By Mike Mooneyham
Aug. 15, 2004
The recent spate of wrestling autobiographies, along with a growing number of legends reunions and fanfests, has opened up windows to the past for a new generation of grappling aficionados. Some of those windows, however, may be better left closed.
Bobby Heenan and Ole Anderson, two of the more influential figures in the industry, have both written books over the past couple of years with very outspoken views on their business and their colleagues. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Heenan publicly voiced his opinion of Anderson.
One of pro wrestling’s greatest managers and a longtime color commentator for both the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling, Heenan blasted Anderson in a recent radio interview, calling him a mediocre wrestler and an even worse booker.
“Ole Anderson comes off like he was a big star in this business. Ole Anderson was nothing more than a Southern tag-team wrestler,” Heenan, 60, told Pro Wrestling Radio. “Ole was not a top guy. He only worked in tag-team situations. Tag team was never used on top at the Omni.”The root of Heenan’s dislike for Anderson, however, lies much deeper. He blames the 61-year-old Anderson for changing the direction of his life nearly 25 years ago. Heenan, who had been a staple for Verne Gagne’s Midwestern-based American Wrestling Association, says he left his wife and 3-month-old daughter at home to come to Georgia in 1979. He claims Anderson, who was booker of Georgia Championship Wrestling at the time, told him he could stay in the territory as long as he wanted. That, says Heenan, prompted him to move his family to Atlanta. Months later, however, Anderson gave Heenan his notice. “He said I was making too much money and he fired me.”
Anderson, who prides himself on being opinionated and abrasive, says Heenan is making a mountain out of a molehill. Moreover, adds Anderson, he liked the witty manager. And while Anderson admits to releasing him, he says it wasn’t exactly the way Heenan portrayed it.
“I liked Bobby,” Anderson said last week. “He’s right about one thing. I let him go, but I never told him he could stay as long as he wanted.”
Anderson says he brought in a number of Gagne’s performers, including Heenan and Blackjack Lanza, to the Georgia territory in 1979. He says Lanza had made it clear that he was coming down for only five or six months before returning to the AWA. He assumed with Heenan being Lanza’s manager, that it obviously was a package deal.
“When the time came for Jack to go back, I naturally thought Bobby also was going. That’s all there was to it.”
Anderson says Heenan never really talked to him, and that he apparently didn’t understand Anderson’s unique way of communicating.
“Bill Eadie (Masked Superstar) will tell you that Bobby used to get nervous about some of the things I used to do and the way I used to talk,” says Anderson. “Eadie tried to reassure Bobby that I was just barking all over the place and that I did that with everyone. He told him not to take it personally and advised him to just talk to me if he had a problem. Bobby never did.”
Unlike heralded manager Jim Cornette, who once joked that he didn’t feel he had really made it in the business until he was fired by Ole Anderson, Heenan took great umbrage with Anderson’s handling of the situation. Heenan didn’t cross paths with Anderson again until 1994 when he was hired as an announcer for WCW.
“I said, ‘Hey, what happened? How come you fired me?’ He said, ‘I don’t remember you getting fired? Where did you go? You just disappeared.’ What kind of boss would he be if he didn’t know where his talent is?”
Anderson, whose last stint in the profession was in 1994 as a trainer in WCW, says he had no idea he had heat with Heenan until the two met 15 years later back in Georgia.
“He wasn’t going to talk to me about anything and he wasn’t going to listen to me about anything,” Anderson recalls of the meeting. “I didn’t realize he was upset at me. Maybe he’s just got it so ingrained in his head. I explained to him that I never told him he could stay as long as he wanted because I knew they were going to leave when they came down. A lot of people use my name as a reason why they got in or why they got out.”
Heenan said in the radio interview that he recalled when Gagne broke Anderson into the business, and that there must have been a reason why Gagne never asked Anderson to return to his territory.
“Verne wanted me; I just wouldn’t go there,” says Anderson. “You can ask him today, and he’ll still tell you. Obviously Jim Barnett wanted me, since he hired me for years. Obviously Jim Crockett wanted me, because I booked there and wrestled there for years. Even Eddie Graham wanted me in Florida. So, for a no-talent guy, I guess I was pretty much in demand.”
As part of the famed Minnesota Wrecking Crew with “brothers” Gene and Lars (Larry Heiniemi), Ole (Al “Rock” Rogowski) formed one of the top teams in the business. Just as importantly, he helped shape the industry as booker during key periods in wrestling history, overseeing the offices in Charlotte (Jim Crockett Promotions), Atlanta (Georgia Championship Wrestling) and later for the Ted Turner-owned WCW.
Anderson chuckles at Heenan’s overall assessment of his career.
“If Ole Anderson didn’t do a damn thing in the business, why didn’t Bobby appeal directly to Jim Barnett, who was supposedly the boss?” asks Anderson. “I can’t be nobody and somebody all at the same time … If he (Heenan) was a great manager and indispensable and Barnett was the guy running the show, he should have gone to Barnett and told him he had a bozo as a booker and a star as a manager, and that I had just fired him. He should have demanded that he either fire me or reinstate Bobby.”
Heenan, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame earlier this year, also contends that Anderson never worked on top with NWA champions such as Dory Funk Jr., Harley Race or Ric Flair, and that he never headlined in major cities such as St. Louis.
