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Ask 411 Wrestling: Is Paul Heyman the Ultimate Manager of Champions?

March 28, 2022 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Paul Heyman WWE Raw Image Credit: WWE

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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Beenie is the brains of the operation:

Paul Heyman has managed the two biggest stars today to world title belts. Has anyone else done that, or more? Who else if anyone has manged two world champions (while they are champions)?

You’re actually underselling Heyman’s accomplishments a bit because, in addition to Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns – who I assume you are referencing in the question – he also managed CM Punk while Punk was WWE Champion. However, I guess you can’t say that he managed Punk “to the belt,” since Punk already held it and Heyman signed on to the act later.

Are there other managers who have accomplished something similar?

Yes, but you have to go back a ways, and even then it’s not exactly the same thing.

The first name that came to my mind was Arnold Skaaland, a name that may not be too familiar to many of our younger readers unless you’ve seen John Cena hanging out with his wife. Skaaland was a wrestler whose career began in the 1940s, and, though he was still getting in the ring at the time, during the 1960s he had also started managing. He was manager of Bruno Sammartino when Bruno was the WWWF Champion, and then he also lead Bob Backlund to the WWWF Title (one of the “Ws” was jettisoned during Backlund’s reign).

However, there were fourteen years between the beginning of Sammartino’s first reign and the beginning of Backlund’s first reign, so it’s not as though they were the two top wrestlers in the business at the same time as Reigns and Lesnar are today. It’s still quite the managerial accomplishment for Skaaland, though, particularly because the professional wrestling business operates much differently now than it did then, and non-transitional title reigns lasted for years on end, whereas now a reign that goes more than 12 months is the exception and not the rule.

Another individual who could arguably fall into the same category albeit with some qualifications is Jimmy Hart. When he first came to WCW, the Mouth of South managed Hulk Hogan as a babyface and was in his corner when he took the company’s World Heavyweight Title off of Ric Flair. When Hogan lost the title fifteen months later, it was because Hart turned on the Hulkster in a title match against the Giant. Giant won the bout by disqualification, after which it was revealed that Jimmy had slipped a clause into the contract for the match which said that the championship would change hands on a DQ.

Thus, Jimmy Hart managed two consecutive world champs in WCW, even though the supposed son of Andre was stripped of the title a week later when company executives decided they didn’t care for the heelish tactics that put the belt on him.

Night Wolf the Wise rides all night and sleeps all day:

1. Adam Page is using the cowboy gimmick. It got me thinking about something. How many wrestlers have used Cowboy as part of their gimmick? Can you list all of them?

No, I can’t list all of them, because the gimmick is so pervasive and there have been so many wrestlers in the history of the world that there is no good way to come up with a comprehensive list other than doing months if not years of research, which is well beyond the scope of what this column allows me to do.

That being said, I’ll still take a shot as making as comprehensive a list as I can. Feel free to add more in the comments:

1. Adam Page
2. James Storm
3. Stan Hansen
4. Blackjack Mulligan
5. Blackjack Lanza
6. Blackjack Windham
7. Blackjack Bradshaw
8. Dory Funk Sr.
9. Terry Funk
10. Dory Funk Jr.
11. Jimmy Jack Funk
12. Dick Murdoch
13. Dusty Rhodes/Midnight Rider
14. Mysterious & Handson Stranger (RD Evans in CHIKARA)
15. Cowboy Bob Orton Jr.
16. Cowboy Bill Watts
17. Billy Gunn
18. Bart Gunn
19. Bill Irwin
20. Scott Irwin
21. Cowboy Bob Ellis
22. Cowboy Bob Kelly
23. Bobby Duncum
24. Bobby Duncum Jr.
25. Black Bart
26. Dutch Mantell
27. Deadeye Dick (a/k/a Randy Colley/original Demolition Smash)
28. Bobby Jaggers
29. Cowboy Lang
30. Dick Slater
31. Bunkhouse Buck
32. Mike Enos
33. Frankie Laine
34. Jimmy Wang Yang
35. Johnny Mantel
36. Kendall Windham
37. Lance Cade
38. Trevor Murdoch
39. Ron Bass
40. Steve Armstrong/Lance Cassidy
41. Tracy Smothers (as a Young Pistol)
42. Texas Hangman #1
43. Texas Hangman #2
44. Sam Houston
45. Scott Casey
46. Tex McKenzie
47. Cowboy Luttrall
48. Cowboy Bret Hart

That’s about all that I can come up with right now. The list is actually shorter than I thought it might be.

