Read THE RING POST, other than that no ads today. Let’s jump right into it.
At various times in my life I’ve had a wide number of “favorite wrestlers”. Off the top of my head, I can list Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Honky Tonk Man, Curt Hennig, Misawa, New Jack and Sabu as being at the top of the list. Times change, the business changes, and what becomes important in the selection changes.
But there’s always been one constant. If anyone were to ask me at any point in my nearly 20 years of watching who my all-time favorite personality was, my answer would be the same… whether it was at the very beginning, at any point during the glory years, or right now.
That man is Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. And perhaps more than anyone who was ever involved in any way with the business, he’s the reason I’ve never been ashamed of being a wrestling fan.
Fellow Lethalite Dead Hebner was kind enough to send me Heenan’s self-titled book off my vaunted WISH LIST, and for the last three days it’s been pure bliss becoming re-acquainted with the man I unequivically call the most entertaining mind this business has ever known. A lot of you younger readers may think this is insane… but that’s only because you know him from his stint in WCW. And believe me, we’ll cover that. Bobby has a sense of humor unrivalled by anyone this sport has ever seen, coupled with an overwhelming knowledge and seemingly instinctual grasp of what worked. He was never without something to say, and at least while his heart was still in it no one ever said it better. It was like he was born to be in this business.
And his book couldn’t do a better job of capturing that. Co-written by Steve Anderson (not sure if he still reads us, but according to Sebollox he definitely used to) and with a foreward by a relatively humbled Hulk Hogan (who can’t really help but get a few “Hoganisms” in, such as “he would go out with Bockwinkel and make him look good when he would screw up. He would go out and make me look good when I was working with Bockwinkel”… never mind Nick had more pure wrestling ability in his left testicle than Hogan does in his whole body), this is an honest, straightforward, unflinching, and oftentimes laugh out loud hilarious look at the wrestling industry and one of its very best players.
It begins with his love of wrestling as a child, and his desire to get into it. He tells of his first night as a performer, thinking he was going to be rich by the end of the show. “I was almost hung, I was burned by a cigar. I was almost beaten to death by Johnny Valentine and a man with a nightstick. I saw this horrendous accident where a man was alive and on fire.
For five dollars.
And all I could think of was one thing.
This is for me. When can I do it again.”
We’re intrduced to the old schoolers, from Valentine to Wilbur Snyder to Ray Stevens to Bruiser and everyone in between, and his gradual transition from wrestler to manager. He also discusses the different promoters, who was fair and who was out mainly for themselves. He speaks at length of Verne Gagne, who he worked with for years and had one of the hottest promotions in the country before Vince went national. His stories of the AWA are among the highlights of the book. Fucking with Brad Rheigins, kicking Buck Zumhofe in the head, the memorable “weasel suit” matches, why Mad Dog Vachon thinks Jesse Ventura is a “pussy”, and why Heenan had no respect for Bruiser Brody.
And then the story shifts to Vince McMahon.
I’ll be reviewing Mike Mooneyhan’s book in the coming weeks, and I’m sure it will paint a very different picture of Vinnie, but it’s always been apparent that Heenan holds him in the highest regard, and it’s reflected in his writing. The whole national takeover to Bobby is nothing more than the WWF being more creative and fair to their workers than the competition. Rather than focusing on McMahon “stealing” talent, he tells the story of Verne trying to get Iron Sheik to pull a Medusa on the WWF and show up on AWA television with the rival’s belt. He credits Hogan for getting him in the company, and pretty much has nothing but good things to say about Hulkster as well.
Heenan in the WWF was nothing short of amazing, both as a manager and a color man. Bobby managed many of Hogans most famous opponents: Orndorff, Bundy, Rude, Ric Flair, and of course Andre the Giant. And when it came to calling the matches, there never has been and never will be another announce team that could TOUCH Bobby and Gorilla Monsoon. It was a pairing that transcended wrestling, and made the shows worth watching just to hear them do their thing. I’ll never forget being a fledgling fan and watching them for the first time on Tuesday Night Titans, when Heenan brought out a masked John Studd as “Kim Chee”, who was supposedly going to destroy “Super Machine” (Andre under a mask). It was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen in my young life, and never looked back after that. It was a defining moment in my fandom. I’ll also never forget when Monsoon died, and Bobby had to fight back tears to say goodbye to him on Nitro.
Heenan then recounts his transition away from managing alltogether, and his new role as a “broadcast journalist”. We hear some tales of fun from the infamous “Bobby Heenan Show”, like the unforgettable moment that he thought he had secured the female lead of Eddie Murphey’s “Coming to America” as a guest, only to learn halfway through the interview that she was actually starring in “Coming IN America” and nearly falling out of his chair as porn star Heather Hunter stripped for him (the book is suprisingly lacking in details of his lackey “Jamison” who was funnier than ten hells). Shortly after that ended, Heenan was ready to retire. He wanted to get into movies and acting, but it didn’t take him long to decide that he hated LA.
