Welcome to the Saturday edition of the Phat Daily Column. Today, we look into the man.... possibly one of the BEST managers ever, and one of the BEST announcers in the business too. Who is this man? The great Bobby "the Brain" Heenan.
In wake of his announcing return (at WOW), I've received about 20 requests to do something on Bobby Heenan. Seriously, he's that loved! So with that, I'll gladly take the time to do one on him, since I respect him very much. On to the PDC.
Bobby "the Brain" Heenan started his career out in the early 1960s for the American Wrestling Association or AWA. Now how Heenan got there, is unknown. Heenan didn't start out in professional wrestling as an announcer or a manager, oh no! Like most in the business of what he does today, he tried to be a wrestler. Back then, he worked hard to be a heel, and called himself "Pretty Boy" Bobby Heenan. He was said to not be the most gifted wrestler in the world, but the man could speak! Slowly but surely, he was angering fans with his quick wit on the microphone, and that actually helped to elevate his status with bookers. His quick wit on the microphone eventually gave him the nickname of the "Brain" Heenan worked hard on his wrestling technique, and soon became one of the dirtiest and most cowardly heels in the business.
After a few years of wrestling though, Heenan thought about a less dangerous job in managing. So he ditched the tights, and became a manager. The AWA obviously agreed with this move, since Heenan could help talk for his heels to make them look good. And it did. Heenan became a heel manager, and managed such rulebreakers like The Blackjacks: Mulligan & Lanza, Ray "The Crippler" Stevens, "Superstar" Billy Graham, Angelo Poffo, Ernie "The Big Cat" Ladd, Pat Patterson, The Valiant Brothers: Jimmy & Johnny, "Big, Bad" Bobby Duncum, "Cowboy" Bob Orton Jr., Ken Patera, Baron Von Raschke and many more. But the cream of the crop, during Heenan's managing years in the AWA was Nick Bonkwinkle. Bonkwinkle was the top heel in the company at the time, and he made a perfect team with Heenan. Heenan would help talk for him, and he would help cheat for him too against top faces.
Heenan took Bockwinkle to the top of the promotion, too, and led Bockwinkle to an AWA World Title in 1975. That title reign lasted over 5 years. Heenan also managed several tag teams to World Tag Title glory during this time, using mixed team from his large stable of wrestlers. Bockwinkle and Ray Stevens held the belts for an impressive 2 years and 3 months, which is unheard of in today's wrestling, not to mention a World Champion of over 5 years, too.
In 1980, Bobby Heenan wanted to try his luck elsewhere, you know, to just test the market. He made his way up to Georgia Championship Wrestling or the NWA. If you know your history, this federation would eventually evolve into WCW today. Anyway, Heenan quickly caught on at the NWA, and led Blackjack Lanza, who followed Heenan from the AWA, immediately to the TV title. Heenan would also manage two World Champions while in the NWA, in the Masked Superstar and "Killer" Karl Kox.
Heenan only spent ONE year in the NWA, before returning back to the AWA, but with revenge on his mind! He promised to make hell for all of the wrestlers upon returning, especially the faces. He would once again lead Nick Bockwinkle to glory. Bockwinkle, then, was in a hot feud against the upstart Hulk Hogan, which led to the famous controversial match. Verne Gagne, the head honcho of the AWA, didn't quite see the potential of Hogan. So he booked a "Dusty finish", to where Hogan would defeat the champion Bockwinkle, but only to have the decision reversed since Hogan threw Bockwinkle over the top rope during the match. I'm not sure if Heenan was still in the AWA when this happened, but it's a nice point to show that the AWA didn't care for Hogan, and the WWF did...
Which means we are in the talent raiding era! Bobby Heenan was a part of this, too, as he was quick to join the WWF. The WWF was about to really become a wrestling empire in a matter of years, and Vince collected all of the great talent that he could to get him there. He knew of Heenan's great managing skills, and he quickly let him manage the top WWF heels.
Now bear with me here.... Heenan managed a lot of people in the WWF. Just about ALL of the heels at one time or another. Now it would be hard to recap each and every one of the wrestlers, so we'll aim for the main ones. But throughout the 1980s/early 1990s, he managed the likes of "Big" John Studd, "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff, "King" Harley Race, "Ravishing" Rick Rude, Andre the Giant, Mr. Perfect, The Islanders, Hercules, The Brainbusters: former Horsemen Anderson & Blanchard, and many more. But he didn't hit his managing peak until 1986-1987....
Hulk Hogan was becoming HUGE, and Heenan had a lot of his wrestlers going at him. This feud between Heenan and Hogan is why Heenan always shows hatred of Hogan on commentary. That's always the one constant in wrestling... Heenan will always rip on Hogan. But anyway, the current wrestlers he threw at Hogan couldn't get the job done. So he convinced Andre the Giant, who was Hogan's friend in the storylines before, to get greedy about the World Title. I believe Heenan even convinced Andre to wear the famous one strap tights during this time, which Heenan wore when he was a wrestler. Now I don't know if this is true, but possibly the term "weasel" came out of changing the ways of Andre, who was a mega face before this.