2. Piggybacking off of question #1: Is Cowboy the most used gimmick in wrestling?

The most common gimmick is probably not having a well-defined gimmick at all, particularly when you count the vast number of enhancement talent over the years that have been no frills, boots-and-tights wrestlers.

There were also a lot of ants in CHIKARA.

Tyler from Winnipeg may be comparing apples to oranges:

Was HBK’s first half of his career better than his second half?

I’m going to go with “no” on that one. Michaels was, obviously, an excellent professional wrestler, and he was very good at what he did from almost the first second that he stepped into a ring. However, from 1984 through 1992, he was primarily a tag team wrestler and was still trying to figure some things out. Then, when he initially got into the WWF with Marty Jannetty, they did not always have the best opponents. Yes, they had some excellent matches with the Hart Foundation and the Brainbusters, but they were just as likely to be getting squashed by the Twin Towers or the Nasty Boys.

Even when Michaels broke out and became a singles wrestler in the early 1990s, there was not nearly the volume of major shows that there were after his 2002 return, so there were far fewer opportunities for him to pull out all the stops and do everything that he could. I haven’t run the numbers, but almost assuredly you are going to have significantly more ****+ matches from HBK between 2002 and 2010 than you are between 1984 and 1998, simply because of how the professional wrestling industry worked, with PPVs occurring monthly (if not more often) and stars facing each other weekly on television as opposed to quarterly PPVs and free TV that centered on squash matches.

Todd is asking one of the most important questions of our lives:

I have two questions about mullets. In your opinion, who is the best person who wore a mullet to wrestle? Conversely, which wrestler had the best mullet regardless of wrestling ability? My money is on a 1980’s Bobby Eaton for both categories.

Bobby Eaton is a solid choice, to be honest. I would also say that Eddie Guerrero is near the top of the list in both categories, and a sleeper who many fans might not think about at first blush is Johnny Ace/John Laurinaitis, who not only held up his end of the bargain in many ****+ matches in All Japan Pro Wrestling but also had one of the mightiest mullets you could hope to achieve.

Kristian, Kristian, at last you’re on your own:

It’s no secret that big name companies like WWE have always keep a tight grip on the rights to their created characters; hence why if these performers leave, they often have to use certain variants of their trademark names (examples being Dudley Boy to Team 3D, Dean Ambrose to Jon Moxley, Legion of Doom to Road Warriors or vice versa, Psycho Sid to Sid Vicious/Justice). With the exception of people using their legally given names (Hart Family, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Randy Orton, etc) there only seems to be a small handful of people who can use their stage names wherever they go; and they seem to be the really big shot stars too (Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Diamond Dallas Page, CM Punk, Chris Jericho etc).

So how do the aforementioned character names get away of using these names in different promotions without suffering the wrath of big time wrestling promotions’ legal teams suing for copyright infringement and such?

You may not realize it, but you halfway answered your own question in what you wrote. You said that major wrestling promotions keep a tight grip on the rights to their created characters.

The people that you have listed as using their names in multiple promotions are, for the most part, people who created their own names. Jake Roberts, Chris Jericho, Randy Savage, Dallas Page, CM Punk – they all named themselves. In more modern professional wrestling contracts, those performers will typically have clauses included which explicitly state that they continue to own their own intellectual property, which they may continue to use wherever they like afterwards. In the days before those formal contracts, there was just a general understanding that, if you brought it into the promotion, you could take it out of the promotion with you, and that general understanding would be supported by the law unless you formally assigned the rights to the name to the promotion you were working for.

However, any names or nicknames developed while under contract for a major promotion would typically continue to be owned by that major promotion. That’s why Chris Jericho is Chris Jericho no matter where he wrestles but you’re only going to hear him called “Y2J” in WWE. Even if the performer came up with a nickname or gimmick himself while in a major promotion, most contracts will contain what is called a “work for hire” clause which states that anything created while working for the promotion will remain the property of the promotion, no matter who came up with it.

When it comes to acts like the Dudley Boys, it is true that they were the Dudley Boys prior to WWE, but the gimmick was a creation of ECW and owned by that promotion. WWE subsequently purchased all of ECW’s intellectual property rights out of bankruptcy, meaning that they own the names regardless of where they were developed and who used them.

Hulk Hogan is a bit of a unique case, but we covered that in an earlier edition of the column.

Joe cannot speak. He’s lost his voice. He’s speechless and redundant:

What non-finishing wrestling moves would you say defined each ‘generation’ of wrestling, maybe from their overuse in match after match? The 80s felt like sunset flips, headlocks, back rakes, atomic knee drops and rubbing people’s eyes on the ropes. The late 90s felt like hurricaranas became very fashionable. The current generation it feels like maybe the slingblade clothesline and the Petey Williams Destroyer are oft used. Your Thoughts?

