How Bobby Heenan “Market Corrected” The Pro Wrestling Industry
For those who are fans of professional wrestling, the 1992 Royal Rumble match is one of the single greatest showcases of the mainstream excellence of the industry and economic strength of its marketplace during the era between 1970–1990. However, upon reflection, the 1992 Royal Rumble is brilliant because it’s an excellent moment-as-teachable lesson about marketplaces in decline, and how renegade stockholders ultimately aid in the correction of markets and define America’s industrial progression. In studying the real life applications of the World Wrestling Federation’s professional wrestling storyline surrounding how Bobby “The Brain” Heenan came to be the “financial consultant” to Ric Flair in 1992, there’s tremendous lessons regarding how one can succeed at both the stock market and industry.
Between 1999 and 2001, the market for dotcom companies becoming publicly traded stocks on the New York Stock Exchange dropped 84%, with the industry of start-up websites dropping 78% overall in a four-year period by 2002. Similarly, though the World Wrestling Federation had experienced massive growth from 1985–1990, by 1991, live attendance had dropped 15%, and it was apparent that the industry had lost some of its luster from the 1980s Rock and Wrestling boom.
Key to the entire Bobby Heenan/Ric Flair storyline is the idea that bad guy manager Heenan was always skeptical of the long-term strength of Hulk Hogan as a top drawing attraction in the WWF. As part of his story, Heenan was presented as a wealthy Hollywood businessman and venture capital investor of sorts whose wealth and influence could attain a performer the chance to be the World Heavyweight Champion. From then journeyman manager Heenan’s debut in the WWF in 1984, he’d positioned the likes of Big John Studd, King Kong Bundy, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, and even the iconic Andre the Giant as being drawing cards with greater long-term potential than Hulk Hogan.
In September 1991, Bobby Heenan walked out on WWF’s weekly, syndicated-aired “Wrestling Challenge” program holding what nuanced, industry-aware, and not just WWF wrestling fans knew was competitor World Championship Wrestling’s (WCW)World Heavyweight Championship. Shockingly, Heenan proclaimed that the “The Real World Champion” was coming soon to the World Wrestling Federation. By November 1991, the holder of that belt, Ric Flair, had debuted with Bobby Heenan as his financial adviser. Extrapolating this storyline to real life, this would be akin to Heenan as an investor being once wholly invested in company and industry A, then publicly selling all of his stock and related confidence in the company’s financial future.
In a bizarre sense, the World Wrestling Federation of 1991 turned what was their real-life need to respond to the onset of market correction in pro wrestling into a massive storyline that would serve to correct the company’s business interests, too. Moreso than any in-ring pro wrestling done by Ric Flair, the onus of executing the storyline in a way that gave it its greatest real-time financial success fell on Flair’s “investor,” Heenan.
Ric Flair’s entrance into the WWF launched the company into a sense of on camera disarray that likely made the level of hue and cry surrounding a sudden massive dip of profits related to a mix of WWF wrestlers being accused of abusing anabolic steroids, and the kids which the company initially built its success in the mid and late 1980s being, by the 1990s, teens bored with “1980s comic book style wrestling” seem like a walk in the park.
Thus, the 1992 Royal Rumble can be best contextualized for the purposes of this article as WWF outsider and “market corrector” Flair wrestling literally the cavalcade of 29 other stars with 500+ different championship reigns in 30 smaller and territorial pro wrestling groups between them that Vince McMahon compiled in his near-monolithic, market-dominating, and industry leading WWF during the era between 1984–1991. The idea that Flair, and not a WWF-familiar performer, would win the WWF Championship that was on the line in the 1992 Royal Rumble is akin to someone believing in 2001 that there was a last-gasp hope for the market for dotcoms to right itself before the “bubble burst.” Yes, in this article I’ll state that Ric Flair winning the 1992 Royal Rumble by literally outlasting 29 other wrestlers is indeed the “dotcom bubble burst” of the pro wrestling marketplace.
However, it’s the idea that Bobby Heenan — note, not Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, The British Bulldog, Sid Justice, or Hacksaw Jim Duggan — was ultimately the person who ended up being the most okay in the midst of this disruption, makes the whole thing work.
For the entirety of his pro wrestling career, Bobby Heenan was presented as an evil, terrible, and disreputable human being. He was a liar, cheat, and charlatan who spoke with both a forked tongue and from both sides of his mouth, simultaneously. Though he oftentimes made proclamations attached to his intellect and business acumen, he was never presented as being right…until Ric Flair won the Royal Rumble. That’s why his commentary performance is so amazing. It’s the dramatic presentation of a man’s pathos being mined into his excellence. At that point Bobby Heenan had been a maligned pro wrestling manager who had a belief in himself and his notion that he had the right answer for making wrestling a sustainable industry with a vibrant marketplace for 25 years. Heenan exclaiming “be fair to Flair” is Heenan also basically saying “dammit, I’m FINALLY right, and I’m living my best managerial life through ‘The Dirtiest Player in the Game’” succeeding on the industry’s then greatest stage.
Even more intriguing in this real/”fake” life paradigm shift is that usually, the context upon which market correction occurs involves the implication that its the marketplace, and not the thing that corrects it, that’s flawed. For instance, in the case of the dotcom bust, foolhardy technocrats building too big too soon had failed, the result being analog society fighting another day. Impressively, the WWF inverted this paradigm and in presenting the real-life flawed beyond belief WWF marketplace as idyllic, and Heenan/Flair-as-correctors as flawed, it created a public facing thing that allowed for the WWF behind-the-scenes to be able to right its ship, save the company, and prepare for the future.
Typically, it takes a marketplace two months to correct itself. In the case of pro wrestling, the disruption of post Royal Rumble 1992 led to a two-year correction period for the WWF in which the following occurred:
- Ric Flair’s time in the WWF between 1991–1993 involved him wrestling and influencing the development of Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, and Razor “Scott Hall” Ramon
- Heenan continued on in the company for a brief time after Flair’s departure, finally departing in 1994.
By 1996, Hart and Michaels had developed into arguably the number 1 and number 1a performers in the slow re-emergence of the WWF as a pro wrestling industry marketplace dominator. Their storyline culminated in an infamous match that set forth the involvement of WWF Chairman Vince McMahon as an evil on-screen character, which begat the rise of both “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and yes, The Rock, as superstars. Similarly, in 1996, Razor Ramon left the WWF to become New World Order (nWo) faction co-founder Scott Hall in WWF-competitor organization WCW. On the back of Scott Hall’s work in the nWo, WCW dominated the industry and marketplace of pro wrestling for nearly two full years between 1996–1998.
Sadly, Bobby Heenan passed away on September 17, 2017. However, in Heenan — moreso than any in-ring competitor or behind the scenes office employee — executing in his role brilliantly, the industry and marketplace of professional wrestling was allowed to right itself. In 1991, Bobby Heenan publicly sold the WWF down the river, thus allowing for a TV storyline to exist wherein the wrestlers had to overcome a Heenan-caused market-quaking occurrence. Brilliantly, in portraying on-camera what was a real-life struggle to right and resurrect themselves,the WWF survived, then excelled.