The Twisted Genius” Dean Ayass is arguably the most prominent and successful manager in British wrestling today. Having worked in the wrestling business since 1993, he has also been a respected ring announcer, booker, radio pundit and TV commentator, having been a regular guest on the Talk Wrestling show on TalkSPORT and a commentator on Bravo’s Revival show and The Wrestling Channel’s International Showdown event.
Can you tell my readers more about the manager/valet/promo session you’re giving in May at the Orpington Hall on May 28 prior to that evenings IPW:UK card.
Yeah, it’s basically a seminar for anyone from an experienced person to a total novice, because often a manager/valet etc has a certain natural talent within them that you just need to nurture and develop. You often find that people who work as managers and valets have a great mind for the business but don’t possess the physical tools to be a wrestler, but have been a fan for a long time and have picked up a lot of pointers from watching wrestling for years, whether they realise it or not. What we’ll be doing is cutting promos to a camera and watching them back, accompanying someone to ringside, being at ringside during a match between a couple of wrestling trainees, all the things that a manager will do, with me probably shouting a load of stuff and advice at them as they go along! I’ve never done one of these before, so it’ll be interesting to see where it goes as the day goes on. Hopefully, if it’s a success, we can do another one of these. There are always training schools and sessions for wrestlers, and for referees, but you never get one for managers and valets. A good manager or valet can really add something to a match. Unfortunately, what you find happening a lot these days is that someone’s mate or girlfriend or whatever is put on a show as a manager or valet, and because they’ve had no training, they’re utterly hopeless and make people, both fans and promoters, look poorly on managers.
What qualities do you feel a manager needs, is it just being good on the mic?
Not at all, being good on the mic is just one of many things. The most important quality a manager can have is knowing how and when to react to something in or out of the ring. If something goes wrong, the ability to think on your feet is crucial, especially if you’ve got a relatively new guy working with you. Knowing when to do something – I’ve seen some people who have thought that a manager’s work is simply to shout at the crowd, which only serves to distract the audience from the match, which to me, is totally disrespectful to the wrestlers who are risking their physical health in that ring. A manager should never take away from a match, just add to it. For example, I will only shout at the crowd if I feel that the crowd is coming down a little and needs to be livened up. So you’ll never see me shouting at the crowd when my wrestler’s hitting his finishing move, apart from saying something like “Look at this!” which draws their attention to the wrestlers in the ring. On the other hand, some guys don’t react to the audience at all, which makes me question why they’re there in the first place. It’s all about finding the right balance. The manager should be the one who gets his wrestler into a situation, and the wrestler is the guy who works his way out of that situation. For example, I might say that Stixx & Stone are the best tag team in Britain and that we’ll face anyone, anytime. That could bring out a new set of challengers, a situation I’ve got them into. So they have to wrestle that match to retain their belts and prove that they are the best team in Britain. But they stick with me as their manager because I’m the one who got them their title shot and led them to where they are now. That’s how it should work in the minds of the fans.
The best managers always seem to be heels, do you think that’s correct?
Definitely, simply because a face manager or valet can’t really interfere or cheat or get involved in things like a heel can, unless they’ve been pushed and pushed to breaking point by a heel, which takes months to build up, if not longer. I remember talking to Jimmy Hart about this at FWA British Uprising III in Coventry, and he said that he found it a struggle when he was managing Hogan as a face, as I told him that I found it difficult managing Paul Birchall as a face. I thought that, if he, one of the greatest managers of all time, found it difficult, then it wasn’t just me being awkward!
There seem to be fewer managers around these days, why do you think that’s the case?
A lot of people see a manager as an additional expense and so they don’t bother booking one because they want to cut costs or fly in some indie guy for their own viewing pleasure. That then means that the only people who they use as a manager are either their friends/relatives/spouses etc or a mark who’ll work for free just to be a part of a show. As you can imagine, both of those types of people are usually awful because they don’t know what they’re doing, and so the promoter’s opinion of managers is that a manager is a role given to someone as a favour, rather than a role given to someone to add something to a show and to guide and assist a rookie in the initial stages of their career. That’s why I was put with Birchall originally, and he’s not done badly for himself, has he? Although I don’t really know how much credit I can take for that, Paul was one of a kind. But, to give you an example, I worked a show for Herts. & Essex Wrestling recently, where I had been managing the UK Pitbulls for a year. I brought in Stixx & Stone to turn against the Pitbulls and tell the crowd that it had been a set-up all along. Now, only a handful of fans knew who Stixx & Stone were, being a non-internet crowd, but they knew who I was, and because I’d done a good job as a manager over the past year, they hated my guts! So when Stixx & Stone turned on the Pitbulls, the heat transferred through me. They didn’t know who they were, but if I’m managing them, then they must be a proper pair of bastards! So by the end of the show, the crowd, who had booed me and the Pitbulls out of the building at the beginning, were chanting “Pitbulls! Pitbulls! Pitbulls!”. And that’s what a manager can do for a show. Stixx & Stone have had this jump start with the crowd because of their association with me, they don’t have to build themselves up slowly with the crowd, they’re instant major heels.
