Sports entertainment is a unique field in which athletic performance and oratory skills in many ways are of equal importance to a professional wrestler becoming successful. There have been countless great wrestlers over the years who simply couldn’t back up their talent on the microphone and this is where the role of a wrestling manager comes in. Certain managers have enhanced their clients to a level far beyond what they could have reached on their own, using the gift of gab to turn a rising talent into a downright superstar. On the other hand, there have been dozens of atrocious managers too and these men and women dragged down their every client just as much as the good managers lifted them.
There isn’t any set criterion to what makes a manager good or bad, although there are plenty of qualities that start pushing managers over the edge in either direction. Good managers are calm, cool, and collected when their clients are in control, but they also show fear and act terrified when things aren’t going their way. Bad managers stumble through their lines, don’t have much to add, or, at worst, simply don’t seem to care about whether or not their clients win any matches in the first place. Keep reading to discover who best represented the world’s most famous wrestlers with our list of the 10 greatest and 10 worst managers of all time.
20 WORST – Ted DiBiase
The managerial exploits of Ted DiBiase stand as a testament to the fact a successful career as a charismatic wrestler in and of itself isn’t enough for that wrestler to turn into a great manager. The Million Dollar Man was one of the all time great villains when he was still getting into the ring, regularly challenging Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, and thrice winning the WWE Tag Team Championships with IRS. DiBiase retired due to neck injuries in late 1993 and transitioned to a role as IRS’s manager the next year. In addition to his former partner, DiBiase added Bam Bam Bigelow, The 1-2-3 Kid, Tatanka, Sid Vicious, and a few others into his Million Dollar Corporation. DiBiase and company engaged in a long and fruitless feud against The Undertaker and none of his charges would win any titles while with him. DiBiase was slightly more successful in WCW, at least managing champions in The Steiner Brothers. The one thing DiBiase’s managerial career had going for it was that it wasn’t quite bad enough to harm his legacy, instead merely serving as a disappointing distraction until he decided to call it quits for real.
19 BEST – Miss Elizabeth
For anyone who believes the only thing a manager needs to do is talk, here’s Miss Elizabeth to stand as the exception to that rule. The ability to rock a microphone is indeed one of the most integral elements behind becoming a great manager and Elizabeth rarely said more than a few words of quiet support about either her husband Randy Savage or the other men she would go on to manage. Despite her demure demeanor, Elizabeth was able to speak volumes with a single glance of her gorgeous, expressive face, not to mention the elegance she exuded in her every move. Elizabeth proved she was more than a pretty face when she turned heel and managed classic stables like The Four Horsemen and the nWo, starting to interfere in matches and add intensity to her graceful character. Heel or face, Elizabeth was highly underrated for her ability to add to her client’s matches. On top of that, truth be told, brief though her verbal statements were, Liz was plenty talented at telling a story with words, too.
18 WORST – Jose Lothario
During Shawn Michaels’s first tenure as WWE Champion, Vince McMahon loudly and proudly lauded HBK as the most charismatic superstar in company history. On the other hand, his manager Jose Lothario was one of the least charismatic men in WWE or anywhere else he went, creating one of the most lopsided pairings on this list. Lothario had never been a manager prior to suddenly materializing just before Michaels won his title, although he was in fact one of HBK’s most important trainers in the business. Perhaps this contributed to the reason Lothario had no presence on the microphone, and generally looked bored and confused at ringside during HBK’s matches. The two allegedly didn’t even get along backstage, with Shawn aware Lothario was sucking the life out of his promos. McMahon never did falter on his feelings towards Michaels as one of the best of all time, and thus there should be no surprise why Lothario’s involvement as HBK’s manager typically gets glossed over in career retrospectives.
