Sitting deep down the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame ballot is one of the most obvious candidates for induction that has ever appeared. Yet, for a number of reasons, he wasn’t even on the ballot until two years ago, and has yet to get the votes necessary for induction.

It’s time to end the madness. It’s time to smarten up. It’s time to elect Bobby Davis into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.

The case for Davis is very simple, he is one of the most influential figures in the history of wrestling, arguably the most historically significant non-wrestler performer in pro wrestling history, and was a part of multiple of the hottest drawing acts of his time.

Without Bobby Davis pro wrestling is dramatically different, and the role of the heat-drawing manager may have never come to fruition.

As a boy wonder manager, Davis originated and then perfected the role of the heel manager. There had been wrestling managers before, all the way back to Billy Sandow in the 1920s who helped create the role, but Davis was the first real talent to put all the roles together into one attraction. Davis cut promos for his talent, he ran interference for his wrestlers, and he took serious bumps as part of babyface comebacks. The work of pretty much every other subsequent manager who has been inducted into the Hall of Fame, including Bobby Heenan, Jim Cornette and Lou Albano, is modeled largely after Davis.

Davis was a pro wrestling prodigy. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and was a huge wrestling fan. He trained to be a wrestler starting when he was 16, but a neck injury he suffered while training derailed those plans. However, promoter Al Haft saw that Davis was a talented talker and decided to give him a chance as a manager. He was an instant success, and at 18 years old in 1956, he was already in New York City, managing Dr. Jerry Graham in his feuds against Antonio Rocca and Miguel Perez.

Davis had it all, almost instantly. He styled his jet black hair into a prominent pompadour, similar to Elvis Presley, who at the time was a controversial figure. He strutted around the ring, mocking fans at ringside, the arrogant, entitled boy that was out of control. He cut promos that elevated his talent, and he got physically involved, using his training as a wrestler to take wild bumps and buy time for his clients.

As the manager of the Graham Brothers, Davis played a key role in the famous tag team feud between the Graham Brothers and Rocca and Perez, which some historians consider to be the best drawing tag team feud in American wrestling history, regularly selling out Madison Square Garden in the late 1950s.

It was Davis’ relationship with Buddy Rogers that would cement his status as a legend in wrestling. Davis grew up idolizing Rogers, studied his mannerisms and patterned himself after Rogers, the iconic heel of his time. Rogers was a regular in Columbus and quickly formed a friendship with precocious young Davis, eventually adopting Davis as his own manager.

Davis would play a key role in building the legendary match between Rogers and Pat O’Connor, when Rogers would finally win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in 1961. Davis did most of the heavy lifting promoting the match, appearing on television and asserting that O’Connor was afraid of wrestling Rogers. The result of this build would be a draw-dropping box office success, 38,622 fans at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, a North American record and a record gate of $141,000 (approximately $1.4 million in today’s money).

It’s also worth noting that Davis also wrestled infrequently during his career, mainly in gimmick matches that involved his rival manager “Wild” Red Berry, either with the two teaming against a team of wrestlers, or wrestling one another in spectacle matches. A match between the two, won by Berry in August 1961, drew a sell-out crowd of 18,752 to Madison Square Garden.

There is very little video evidence that is easily available for Davis. His performance mainly lives on through stories and newspaper clippings, but the business results don’t lie. Not only was Davis an innovator, but between his drawing success as a manager in New York, as well as his work with Rogers, he is one of the best drawing acts of his period.

If you watch the few Davis promos that are available today, it comes across as slightly primitive. But innovation always looks primitive in hindsight, the Wright Brothers didn’t fly across the Atlantic, and Alexander Graham Bell didn’t make a long distance call. Davis was innovating with his work, and almost every major manager that could come after him would adopt and evolve from his work.

Bobby Heenan took his name.

Gary Hart, who grew up watching Davis as a kid in Chicago, adopted many of his mannerisms.

Jimmy Hart used his motormouth promo style.

Jim Cornette would copy his arrogant, brat persona and become the boy wonder manager of his era.

Paul Heyman, who learned about Davis while a teenager working with a retired Rogers in New York, would push Davis’ shameless promotion of his clients to new extremes.

Watching wrestling today, Davis’ fingerprints are still all over the industry. Heyman and Don Callis are the modern-day equivalents of Davis in terms of promos and self-promotion. Even someone like Gedo, whether he knows it or not, is copying Davis when he manages David Finlay. Even now, more than 50 years since Davis left wrestling, he is still a pivotal and influential figure in the business.

So why hasn’t Davis been inducted yet? His contributions simply have not been adequately recognized until lately. He didn’t even appear on the ballot until 2021, the same year he died at age 83. That year he got 56% of the vote, and in 2022 he got 45% of the vote.

Davis’ biggest problem is that his career was so long ago, Davis stopped managing full-time in 1964, well before his 30th birthday. He continued to make sporadic appearances in WWWF up until 1968, but he left wrestling for good, having made money through various real estate investments. For the final 53 years of his life, Davis lived outside the wrestling bubble–one of wrestling’s greatest innovators going unrecognized, even while the spawn of his work went on to major acclaim and celebrity.

The time difference is staggering, since he started so young, by the time Davis died in 2021, almost none of his contemporaries were around to say anything about him. Rogers, his most famous client, had been dead for nearly 30 years. There is almost nobody left that remembers working with Davis directly, and that has impacted his legacy.

That is exactly why Davis should be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Like all hall of fame’s, the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame serves to enshrine important figures in wrestling into a level of immortality, so that subsequent generations of fans will have a chance to recognize and learn about names of the past. Davis has been largely denied that luxury due to no fault of his own, and it’s time for that to change.

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