To fans who say the tradition of great pro wrestling managers is dead, I offer two words: Paul Heyman.
The '70s and '80s brimmed with unforgettable characters guiding and often cheating for the wrestlers inside the ring. Heyman carries on that tradition today, leading Brock Lesnar and Curtis Axel into battle.
Weasels, wizards, captains and playboys have long enhanced the theater of wrestling. The greatest managers of all time is a list of Hall of Fame entrants who were integral parts of WWE, WCW, World Class Championship Wrestling, American Wrestling Association and the territories.
The 15 best are ranked here based on the number of champions and high-profile stars they managed, how much they elevated their clientele, and how much these men and women were compelling characters of their own.
Sinister Minister and Larry Sweeney, for example, excelled at the character portion of the criteria, but their client list is not as impressive as the managers ranked above them.
Notable Names Managed: Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Lex Luger, Ric Flair, Sting, Dusty Rhodes
The first lady of wrestling was at ringside for a number of huge names. Not only did she provide depth for guys like Randy Savage and Lex Luger, but she was a pioneer as a woman in a male-dominated world.
Savage would have been a megastar without Elizabeth, but having her in his corner elevated the connection he had with the fans. She added a human element to his character, an additional reason to root for him and the emotional heart of his feuds with Hulk Hogan and Jake Roberts.
Grace, class and beauty followed Miss Elizabeth and benefited whoever she managed.
Notable Names Managed: Demolition, Powers of Pain, Yokozuna, Owen Hart, Orient Express
Mr. Fuji was an unforgettable character. He played a cutthroat Japanese manager willing to break rules and blind opponents en route to championship glory.
Yokozuna’s character was far more interesting with the conniving Mr. Fuji at his side. Fuji was not only the mouthpiece for this two-time WWE champ, but responsible for shining the spotlight on teams like Powers of Pain.
He did what a heel manager is supposed to do—generate heat on his clients that they couldn’t generate on their own.
Notable Names Managed: Missing Link, Abdullah the Butcher, Greg Valentine, Dick Murdoch
The leader of Devastation Inc. was a hated man from the Middle East, the kind of devious and brilliant villain one would expect from a comic book.
Managing a slew of stars in WCCW and Universal Wrestling Federation (Mid-South Wrestling), Skandor Akbar led a stable Marshall Ward of Slam! Sports called "one of the most colourful, bizarre, and unpredictable of all wrestling factions."
Had Akbar managed in one of the national promotions, it'd be hard not to rank him among the very top of the all-time best managers. His cigar-smoking character stirred up fans like few others.
Notable Names Managed: Shawn Michaels, Harlem Heat, Jake Roberts, Ted DiBiase, Randy Savage
An excellent wrestler herself, Sherri Martel spent the second phase of her career standing behind champions and big names.
Wrestling Observer awarded her its Manager of the Year Award in 1991, temporarily ending Jim Jim Cornette's dominant run on that prize.
She earned it by being far more than a pretty face at ringside. Her viciousness, overflowing passion and unique fashion sense made her a memorable part of the matches she managed. She used those traits to help push Shawn Michaels into his singles stardom and Harlem Heat to tag team dominance.
Notable Names Managed: Hulk Hogan, Nikolai Volkoff, Jesse Ventura, Iron Sheik, George Steele
One has to include "Classy" Freddie Blassie in any list of great managers. During the golden age of managers, Blassie was among the most visible and memorable characters.
His jacket sparkling, his mouth running, Blassie led wrestling megastars like Hulk Hogan and The Iron Sheik to success. He brought a blend of class and flash to the business and had as much star power as many of his proteges.
Whether he was backing Muhammad Ali in his bout against Gorilla Monsoon or calling someone a "pencil-necked geek," Blassie made a lasting impression on the industry.
Notable Names Managed: Undertaker, Kane, Mankind, Blackjack Mulligan, Vader
The winner of the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Manager of the Year Award in 1998 had two successful personas.
As Percy Pringle III, he was a flashy, loud-mouthed manager who had the vocal skills of a used-car salesman. He followed that with the creepy, pale mortician named Paul Bearer. Creating and nailing two characters gets him extra points.
Bearer was in a way the foundation for Undertaker and Kane. He was a part of their back story, was their mouthpiece and took both of their characters to another level. His shrieking voice was a vital and haunting element of those men's gimmicks.
Notable Names Managed: Great Kabuki, Great Muta, Terry Funk, Bruiser Brody, Roddy Piper
No distinct outfit or prop to swing around, Gary Hart became one of the unforgettable of pro wrestling's character.
His client list is a lengthy one, filled with a variety of stars. Hart's versatility as a manager allowed him to lead a mysterious Asian character, an ornery vet or an immense madman like Bruiser Brody.
His promos are among the best ever by manager or wrestler. Few guys were as convincing with a microphone and as smooth and powerful in front of an audience.
