Last week I threw ten wrestling managers at you. I thought they were incredibly successful and/or influential in their tenure as manager, but not quite the upper echelon of superstar.
This week, I give you the best of the best. Here are the Top 10 Wrestling Managers of All Time!
10. “Precious” Paul Ellering – Most people believe that Ellering is only known for being the manager to The Road Warriors. Few people remember that the Legion of Doom was originally a group that included other top stars such as Jake “The Snake” Roberts, King Kong Bundy, and even the Iron Sheik. Of course, managing (arguably) the most successful tag team in wrestling history is probably enough to place him on this list.
9. Skandor Akbar – Having started his career as a manager in 1977, Akbar created one of the most over heel stables in the 80’s called Devastation, Inc. that went from WCCW to Mid-South to the UWF to WWC in Puerto Rico. The list of members includes Abdullah the Butcher, The Barbarian, “Killer” Tim Brooks, Manny Fernandez, One Man Gang, Kamala, Missing Link, Hercules Hernandez, Dick Murdoch, “Hacksaw” Butch Reed, Greg Valentine, and “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. That’s quite the collection of talent!
8. J.J. Dillon – When you lead the greatest stable in the history of wrestling, it’s hard to leave you off of the list. Dillon wasn’t just the face of the Four Horsemen. The Horsemen were led by Ric Flair, so it’s not like they needed a mouthpiece. Heck, Arn Anderson is considered one of the best promo guys of all time and Tully Blanchard was far from a wallflower. And depending on who took that fourth slot (whether it was Ole Anderson, Barry Windham, or Lex Luger), Dillon wasn’t required to lead promos for them, either. So why was Dillon so instrumental as the manager of the Four Horsemen? He was the the glue that held everyone together. He helped interfere in matches (a classic old-school heel manager role that he played to perfection), he did some actual managing behind the scenes, he COULD promo when required, and he played a role that made for compelling storylines and television. Not only that, but he also managed such legends as the Mongolian Stomper, Ox Baker, and Waldo Von Erich. Impressed yet? You should be. With his ability to get involved, promo, and bump…he was the NWA’s version of Bobby Heenan (on a slightly smaller scale).
7. Gary Hart – Want to talk about success? “The Playboy” is one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated managers of all time. Take a look at the names that Hart managed throughout his illustrious career: Great Kabuki, Bruiser Brody, King Kong Bundy, “Gorgeous” Gino Hernandez, “Gentleman” Chris Adams, “Latin Heartthrob” Al Perez, One Man Gang, Kendo Nagasaki, Killer Khan, Abdullah the Butcher, Terry Funk, Great Muta, Larry Zbyszko, and even Jerry Lawler at one point. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He had massive success in World Class Championship Wrestling, ruling and running that promotion with an iron fist with wrestlers that helped back him up. He then moved to Georgia and the Mid-Atlantic promotions, before finishing up his national managing career with Jim Crockett Promotions (as part of the National Wrestling Alliance), where his J-Tex Corporation caused havoc and had great success. He made a career as a wrestling manager for over 20 years without ever becoming a real household name. THAT is success.
6. Paul Bearer – Most WWE fans assume that Bearer started his career when he debuted to lead the Undertaker. The signature pale face and black hair (and legitimate certification as an embalmer and mortician) make this one of the most enduring and long-lasting characters in WWE history. Don’t think for one minute that the careers of the Undertaker and Kane would have been half of what they were if it weren’t for the brilliant performance of one William Moody. Paul Bearer was incredible in his role. But before that, he was Percival Pringle III…a blond-haired “better than you” manager who led the careers of “Stunning” Steve Austin, Rick Rude, Missing Link, Dingo (Ultimate) Warrior, Great Kabuki, and Buzz Sawyer in Florida and World Class. To be that successful in two completely different gimmicks is a testament to his fantastic talents.
5. Captain Lou Albano – He called himself the “Manager of Champions”. As a manager, it’s hard to argue with his success. From 1969 to 1995, Albano managed 15 different tag teams and four singles wrestlers to championship gold. Because of his wrestling background and incredible personality, Albano was able to be a spokesperson for his wrestlers and help get them over in a time where “sports entertainment” hadn’t even been thought of yet. In fact, he’s widely considered to be one of the first managers in wrestling history that truly defined the role. He led Ivan Koloff to defeat Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF championship (ending his SEVEN year reign as champ). He led Don Muraco and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine to Intercontinental titles. His tag team champions included such legends as the Wild Samoans, the Blackjacks, the Moondogs, and the British Bulldogs. That doesn’t even include some of the other legends that he managed, such as Larry “The Ax” Hennig, Dick Murdoch, Ken Patera, Hulk Hogan, “King” Curtis Iaukea, “Professor” Toru Tanaka, Pat Patterson, and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. A true legend if there ever was one.
