Let’s jump right back into the list, starting with number five, the legendary “Classy” Freddie Blassie …
#5. “Classy” Freddie Blassie
“Classy” Freddie Blassie is another one of a long line of managers who started their careers first as a wrestler. Few managers who doubled as wrestlers earlier in their careers can claim the same success rate as Blassie, who at one point was one of the most famous and hated villians in pro wrestling.
Blassie coined the phrase, “pencil neck geek” and was featured in several movies, one of which was with the legendary Andy Kaufman called “My Breakfast With Blassie.”
In addition to a number of pro wrestlers, including “Big” John Studd, George “The Animal” Steele, Hulk Hogan, Ivan Koloff, Jesse “The Body” Ventura and The Iron Sheik, just to name a few, Blassie also famously managed legendary pro boxer and cultural icon Muhammad Ali in his “wrestler vs. boxer” match against Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki. The Ali-Inoki match is considered one of the first and most famous “mixed-martial-arts” matches in history, a style of sports entertainment that would be altered quite a bit, polished up and was later presented by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) as the premiere brand of the sport known as MMA.
#4. “The Mouth Of The South” Jimmy Hart
Jimmy Hart had quite a different background than most guys on this list, as he is the only one who can make the claim that he had a music record that sold over a million units, as the band he was part of, The Gentrys, had a smash-hit called “Keep On Dancin’.”
Hart worked early in his career as a heel manager for the Memphis-based pro wrestling territory, managing several high-profile wrestlers in famous matches against Memphis wrestling legend and WWE Hall Of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler. Much like Blassie, Hart had some interaction with Andy Kaufman, as he worked alongside him and against him at times during Kaufman’s famous pro wrestling stint in Memphis.
Hart has literally managed too many high-profile wrestlers to list in this space, however to mention a couple, he managed the likes of “Superstar” Billy Graham, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, The Hart Foundation, The Nasty Boys, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “Ravishing” Rick Rude and Andy Kaufman, among dozens of additional top-tier performers.
#3. Jim Cornette
Jim Cornette is one of the most well-known and well-respected figures in the history of pro wrestling. Few people in the wrestling industry have as deep a historic knowledge or appreciation for the business as Cornette.
Cornette is famous for carrying a tennis racket to the ring, an object he would use as a weapon in many matches of the guys he was managing. Cornette’s early gimmick was that of a rich, spoiled “momma’s boy” who was viewed as an over-privileged, fast-talking jerk that fans badly wanted to see get beaten up.
In addition to his managerial career, Cornette served as a high-profile television announcer for promotions such as WCW and WWE, and even worked behind-the-scenes in high-profile positions in both companies. Cornette owned his own territory, “Smokey Mountain Wrestling” at one point during his career.
Cornette had a famous rivalry with fellow legendary wrestling manager, announcer and promoter Paul Heyman early in their careers in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), which is the promotion that later became known as WCW.
“The Louisville Slugger” is best known as the manager of the legendary wrestling tag-team The Midnight Express, but also served as the on-air manager of many top performers in the business, such as Big Bubba Rogers (Big Bossman), Jeff Jarrett, Yokozuna, Vader and the tag-team of The British Bulldog and Owen Hart, just to name a few.
#2. Paul Heyman
Much like Cornette, Paul Heyman is a legendary figure in pro wrestling as not only a manager, but an announcer and promoter as well. Heyman is most famous for being the promoter of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW).
Heyman worked early in his career in Verne Gagne’s AWA territory, before later working famous stints in WCW as “Paul E. Dangerously,” the leader of the “Dangerous Alliance” faction.
After ECW folded and was bought out by Vince McMahon, Heyman went on to have a famous run in WWE replacing Jerry “The King” Lawler for a brief period as the television announcer alongside WWE Hall Of Famer Jim Ross. Heyman has also worked as a creative mind behind-the-scenes in WWE, as he was one point the “head writer” for SmackDown in the early days of the original WWE brand extension.
Heyman is another manager who has a list of wrestlers that he managed during his career that is too long to list. Some of the more notable names Heyman is best associated with include Brock Lesnar, CM Punk, Kurt Angle, “Stunning” Steve Austin, Arn Anderson, Taz, Rick Rude, Bobby Eaton and countless others.
#1. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
As much as people may love the work of Cornette and Heyman, there is little argument that the single greatest manager in pro wrestling history is the great Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Very few personalities in the history of the business own a wit as quick and sharp as Heenan’s, who was one of the original managers whose verbal skills were so superior that they transitioned seamlessly into the role of television announcer.
Heenan has a history of being an actual in-ring competitor for a period of his career, which was put on the map in Verne Gagne’s AWA territory. He later moved to Vince McMahon’s WWE as the leader of the “Heenan Family,” a faction he started in AWA that he carried over to WWE, which included several iconic wrestlers such as Andre The Giant, Harley Race, Mr. Perfect and Rick Rude, just to name a few.
Heenan was also known for being able to garner heat not only for himself better than almost anyone in his era, but for his ability to transition that heat onto his wrestlers in an effective tool in getting them more over as performers in whichever promotion he worked for at a given time.
“The Brain” famously worked alongside the late, great Gorilla Monsoon as an on-air commentary team, where the two would have some of the most classic back-and-forths wrestling fans had ever heard on television.
Bobby Heenan has managed so many talented performers it would be embarrassing to try and list only a few in this space, but some of the names he is most associated with include Nick Bockwinkel, Ray Stevens, Andre The Giant, The Blackjacks, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Harley Race, Haku, Mr. Perfect, The Brain Busters (Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard) and Ric Flair.
No matter who comes and goes in the managerial role in professional wrestling, one name that will always remain near, or at the very top of anyone’s list, should be without question the great Bobby “The Brain” Heenan.
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