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The Art of the Manager


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We've definitely discussed this before - but I think it needs repeating. What has happened to the lost art of the on-screen manager? Does it need a comeback? Which wrestlers could've benefitted from having a manager? And what are your best (and worst) memories of a manager? 

The reason for this is that I've been watching a lot of old 1992 WWF on Youtube. Although it was final moments of the peak period of wrestling managers, there were still a few about, albeit mainly terrible. One of the key storylines (ahem) of the year was old Papa Shango and his Voodoo bollocks. Despite being a bit crap, it still seemed to share the shit out of the youngsters watching. I was watching an interview old Paps did and it made me think that his entire spooky persona was blown when he started talking. He couldn't back up his character. I think he needed a manager to keep him mysterious. Hell, they stole the image from Baron Samedi from the Bond flick 'Live and Let Die' why not pair him with his own Dr Kananga like manager? 

Similarly when sexy Lexy rolled in in 1993, I think he needed a manager. It's a shame they couldn't bring in Harley Race to act as his manager as he had in WCW - I think it would've added a bot of gravitas to the heel Lex persona. 

I don't watch much of the modern product - but for those who do, do you think managers would add something? 

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33 minutes ago, The Reverend said:

Hell, they stole the image from Baron Samedi from the Bond flick 'Live and Let Die' why not pair him with his own Dr Kananga like manager?

I thought they just stole it from the general mythos of Baron Samedi/Papa Legba of the voodoo Loa. But you're right, he should have had a manager. He wasn't much of a talker.

I've never quite understood why they were so keen to do away with managers - they were around for a reason, and that reason didn't just suddenly disappear. There have always been wrestlers who needed someone good on the mike to get them over. 

Was watching some old clips of Bobby Heenan shoot interviews, and the guy is just superb for wit and sheer understanding of the business - not because "game recognise game" or anything, but because he lays it out to you so clearly, it just makes sense. Was he ever a booker?

Cornette was also a tremendous manager, even better as a chickenshit than Heenan, who had some heft to him and looked like he could handle himself a bit, whereas Cornette was exactly the kind of skinny runt who looked like he made friends with the bullies in the playground to hide behind when he pissed people off.

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48 minutes ago, The Reverend said:

What has happened to the lost art of the on-screen manager? Does it need a comeback?

You could argue that it has comeback. Paul Heyman, Don Callis, Taz and Prince Nana being recent examples of the modern day manager working effectively.

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9 minutes ago, Carbomb said:

I've never quite understood why they were so keen to do away with managers - they were around for a reason, and that reason didn't just suddenly disappear. There have always been wrestlers who needed someone good on the mike to get them over. 

Probably similar to why Vince hated tag teams - "why would I pay twice as much for a match." Paying a manager was an expense he probably felt he could do without during the mid 90s downturn. Anyone that kept a managing job around this time had other functions - Cornette was involved in writing/booking, and the shift to sexy valets was because whatever you paid Sunny, Sable or Marlena to be ringside with their wrestlers, you could hope to recoup in Raw Magazine sales, videos and merch. Only now do I recoil at the fact you could buy a Sunny beach towel, and what many of them probably ended up used for. Then you had Lita, Trish etc who you could pay to manage and wrestle, two gigs for only one cheque. Even today, Heyman is probably creative first and on-screen manager/mouthpiece second.

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That makes depressing sense, I guess. Still, they didn't have many during the post-wCw years. I actually can't think of that many who would've been just managers at one point and nothing else from 2001-2024. Runjin Singh comes to mind, but I don't know if he wrestled. Ricardo Rodriguez was ace, but I think he ended up wrestling as well.

One manager whose run did not last long enough for my liking was Don West. As Amazing Red's "sports agent", he made Red the most interesting he's ever been, for me. Plus it's rare to see a face manager, and even rarer to see a good one. 

I liked Theodore Long too - the only thing about Rodney Mack that they got right. I wanted more thuggin' and buggin'. And his catchphrase was better than LA Knight's version. 

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10 minutes ago, LaGoosh said:

You could argue that it has comeback. Paul Heyman, Don Callis, Taz and Prince Nana being recent examples of the modern day manager working effectively.

Just in AEW, aside from the three you mentioned, there's Jake Roberts, Sonjay Dutt, Alex Abrahantes, Luther, Mark Sterling, Stokely Hathaway and Mother Wayne, and prior to that there was Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Jose The Assistant and various others I'm forgetting. Not all of them good, but more managers than we've seen on-screen in a long time.


There's a few reasons for the decline of the manager aside from the "why pay two people when you can just pay one" argument - because of how fucking weird wrestling is, a lot of kayfabe managers were also that wrestlers actual manager; Paul Ellering legitimately managed the Road Warriors' bookings, pay, and travel arrangements for years, Jim Cornette did similar for the Midnight Express, and even in the WWF, Paul Bearer used to handle a lot of the Undertaker's travel. As the WWF grew bigger and more corporate, that kind of thing wasn't left up to the talent quite as much. And, whether they like to admit it or not, everybody follows the WWF's lead, so when they're not using managers, very few other places do.

Something I complain about a lot in modern WWE is that nobody cheats any more. There might be run-ins, and the finish might involve a handful of tights or a foreign object, but chances are the rematch will end have the babyface do the exact same thing back to the heel, so it's all null and void anyway, but there's no incidental cheating, no eye pokes, no cheeky cheap shots while the referee's back is turned, the heels just don't break the rules at all. And when you're not breaking the rules, and not building your match around getting heat on the babyfaces for doing so, what purpose does a manager serve? They're there to build heat, and almost useless if that's no longer a priority.

