The Merit of Managers
by, 06-03-2011 at 11:05 AM (1398 Views)
We’re in Las Vegas, NV in 1993. We are witnessing one of the worst WrestleManias of all time, but everything is about to be redeemed, because Bret “The Hitman” Hart just put Yokozuna in the Sharpshooter, and he’s going to have no choice but to give up. Wait a minute! There’s Mr. Fuji on the apron! What’s he doing? What?? He just threw something in The Hitman’s eyes, but the referee didn’t see it! Yokozuna is using all 505 pounds of his weight to cover Hart. 1….2….3, we have a NEW World Wrestling Federation Champion! If Michael Cole had been calling this match, he would’ve said, “NOT THIS WAY!! DAMMIT!!” Yokozuna defeated the champion, but only with the help of his manager, the diabolical Mr. Fuji, who used that same trick on numerous occasions to steer his men to victory. (Yes, I know that the same trick cost Yokozuna the belt 30 seconds later, but we don’t like to talk about that, do we?) Throughout the 80s and 90s, the ringside manager was a staple of the wrestling product, and it’s one of the things that is lacking in today’s product that I truly miss. This column will discuss why managers were important, why managers may have been phased out, and why I think they should make a return to television.
The 1980s brought about a sort of revolution in wrestling, in more ways than one. Of course, it was the era of Hulkamania, but more subtly, it was when we began seeing managers stick to ringside for the duration of the match. Prior to this, the manager would possibly cut a pre-match promo, then take his guy’s ring jacket or robe to the back, and he might come back after the match ended. Jimmy Hart claims to be the one who pioneered the idea of remaining at ringside, and that may be true, but important thing is what this meant for matches. Not only did a wrestler have to contend with his opponent, but he had to keep an eye on the guy in the corner, too. This was a great way to continue to garner heat for heels, and it worked more often than not.
Most of the time, when fans discuss bringing back managers, they talk about it in the context of helping guys who are less-than-stellar on the microphone. While that was an important part of a manager’s duties—cutting promos—the purpose of the manager is to help generate heat for the person he or she is managing. For instance, guys like Hogan, Rude, Savage, Honky Tonk Man, Big Boss Man, and countless others were all fine at cutting promos, but they all had managers at some point in their careers. Rather than being solely a mouthpiece, the job of the manager was to make the fans hate (or love, though less common) him or her, thereby hating those with whom they associated. Essentially, if there was a guy who was new or was having a hard time getting over, they put him with Heenan or Hart or Johnny V or Cornette, and simply that association instantly formed the crowd’s opinion. “If this guy is hanging out with a lowlife like Paul E. Dangerously, he must really suck.” That formula was easy and compelling, and it made for an easy babyface turn when, say, Andre the Giant finally had enough of Bobby Heenan treating him like crap.
Managers had to be able to read a crowd as well as or better than the guys inside the ring, because their purpose was not to put the focus of the action on themselves. They had to be experts at ring presence so they could be in place to hold the ropes down or grab a leg or distract the ref while tossing the dreaded “brass knuckles” in the ring. And they had to do all of this in a way that put over the guys in the ring, rather than themselves. Of course, if a manager wasn’t over with the fans, the guy he managed wouldn’t be either, but most managers were established, and that’s why they were paired wrestlers in the first place. Of course, this didn’t always work. Just ask Jim Cornette about that Mantaur guy.
Toward the end of the 90s, wrestling started changing again. Managers started disappearing from television. We saw more valets or bodyguards, but fewer people whose job it was to get their guy over. Why? Probably because almost everyone in the late-90s and early-00s was already over. Did you ever see a Too Cool match? Or watch the 2000 Royal Rumble. Aside from the fact that it was at Madison Square Garden, the crowd was hot for pretty much everyone who came through the curtain. Additionally, that was the time period when everyone was a “tweener,” so the obnoxious, wimpy managers were out-of-place. However, in the rare instances when Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, for instance, got what was coming to her, the crowd went nuts. After the wrestling world had been saturated with managers, they became a rarity. Maybe that was a good thing, but it’s time to bring them back.
Most of the guys during this time didn’t need a mouthpiece. There were probably more guys who could hold their own on the mic from 1997-2002 than any other period in wrestling. Sure, everybody talked before then, but go back and watch some of the promos from early WWF PPVs. They’re abysmal. And now every promo is scripted, which is only a hindrance to the performer. I’ve acted, and I’ve written speeches for others. Speaking someone else’s words is never the same as coming up with your own stuff. That’s why, when people compare The Rock to 2011 John Cena, I get annoyed. People loved John Cena when he rapped—those were his raps. While he may improvise some now, he has lines that he is expected to deliver. Again, it hurts the product—if a guy can’t cut his own promo, pair him up with someone who can so he can get over.
It’s hard for me to watch the current WWE product simply because I don’t know enough about most of the guys on my TV. I wrote in my first column that the Attitude Era created characters we couldn’t live without, and I’m guilty of being less interested because I have no connection with most of the guys on today’s WWE roster. They all look the same, work the same, talk the same, etc.. There are so many guys on TV now that I could care less about, but they’re pushed on me anyway. I don’t care about the Tag Team Champions, and that’s sad. I don’t care about Ezekiel Jackson, and it’s not his fault—there is just nothing interesting about his character. There are so many guys who are on TV every week who could benefit from having a decent manager.
Tyson Kidd is not the only one. I’m not entirely sure where the whole manager-of-the-week thing is going, but if it leads to the return of the ringside manager, I’m all for it. I liked Armando Estrada as Umaga’s manager. I liked Matt Striker in Big Daddy V’s corner. I think Vickie Guerrero is a great manager, and I think Michael Cole would be good in time. Think of the really talented performers who have never really made a huge impact. Shelton Benjamin. Ted DiBiase. Kofi Kingston. Drew McIntyre. Duke “The Dumpster” Droese. There are tons of others who could use some help, and I think bringing in guys like DiBiase, Sr., Hayes, Estrada, etc. would spark some interest in the performers and the product.
One of my favorite storylines in wrestling, as a kid, was Hulk Hogan running through the Heenan Family until he got to whichever guy was at the top of Heenan’s list. Then, he would have enough of Heenan getting involved in his matches, so they would have a cage match. If Hogan won, he retained the title AND he got five minutes alone with Heenan in the cage. Of course, Hogan (or the babyface) won, but he never got the full five minutes to annihilate the manager who had been his Achilles’ heel. It was an easy story to tell, and it kept the crowd wanting to see Heenan (or the manager) get what was coming to him. WWE is rebuilding their audience. Why not re-tell some of the classic wrestling stories, especially with guys like John Cena and Randy Orton running roughshod over their respective brands? If John Cena is essentially this decade’s version of Hulk Hogan, give him a Heenan-like foil who has an army of guys wanting to knock him off his pedestal. If he’s going to beat them all anyway, why not make it fun?