Female managers, or valets, have a long history in the professional wrestling business. Their male counterparts like Bobby Heenan and Jim Cornette tend to get more credit, in part because they tend to be more physically involved in the action. Just the same, female managers often bring different factors to the table. Whether it’s a matter of generating heat for the sheer fact that a hero can’t get his revenge by hitting her, or a beautiful woman drawing extra eyes and drawing extra glamour to a rising star, women have a lot to contribute in this role.
Take Miss Elizabeth for example. Without her, The Macho Man Randy Savage surely would have still been great—a charismatic, athletic workhorse who was good at just about every element of professional wrestling. And yet, when we look back at so many of Savage’s best storylines and moments, Elizabeth is key. Savage turned into a jealous maniac against Hulk Hogan because he thought The Hulkster was lusting after Miss Elizabeth. He turned face at WrestleMania VII because he saw how good Elizabeth was to him. He returned to the ring to avenge Jake Roberts attacking her, and he went after Ric Flair with a fury to defend Elizabeth’s honor. In short, Miss Elizabeth’s presence elevated Savage from great to a guy who’s on just about everyone’s short list for greatest wrestling stars of all time.
But not everyone is as lucky as Savage. Some wrestlers just aren’t as good, or at least aren't as good at getting attention for themselves. Meanwhile, some managers have proven magnetic enough to draw so much attention to themselves that they actually don’t help the man they’re standing beside. This article looks at 15 instances when a wrestler was overshadowed by his valet.
15 The Barbarian - Missy Hyatt
The Barbarian got his start in front of a national audience teamed with The Warlord, traveling between territories as Road Warrior knockoffs, The Powers of Pain. When The Barbarian broke out on his own, he was quite arguably the better wrestler of the two. True to his beginnings, though, he was the sort of guy who looked like he could be a star, but didn’t have the 'it' factor or complete package of skills to rise to the next level.
In WCW, he got paired up with Missy Hyatt in a half-hearted attempt to help get him over. Hyatt was a wrestling sex symbol ahead of her time who would lay the foundation for women like Sunny and Sable to explode a few years later. In the case of The Barbarian however, we had a star who could not cut it as a bona fide star on his own, and standing beside Hyatt, quickly became an afterthought for a legion of male fans.
14 Skip - Sunny
Chris Candido brought his high school sweetheart, Tammy Sytch along with him as he began to work the indies. The two took their act national when they made it to WWE in the mid 1990s.
The pair was saddled with a silly fitness guru gimmick, renamed Skip and Sunny, the best outcome of which was to immediately put Sunny in spandex despite her non-wrestling role. As Skip’s mid-card act stalled out, WWE transitioned him into the tag ranks, paired with rebranded Tom Prichard as Zip to form add to The Bodydonnas crew. Sunny quickly outshone both men as WWE started to play up her sexuality in cheesecake photoshoots. Before long she started to overshadow the entire tag team division, bouncing from The Bodydonnas to The Godwinns to The Smoking Gunns as WWE began to insinuate the character was a bit of a gold digger, following the Tag Team Championships.
So, while Sunny became an icon for era, Skip quickly became an afterthought relegated to the lower card, before leaving WWE altogether.
13 Marc Mero - Sable
Marc Mero was a talented and charismatic enough wrestler, with a good physique and real-life boxing skills. When he transitioned from WCW to WWE, it looked like he was set up to be a big deal, with a big money contract and enough pull to get his wife, Sable, a job as his manager.
Little could Mero have known that, while he would stall out as a relatively forgettable mid-card act, it was Sable whose star would enjoy a meteoric rise. She picked up where Sunny left off, combining raw sex appeal with a compelling storyline of her overcoming Mero’s abuse to become an empowered fighter in her own right. While Sable would have her clashes with WWE management, for fans of that era, she remains the definitive wrestling sex symbol, while Mero was just another guy.
12 Essa Rios - Lita
Essa Rios got an auspicious start with WWE, as the company repeatedly touted the fact that the luchador signed when he was only 18 years old, and he got a brief reign with the Light Heavyweight Championship. He also got paired with a manager, Lita.
Lita looked fundamentally different from the blond-haired model types WWE tended to cast as valets in that era. From her tattoos to her dyed red hair, she looked edgy and alternative. More than that, she quickly started to demonstrate her own athleticism by building off of Rios’s move set. She executed hurricanranas and moonsaults of her own, the likes which women in mainstream U.S. wrestling simply had not done up to that point. Before long Lita was clearly significantly more popular than the man she accompanied to the ring.
WWE had Rios turn on Lita after a loss, only for The Hardy Boyz to save her and take her on as part of Team Extreme. The new branding did wonders for Lita and The Hardys, but pretty much spelled the end for Rios’s relevance on the WWE landscape.
