With WWE set to re-establish the infamous brand extension, there’s been a lot of on-air talk about who should run the reinvigorated SmackDown. This isn’t exactly a new thing, as “Who’s in charge?” storylines have long been a WWE obsession, with the company accruing a staggering variety of authority figures over the past couple decades.
Of course, not all leaders are created equal. Some WWE authority figures have legitimately led their shows to new heights, while others have dragged the whole operation down with them. Here are the best, and worst, bosses in WWE history…
Note: I’m including Raw guest hosts on this list, but only up until May 2010. At that point, they became Raw guest stars and no longer had general manager powers. So, if you’re wondering why The Muppets or (on the other end of the scale) Perez Hilton aren’t on the list, now you know.
#10 Worst: Jonathan Coachman
Jonathan Coachman wasn’t an offensively bad Raw General Manager, but he was the earliest example of a trend that would become an epidemic in WWE – the inept authority figure who’s put in charge for no justifiable reason. Why the hell would a B-string announcer, most famous for being bullied by The Rock, be put in charge of WWE’s flagship show? Same reason they gave the job to Mike Adamle and a friggin’ laptop, I guess. The Coach has done alright for himself since leaving WWE, and seems like a swell guy, but he earns his place on the worst list for being the first to lower the bar.
#10 Best: Vickie Guerrero
Vickie Guerrero is a tough one. On the one hand, she was the worst kind of general manager – unqualified, inept, biased and front-and-central in a lot of really bad, regressive “comedy” segments. That said, she was also in her share of great segments, too, and I have a lot of respect for Vickie for somehow making a character that was set up to fail an absolute heat-magnet. It was a bit of a toss up whether Vickie should be on the good or bad side of this list, but ultimately, she made me laugh more than I cringed.
#9 Worst: Eric Bischoff
I try to keep rankings like this at least a little objective, but Eric Bischoff lands on the worst list largely because I just don’t care for the guy. Putting that aside, Eric Bischoff as general manager of Raw made perfect sense. It was one of the few good decisions WWE made following their purchase of WCW! Unfortunately, Bischoff’s three years as GM came off as one long, creepy Vince McMahon wank session. When Eric wasn’t being made to look like a scum-of-the-earth loser, he was making out with Stephanie or assaulting Linda. It was weird. Bischoff had his moments as GM, but like most WCW talent, he was wasted and ultimately discarded to feed Vince McMahon’s ego.
#9 Best: Shane McMahon
Shane certainly stirred up some excitement when he returned earlier this year, but since WrestleMania, his run as GM has been merely okay. He just sort of sloughs into work, and rolls with whatever his craziness his dad and sister throw at him. It’s not exactly the revolution we were promised. I like Shane, and the audience is still behind him, so maybe he’ll end up doing something truly memorable. The jury is still out for now.
#8 Worst: Donald Trump
Yup, The Donald became the storyline owner of WWE back in 2009, but like a lot of Trump-related things, his reign was short and rather unremarkable. Trump didn’t even rule Raw for an entire episode, immediately selling it back to Vince, but during the couple hours he was in charge, he did institute the concept of the weekly Raw guest host. If anybody tells you Trump isn’t dangerous, there’s your chilling evidence to the contrary.
#8 Best: AJ Lee
Say what you want about WWE’s sometimes questionable characterization of AJ Lee, but she was on top of her game as a performer in 2012. This 5-foot pixie had the land of wrestling giants wrapped around her little finger based on charisma alone, and her hot streak culminated with her being appointed general manager by Vince McMahon himself. As Raw GM, AJ was a bracingly different face, but unfortunately her reign didn’t last long, and ended in an abysmal “scandalous” storyline, which required multiple John Cena makeout sessions. Poor girl. Still, the fact that AJ became GM at all was an accomplishment that shouldn’t be undersold.
