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Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Was Bobby Heenan Paired with Ric Flair in the WWF?

June 22, 2021 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Bobby Heenan Ric Flair

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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James is a bit of a weasel:

I have two questions about Bobby Heenan that were brought to mind due to a discussion at work. First, in your opinion does Heenan deserve any recognition as being a tremendous help to the early success of Hulk Hogan? The Heenan family (mainly Andre and then Bundy) seem to be the first feuds anybody mentions when talking about Hogan’s early career and Hogan’s victories over them seemed to be met with elation that Heenan got shut up.

Yes, absolutely, Heenan deserves credit for being one of the Hulkster’s main foils and helping to establish him as the face of the company. Really, this was a formula that the WWF had used to great success even before Hulkamania. During the heyday of Vince McMahon Sr.’s WWWF, managers Freddie Blassie, Lou Albano, and “Grand Wizard of Wrestling” Ernie Roth were known as the “Three Wise Men of the East,” and essentially they were the ones who did most of the talking and got most of the heat for the heel challengers to longstanding babyface champions like Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, and Bob Backlund. The younger McMahon saw this formula keep his father in business for many years, and Hogan/Heenan was essentially the Rock n’ Wrestling era’s version of Sammartino/Grand Wizard.

And second, why was Heenan put with Flair when he jumped in 1991? Flair was more than capable of cutting a promo as seen when he won the ’92 Rumble. Did the WWE not know this already or was it a way for Heenan to continue his rivalry with Hogan?

Back in November, a reader wrote in to discuss his theory that pro wrestling managers could be placed in to one of eight different categories based on their relationship with the wrestler(s) they are managing. In answering that question, I added three more categories to the reader’s initial list, and one of them was:

The wrestler doesn’t actually “need” a manager so to speak, but pairing the two acts together still creates something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

When I described this scenario in the prior column, one of the examples that I gave was actually Bobby Heenan and Nick Bockwinkel from the AWA. Bockwinkel was perfectly capable of cutting a great promo and generating heat on his own, and, as a result, the Brain wasn’t truly necessary but still added something to his protege’s act by being there.

The same could be said of Flair and Heenan. Ric Flair is the absolute last guy that needs somebody to talk for him. If anything, he should be cutting promos for other wrestlers. However, you can’t deny that the Nature Boy and the Brain working together just felt right and created several classic moments, the 1992 Royal Rumble being chief among them.

Flair and Heenan was essentially the 1990s version of Flair and Bockwinkel, two guys who would have been excellent on their own combining to make each other all the better.

Jeremy Boyd avoids cliches like the plague:

What wrestling tropes could you do without?

I’ll start – I’m tired of seeing wrestlers hook the near leg when VERY close to the ropes. It’s 2021 – that was obvious 20+ years ago.

I’ve referenced this in columns in the past, but I’ve long been tired of authority figures being large parts of the storylines on wrestling shows. It’s been done to death, and it’s also pretty illogical if you think about it for more than a couple of minutes. If people like Adam Pearce are booking all of these matches on the fly, what was the plan for the show before it went on the air?

I think it’s time to go back to the pre-1990s model for a while, in which announcers and wrestlers did the work of setting up matches with an occasional figurehead of the promotion popping up only when there was a true earthshaking announcement to be made.

Shaun is coming at us with two totally unrelated questions:

Would Nick Aldis drop the NWA World Championship to Kenny Omega for the belt collector story?

I’m virtually certain that he would. NWA owner Billy Corgan was on the SiriusXM show Busted Open Radio earlier this month, and he revealed that he had pitched an Aldis versus Omega match to AEW’s Tony Khan. If that match were to take place in the current wrestling environment, the only sensible result would be Kenny picking up the victory, and I think that Corgan is smart enough to realize that – so he probably wouldn’t have pitched it if he wasn’t willing to go through with it.

Has the same match happened on TV in the same year for two or more different companies?

Yes, it has.

I have not compiled a comprehensive list, but, in thinking of time periods where this was likely to have happened, one place that my mind went fairly quickly was the year 2001, when WCW and ECW both went out of business, with the WWF purchasing WCW and a fair amount of ECW talent also showing up in the Fed.

One match that occurred on both WCW television in the company’s dying days and subsequently in the WWF is Billy Kidman versus Shane Helms. Helms defeated Kidman on the January 29, 2001 episode of WCW Thunder and also on the March 19, 2001 Monday Nitro, the show’s next-to-last episode. When both men signed with the WWF, they faced each other on the July 3, 2001 edition of Smackdown, where Kidman beat Helms for the WCW Cruiserweight Championship in the brief period during which WCW vs. WCW matches were occurring on WWF television as opposed to the two “separate companies” doing battle with each other.