It's something I've often thought I'd like to do, one of the few jobs in wrestling I haven't had a crack at trying at least once. A lot of my favourite personalities in wrestling have been managers.


On @Carbomb's point about Cornette looking like the skinny runt who befriended the bullies, there's a not at all PC lyric in one of Luke Haines' songs about wrestling, describing George Gillette and Kendo Nagasaki as "the little poof and his bit of rough", and I think that's as good a dynamic for a heel manager and wrestler as you can get. There are other ways to approach managing, but I always think - and this is far from an original observation - that the perfect manager is there to incense the crowd precisely because they're someone who couldn't get the job done in a fight themselves. Whenever I talk about heel heat, I always say that the heat and audience anger doesn't come from you breaking the rules, it comes from you getting away with it, and a good manager doesn't just help their wrestler get away with cheating more often, they anger the audience by getting away with it themselves when they have no business doing so. It's not quite so literal in post-kayfabe days, but a fan annoyed at the heels should be thinking that either they or the babyface they've selected as their surrogate should be out for revenge, and part of that is to think, "I wouldn't stand a chance against the wrestlers, but if I could just get my hands on that manager..." - he's someone you know you could beat up, but somehow gets away with it every time.

One of the reasons I think Jimmy Hart is, with all due respect to Bobby Heenan who's usually everyone's go-to answer to this question, the best manager of all time, is that he manages to get bumped and knocked about all over the place without it ever diminishing his heat. Bobby Heenan would withhold the pay-off of a babyface getting to bump him for as long as possible, saving it all up for one big match, whereas Jimmy Hart would get battered about in almost every match, and yet if his wrestler or his team won, you still came away thinking he got away with something and deserved more of a beating than he got.

Almost the ideal format for wrestling as far as I'm concerned was how Memphis TV worked for most of the '80s, and it highlights why so many territories had managers that stuck there far longer than most of the talent did - in Memphis, you had Jerry Lawler as top babyface and Jimmy Hart as heel manager, and Jimmy would just fill half of the TV show either managing talent, introducing new talent, promising to introduce new talent, or antagonising Lawler and other babyfaces. Wrestlers might come and go, but as long as you had your heel manager sticking around, they could create continuity from one feud to the next.

 

Another guy I think doesn't get enough recognition, mostly because a lot of his managerial career was spent working with some horrendous material, is Colonel Robert Parker. He's a joy to watch at ringside - every time his team are in trouble, he fans himself or mops his brow with his handkerchief, whenever he needs to interfere he awkwardly tiptoes into position like he's never been in a fight before in his life and is nervous about getting physical. It's a brilliant "southern dandy" performance, made all the more brilliant by the fact that Robert Fuller is a good 6'5" and manages to make sure that every movement and gesture is enough to make you forget that, so he never overshadows his wrestlers.

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58 minutes ago, Carbomb said:

I thought they just stole it from the general mythos of Baron Samedi/Papa Legba of the voodoo Loa.

It’s deffo the Bond version of Samedi, who was more based on Legba than Samedi. 

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1 minute ago, Keith Houchen said:

It’s deffo the Bond version of Samedi, who was more based on Legba than Samedi. 

Then his finisher should've been the Papa LEGBAR

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I like managers who carry/use a prop. It can really help a heel manager get heat. And I'm a fan of managers who dress accordingly to the person(s) they're managing. 

I'd like AEW to go back to Alex Abrahams doing the "Penta says" gimmick otherwise he's fairly pointless, as I find a lot of AEW's "managers/coaches". They've got a lot of them but very few add anything to the wrestler. Even the ones I like (Stokely and Nana primarily) are liked, by me, for being goofy rather than making the wrestlers they manage any more interesting.

In terms of who would benefit from a manager, Wardlow and Hook spring straight to mind. I think now that Trent Beretta has gone full heel, he would benefit from a 90s Jim Cornette in his corner, using the loaded tennis racket to win so many of his matches. And whether his ego would allow it or not, I think Jericho could really be helped at this stage by a manager. They can hype him up while he does the insincere smiling and waving - if they hadn't already blown through the Don Callis/Chris Jericho story then that would be the obvious choice to manage The Learning Tree.

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It definitely looks like managers are making a comeback in both WWE and AEW, which is good for the most part. The problem you have with that is because Scarlett Bordeaux has such a great look and charisma that Karrion Kross has been on TV more than once. And what exactly does Paul Ellering *do*?

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29 minutes ago, JimmyAnderson said:

I like managers who carry/use a prop. It can really help a heel manager get heat. And I'm a fan of managers who dress accordingly to the person(s) they're managing. 

You've reminded me of a manager from the BritWres scene, Gabriel Grey. Did a neat line in gimmicked canes that would do something different each time, like extend so he could trip someone from a distance.

I remember chatting with him about them; he said he'd been working on a powder-shooting one, but that he couldn't quite get it to work without the particles igniting from the sheer friction. Don't know if he ever managed to figure it out and use it in an actual match.

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4 hours ago, Carbomb said:

That makes depressing sense, I guess. Still, they didn't have many during the post-wCw years. I actually can't think of that many who would've been just managers at one point and nothing else from 2001-2024. Runjin Singh comes to mind, but I don't know if he wrestled. Ricardo Rodriguez was ace, but I think he ended up wrestling as well.

One manager whose run did not last long enough for my liking was Don West. As Amazing Red's "sports agent", he made Red the most interesting he's ever been, for me. Plus it's rare to see a face manager, and even rarer to see a good one. 

I liked Theodore Long too - the only thing about Rodney Mack that they got right. I wanted more thuggin' and buggin'. And his catchphrase was better than LA Knight's version. 

To be fair even Runjin Singh had a big backstage role. I’m sure he was the head writer of Raw at one stage. 

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