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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Managing To Survive Part III: The Future Of Managers
December 28, 2006 by Daniel Johnson


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Long before the dawn of sports entertainment and past the final days of the Monday Night War, managers have existed in wrestling for a plethora of reasons. Whether it is JJ Dillon strategizing with the Four Horsemen or Miss Brooks escorting Robert Roode to the ring, the role of managing has been one of amazing diversity in the wrestling industry.

However as of late managers have shifted in a far different direction than the traditional pathway of their position. After all one could hardly imagine Miss Brooks fitting in alongside Ric Flair, Ole Anderson, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, the way that JJ Dillon did. By that same token one would find it very difficult to see JJ Dillon in a bikini contest, in more ways than one.

One of the key dilemmas that are causing many to view the current state of managers to be one of devolution is the assets of current individuals that are being utilized. For every Armando Alejandro Estrada in the wrestling industry there seems to be multiple predominately female managers, who rarely speak and never wrestle. While these women may have talent, their presence is often reduced to being one solely revolving around physical appeal.

Veteran independent wrestler, LuFisto gave her opinion on the role of managers in the near future when contacted through her official website, www.lufisto.com.

"I'm disappointed to see that there isn't as many managers as there used to be. Unfortunately, most of them are eye candy, valets who don't do much. It's great to have a few nice looking women as it adds to the show; however, you need managers to get involved, to cheat [and] to cheer and more. I miss the days of Jimmy Hart and Jim Cornette. Maybe that's why I like Sharmell so much at WWE. She reminds me of Sensational Sherri! She cuts good promos, gets involves, is very entertaining plus she is pretty on top of all this," said LuFisto.

Queen Sharmell has been one of the few bright spots in terms of female managers in mainstream American wrestling in the past few years. Since beginning her current role as a valet in March 2005, Sharmell has been used effectively in helping draw heat for her wrestler, King Booker.

Sharmell has mainly been used in a verbal capacity often with intended comical results. Such was the case at the newly renamed Cyber Sunday WWE event during her interactions with John Cena and Booker. For this occasion Cena requested Sharmell's "services" jokingly in exchange for helping Booker out in a triple threat match. Rather than being a sex object however, Sharmell helped make the scene through her exaggerated expressions and defiance.

In addition to her mic work, Sharmell has proven that she is not afraid to get in the ring as well. This has been accomplished by her willingness to physically interject herself in Booker's matches. Managers with a similar wide range of skills also exist on the independent scene, one such being Victoria Gambino.

When reached through the Gambino Brothers Moving Company's online home, www.gambinobros.com, Victoria mentioned the benefits of managers being able to work in multiple capacities.

"A manager who can work in more than one area of wrestling is going to be better at getting their wrestler over. If they have wrestling capabilities they are going to be able to physically get involved in matches to help cheat and win, or to keep the heels from cheating. Any wrestler or manager with good mic skills is going to improve their heat or pops with the crowd that includes doing commentary. Managers can add tension to a rivalry or deepen a storyline by doing commentary during matches," stated Victoria.

Aside from having a number of skills, many times what can make or break the effectiveness of a manager is the relationship that he or she has with the wrestler that they manage.

In the most extreme cases romances are often placed into the relationship between wrestlers and managers. Sharmell was far from the first woman to manage her husband. For years Miss Elizabeth and "Macho Man" Randy Savage had a relationship that carried over from the then WWF to WCW.

Though they often occur, romances do not have to be the lone bond shared outside of the ring between managers and wrestlers. There is a reason why Rick Rude worked as well as he did with Curt Hennig towards the end of his career. Both grew up in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, both worked at the same time for the then WWF for a number of years and both were skilled ring technicians. As a result when working for WCW, the two thought alike not only inside the ring during matches, but also outside the ring during interviews.

Marshall Gambino, one of the wrestlers, who Victoria manages, when contacted described what helps fuel the Gambino Brothers Moving Company.

"As a tag wrestler you can have your ups and downs. Mickey, Jimmy, Vicki, and myself [often are] finding ourselves agreeing to disagree. We are truly like a family, we watch out for each other in the good times and bad. I think that all of us being so close is what, has made the Gambino Brothers Moving Company as successful as it has been," commented Marshall.

Togetherness is one aspect of managing that may still be alive on the independent scene, but is gradually decreasing overall in mainstream wrestling. This has occurred because of the boost of wrestlers simply being thrown together with managers.