Also, when I first read the question, I could have sworn that the Heavenly Bodies faced the Rock n’ Roll Express on WCW and WWF pay per views in 1993, but I was only partially correct. Two teams with those names wrestled each other on different PPVs from the rival companies that year, but the four men in the matches differed. The RnRs wrestled the Bodies combination of Stan Lane and Tom Prichard as part of Superbrawl III in February 1993, but it was Prichard and Jimmy Del Ray who teamed as the Bodies to beat the Express at the 1993 Survivor Series.

However, even though I was wrong about identical versions of the Bodies/Express match taking place in the WWF and WCW in 1993, Prichard & Lane vs. Morton & Gibson AND Prichard & Del Ray vs. Morton and Gibson both took place on Smoky Mountain Wrestling television shows during in ’93, so both versions of the match did occur on television for two different promotions in the same year after all.

Tyler from Winnipeg has run away to join the circus:

According to the WON newsletter, which match did Uncle Dave Meltzer rate as Doink’s highest star rating?

First off, there aren’t a lot of Doink matches that got Meltzer star ratings, because, with a few exceptions, Big Dave really only gave star ratings to pay per view matches during the time Doink was around, and there were not nearly as many PPVs then as there are now. Television matches usually didn’t get star ratings because the vast majority of them were squash matches or, if they featured stars, were short and lacked a clean finish.

As a result, I could only find seven Doink matches that the man behind the WON rated at all.

Of those, the one that received the highest rating is one that nobody reading this probably would have guessed.

You see, after he left the WWF and other people were portraying the character he made famous in that company, Matt Borne, the original Doink, continued to use the persona outside of the Fed. (Or at least he did until he got slapped with a cease and desist letter.) Due to this, the Doink match with the highest Observer star rating occurred outside of Vince McMahon’s auspices.

It occurred on a lucha libre show – yes, a lucha libre show – held on July 22, 1995 and promoted by a company called WWO, which had ties to AAA. It was a trios bout in which Doink teamed with Juventud Guerrera and the original Psicosis in a losing effort against El Hijo Del Santo, the original Rey Misterio, and Rey Misterio, Jr. (the one currently in WWE). Dave pegged that match at ***1/2, which I presume was based mostly on the younger Misterio mixing it up with Guerrera and Psicosis.

For what it’s worth, the other six Doink star ratings from the WON were:

Clowns R’ Us vs. Royal Family, Survivor Series 1994: -**1/2
Doink & Dink vs. Bam Bam Bigelow & Luna Vachon, House Show March 4, 1994: DUD
Doink vs. Jim Powers, Royal Rumble 1993 dark match: *
Doink vs. Crush, Wrestlemania IX: *1/2
Doink vs. Bret Hart, summerslam 1993: *1/2
Doink & Dink vs. Bam Bam Bigelow & Luna Vachon, Wrestlemania X: *3/4

Bryan is a real cut-up:

Do you think WCW scissorgate in 1993 would make an interesting Dark Side of The Ring, Or are the people involved too embarrassed and/or not legally allowed to talk about it?

It’s really just one fight between two men, which is a pretty small incident compared to most of the subjects of Dark Side of the Ring eps. Rather than devoting a full forty-five minute episode to that one exchange, I would suggest that it might be better as one story during an episode on the overall life and times of Sid Vicious/Justice. In addition to that fateful night in the U.K., you could also cover the squeegee non-fight with Brian Pillman, his alleged no-shows during softball season, perhaps the most gruesome on-camera injury in professional wrestling history, and, of course, pooping himself in the ring with the Undertaker.

The question is whether you could get the Master and the Ruler of the World himself to sit down for the show, as it wouldn’t have nearly the impact if he weren’t there.

Ben knows that having fun isn’t hard if you’ve got your library card:

What’s the best WWE book? I’m not talking overall wrestling book, I mean just WWE.

Some people might consider this an easy answer, but sometimes the easiest answer is also the correct answer.

It’s the original WWF/WWE autobiography: Mick Foley’s Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. Though it was originally meant to be ghostwritten, Foley took the notion of having his life story released to heart and put in an incredible amount of effort, with the result being a brutally honest yet warm and humorous look at one of the most unique lives lived within the industry.

If Missus Foley’s baby boy hadn’t done as well as he did telling his story, the entire subgenre of professional wrestling autobiographies may not exist at anywhere near the level that it does today, and we wouldn’t have some of the truly great non-WWE autobios that are floating around out there, like those by Bret Hart and Chris Jericho.

Night Wolf the Wise is back with one of his trademark questions that could be a column unto itself:

What are the ten most historically significant matches in wrestling? What I mean is wrestling matches that changed the course of wrestling history.

