Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
Class of 2013
Inducted by Mazza and PrimeTime
Maz: Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this special Lords of Pain Hall of Fame induction column. When the Doc came up with the idea for an LoPHoF, I immediately decided I wanted to jump on board and be a part of things where possible. When the initial nominations went up, I saw a nice range of people and matches being mentioned but there was one constant who seemed to be chosen by almost everyone. In fact, when all other categories went to a second round of voting, there was one man that had already secured his place in the first Lords of Pain Hall of Fame class…
Prime: See, now that’s where you are wrong, Gorilla Maz-soon. The first thing you did when people started talking about an LoP HoF was think how you could start mooching off one of the greatest keyboard journalists in the history of this website.
Maz: I think everyone knows that you’re the Monsoon of this pairing. But yeah, knowing your love for Heenan quotes and ancient stuff, I thought you’d be perfect for this. And who better to induct Boobs into the Hall of Fame than a present and future first ballot LOP columns Hall of Famer?
Prime: You mean I get to write this with Hustle?
Maz: Only if I get to do one with Davey Boy. But enough of this. This is a tribute to Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. A couple of bickering old fogies has nothing at all to do with that.
Prime: As much fun as it is to do my (admittedly piss-poor) Heenan impression, I’ve got to admit that you are right. It’s a pleasure to pay tribute to a man who was held in high esteem in the wrestling business for longer than I can even remember. Truth is, when I first saw ‘The Brain’ he was already a veteran of a number of decades and was winding up his first role in the business as a manager. Maz, you’re the slightly older of these two fogies, so why don’t you start us off by talking of your first experiences of the great man?
Maz: Well I first found myself getting into the colourful world of American pro-wrestling in the late 80s. Of course back then I didn’t have much of an outlet to follow things in chronological order but would just take my VHS tapes when and where I could get them (usually borrowed from friends or my local Blockbuster). My first memories of Heenan were about a guy who seemed hell bent on helping somebody win the WWF Championship from Hulk Hogan. My favourite cassette at this time (and the first one I bought) was WrestleMania III and this was probably the biggest threat Heenan gave to Hulkamania both literally and figuratively. Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant didn’t need much selling but The Brain did a great job in the build up and on the night. The more I watched Heenan and his fellow managers, the more he begun to stand out for me. He didn’t need megaphone, or a cane, or salt or even much of a gimmick. He just stood out. He did all the selling he needed before the match and then kept things simple but effective during the match.
Prime: I think now so much is focused on the scale of the match and the gamble of the whole event, that people forget the build-up and how important it was that Andre had not only betrayed Hogan, but had joined up with Heenan. Really, Bobby became the top heel in the company once Piper started to get more of a positive than negative reaction, which is not bad for a guy already over the age of 40 by the time the first Wrestlemania rolled around. As for me, I think the first time I encountered him would have been a little bit later, in videos of one of his rare triumphs as his intervention cost The Ultimate Warrior, a favourite of children everywhere, the Intercontinental title. That success didn’t last long and I vividly remember Summerslam ‘89, when Heenan and Rude got their comeuppance. The thing is, though, that Bobby had been in the business (and was critically acclaimed) decades before any of these WWF examples from the eighties.
Maz: I won’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, but from what I can gather, Heenan pretty much ran with the same thing in the WWF that he had always ran with. He spent the majority of his early career in the AWA looking after Version 1.0 onwards of the Heenan Family. The Blackjacks, Ray Stevens,. Bobby Duncum, Ken Patera and Nick Bockwinkel all found themselves with The Brain by their side at some point and a lot of them experienced a fair amount of success during that time. It was in the AWA, during the family’s feud with Dick the Bruiser where Dick would coin the nickname Weasel for Bobby which would stick with him over the years. In 1984 however, Heenan was part of the mass exodus from the AWA to the WWF and was originally going to be used by Vince as the manager for a certain Mr Ventura. Could you imagine the nattering that would have gone on with those two together?
Prime: I can just imagine the fight for the microphone. The story I always love is of Heenan showing a list of what one of his ‘Family’ was going to do to an opponent to an interviewer. While they were recording he’d hold up hardcore porn in front of the guy’s face and force him to carry on as if he were looking at some daring new submission… which I guess he might have been. We could go through the whole list of Heenan’s accomplishments but there is no point in pretending we are older than we are, or experts on his pre-AWA days. You could do worse than read the man’s book, if you are interested in going down that road. Quite a bit of the AWA material is available nowadays, so I’ve seen quite a lot of that retrospectively. The Heenan-Bockwinkel partnership has become a bit of a favourite of mine, and I think the turning of ‘Crippler’ Ray Stevens (himself a great worker and a brilliant candidate for any HoF) on Nick and ‘Beautiful’ Bobby has to be one of the all-time great moments in wrestling.