Matching individuals up seemingly at random does not always have negative consequences. Such was the case when Bobby Heenan was paired with Andre the Giant to combat Hulk Hogan leading up to WrestleMania III. Though the two came from different countries, practiced different wrestling styles and had long played opposite roles with Heenan being a heel and Andre being a face, they had more in common beneath the surface. For instance both had played pivotal roles earlier in their careers in building up the AWA and both had taken part in helping revolutionize the wrestling industry during the dawn of sports entertainment.

More often than not however differences are too numerous to overcome. Such was apparent recently in the WWE regarding the worked relationship of Amy Zidian and Jimmy Wang Yang. While Yang came from a strict wrestling background, having participated in Ring of Honor and All Japan Pro Wrestling among other organizations, Zidian was more acquainted with the entertainment side of wrestling. As a result this made their onscreen chemistry feel fabricated.

Communicating not only during shows, but also off the job can help to form genuine chemistry between managers and their wrestlers. Pat Rose, when contacted through his official website, www.patrose1.com referenced such a case in the form of the interactions between the Heavenly Bodies, a tag team he participated in and his manager Sherri Martel.

"Sherri was just like one of the guys. She and I would actually hang out together when we weren't working," said Rose.

What often has helped to blur the line between managers and wrestlers is that so many managers want to become wrestlers and that so many wrestlers are incredibly well suited to act as managers.

One individual, who has excelled in both managerial tasks and wrestling as of late, has been Shawn "Khosrow" Daivari. However thus far in Daivari's WWE career overall his managerial services have been demonstrated more often than his wrestling skills.

With the recent move to have Daivari wrestle more matches in front of his wrestler, the Great Khali in the reformed ECW only good can come in terms of experience. Despite being the more unique of the two, Khali has shown that his wrestling skills are not on the level of Daivari's in-ring abilities. By watching Daivari, though he may not ever be on par with him, Khali can step up his game substantially.

Learning wrestling skills from one's manager has been among the traditions preserved from the days of territories into the modern wrestling era. Rose went onto mention how he learned from his manager Don Fargo.

"He can teach you a lot in one frigging match than you'll probably learn in your whole career...I watched him work one time and I was the manger for him for some reason and he kept doing the deal where he would go to lock up and yet he'd go, you know halfway through the ropes and the ref would say, "back, back, back" and he did that, I bet twenty times and I'm outside going "what the heck is he doing"" you know I mean "why is he doing this"" I mean "work Don, come on!" and then when they finally touched, Don and the guy he was working with, the crowd went crazy and I said, "oh I get it," remarked Rose.

Regardless of the ability of wrestlers being able to learn from their managers, attention should be placed first and foremost on the wrestlers themselves. One of the key concerns during the rise of sports entertainment among wrestling purest was that more and more attention would be drawn away from in-ring competition.

The entertainment aspect of wrestling, with managers being among the chief weapons used, garnered so much attention at one point that by 1984, Tuesday Night Titans was created, which showcased entertainment over athletics.

Today however, there is no equivalent to Tuesday Night Titans. In the WWE, the closest show similar in format to Tuesday Night Titans is WWE Byte This!, which has been relegated to only appearing online. TNA similarly does not have the television time required to produce a program like Tuesday Night Titans. Independent promotions rely much more on wrestling than skits and segments so that few equivalents exist to Tuesday Night Titans across the country.

Therefore managers may often step up their game during matches and draw attention away from their wrestlers and onto themselves. When contacted International Wrestling Cartel wrestler Mickey Gambino noted that this is a major problem that can cause a rift in the relationship between managers and wrestlers, but if avoided is of no concern.

"As long as the manager knows what he/she is doing, and doesn't take away from the match by being too boisterous or flamboyant, then that relationship will work," said Mickey.

In the grand scheme of things, 2006 may be a year remembered for one quality above all others, which is the gradual reemergence of tag team wrestling. From Degeneration-X headlining WWE events to the Gambino Brothers Moving Company tearing through the IWC roster to Mark and Jay Briscoe putting on classic matches in Ring of Honor, tag teams have dominated 2006.

Tag teams have not only begun to be prominently placed in in-ring competition in the last couple of months, but also in promos and skits. One example of this is that the World's Greatest Tag Team comprised of Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas did not first reunite in a match, but during a skit with Cryme Tyme and the Highlanders.

Despite both fields being long neglected, with the slow revival of tag teams taking place and no comparative growth in the role of managers, the question must be asked if tag partners will replace managers.

Independent wrestler, Sterling James Keenan mentioned some techniques to choose tag partners when contacted through his official website, www.sterlingjameskeenan.com.

"It's always good to find someone who compliments your style. Either find someone very similar (Hardy Boyz) or find someone who is everything you lack (Hart Foundation)," said Keenan.

