Ranking Paul Heyman and the 10 Greatest Wrestling Managers of All Time

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured Columnist

Ranking Paul Heyman and the 10 Greatest Wrestling Managers of All Time

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    Credit: WWE.com

    In today's world of professional wrestling, the role of a manager is often underrated and undervalued. With one exception: Paul Heyman.

    The New York native has carved out a Hall of Fame role as a special counsel and advocate that has helped elevate, evolve or enhance characters that have gone on to considerable main event success.

    History tells us that managers, like him, are key to the presentation of sports entertainment.

    They serve as mouthpieces for talent whose one weakness is an ability to connect verbally with audiences, fire up crowds from ringside, take the big bumps when necessary to pay off stories. They are integral pieces to storytelling and serve as a lifeline for characters who may be struggling to make that all-important connection with fans.

    In a day and age where true managers are harder to come by, relive these 10 that have cemented their legacies as the best to ever infuriate fans and guide their clients to championship greatness.

10. Captain Lou Albano

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    No manager in WWE history led more tag teams to championship gold than Captain Lou Albano.

    Whether it was as a heel or babyface, Albano solidified his status as one of the greatest managers in wrestling history by guiding 13 different teams to the titles, including The Valiant Brothers, The Yukon Lumberjacks, The Blackjacks, The Moondogs, The Masked Executioners, The US Express, The British Bulldogs and The Headshrinkers.

    An over-the-top character with an enormous personality, he had the ability to incite choruses of boos or enormous ovations anytime he stepped through the curtain with his latest charge or spoke on the microphone.

    Albano also crossed over, finding success in mainstream pop culture with his appearance in Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" music video and as Mario in the Super Mario Brothers Super Show. 

    A performer with a captivating presence and unwavering ability to entertain the audience regardless of his role, he absolutely deserves placement on this countdown and there is a real argument to be made that his championship resume should have him ranked higher on it. 

    That he is No. 10 speaks to the quality of the list. 

9. Sensational Sherri

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    There was a point in the late 1980s and early 1990s where Sherri Martel only managed bona fide main event heels.

    Beginning in 1989 with a two-year run alongside "Macho King" Randy Savage, she carved out a career as a manager that saw her second Hall of Famers like "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair and Harlem Heat across WWE and WCW.

    It was her run with Shawn Michaels that stands out as, arguably, her greatest managerial highlight, though.

    Michaels had just turned on longtime partner Marty Jannetty and was in search of an identity. He had adopted the Heartbreak Kid moniker and changed up his in-ring gear but he needed that one missing ingredient to really establish himself as a primetime player in WWE. 

    Enter Sherri, who immediately added credibility to Michaels, provided him with said ingredient and helped him develop into the top-tier performer he would eventually become.

    Prior to her run with WWE, she managed AWA tag team champions Buddy Rode and Doug Sommers. Ironically enough, their greatest rivals? Michaels and Jannetty, The Midnight Rockers.

    A wrestler herself, she was never afraid to get physical or take a big bump and knew exactly when to interject herself to generate the desired reaction. An extraordinary performer, she took her place among the immortals in 2006 when she was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

    While most women were labeled "valets," Martel exceeded that label, becoming every bit as good as her male counterparts and for that reason, finds a place on this list. 

8. J.J. Dillon

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    The Four Horsemen may be the greatest faction in wrestling history; a collection of talent the likes of which helped define an entire era in one of wrestling's most storied promotions. While Ric Flair was the leader, Tully Blanchard was the true heel of the group and Arn Anderson was the enforcer, it would not have worked without the cunning of one James J. Dillon.

    The manager of champions, the mind behind the brawn of the group, he was the director. Dillon managed the foursome of stars on screen and off. Like Sherri Martel, he was a former worker himself and could take the big bumps when necessary and was not above mixing it up with someone like Paul Ellering inside War Games.

    More than physicality, though, Dillon brought to the table intelligence and gift for gab that got under the fans' skin and helped remind the audience that yes, the incredibly awesome collection of stars on their screen at that moment was, in fact, a group of bad guys. 

    He managed the top stars in a top-two promotion during wrestling's hottest streak, but he also guided the likes of Ox Baker, "Nature Boy" Buddy Landel, Waldo and David Von Erich and Butch Reed.

