By Mark Worrall @hoohoowozza
September the 17th 2017, a sad day for anyone that has been a follower of wrestling for many a year, or to be honest, a sad day altogether. Waking up for work at 5am this morning, as always I naturally switch on my phone and ponder through twitter before my working day starts. The first thing that fills my small screen is the heartbreaking news of the passing of Bobby Heenan. At the age of seventy-two, The ‘Brain’ finally lost his battle with illness and his fight against throat cancer.
Bobby ‘the brain’ Heenan is one of the reasons I fell in love with Pro Wrestling back in the early nineties. For twenty-seven years I have followed wrestling, through good times and bad, and yes I have had my moments when I have strayed away from the product or have felt somewhat disillusioned with what the wrestling product dishes out at times. However, wrestling has a way of making ‘Icons’, stars so to speak. Throughout my tenure as a wrestling fan and also as somebody who likes to write about wrestling, there are of course certain moments that will always remain lodged inside my head, memories that never seem to fade and sometimes re-enact themselves in my mind when I am lost in a memory, or something happens. For me there are very few stars from the wrestling world that have bore a hole into my heart as well as leaving a lasting memory in my mind that never fades. Do not mistake me, there is so much pleasure from wrestling that fills my mind, events, matches etc. How long do most of those memories actually last though? Yes we recall great matches and remember great characters from the past, but in what detail, to what extent? I could name several top tens of people who have made me love the sport of wrestling, who fill my mind with memories, wrestlers or managers who I consistently go back and watch their matches etc and still enjoy with fondness. However, there are just three people in wrestling that have always held a special place in my heart! None of them were five star wrestlers, but
they were characters, something that wrestling forgot a long time back. No I do not live in the attitude era, or even further back, I love today’s product, and I go to many shows around the UK and still watch the WWE alongside Puroresu. Those three men I that filled a place in my heart, two of them I have been especially fortunate to meet.
Mick Foley was the first of them I was lucky to shake hands with. A true professional Mick put his body on the line every night to please his fans and at the same time unselfishly put his opponent over. His characterization work and the constant gimmick changes to keep himself relevant are what put him over for me, as well as his undying love for wrestling which showed every time he entered the ring.
Two years ago I attended a meet and greet with Roddy Piper, one of wrestling’s great characters and after meeting him and the way he conducted himself and how he presented himself to me and how he signed my little boys autograph book and his kind words, my heart was his!
Unfortunately Bobby Heenan is a man I never had the privilege of meeting, but do you have to meet somebody to recognize what they have given to the wrestling business? Or why they make such an impression on you as a human being? I do not think so. The ‘Brain’ had this power to draw you in, a characteristic not many possess. His ring antics and his colour commentary would have me in hysterics and would absolutely sell me the product that he was trying to get over. Bobby was a true professional and stayed relevant for years, and that is because he knew how to.
My first taste of Bobby Heenan was in 1990, even though Wrestlemania six was the first wrestling PPV I saw, it was summerslam of that same year that the ‘Brain’, in my mind came to prominence! Of course Bobby was a star long before I caught eyes on him, his AWA days are legendary helping Nick Bockwinkel to his first AWA world title in 1975 before making the jump to WWE in 1984. For me this is where Bobby Heenan would have his biggest success, as a manager, taking stars such as Paul Orndorff, the Brain Busters, ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude, Mr Perfect, Hercules and Andre ‘the Giant’, many of these he would double cross (kayfabe) and end up in some kind of feud with. Summerslam 1990 Heenan would play a big role with two members of the ‘Heenan’ family in important title matches with unfortunate results as Mr Perfect would lose his Intercontinental title to Kerry von Erich, as well as Rick Rude coming up short in his quest to win the WWF world title from the Ultimate Warrior. Heenan would also become the star of these matches, taking
ridiculous bumps to complete the match and usually coming up short and then going on a tirade backstage throwing tantrums and moaning how the referee cost Perfect the match, therefore almost making himself the bigger star although it never came across that way as he was actually putting over his talent without the viewer thinking it was all about Bobby.
Bobby Heenan in the corner of a talent seem to automatically push that talent to another level, it seemed Heenan would be purposely put with a talent with the emphasis of getting that wrestler to another level, yes, that what all managers are assigned to do, however not all of them are able to do it. Bobby’s antics added humour to a wrestlers credentials and added another dimension to the character he was there to assist. Bobby’s ability to take bumps is what really put him over as a manger, his constant interference in matches would inevitably see him being thrown across the ring, and unbeknown to some Bobby was actually a pretty decent ring talent himself.
