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Top 25 WWE managers
Who says you can't change history from ringside? In tribute to the aggressive advisors and vicious valets who forever altered the mat game, WWE.com basks in the guiding light of the 25 greatest managers in WWE history.
What makes a great manager? WWE.com posed that very question to Matt Striker — expert on all things WWE and an accomplished advisor in his own right — and he said: “A great manager is someone that can incite the emotions of the WWE Universe.”
As usual, he was right. When the final bell rings, it’s not about championships or main events — although those things matter — it’s about making the fans react. And that’s what the 25 men and women on this list did better than anybody else.
He was snide, condescending and — thanks to his ridiculous cap and gown and daft poems — oftentimes clownish, but the man who had the nerve to dub himself The Genius took his role as an “executive consultant” to both Mr. Perfect and The Beverly Brothers very seriously. So much so that when The Perfect One found himself at odds with Hulk Hogan in 1989, The Genius masterminded a plan to steal The Hulkster’s WWE Championship and then convinced Mr. Perfect to smash it with a hammer. Cunning one moment, destructive the next, it was a bit of psychological warfare that exemplified the qualities that made The Genius great.
A good valet shouldn’t overshadow their Superstar — that’s a problem bombshells like Sable and Stacy Keibler too often had. Instead, they should complement their charge, bringing out the best in them without stealing the show. This is what Marlena did so well. Sultry, seductive and practically poured into her skintight golden gowns, the provocative valet was every bit as glamorous as the movie stars that obsessed her man, Goldust. But she was just as willing to push the envelope as The Bizarre One — chomping on a cigar while indulging ever inclination Goldust had. They were a controversial pairing, but they were also a sign of things to come. “Marlena coming into play really ushered in a different time in our industry,” Matt Striker said.
As charismatic as anyone who ever stepped through the ropes, Michael Hayes revolutionized tag team competition alongside Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts in the 1980s before moonwalking his way into the role of the The Hardy Boyz’ manager in the late 1990s. Talented, but naïve at the time, the brothers matured by leaps and bounds under the guidance of The Fabulous Freebird. To this day, both Matt and Jeff accredit a good deal of their substantial successes — in tandem and individual — to the innovative mind of their mentor, "P.S." Hayes, who equipped them in their journey from "boyz" to men.
His name was Armando Alejandro Estrada and from the moment the outspoken, ultra-confident manager emerged before the WWE Universe, he commanded the spotlight for his animalistic Superstar Umaga. Under the Cuban’s enthusiastic guidance, The Samoan Bulldozer left an incredible path of destruction in his wake. Estrada’s unique sense of style, penetrating smile and topnotch ability to wheel and deal helped bring his wild man the Intercontinental Championship twice in 2007 and steered him into high-profile matches with elite names like DX, Kane and John Cena.
His time in WWE was brief — barely a year — but even today the WWE Universe still remembers Sir Oliver Humpderink. A rotund redhead in Technicolor clothing who raged in the corners of heavyweights like Bam Bam Bigelow and Paul Orndorff, the man affectionately referred to as “Hump” had a natural charisma that allowed him to stand out in a crowd full of peacocks. “Oliver Humperdink was very colorful, very unique,” Matt Striker said. “He had this look about him where walking down the street you’d elbow your buddy and say, ‘That’s somebody!’ And that’s what it takes to be a star.”
His clients weren’t the greatest — mostly oversized lumps like Adam Bomb and Big Bully Busick who had more brawn than ability. And his personal decisions weren’t always the wisest (anyone remember his relationship with the 250-pound Bertha Faye?). But Harvey Wippleman had a knack for making the best out of a bad situation. Saddled with a lumbering eight-footer like Giant Gonzalez, Wippleman turned the behemoth into a monster and sent him after The Undertaker, nearly stopping The Deadman’s Streak at WrestleMania IX before it ever started. He never did back a major champion, but you had to wonder — what could Wippleman have accomplished with a serious competitor?
