THE GREATEST LIVING MANAGERS IN WRESTLING TODAY
I did mean my last column to be about wrestling managers as a whole but I started talking about Bobby Heenan and I got carried away with myself. I thought about how much he meant to me and how I first became interested in professional wrestling as a result so there you go. This time however I’ve focused my attention on the two greatest managers in wrestling today and arguably so the two greatest after Bobby Heenan, Jim Cornette and Paul Heyman.
Both men have a proven track record of being tremendous creative minds in the business each running their own territories. For Cornette it was Smokey Mountain Wrestling (SMW) and for Heyman it was Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). Over time I’ve come to appreciate the Cornette approach more as I think it has a better grasp of psychology but Heyman did a great job of hiding the weaknesses of on some occasions limited talent. Both men had a brilliant grasp for the most part of their respective audiences. For Cornette it was understanding that his fans wanted to see wrestling the way it was in the 1970’s so he hired Bob Caudle as his play by play announcer and Memphis mainstay Dutch Mantell as his colour announcer as well as using Jim Ross and Les Thatcher at various points. He used simple psychology, made the rules mean something and had an authority figure in Bullet Bob Armstrong that the fans all knew and respected.
On a personal level, I thought Ron Wright with Dirty White Boy at the start was fantastic. Wright in the wheelchair for such a long time and then berating the fans for not giving him money was so good. Heyman realised that the fans at the particular time he first took control of creative in ECW had tired of the wrestling on offer in WCW and WWF and based the angles on realism and raw emotion. A great example of this was the feud between Raven and The Sandman where they made it seem as if Raven had brainwashed The Sandman’s real life wife and son against him. Another highlight was the injury to one of the Pitbulls where they had Shane Douglas shake the neck support of the Pitbull who was injured in the ring which genuinely riled the fans. There was the time when Jim Cornette and Jerry Lawler made appearances in ECW after heavily criticising the promotion publicly which again genuinely riled the fans who normally were pretty cynical. Heyman was very clever also at hiding the negatives of his wrestlers by abandoning the generally accepted rules of wrestling and letting the matches descend into wild weapons filled brawls and scrapping DQ’s and countouts.
Let’s not forget that they were fantastic at ringside. Cornette is best known for being the manager of the Midnight Express and then later the Heavenly Bodies. Personally I’m a fan of the Bobby Eaton/Dennis Condrey version of the Midnight Expresss but accept that a lot of people prefer Stan Lane as Bobby Eaton’s partner whereas the second incarnation of the Heavenly Bodies with Jimmy Del Ray as Tom Prichard’s partner is regarded as better probably because Lane didn’t last that long in the role if I remember correctly. The matches between the Midnights and the Rock and Roll Express are the greatest in tag team wrestling and Cornette at ringside more than played his part. Heyman bringing the Original Midnights of Randy Rose and Dennis Condrey in for a feud with Lane and Eaton after Condrey had left the promotion worked really well. This even led to a Tuxedo match between Heyman and Cornette. Also Heyman was so good at ringside he had the fans cheering Cornette on when Cornette seemed unlikable.
No other current manager comes close to these two men. Paul Heyman is still going strong on WWE TV and gets the fans attention with just a look and saying “My name is Paul Heyman.” Cornette has two fantastic podcasts and does a brilliant job of dissecting modern wrestling when it doesn’t quite work and also when it does. Listening to Cornette explain why something works or doesn’t I will never tire of hearing.
Wrestling needs to develop managers like these two for the future as it’s vital for such a great skill not to disappear from the business.