17 BEST – Paul Bearer
In 1990, William Moody was in the middle of a fairly undistinguished managerial career as Percy Pringle III, by his own admission a Bobby Heenan knockoff. Luckily, Moody’s prospects skyrocketed at this time when he signed with WWE and with Vince McMahon created the ghoulish and histrionic funeral home director, Paul Bearer. Bearer is best known for his long association with The Undertaker, who he brought to the WWE World Championship on multiple occasions. Undertaker wasn’t his only client, though, and Bearer also came to great successes with names like Mankind, Vader, and most frequently, Undertaker’s kayfabe brother, Kane. Bearer was without question one of the most unique managers in WWE, diving full force into his ghostly character but also somehow making it work in the real world. A character like Bearer easily could’ve been too cartoonish when Undertaker’s profile kept rising and he started feuding icons like Steve Austin and The Rock, and yet Moody was always able to make it work and excel Undertaker’s feuds above the silly magic show they often could turn into.
16 WORST – Midajah
The wrestling industry has no shortage of gorgeous women who accompanied men to the ring for years without adding much of anything to their client’s matches. Perhaps we’ve placed Midajah on this list somewhat as a mere representation of this trope, but it’s worth noting that she was particularly without talent considering how high profile her role was during the dying days of WCW. Midajah was Scott Steiner’s “head freak,” also serving as his manager while he reigned as WCW World Champion. She also holds distinction as one of the few females to join the nWo, albeit as a member of the less popular nWo 2000 iteration of the group. However, outside of the implied relationship between the two, it’s hard to understand what Midajah was bringing to the table. She rarely spoke during interviews, and she generally looked bored and disinterested when Steiner defended his title. Midajah predictably disappeared from the wrestling industry not long after WCW went out of business.
15 BEST – Mr. Fuji
As a wrestler, Mr. Fuji was one of the most feared competitors around the globe, with a vicious in-ring style coupled with constant cheating that had him labeled “The Devious One” long before he started manipulating his clients and throwing salt into the eyes of their enemies. Once he retired, Fuji used that deviousness to bring several high profile talents to great success, most notably managing Yokozuna during his 9-month WWE Championship reign. Fuji’s interviews may not have been as bombastic as some of his contemporaries, but he more than made up for it with his intense looks and amazing comedic timing the few times he was allowed to let his softer side shine. Outside of Yokozuna, Fuji also holds distinction for bringing Demolition to the WWE Tag Team Champions, although he would turn on them en route to their reign becoming the longest in history. Despite this one piece of poor judgment in Fuji’s record, he nonetheless earned his place in history as one of the greats, with actions so legendary they remain tropes amongst heel managers to this day.
14 WORST – Sonny Onoo
There’s no denying how impressive it was when Ultimo Dragon held 10 championships as once, so you would think Sonny Onoo must have been doing something right as Dragon’s manager. Onoo also managed Akira Hokuto during her reign as the only official WCW Women’s Champion. Despite these two accolades, Onoo was without a doubt one of the least talented managers ever to hit it big, coasting on a photogenic smile and an overreliance on offensive stereotypes. Onoo’s interviews were mostly manic laughter and overexcited touristy behaviors that didn’t get him or his clients over in the slightest. Onoo’s small contributions to the business consisted of facilitating the relationship between WCW and New Japan, and even in this very little would come for fans or wrestlers. Sonny kept his job despite it all, though, thanks largely to a close friendship with Eric Bischoff stemming from their previous interests in martial arts. To Onoo’s credit, he apparently agreed his characterization was racist and later sued WCW for racial discrimination in a case that settled out of court.
13 BEST – "Classy" Freddie Blassie
Every manager on this list made people hate them in one way or another, but when it comes to getting fans to show their rage, no one holds a candle to “Classy” Freddie Blassie. Throughout his wrestling and managerial career, Blassie claimed to have been stabbed over twenty times, had his car set on fire, and once even had acid thrown in his face. Blassie earned this ire by cheating egregiously as a wrestler, and then by hurling a constant barrage of cutting personal insults towards his clients opponents as a manager. Blassie’s greatest client was The Iron Sheik, who brought Blassie to fame with runs the WWE World and Tag Team Championship belts, winning the latter with Nikolai Volkoff as his partner. Even as his top talents retired and he became too old to actively participate, Blassie stayed with WWE until the very end of his life, making sporadic appearances that in some respects painted him as a manager to the entire WWE roster during the Invasion era.
