The Common Denominator – Bring Back the Stables (WWE, NWA, World Class, UWF, Four Horsemen, Devastation Inc., Jimmy Hart, Bobby Heenan)

Just some quick notes – I’m glad to see the Funkasaurus Brodus Clay back on WWE TV. I am a bit confused about why he was gone for nearly two months. Word was he needed to develop more or something, only to se him come back with even fewer moves than before. And worst of all, he didn’t holler out his moves before he hit them, which was one of my favorite parts of the character.

Also, I am sad to hear about Kharma’s baby. As a father who lost a 15 month old several years ago to meningitis, I can relate to the loss. Hopefully, she can have another child if that is something she really wants, and in the meantime, she would probably do well to get back in the ring and kick some Diva butt to help get on with her life.
Okay, so there is a definite aspect to this whole wrestling business that I feel Vince and Company have completely let fall by the wayside. Well, it’s actually a two-part problem.

Back when I was a kid and wrestling was real (or at least real-ish, the way I knew Santa Claus wasn’t real, but I believed because I wanted to), there were managers. These were guys, usually little sniveling weasels who I assumed became managers because they couldn’t cut it in the ring. Now, I’m from Memphis, so managers like Jimmy Hart and Downtown Bruno (or Harvey Whippleman if you prefer) fit this bill perfectly. Same for Jim Cornette, Paul E. Dangerously (Heyman), and their ilk. You also had the cerebral managers like Bobby Heenan, Paul Ellering, the Grand Wizard, Skandor Ackbar, and the like. Then of course there were the ladies. Missy Hyatt, Miss Elizabeth, Sunshine, Baby Doll, Precious, Sherri Martel, Woman (Nancy Sullivan-Benoit), and others. There were a few assorted weirdos, too, like Oliver Humperdink and Percy Pringle, and wrestlers who doubled as managers, like Kevin Sullivan and Robert Fuller, but the idea seemed like a very realistic one in an age when wrestling was (theoretically) treated like any other sport. I mean boxers had managers, sports teams had managers, entertainers had managers, so why wouldn’t a professional wrestler need a manager. I mean in kayfabe terms, is Vince McMahon going to cut Kamala the Ugandan Giant a check every two weeks? Who’s going to go down to the butcher shop and get the Moondogs fresh bones every Friday?

And that leads to the real focus of this column. You see, managers didn’t just like to hang out at the arena. They had a stable, a group, a faction of wrestlers that were usually of a like mind and would often look out for one another, serve as partners when the need arose and my favorite part, had an established pecking order that sometimes led to one of the group getting fed up and turning on the rest of the group.

I mentioned Memphis and Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart earlier, and Hart is the first manager with a stable that I remember. Now, Hart’s seemingly sole goal in life was to rid the world of Jerry “The King” Lawler, and he had at one time or another a cadre of heels in Memphis that would fill an entire dream roster for any promotion: Randy Savage, Rick Rude, King Kong Bundy, The Assassins, Austin Idol, Dutch Mantell…he even brought Hulk Hogan in before Hulkamania was running wild, and of course his famous alignment with comedian Andy Kaufman.
Jimmy, of course, would go on to the WWF, where he continued to have success as a manager of heels, including the Hart Foundation, the Funks, Honkytonk Man, Greg Valentine and others, and even went to WCW and managed successfully first with Hogan again, and later with the heel First Family of Ming (Haku), Hugh Morris, the Barbarian, and probably some other yahoos. The point is the idea works.
This is something I feel the WWE has just completely dropped the ball, and something TNA has actually done fairly well since its inception. Maybe it’s the more Southern-centric mentality or maybe it’s just a matter of “this is how it’s supposed to be” that has seen TNA feature stables regularly, whether is was SEX, XXX, the Kings of Wrestling, the Beautiful People, whatever Raven was calling his group there, Fortune, or whatever.

WWE has flirted with stables, obviously, over the past few years, from Evolution to the Spirit Squad to Legacy to the Straight-Edge Society to the Nexus to the Corre, but what I see as a problem is that none of these groups have really had a counterpart.
The Four Horsemen were a perfect example of a properly used stable. They had the mouthpiece/manager in JJ Dillon (how did I not mention him before?), they had a well-defined pecking order: Flair was the champ and number-one guy, Arn and Tully were the enforcers and tag-specialists, and Luger or Windham or Sid were the muscle. The formula changed over time but for years it worked. It was hard to get over on the Horsemen, because their gang mentality meant the faces had to be on their toes every match. And it also gave those same faces a common enemy and reason to cooperate. Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA, Sting, the Rock & Roll Express, the Garvins, and the rest of the NWA good guys (oddly, some of which were former or future Horsemen) were united in opposition, and any time one of them did manage to thwart the nefarious Horsemen, it was a genuine feel-good moment to celebrate as a fan (even if one was forced to admit deep down inside that the Horsemen were actually cool).