    That a guy of his magnitude and importance ranks at No. 8 on this list may be a stunner to some and is absolutely open to discussion, but is also reflective of just how great the managerial talent was during the height of pro wrestling popularity in the '80s and early '90s.

7. Jimmy Hart

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    The Mouth of the South's managerial career spanned four decades and featured some of the most iconic Superstars and characters in wrestling history.

    Hart exploded into mainstream relevance in 1982 with his alliance with comedian and actor Andy Kauffman. During that run, he opposed the biggest star in Memphis, Jerry "The King" Lawler in his first taste of working the main events of a high-profile promotion. The exposure he received there earned the attention of Vince McMahon and within a few years, Hart would make the jump to WWE, where he would earn his greatest recognition.

    As the insufferable manager to Intercontinental champion Honky Tonk Man, he was key in helping that particular character establish itself as one of the truly great villains in WWE history. His knack for running his mouth, oftentimes in a bullhorn, infuriated fans. That the little pipsqueak would eventually take bumps and payoff the story he, his client and a top babyface were telling only made him that much more valuable.

    He would go on to manage the likes of Greg Valentine, Terry and Hoss Funk, The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, Earthquake, Dino Bravo and The Nasty Boys. Hart was a trusted manager, someone main event stars happily worked with, and in 1993, began a run with Hulk Hogan that would span the end of his WWE career into the start of a seven-year run with WCW.

    Even as he saw his role change to one more behind the scenes in Ted Turner's promotion, Hart would occasionally emerge from the locker room to manager members of the Dungeon of Doom or a fresh new face management had high expectations for.

    An all-time-great character, Hart's longevity and his role in so many unforgettable programs, with so many headline talents, helps him earn his spot on this countdown.

6. Gary Hart

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    There was something unsettling about Gary Hart.

    When he spoke, fans instantly recognized that he was the smartest man in the room, but also the most dangerous. As the leader of H & H Ltd. alongside Arman Hussian in World Class Championship Wrestling, Hart targeted the territory's top babyfaces, including the beloved Von Erich brothers.

    Whether he was seconding the enigmatic Great Kabuki and the dangerous Bugsy McGraw and Bill Irwin, or seconding the great Gino Hernandez and partner "Gentleman" Chris Adams, he was essential to WCCW's presentation.

    He was the guy that spoke on behalf of the heels who may have been very strong workers and worthy adversaries of David, Kerry, Kevin and Mike Von Erich but were not the strongest talkers. In Hernandez's case, he was set dressing, an established heel who helped announce to the world that yes, Gino should be taken seriously as a top-tier villain because Hart only associated with those.

    It was Hart's work in Dallas that elevated him past some of the more well-known managers on this list. He was so thoroughly invested, so convincing and unnerving that the audience felt genuine dread for the babyfaces that found themselves opposite him.

    In reality, Hart was so engrossed in his role because he was the creative genius behind the red-hot World Class product. He was the man who introduced the Von Erichs vs. The Fabulous Freebirds feud that revolutionized the business. He had his hands in the storytelling and helped make that promotion the hottest in the industry for a period.

    Differences with his fellow power players led to his departure, though.

    In 1989, Hart made the jump to Jim Crockett Promotions and WCW, where he seconded the likes of Terry Funk and The Great Muta in their battles with Ric Flair and Sting, again establishing himself as a manager of main event heels.

    An engaging speaker and underrated manager of the best and most vile, Hart really does deserve greater recognition for his work and the fact that he has not found his way into the WWE Hall of Fame yet, especially considering former Freebird Michael Hayes' influence behind the scenes, is disappointing.

5. The Grand Wizard

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    The Grand Wizard of Wrestling was really ahead of his time.

    Sporting three-piece sequined suits, eye-catching jewelry, sunglasses and his trademark wizard's hat, Ernie Roth created a character that would have been right at home in the Rock and Wrestling Era of the 1980s. Instead, he was a vital part of the product in the 1970s and a real manager of champions.

    During his run in New York under father and sons Vince McMahon, Roth completed a managerial triple crown by seconding stars who won all three titles WWE had to offer. Toru Tanaka and Mr. Fuji captured tag team titles on two occasions. Pat Patterson, Ken Patera and Don Muraco all held the Intercontinental Championship under the guidance of the Wizard and both Stan Stasiak and "Superstar" Billy Graham captured the WWE heavyweight title during their association with him. 