4. Jim Cornette – Without a shadow of a doubt, Cornette is one of the greatest talkers in wrestling history. Not only that, the “Prince of Polyester“was a tremendously successful manager, creative writer, promoter, color commentator, booker, and executive television producer. He was always famous for his polyester suits and his tennis racket, that was used to help his wrestlers win matches on numerous occasions. His willingness to bump and true love of the business helped him become extremely successful, leading such wrestling legends as the Midnight Express (with whom he is most familiarly associated with) of “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton, “Sweet” Stan Lane, and “Loverboy” Dennis Condrey. He also managed Big Bubba Rogers (aka Big Bossman), Yokozuna, Vader, the Fabulous Ones (during their heel run in Memphis), Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith, and the Heavenly Bodies (Tom Prichard & Stan Lane & Jimmy Del Ray). The “Louisville Slugger” was simply someone that you couldn’t stop paying attention to any time he was on the television screen. He built-up matches and helped put over a lot of performers. Simply put, wrestling wouldn’t have been the same if not for his influence.
3. Paul Heyman – As Paul E. Dangerously (named because he looked like the Michael Keaton character in Johnny Dangerously), Heyman started to get noticed in the AWA by managing the Original Midnight Express (Randy Rose & Dennis Condrey). He then moved to manage Eddie Gilbert’s Hot Stuff Inc stable in Continental before going to WCW, which brought about the incredibly successful Dangerous Alliance. He brought the Original Midnights with him to feud with Jim Cornette’s Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane) and also managed “Mean” Mark Callous (aka the Undertaker). He then managed Rick Rude, Steve Austin, Arn Anderson, and Bobby Eaton to great success. At this point, he started his ECW legacy; known more for his behind-the-scenes dealings than managing wrestlers…though he did manage Sabu to the ECW TV and World championships. Heyman’s managerial story continued in WWE in 2002 when he led Brock Lesnar to the WWE title. He then turned on Lesnar and led Big Show to the title, before eventually becoming Kurt Angle’s “agent” and leading him to defeat Show for the belt…making Heyman the first man in wrestling history to manage three successive World Champions. Heyman returned in 2012 to be Lesnar’s “advisor” (i.e. manager) and also managed CM Punk. We’ll forget his short runs leading Cesaro, Ryback, and Curtis Axel to the ring. He helped Lesnar end Undertaker’s streak and become WWE champion once again. He’s simply the best promo in the industry today, cementing his legacy as one of the best managers of all time.
2. “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart – Most people only know Hart from his incredibly successful run in WWE, but he started in Memphis and led “Hart’s First Family” into a never-ending feud against Jerry “The King” Lawler (stablemates included King Kong Bundy, Bobby Eaton, Iron Sheik, Dutch Mantell, Kevin Sullivan, Randy Savage, Kamala, Austin Idol, and Eddie Gilbert). He entered WWE in 1985 and managed Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, “Adorable” Adrian Adonis, the Funks, the Hart Foundation, Honky Tonk Man, the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, Earthquake, the Nasty Boys, and Money Inc. He finished his managerial career in WCW by managing Hulk Hogan, Barbarian, Hugh Morrus, Meng, and even the Giant (aka Big Show). Simply put, Hart had an amazing career that 99% of the industry’s managers can only dream of. His ability to speak and put over wrestlers was second-to-none at a time when many people were trying to do just that. I don’t know if I could ever remember a time watching WWe in the 80’s when Jimmy Hart wasn’t involved, and that’s a testament to just how important he was to WWe programming.
1. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan – Really…the top three managers of all time could flip positions and an argument could be made for any option. I chose Heenan primarily because he was a former wrestler, so his ability to take bumps was better than most others (remember his “Weasel Suit” matches with Ultimate Warrior?). Just check out this list of wrestlers who walked to the ring under his tutelage: Nick Bockwinkel, “Crippler” Ray Stevens, “Big” John Studd, King Kong Bundy, Andre the Giant, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, “King” Harley Race, Hercules Hernandez, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, “The Narcissist” Lex Luger, the Blackjacks, the Brain Busters (Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard), among many, many others. He was almost always near the top of every card (if not involved in the main event) and garnered a TON of heat due to his ability to promo, which he parlayed into an incredible broadcasting career. Everywhere he went, he was the TOP manager in the promotion. He was one of the best talkers in the history of the business (if not THE best) and was so adept in his role that I’ve yet to see anybody even come close to being HALF as good as he was in his prime. I loved this guy and think, without question, he’s the greatest manager of all time.
Agree? Disagree? I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions and why.