This is an area where there could be quite a bit of room for debate, so I’ll start by saying that I’m hoping to hear others sound off in the comments.

That said here are my picks, being presented in chronological order:

Frank Gotch vs. Georg Hackenschmidt (September 4, 1911)
Taking place at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in front of a then-amazing 30,000 fans, this was Gotch/Hackenschmidt II, a vaunted rematch between the greatest European wrestler and the greatest American wrestler in the world. The fact that we are still able to recall this match 110 years after it took place is a testament to just how important it was.

Wayne Munn vs. Stanislaus Zbyszko (April 25, 1925)
Entire articles and book chapters have been written about his match, so I don’t know that I can get to its full significance here. The very short version is that Munn was a football player with no wrestling experience who had been made world champion by the dominant promoters of the era, and grizzled veteran wrestler Zbyszko was tired of it, shot on Munn, and claimed the title. This lead to promoters wanting their champs to have legitimate credentials for the next 50-60 years.

El Santo vs. Pete Pancoff (May 15, 1946)
El Santo, as most reading this know, is the most popular luchador in history. By the time that this match took place, he had been wrestling for 12 years, most of it as a heel. However, in the finals of a world title tournament in Mexico against a foreign opponent, Santo was turned face almost by default. He won the match, in the process not only capturing his first major championship but also endearing himself to the fans and laying the groundwork to become the legend we all know him as today.

Lou Thesz vs. Baron Michele Leone (May 21, 1952)
Thesz is known as the man who made the NWA World Heavyweight Title into the most vaunted championship in the “sport” for many years. He did this by unifying numerous competing world titles into one strap. Though he had brought together many championships before this match, this was the bout in which he claimed the final outstanding title that was a competitor to his, namely the Los Angeles version of the world title held by Leone. From there, Thesz went on to build himself up to be a bona fide legend.

Ben & Mike Sharpe vs. Masahiko Kimura & Rikidozan (February 19, 1954)
Though there had been prior attempts to make professional wrestling a commodity in Japan, none of them really stuck until post-World War II, when Rikidozan was made into a conquering hero who fended off foreign (mostly American) heels. This match was the first in the longstanding series of those bouts, which was reported not just to be watched on numerous Japanese televisions in homes but was also so popular that it caused people to gather outside of appliance stores, where TVs were in the windows, to see the match. This was the launching pad for the whole of puroresu.

Bruno Sammartino vs. Buddy Rogers (May 17, 1963)
There had been professional wrestling in New York and the northeast more generally prior to 5/17/63, but this is the match that the WWWF/WWF/WWE was built upon. By quickly defeating Buddy Rogers for the WWWF Championship, Bruno Sammartino didn’t just establish himself. He established an entire genre of superhuman professional wrestling babyfaces that WWE was still making significant cash off of as recently as John Cena. Hulkamania doesn’t happen without this match. Steve Austin and the Rock don’t happen without this match. John Cena doesn’t happen without this match.

Harley Race vs. Ric Flair (November 24, 1983)
Ric Flair had already been a world champion prior to this match. However, this victory over perennial champion Harley Race felt much more like a coronation for the Nature Boy. On top of that, it was the main event of the first Starrcade, showing that a “supercard” of this nature could work to sell out closed circuit television venues, months before the initial Wrestlemania took place. Without Starrcade, you likely don’t have Wrestlemania, and, without Wrestlemania, you likely don’t have the modern concept of the professional wrestling pay per view event.

Hulk Hogan vs. The Iron Shiek (December 28, 1984)
The Rock called it the most important match in WWE history. Who am I to disagree with the Rock?

Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Mitsuharu Misawa (June 8, 1990)
Much like several other matches on this list, this is a significant “passing of the torch,” with one of puroresu’s greatest names of of the 1970s and 1980s handing his crown to the man who would take the product to new heights in the 1990s and 2000s. The well-documented story behind the bout is that Misawa had been a rising babyface for some time, but there had been a new groundswell of support building for him in the weeks prior. The evening of this match, fans were chanting for him before and during the show at times when he had nothing to do with what was going on, in addition to buying boatloads of Misawa merch. That lead to Giant Baba, the booker, making a surprising call to not only put Misawa over but also to put him over clean.

Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (Survivor Series 1997)
I think everybody reading knows the story behind this one, as well as the repercussions that it had. Without the Montreal Screwjob, we likely don’t get heel Vince McMahon on camera, and, without heel Vince McMahon on camera, we don’t have his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, the storyline that shaped the Attitude Era, which in turn shaped so much of what modern professional wrestling is, for better for for worse.

Again, if you’ve got a different listing, feel free to drop it in the comments.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.

article topics :

Bobby Heenan, Ric Flair, WWE, Ryan Byers