The role of managers. Mostly that of the evil, scheming interloper kind. There to rob the good guy and leave his fans in disgust. Let’s be honest; that’s about as good as it gets for a match finish. Not all the beauties are virtuous, nor the brains always the cleverest.
But the backstabbings were always the sizzle of any match. And more often than not, changed the course of the storyline along the way. We present Beauty, Brains, & Betrayal Managers of Our Wrestling Past.
So, here we go, let’s take a trip to the Eastern Coast of Canada. To what is referred to as the Old Capital, Quebec City. We’re going to take a closer look at the career of a man that went from local boy to the grand stage of the World Wrestling Federation during the “Golden Years” of the company. Some Canadians will remember him as Don Gagne. But for American fans, he will always the beret-wearing, flag-waving villain known as Frenchy Martin.
Born in the summer of 1947, Jean Gagne grew up, like most Quebecers, loving hockey and professional wrestling. Like most of the stars of Vince McMahon’s 1980’s WWF, Gagne had a successful career in the territories before he made it to New York. He broke into the business at Stampede Wrestling, working for Stu Hart.
Assuredly after, he’d take his requisite stretching in the Dungeon at the hands of the ole’ man. While he got his start at Stampede, it was in Puerto Rico where he tasted his first gold.
Beauty, Brains, & Betrayal Managers of Our Wrestling Past
He got to the World Wrestling Council in February of 1975. In March he captured the North American Tag Team Titles, under the name Pierre, alongside his partner Michel as The Martels.
In that same week, he also unseated Carlos Colon for the North American Heavyweight Title. His reign with that belt only lasted a few weeks. He was one of many wrestlers that Colon traded that belt back and forth with over a few years. It wasn’t unusual in the territory days or their independent equivalents that we have now to see the owner carrying one of the titles.
In 1976, he journeyed back to Stampede on a wave of title gold rolling in from the WWC. And took the International Tag Team Titles from the Morrow Brothers in February of 1976. He parlayed that into a nice title shot at Trans-Canada Wrestling in northeastern Canada.
Here he won their North American Heavyweight Title, but this time, and for the first time, working under the name Frenchy Martin. This would start a territorial game of hopscotch that Martin would play for the next decade between Canada and Puerto Rico. And always with a title in tow.
From 1977 into 1978, he again captured the NA Title at Stampede. This time as the result of the title being vacated and winning that belt under Don Gagne once again during a tournament.
The great thing about the territorial system is that a wrestler could work under different aliases. Many times under a shifted gimmick than they may be working simultaneously in another area.
For instance, a baby could work heel and vice versa in those days because the majority of territories only really got the wrestling from that area.
Unless you had access to the old-school wrestling magazines that we all loved. But even then, there was much more creative anonymity to be had and played off of than we see today.
He went back to WWC, this time taking their Caribbean Heavyweight Title from Invader #1. Two months later, their World Tag Team Titles, again from Invader#1 and his partner Jose Rivera. The two men battled the rest of that month in either singles or tag competition.
In September of that year, however, Martin made his name known in the NWA New Zealand territory. He traveled to a show in Auckland and defeated Steve Rickard for the NWA British Empire Commonwealth Championship. Now that friends is a damn mouthful of a title! He was working under the Mad Dog Martin moniker at that time.
Polishing his heel game with every match. Before the end of the month, he would head back to Stampede to re-take his NA Heavyweight Title. This time from another mainstay titleholder of that particular belt, Leo Burke.
Hawaiian Wrestling Scene At 50th State Big Time Wrestling
1980 saw more WWC gold around his waist. But in the fall of that year, we see him pop up on the Hawaiian wrestling scene at 50th State Big Time Wrestling, run by Ed Francis. He held one of its last titles before the demise of the company, in the NWA Pacific International Championship.
The belt had been the standard-bearer title of the company and had also been named the NWA US, and NA Titles held under the Hawaii banner until it was finally rendered into the Pacific International Championship. Martin worked as the Masked Cyclops when he won that belt. It was deactivated after Sivi Afi held it later that same year.
For the next three years, he was very active in the WWC. Capturing virtually every title they had to offer and having a strong run as both Pierre Martel in singles competition. As well as tag action in the team of the Mercenaries and Martels, once again with his “brother” Michel.
He ventured to the Lutte Internationale promotion in Montreal in 1984. Here he rounded out his territorial days. He and partner Pierre Lefebvre first defeated his future protege Dino Bravo and his partner, Tony Parisi, in January of that year. Taking the Canadian Tag Titles from them.