Who have been your favourite managers and if prospective managers wanted to learn the art of being a manager from any one manager who would that be?
Jim Cornette would have been fantastic in the UK as his style’s perfect for an old school crowd. I can just imagine him working at the Fairfield Halls or something. Heenan was excellent, as was Jimmy Hart. I think my favourite manager though had to be Paul E Dangerously, because he was about when I was starting to get smart to the business and realised what a manager really did on a show. I know a lot of people over the years have said that they can see the Paul E influence on me. I never, ever attempt to copy anyone but I guess that maybe it’s rubbed off subconsciously. In Britain, I must say that I’ve not seen too many managers working, so there’s a lot of names that I’ve read about, but can’t comment on, names like Charles Boddington and a lot of the guys up north. But I must reserve special praise for Greg Lambert. When he first came on board, he’d make a beeline for me after his match or segment and ask for my feedback and advice. He listened to what was said to him, and is now a great manager and a credit to British wrestling. There are also a lot of people who are good managers or valets but aren’t exclusively non-wrestlers, I mean some of the women like Saraya and Erin Angel are great at ringside in a managerial role, as is Tyrone Johnson from the FWA Academy. He’s another one who always asks for my opinion.
What do you think makes a good promo?
One that makes money. Now that’s really simple but it’s something that people often totally overlook. A promo isn’t to make me look clever or funny or whatever. It’s not to make my wrestler look amazing. It’s to make people want to come back to the next show, to lay their money down and want to see my wrestler beaten and see me, as their manager, shut up once and for all. If it also makes me look clever, or my wrestler look amazing as well, then great, that all helps and can contribute to that “bums on seats” factor, but there’s nothing better than my wrestler winning a match, maybe through cheating, and for me to then get on the mic and say how great we are, and how nobody can beat us, because people will just want to come back next time and see us lose. I learned a great deal of this not just through watching wrestling but through watching my local boy Chris Eubank as a world middleweight boxing champion when I was a teenager. Eubank, outside of the ring, is an eccentric but genuinely nice guy. In the theatre of the boxing spotlight, like a wrestler, he was in character and made people loathe him. But he outdrew all other British boxers when he was on top.
Looking back at your own career, what were the early days like in Hammerlock?
It was great in some ways, because there was a load of guys getting their first break in the wrestling business, so there was this air of excitement and enthusiasm about the place. But it was also strange, because it was our first adventure, and so we had nothing to compare it to.
I believe that what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room, but there were some things that happened at Hammerlock that I’ve not seen happen anywhere else. The problem was that, as time went on, that initial enthusiasm and novelty wore off, and as people weren’t really allowed to work anywhere else for fear of what they might discover, the match-ups and shows got stale for the workers, because you’d be going to ten different towns doing the same show, with the same guy. So people wanted to leave. Once Doug left, and prospered and got to wrestle a load of other experienced opponents like Mal Sanders and Danny Collins, it showed everyone that there was life outside of Hammerlock and the floodgates opened, and guys like me, Alex, Jody, Jonny, Justin and others all soon departed.
That said, don’t get me wrong, I’ll always be grateful to Hammerlock for giving me my start, but it was a world away from the promotions I worked for afterwards. One thing I discovered from the few times I’d worked for TWA or All Star, where the veterans are about, was that they didn’t really consider working for Hammerlock as being “in the business”, maybe because of the, erm, unique pay structure there!
But I think that Hammerlock in the mid 90s was a pioneering promotion, because we had new guys doing a new style of wrestling, mixing the old World of Sport style with aspects of the American style as well, and it meant that a lot of other places modernised as well. Plus Hammerlock were the first guys outside of All Star to bring in American names for an exclusive tour, much like you see in a lot of places these days. We brought Adam Bomb (Bryan Clark) in, who was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my life, and Jim Neidhart, who was a lot of fun to be around.
Why did you decide to become a manager and what training or advice was given to you?
I decided to become a manager after my first training session as a wrestler. When I couldn’t walk the next day properly and ached for five days afterwards, I realised that it takes a special kind of person to be a wrestler, and I wasn’t that type of person. But I wanted to be a part of the wrestling business, I wanted to work on shows and climb in the ring and address the crowd, it had always been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid going to shows at the Brighton Centre or the Dome.
I wanted to be a manager in Hammerlock, but Andre Baker, the booker, wouldn’t allow it, as he didn’t want to lose me as a ring announcer, which was my job for five years in Hammerlock. When my good mate Mike White turned from a referee into a heel manager, I knew that I’d never be a manager in Hammerlock, and that was one of the factors behind my decision to leave in 1998.
When I approached the FWA in 2001 to get back into the business, the original plan was for me to be a commentator alongside Mark Priest, but they decided to introduce me as a manager first to get the crowd acquainted with me, so I became a part of the Old School angle, which took off beyond anyone’s expectations, and the rest, as they say, is history. As far as training or advice goes, I was pretty much self-taught initially and then learned on the job basically.