The Million Dollar Man
Time is one thing money can’t buy, so when The Million Dollar Man felt his stellar ring career coming to an end in the mid-90s, he turned his brilliant mind to the managerial game. Using his endless wealth to lure Superstars like Sycho Sid and Tatanka into a fold he dubbed The Million Dollar Corporation, the WWE Hall of Famer ran things like a shrewd executive, buying and selling men to suit his bottom line. He made some dangerous enemies along the way, including The Undertaker and Lex Luger, and upset more than a few of his charges, but for The Million Dollar Man it was never personal — just business.
He didn’t have the natural size or athleticism that would have allowed him to be a major Superstar, but these disadvantages forced Teddy Long to be great in other ways. As a kid, he broke into sports-entertainment by running errands for competitors, working with the ring crew and, later, refereeing the matches. By the time he became a manager — first with WCW’s Doom and later with his Thuggin’ and Buggin’ Enterprises in WWE — Long had so much behind-the-scenes experience that he could have taught a master class in sports-entertainment. It’s a knowledge base that made him a great General Manager and a cunning corner man. “Teddy knew the rule book in and out,” Striker said. “He knew the difference between cheating and bending the rules.”
Watching the transformation of Stephanie McMahon from an innocent daddy’s girl to a vindictive billionaire princess was a captivating experience for the WWE Universe. Immature at first, Stephanie was naïve enough to get kidnapped by The Undertaker and fall madly in love with a Superstar named Test. But when she entered into a relationship with Triple H in 1999, she became a totally different person — a guiltless witch who once slapped her own mother across the face. As a manager, Stephanie was always more of a puppet master than an advisor, using Superstars like Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle to carry out her own twisted revenge plots, but her onscreen evolution speaks for itself.
“Slick was, in my mind, a pioneer,” Matt Striker said of WWE’s first major African-American manager. A streetwise con artist, The Doctor of Style immediately made an impact upon his debut in 1986 when he purchased half of Freddie Blassie’s stable of Superstars. The “Jive Soul Bro’s” reputation grew from there as he led Big Boss Man into battle against Hulk Hogan, harnessed the impressive power of The Warlord and, most importantly to Striker, turned One Man Gang into Akeem the African Dream. “Once that bell sounded, Akeem was someone that you sat up and took notice of and that is because of what Slick did,” Striker said.
For whatever reason, “manager” has become a dirty word in WWE over the past decade, but that hasn’t stopped Vickie Guerrero from making her mark in this position. Dubbed an associate, advisor and consultant at different times, The Cougar has backed Superstars like Edge and Dolph Ziggler to championship success through her devious politics and shrewd maneuvering. She’s also made life hell for the people that have crossed her. “She is very smart,” Matt Striker said, “and she is extremely powerful.” It’s this megalomaniacal mix that has made Vickie Guerrero, at times, one of the most dangerous figures in WWE.
As the brains behind the fearsome brawn of The Road Warriors, Paul Ellering took two tough guys from the Southside of Chicago and molded them into international superstars. Sound easy enough? Consider the countless number of big lugs who have amounted to nothing in sports-entertainment. “He’s a very bright man,” Striker said. “He realized he had these two juggernauts that the world needed to see.” Shrewdly negotiating with promoters across the U.S. and Japan, Ellering turned Hawk and Animal into an attraction along the same lines of Andre the Giant. Fans didn’t see The Road Warriors all the time, but when they did they knew there would be a spectacle. Ellering only spent a brief amount of time with his team in WWE, but “Precious” made enough of an impact to warrant a WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2011.
She didn’t have the gift of gab. She hardly ever got physical. And although she rarely looked empowered herself — few valets were as consistently helpless — Miss Elizabeth had the ability to inspire power in others. With the classic beauty in their corner, Superstars like Liz’s former husband, the late “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and Hulk Hogan rose to new heights, pushing themselves to excel like high school jocks showing off for the prettiest cheerleader. Delicate, soft-spoken and loyal, Miss Elizabeth probably wasn’t cut out for the brutal world of sports-entertainment, but that didn’t stop her from becoming one of its legends.
