The 10 best manager-client combinations in sports-entertainment history
For some Superstars, being at a loss for words isn’t an issue, especially when they have someone to do the talking for them. Managers have long played a prominent role as the guiding lights for many top competitors. Bruno Sammartino, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and even Hulk Hogan employed managers at one point or another.
But there are some ring legends that are so closely identified with their advocates it’s nearly impossible to picture them on their own. Imagine Brock Lesnar without Paul Heyman as his mouthpiece, or the early days of The Undertaker without Paul Bearer and his urn.
WWE.com set out to rank the 10 best manager-client combinations to ever rule the sports-entertainment ring (or, at least, the microphone). The only criteria? The pairing must have been a career-defining one, with the competitor being the manager’s obvious marquee client. Unfortunately, this left out several legendary managers who were never clearly identified with one individual grappler.
Who didn’t make the list? Who’s No. 1? Take a seat at ringside and find out.
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The Grand Wizard & "Superstar" Billy Graham
With his revolutionary bodybuilding physique and rock 'n' roll ring gear, “Superstar” Billy Graham may have become WWE Champion on his own. But when paired with the diabolical genius of The Grand Wizard, “The Man of the Hour” was almost immediately thrust into the main event scene against the incredibly popular WWE Champion Bruno Sammartino. The combination of the tie-dyed “Superstar’s” pompous poetry and The Wizard’s Technicolor turbans and textbook trash talk clearly got to Sammartino as the pair toppled The Italian Superman on April 30, 1977, to make Graham the WWE Champion. With The Grand Wizard’s cunning leadership, “Superstar” held onto the title for 296 days, marking one of the longest WWE Championship reigns for a villain in history. — @JOEYSTYLES
Joel Gertner & The Dudley Boyz
“I started in ECW as a ring announcer and timekeeper, and became a personal ring announcer for different people like Shane Douglas, The FBI, and eventually the team of Axl Rotten & D-Von Dudley. This was before D-Von was with the rest of the Dudleys. He was a villain and the rest of the Dudleys were good guys. When the Dudleys all came together as villains, that was my in to move over to be part of the Dudley clan. It was like kismet.
“I’d like to think it was a case of two great things coming together like chocolate and peanut butter. They could accentuate my type of heat best, and vice-versa. Here I was, talking about being a lover and not a fighter, but hanging around these tough, vicious and violent guys. And I wasn’t like that. I was never scared, because when you’re standing beside Bubba Ray and D-Von, you don’t get scared. The Quintessential Studmuffin would never have worked if I ever got scared. It was understood I could say whatever I wanted.
“We had no entrance music. It was just silence and then the heat. Here we came to try and start a riot. With a lot of what we did, it was riling up fans with verbal psychology and renting space inside the heads of the fans who were giving it right back to us. That was better than any song you could pick out of any catalog.” — JOEL GERTNER, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
“Classy” Freddie Blassie & The Iron Sheik
“Classy” Fred Blassie always had a penchant for wrestling opulence. Fine threads, gaudy diamonds and a large wad of hundred dollar bills were the calling card for the “Hollywood Fashion Plate.” And when The Iron Sheik was looking for someone to guide his fortunes, he looked no further than to Blassie to capitalize on his knowledge and reputation. The end result: Instant karma!
Blassie finally had what he felt was his meal ticket to further success and fortune, while the Iranian dynamo had someone who could press all the right buttons while handling his affairs. Blassie even appointed himself “Ayatollah Blassie,” to add more fuel to the duo’s fire. Of course, it paid off handsomely on Dec. 26, 1983, when The Iron Shiek won the WWE Championship from Bob Backlund, giving Blassie his first World Champion. The Sheik-Blassie alliance worked perfectly, both in and out of the ring! — HOWARD FINKEL
Paul Ellering & The Road Warriors
It might seem strange that the saber that sent The Road Warriors into battle was a rolled-up copy of the Wall Street Journal and not a flamethrower or a dismembered arm. But manager “Precious” Paul Ellering’s newspaper of choice sent a vital message to any team that was about to get stomped by Hawk & Animal — not only was this post-apocalyptic army more powerful than you, but it was more intelligent, too.
Ellering had been a powerlifter-turned-pro-wrestler whose career was cut short by a series of knee injuries, but his greatest asset was his ability to see bigger things for his twin terrors. On their own, Hawk & Animal would’ve spent their prime years kicking the crap out of Minnesota barflies in the parking lot of some Saint Paul dive. Under Ellering’s guidance, they got paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to crack heads in the Tokyo Dome. It was the Superstar-manager relationship at its most base — brains backing brawn — and, perhaps, it’s most successful. When The Road Warriors were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011, Ellering went in, too, his Wall Street Journal leading the way. — RYAN MURPHY
Jim Cornette & The Midnight Express
The name “Midnight Express” can be tied to Superstars as varied as Randy Rose and Bart Gunn, but no personality is more synonymous with the legendary team than manager Jim Cornette. And while Corny’s first go with a Midnight Express unit was the pairing of “Lover Boy” Dennis Condrey & “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton, it was the package of Cornette, Eaton & “Sweet” Stan Lane that gelled best.
