I didn’t really appreciate Heenan in my younger days as a fan, when he was an active manager. Yeah I saw that he was good at his job and was really funny with the insults but I didn’t think he was better than Jim Cornette or Paul E. Dangeroulsy (Paul Heyman to all of you who got in after 1992) or that he stood out much from his WWE contemporary Jimmy Hart. Boy was I wrong back then.
Now a lot of people’s love and respect for Heenan came while he was a commentator and not a manager. His work with Gorilla Monsoon was great all the time, and he went on to be the best part of the commentary team in WCW after that. But enough about that, plenty of people are going to reference that later. I want to focus on Heenan the manager and how he did that better than maybe anyone in the modern era.
Bobby did more of this than any manager in his time. He gave up his body and got manhandled by Hulk Hogan (skip to the last 30 seconds) and Ultimate Warrior and quite a few others. He took bumps worthy of wrestlers, which he was himself before becoming a manager, on a regular basis. He was easily the best bump taker of any manager of the last 40 years; only Cornette’s scaffold drop tops the kind of stuff Heenan did several times a month.
Making guys relevant
King Kong Bundy was a midcard guy in Texas and Georgia before coming to the then-WWF; Heenan’s mic work made him a credible WrestleMania main eventer. Rick Rude was a good performer in his own right but Heenan by his side put him on the top tier. And then there were guys like Hercules Hernandez who no one would have cared about without Heenan.
Heenan was so good at what he did that he made everyone bigger and more credible. Paul Orndorff’s heel turn in 1986 was more effective because of Bobby’s work and his own storyline contempt for one Hulk Hogan. Heenan turned a kayfabe grudge for one guy into almost two decades of getting his charges over and helping Hogan get over as a heel when he went NWO. And for years the way to make a Hogan opponent believable was to put him with Heenan.
And even guys who didn’t need him benefitted from him. Ric Flair was already a legend when he came over to the WWF but having Heenan pave the way for him in promos before he debuted made him immediately relevant to fans who hadn’t seen him yet.
Only Cornette was as quick with quips and gratuitous shots as Bobby. Humanoids, ham and eggers, and a bunch of other stuff that made you laugh while simultaneously thinking ‘what in the hell did he just call them?’ But he could also deliver a dead serious promo that was every bit as biting and effective. Go check out Survivor Series 1987 and listen to his post main event promo…just great stuff all around.
RIP Bobby Heenan, and thank you for the memories.