Bobby Heenan’s stable was another great example. After honing his skills as “the Brain” in the AWA, Heenan came to the WWF and became THE bad guy manager, with a stable that included King Kong Bundy, John Studd, Rick Rude, Paul Orndorff, Haku, Curt Hennig, and even Ric Flair and Andre the Giant. Like Hart and Lawler, it seemed Heenan’s sole goal was to rid the WWF of Hulk Hogan and Hogan’s buddies. Heenan’s war with the Big Bossman was an excellently run mid-card feud. When the odds needed evening, Hogan or whoever could partner up and wage war with the Heenan Family. This works because, again, why wouldn’t the bad guys team up and try to take out the good guys, and why wouldn’t the good guys work together to thwart the forces of evil?
Now, I’m not suggesting an NOW-type take-over-the-whole-focus-of-the-promotion program. I’m also not for going back to a mid-90s WWE where it was like gang warfare and everyone it seemed was in a clique, like Nation of Domination, DOA, the Ministry or whatever, but just a few stables who can give us some mix and match match-ups, build some feuds, incorporate some developmental guys partnered with some veterans, and bring back managers. I thought we might be headed this way with the “Conspirators” back during last summer with Punk, Truth, Miz, Ziggler, and Cody maybe coming together like the second coming of the Horsemen, maybe with Vickie as the mouthpiece. Then, that kind of just disappeared. I think I read somewhere that Vince or someone in the mix nixed the idea of building a heel stable. I don’t know if it was the idea that the Nexus/Corre thing didn’t really pan out long-term, with only Barrett, Bryan and Otunga getting any kind of push out of all of that, but that’s three established stars that they didn’t have before. Why not try it again?

There have got to be some older wrestlers who would make great managers. I’ve said it before, but if someone can get Jake Roberts cleaned up, he could be a major force as a manager and behind-the-scenes guy. Make Teddy Long a manager again, or Raven, or Booker T, or the Miz, or Roddy Piper, or Mick Foley. Mick Foley as the manager for the next generation of “hardcore” wrestlers sounds pretty cool to me. Or make your own manager. Do a Tough Enough/NXT for managers/valets. Stables are also great for big fancy blow-off matches like traditional Survivor Series matches or War Games-like gimmick matches.

You could go the Evolution route. Let’s say Wade Barrett wins the World Championship from Sheamus sometime this summer. Barrett surrounds himself with Joe Hennig, Drew MacIntyre and Justin Gabriel (whoever). They watch the champ’s back, interfere in matches, draw heat, and generally mess with the faces. Maybe the good guys form a group to oppose them at Survivor Series, and Hennig actually wins the match after Barrett gets eliminated somehow, putting Joe in the spotlight. Eventually Hennig wins some kind of number one contender’s match like the Royal Rumble or Money in the Bank or just some kind of challenge match on SmackDown. This leads to him respectfully asking Barrett for his shot, Barrett orders him to show fealty, and when that doesn’t happen, Wade, Drew and Gabriel turf Hennig, making him a big babyface. He wins (or doesn’t win) the belt and becomes an established star. The same thing was done when Sting won a shot against Flair during a brief Horsemen face run in 1990 or so. It worked then. I think it would work now.

One of my favorite stables was Skandor Ackbar’s Devastation, Incorporated. I think they started in World Class with the Missing Link, Kamala, the Great Kabuki, Cactus Jack and some other “out there” characters. Eventually Ackbar went to Bill Watts’ Mid-South/UWF territory and his charges included the One Man Gang, Big Bubba Rogers, Wild Bill Irwin, the Angel of Death and some of the World Class guys. The presence of Devastation, Inc. meant chaos and gave an anything-can-happen feel to it. Let’s do that again. Get some crazy gimmick characters. Start with Kane, maybe as the centerpiece, bring in Raven to manage them. Or better yet, turn the Iron Sheik’s crazy ass loose on the WWE in the Ackbar role. Anyway, Kane builds an army of characters and let the chaos commence. Eventually, the faces, led by Randy Orton and Sheamus I suppose, fight back. Eventually you do a big War Games revival to blow it off. I mean, how’d you like to see an up to date version of this:

Stables can create excitement, can create a revolving door roster that builds stars, and can give lower-card guys a chance to get the rub from established stars. The WWE has a chance to get the ball rolling on this as the Four Horsemen are inducted into the Hall of Fame. Have Cody Rhodes decide that Flair was the one who had the right idea in the group mentality, rather than his father Dusty always trying to go it alone. Cody can build his own Horsemen. Arn Anderson could be the manager. It makes sense to me. Anyway, thanks for reading.

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