He has been admired and remembered as one of the true geniuses in professional wrestling, Bobby Heenan knew how to captivate audiences who tuned into watch wrestling on television or if they attended the live events at sold out arenas and stadiums. Heenan learned his craft when he first started out in wrestling managing then transitioning into a wrestler then back to manager and also as a commentator. Heenan credited doing both roles as manager and wrestler helping him have the ability to read a crowd based on their natural reaction to what he or they did during a match. Heenan was brought up in that old-fashioned way to what we refer to as the old-school mentality. He had been surrounded by some of the greatest minds involved in the industry during his years involved with the profession.
Heenan’s passion for wrestling all began early on as a fan growing up around Chicago and Indianapolis watching and studying the wrestlers’ behaviors along with their managers. He was gifted with intelligence early on and harnessed that wisdom in preparation for his own journey into professional wrestling. Heenan got further educated by managing and wrestling and it all went back to his humble beginnings in the territorial system. By traveling from town to town and knowing how the fans were going to react to him and his wrestler or wrestlers, Heenan quickly rose within various companies working under many different philosophical promoters, in a time when Kayfabe was still taken seriously back in those days. It didn’t take long for Bobby Heenan to become known as the “Brain” due to his own natural in-ring talent and capabilities on the microphone during so many memorable promos that were to become legendary.
Heenan was a witty, sarcastic, yet shrewd and confident man who personified what a true heel manager was in wrestling. Fans and wrestlers alike are still using Heenan as a reference. Not only could the guy talk, dress well, and verbally dominate the competition with his interview style by putting over the talent, Bobby was a very underrated and skilled professional inside the squared-circle as well. Bobby Heenan was a bumping machine in the ring and I’m amazed when I watch his matches at how he made them look so easy. Nick Bockwinkel of AWA fame, once said of Heenan if he could not make certain shows to tag with Ray “The Crippler” Stevens, that it would be Bobby who managed Nick and Ray during their runs as a tag team in the AWA working for Verne Gagne. Heenan would often be his replacement and everything worked out very well due to Bobby having so much experience as a wrestler.
He was fearless in a lot of ways, and got physical if he needed to be. His timing, whether we’re talking about the ring or interview segments, was a thing of beauty. Add to that all his trademark humor, he could just make all of us laugh so much with so many of his clever one-liners if you were really attentive and listening to what he said. Fans knew he had the stuff of a great comedian and how much of a complete genius Bobby Heenan truly was.
Heenan left AWA for the World Wrestling Federation where for most if not many it was such a difficult transition, but not for Bobby Heenan because the man learned and also knew he had to adapt to Vince’s style and way of doing things when it came to the WWF. Bobby used a formula that he studied from the early days of his career where he was going to all of those wrestling territories. Heenan knew where wrestling was under Vince McMahon’s new direction and quite frankly he also knew McMahon wanted to promote his brand as being a more entertainment based presentation. Heenan knew and had the wherewithal to understand this type of change. Heenan added to his own personal portfolio by continuing to manage some of the all-time greats and even stepping back inside the ring to face them. It was nothing new for him, he understood wrestling psychology and depending on what the story entailed to cause an issue between a star that he himself managed or someone he had to wrestle. Heenan knew what it took to survive during the different eras, where promoters and the business in general could be cut-throat. In many respects Heenan knew how to play and win the game in those respects. Heenan was very much a smart businessman.
Heenan found one of his greatest tag-team partners in working with another legend and that was none other than the late, great Gorilla Monsoon whose chemistry when paired together was undeniable. They not only did commentary, but both had been featured on popular WWF programming such as WWF Prime Time Wrestling and All American Wrestling which both aired on the USA Network. With Prime Time Gorilla and the Brain they were an inseparable duo due to their uncanny ability to play off each other. Similar to how they handled commentary with Bobby representing the heels and Gorilla being fair and often positioned to be for the babyfaces. You’d often see hilarious skits that kept the fans enamored and amazed at Heenan and Gorilla’s perfect timing together, what a tag team. Even though both men were former wrestlers it was Heenan that still got physically involved with matches by helping interfere or by taking the necessary bumps. Arguably some of his best work was outside of the ring when anytime Gorilla and Heenan did any kind of program as a team; it was ahead of the times and promised to be must-see-tv for the viewers at home. The two men grew close, becoming the best of friends, both Monsoon and Heenan’s families would vacation together and their friendship would help Bobby and Gorilla as they both went back and forth and it played out on TV with their gimmicks.
To me that’s what personifies a great wrestler, a great wrestling manager, and a true wrestling genius, is Bobby Heenan why do you think he earned that famous nickname “The Brain” from.
His contributions to professional wrestling are still felt today. Heenan’s influence on managers, wrestlers, commentators, and interviews defined what a legend really was and became a guide for those wanting to start their own careers in wrestling; to not just be good, but to be great at what you do. Some have come close and deserve to be in the conversation as far as the greatest, however there’s only one Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and we all miss him dearly, but at least we still have the memories of him.