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Bobby Heenan: The Best Wrestling Manager Ever

This WWE Documentary Shows Us Why

Credit : Hamilton Spectator

‘Will you stop?’ No Gorilla, Heenan wouldn’t. And we didn’t want him to. Because he was the best wrestling manager ever.

It’s a strange feeling. I find myself in total agreement with a WWE product.

This is their Bobby Heenan documentary from the WWE Network in which they set out their stall early on; Heenan was the best onscreen wrestling manager ever.

‘The Brain’ had it all. In the wrestling game. And in his own performing qualities. But first…

Who Is He?

Raymond Heenan came up loving wrestling and came up the hard way.

He hung around wrestling events in his local Indianapolis, helping wrestlers out by carrying their gear into the building or selling refreshments.

Never trained as a wrestler, Heenan said, taking to it naturally though in the local WWA promotion in 1961.

That may have been because he watched and was involved in wrestling so much, but ‘Pretty Boy Heenan’ pulled double duty as a manager too.

AWA

After working with the Blackjacks and having success in and out of the ring, Wally Karbo came calling.

Wally was co-founder of the American Wrestling Association out of the Minneapolis area and a big player in the NWA territory grouping.

Bobby Heenan in and out of the ring
Credit: Men’s Health

Paired with Nick Bockwinkel and Ray ‘The Crippler’ Stevens, Heenan was off and running.

The team won the tag teams titles and what’s more, they looked good, three blondes in the squared circle is bound to turn heads.

He stayed, with a storyline visit to Georgia for a year, from 1979-1984, helping Bockwinkle to capture the heavyweight title from boss Vern Gagne.

And it was a strange pairup really, both men had/have intelligence and were great on the mic, they should have crowded each other out.

But Bockwinkle realised he could step back and have his abilities burnished.

WWF

Vince McMahon came calling. And I certainly remember Bobby in the WWF during the glory days of 1987-1990.

But he was there there from 1984 and present at the first Wrestlemania. Originally he was due to be paired with Jesse Ventura but an to ‘The Body’ injury stopped that.

So it was Big John Studd. What a matchup, they were friends and he led him to a fued with Andre The Giant. Plus the $15,000 body slam challenge at the first WrestleMania.

Of course good guy Andre won that but Heenan stole the bag of money before Andre could throw too much of it to the crowd.

And that began a fantastic run. The Heenan Family targeted the gold and they got it.

He worked with Harley Race, Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard, Hercules, Haku, Rick Rude, Mr Perfect and so many more.

And he delivered belts. Like a wrestling manager was supposed to. But he was more than a wrestling manager.

Why Was He So Good?

He could do it all in front of the camera. There are lots of great managers from that wrestling period, perm any one from Jimmy Hart, Slick, JJ Dillon and loads of others.

Heenan was multi dimensional.

He had the knowledge of what a smart heel needs.

A basic, easy to hate character. His WWF time happened during Reganomics, when conspicuous consumption reigned.

Heenan leaned into this, talking of people who couldn’t breathe his expensive air, ‘ham n’ eggers’.

This attidude has the ability to turn people away, to produce the wrong kind of heat.

So Bobby played it cheap. He may be rich, but he cared about how much he had; if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

And that is the basis of Heenan’s heel appeal. Hubris.

Pride before a fall is what Bobby was best at. He had no filter. Gloried in his successes. Hated his losses.

There was no stiff upper lip for The Brain. That would have ruined the act.

And because he had experience in the ring, when he took a fall he could do it. Literally.

He got pasted between the ropes by so many wrestlers, including famously by the Ultimate Warrior.

Heenan even had to wear a weasel suit in both AWA and WWF, this documentary glorying in showing us both.

We do get to see his nefarious ankle grabbing which won Rick Rude his Intercontinental belt against the Warrior, his work with the Brainbusters and Ric Flair when he came to the WWF.

Heenan and Andre The Giant
Credit: New York Times

There’s also a lot on the lead up to the Andre heel turn and iconic match against Hogan at WrestleMania III, rightly so.

