There was once a time in professional wrestling when it was absolutely essential for a heel wrestler to have a manager. Someone who could talk up an upcoming match, interfere in said match and make that heel wrestler look more villainous. The names may have changed, but there was always a seedy, manager for a wrestler to hire. Names like Jim Cornette, Bobby Heenan, JJ Dillon, Paul E. Dangerously and Sir Oliver Humperdink were just some of the all time great managerial characters in wrestling history. They were just as important as the wrestlers themselves. As the years have gone by, managers are seen less frequently and in some ways are a dying breed.
Managers date back as early as the 1920’s with men like Billy Sandow (a former grappler himself) turned manager who actually managed a wrestler’s career by getting him bookings and travel arrangements when the business was more sport than entertainment. The role of a manager changed when wrestling became more spectacle with the emergence of ‘Gorgeous George.’ He would parade to the ring using a valet named Miss Betty and handlers who perfumed the ring and took care of his robes. That opened the door for more people like that to help a particular wrestler get over.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly who was the very first manager as we have come to know them, but some of the very first incarnations were Ed ‘The Strangler’ Lewis who managed NWA world champion Lou Thesz in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Lewis was a former pro wrestler himself. Lewis wasn’t the prototypical manager who was scrawny and couldn’t handle himself in a scrum if need be…but managed Thesz none the less.
There was also Bobby Davis who started out in the early 1950’s who managed the likes of ‘Nature Boy’ Buddy Rogers, The Graham Brothers and others. Bobby Davis was more of the type of manager we were more accustomed to see. A manager not afraid to talk for his charges and interfere in matches when necessary.
Eddie Creatchman may have been the real trend setter for managers as they ultimately became. Creatchman was a former referee turned manager who was mostly seen in the Canadian and Detroit territories. He was loud and brash and caused several riots with his heel antics. A small Jewish man who managed Arabs certainly helped him generate great heat.
Creatchman influenced promoters to start using more managers that sympathized with Nazis and other foreign wrestlers. Managers like Saul Weingeroff, JC Dykes, George ‘Two Ton’ Harris and Crybaby Cannon began to emerge unto the scene.
Managers would quickly become just as big as the stars they were managing…if not bigger at times. For instance, as wrestlers would come and go from territory to territory, a big time manager would remain in one place and just oversee whatever top heels came to his territory. Jimmy Hart was a perfect example of that down in Memphis. Anybody who was anybody would be managed by Hart and become a member of his First Family.
The same could be seen in the northeast in the WWWF/WWF with three managers known as ‘The Three Wise Men.’ The three wise men consisted of ‘Classy’ Freddie Blassie, Captain Lou Albano and The Grand Wizard. If you were a heel…chances were that you had one of these legendary managers controlling your career. It did not matter if you looked like a million bucks and had your own charisma…you were getting either Albano, Blassie or the Wizard in your corner.
The 1980’s was really the last big boom for managers in pro wrestling. The WWF had Bobby Heenan, Jimmy Hart, Mr. Fuji and countless others, while places like the NWA/WCW had JJ Dillon, Jim Cornette, Gary Hart…etc. If you were a heel and sometimes even a babyface, you were almost guaranteed a manager to solidify yourself as a “made star.”
By the time the 1990’s rolled along, heels were becoming more self sufficient on the mic and in the ring. Managers were used less and less. The cool heel emerged onto the wrestling world and the lines between heels and faces were severely blurred. Factions became a bigger deal with groups like the New World Order, Degeneration X, The Nation of Domination and others. These factions may have started out with a manager, but ultimately most ditched them in favor of attacking people in greater numbers.
Some managers were able to survive extinction like Paul Heyman…but for the most part…managers became cliched and passe. Most wrestlers nowadays can cut their own promos, but there are still benefits to having a dreaded manager at their side. Tully Blanchard has sprung up as a manager in AEW, James Mitchell has reemerged in Impact Wrestling and even in NXT, we have seen former wrestler turned manager Robert Stone come about.
While I don’t see managers having the impact that they once had years ago, I do think there is room to have more managers be utilized. A good personality managing a wrestler can only benefit the wrestler in my opinion. So bring on the new breed of sneaky, greedy, devious, blood sucking low lives back into pro wrestling. They are more valuable than you know.