Full Career Retrospective and Greatest Moments for Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistNovember 21, 2013

Photo Credit: WWE.com

Bobby Heenan is the greatest performer in the history of professional wrestling. 

That is a loaded statement, sure, but no other man or woman in the sport has ever been equally as great at every aspect of the business as Heenan was. He was not only the greatest manager in sports-entertainment history, he was also one of its premiere color commentators and a highly-entertaining in-ring performer when asked to fill that role.

As host of WWE Prime Time Wrestling, his back-and-forth repartee with Gorilla Monsoon was a big part of the success that show enjoyed.

Heenan was so smart and could read an audience so well that it is plain to see why he was dubbed "the Brain."

His 40-year career stretched across three successful promotions (AWA, WWE, WCW) and saw him guide some of the most talented wrestlers of all-time to the top of the business. Nick Bockwinkel, Mr. Perfect, Andre the Giant, Harley Race and Ric Flair were all managed by Heenan at some point in their careers and all benefited from it greatly.

"The Brain" was a revolutionary performer, the likes of which professional wrestling will likely never see again.

In celebration of his Hall of Fame career, here is a look back at the greatest moments of wrestling's greatest personality.

"Pretty Boy" Bobby Heenan

Despite all of the success Heenan enjoyed as a manager and commentator, he got his start in the business as a wrestler. As "Pretty Boy" Bobby Heenan, the future Hall of Famer would work throughout the Midwest as a talented, albeit undersized, in-ring performer.

He developed a penchant for taking an entertaining butt-kicking, especially after talking a big game, and it was decided at some point during the early stages of his career that he would make an excellent manager.

As such, he would be paired with wrestlers who struggled to get themselves over via promos. He would do the talking for those individuals while they did the in-ring work. Heenan was not above cheating on behalf of his wrestlers and was a walking heat machine, garnering tremendous heat from audiences throughout the Midwestern promotions. 

It would not be until he arrived in Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Alliance, however, that he would gain his first national recognition.

AWA and Nick Bockwinkel

During his time in the AWA, Hennan rose to prominence by managing 2006 WWE Hall of Fame inductees The Blackjacks, but it was his pairing with AWA world heavyweight champion Nick Bockwinkel that proved to be most successful.

Bockwinkel was a like-minded individual in that he was an extremely intelligent entertainer and one who, like Heenan, could read the audience and knew when to give them what they wanted and when to pull back to maximize the reaction.

In 1975, Heenan helped guide the immensely talented Bockwinkel to the AWA Championship.

It was also during his stay in the promotion that Heenan became known as "the Weasel." He would compete in matches against some of the top wrestlers in the company with the stipulation being that the loser had to wear a weasel suit.

A 1980 match against Greg Gagne saw Heenan lose the bout, then fumble, stumble, trip and fall over himself as he wore the humiliating suit.

It was a successful gimmick that Heenan would revive in his next stop...Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation.

The Federation Years

Heenan would become one of the biggest stars in McMahon's promotion, even though he was used strictly as a manager.

He was paired with the top stars in the sport, including Paul Orndorff, Big John Studd, King Kong Bundy and Ken Patera. He was the head of the heel group known as the Heenan Family and regularly sent his guys on a mission to beat up, injure and dethrone WWE Champion Hulk Hogan and popular attraction Andre the Giant.

Heenan played major roles at the first two WrestleMania events. At the inaugural show, he managed Studd in a Bodyslam match against Andre. A year later, he appeared in the main event, leading Bundy into action against Hogan for the title in a Steel Cage Match.

In 1987, Heenan was a central figure in one of the most shocking, unexpected heel turns in the history of professional wrestling when he convinced Andre the Giant to join him in his quest to take the WWF title from Hogan.

Photo Credit: WWE.com

On March 29, 1987, Heenan rode to the ring with Andre in front of 93,173 fans and in the biggest, and arguably best moment of his career, watched his giant be slayed by The Hulkster.

Heenan would continue to manage well into the next decade, guiding the Islanders, Mr. Perfect, The Barbarian and the Brooklyn Brawler to varied degrees of success.

It was also during this time that Heenan began co-hosting Prime Time Wrestling with Gorilla Monsoon, as well as becoming a talented, entertaining color commentator.

The way he would defend the heels would continue a precedent set by Jesse Ventura for the broadcast team that continues to this day with John Bradshaw Layfield.

His greatest performance as a commentator came at the 1992 Royal Rumble, when he watched Ric Flair, the man he had debuted to fans of the World Wrestling Federation months earlier, enter the Rumble match at number three and win nearly an hour later.

In the span of one match, Heenan went from distraught over the low number Flair had chosen to elated over his WWF title win. It was a beautiful roller coaster of emotions that only Heenan could have pulled off.

By 1993, Eric Bischoff and WCW would come calling with open arms and fat checkbooks, and Heenan would make the same decision that many other stars from his era did. He would follow the money to Ted Turner's organization, ending one of the greatest runs by any performer in the long and illustrious history of McMahon's promotion.

The Dark Days of WCW

Heenan debuted for WCW in 1994 and to say he was not utilized to his fullest potential would be an understatement. 

He was limited to the commentary team, but that was not necessarily a problem. What was, however, was that the mismanagement that went on behind the scenes eventually took its toll on "The Brain" and it became clear that the passion he had done his job within WWE had diminished.

Just watching him during some of those broadcasts, especially in the late-90s, one could tell that he was not having fun, nor was he enjoying what he was doing.

By 2000, he was relegated to the second- and third-most important WCW broadcasts.

Wrestlemania X-7, the Hall of Fame and beyond

In April of 2001, Heenan made his return to the company that he enjoyed his greatest success in when he walked the long aisle in the Astrodome at WrestleMania X-7 to commentate the Gimmick Battle Royal.

Joining "Mean" Gene Okerlund at ringside for the match, it was as if The Brain had not missed a beat. He was the same old Bobby that fans had grown to love and appreciate during his time with the company in the 80s and early-90s.

It was also an emotional night for longtime WWE fans. Heenan, despite leaving for WCW eight years earlier, had always been considered their own, so to see him appear as a surprise left many with chills down their back and tears in their eyes.

Three years after his appearance at the greatest wrestling pay-per-view of all-time, Heenan would take his rightful place among the greatest performers ever when he was inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame on March 13, 2004.

His speech was outstanding and proved that he could still captivate an audience.

In the years that have followed, Heenan has battled throat cancer. He has been hospitalized several times but has never quit fighting.

Today, he lives with his wife, Cindy, and still makes appearances at wrestling conventions when able.


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