For the last couple of years WWE has tried to sell Paul Heyman as one of its greatest ever managers. The truth is however, if you are a fairly new fan to the product and you only know Paul Heyman as the man who was in the corner of CM Punk, or whose client is Brock Lesnar or a man who is easily the best promo guy in WWE you don’t know him very well at all.
The truth is Paul Heyman is very unique in that he possesses many strings to his bow. His CV doesn’t just read manager and TV talent but he is also a former promoter, producer, commentator, creative writer and developmental worker.
It says a lot about the characters of both employer and employee that Heyman has worked for Vince McMahon on and off, in numerous roles since 2001 having unsuccessfully tried to take on WWE with his innovative ECW.
Many would have found it difficult to accept a job from a man who ultimately bought your company after it went bankrupt. Even more jarring when it’s the man who’s approach to wrestling you had so vocally fought against.
But ever the business man and a lifelong wrestling fan, Heyman knew a job with WWE (when WWE were making huge money) was an offer he couldn’t refuse. To Vince McMahon’s credit he seemed to admire Heyman for at least having the guts to chase his dream. Even though McMahon always saw ECW as a short term alternative, never genuine competition, he perhaps saw a little bit of himself in what Heyman was trying to do in the 90’s.
Like when a young Vincent Kennedy McMahon would be laughed out of peoples offices back in the late 80’s when he tried to put out territories and launch WrestleMania, Heyman would face a daily battle with sponsors, media and fans who would question his vision of the wrestling industry.
The difference was Vince McMahon had the benefit of his father’s tutelage, over in WCW Eric Bischoff’s philosophies’ were bankrolled by billionaire Ted Turner.
All Heyman had was a belief in his own convictions. Having been disgusted by the way he was treated as a manager in WCW and a belief that WWE was too cartoony, Heyman wanted there to be a change in the wrestling landscape. He wasn’t alone, there was nothing ground-breaking, many 18-30 male wrestling’s fans had become turned off by what they were watching. What made Heyman different to those wrestling fans was an incredible belief in himself that he could do something about it without having a sugar daddy to count on. He just needed someone to listen to him, which Tod Gordon, owner of Eastern Championship Wrestling did in 1993 after falling out with then booker Eddie Gilbert. Gordon trusted Heyman in major decisions such as ending his company’s association with the NWA, renaming it to ECW and producing hard-core content each and every week. Gordon would eventually sell the company to Heyman.
I believe Vince McMahon admired Heyman’s courage. Why else would he give him so many highly trusted roles throughout the years? They haven’t always agreed but where possible McMahon has involved Heyman in creative processes as well as running OVW (WWE’s former developmental territory) and later their version of ECW.
Now this writer should stress that I was never a fan of ECW. To me there was no art in people continuously hitting each over the head time and again. If I was crazy enough I could of wrestled there, it didn’t take a craft just bravery and willingness to hurt yourself for real in front of smart fans who knew wrestling was fake. It made no sense to me.
And yet people, lots of people will talk about ECW with great passion, they will go as far to say there would have been no Attitude Era without ECW, that the Monday Night Wars stole ideas off ECW, that many wrestlers owe their Hall of Fame careers to ECW for giving them their big breakthrough in America.
This belief in Heyman highlights his biggest strength, his ability to sell anything to anyone. Heyman had the ability to brainwash grown men who had no business being in the wrestling ring and make them believe they were the best of all time. The Sandman genuinely thought he was as big a star as a Shawn Michaels, Shane Douglas thought he was a better technical wrestler than Bret Hart, the likes of Taz and Tommy Dreamer walked around like they were genuinely tough men. Perhaps it was their loyalty to the man for giving them the chance to live out their dreams that they were willing to put their bodies on the line for little and sometimes zero money. The irony is that the few wrestlers who weren’t sucked in to ‘The ECW family’ and who realised he wasn’t the best business man were the ones who went on to have great success in the major leagues. Yet years later few will say anything bad about the man.
While I didn’t admire ECW that doesn’t mean I didn’t admire Paul Heyman. I looked at the characters he created like Raven and wondered just what this man could do if he had more resources to work with. I got my answer in 2001 when Paul Heyman’s ECW filed for bankruptcy after finding itself $7,000,000 in arrears.
Heyman would then go on to initially commentate with Jim Ross on Raw with JR later admitting it brought out the very best in him. It was when WWE decided to merge ECW with WCW to form the Alliance that Heyman became a central part of Monday Night television. While many fans and talent have their own booking scenarios as to how they would have liked to see the angle develop, Heyman was one of the few ‘non WWE guys’ who survived the angle with credibility.
On screen Heyman was trusted with cherished roles like being General Manager of Smackdown but Vince McMahon was smart enough to tap in to his creative mind backstage. Having seen from a far his man management/almost fatherly figure skills with younger talent in ECW, Heyman was trusted in WWE with it’s next ‘Big Thing’.
Little did anyone realise just how close Paul Heyman would become to a young 24 year old Brock Lesnar. It was a perfect set up, Heyman would do all the talking for Lesnar who could just stand there and look menacing. The fact that this unknown rookie was being heralded by a ‘wrestling guy’ in Paul Heyman made ‘smart’ fans take notice. Lesnar would then back it all up by winning the King of the Ring and then the WWE Championship. In many ways Heyman became too close to Brock Lesnar, continuing to advise him even after he left WWE on bad terms. Like Heyman, Lesnar was a business man before anything else and therefore trusted few men outside of Paul Heyman. Even when UFC Heavyweight champion, Lesnar worked with Heyman.
