Growing up as an unathletic, nerdy kid in small-town Ontario, you don’t have a lot of heroes. While most of my peer group dreamed of being the next Wayne Gretzky, I never had such aspirations. Rather, the man that I admired was Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, the subject of a great new DVD set from WWE.
Heenan was a true triple threat of wrestling — manager, wrestler, and commentator — and, as many people interviewed on the DVD say, will likely have no contenders to that crown. This is repeated several times during the hour-long documentary that kicks off the first disc.
The documentary starts with Heenan’s childhood, and the circumstances that started him in professional wrestling at a very young age. Only a few short years later, and he was in the AWA, managing some of the biggest names in wrestling, like the Blackjacks and Nick Bockwinkel.
There, Heenan gained his reputation of being one of the best talkers in the business, as he was able to generate intense heat cutting promos about the men in his charge. Various legends like Bockwinkel, Baron von Raschke, Larry Hennig, and Ken Patera, and others note how he could incite a crowd with nothing more than a turn of the head, to the point that they were rabid to see his man lose, and maybe even get beaten up himself. Eventually, this ability was noticed by Vince McMahon and Heenan found himself in WWE.
The documentary quickly runs through his managing career, bringing up in particular the big matches he was involved with at WrestleMania I, managing Big John Studd, and at Wrestlemania III, where he managed Andre the Giant against Hulk Hogan. In interview segments, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, who Heenan managed as The Brain Busters, recall that being managed by Heenan was a privilege that wrestlers had to earn.
From there, his stints as the host of The Bobby Heenan Show and his move to commentary — or, as he put it, broadcast journalism, are covered. The pairing of Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon was a great comedy duo, and that is covered in some detail. One of my favourite exchanges ever between the two is featured, that being an argument they had that ended up in Heenan challenging Monsoon to a fight. It’s only one example of how Heenan’s commentary could be even more entertaining than the matches.
After quickly running through his post-WWE stint in WCW, the documentary talks about his bout with throat cancer. Here, his wife and daughter open up emotionally, noting how it was lucky that Heenan was able to make it to his WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2004, which is the final topic covered.
The balance of the first DVD, and all of the second one are comprised of various clips, segments and matches from Heenan’s entire career. As in the documentary, Heenan’s comedy skills are on full display. Matches in which he faces Lord Alfred Hayes, Greg Gagne, and the Ultimate Warrior — the latter two of which require the loser to dress in a weasel costume, his entrance at WrestleMania IX, and his exit from the WWE courtesy of Gorilla Monsoon all show off his willingness to play the fool physically. Meanwhile, clips with his wife and daughter give a more personal look at the man behind the Brain, and show how much he actually was like his character.
His commentary skills are given a lot of time on the DVD, most notably during the 1992 Royal Rumble, which is shown in its entirety. Here, Heenan gives a tour de force performance, desperately urging on Ric Flair during a seemingly impossible task. Heenan deserves a lot of credit in making what was an amazing match even that much better. It’s entertainment at its best, as he perfectly blended emotion and humour.
His Hall of Fame speech, which is included on the DVD set also, is another example. Between emotional shout-outs to his wife and daughter, hilarious one-liners in tribute to his friends and colleagues, and a passionate speech about his love for wrestling, one might never have known that he had just gone through his first battle with cancer, but it’s clear that his spirits never waned.
If there is any bad thing to say about the DVD, it’s that it could easily have included another DVD or two. As a huge Heenan fan, I would have loved to see some more moments from his managerial career. Or, perhaps, a full disc with nothing but his interviews and promos from that time, or an episode or two from The Bobby Heenan Show, the talk show that Vince McMahon gave him, seeing his potential outside of wrestling. I have so many favourites, that I could go on and on for pages — but that would be greedy, and the lack of them in no way diminishes how good the collection is.
Bobby “The Brain” Heenan is a tremendous DVD set, and a must-have for any WWE fan. Given the changes in today’s business, there will likely never be an all-around performer like Bobby Heenan was. It behooves any wrestling fan to watch this set and see exactly what made him so great.
I was lucky enough to meet Bobby Heenan once, and when I told him that he was my hero growing up, he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, “Never grow up, Bob. Never grow up.” Watching this new DVD set let me go back to my childhood and remember why I was, and still am, a wrestling fan. For that, I can’t recommend it enough.