“He was maybe a big name in Marietta, but he never worked with the champion,” said Heenan. “That tells you if he was a top guy or not. Ox Baker never worked with a champion, he never was a major territorial star, because they just aren’t top guys. And Ole Anderson, being a booker, if he was a top guy, he’d have worked with a champion. Wouldn’t he? … Because Jim Barnett, the promoter, said ‘Don’t do it. You won’t draw a dime.’ And he knew it, too.”
Anderson counters that he was in the business to draw money, pure and simple, and everything else took a back seat. Including winning the world heavyweight title and working in different territories throughout the country.
“I really liked Bobby Heenan, but he’s deluded in some way, shape or form,” says Anderson. “He wasn’t privy to anything. That’s why I hired him. We sold out the Omni without the champion. I didn’t want the champion, because we didn’t need him. I didn’t need Barnett’s OK on anything. He never even came to the shows. I did all the hiring. How do you explain that the territory was making money and all the guys who were working here were making money? And how could I be responsible for the Carolinas and how could I be responsible for Georgia if I booked myself in St. Louis, Houston or Dallas?”
“How come he (Anderson) never went to New York? asked Heenan. “They had a lot worse workers there than Ole. His excuse was that he said he could make himself 100 grand here doing this and that. I don’t know if he was making that or not, who knows. I’ll tell you what I was making down there. I was making 700 to 900 dollars a week in ’79. And if he was making twice as much as me, he wasn’t making 100 grand.”
As with the other claims, Anderson laughs at Heenan’s assertion that he didn’t draw or make money.
“I retired in 1984 for the first time at 42 years of age. I’m sure that’s more than Bobby can say,” says Anderson. “I guess they just kept me out of sympathy … Turner was paying me 250 grand when I was booking in 1990. Bobby never saw 250 grand if he added all his years up. The bottom line for me was making money – whether in wrestling or elsewhere. Bobby’s just naive if he thinks I couldn’t make over $100,000 or make three times what he made.”
Anderson, who began his pro career in 1967, says he made $140,000 in 1977, and followed that up by pulling down $180,000 the next year. Later, he says, it was more than $200,000 annually. Along with a base booking fee of $120,000 that Barnett was paying him, Anderson was being paid to wrestle and got percentages from all the towns.
” Crockett paid me two thousand a week plus percentages in Greensboro, Charlotte, Richmond and Norfolk, and Barnett paid me $2,400 or $2,600 a week, plus three percent of Columbus, five percent of all the towns in Michigan. I was making over two hundred thousand dollars a year, so tell me what champion was doing that well, and stayed at home every day?
Anderson also says Heenan apparently grossly underestimated the quality of wrestling in the Southeastern part of the country.
“I was there for months – years – on end. A lot of guys would love to live here. If you consider all the talent that was down here during the time I was booking, everybody who was anybody was here because this was the most powerful TV on the face of planet Earth, and the guys were making money. Guys like Stan Hansen, Dick Slater, Superstar, Tommy Rich, Mr. Wrestling No. 1 and 2 were all making a hundred grand a year.”
And the beauty of it, says Anderson, was that the territory was relatively small and didn’t require a lot of travel. “It was the greatest territory in the world.”
Anderson says Heenan wasn’t the only individual who held the view that this part of the country was somehow inferior.
“Turner’s people even had that mentality. They all thought that this was some little provincial Southern town that would never be anything. Everybody at TBS hated wrestling. The only one who liked wrestling, and the only one who counted, was Ted Turner. And that’s why we were on the air. Ted used to say back in the ’70s that wrestling put him on the map.”
“He (Anderson) is lucky he was in the business,” Heenan told the radio show. “The only reason he was booker was he would do that for minimal pay and take the heat when other boys wouldn’t want to be involved. I’ve been asked to be a booker in a lot of places; I don’t want the responsibility of having to fire people, hire people. If a good friend of mine calls for work, I can’t tell him no, I just don’t have that kind of personality. A person that has that kind of personality doesn’t have that much of a heart, I feel. That’s what I think of Ole Anderson.”
– Rena “Sable” Mero was released by WWE after the two sides couldn’t come to terms on a lighter travel schedule for the diva. Mero reportedly wanted to spend more time with her teenage daughter as well as fiancé Brock Lesnar.
Mero signed a three-year deal with the company when she returned in March of 2003. She previously had left the organization in 1999 when she filed a $100 million lawsuit against the then-WWF. The suit was settled in August 1999 with the WWF retaining the rights to the Sable name and keeping Mero out of working for another wrestling company until early 2001.
WWE officials say her release is not related to a controversial interview she recently did with a Fort Wayne, Ind., newspaper in which she said female wrestlers were held to a higher performing standard than men as well as a different moral standard. She also complained about the lack of women in company management.
“The men in this business are able to have families because they have wives who stay home,” said Mero. “The women have to choose. There are more difficulties as a woman. There are more sacrifices we make.” She also claimed that the most gifted female wrestlers get passed over because they lack a certain California finish.
“Men aren’t hired on looks,” said Mero. “Some of the most talented women are not blonde-haired, blue-eyed women.”
– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Summer Slam pay-per-view tonight beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5. A four-day, three-night Bahamas cruise for two will be given away at the conclusion of the show.
– Matthews Sports Bar and Grill, 613 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., also will air Summer Slam tonight at 8 p.m. The $5 cover charge also includes Carolina Pro Wrestling Association’s RUSH! show at 5 p.m. featuring a 20-man battle royal for the CPWA tag-team title.
– Superstar Billy Graham has put several items from his personal collection up for bid on eBay. To check out the items, go to www.superstarbillygraham.com and click on the “Latest News” link, or go to eBay and do a search for Superstar Billy Graham.