I don’t know what it is but since I started watching professional wrestling as a kid I’ve always had a fascination with the manager on the outside of the ring. Most kids that grew up at the same time as I did that watched WWF wrestling wanted to be Hulk Hogan or The Ultimate Warrior. I’ve always for some strange reason been that little bit different. The wrestlers I liked the most were Ted Dibiase as The Million Dollar Man. I liked Dusty Rhodes even though this was the era when Vince McMahon had him in polka dots but to me there was something in his personality that connected with me. When Ric Flair made the jump from WCW, I was right there thinking this guy really seems like something. He proved to be that in the 1992 Royal Rumble when in what is widely regarded as the best Rumble match of all time, he gave one of his greatest ever performances in a wrestling ring. For me though the wrestling personality who made the greatest impression on me was Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan.
Bobby Heenan was the greatest and most talented personality that the wrestling business has ever seen. He could do it all. As a kid you kind of pick up somehow as you go along that the results are predetermined but there were some people who no matter what they said could get you to agree to suspend your disbelief. Bobby Heenan could do that like no one else in the business could. When he was being comedic, you would laugh but in the same promo he could get you riled up because of what he would say. Andre The Giant due to his health conditions after going back and watching footage of him towards the end was clearly struggling to move but with Heenan cutting the promos you were still interested in going to see his matches. Andre for his run with Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 3 to turn heel didn’t shoot an angle to cement the turn like everyone else did but just walked out with Heenan on Piper’s Pit and people accepted it. That’s how talented Heenan was.
When Jim Cornette debuted in the WWF and Heenan was doing commentary with Vince at ringside, he screamed Jimmy and got in the ring and put him over big time. He went further than he really needed to to promote Jim Cornette that night on Raw. He said how he was the greatest manager that ever was and that he was better even than him. At the time I hadn’t seen any NWA or WCW wrestling so didn’t know who Cornette was at the time but I believed it because he said it and he seemed to genuinely believe it. When Ric Flair debuted in the company he said Flair was the real world’s champion and he was the greatest ever, terrific wrestler, the whole nine yards. Heenan tended to only be associated with really talented wrestlers so you believed him and Flair was who he said he was. Heenan was talented in so many aspects of the wrestling business.
He was an amazingly talented wrestler. This may not always be the first thing you think of when you think of Heenan but no less a great wrestler than the legendary long time AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel said that when Heenan had to fill in as a substitute in tag matches that no fan asked for a refund. Considering Heenan wasn’t presented as a regular wrestler and Bockwinkel’s regular tag partner when Heenan managed him was Ray Stevens, that is some accolade. He had an incredibly animated bumping style that forced you to sit up and take notice of him. The way he reacted to punches and the way he sold an Irish whip into the corner and did the flip upside down looked so good. A lot of people remember him as an announcer.
Considering he’s regarded even by other managers as the greatest manager of all time the fact that he’s also in the running as one of the greatest colour commentators of all time is no less than remarkable. After he retired from ringside he transitioned into being a colour commentator and was fantastic. All of us fans from the 80’s and 90’s remember him as being the broadcast partner of Gorilla Monsoon. The way he referred to himself as a broadcast journalist even though he was blatantly biased in favour of the heels worked well for him. His off screen chemistry with Monsoon showed up perfectly on screen. Heenan’s comic timing combined with Monsoon as the perfect foil was tv gold. For me the greatest colour commentary performance of all time was Bobby Heenan in the 1992 Royal Rumble match when he was saying it wasn’t fair to Flair and it came across as he had a real financial interest in the outcome of the match. That combined with Monsoon praising Flair as putting in an impressive performance made this an amazing complete package.
They both had an amazing routine together on commentary, Monsoon calling the moves and standing up for what was right and Heenan irritating him by being blatantly biased worked remarkably well for several years up until Heenan left the company. Heenan would always say something strange or irritating which an exasperated Monsoon would often reply with “will you stop” or “I’ll have you thrown out of here in a minute.” It used to happen that often that when Bobby Heenan left the company they had Monsoon come down to ringside when he was commentating with Vince McMahon and throw him out of the arena with his bag. He later moved to WCW and did a good job on commentary there. I thought he was unfairly criticised by some when Hulk Hogan ran down to the ring and was revealed to be the third man in the NWO and he said “whose side is he on?” My take on that is the same as Heenan’s in that he had always been against Hogan in whatever company he worked in so it made sense for him to criticise Hulk Hogan.
I hope that I’ve done adequate justice to how good a talent Bobby Heenan was and I hope it’s obvious how much he meant to me as a wrestling fan. There will never be another personality in wrestling who could wrestle well, talk people into the arena like no one else, have brilliant comedic timing and still have you mad at him and want to see him get what you felt was coming into him. Thanks for the memories and thanks for making me a wrestling fan Brain.