    Then there were Hall of Famers like Sgt. Slaughter and "Cowboy" Bob Orton, neither of whom captured championship glory while working with Roth but were certainly better off and significantly more over with audiences for being associated with the legendary manager.

    A dynamic talker with the ability to fire up audiences merely by stepping through the curtain, The Grand Wizard of Wrestling is one of the forgotten greats in WWE history and absolutely deserving of his Hall of Fame induction in 1995.

    He really should be discussed alongside the proceeding four managers more frequently when the topic of the greatest of all time comes up.

4. Paul Bearer

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    As Percy Pringle, William Moody managed the likes of Rick Rude, Steve Austin, Lex Luger and Eric Embry during the territorial days of wrestling, early in his career. 

    It was not until he arrived in WWE in 1990 that the real-life funeral director etched his name in the history books and earned his spot in the top five of this countdown.

    As Paul Bearer, he became absolutely instrumental to the success of The Undertaker. Seconding the Deadman to the squared circle for six years, his shrieking voice, over-the-top facial expressions and mannerisms captivated audiences and helped the Undertaker character evolve into what it eventually became.

    He was the Igor to Undertaker's Frankenstein. The two went hand-in-hand and created an act that would prove both timely and timeless throughout the New Generation of WWE programming. 

    When that partnership dissolved in 1996, he would turn his attention to managing Mankind, the deranged and hated foe of The Phenom. It was a year later, though, that his greatest work played out in the single greatest storyline in WWE history.

    Spurned by Undertaker, Bearer revealed that the brother his former charge once thought dead was still very much alive and that he was coming back for revenge.

    Enter, Kane.

    Bearer guided Kane, manipulated him, and used the confused and vengeful monster for his own benefit. He led The Big Red Machine to the squared circle, shrieked with approval as he decimated Superstars and ultimately, set him on a path for a match with his brother.

    While Bearer stepped away from WWE on a full-time basis at the turn of the Millennium, he would pop up on occasion, usually accompanying Undertaker or Kane and reminding fans of why his place in wrestling history is undisputed. 

3. Jim Cornette

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    The Louisville loudmouth, a momma's boy with his trusty tennis racquet, Jim Cornette has infuriated wrestling fans across four decades by running his mouth and interjecting himself into his charges' matches.

    Most recognizable for his run as the manager of The Midnight Express during their epic rivalry with The Rock and Roll Express that served as one of the greatest examples of the power of tag team wrestling, Cornette gained recognition territorially in Memphis, Louisiana and Texas before making the jump to the national stage of TBS and Jim Crockett Promotions.

    It was there that the feud between the Midnights and Rock and Roll Express gained its greatest exposure but in reality, it had its foundation in Mid-South Wrestling under Bill Watts, Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler. Across different territories, in different arenas, the feud was massively successful and while much of that can be attributed to the in-ring excellence of Dennis Condrey, Bobby Eaton, Stan Lane, Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, it was Cornette who was the glue that held everything together.

    He generated incredible heat from the floor and rarely missed the opportune time to strike an opponent with the aforementioned tennis racquet.

    He talked fans into the arena and got them to invest in the matches. In fact, it can be argued that Cornette helped keep the Midnight Express heels. As we have seen today with FTR, a badass tag team with unmatched skill will eventually win over the audience. Cornette's presence and work helped keep that from happening until a feud with Paul Heyman and the Original Midnight Express in the late 80s for Crockett.

    Cornette would manage The Heavenly Bodies, Yokozuna, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith and Vader at different times in WWE, proving that his persona could find success in any promotion, big or small.

    A great manager who recognized the importance of adding to the act and not overshadowing it, Cornette is a pro wrestling historian who remains in the headlines for his defense of the industry he grew up and flourished in. He also remains a proponent of tag team wrestling and, on occasion, picks up that tennis racquet and guides teams to the squared circle. 

2. Bobby Heenan

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    Bobby Heenan is not just a great manager but a great performer.

    Maybe the greatest performer in wrestling history.

