Foreign Objects have been part of Pro Wrestling (Sports Entertainment) since its inception. Many times it was something tucked in the heel’s (bad guy) tights or a folding chair conveniently located ringside. But back in the ’80s, heel managers often carried foreign objects right out in the open as accessories to their characters/gimmicks. Not only did they carry these props, but as you might expect, they often used them to give their client an advantage or even an unfair win resulting in plenty of heat (boos) from the crowd.
Wrestling managers seem to be rarely employed these days other than Paul Heyman as Brock Lesnar’s “advocate” or Roman Reigns’ “special counsel”. But back in the ’80s, managers were more abundant and possibly at their peak. A manager in the ’80s was definitely a key element of pro wrestling paired with top talent and essential to storytelling. A good heel manager would do anything they could to draw heat and help their client succeed. One thing I remember about heel managers back then was that most of them carried a foreign object that made interfering in a match that much easier. Not all of them, but most of them incorporated a foreign object as a prop/accessory with their regular ring gear. The accessory became an essential part of their character and gimmick. I’m going to take you through some of my most memorable from the ’80s…
The cane (not Kane) is natural for those who are nursing a leg injury and need extra walking support. I remember two heel managers in the ’80s carrying a cane and using it to regularly interfere in matches. First, you have Classy Freddie Blassie who was by the side of The Iron Sheik when he won the Heavyweight title from Bob Backlund in 1983. He also managed the team of The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff to the tag team titles at the first WrestleMania in 1985 when his cane was illegally used without the referee seeing to gain victory. Sometimes the cane would backfire and be used against his client like in 1986’s WrestleMania 2 when Corporal Kirchner intercepted it and used the cane to knock out Volkoff.
Second, you have Mr. Fuji who retired from being a regular wrestler in 1985 to become a manager. Mr. Fuji wasn’t above throwing a handful of salt in an opponent’s eyes, but he also carried a cane with him that would often find its way across an opponent’s head or jabbed into their ribs. Mr. Fuji managed a few single competitors, most notably Don Muraco, but I remember him best for his manager role with tag teams. Fuji managed Demolition to tag team gold when they won the titles at 1988’s WrestleMania IV defeating Strike Force after Ax struck Rick Martel in the back of the neck with the cane while he had Smash in a Boston crab. Later that year, Mr. Fuji turned on Demolition and became the manager of The Powers of Pain.
Their canes were so important to their characters that the LJN action figures for Blassie and Fuji even came with their cane as an accessory.
Not as common of an accessory as a cane is a megaphone. What can take an annoying voice and make it even more annoying? Yep, a megaphone. In addition to that distraction, you can also wallop someone over the head with a megaphone if the opportunity presents itself. “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart employed the megaphone to do both and it became his trademark accessory. Hart was well-known in the Memphis territory before joining the WWF (WWE) in 1985. He managed dozens of wrestlers over the years, but he may be best remembered for creating the Hart Foundation and helping them achieve tag team gold in 1987 as well as managing The Honky Tonk Man as he won the Intercontinental Title in June 1987 and held it for over a year. Jimmy Hart was named Pro Wrestling Illustrated‘s Manager of the Year in 1987 (and again in 1994). He was involved in countless storylines throughout the ’80s and the ’90s and always with his megaphone close at hand.
I can understand a guy needing a cane to help him walk. I can even understand a guy needing a megaphone to communicate with his clients in the ring. But I cannot understand why someone would need to carry a tennis racquet to the wrestling ring. But the ever-obnoxious Jim Cornette started carrying one after he saw the 1983 teen sex comedy movie Screwballs noticing an obnoxious rich kid character carrying a badminton racquet. Cornette worked in Mid-South, World Class, and then the N.W.A. during the ’80s and is probably best remembered for his work with The Midnight Express. With Cornette as manager, The Midnight Express were two-time NWA world tag team champions and two-time NWA United States tag team champions and Cornette’s trademark tennis racquet was often involved in winning/retaining those titles. Nobody could draw heat quite like Cornette evidenced by the fact that they had to be escorted by police to and from the ring at some house shows and even occasionally require a police escort to the city limits for fear of being attacked by overzealous fans. Jim Cornette was named Pro Wrestling Illustrated‘s Manager of the Year in 1985 (and again in both 1993 and 1995).
There aren’t many more ’80s yuppie items than the original mobile “brick phone“. This was the item of choice to be carried by Paul E. Dangerously (better known now by his real name Paul Heyman) who acquired that character name because of his resemblance to Michael Keaton’s character in the 1984 film Johnny Dangerously. He debuted as a manager in 1987 and carried the brick phone after seeing “Gordon Gekko” use it in the 1987 film Wall Street. It helped establish his brash yuppie gimmick, but also made a nice weapon when necessary. He is probably best remembered in the late ’80s as manager for The Original Midnight Express during their feud with Jim Cornette and his new Midnight Express. As mobile phones began to shrink in size, Paul eventually had to abandon it as a prop. Many who know Paul Heyman today don’t realize that he started out as a manager back in the ’80s. They probably would not be surprised that he has always been a great talker, but they might be surprised that he used to carry that brick phone.
There are only a few heel managers in the ’80s that did not carry a foreign object with them as a regular prop/accessory. James J. Dillon managed the Four Horsemen for their entire run in the ’80s and, though he didn’t carry an obvious foreign object with him, he did use his dress shoe as a foreign object on multiple occasions. I know I am not alone in considering Bobby “The Brain” Heenan to be the greatest wrestling manager of all time. When I was a kid watching, there was almost nobody that I hated more than “The Weasel” and that is because he was doing his job so brilliantly. Looking back now, I can fully appreciate the genius of his performance and he was a rare heel manager that did not rely on a foreign object. He used his “brain”, thus the nickname, as well as his weaselly ways, thus his other nickname. He also had a quick wit and outstanding comedic timing which was even more evident as co-host of Prime Time Wrestling and later as a commentator. After discussing all of these great heel managers of the ’80s and how so many used a prop/accessory, it is ironic that the very best of the decade did not use one at all.
Not exactly sure why the heel manager is not used nearly as much in the last couple of decades. Maybe it is because the performers can do their own promos and get themselves over better. It seems more common to put other wrestlers in the heel’s corner to provide interference when necessary. The heel manager certainly peaked in the ’80s and has gradually become a lost art. And it seems part of that art was to carry a foreign object with you out in the open as part of your gimmick. Watching Pro Wrestling back in the ’80s wouldn’t have been the same without them!