The days of North American professional wrestling being filled with a wide variety of managers became a thing of the past some time ago. One may pop up on World Wrestling Entertainment television from time to time, but the gimmick of stables and tag-teams being led to the rings by managers and valets are now but memories that fans can re-live via the WWE Network. The WWE has done well to, every now and again, go back to old storylines that were once profitable in the industry, so the possibility exists that we could sooner than later once again see different managers on programs such as Raw and SmackDown.
Some of the more entertaining segments that would air on World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling television involved managers cutting promos and serving as mouthpieces for performers who, truth be told, were better off not having microphones in front of their faces. While not all of the top managers in the history of the business played heel roles during their careers, the majority of the individuals who have had such characters have been “bad guys” who were meant to draw heat and sell tickets for matches that involved their wrestlers. A babyface manager is just not the same.
The two men widely regarded by many wrestling insiders and fans as the best mangers in the history of the business both made their names working in multiple territories and national organizations. One spent time as both a heel and a babyface, while the other was one of the top heels in all of the WWF during his best days within that company. That man then went on to become just as famous as a color commentator during WWF and WCW televised events. There has never been another performer like him to be in the business, and odds are that we will never again see another character able to accomplish what he did during his legendary career.
While Scott Levy was an effective manager during the early days of his career, it was not until he developed into the Raven character in Extreme Championship Wrestling that he found his form as both an in-ring performer and also as a leader of different stables. Some would consider Raven’s best days to have occurred during his multiple ECW runs, but do not discount the fantastic work that he contributed while part of the Ring of Honor and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling organizations. Raven’s work on the mic cannot be discounted, and he is one of the more under-appreciated acts of his time.
19. Teddy Long
Younger wrestling fans may only remember Teddy Long for being a brand general manager who also had a history of being a referee. Long was, before his WWE days, a heel manager for individual wrestlers and also tag team duos while working in the National Wrestling Alliance and in WCW, and he went on to repackage that gimmick while working for the WWF in the 1990s. One of the more memorable single moments of his managerial career involved Long being forced to serve as a chauffeur for “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, a ride that did not end well for the man known as the “Dirtiest Player in the Game.”
18. Oliver Humperdink
One would have to search long and hard for a wrestling ring name better suited for the business than “Oliver Humperdink.” Real name John Jay Sutton worked as both a wrestler and as a referee, but it is the time that he spent as a manager for multiple performers when Humperdink made his biggest mark on the industry. The “House of Humperdink” was filled with superstar names such as Paul Orndorff, Superstar Billy Graham, Great Muta, Bam Bam Bigelow and many others. Pro Wrestling Illustrated named Humperdink the Manager of the Year for 1984.
17. Arnold Skaaland
Nicknamed “The Golden Boy,” Arnold Skaaland was a wrestler who also served as a shareholder, a show producer and also a wrestler agent. His most famous runs as a wrestling manager involved Skaaland being associated with two names all fans of the business should recognize: Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund. Both of those men won the WWF World Heavyweight Championship while working with Skaaland. Skaaland was the key player in a WWF moment that gets replayed to this day, one that featured the manager throwing a towel into the ring when Backlund was caught in Iron Sheik’s finishing move the Camel Clutch.
16. Paul Ellering
Paul Ellering was the storyline mastermind of the Legion of Doom stable that had notorious characters such as Matt Borne, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Arn Anderson, King Kong Bundy, the original Sheik and the Iron Sheik. Fans mostly remember the L.O.D. because of the Road Warriors duo who, along with Ellering, would eventually break out from the original group. Ellering was not just an on-screen manager for that team in multiple organizations. He actually booked appearances for the team, and Ellering also set up travel and hotel reservations for the Road Warriors.
History remembers Slick, Ken Johnson, as being the first prominent African-American manager to be featured across WWF programming. Those of us who were fortunate to watch Slick cut promos and perform remember him simply because he was so entertaining, a one-of-a-kind manager who had all kinds of midcard talent in his factions. Slick was often far more over than were the wrestlers linked to him, so much so that the in-ring performers had a chance to gain popularity just by threatening to beat up the slender manager who had a big mouth. He has since left the wrestling business, and Slick is now an ordained minister.
14. Harvey Wippleman
Perhaps the best part about the Harvey Wippleman gimmick was that the undersized manager rarely had what would be considered to be main-event talent in his stables. He was, rather, a manager to a long list of midcard talent, but Wippleman, real name Bruno Lauer, nevertheless did whatever he could to get his wrestlers over. The WWF, in a moment of comedy, even once booked him to win the company’s Women’s Championship. He was the first man to ever hold that title, and no male has since won the championship in the WWF.
13. Ted DiBiase
Some people are born to be in the sports entertainment business, and Ted DiBiase was unquestionably one of them. “The Million Dollar Man” first got over as a WWF wrestler, but he was just as impressive as a heel manager who led The Million Dollar Corporation. DiBiase had an uncanny knack for cutting promos that would fire up fans in attendance wherever he was working, and it was a shame that those running WCW did not know that talent that the company had when DiBiase jumped ship during the Monday Night Wars. There is little doubt that there is a place in today’s WWE for somebody with the creative mind had by DiBiase.
12. Sensational Sherri
She was Sensational, Sister, Sensuous, Scary and a Queen during her time as a manager. Sherri Russell was introduced to the business at a young age, and she won multiple championships across different organizations before she began her managerial career. Sherri was one of the best overall female heels to work in the WWF and WCW, managing big-names such as “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Jeff Jarrett and also numerous tag teams such as the Heavenly Bodies and Harlem Heat.