# 7 Worst: Tiffany
Tiffany (aka Taryn Terrell) eventually grew into a darn solid worker while in TNA, but she began her career in WWE on an inauspicious note. When Teddy Long was briefly ECW general manager back in 2008, Tiffany randomly showed up as his assistant, which eventually led to her being left in charge when Teddy got his SmackDown gig back. Yup, the blood-soaked, industry-changing phenomenon created by legit genius Paul Heyman breathed its last burbling breath under somebody who had “stood beside Teddy Long for six months” as the sole point on her resume. But it was WWE ECW, not the real thing, and it was hard to dislike Tiffany, even if she spoke every word like she was a high school valedictorian. None of it really mattered, but Tiffany being the last ECW GM felt like one of WWE’s typical sour, sexist jokes, which wasn’t fair to the audience or Tiffany.
#7 Best: John Laurinaitis
Okay, let’s be honest – John Laurinaitis was hot garbage when he started as Raw general manager. He could barely string two words together, and his segments were almost lethally dull. That said, toward the end of his reign, when he was rolling down to the ring on a People Powered scooter with sexy secretary Eve Torres and a coffee-slurping David Otunga by his side, he somehow tapped into some sort of weirdly amusing anti-entertainment. I was never as much as a Team Johnny fanatic as some folks around these parts, but the guy had an ace or two up his unassuming sleeves.
#6 Worst: Corporate Kane
Man, what to say about old faded-slacks Corporate Kane? He was just tiresome. The guy failed at nearly every task assigned to him, but then there he was ever week, ready and raring to screw everything up again. The whole thing reached it’s nadir when Kane was actively undermining the Authority’s golden boy Seth Rollins every week, with no comeuppance whatsoever. Was DOO Kane supposed to be an insider jab at corporate culture? A dire warning about the dangers of unionization? I’m not sure what the gag was, but I sure as heck wasn’t laughing.
#6 Best: Mick Foley
Mick Foley didn’t make a huge mark as WWF Commissioner, but he was a likable leader, because of course he was. Mick Foley could run over your dog in a lovable way. He also had a unique approach, bringing absolutely zero ego to the gig. Even your rare good-guy authority figures like William Regal can get a bit up their own ass about the whole thing, but Foley just wanted to make sure everybody was having a nice day.
#5 Worst: Teddy Long
Hole on a minute, what’s Teddy Long doing on the worst list? He ruled SmackDown for years! Surely there must’ve been a reason for that, right? Haha, nope. WWE turning over one of its flagship programs to a random former ref and low-level manager never made much sense, and ol’ Peanuthead never once bothered to justify his position during his, ahem, long tenure. Teddy had exactly one response to any and all problems (a tag TEAM match), and somehow that got him through over eight years of general managing. Like your typical wrestling fan, I get nostalgic about just about anybody who’s been on my TV for long enough, but I struggle to come up with a favorite Teddy Long moment. Especially one that doesn’t include Aksana porn sax.
#5 Best: Stephanie McMahon
At her best, Stephanie McMahon is one of the pillars of the WWE product. She brings it night after night on the mic, and can whip the crowd into a snarling rage with a single snarky remark or roll of her eyes. Unfortunately, she’s also picked up some bad habits from her husband. At her worst, Steph seems to delight in degrading her own talent, and since she’s Stephanie McMahon, said talent just have to hang their heads and take it. Until Stephanie realizes she should be there to serve the talent, and not the other way around, she’ll never be the authority figure her father is. Although she is the better dancer.
#4 Worst: Mike Adamle
So, back in 2008, WWE decided to make former football and American Gladiators commentator Mike Adamle their new lead announcer, despite the fact that he had only vaguest idea of what pro wrestling even was. It didn’t go well. Adamle completely bombed on commentary, so naturally WWE put the guy who couldn’t even talk coherently about wrestling in charge of the whole damn show. That also didn’t go well. In the end, WWE ended up Jamaican Adamle a little crazy, and he quit the company after less than a year.