11 The Heartbreakers - Christy Hemme
After an unremarkable year-long run with WWE, Antonio and Romeo, The Heartbreakers, appeared for TNA at the 2007 Destination X PPV to challenge fellow, but far more iconic WWE alums, the Voodoo Kin Mafia (Billy Gunn and The Road Dogg, better known as The New Age Outlaws).
The Heartbreakers were ostensibly mercenaries brought in by manager Christy Hemme who was locked in an ideological struggle with VKM, in which she claimed they were sexist, was pretty much right, and yet was cast as the villain. The Heartbreakers weren’t portrayed as very serious threats, but it’s all the more remarkable how quickly they were forgotten. Immediately after winning the match, Gunn and The Dogg got on the mic and immediately began humiliating Hemme. The Heartbreakers never appeared in TNA, or for any other national wrestling promotion from that point forward.
10 Test - Stacy Keibler
After years running through different storylines and gimmicks up and down the card, Test got new wrestling gear and a character reboot as a face, paired with Stacy Keibler. The story went that Keibler was his image consultant. Besides accompanying him to the ring, the beautiful, if somewhat ditzy Keibler suggested that Test start referring to his fan base as “The Testicles.”
Given time to blossom, maybe Test could have benefited from this pairing, but in the short-term, Keibler certainly got more attention from fans than Test did. WWE jumped the gun a bit, quickly jumping to Test playing an abusive boyfriend to Keibler, before Scott Steiner got in in the act, first to defend Keibler, then to join Test as a misogynist jerk. The fans didn’t seem particularly interested in Test or his new tag team, and Keibler remained the lone part of the grouping to draw a reaction from fans.
9 Santino Marella - Maria
Most of the guys on this countdown were overshadowed by happenstance and mistake—the company paired the wrestler with a manager who might have drawn more attention and intrigue to an act. In the case of Maria and Santino, the progression seemed more intentional, as Santino grew jealous when his kayfabe girlfriend decided to pose for Playboy. In the build to WrestleMania XXIV, Santino played the fool trying to talk Maria out of positing and obscure Maria’s body so fans couldn’t look at her.
The angle paid off in Maria, not Santino, having a WrestleMania match as she tagged up with Ashley Massaro against Beth Phoenix and Melina. The truest resolution of the story saw guest Snoop Dogg deck Santino when he got involved in the match. The long-term pay off was Santino’s pairing with Beth Phoenix which was largely more equal and mutually beneficial for the heel duo.
8 Brodus Clay - Naomi
When Brodus Clay got repackaged as the face Funkasaurus, he was accompanied by Naomi and Cameron, The Funkadactyls who were cheerleaders and backup dancers for the big man. In the early going, Clay was the clear focus of the act as he ascended to the upper mid-card. However, Clay stalled and went on a bit of a losing streak, before transitioning to the tag ranks, paired with Tensai. Around this time, The Funkadactyls—and particularly Naomi—started to show more personality and get better defined characters.
Clay eventually turned on his posse for a brief heel run in which he accomplished little of consequence. Naomi, meanwhile, became a high profile part of the women’s roster. Case in point, in 2017 Clay was nearly three years removed from his WWE release, while Naomi was winning the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
7 David Flair - Torrie Wilson
At the turn of the century, David Flair found himself in the strange spot of getting booked into a high profile spot in WCW almost exclusively because he was Ric Flair’s son. Fans were, understandably, underwhelmed with David’s lackluster wrestling skills. To make matters worse, WCW turned him heel via an elaborate nWo conspiracy, as the heel super group introduced young Torrie Wilson as the woman to seduce David, and get him to betray his father.
Wilson was an absolutely stunning beauty, and next to David, who the crowd was predisposed to be disappointed in, she shone all the more brightly. After two years, WCW more or less gave up on the younger Flair. He had a brief spell in WWE’s developmental system, which many have speculated was more of a courtesy to his father than an acknowledgment that he had potential. Wilson, meanwhile, remained active with WCW until the end and then enjoyed a seven-year tenure with WWE as a wrestler and valet. While she was never a polished in-ring performer, she nonetheless far exceeded the wrestling legacy of the man she was originally hired to work with.
6 Mike Knox - Kelly Kelly
Mike Knox got his start in WWE as part of the ECW brand. His character centered around Kelly Kelly, his kayfabe girlfriend and he was compulsively paranoid about other wrestlers stealing her away. To be fair, Kelly didn’t exactly assuage his concerns, flirting with other guys (most prominently CM Punk) and performing strip teases for the crowd. Throughout their story, it was clear the crowd was far more interested than Kelly than the man she accompanied to the ring.