11. Paul Bearer
Would the Undertaker gimmick have gotten over as it did among WWF fans had Paul Bearer not been around for the bulk of that run? We fortunately will never have to know the answer to that question. Bearer, real name William Moody, had many past roles in the wrestling industry before he assumed the character of Undertaker’s manager, and the actual mortician who cut haunting promos and who was able to make the flip from babyface to heel and then back again was the perfect sidekick for the “Deadman.” He managed others during his career, but we will always remember Moody as Bearer. Ohhhhh yyyeeesss!
10. Jim Cornette
“The Louisville Lip” and the leader of “Camp Cornette” was loathed among pockets of wrestling fans during his time as a manager, so much so that fans would rise to their feet in celebration whenever he would take a bump even if doing so meant Cornette suffering a real injury. Cornette played the gimmick of the cowardly loudmouth who hid behind his wrestlers as well as did any hell in the business, and he is widely respected for having one of the brightest minds in the industry. His ability to run his mouth, while cutting promos and also while appearing on podcasts and radio interviews, has made Cornette hated by some who work in the business. Cornette lives the gimmick.
9. Captain Lou Albano
As it pertains to sheer entertainment value, there is an argument to be made that “Captain” Lou Albano is the greatest manager in the history of the business. Albano is credited by WWE for being the manager of 15 different tag-team duos that made championship runs, and he was the man behind Ivan Koloff when Koloff defeated babyface Bruno Sammartino for the WWF Championship. A star outside of the wrestling business, Albano was also a key figure in the “Rock & Wrestling Connection” that included Cyndi Lauper. Albano and Lauper randomly meeting each other on an airplane helped gain the WWF additional national attention.
8. Miss Elizabeth
Miss Elizabeth would be higher up on this list except for the fact that she is more-so recognized as a valet than as a manager. Most casual wrestling fans would remember Elizabeth for the many years she spent with “Macho Man” Randy Savage. She and Savage were a duo in the WWF and WCW, and Elizabeth also spent time aligned with the Four Horsemen, new World order and Lex Luger. Known as “The First Lady of Wrestling” and a beloved figure during her time in the business, Elizabeth tragically passed away from an overdose in May 2003.
7. The Grand Wizard
The Grand Wizard, real name Ernie Roth, first made a name for himself as a disc jockey, but he was given the chance to work as a manager in local territories in the Detroit area. His outfits, which included a turban and also colorful attire, immediately drew attention from spectators, and The Grand Wizard recruiting monster heel characters and also cutting promos on American wrestling fans made him a hit. Roth managed dozens of wrestlers during the heart of his wrestling career, names such as The Iron Sheik, Sgt. Slaughter, Bruiser Brody, Cowboy Bob Orton and Ivan Koloff just to name several.
6. Freddie Blassie
They don’t make pro wrestling villains like “Classy” Freddy Blassie these days. A heel who worked as an in-ring performer up through his 50s, Blassie did well to convert his character into a manager and leader of some of the more hated men in the World Wide Wrestling Federation and later the WWF. Famous workers such as Adrian Adonis, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, The Iron Sheik, Mr. Fuji and even Hulk Hogan were all managed by Blassie at different points of their careers. His “pencil-neck geeks” insult that he would use when talking about opposing wrestlers and fans is one that will continue to live on for generations.
5. Paul Heyman
It is somewhat remarkable, looking back at his incredible career, that his days spent as “Paul E. Dangerously” would be the more forgettable portions of Heyman‘s decades in the wrestling business. The real-life head of ECW cut many a memorable promo while attempting to keep that company hanging with WCW and WWF, and Heyman would, after the fall of ECW, move on to the WWE to serve as a commentator and then as a manager for Brock Lesnar. Lesnar could not have a better mouthpiece than Heyman, who has helped make “The Beast” the most over man in the business.
4. Eric Bischoff
Say whatever you will about the decisions that Eric Bischoff made behind the scenes while running creative for WCW on multiple occasions. He was the best on-air heel manager in the company during the height of its popularity, when WCW was beating the WWF in the race for television ratings. Bischoff would eventually serve as the leader of the new World order faction that had “invaded” WCW, and he was a heel front man for wrestling shows before Vince McMahon had even thought about shifting to the Mr. McMahon character. It’s a shame that the Bischoff versus McMahon fight never actually happened inside of a ring.
3. Vince McMahon
The WWF was fighting for survival during the kick-start of the Attitude Era in the fall of 1997 when the “Montreal Screwjob” and all that it meant to the company and to WCW forever changed the face of pro wrestling. That memorable night at the Survival Series was the unofficial start of the Mr. McMahon character, one that would go on to feud with the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock and one that would become, in storyline, the most hated man in the industry. By making what was a controversial and even unpopular decision among many in the wrestling world, McMahon saved the WWF and he ultimately defeated WCW.
2. Jimmy Hart
One could put together hours upon hours of the greatest hits of the managerial career of Jimmy Hart. His “The First Family” faction played parts in many memorable feuds with, among other babyface characters, Jerry “The King” Lawler. Actor Andy Kaufman aligned himself with Hart and the First Family versus Lawler at one point, and all involved created pro wrestling gold. Hart has also shown on multiple occasions that he is able to serve as a babyface, most notably when he has been working alongside of Hulk Hogan in both the WWF/WWE and WCW.
1. Bobby Heenan
Any young performer who one day wants to become one of the best overall heels in the business needs to do whatever possible to watch all that Bobby Heenan contributed to the business as a manager and as a television commentator. The Heenan Family, one that extended across multiple organizations, was filled with Hall-of-Fame performers, names such as Andre The Giant, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, Harley Race and “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Heenan was often more over among crowds than were the wrestlers he would take to the ring, and that is a testament to his talent.
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