Notable Names Managed: Bob Backlund, Bruno Sammartino, Tony Parisi
Arnold Skaaland doesn't have a client list the length of many of the men on this list, but his two most famous clients were on top of the WWE for an impressive number of years.
Both Bob Backlund and Bruno Sammartino held the WWE Championship for lengthy reigns under Skaaland's guidance. He was not the colorful character as folks like Freddie Blassie and the Grand Wizard, but a more down-to-Earth, realistic manager.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated gave him its Manager of the Year Award in both 1978 and 1979.
Notable Names Managed: Four Horsemen, Ox Baker, Brute Bernard, Butch Reed
Ric Flair was the brightest star in the Four Horsemen, but J.J. Dillon was the group's guiding force.
That Hall of Fame foursome is his most famous group of clients, but Dillon also led a number of stars like Black Bart and Big John Studd.
He played a well-dressed, arrogant weasel. It was a part he played to perfection, leading to him earning the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Manager of the Year Award in 1982 and 1983.
Notable Names Managed: Billy Graham, Hulk Hogan, Hart Foundation, Adrian Adonis, Andy Kaufman
Jimmy Hart was the kind of colorful and boisterous character that you either laughed at or wanted to punch in the face. The speedy-talking manager barked instructions to his clients through a megaphone.
He was more than just a prop-wielding caricature, though. Hart was a mesmerizing sidekick to some of wrestling's biggest names.
While managing world champs like Hulk Hogan, despised villains like Adrian Adonis and tremendously successful teams like the Hart Foundation, The Mouth of the South went on to win the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Manager of the Year Award in 1987 and 1994 as well as the Wrestling Observer version of that honor in 1983.
His longevity saw his career go from the '70s to the '00s, and his staying power helped him succeed in Memphis, WWE, WCW and TNA.
Notable Names Managed: Brock Lesnar, CM Punk, Steve Austin, Rob Van Dam
Like Jimmy Hart, Paul Heyman's career stretches many decades. Known early on as Paul E. Dangerously, Heyman played a sneaky, smooth-talking swindler when he managed men like Austin Idol in Memphis.
His managing career saw him stand in the corner of legends like Steve Austin and Rick Rude in WCW and Rob Van Dam in ECW.
Although he won the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Manager of the Year Award in 1992, Heyman is at a disadvantage with his peers on this list because those awards became defunct in 1999. Heyman has done some of his best work since then.
He was both handler, friend and puppet master during the early part of Brock Lesnar's career.
Continually evolving and improving, he has become one of the best actors in the wrestling history as he has exuded sleaze in his dealings with and against CM Punk.
Notable Names Managed: Killer Kowalski, Greg Valentine, Ernie Ladd, Billy Graham
The over-the-top, gaudy Grand Wizard was an electric presence.
The Wizard ruled WWE in the '70s, serving as the advisor and advocate for some of the company's most loathed heels. Being on the Grand Wizard's team helped those men become more hated.
His propensity to cheat, and his anger-inciting interviews, made him the man everyone wanted to see burn.
It's surprising that he only won the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Manager of the Year Award once when he earned that honor in 1973.
Notable Names Managed: Midnight Express, Vader, Rock 'N' Roll Express, Barry Windham
Brash, slick and teeming with energy, Jim Cornette remains one of the most memorable characters in wrestling history.
When he got behind a star or a team, their prominence increased. He added intrigue to teams like the Midnight Express, speaking for them, cheating when he could and elevating them with his presence.
Wrestling Observer awarded him its Manager of the Year Award an astounding 12 times, including seven times straight from 1984 to 1990. Pro Wrestling Illustrated thought highly of Cornette as well, giving him top honors in 1985, 1993 and 1995.
Notable Names Managed: Don Muraco, Wild Samoans, Jimmy Snuka, Ivan Koloff
The earring, the gray beard wrapped in rubber bands, the wild hair and Hawaiian shirts were all parts of a vivid character that made a great impact on the wrestling industry.
Capt. Lou Albano managed Ivan Koloff to his win over Bruno Sammartino and led the Wild Samoans, Don Muraco and others to prominence. Putting someone with Albano provided them with a sparkplug of a manager, an attention-grabbing presence on the outside.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated dubbed him the best manager in 1974, 1981 and 1986.
Notable Names Managed: Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, the Blackjacks, Nick Bockwinkel, Ray Stevens
Pro wrestling's best color commentator is also its best manager.
Bobby "the Brain" Heenan could have likely made a star of just about any ham 'n' egger. He was supremely witty and brilliant at grating on one's nerves.
Heenan was there during Andre's later years, providing a sharp tongue and added deviousness to his character. He led the Blackjacks and Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens to tag titles. Beyond championships, though, he made any man he supported seem more important, whether it was Big John Studd or Red Rooster.
The Brain garnered the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Manager of the Year Award in 1972, 1976, 1989 and 1991. His Hall of Fame career is filled with moments where fans wanted to see him get beat down even more than the men he managed.