It can be argued that an advantage that tag partners have over managers is the fact that aside from aiding partners during interviews, they always play a physical role in the match.

While one can hardly forget a stiff shot from Jim Cornette's tennis racket or a knock on the noggin from Jimmy Hart's megaphone other managers are much less prone to get in the ring. Some recent managers, who have existed in promo capacities rather than playing in-ring roles, include WWE's ECW brand's Trinity and Michelle McCool on WWE's Smackdown!

Relying on one another, not only to be appealing, but safe, the case can be made that it is a necessity for the bond between tag partners to be stronger than between managers and wrestlers.

Jason Gory when reached through his official website, www.angelfire.com/wrestling3/jason_gory noted that tag partners at their best have a connection between them that goes beyond spoken words.

"Tag teams should be a cohesive unit. They should practically know what the other person is thinking, so a tag partner could maybe elaborate on the others ideas and such," said Gory.

However, the point may also be stressed that managers have a physical connection to every match that their wrestler participates in even when they themselves are not physically involved.

This line of thinking is based on the concept of ring psychology and the relation between what goes on in the ring and how the crowd reacts. For instance Francine pounding on the side of the ring in the original incarnation of ECW would naturally cause a reaction from the audience. Depending on this reaction whether it was the face team of the Pitbulls or a heel Shane Douglas, these competitors would either strengthen or weaken in their in-ring performance.

Though a familiar method, pounding on the mat is not the only overt technique used by managers to add to a match's atmosphere. Jimmy Hart yelling on his megaphone in the then WWF and WCW, Bill Alphonso blowing his whistle in ECW and Melina screaming in the WWE all elicit a crowd response capable of affecting in-ring performance.

Victoria Gambino mentioned that this was not only an important role for managers to play, but the most important role of a manager.

"The most important role is to aid in the psychology of the match. Managers help to tell the story without being the main focus," said Victoria.

However managers are not for everyone. Deciding whether or not an individual requires a manager is a difficult decision to make. A common misconception is that those who are capable of delivering promos do not need managers while those who are less talented in oratory skills do. This simply is not true.

The reason that deciding who needs a manager cannot be chosen so easily is that many wrestlers with promo skills greatly benefit from having a manager. One example of this is in Ric Flair's run in the then WWF in the early 1990's. Without Mr. Perfect and Bobby Heenan supporting Flair in the promo department, he could have hardly created the persona of a reproachable champion, who was still capable of being a leader and threat.

By that same token, individuals with no noted promo skills whatsoever can often be dragged down if they are placed with managers. One example of this is in Sabu's early ECW career as a face. Sabu gave the impression that he was a silent killer, who could let what he performed in the ring speak for him. Only when he became a heel did Bill Alphonso join Sabu in order to draw heat to the largely popular wrestler.

One case of a wrestler working better by himself than with a manager is independent wrestler, Shirley Doe. The promo style used by this Unholy Alliance member may have been counterproductive if used alongside a manager. When reached through his website, www.shirleydoe.com, Doe commented on why he had never worked with a manager in a major capacity.

"I haven't ever really worked with a manager. I've always been able to talk, so a manager seems superfluous," said Doe.

Keeping in mind that some wrestlers simply work better as sole entities the thought that tag partners will replace managers can be dispelled. In many cases tag partners can be just as unappealing to solo performers as managers can be to other wrestlers.

The Rock, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan, arguably the three biggest draws the wrestling industry has ever seen worked much of their careers without a tag partner or manager. If stuck in a tag team or placed with a manager, just out of habit, their respective careers could have been dramatically decreased in quality.

What path a wrestler decides to take can only be determine by a case by case basis. If tag teams and managers are just thrown together, while success may be achieved, more often it will not.

A singles wrestler, who has been successful on the independent scene mostly without a tag partner, is Shiima Xion. Though often working with Chris Maverick as his manager, part of what Xion believes has helped him get bookings aside from his MySpace account located online at www.myspace.com/shiimaxion is his marketability as a singles wrestler. When contacted through his official website, http://www.geocities.com/shiimaxion/, Xion professed his concerns over working with a tag partner.

"I think it's easier to get booked as a singles wrestler than it is for a tag team. I could be wrong, but this is just my opinion. As a singles wrestler, you only have to worry about yourself. In a tag team, maybe you're a great wrestler, but your partner may not be...and who knows, that shitty tag partner may be the reason ya'll don't get booked," said Xion.

Looking at the future of the position from the manager's perspective, what wrestlers one decides to accompany and what they stand for can greatly influence not only their careers, but also their character development.