You’re best known for your work in the FWA, I have particularly fond memories of the Old School storyline, what are your memories of that feud?
It was fantastic, it really was. But it was very hard work, because I was often working three matches a night, which I always felt was too much. I much prefer a manager to have his appearances limited on a show. But being able to work alongside guys like Drew McDonald and Flash Barker, guys with tons of experience, was so good, because they would give me advice as I went along, and the Old School feud meant that I could work alongside legends like Dave Taylor and Robbie Brookside, I mean how can you not learn from guys like that?
Justin Richards and I always had so much fun at shows and we had a natural chemistry between us that meant that we always knew where the other one was, which made cheating and winding up the crowd so easy. In fact, I’d love to manage Justin again, even if it was for just one more match. I’m sure we wouldn’t miss a beat.
Who have you most enjoyed working with in your career?
Probably Justin, just because it was so much fun. It’s great to look back at managing Paul Birchall now that he’s in the WWE, and working with Terry Funk is a treasured memory I’ll take to my grave because I was such a huge Terry Funk fan growing up. They always say that you should never meet your idols, and I’ve met a couple of people who I grew up watching who turned out to be disappointing in reality, but Terry was an absolute gentleman and an absolute pleasure to work with. Christopher Daniels was a total pro as well, and I love commentating on his matches, because he always makes sure that all of his matches tell a story, which makes a commentator’s life easy.
What was it like working alongside Paul Burchill?
It was really good to see him develop over time. I really wanted to work with him right off the bat, so I was delighted when the FWA decided to put me with him to oversee his performance in the ring initially, as I mentioned before. But it soon became clear that I needed him far more than he needed me, because he listened to what was told to him and learned things so quickly.
I always chuckle to myself when I watch him on WWE, because I was the one who encouraged him to let out that neanderthal like “Come on!” roar that he still does to this day, because I like wrestlers who are vocal. It got frustrating for me in a way that we had to be turned face because of the crowd, because it limited what I could go, and the FWA wouldn’t allow him to speak on promos, except on the last ever show at Gold Rush against Alex, but it was a good time, because the crowd really held us, well him a lot more than me, as something special. I don’t think anyone was surprised to see him go to the WWE, that was always his dream. I always said to him that for the WWE to sign a Brit, you’ve got to be unique, because otherwise they won’t bother going to all the additional effort required, they’ll just get a Yank in instead. Believe me, it took months and months for the WWE to sort out all of Paul’s paperwork, visa etc etc. It was a lot of effort for them. That’s what makes me laugh when I read people on the Internet saying that they’d let him go after a few months. If they knew the effort it took to get him over to the States, they’d know that the WWE rate him as a long-term asset, and the fact that they’ve given him the pirate gimmick shows that they have plans for him. Quite what those plans are, I sometimes shudder to think, but it’s better than being plain old Paul Birchall from London, England.
How do you see the state of British wrestling at present and how do you see its future?
I think things are picking up. There are a lot of new, young promoters who seem to know what they’re doing, and the money marks and clueless kids getting financed by Mummy and Daddy are falling by the wayside. I don’t like to see a show dominated by fly-ins all the time, I prefer to see British wrestling shows that focus on British wrestlers, but sometimes I guess you need a Yank or an overseas name to open up a new crowd to new British wrestlers. I’m sure there are people who went to the FWA last month as Billy Kidman fans who left as Jonny Storm fans or Jody Fleisch fans. Even 1PW up in Doncaster are realising that there’s a wealth of talent in this country that they can draw upon, and more and more Brits are appearing on their shows. I believe that a British show should have a primarily British stamp on it.
The FWA haven’t had an easy time this past year but seem to be growing again, how do you think the company will progress in the months to come?
Wrestling goes in circles, and the FWA peaked a few years back and then came back down again. Like Hammerlock in the 90s, FWA in 2002/03 was a pioneer in the way it formatted its shows, but I think it relied on Americans too much, with hindsight, and then the supershow concept came along and the FWA shows with two imports looked like small potatoes. But I know Greg is also keen to put a British stamp on FWA shows and he’s got a good mind and a good vision to put the FWA back among the British wrestling elite. I think a lot of people are always eager to knock the FWA and will criticise the FWA for drawing a crowd of 300 but praise someone else for doing the same, especially the internet forums that are crammed with people who tried and failed to get into the FWA and whose attitude let them down in the long run and were let go, you know, people who hold a grudge against the promotion. But I’ve noticed recently that the demographic of the crowd in the FWA is changing, moving away from the smart marks who want to get themselves noticed by other fans rather than watch the actual match in front of them, and is moving towards a more traditional family audience, which I much prefer working in front of. But things are looking on the up, there are more dates on the calendar and I’m busier than I’ve ever been, working for a variety of promotions all over the place!
To find out more about the managing/valet training seminar with Dean Ayass see: THIS