He and his partner traded those titles back and forth with Bravo and Parisi up until that summer. Then it was the team of the Rougeaus, Jacques, and Raymond that finally defeated them for those titles.
On the 4th of July weekend that year, no less. While the Lutte Internationale promotion would continue on, most of its mainline stars were plucked up by Vince McMahon during his mid-eighties roster round-up of the smaller markets. It is well known that during that time, he fattened up his WWF stable with as many stars as he could swoop up from all over the United States and North America.
As the talent pool continued to swell, it was becoming more and more difficult for some of the new workers to find their niche. Like so many others, Martin started out in the mid and lower card level. And was more often than not used what is referred to as enhancement talent. Used to bring some lesser wrestlers along and help teach them.
Some people use the term jobber. I personally find it an offensive way of dismissing the careers of many fine workers that got stuck in that position. With few chances of getting a call-up to the top-tier matches and big paydays.
Frenchy’s ability to draw heat and talk on the mic was what set him just enough above the rest to get noticed. He used his quick wit and ability to improvise to his advantage, and doors began to open. While he was never destined to be in the main events, he made the most of his opportunity. He entertained us with some of the biggest heel chicaneries of the late eighties.
During 1987 he built on that “bad guys are best” type of interview style with the interview segment that the WWF gave him. The creative powers that be soon realized that pairing Martin with Dino Bravo would give them a moneymaking pair.
They would drive the audiences mad with anger and pro-American patriotism. At the pinnacle of the national pride era, any type of heel from another country was big business. It was shown true with Nikolai and The Sheik, and the company would put that archetype to work again with Frenchy Martin and Dino Bravo.
Their first rivalry came in the recently turned face, Don Muraco. The two met at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for Wrestlemania IV. This may be my favorite Mania. Not because of the hyped rematch between Hogan and Andre.
With Superstar Billy Graham in his corner, Muraco was on his own short-lived run. And Bravo made the perfect foil for him. Dino and Frenchy went out in the first round, but the seeds of the feud were sewn.
Frenchy Martin – Beauty, Brains, & Betrayal Managers of Our Wrestling Past
The time for revenge came only a few months later. That August in MSG at SummerSlam. The two met again after building their story in the interim. While Muraco was faltering as a face, Bravo was shining as a heel. And Frenchy was part of the reason he was reviled by the fans.
So much heat can be generated when the gimmick is played to its full potential. It was Bravo that won that day and continued on to even bigger sizzle. As he met possibly the most all-American persona their besides the Red and Yellow, in Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
When the two collided at the King of the Ring tournament that year, there was only one match that made sense for them to undertake. The flag match. Duggan and Bravo both were known for waving their country’s flag to the ring and after matches. So it was just a natural fit.
That match was the only match that was on the card that wasn’t part of the tournament. It came after the first round of matches, at the halfway point of the show. The two continued to cross paths for the remainder of that year in matches that would highlight the Saturday morning program Superstars and Wrestling Challenge.
The next man that Bravo and Martin would take out after was another embodiment of American patriotism and strength. The Olympic power-lifter, Ken Patera. They clashed at the Halloween edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event that year in Baltimore.
They built on that with shows of strength, including the showing of the famous incident where Jesse the Body “spotted” Bravo as he broke the record for the bench press. He lifted seven hundred and fifteen pounds as Frenchy cheered him on.
Frenchy Martin – Managers of Our Wrestling Past
As Bravo’s star got hotter, he saw action in all the big shows going into 1989. And Frenchy was there to guide the dirty tactics along the way. The two finally parted ways in April of that year after WrestleMania V.
Bravo continued on with Jimmy Hart, who handled most of the tope heels of that time, along with Bobby Heenan. Frenchy slowly faded back into the lower card matches and out of the scene and wrapped up his time with the WWF in 1990.
After his retirement from the company, he continued, as most do, to work in the North American independents and stay close with the business. He also ran the book for the International Wrestling Association’s Puerto Rican affiliate.
He used his knowledge of the business and that market to help build that company in the years of its infancy. In 2015, Jean “Frenchy Martin” Gagne was diagnosed with bladder and later bone cancer. He died just over a year later, on October 21st, 2016, at sixty-nine years old.
Frenchy Martin may not be the most notably remembered manager in the history of the World Wrestling Federation. But if you looked at those years, he was working as a manager, his heel impact on the fans and the product were undeniable.
Many men of his generation were underused and left trying to make an impact in the shadows of bigger names and brighter burning stars during one of the hottest times in the company. Their contributions, while sometimes not being on the front pages of the story, are integral to its overall success. They should not be forgotten.