Although Heenan newly turned Andre turned up short at Wrestlemania 3, it was a big spotlight for Heenan. If you watch that show, by the way, you'll see Heenan scrambling everywhere because he managed so many people back then. Heenan just managed wrestlers throughout 1988, but he was a big force in 1989. Heenan became manager of Ravishing Rick Rude (may he rest in peace), and was thrusted into a HOT feud with the Ultimate Warrior for the Intercontinental title. Heenan even "weaseled" his way into the match by costing the Warrior the title at Wrestlemania 5. Heenan took a beating from the Warrior after that match, which softened him up for his next match... the famous Bobby Heenan vs. the Red Rooster match. Now why the WWF gave Terry Taylor the "Red Rooster" gimmick, well, I'll never know. But if you ever want to see a quick match, then rent or watch Wrestlemania 5 for the Rooster defeating Heenan in about 15 seconds or so. Around this time, somewhere, Heenan did the famous "Bobby Heenan Show", which didn't last long.
In 1990, Heenan breathed new life into Andre the Giant. With Haku, who just returned to the WWF, the Brain led them to the World Titles. At Wrestlemania 6, Heenan's ways caught up with him. Following a defeat by Demolition, Andre the Giant had enough of Heenan. Andre lets Heenan have it, and thus Andre officially turned face again for the end of his wrestling career.
Jesse "the body" Ventura decided to make the jump to WCW somewhere during 1990 (or early 1991), so the WWF looked around for a replacement. Bobby Heenan was now available since he didn't have many important managing jobs now. So, he joined one of the greats, Gorilla Monsoon (rest in peace) to form a very good announcing team. Jesse Ventura and Gorilla had great chemistry, no doubt, but Heenan always messed with Gorilla's head with the famous "one liners". He'd just use comedic phrases that would really become famous throughout the wrestling world, and are still remembered today. It made the announcing sound fun, and Heenan was ALWAYS against the faces. He didn't hesitate on that at all!
My favorite Heenan announcing, though, was on Prime Time Wrestling, where he would sit at a table and debate with other wrestlers. With Curt Hennig laughing at his side, Heenan ripped into Hillbilly Jim and Hacksaw Jim Duggan like no other. He destroyed them! Hennig was in tears from laughing at it.
Heenan helped to usher Ric Flair into the WWF in late 1991, and was involved with stating that Ric Flair was the REAL World's Champion. He would manage Flair here or there, but not all of the time. His main job, by then, was to be an announcer, a very good one at that. Heenan would stay in the WWF to do announcing until early 1994, when the WWF began to favor the upstart announcing of Jerry "the King" Lawler. It's not like Heenan was pushed out though, because his contract did come up anyway. Heenan saw that Lawler was becoming hot on the mic, so he decided to make the jump to WCW. He left on good terms with the WWF, and we'll get to more of that in a little bit.
Heenan joined up with WCW as an announcer, and a good one at that. He was stuck with Tony Shiavone, though, who he'd have to work with for about 6 years straight. Hogan came to WCW by the Summer of 1994, and Heenan gave his hand of support to Ric Flair against Hogan. Of course, during his announcing, Heenan kept dogging Hogan. One thing that WCW did like about Heenan was that he had history with Hogan and many others they'd sign, so in that he could make WWF references during matches. That was a valuable tool.
Nitro started in 1995, and of course, Heenan was part of that team. But with Nitro's announcing team came Eric Bischoff, the vice president of the company. He bashed the hell out of the WWF, the chief rival of WCW at the time. Tony Shiavone did too, and some would Larry Zbyszko. However, Bobby Heenan DID NOT lay into the WWF like the other members of the WCW announcing staff. In a recent interview, here is what Bobby Heenan said about that: "I would never knock the WWF. You know why I never did? Because I was there for ten years. If I knock them, I knock me".
Heenan kept against Hogan, as he did when Hogan even turned heel in July of 1996 for the New World Order. Heenan always said Hogan was evil, and he was finally right. The funny thing about the New World Order was that Heenan dogged Hogan, but he cheered on the rest of the NWO. The funny thing was that Shiavone kept questioning him why he was cheering for the NWO, and Heenan kept saying it was on instinct or accidental. Funny stuff.
But the relationship with Shiavone and Heenan apparently soured. In real life, they didn't quite like each other. Shiavone didn't quite enjoy the one liners of the Brain, and would sometimes completely ignore what Heenan said. It made for a rough announcing relationship, especially since the guys did every Nitro in a row for several years. Heenan never cried about it to anyone in WCW, and he stuck it out. Heenan and Shiavone would be the main guys running Nitro, until a certain man arrived.....
Vince Russo made it clear that he wasn't a big fan of Heenan. He felt that Heenan was a part of "old timer" wrestling, believing that his Crash TV style was much better for the sport. Eventually, Russo convinced the WCW management that Heenan was poorly preparing himself for shows, and got him demoted to Thunder..... and eventually World Wide..... and later off WCW shows for good! Heenan's WCW contract expired in December of 2000, and WCW obviously didn't resign him.
Today, Heenan is now, I guess, doing some announcing with WOW, the very hot lower federation which is probably the #3 federation in the land now. Throughout Heenan's career, he said that he invested his money well and won't have financial problems like many other wrestlers have had. Heenan said that if an offer from possibly the WWF comes along, he'd take it, but only if the money was right and if he doesn't have to be totally obliged to it. Same goes for WOW to be officially part of that federation.
But in looking over the greats of our sport, I feel that Heenan doesn't get the proper respect that he deserves. He was a vital part of the WWF's "heel process", and he's been a great and misunderstood announcer for whoever he's called for. Especially WCW, who didn't realize that Tony Shiavone was the REAL announcing problem, not Heenan.
If you want to read the sacred Heenan one liners, then Click Here!
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@That's all for today. I'll be back, tomorrow, for MORE PDC! Don't know what it will be, but that's why improvising is so fun! Just chill till the next episode.
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