12 WORST – Shelton Benjamin's Momma
The world will never know what the hell was going through Vince McMahon’s mind when he hired a well-known comedienne to masquerade as the mother of a superstar with seemingly boundless potential. Thea Vidale has been making television appearances as a stand-up comic since the late ‘80s, and even briefly starred in her own sitcom, appropriately named Thea. Despite all this, WWE decided to hire her to portray Shelton Benjamin’s Momma in early 2006. Benjamin was one of the fastest rising stars in the company at the time, until he began an always questionably losing streak. Momma Benjamin did nothing to turn things around, and instead acted as the spark that send Benjamin’s career on a serious nosedive. Despite Vidale’s talents as a comedienne, any humor in her Momma Benjamin character was hackneyed and cliché, not to mention irrelevant to her onscreen son’s actual wrestling career. The only reason she isn’t as bad as the few who rank above her is the fact WWE realized how bad an idea having her around was fairly quick, and she was in and out of the wrestling industry after barely over a month.
11 BEST – James E. Cornette
For everything that’s wrong with a wrestler’s mother becoming their manager, the idea of a spoiled mama’s boy becoming a manager himself has a much better chance of being a success in the wrestling industry. Leave it in the hands of a master like James E. Cornette, and you’ve got a gimmick destined to go down in wrestling history. Cornette was far more than a simple mama’s boy, though, with a motor mouth faster and most verbose than any other, and a manipulative and brilliant enough mind to back it up. Cornette mostly resigned himself to the tag team ranks, forming legendary unions with groups like The Midnight Express, The Heavenly Bodies, and Owen Hart’s teams with Davey Boy Smith and Yokozuna. Cornette also served as Yoko’s co-manager during his reign as WWE Champion, putting Cornette in the upper pantheon of managers in kayfabe, in addition to his objective talents. The only thing more impressive than Cornette’s list of clientele was his work behind-the-scenes, serving on the booking committees almost everywhere he went and earning great respect from his peers while doing so.
10 WORST – Coach John Tolos
Throughout the 1950 and ‘60s, John Tolos was a feared and hated heel wherever he went due to his violent and vicious antics. Some thirty years later, he returned to the industry heavily placated as the “Coach” of Mr. Perfect, in a move the world still has trouble understanding. Mr. Perfect was already one of the greatest talkers in the game when Tolos started supporting him, meaning he didn’t need a manager in the first place. Tolos wasn’t that great on the microphone, either, instead relying on his whistle and gruff grunting that did more to hurt Perfect than help. Coach’s only other clients were The Beverly Brothers, who were pretty far from perfection to say the least. Perfect was able to succeed in spite of Tolos dragging him down, and it unsurprisingly wasn’t long until he ditched the Coach for a better manager in The Genius.
9 BEST – Jimmy Hart
Toting a megaphone and some of the most fantastic jackets in sports entertainment, Jimmy Hart changed WWE forever the minute he debuted by becoming the first manager in the company to stick around at ringside during all of his client’s matches. Previously, managers would generally introduce their clients and then head backstage during the actual match, but Jimmy insisted his job supporting his clients wasn’t finished until the match was over, and virtually every manager to follow him has agreed with this philosophy. Outside of this one game changing move, Hart was also legendary in his gift of gab, which is why fans are as likely to recognize him as The Mouth of The South as they are by his actual name. Hart is also notable for having one of the widest clienteles any manager can boast, most notably including champions like Hulk Hogan, The Hart Foundation, The Honky Tonk Man, and Money Inc. Jimmy also managed Andy Kaufman during his time in Memphis, during his longstanding feud with Jerry Lawler. Perhaps more importantly than any of that, Jimmy managed to add plenty to the show even in the wake of his charismatic clients, becoming a legend all his own while helping his superstars do the same.