“Sunny was able to provide a whole new meaning to the word distraction,” Matt Striker said of the beautiful blonde who first appeared in WWE in 1995. He was right about that, but there was much more to Sunny than that Slammy Award she won for “Best Buns.” A pre-med student before becoming a manager, the New Jersey-native had serious smarts, which served her well when she backed three consecutive World Tag Team Champions in 1996 — The Bodydonnas, The Godwinns and The Smokin’ Gunns. Shrewd and more than a little conniving, the original Diva’s favorite phrase was, “Sunny gets what Sunny wants.” It would be hard not to find her egotistical, but that’s what separates WWE Hall of Famers from the rest of the crowd.
Under that charming bowler hat stood a very devious individual. Creeping in the corner of destroyers like The Berzerker and Don Muraco and dominant tag teams like Demolition and The Powers of Pain in the 1980s, Mr. Fuji used his cane to hook more legs than he ever did in seeking a pinfall during his days as a competitor. Among the most cunning corner men in history, the WWE Hall of Famer masterfully distracted officials while throwing handfuls of salt into the eyes of opponents like the chef in "Burger Time" — a tactic that snared multiple WWE Championships for Fuji's largest and greatest associate, Yokozuna.
He was so hated in the South that fans actually cheered when he fell from a 20-foot scaffold and shattered both of his knees at Starrcade in 1986. But if the audience loathed Jim Cornette, then they were giving him exactly what he wanted. A spoiled momma’s boy who hid behind powerhouses like The British Bulldog and Yokozuna in WWE, the Kentucky-native was most closely associated with The Midnight Express — an aggressive team with a rotating cast of members that he led to success all across the country with his sharp mind and infamous tennis racket. “The Midnight Express is arguably the greatest tag team of all time,” Striker said, “and it’s all a testament to Jim Cornette.”
As a manager, Arnold Skaaland was far less outspoken than the likes of a Bobby Heenan or Lou Albano, who endlessly hogged up the mic to brag about themselves and their latest Superstar acquisitions. Instead, the soft-spoken Skaaland let his astonishing track record do all his talking. A ring warrior of the late 1940s who excelled in taking down opponents twice his size, Skaaland managed Andre the Giant in his formidable prime, then moved on to supervise WWE icons Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund, whose combined WWE Championship reigns totaled more than 17 years. Honored as Manager of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated in 1978 and 1979, the WWE Hall of Famer will forever be revered by the WWE Universe as the aptly-named “Golden Boy.”
A licensed mortician who looked like he spent too much time in the basement of his funeral parlor, the ghoulish Paul Bearer was a key figure in the legendary Undertaker’s rise to power in the 1990s. As keeper of The Phenom’s mysterious and supernatural urn, Bearer not only led The Deadman to his first WWE Championship victory at Survivor Series in 1991, but also helped kick off The Undertaker’s iconic Streak at WrestleMania VII. In addition to lending his managerial services to the likes of Mankind, Vader and The Executioner, The Father of Destruction more notably introduced the WWE Universe to his son Kane — one of the most feared competitors in WWE history.
The Grand Wizard
A perennial thorn in the side of former WWE Champion Bob Backlund, The Grand Wizard of Wrestling captured the attention of WWE fans in the 1970s with his outlandish outfits, but the WWE Hall of Famer held their interest with his uncanny ability to verbally incite their emotions — a talent he’d cultivated during his stint as a radio DJ before entering the squared circle. “He came through your television and captivated you with the inflections in his voice,” Striker said of the man who managed the likes of “Superstar” Billy Graham and Sgt. Slaughter. “His hat and his glasses and his jacket — all of that was there, but his substance far outweighed his style.”
A vicious Women’s Champion before becoming a manager, Sensational Sherri brought every dirty trick she learned on the mat to the ringside when she took on the careers of “Macho Man” Randy Savage and The Million Dollar Man in the early ’90s. But it was the volatile valet’s relationship with a young Shawn Michaels that placed her so high on this list. “Go back and look at when Shawn really started to develop — Sherri was right there,” Striker said. “It was Sherri whispering in Shawn’s ear, ‘you’re the best,' that blew his head up and the WWE Universe can only be thankful that she did.”