#4 Best: Bob Barker
Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Bob Barker, longtime host of the only show tackier than WWE, absolutely killed it as Raw guest host. The dude wrestled 300-pound ladies in cat sweatshirts five days a week on The Price Is Right; WWE wasn’t going to phase him. From his verbal showdown with Chris Jericho, to karate chopping Chavo Guerrero, he was in his element. Barker may have only been in charge for one night, but he created more memories than Teddy Long did in a decade.
#3 Worst: Dennis Miller
The 2009 Slammys may just be the most awful episode of Raw WWE has ever produced. The Slammys are always a guaranteed bad time, but then you add Dennis Miller doing conservative WWE-written political comedy to the mix, and honestly, I’m surprised this show didn’t summon the Antichrist. There were global-warming jokes. They Photoshopped George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s heads on DX for some reason. The only reason I’m not ranking Miller the worst guest host ever is because he gave up and started outright crapping on the show halfway through. Nothing will ever make up for his intro though.
#3 Best: Jack Tunney
Jack Tunney, the figurehead president of WWF from 1984 to 1995, was no entertainer, which is what made him great. Tunney was a legit promoter and important wheel within WWF, which lent his role as president an air of believability. He also only appeared when it mattered – if Tunney appeared you knew sh*t was about to go down. Somebody was getting stripped of the title, or getting fired or something big. Tunney was purely a functional authority figure, which sounds pretty refreshing after 20 years of general manager mania.
#2 Worst: Jeremy Piven
Jeremy Piven and his evil sidekick Ken Jeong were the epitome of the absolute worst type of Raw guest host (yes, there are tiers). Celebrities who have zero respect for the audience and only sign up to “be on wrasslin’,” because they figure it’ll be easy and they’ll have carte blanche to act like *ssholes. And act like *ssholes these two did! From Piven mistaking SummerSlam for Summerfest, to Jeong’s nonstop hooting, these guys stopped just short of teabagging the camera. The Raw guest host trope was responsible for a lot of bad TV, but Jeremy Piven and Dr. Ken will always be the poster boys for what a failure it was.
#2 Best: William Regal
It’s probably just the British accent and that beautiful hair, but William Regal has always brought a touch of class to his various managerial positions. He’s been particularly great as the head of NXT, where he’s been the extremely rare WWE authority figure with no axe to grind. He just wants NXT to be the best show it can be, and he achieves that through logical booking, fairness and giving the best wrestlers on the roster an opportunity to shine. How bloody novel.
#1 Worst: The Anonymous General Manager
If I can get all Comic Book Guy for a second, The Anonymous Raw General Manger was, without a doubt, the worst WWE storyline ever. The premise that a billion-dollar media company would put a laptop with a piece of paper taped to it in charge of their flagship show for even a week sounds too absurd to believe. WWE did it for over a goddamn year, with no endgame in mind. One day the computer was just gone. Eventually, a year after the debacle ended, they revealed Hornswoggle was the Anonymous GM, because “It was Hornswoggle, LOL” was the answer to ever WWE mystery for a decade. The Anonymous GM wasn’t just dumb, it was the most egregious evidence to date that WWE, at its worst, simply doesn’t give a f*ck about its own programming.
#1 Best: Mr. McMahon
What other choice is there? Vince McMahon is one of the most entertaining performers in wrestling history, and him being the legit king of the WWE ring automatically puts him on a level above most of the company’s faux bigwigs. Ultimately though, what truly makes Mr. McMahon numero uno is the way he’s used his on-air position of authority to make the show better and create stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and Roman Reigns. Most WWE authority figures, even the good ones, are incidental to the action. Take them away, and the show would be more or less the same. Mr. McMahon on the other hand, has been a truly pivotal part of some of WWE’s most successful periods. When it comes to authority, nobody’s a higher power than Vince.
Those are my calls for the best shot callers in WWE history. Think my rankings are all wrong? Distressed that Palmer Cannon didn’t make either list? Let’s take this power struggle to the comments section.