wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Who Was Better, Bobby Heenan or Jesse Ventura?

October 28, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Bobby Heenan or Jesse Ventura

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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Bryan is getting ready to commit some pro wrestling heresy:

Do you think it’s revisionist history to call Bobby Heenan the greatest color commentator ever? Nothing against him, but, as a kid, I thought Jesse Ventura was light years better, because he made it feel like you were watching a legitimate sporting event. He even gave compliments to the babyfaces to help the story of the match. I thought him and Gorilla Monsoon were a better pair because they would compare stuff to their time as in-ring competitors. Do you think Ventura’s controversial political views have made people just elevate the Brain over the Body by default?

I one hundred percent agree with the notion that the legacy WWE has created for Jesse Venutra is nowhere near where it deserves to be given his contributions to the professional wrestling industry and his skills as a color commentator. They’ve passed over a lot of opportunities that they have had to honor the guy or involve him in the contemporary product. That could have something to do with his politics, but it probably has a lot more to do with his history of litigation against WWE.

Those of you who collected WWE DVDs in the early to mid-2000s like I did or subscribed to WWE Classics on Demand before it was replaced by the Network will remember that, for a time, there were unusual matches included in those products that featured commentary by Gorilla Monsoon or Tony Schiavone but sounded for all the world like the play-by-play guys were having conversations with themselves. The announcing sounded that way because the original audio tracks included color commentary by Ventura, but his vocals were edited out of the re-release because in the 1990s, he sued the WWF – and won – in a case where he claimed that he ought to be paid residuals for reuse of his old footage. Rather than ponying up the money, McMahon and co. took the low road and flat-out refused to air anything involving Ventura for a significant period of time.

Granted, the “No Body” policy was eventually relaxed and he has largely been restored to the company’s archives, but sidelining him like that kept him from being built up as a legend in fans’ minds for ten years or so, perhaps allowing Bobby Heenan to edge him out in some “Who’s the greatest?” debates.

Is Heenan surpassing Ventura unjustified, though?

I would say not.

Both men have their strong suits as a color commentator. As Bryan points out, Ventura probably did perform better if you were looking for somebody who was calling wrestling more like a legitimate sporting event. However, when it came to pure humor and charisma, you weren’t going to be able to outdo the Brain . . . and it’s not as though he was a subpar announcer who just got by on his charm. He had plenty of talent in terms of calling the matches and knowing what to put over as well. (During his glory days, anyway. When he was part of WCW and checked out on the product, that’s a different story.)

My personal favorite between the two has always been Heenan for the reasons that I mentioned above, but they’ve both got so many positive qualities that I’m not going to fault anyone for choosing one over the other.

BaxterV has three questions:

Hi I’m BaxterV, I love your columns. I have 3 questions:

I just said that.

1. Do you think Reigns could be at the level of in ring work of Jon Moxley outside of the WWE?

I suppose that anything is possible, but my position has always been that you shouldn’t say, “Wrestler X could put on much better matches outside of WWE” when you’ve never actually seen Wrestler X put on better matches outside of WWE. Reigns is somebody who has never worked outside of the WWE system, so saying that he could be more than what he is outside of that system would be nothing more than speculation. We’ve got no indication of how he would perform elsewhere, one way or the other.

2. With the debut of the Wednesday night wars, do you think WWE will kind of make EVOLVE their developmental in the US?

I doubt it. Aside from having one or two guys on EVOLVE shows as special guests, there’s no indication that WWE is having contracted talent work for EVOLVE on the sort of regular basis that you would need in order for that group to be considered a developmental territory in the traditional sense of the term. The other thing to consider here is that EVOLVE would have to run a lot more frequently if it were going to be an effective developmental territory. The company’s whole business model at this point is based around running two to four loaded shows per month, but, in order to allow for young talent to improve, you’ve got to be running several times per week. There doesn’t appear to be any desire by EVOLVE to start running that sort of schedule. In other words, they wouldn’t be an adequate replacement for NXT without a major overhaul to what they’re attempting to accomplish.

3. Do you think the talks with Dragon Gate officials will lead to NXT Japan or do you think it will not launch any time soon if at all?

This question is timely, because I got it just a few days before reports started to break that WWE was interested in purchasing the Japanese women’s promotion Stardom with an eye towards making it their own Japanese territory. If WWE had those plans in mind when talking to Stardom, they very easily could have had the same thoughts in mind with Dragon Gate, though I’ve not seen any indication that DG and WWE have been communicating with one another since the summer, so any relationship between the two companies is either being slow-walked and/or is not going to happen anytime soon.

Frankly, of all the promotions that WWE could have been talking to, Dragon Gate is the one that I can see an affiliation with working the least, because the two companies’ styles of in-ring wrestling differ so greatly from one another. If anything, if I were in Triple H’s position, I’d be talking to an All Japan Pro Wrestling or a Pro Wrestling NOAH, promotions that have more traditional styles but have fallen on hard times and may need a cash infusion.

IMissMarkingOut is the crown jewel of this column:

If WWE were able to get a women’s match on a Saudi Arabia card at any time during their 10 year deal, will it all have been worth it?

No. There are far more important issues of gender equality that need to be dealt with in Saudi Arabia than who gets to participate in simulated athletic contests.

I understand that an argument could be made that introducing oppressed minority groups into sports (for example racially integrating baseball in the USA) has historically been part of a process that has helped contribute to broader societal change. However, I have a hard time believing that WWE, which is relatively new to Saudi Arabia, has that kind of sway over the hearts and minds of the country’s citizens . . . at least not yet.