Then WCW called.
If you ever want an inside look at just why WCW was as horrible as it was, you’ll be hard-pressed to ever find a better one than this. No punches are pulled, and you know it right off the bat when the chapter begins with the ominous lines “In WCW, I began what would be the worst six years of my life. It was more unprofessional than any place I’ve worked.” It doesn’t sound like he personally disliked Eric Bischoff, but it’s obvious he has little if any respect for the job he did there. He tells of the cliques, the backstabbing, the wrestlers who purposely went out to have bad matches, the idiotic decisions to “work” their own staff and show the most inane replays. The total lack of build-up or marketing, the revolving door of booking, the “genius” of Vince Russo, and the hundreds of other things that company did so totally wrong. He says that the only reason WCW won the ratings for awhile was because Vince was doing the Huckster and Nacho Man skits that made people want to see where those guys were, and Eric gave it right back to him with the “putting butts in the seat” debacle. He also told Eric that going on TV and challenging Vince to fight him was doing nothing but interesting fans in the other product as well, and that as much as anything was why he refused to badmouth the WWF or McMahon.
And he BURIES Tony Schiovane. He mocks his mic work, he ridicules his ego-driven demands (such as demanding that his chair be elevated higher than those on each side of him), he discusses Tony’s unwillingness to call a blown spot, and he accuses Tony of double-crossing him and leading to his dismissal. He follows it up by telling a great story of running into him at a lounge on New Year’s Eve and positioning himself across the bar and just staring at him until Tony was so shaken up he basically ran out of the place. This sums it all up:
”When Goldberg’s winning streak ended, that was the beginning of the end—that and the match between Hogan and Nash where Hogan pushed Nash down with one finger and pinned him. All that with 40,000 people in WCW’s own backyard in Atlanta, the home of the company. After that show, Mike Tenay and I told Tony that the handwriting was on the wall.
He shot back with ‘You bunch of paranoid sons of bitches’.
How are the Braves doing, Tony?”
The book closes with his one return match in the WWF, his battle with throat cancer (which happily he is winning), and some overall insights on his life and the business. He discusses the pros and cons of using celebrities for angles (he also reveals something I was unaware of, that the money that David Arquette made from wrestling went to the families of Brian Pillman and Owen Hart… it’s just a little harder to hate him after hearing that), the difference between “wrestling” and “sports entertainment”, and why there are almost no managers in the WWE.
And he ends it on a high note. “I’m not going to retire. In fact I’m looking forward to doing personal appearances and may even start a singing career. The WCW couldn’t shut me up, I’m sure as hell not going to let cancer do it… Just remember, the Brain has not left the building yet”.
There’s one other passage I want to include, out of tribute to the guy who gave this to me, from the section on “ribs”:
“At the World Bodybuilding Federation event the WWF had David Hebner, who has a twin brother named Earl that also works for the Federation, serve as an agent. Linda McMahon walked up to me and said ‘I’m so embarrassed. I can’t tell David and Earl apart. Which one is he?’
Of course I said, ‘It’s Earl.’
A half-hour later, David walked up to me and said ‘I’m nervous as hell. Linda McMahon keeps calling me Earl. I don’t have the guts to tell her I’m David.’
I didn’t say anything. I found Linda and told her, ‘Linda, I made a mistake. That’s David.’
I went back to David and said ‘Keep answering to Earl.’
That went on all day.”
You’ve read me long enough to know that always try to inject humor into my writing, but could not bring myself to do it in this review because I would’ve been trying to live up to the material I was reviewing, and that’s all but an impossible task. Bobby Heenan is not just one of the greatest comedy minds in wrestling, but one of the great comedy minds PERIOD. Yet at the same time this is anything but a light-hearted look at the industry. Bobby The Brain-- Wrestling’s Bad Boy Tells All not only pulls back the curtain, it names names, and Heenan and Anderson do a flawless job of making it read as though Bobby is telling you the stories from the next barstool. There’s like a million things I planned to touch on in this that it’s simply impossible to fit in, because there’s so much that he’s been in the middle of. Hell, I couldn’t even figure out how to mention that Undertaker once took a shit in Jerry Lawler’s crown to get back at him for being mistreated in Memphis… well, until now that is.
Bottom line, this is the best book on the industry I’ve read since Foleys’… even better than Dynamite Kid’s. Do yourself a favor and CHECK IT OUT!
COMING SOON- THE BARBED LIBRARY: Missy Hyatt, The First Lady of Wrestling
“Remember, a friend in need is a pest” –Bobby Heenan
PS: Loads of thanks to Hebner, MMN, Uncle Zeke, RemyZ, Jedi, Jim, Yeahgr, and Triple B for making the birthday so great. You guys are beautiful.