“Beautiful” Bobby & “Sweet” Stan’s run-and-gun style and air-tight, tandem offense demanded an air traffic controller — in this case, a tennis racket-wielding one, whose mile-a-minute speech kept pace with the action. The Louisville Lip, being the consummate hype man, liked to make the ring introductions for The Midnights himself, inserting verbose and boastful pre-match spiels that showcased the trio’s unity. From matching his polyester sport coats with their flowing ring robes to using his racket to fight off fans irritated by Eaton & Lane’s undeniable success, Jim Cornette complemented The Midnight Express in every way. — JOHN CLAPP
JJ Dillon & The Four Horsemen
The Four Horsemen were, quite simply, the finest quartet of professional wrestlers ever assembled. They could wrestle with the best technical grapplers, brawl with the toughest and outtalk the most charismatic. It left many fans wondering why Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and company needed manager JJ Dillon at all.
But for all their exploits in the squared circle, The Horsemen were just as notorious for their all-night parties after the bell. JJ Dillon had the unenviable task of handling all Horsemen business affairs, guaranteeing they got from city to city in one piece and ensuring the coffee was hot and fresh in the morning after a long night.
And anytime it looked like Dusty Rhodes finally had the upper hand on Ric Flair, or whenever Magnum TA was close to taking Tully Blanchard’s U.S. Championship, Dillon was there to interfere and keep The Horsemen on top. Because beneath the businessman exterior, Dillon was just as conniving and evil as his charges — and that’s what made him a perfect fit as the brains behind The Four Horsemen. — BOBBY MELOK
Miss Elizabeth & “Macho Man” Randy Savage
A beauty in a world of beasts, Miss Elizabeth was the elegant, even-keeled and mostly silent counterpart to the brash and outspoken “Macho Man” Randy Savage, guiding the flamboyant Superstar to Intercontinental and WWE Championship glory in the 1980s. Elizabeth’s unparalleled poise in even the most chaotic of situations earned her the moniker of “The First Lady of Wrestling” as she displayed admirable inner strength even when Savage was at his most devious in the ring.
The relationship between Miss Elizabeth and The Macho Man wasn’t always picture-perfect — it was Savage’s jealousy of her friendship with Hulk Hogan that led to the demise of The Mega Powers tag team — but the pair’s romance blossomed at SummerSlam 1991, when Savage and Elizabeth tied the knot in one of sports-entertainment’s most heartwarming moments. As Savage’s manager-turned-devoted wife, Elizabeth led The Macho Man to his second WWE Title victory over Ric Flair at WrestleMania VIII. — JAMES WORTMAN
Bobby “The Brain” Heenan & Andre the Giant
There may not be a more renowned duo on this list than Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Andre the Giant. Together, the greatest manager in sports-entertainment history and the most dominating WWE Superstar ever packed 93,173 WWE fans into the Pontiac Silverdome to witness their plot to bring down Hulkamania. Why was the match so lucrative? Because the WWE Universe believed that Heenan and his Giant could stop Hulk Hogan. They were the perfect mix of smarts and strength, and the sports-entertainment world never saw anything like them again. Until the next duo on this list came along… — SCOTT TAYLOR
Paul Heyman & Brock Lesnar
Close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine Brock Lesnar without Paul Heyman.
Can’t do it, can you? If you can, you’re probably remembering Brock when he wasn’t at his absolute best. That’s how inseparable a pair The Beast Incarnate and The One behind the One Behind 21-1 have become. Lesnar even brought Heyman back to WWE shortly after his own return by demanding that the reviled sports-entertainment pariah serve as his “advocate.”
They complement one another perfectly; Lesnar the steak, Heyman the sizzle. Heyman hypes up Lesnar with an intelligence and bravado that no manager can match, and Lesnar backs it up tenfold in the ring with his one-of-a-kind ruthlessness.
Together they crowned Brock the youngest WWE Champion in history — the first of four reigns — conquered The Streak and now rule with Brock as WWE World Heavyweight Champion. That’s a resume no other pair can boast. — MIKE MURPHY
Paul Bearer & The Undertaker
Ohhh, yeeeessss!!!! The Undertaker always was — still is, in fact — a man of few words, but The Deadman didn’t have to say much during the on-and-off years he had the late, great Paul Bearer by his side. With his fish belly pallor, Bearer preached fire and brimstone in a widow’s wail and shepherded The Undertaker through all of his dastardly deeds with the aid of a mystical urn that fueled his disciple’s powers. Practically as terrifying as The Demon of Death Valley himself, Bearer didn’t just creep by the icon’s side, he became nightmare fuel for an entire generation of WWE fans..
Few Raw moments have been as poignant as The Undertaker and Kane’s silent eulogy for The Father of Destruction following his untimely passing, and few individuals in the annals of sports-entertainment have been as deserving of the tribute. With The Deadman supplying the muscle and Bearer backing him up, this was truly a match made in heaven. Or, maybe the other place. — ANTHONY BENIGNO