In the summer of 1991 Bobby left his managing position and moved fully into commentary, of course Bobby had always been part of the commentary scene and was also co-host of Prime time wrestling alongside his ‘nemesis’ and best friend Gorilla Monsoon. This would spawn into ‘The Bobby Heenan show’ which unfortunately would not run for too long. Heenan joined Monsoon and Roddy Piper for priceless commentary at Summerslam 1991 with Monsoon keeping the aforementioned in order with Heenan’s little jabs (comedic) at the Rowdy one. During the fall of 1991 Heenan would cut promo’s, mostly during his Prime time wrestling shows which would see him holding the WCW title and declaring to the viewers that the real worlds champion was coming to WWF, as Ric Flair signed to the company which would see Hennan jumping back into some sort of managing role alongside Curt Hennig. The arrival of Ric Flair would lead to the greatest piece of Wrestling commentary that I have ever heard, and it is my opinion that Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan commentating on the 1992 Royal Rumble match is without a doubt the best partnership and the greatest wrestling announcing of one match that I have ever heard and nothing as ever come close to it.
ROYAL RUMBLE 1992
I specifically separated this event for the simple reason that this piece of announcing was truly special; the chemistry between Monsoon and Heenan throughout the Rumble match was truly exceptional. There is no doubt that as a partnership with Monsoon’s play by play and Heenan’s colour commentary the two had a special relationship that just worked, for years, Wrestlemania eight being another example of their extraordinary work. With Bobby’s interest with Ric Flair, the story of the Rumble match with the winner of the Rumble becoming the new WWF champion after the title was held up after the Hogan/Undertaker debacle, the whole dimension of the Royal Rumble had become new. Not just the glory of winning the Rumble anymore, now a title was on the line, a world title at that. All this added to the match as the top players in WWF would become the top players in the rumble match itself. As Flair enters at number three, Heenan’s cries are priceless, and throughout the match itself, with Flair getting into sticky situations as Monsoon stating that Flair can kiss the title goodbye, an irate Heenan, falling for Monsoon’s goading would even suggest they square up! Another highlight was Heenan stating that Roddy Piper wore a kilt, and was called a kilt when Piper came to the aid of his beloved Flair, however the Brain would turn as soon as Piper turned on Flair calling him a ‘Skirt wearing freak’! Absolutely priceless! Heenan’s persistence paid off as Flair won the match and the title, and the post match interview with Heenan, Flair and Hennig is pure gold, a must for anyone to check out. Every Royal Rumble season I watch this event, and it still holds up as one of Flair’s and Heenan’s greatest pieces of work ever. For a wrestling match to bring tears of laughter and actual tears to my eyes says everything about that event, Bobby made that show, his commentary was priceless and I love him for it.
December 1993 would see the WWF schedule finally take its toll on Bobby who asked for his release with the intention of retiring from wrestling, and I still remember the day Gorilla Monsoon threw Heenan out onto the snow filled streets of New York after taking one insult too many, of course this was all kayfabe as the idea came from Bobby and Gorilla themselves who actually wept after the show for over a hour in a hotel they were both staying at. Heenan’s WWF career was over, a pioneer to the wrestling manager, something we see very little of in today’s product, Heenan was a legend in the WWF. Not only for his managing career, also his announcing and not forgetting he was an original host of a programme that still runs to this day in Monday Night Raw!
Contemplating retirement, Bobby took an offer from WCW who offered a lighter schedule and health insurance! My WCW viewing however did not really take off until 1996 and the NWO invasion, for which Bobby would be a part of the announce team. Heenan for me never quite had the same chemistry in WCW with Tony Schiavone, do not misunderstand me, the commentary was still excellent, and Heenan’s exit when the NWO invaded a Nitro show taking out various wrestlers including the infamous Rey Mysterio bump against the truck at the hands of Kevin Nash was true Heenan. However, his sparring partner Monsoon would always be difficult to replace, and that was evident in an episode of Monday Nitro when Bobby Heenan paid tribute, live on air to his best friend Gorilla Monsoon in 1999 after he had passed away.
Bobby left WCW in November 2000, and although he still made brief appearances and even appeared on TNA programming, his wrestling career had come to a relative end. Bobby suffered ill health for many years has he battled throat and tongue cancer, however he did get the honour he truly deserved in 2004 as he was inducted into the WWE hall of fame, and that was an award that Bobby truly did deserve.
Legend is used frequently in wrestling, but is it enough for a man of Bobby Heenan’s calibre! Absolutely, legend, icon whatever you want to call him, for me Bobby ‘the brain’ Heenan was both, a man that will live in the hearts of wrestling fans and will always stay alive in the minds of the people and fans that loved his work and loved the man himself.