Knox and Kelly’s characters would eventually split off, and Knox went on to a wandering tenure in which he was scarcely a part of any meaningful storylines. Kelly Kelly, meanwhile, transitioned from the valet role to being an active wrestler. She may not have been a great wrestler, but she did evolve into a competent talent and quite arguably the face of the division for a period of time.
5 The Basham Brothers - Shaniqua
The Basham Brothers were reasonably successful tag team in WWE. They won the tag titles twice, and eventually they were a part of world champion JBL’s Cabinet stable. But when fans think back to them, the part of their identity that tends to stand out most of all is their manager Shaniqua.
The trio wore leather in the ring, and with her whip in hand, the implications were clear that this tag team was into some interesting sexual practices. The edge and intrigue of the costuming and props gave The Bashams an identity, and the sexually charged nature of their look focused the attention, first and foremost, on Shaniqua. Unfortunately, when she got released less than a year into their working arrangement, the Bashams lost a lot of their momentum and arguably never really got it back.
4 Chris Jericho - Stephanie McMahon
Chris Jericho is a multi-time world champion who has been a fixture on the national wrestling scene for two decades now. He’s a star big enough that it’s hard to imagine him being overshadowed by a manager. And yet, ironically, during his very first world title reign and arguably his first real shot at the main event, that’s exactly what happened.
Going into WrestleMania X8, Chris Jericho held the Undisputed World Championship, created when he defeated The Rock and Steve Austin in the same night to capture both the WWE and WCW titles. He carried the strap all the way into WrestleMania to defend it against Triple H, recently returned from a quad tear and recently repackaged as one of the company’s top faces.
On paper, this all seemed fine. Moreover, it made storyline sense when Helmsley disavowed himself of his heel wife Stephanie McMahon, whom the company probably never could have gotten over as a face at that point. It made sense, too, to pair McMahon with Jericho to shore up his top heel act, and seemingly stack the deck against Triple H.
The trouble is, Jericho wasn’t yet an established enough main eventer to hold his own in this program. It very quickly became much more of a story of Triple H vs. Stephanie McMahon, with the reigning world champion almost an afterthought. Accordingly, Triple H defeated Jericho in what was just a so-so WrestleMania main event, for which the most memorable piece was Hunter hitting a Pedigree on his wife. After losing that one and his rematch, Jericho wouldn’t really be taken seriously as a main eventer or world title contender for years, and it would be over six years before he was actually a world champion again.
3 John Morrison - Melina
The MNM tag team of John Morrison (then Johnny Nitro) and Joey Mercury debuted with a lot of sizzle. While talented newcomers generated some buzz for themselves, far more of the attention fell on their valet, Melina. Melina had a different look from any of the other women in WWE at the time, and accentuated it with a nightly display of her flexibility, jumping into a split before seductively ducking under the bottom rope to enter the ring.
Morrison would go on to a singles run, still paired with Melina, and still more often than not overshadowed by her looks, not to mention the budding skills as a performer that she demonstrated. There’s a pretty fair argument to be made that Morrison didn’t really get any traction on his own until he split off from her. First, he had a decent run in WWE’s ECW, then he succeeded as a face who broached the main event scene at the peak of his run.
2 T&A - Trish Stratus
The team of Test and Albert seemed to have all of the tools to succeed, pairing a couple of burly, hungry young talents, each with surprising athleticism. Add on Trish Stratus and a provocative team name, and they looked set up for success.
While Stratus was still very, very green at that point—not really equipped to deliver a promo, much less get physically involved in the ring—she nonetheless became the focal point of the act, and particularly so when The Dudley Boyz began targeting her to put through a table. Soon, The Dudleyz battling T&A was an afterthought with all of the program’s intrigue focused squarely on whether the Bubba Ray and Devon would get their hands on Stratus.
Not so surprisingly, Stratus would go on to become one of the definitive icons for women’s wrestling in WWE, while Test and Albert would go their separate ways and wander the mid-card for years to come.
1 Jeff Jarrett - Debra
While Jeff Jarrett would become a main event player in WCW and TNA, there will always be questions and asterisks next to his name as a top player and world champion. He never rose to the top of the card in WWE, seemed to work his contract negotiations and the political structure effectively in WCW, and was a co-founder of TNA.
In WWE, Jeff Jarrett was a perpetual mid-card act. In his second run, he had Debra as his manager most of the time, which may have seemed like a good thing for adding flair to his character. But besides being a beautiful women, she quickly became more prominent than Jarrett in the minds of fans for her tendency to start taking off clothes to distract Jarrett’s opponents.
In addition to the strip teases, Debra became an object of sympathy as Jarrett’s character grew more misogynistic feuding with Chyna. Ultimately, Debra smashed a guitar over his head to send Jarrett packing from WWE in a symbolic moment. Debra would go on to have a starring role in the rivalry between The Rock and Steve Austin, while Jarrett would never appear in WWE again.