Heenan always had an understanding of the entertainment side of managing, this documentary stating ‘he managed like a wrestler’.

I remember well him just putting something back into his trouser pocket as the camera came close. I knew there was nothing there. I also knew why he did it and I loved it.

He was so good at riling the crowd that a fan let loose at him with a gun in the AWA.

This 1975 incident missed Bobby, but injured 5 people in the crowd, one apparently critically.

That’s real crowd swaying power and the documentary is clear that he only wrestled once or twice a year in the AWA because they were such big selling dates.

But this documentary saves most of the space for another aspect of Bobby Heenan’s appeal.

Bobby Behind The Desk

Heenan was quick with the quip. He had the fast comeback. And that made him invaluable as a color man.

He didn’t retire from managing to do it, he pulled double duty. But WWE clearly believe this was his most popular foray. They may he right. His wife certainly tells us ‘he didn’t miss being sore’.

This put him over the top as a personality.

Wouldn’t have worked without real life friend Gorilla Monsoon, their enjoyment was palpable.

Plus meat and potatoes good guy Moonsoon constantly pricked Bobby’s pomposity and reacted to his comments, thus making them sound more outrageous than they were.

It was a standard comic duo. Gorilla was the straight man, reacting to jokes and setting up punchlines whilst trying to get on with the show.

No other wrestling channel had this dynamic, not even the beloved Lance Russell and Dave Brown in Memphis.

They were so good that they had their own 2 hour weekly show, Prime Time, which allowed them to play skits and give Heenan the physical comedy and pratfalls he was so good at.

From somersaulting off a child’s tricycle to a bigger budget cowboy scene with fistful of dynamite, this documentary reminds us just what a performer he was.

And Vince McMahon also reveals that he gave Bobby his own show but never told the TV company.

The format was a combination of late night chat and ‘The Gong Show’, featuring acts Bobby could take the fun with.

I never saw many of them at the time. I’m looking for all of them now.

A Leaving And A Return

Never knew that Bobby left the WWF to pursue acting jobs in adverts. He had the comedy talent and name to have had a good go.

But, this documentary tells us, another wrestling promotion came calling and he left for WCW in 1994.

The chemistry wasn’t there with Tony Schiavone and WWE are keen to tell us how unhappy he was then show his wife Cindy telling us he was too.

A broken neck he suffered in the ring years before was still bothering even then and the Brian Pillman loose cannon antics of him pulling at his neck is mentioned.

We even see it, but we don’t hear the epithet beginning with F which Heenan uttered on air at this unannounced activity.

This is when the WWE control the narrative.

They leap straight from WCW to the induction into the WWE Hall Of Fame. It’s the right way to end it.

And they mention that he attended fan conventions which he really enjoyed but nothing about his work on the indie scene with ROH or TNA, almost as if those promotions never existed.

They do get one thing right though.

The mouth cancer than blighted some of his layer life is mentioned, but we don’t have any salacious pictures of him looking ill or footage of him struggling to talk.

Bobby Heenan
Credit : The Independent

What we do have is his triumphant return at that Hall Of Fame and his almost disbelieving, childlike cry ‘I’m having fun!’ It made me cry just seeing it.

And the big guns are rolled out here, Baron Von Raschke, Bockwinkle with a twinkle in his eye, Larry Hennig, a well presented Ken Patera, Dusty Rhodes, Michael Hayes, Gene Okerlund, Greg Gagne and more.

How many times can you say he was the greatest manager of all time? Lots, it turns out.

And so they should. When Jim Cornette calls someone the greatest manager of all time, you sit up and listen.

History is written by the winners. And the WWE have sometimes been accused of revisionist history.

None of that is needed here. This simple, sweet documentary shows Bobby Heenan as he was. The best wrestling manager of all time.

And one of the best wrestling personalities too.

‘Will you stop?’ I never wanted him to.

Written by Steve Swift

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