    The Brain entered WWE in 1984 after years of managing AWA world champion Nick Bockwinkle and instantly found himself immersed in main event work. Whether he was managing Big John Studd against Andre the Giant or forming The Heenan Family with such stars as Harley Race, King Kong Bundy, "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff, Haku, Mr. Perfect, The Barbarian and Rick Rude, he was consistently on-screen and embroiled in top feuds.

    It was as the manager for Andre in 1987 that he enjoyed his greatest run in the role.

    The heel turn Andre underwent to set up his WrestleMania III match against Hulk Hogan does not succeed without Heenan. He was the established top heel manager in the company, could talk anyone into the arena and insult even the tippy-top stars. Andre needed him to convince fans that he was a bad guy now; that they should not blindly cheer him as they had all those years.

    The partnership with Heenan hammered home that professional jealousy and money had gotten the best of Andre and that the only solution was to dethrone Hogan as WWE champion. That did not happen, but it did not deter Heenan and Co. from trying again. And again. And again.

    Whether he was opposing Hogan or bumping around in a weasel costume for The Ultimate Warrior, the former wrestler understood the intricacies of his role and what needed to be done to get the desired reaction. If it meant hyping his talent up on the mic, he did it. If it was reliant on facial expressions and body language at ringside, he gave it. If he needed to bump to pop the crowd, he did.

    The Brain was as well-rounded a performer as there has ever been in professional wrestling, something he proved further at the commentary position, where he openly rooted for his former charges and favorite heels, like Ric Flair at the 1992 Royal Rumble.

    A staple of WWE programming during a transformative time for the promotion, he was a rare heel around whom Superstars revolved and feuds escalated. His impact on the product cannot be understated or ignored. Heenan is an all-timer, eclipsed on this countdown by one man whose impact is still being felt today. 

1. Paul Heyman

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    Paul Heyman may be the most cerebral performer in pro wrestling history and is definitely the greatest manager in the industry's long and illustrious history.

    Beginning his career as a ringside photographer, he got into managing in 1987 with Bam Bam Bigelow. Within five years, he was the leader and spokesman for a Dangerous Alliance in WCW that featured the likes of Rick Rude, Bobby Eaton, Arn Anderson, Larry Zybyszko and a young Steve Austin.

    That faction was the top heel act in 1992 and Heyman was the star around who everything was built. He was the New York yuppie with an oversized phone whose penchant for raising his voice and throwing tantrums pissed off the audience. The manner in which he demeaned Madusa led to a rightful ass-kicking that still ranks as some of his best early work.

    There was, of course, a seven-year break from managing as he operated ECW but in 2002, he exploded back onto the scene with a new client that would alter Heyman's legacy as a manager forever.

    Brock Lesnar dominated the industry, a 275-pound badass out of the University of Minnesota with a knack for kicking ass and not giving a damn what his opponent's name was. The Next Big Thing blew threw the competition, including Hulk Hogan and The Rock, en route to a WWE Championship at age 25.

    The guy that led him there? Heyman.

    He would second The Big Show during a world title reign after betraying Lesnar, then associate himself with Kurt Angle in the lead-in to WrestleMania XIX in 2003. 

    A decade later, he returned to managing, accompanying WWE champion CM Punk during his historic reign. The return of Lesnar in 2012 brought Heyman back to his monster and for nine years, the silver-tongued snake and advocate for The Conqueror to the greatest successes of his wrestling career, including the industry-shaking defeat of The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX that made The Beast the "one in 21-1."

    WWE and Universal titles followed before Heyman found himself in the corner of another industry giant, Roman Reigns. As the special counsel for The Tribal Chief, he has been instrumental in the establishment of the top star's heel persona and responsible for the best work of his (and his own) career.

    Heyman has crafted a career of helping stars get over with audiences at a level they had not previously. In WCW, he helped a group of heels with no direction become a main event entity. In ECW, he collected a group of wrestlers no one else wanted and made stars of them. In WWE, he has helped established stars find the elements of their performances that have elevated them to new heights.

    Lesnar exceeded "big guy, physical freak" status to find incredible success in WWE. Reigns is finally the top act in the industry because he worked with Heyman to craft a persona fans have invested in greater than they ever did the one-trick babyface.

    He makes every talent he works with better, both as a performer and in the eyes of the audience. For that reason, and the unparalleled success of those he has worked with, he is No. 1 on this countdown.