Presently, one wrestling manager, who has greatly been impacted by who he has managed, is James Mitchell. First entering the public eye of mainstream wrestling in WCW as James Vandenberg, Mitchell allied himself with Chris Kanyon, who at that time portrayed the sinister Mortis. Not surprisingly after leaving WCW, he again played another diabolic character in the form of the Sinister Minister in ECW. Though he presently works for TNA as James Mitchell, no matter where he goes he is likely to be associated with evil.

While evil is a constant, many others in the wrestling industry whether they are wrestlers or managers ally themselves with less durable forces. Such was the case of Nikolai Volkoff, who along with Ivan Koloff, Krusher Khruschev and Boris Zhukov represented the Communist Soviet Union in the 1980's.

When contacted during his run for Baltimore County House of Delegates, District 7, Volkoff mentioned how the fall of Communism helped lead to him pursuing interest outside of wrestling.

"When Communism...you know fell apart and the Berlin Wall fell down you know that was it from me...I'm finished" and continued, "I got a job at Baltimore County for the last ten years and I studied a lot about politics," said Volkoff.

Though the fall of Communism may have lessened the impact of any managerial role that Volkoff could have filled, it does not mean that wrestlers and managers cannot work from the foundation of sports entertainment.

One of the first managers mentioned in this piece was Armando Alejandro Estrada. With the Attitude Era, the wrestling industry entered a new stage of realism, which meant that it was thought "savages" such as the Headhunters and the Ugandan Giant Kamala could no longer be credible wrestlers. However rather than abandoning his role, Estrada worked from the very foundations of sports entertainment in order to get his wrestler Umaga over.

Through a mixture of fear, ability and even humor, Estrada played a pivotal role in turning a character that could initially be viewed as laughable into a borderline main event player.

Like Estrada, Volkoff is working from the foundations of sports entertainment and is an active competitor in the wrestling industry to this day.

"I'm not finished yet, I still wrestle, you know...independent shows...I do four or five every month and I work out everyday," said Volkoff.

As in every topic in the wrestling industry there is an optimistic and pessimistic way to look at the issue of managers.

Though the wrong talents of managers are often used, whether it is on a mainstream or independent level, there is still hope. Queen Sharmell, Shawn "Khosrow" Daivari, James Mitchell and Armando Alejandro Estrada are all proof of this.

One individual, who has chosen to take the optimistic approach in viewing the direction that the role of managers is headed, is Johnny Riggs, a member of the OVW tag team, the Riggs Brothers. When contacted through www.theriggsbrothers.tripod.com, the official website of the Riggs Brothers, Riggs commented on the present course that the role of managers looks to be taking.

"In recent, the manager role seems to be slowly making its comeback, in my opinion managers help play a huge success in adding to matches/the product in general," said Riggs.

Those interested in stepping into the wrestling industry as a manger or who are currently wrestling, but want to tackle another role may find comfort in the words of a young manager.

When asked how managers will know if they can take on certain tasks, Victoria Gambino gave the following remarks.

"Trial and error, because practice makes perfect, there are plenty of indys out there to try-try again. Crowd reaction is a great way to see if your trash talking during commentary is getting your guy more heat, also getting feed back from other workers," said Victoria.

Whatever happens to the role of managing in the future, whether it is a position that will break through to knew levels or die completely, the historical significance of this role cannot be discounted. One old adage states that, "behind every great man, there's a great woman," perhaps just as true is that behind every Andre the Giant there's a Bobby Heenan.

by Daniel Johnson


Mattie Cagle wrote:
Whatever happened to managers with large stables of heel wrestlers" I mean like the Heenan Family or the Dangerous Alliance. Even the Million Dollar Corporation. TNA's Team Canada was the last good one. I think they need to do what they did with Ted Dibiase and get some retired wrestlers to become managers. Number One on my list would be Jerry "the King" Lawler. He'd be a tremendous manager (he can be simultaneously entertaining and annoying) and he could manage a southern wrestler stable, like Col. Parker from WCW. Or Raven. I don't know if he's done for good, but if so then he should bring back the Flock. Hell, go get Stone Cold and have him be a manager. We KNOW he can cut a promo. --
Matt G. (Sydney) wrote:
Good column Daniel. I too miss the great managers. Anyone who has seen the DVD on Greatest Managers would I'm sure agree that they play their part. Had to note that you mentioned JJ Dillon - I've just watched some old Australian footage where he was manager of Ox Baker, Brute Bernard and Butcher Brannigan. Dillon hardly needed to say a word (Ox did enough talking for everyone). But just his presence was enough to put the opposition off. Same can be said for Blassie, Fuji, Heenan and even Jimmy Hart. If they can do it well, I say bring back the managers!
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