Though some people used it as a finisher, I would say the move that stands out to me from the 1980s is the sleeper hold, as it seemed to be an easy go-to for anybody looking for away to extend the middle portion of a match. Slap your babyface in there, have the referee check the arm three times, let him power out, and you’ve easily gotten an extra two minutes that the crowd would almost always fall for and that was not too taxing on the performers.

I agree that the 1990s was the era of the huricanrana/frankensteiner, though I would also put in a vote for the moonsault, which got so ridiculously popular that even fifty-something Terry Funk was doing them on the regular. Also, though it didn’t last long, it seemed like there was a brief time in the late 1990s where a lot of lower card wrestlers were trying to get over their own version of the Last Rites/Roll of the Dice/CrossRhodes.

Ad I’m amazed that you omitted one incredibly overused move from the 2000s onward, none other than the superkick, superkick, SUPERKICK! It went from Shawn Michaels’ finisher to a transition move that guys regularly snap off in twos and threes to the point that it might as well be just another punch or forearm.

Souvik from India is tracing things back to their origins:

Who or which company influenced the modern PWG style of wrestling?

There are a lot of historical influences that go into just about any style of wrestling, but in my mind the current style of wrestling on display in major independents and even in AEW came from early Ring of Honor, and much of what you saw in early Ring of Honor was based in large part on the style of wrestling developed in the 1990s junior heavyweight division of New Japan Pro Wrestling by guys like Jushin Liger, El Samurai, Chris Benoit, and others, which itself had grown out of earlier NJPW junior matches, where men like the original Tiger Mask and the Dynamite Kid were true innovators.

It’s also worth noting that, though the overall style differs, a lot of individual moves that gained popularity in ROH/PWG/AEW were actually invited by Japanese female wrestlers in the 1990s.

Robert James legitimately drew more people than Wrestlemania III:

In 1992, the WWF famously changed almost the entire card at Summerslam (or “The Summerslam” as Bret Hart would say). The entire summer they built to matches with:
Bulldog vs. Repo Man
Bret Hart vs. HBK
Savage vs. Flair
Warrior vs. Papa Shango
Beverley Brothers vs. LOD
Bossman vs. Nailz

Meanwhile, the actual event featured completely different matches- literally NONE of the feuds they were building were progressed on the show and only Nailz vs. Bossman ever really got resolved (at the next PPV, Survivor Series).

Now, I know they changed the IC match when the event was moved to London to capitalize on the British Bulldog’s popularity but why did they scrap the rest of the matches? I get how sometimes one change can affect the rest of the card but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Also, what happened with the WWF Heavyweight Title Program? Why did they put Warrior and Savage in a face vs. face match? The way the match played out with Flair and Perfect on the outside was so awkward- was that the original plan?

I think what we are dealing with here is another situation in which fans look back on a card from the 1980s or early 1990s and fail to realize how booking wrestling back then differed from booking wrestling now.

You’re absolutely correct that, during the summer of 1992, the matchups that you’ve listed were the WWF’s ongoing rivalries. However, just because they were the company’s ongoing rivalries doesn’t meant that they were being built up for pay per view. Though PPV was big business at the time, live event ticket sales were still far and away the king in terms of generating revenue. The feuds you’ve listed were not being built up to get people to buy Summerslam. They were being built up to get people to buy tickets to live events in their hometowns so that they could see those matches in person. If anything, including those bouts on the Summerslam card would have worked against WWF’s business model at the time because if the match could be seen broadly on PPV there would have been less incentive for people to go see it when it came through their area on tour.

There are plenty of examples of this throughout WWF’s early history with pay per view, as programs that got a decent amount of TV time were left off of the “major” shows, or, if they were included, they had an inconclusive finish that would allow them to continue at live events.

Regarding the Savage/Warrior title match, the original plan for the show was . . . a Savage/Warrior title match. The June 1, 1992 Wrestling Observer Newsletter lists Savage/Warrior for the title as being the main event of the card. Speculation from around the time indicates that Flair was not included in a headlining role because his name did not mean much in the European market. Many wrestling fans in the United States knew him from his time with Jim Crockett Promotions/WCW, but that promotion’s exposure overseas was far less than what the WWF had managed to establish. Warrior, meanwhile, was the company’s second-biggest homegrown star behind Hulk Hogan, and Hogan was not going to be available for the card.

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.