8 WORST – Michael Hayes
Due largely to his status as a friend and confidant of the McMahon family, Michael Hayes has gotten away with just about everything in wrestling. In addition to being a racist and enabling talent’s drug addictions, he also has his atrocious tenure as the manager of The Hardy Boyz greatly bogging down his legacy. His personal life aside, Hayes actually did earn his spot in wrestling history as a member of The Fabulous Freebirds, of which he served as the leader and most regular mouthpiece. Hayes had a knack for self-promotion and making his friends look like rock stars, but once putting himself over wasn’t the goal, he quickly ran out of things to talk about. Hayes seemed bizarrely out of place with the Hardyz, looking more like their out of touch uncle than mentor and never adding anything to their matches or interviews. Thankfully, the Hardyz got fed up with Hayes in a manner of months, and he never managed another client.
7 BEST – Captain Lou Albano
By his own admission, Captain Lou Albano wasn’t the greatest wrestler in the world during his short career in the ring. On the advice of Bruno Sammartino, Lou decided to instead switch to managing, and almost instantly realized his true calling was talking up his clients on the microphone. Albano famously became the manager of 15 different WWE Tag Team Championship winning duos, and that was after managing Ivan Koloff in his stunning defeat over Bruno Sammartino. Albano also managed a few men to Intercontinental Championship glory as well, and regardless of what division he was competing in, the point is that Captain Lou was consistently able to back up his somewhat babbling but always entertaining promos with dominant performances by his plethora of clients. Lou’s greatest moments were given as a boisterous villain, but his biggest contribution to the business may well have been facilitating the Rock and Wrestling Connection by introducing the WWE to Cyndi Lauper. Whether with rock stars or world champions, Captain Lou always elevated every storyline he was involved with while making himself a special and unforgettable figure in the wrestling world along the way.
6 WORST – Arnold Skaaland
On paper, The Golden Boy has a resume that looks like it should push him into the other half of this list as one of the best. Arnold Skaaland managed both Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund during their legendarily long reigns as WWE World Champion, racking up a cumulative near 16 years as the agent of WWE’s top star. The issue is that managers during these eras were far different than the kind fans have come to know and love, and they really didn’t add much of anything to their client’s matches. Skaaland in particular had next to no charisma, and his presence only served to drag down interviews with the champions during their lengthy reigns. Skaaland’s negative energy even canceled out some solid promos from Sammartino and Backlund, who then had to stand around awkwardly while Skaaland repeated his typical and bland mantra that his clients sure did their best out there. Even in kayfabe, where Skaaland’s achievement is meaningful in and of itself, he’s still a pretty crummy manager considering he threw in the towel costing Backlund his title much to his chagrin. All this in mind, Skaaland did contribute greatly to WWE history as a friend and business partner of Vince McMahon, Sr. Unfortunately, though, this isn’t enough to save his poor performance as a manager from anyone willing to go back and check the details of his career.
5 BEST – Paul Heyman
These days, Paul Heyman is likely best remembered as the manager of Brock Lesnar, and it would be fair to say none of his clients have come anywhere near the destruction of the Beast Incarnate during the time he managed them. That said, it would be a huge disservice to Heyman’s legacy to ignore the many other clients he’s brought to great success, especially during his time as Paul E. Dangerously in WCW. Regardless of the era we’re talking about or the name Heyman used, few people in wrestling come near his complete mastery of the microphone and his ability to craft a compelling story out of the most cookie cutter ideas in wrestling. Of course, Heyman’s ideas were rarely cookie cutter and more often genius, which is how he managed a plethora of title holders up to and including a handful of WWE World Champions. Heyman’s skill is such that he exceled at every role he’s been handed and even brought a few duds into the spotlight through his mere presence.