Captain Lou Albano
The frantic diatribes, frenzied floor pacing and face-fastened rubber bands often left us wondering if Captain Lou Albano had drifted a little too far out to sea. WWE seafarers worth their salt, though, acknowledge the managerial greatness of this once-ruthless ring competitor. It was Albano who built a “Russian Bear” like Ivan Koloff to end Bruno Sammartino’s seven-year reign as WWE Champion, and helmed iconic Intercontinental Champions like Pat Patterson, Don Muraco and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. Pop culture enthusiasts remember Albano’s confrontations with Cyndi Lauper during the 1980’s “rock-n-wrestling” explosion, though the WWE Universe salutes a “Captain Lou” who skippered 15 — yes, fifteen — different tandems to WWE’s World Tag Team Titles, including The Wild Samoans, The Valiant Brothers, The Blackjacks and The British Bulldogs. Truly, this 1996 WWE Hall of Famer was “often imitated, never duplicated.”
How influential was the self-described “Hollywood Fashion Plate?” Matt Striker summed it up like this: “There wouldn’t be managers without “Classy” Freddie Blassie.” As a competitor in the 1950s and ’60s, Blassie was so brutal that he filed his teeth until they were razor sharp so he could gnaw on his opponents. As a manager, he took a more cerebral — but no less devious — approach, crookedly leading loathed foreign villains like Professor Tanaka, Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik to major championship success. Dismissing fans as “pencil-neck geeks” and bashing rivals with his trademark cane, Blassie set the standard for what a villainous manager should be — cunning, ruthless and, above all else, successful.
Dubbed The Mouth of the South for good reason, the diminutive Jimmy Hart was a rock star with a hit record before he broke into sports-entertainment, so it’s no surprise that he demanded to be heard. Ingeniously grabbing a megaphone in order to stick out in an arena full of screaming fans, the erratic, animated manager threw his body around ringside while he backed an amazing crop of talent that included The Fabulous Rougeaus, The Hart Foundation and The Honky Tonk Man. In later years, he went straight and linked up with Hulk Hogan, but The Colonel was at his best in the corner of a nasty villain, doing whatever it took to get his Superstar the victory.
The mad scientist who revolutionized wrestling with ECW in the 1990s, Paul Heyman broke into sports-entertainment a decade earlier as a photographer in the 1980s. Perched at ringside with a camera in his hand, the teenage New Yorker spent countless nights studying the managerial craft of WWE Hall of Famers like Captain Lou Albano and Freddie Blassie and applied everything he learned and more when he became one himself.
Obnoxious, devious and always effective, the man once known as Paul E. Dangerously experienced early success with The Original Midnight Express in the AWA and then his star-studded Dangerous Alliance in WCW. Yet, it would be his pivotal role in the careers of Brock Lesnar and CM Punk that cemented him as one of WWE’s greatest minds. Shepherding the latter half of CM Punk’s 434-day WWE Title reign, Heyman became the man to manage more WWE Champions than any other. Simultaneously, he rekindled his professional relationship with Brock Lesnar and became the first man to manage Superstars in two main event matches at WrestleMania 29. Most recently, Heyman conscripted Curtis Axel — son of “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig — into his services, giving him a new chess piece in the power game of WWE.
Bobby "The Brain" Heenan
Who else? The greatest manager in WWE history, Bobby Heenan’s list of charges reads like its own mini Hall of Fame — Ric Flair, Rick Rude, Nick Bockwinkel. His insults, delivered at a rapid-fire pace, were so razor-sharp that fans actually look back on them fondly. Who wouldn’t want to be called a “humanoid” by The Brain? His accomplishments are vast, but his greatest may have been his role in the showdown between Hogan and Andre at WrestleMania III. The Hulkster and The Giant had the size, but it was The Brain who talked more than 93,000 fans into buying a ticket. “I’d be willing to sit down over a glass of milk and argue with you if you can tell me that there’s somebody out there that should be ranked No. 1 ahead of Bobby Heenan,” Matt Striker said. Anyone reaching for a carton?
Bearing in mind that this list was strictly for managers who spent time in WWE (explaining the notable omissions of greats like Gary Hart and J.J. Dillon), did we manage to mess up this Top 25? Or can we now bask in the guiding light of your adoration? Let us hear your reactions on Facebook and Twitter.