championships. Albano was the manager of Ivan Koloff in 1971 when the Russian bear ended Bruno Sammartino’s untouchable eight-year title reign. Albano had to high-tail it out of Madison Square Garden with Koloff as the defeat of Sammartino nearly caused a riot.
Albano drew immense heat from crowds. He later managed Greg the Hammer Valentine and Don Muraco to the Intercontinental Championship. He guided tag teams like the Blackjacks, The Moondogs, the Wild Samoans and later on the British Bulldogs, following a babyface turn. He also eventually left in 1986 with Blassie, as the WWF lost two of the greatest managers in a short amount of time. Albano may have the most decorated resume of any manager on this list.
3. Jimmy Hart
Talk about a manager with a distinctive look and persona. Jimmy Hart had numerous colourful outfits and his signature megaphone. The Mouth of the South’s timing of entering the World Wrestling Federation was perfect, as the original crop of The Grand Wizard, Classy Freddie Blassie and Captain Lou Albano were gone or on their way out. Hart would use his megaphone to cheer on his protogés and annoy opponents.
Hart’s first acquisition was reigning Intercontinental champion Greg The Hammer Valentine in 1985. He would later manage King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania I, before trading his contract for Adrian Adonis and The Missing Link. He also managed the Funk Family and eventually teamed up with Bret Hart and Jim ‘the Anvil’ Neidhart to form the Hart Foundation, one of the greatest tag teams of all time. He led them to tag team gold, defeating the British Bulldogs in January, 1987.
Hart would later team up with the Honky Tonk Man and helped guide him to a 14-month reign as IC Champ. Following the Hart Foundation turning face by firing Jimmy Hart, he managed the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, as well as Rhythm and Blues, the Nasty Boys and the Natural Disasters.
He continued his success in WCW, where as a face, managed Hulk Hogan to a world title victory over Ric Flair in 1994. He later turned on Hogan to manage the Giant. He also joined up with Flair later on. Hart was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.
2. Jim Cornette
Perhaps the most overbearing voice of all managers on this list, Jim Cornette helped elevate stars not only as an on-screen manager, but a great wrestling mind behind the scenes. Under his tutelage at OVW, he helped produce stars such as John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista. Way before that though, Cornette was the manager of the Midnight Express of the NWA.
Thanks to Cornette’s mic skills, Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey rose to the top of the tag team ladder in the Mid South. He then led them to multiple tag title runs in WCW.
Cornette eventually went to the WWF in 1993 and later formed ‘Camp Cornette’ consisting of Owen Hart, British Bulldog, Vader and even Yokozuna for a brief period. Cornette ensured these wrestlers wouldn’t be ignored.
Cornette also has served the wrestling business as a booker, writer and all around great creative mind, but fans will always see him most as a manager. For what it’s worth the well-respected Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer awarded Cornette Manager of the Year 12 times.
1. Bobby ‘the Brain’ Heenan
No manager was as funny, quick witted, underhanded or entertaining as Bobby ‘the Brain’ Heenan. He was so entertaining, he had to be a colour commentator as well as a manager, because we needed to see more of him.
Heenan began as a manager after an injury ended his wrestling career. He formed what was known as The Heenan Family, which would be reincarnated multiple times with different wrestlers. Some key members included Paul Orndorff, King Kong Bundy, Rick Rude, Big John Studd, Mr. Perfect and Harley Race.
He managed the Blackjacks in the AWA, as well as champion Nick Bockwinkel and Ken Patera. Vince McMahon eventually signed Heenan to the WWF in 1983 to manage Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura. Following Ventura’s sudden retirement due to a blood clot, Heenan took Big John Studd, ‘Mr Wonderful’ Paul Orndorff and others, regularly feuding with the Hulk Hogan and other top babyfaces.
Heenan managed King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania II, challenging Hogan before becoming a pivotal part in the epic feud between Hogan and Andre the Giant. Heenan managed Andre, convincing him to betray his friend Hogan and challenge him for the title at WrestleMania III. Heenan finally managed a champion after WrestleMania V, where he helped Rick Rude defeat the Ultimate Warrior for the Intercontinental title. He then managed the Brain Busters to tag team gold, and later Mr. Perfect to the Intercontinental title and the Colossal Connection to the tag titles.
Heenan occasionally delivered colour commentary beginning in 1986, but transitioned to that role in a full-time capacity in 1991, when neck injuries forced him to retire from being a manager, as he could no longer engage in the physical activity routinely required from managers. Instead the Brain became a ‘broadcast journalist’, irritating Gorilla Monsoon who became his on-screen nemesis at the announcing table. In reality, the two were great friends, which would explain the unbelievable chemistry they shared. He openly rooted for villains, was unbelievably biased, yet outrageously entertaining, as no one ever matched his wit. Following his departure from WWE in 1993, he commentated in WCW until the company dissolved in 2001. Heenan didn’t have the most decorated resume in terms of the amount of champions he managed, but he was undeniably the most entertaining and has forever set the gold standard of what a manager should be.
Since then he has battled throat cancer and sadly no longer has the bombastic voice we all loved. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, and is still not forgotten as the best manager of all time.
Hopefully the WWE will continue to incorporate more managers, as many wrestlers of today have a lot of in-ring ability, but lack the mic skills needed to succeed. These men did so well for their ‘clients’ and have shown that a mouthpiece for a talented wrestler can help go a long way.