If what happens in the ring is the music, says Jim Ross, the commentators provide the lyrics. And there’s no finer example of the magic words can have in telling a story than what Bobby Heenan did at the 1992 Royal Rumble. The ’92 Rumble is the Gone with the Wind of great matches, almost interminably long but ultimately worth the effort in the end. And with Ric Flair providing his greatest hits as the delicate balance of heels to faces moved back and forth with each entrant, providing Flair periods of relative calm before maelstroms like Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan, The Brain was able to write the type of lyrics that would make Bernie Taupin cry.
While Heenan’s work is probably best remembered for his “Not Fair to Flair” chorus, the meat of his work is in selling everyone else that comes into like they are worth a million dollars. Every person that comes into the ring could be perceived as a threat to Flair, not just because of “it’s every man for himself” but because even Heenan — who is rather openly the Nature Boy’s confidant and business partner — knows that Flair is a total dick who is any number of people’s shit lists. Like a satellite tag team partner, Heenan works the match with Flair, with pained, anxious shouting whenever it seems like the latter might be eliminated. The performance in and of itself is virtuoso, but it’s the stakes that make the work so transcendent.
Flair’s promo after the match (which can be found at the bottom of this article) gives the fans a rare glimpse into the innerworking of Flair, his motivations, and what it’s like to have everyone think you’re the bad guy when you think you’re just trying to be the best. And it’s all built on the story that Flair and Heenan had been telling since he arrived in the company, with the pair spending much of the last few months claiming that Ric was the “REAL WORLD’S CHAMPION”, carrying around the Big Gold Belt and making “Fair to Flair” the “Yes We Can” of the 1992 Royal Rumble campaign. The match that provided the blowoff for Flair’s feud against the WWE isn’t just explained by Bobby Heenan, he helps Flair win it in spirit, and he gets to celebrate the result as one of the victors and not just an engaged observer.
It was perhaps both their finest hours, and is a testament to what can be done with a little bit of planning and elbow grease.
There are other moments, like the post match interview that highlights Heenan’s unique gift for being able to switch between business man, fan, friend and broadcast journalist. It also allows him to prove he’s always the smartest guy in the room.