4 WORST – Paul Jones
Like plenty miserable managers throughout history, Paul Jones was a decent enough wrestler who managed to win dozens of regional tag team championships with partners like Wahoo McDaniel, Masked Superstar, and Ricky Steamboat. Once Jones went solo and switched to management, however, it became powerfully evident that he was the weakest link in all of his teams. Jones nonetheless earned enough clients to form a stable, unimaginatively called the Paul Jones Army, which did battle with Jimmy Valiant for multiple full years in the 1980s NWA. Jones’s clients weren’t all bad, as his ranks included legendary names like “Superstar” Billy Graham, Ivan Koloff, and Abdullah the Butcher, and yet each one of these superstars could easily point to two or three other managers that aided their careers far more than Jones ever did. Jones had little charisma and often stumbled through his words on the microphone, seemingly thinking wearing a slightly fancy suit and stealing from his superiors in getting fans to call him “weasel” was all it took to be a strong heel.
3 BEST – Gary Hart
The incredible success of Gary Hart is a testament to how much a person could achieve in the wrestling world without ever working for the McMahons. It wasn’t that Hart didn’t have the chance, as he was contacted by WWE a few times throughout his career only to turn them down because he always wanted to maintain full control of his character and the people he managed. Gary instead built a brilliant legacy in Southern territories of the NWA, especially in Texas, as well as a run with Jim Crockett Promotions where he received his greatest exposure to a mainstream crowd. Gary shined as a top manager wherever he went, with a smooth assuredness that was matched only by his intensity, and the feeling if his clients couldn’t make due on his promises of destruction, he’d step into the ring and do it himself. Gary’s most famous pairing was likely his partnership with The Great Kabuki, which in turn lead to him introducing The Great Muta to the NWA. Gary also managed legends like Terry Funk, Roddy Piper, Bruiser Brody, and Abdullah The Butcher, further proving how successful a manager can be without the controlling influence of the McMahon family.
2 WORST – Mr. Yamaguchi-san
The managers on the good half of this list were constant sources of hilarious quotes and brilliant moments that wrestling fans will quote for as long as the WWE Network continues to exist. Mr. Yamaguchi-san has six words: “I choppy choppy yo pee pee.” The threat of castration was levied towards Val Venis as a punishment for sleeping with Yamaguchi-san’s wife, coming after about a month of Yamaguchi-san managing Kai En Tai. When they first debuted, the actual wrestling portion of Kai En Tai were unlike anyone else in WWE, with innovative aerial offenses ranking amongst the most creative in the world at the time, even in their native Japan. Unfortunately, because of Yamaguchi-san, they became a ridiculous racial stereotype with the misogynistic treatment of Yamaguchi-san unto his wife taking precedence over their groundbreaking ring work. In addition to the choppy choppy incident, Yamaguchi-san’s second most infamous moment saw him call his wife to the ring for a public spanking when she “shamed” him, further proving how crass and offensive everything involving Yamaguchi-san was.
1 BEST – Bobby "The Brain" Heenan
Was there really any question, humanoids? The greatest wrestling manager of all time is without a doubt Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and just about everybody lucky enough to have witnessed the man work knows it for a fact. Heenan got his start as a wrestler before deciding he was better on the microphone than he was in the ring, at which point he created the unspoken rule that managers should manage like wrestlers and wrestle like managers. The Brain put this into practice by never backing down from a fight, getting face to face with superstars like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior while he told them how his clients would beat them senseless. More importantly, Heenan would take serious beatings himself, losing a series of infamous “weasel suit matches” that regularly left him chasing his fake tail. Regardless of his managerial abilities, Heenan is also remembered as perhaps the funniest person ever to get involved with wrestling, something that regularly came into play as he insulted and mocked the biggest superstars in the WWE Universe. Just about every manager to come along since Heenan’s heyday have been influenced by him in one way or another, and yet there never has and likely never will be another talent quite like The Brain.
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