Michael K. has a series of four questions that have been in the mailbag for a while, since the first two relate to then-current events of the Money in the Bank pay per view:

1. Do you think Bayley winning MITB, and subsequently the Smackdown title, was always the plan or do you think WWE did it as an FU to Sasha Banks? Basically “You acted like a child and walked out and now look!! This could’ve been you!!” I wonder if it was a possibility (which is why they split them up) but they accelerated it due to Sasha’s recent behavior.

It’s entirely possible given some of the company’s past behavior towards people who they have had disputes with, but I’m not aware of any concrete information coming out one way or the other. My personal thought is that Bayley winning and Banks’ situation with the company at the time were unrelated, as Bayley felt like the only natural winner of the women’s MITB match, because the other wrestlers involved were all people that the company has never really been serious about pushing in any way.

2. Speaking of MITB, do you think the Lesnar surprise was the plan all along? To me it worked fine and was a surprise, but I wonder if it was supposed to be Lars Sullivan but, due to all his bad press from past comments, they pulled back and went to Lesnar as plan B. They’re obviously high on Lars so him winning MITB would’ve been a perfect way to continue his push.

This strikes me as being a hotshot to get people talking and prop up ratings, not as a long-term plan. According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter from around the time of the show, the plan prior to this year’s Wrestlemania was for Seth Rollins to defeat Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title on that card with Lesnar then receiving his rematch on the Crown Jewel show in June. (Obviously, that plan later changed.) There’s no storyline reason that Brock would have needed to win MITB in order to get the Crown Jewel rematch, so it seems unlikely that the giving him the ladder match win tied into their long-term plans.

Old school questions now: What was the point of a wrestler, when in a bearhug, doing the stupid handclap behind his opponents head to get him to break the hold? I mean, it sounded loud but they’re making it obvious he wasn’t hitting his opponent’s ears because he was visually clapping behind his head! Why not actually slap them in the ears? Or use an eye gouge since their hands are free? Or even a head butt or biting them would look better and be less silly?

There are probably a couple of different explanations for this. First, when wrestling was primarily a live event product and there weren’t a lot of televised close-ups of moves, chances are good that fans who weren’t up close to the ring could be fooled into thinking that the clap was actually connecting with the ears. Second, even if you don’t buy that, you could argue that the clapping wrestler’s forearms are still connecting with the opponent’s ears, which would still be painful. The clap just makes it sound better.

As an aside, when you’re looking for clips to post in your wrestling column, do not search YouTube for “pro wrestling bearhug.” There are some results that you’d rather not see. Trust me.

Why do you think, outside of luchadores, masked wrestlers have generally gone away? Back in the 80’s you had tons of them (Mr. Wrestling II, the Grappler, Super Destroyers, Masked Superstar, etc.) but now they’re basically extinct. Any reasons?

This question was asked before the emergence of “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt, so we do actually have one pretty prominent masked wrestler on television now. However, he is a little bit different than the traditional masked wrestler, since he also appears unmasked and in storyline the mask has the purpose of establishing him as a more dangerous version of himself instead of having the purpose of hiding his identity. (You know, like Al Snow when he was Avatar.)

So, why are traditional masked wrestlers like the ones Michael referenced on the ropes? I think that the answer is simply that the people who have been in charge of pro wrestling at a high level for the past twenty or thirty years haven’t ever been big fans of the gimmick. If you look back to the 1980s WWF when the younger Vince McMahon first took over full control, the masked grapplers that more regularly popped up in his father’s version of the territory dropped out of favor. There really wasn’t a high level masked wrestler during the Rock n’ Wrestling era . . . and that has continued on until present day. With the notable exception of Kane (whose mask served a purpose similar to that of the Fiend) and arguably Mankind (whose mask wasn’t really hiding his identity), there haven’t been many non-luchador masked men in the company ever since Vince Jr.’s takeover.

Even outside of WWE, power players in wrestling have not cared for hoods. Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo during their time in WCW are great examples. They notoriously thought that wrestlers without masks were more marketable, to the point that they even unmasked several lucha stars, including Rey Misterio, Jr., Juventud Guerrera, and Psicosis.

Though there are other people booking wrestling these days who no doubt have different opinions regarding masks, the fact that we have had such a longstanding tradition of wrestlers not wearing hoods unless they are tied to lucha that now when up-and-coming wrestlers try to put their gimmicks together, they’re likely not even thinking about donning a mask.

Brad wrote in to the column back in June and asked who appeared on the first episode of Smackdown and who was likely to appear on the first episode of Smackdown on the Fox Network. I answered his question then, and now he’s checking back in with an update:

Thanks for answering this question a while back. Now that the show aired, we know the results. Excluding the pre-show, crowd shots, and silly outside blue carpet segments, here’s who actually performed: Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Shane McMahon, Michael Cole, and the Rock.

Not to go all Watry on you, but it sounds as though things worked out pretty much as I called them, except that I figured Steve Austin was much more likely to show up than the Rock. (And Austin was advertised and then apparently pulled with no announcement of that fact being made. Frankly, I’m glad that WWE chose to go fairly light on nostalgia with this one, because they’ve had several shows in recent memory that focus on cameos by the stars of the past, and going back to the well on that concept too often will only dilute the effectiveness of those legends in the future.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].