Luckily for Paul Heyman the Rise and Fall of ECW DVD had proved to be a huge financial success and WWE saw money in cashing in on the interest/nostalgia of ECW by having a One Night Stand Pay Per View. Being a one night deal WWE had nothing to lose by letting Heyman take charge of the show. For the man himself it was a dream come true, finally he could promote his baby on a big stage without having to worry about sponsors or television deals, he could show what he could do when there was a budget behind him.
WWE weren’t disappointed. The one off event proved to be an critical and financial success to the point it prompted ideas for ECW to come back full time.
Clearly it was ECW under the WWE umbrella but Heyman clearly trusted the company enough that they would stick to the traditions that had made ECW so popular. If he had known that WWE would in any way harm his creation then there’s no way he would have agreed to have had any creative input.
Going by Heyman’s promos in the second One Night Stand show, the fact that on that show ECW Champion Rob Van Damn would beat John Cena for the WWE title and that early episodes of the TV show were recorded at the shows old stomping ground the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York it appeared that WWE had every intention of winning over original ECW fans. Yes okay WWE headliners were a part of the show but that was expected and accepted, Heyman acknowledged that ECW would breed the next generation of talent.
Heyman didn’t mind that. He had worked with the likes of CM Punk, Bobby Lashley, John Morrison and the The Miz in OVW and was committed in helping their careers. Where the concerns started to grow was when WWE quickly stopped doing shows in front of ECW fans in the ECW arena and simply recorded the show an hour before Smackdown in front of fans that had paid to see the Undertaker and Brock Lesnar. Very quickly ECW had become the undercard.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when WWE went back on their promise to allow CM Punk to win the ECW title at December to Dismember. Heyman had lobbied for Punk ever since their days together in OVW but now Punk was being overlooked by Bobby Lashley who had the body building physique that WWE are so obsessed with. Lashley may have had the look but he hadn’t won over the audience who were dismayed to see him win the Elimination Chamber match. Some fans booed, some turned their backs, some even went to great lengths to complain about not receiving their money’s worth.
Vince McMahon may not have cared to begin with, at this point the ECW title was merely a tool to get Lashley credibility for the Battle of the Billionaires match at WrestleMania 23. Then news broke that the event had an attendance of 4,800 and received about 90,000 pay-per-view buys, with 55,000 of them domestic buys—the lowest buyrate in WWE history. With it being an ECW event it was easier for McMahon to blame ECW guy Paul Heyman instead of accepting the way he had packaged the brand and hadn’t prepared any undercard was the reason the event bombed. To this day Heyman maintains his advice wasn’t listened to so he walked out on WWE.
At that point all had given up on ECW. It existed for another year but simply became the C show, which WWE never tried to hide. It gave a chance for some youngsters to gain air time they wouldn’t have receiced on Raw or Smackdown but mostly talent were placed there when creative had nothing for them.
By the time the last show aired I can assure you that no original ECW fans were watching.
Vine McMahon may have admired Heyman for standing up to him. It would have been the easiest thing to do for Heyman to have taken a rollicking at that creative meeting just to keep his job. Many staff over the years have told the boss what he wants to hear, becoming ‘yes men’ in the process.
Heyman has always believed in himself. While he loves performing, he’s never needed WWE; he has fingers in other pies. While away from WWE he continued to advise Brock Lesnar, outside of wrestling he launched The Heyman Hustle which he expanded into a marketing firm known as the The Looking4Larry Agency. Meanwhile there was great interest in him helping ROH and TNA with their creative output.
Ultimately though WWE’s resigning of Brock Lesnar in 2012 meant that by association Heyman was hired as well. Labelled Lesnar’s ‘legal advisor’ Heyman’s role would be more crucial then it was previously. Lesnar had signed a lucrative contract with minimal dates meaning that while he would wrestle on the big shows such as Summerslam and WrestleMania he wasn’t obliged to spend much television time to promote his feuds. With his his obvious promo skills Heyman would be used as a tool to keep the feuds relevant while Lesnar sat at home. He did this to such great effect against HHH and most notably against CM Punk to the point where he risked overshadowing his client.
Most recently Heyman has done a great job of keeping Lesnar relevant between WrestleMania 30 to SummerSlam 2014 by reminding the world weekly that he is ‘ The 1 behind the 1 in 21 and 1’. It meant as Lesnar returned to face John Cena for the WWE title he remained a credible threat in the minds of the WWE audience.
To take up some time Heyman has also manage Ryback, Curtis Axel and Cesaro in the last 2 years. All three benefited by the association but just like Rybaxel, Cesaro seems to have been dropped the second Lesnar reappeared.
Of course history tells us that Brock Lesnar won’t be around for ever. But WWE should do everything in its power to make sure Heyman is, there is so much he can offer to the product.
A talent, announcer, promoter, writer and advisor. How many people have that on their CV.
Ladies and Gentlemen that is Paul Heyman.