Maz: Hardcore porn at work you say? Sounds good to me. I guess I have to start looking up some AWA stuff before I get to that though. I don’t however have many familiarity issues with his work in the WWE. It is almost impossible for me to pick a favourite. There was his quest to take the title from Hogan with Bundy, and then Andre. There was his battles later on with The Ultimate Warrior. His pairings with both Rick Rude and Curt Hennig were absolutely brilliant. His conflicted position as Haku and Harley Race feuded just added intrigue to a heel vs heel dynamic. Arn and Tully seemed to click tremendously with Heenan during their short but highly entertaining year with the WWF but if I had to pick one thing that stands out for Bobby as a manager, it would be the Heenan Family’s feud with the Big Bossman.
Prime: For me, it’s got to be the stuff with Warrior. Not just the Rude feud that was frankly the best thing going in the WWF of 1989, but also thanks to the weasel suit matches and the way the entire family could be monopolised against the one guy. The fact that we know subsequently that Heenan despised Warrior and his shoddy way of working just makes me have all the more respect for the professional job that Bobby did in those matches. It must be hard for an older guy with a bad neck to work like that with someone that he doesn’t really trust. I get the feeling, though, that everything we’ve mentioned so far only makes up a small percentage of why Heenan gets in here. Wrestling is a fickle business, and there’s often a culture amongst fans of ‘what have you done for me lately?’ We’re a couple of the older guys around here and even we have to admit that we’ve not seen too much of the early stuff from Bobby’s career. I reckon Heenan’s WWF managerial stint will be ancient history to plenty of people too. Because of that, I’d guess that a lot of his continuing popularity and legendary status comes from the very successful transition into ‘broadcast journalism’ that came in the early nineties as a result of that neck injury I alluded to a moment ago.
Maz: Some people just get it. I get the feeling that wherever Heenan landed in the wrestling industry he would quickly master the art. That is something he certainly did at the announce booth. I’ve listened to a lot of men commentate on wrestling over the years. Many of them are thought to be amongst the very finest minds the industry’s ever seen. A lot of them were damn good at their job too but in my eyes (ears?) none of them even come close to the level of The Brain. For me he really was the total package at the booth. He would play the heel to the death yet still manage to put good guys over. He could discuss anything yet effortlessly bring the conversation back round to what was going on in the ring without losing focus. But more than anything, his humour, wit and in particular his uncanny ability to quickly talk himself out of any corner would almost always increase the quality of a match he was commentating on by half a star, sometimes more if he was in the zone.
Prime: Heenan had a reputation for taking better bumps than a lot of wrestlers during his managerial heyday, so you may just have a point about him succeeding at anything he turned his mind to. As for announcing, The Brain is one of a very small number of WWF/E announcers that I’d put in the ‘great’ bracket. I can remember being a kid, and getting the VHS of Wrestlemania VIII. I think to this day it is possibly the finest example of his partnership with Gorilla Monsoon. From the moment he said that Reba McIntyre was Tito Santana’s sister, and then went one further by calling her Arriba McIntyre, I was completely hooked. Thinking back on it, his performance on that show had it all. From the humour in those early stages (in Santana’s match with Michaels, I don’t know of a funnier performance from a commentator), he goes through adding an extra dimension in the great Intercontinental title match between Bret and Piper (playing up Bret’s propensity to play possum adds beautifully), and winds up apoplectic in Flair’s locker room after the excellent WWF title match. All in all, I have to say I don’t think any WWE colour commentator has reached the heights that Bobby got to on that night.
Maz: My memories of my first few years watching wrestling are full of Brain masterclasses and Heenanisms. One of my all time favourites will have to be SummerSlam 1991. There were a lot of the key components from what Prime would go on to love about Mania VIII. There was the IC title, there was Bret Hart, this time going up against Mr Perfect and there was Piper. This time the Rowdy one was at the booth with Heenan and the comedy gold was not stop. Piper and Bret took the brunt of his golden tongue that night but he also took some nice shots at Stu and Helen. A tactic his replacement at the booth would use as the foundation for his announcing career. Timing and delivery was also something that Heenan had down to perfection. There were so many throw away lines that would get me every single time. “Shawn Michaels has left the building” never failed to put a smile on my face but my all time favourite has to be “Do you know how he got that urn? He earned it”. Doesn’t quite have the same charm written down though!
Prime: The great moments didn’t stop when he left the WWE for a reduced schedule in 1993, either. He had a hell of a run in WCW, one of the most popular people on their programming and a major voice of the Monday Night War. Yes, for a lot of people who’ve read Mick Foley’s first book, his WCW run is synonymous with that powerbomb on the concrete and the ‘excedrin headache no. 9’ line, but no one gets everything right. That was definitely an off night, but I prefer to remember the great contribution that Heenan made in getting the NWO over back in the summer of 1996. I can remember after Hall and Nash took out half the locker room with weapons, Heenan left the show mere minutes after he was meant to start his portion of the show, after a speech begging for someone to guarantee his safety. You just had to listen to the weekly – and affectionate – weasel chants in every town that Nitro rolled into to know the esteem that fans held him in by this time.
Maz: To be honest, his WCW work is almost as foreign to me as his AWA work, but there are certain things you just can’t miss being a wrestling fan for so long. That iconic night at Bash of the Beach 1996 where Hogan joined the NWO, Heenan’s commentary stands out as much for me as the actions going on in the ring. It’s almost like Ken Wolstenholme and Geoff Hurst’s goal in the 1966 World Cup final. The other thing that I have seen a lot of from The Brain’s WCW run is of course the infamous Brian Pillman incident.
Prime: BATB is of course a classic, but the latter is probably not his finest moment! Personally, I’m more inclined to think fondly of the unusually understated, but perfectly appropriate, tribute to the recently deceased Gorilla Monsoon on an episode of Nitro back in October 1999. Monsoon had never worked in Atlanta, and the two hadn’t commentated together since Bobby left the WWF late in 1993, but the moment really acted as closure for a lot of us who had been brought up on their partnership and, in particular, Bobby teasing the big man. Not only that, but the incident showed not only the respect that the people in WCW clearly had for Monsoon, but the class of the man it’s our pleasure to induct today.
Maz: You know, it’s hard to talk for Heenan in any great detail without coming around to Monsoon. The Brain’s emotions at his WWE Hall of Fame ceremony induction where he simply stated that he wished Monsoon was there always brings a lump to my throat. To be perfectly honest I wasn’t a huge fan of Gorilla’s announcing style but the chemistry in his partnership with Bobby was off the charts. You think of how long The King and JR announced together but even they couldn’t hold a candle Heenan and Monsoon in the department. They played off each other so well to the point where you could easily find entertainment in just listening to wrestling as opposed to watching. Maybe the greatest example of this is the 1992 Royal Rumble match where Heenan delivers one an hour long performance to match that of Ric Flair’s in the ring. It is almost as if The Brain is pulling double duty as ‘Broadcast Journalist’ alongside Monsoon whilst showing very little in the way of impartiality as The Nature Boy’s ‘Financial Consultant’. There are plenty of things that all lock in together to make this one of my favourite matches of all time but in a way, I often see that night as Flair assisting Heenan’s ironman feat rather than the other way round.
Prime: Kinda controversial Maz, but there’s no doubting that Heenan goes through the wringer in that hour, too. I can just imagine him going nuts at the announce table, practically taking every bump along with the Nature Boy. Bobby was never one to stand impassively in the corner, and I can see him going through exactly the same histrionics even when he’s calling the action. It might well be that passion that is the main reason he’s been so valuable to the industry wherever he has been. We obviously can’t talk about every great moment in such a long and storied career, but we’ve tried to keep this personal and touch on some of our favourite episodes from the Brain’s work. The virtue of doing it this way is that everyone’s tribute would end up being different – there could be a million different versions as each individual recalled different matches, interviews and one-liners. It’d be great if this column reminded people out there not just of the things we’ve raised, but some of their own favourite Heenan moments, too.
Maz: Exactly, I could probably sit here all day and listen to all the readers’ favourite Brain moments and lines. For now though, it is time to go and we can only hope that this look back at the man, who for me is the greatest manager and greatest announcer of all time, has managed to put a smile on all the face of all the humanoids reading out there.
Prime: And for those of you who dropped out of high school and can’t read, remember the favourite phrase: do you want fries with that?
Maz: Will you stop!
Related Links: Ken Resnick and Bill Apter Remember The Life Of Bobby Heenan, Discuss His Work As A Self-Promoter, His Creative Freedoms and more
The Life & Times of Bobby Heenan: The Brain’s Finest Hour (Jan ’92, The Royal Rumble) by Mizfan