It’s fitting that Paul Heyman’s Twitter handle is @HeymanHustle. Unlike a lot of the bullshit “Rise and Grind!” type Tweeters, Heyman’s hustle is real and his rise to professional wrestling supremacy is a fascinating story, one that’s well documented in WWE’s recently-released DVD “Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name Is Paul Heyman.” The two-hour DVD showcases Heyman getting into the business as an uber-hungry 17-year-old photographer, transitioning to a promoter, founding the cult-y and aggressive Extreme Championship Wrestling organization, and then making his way back to WWE as a writer for the company’s “Smackdown” show. In his latest role, Heyman is a manager to the stars, with his most important client Brock Lesnar set to take on John Cena in the main event at Sunday’s WWE pay-per-view SummerSlam.
For a man to be so prominent in the wrestling industry despite never wrestling a match says something about Heyman’s cerebral approach to the business. Whether it’s selling storylines, accepting the villain role, or molding wrestlers into stars, Heyman has stayed relevant in wrestling since 1987. And his talk game? It’s probably better than your favorite rapper’s. Before he accompanies Lesnar down the aisle Sunday, Heyman talked with Complex about his new DVD, how he thinks the match will go Sunday night, and how he keeps constantly re-inventing himself.
Interview by Joe La Puma (@JLaPuma)
There was a great moment on Monday Night Raw this past week for Hulk Hogan’s birthday with the appearances of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Rowdy Piper, and others. Although there wasn’t a punch thrown between Brock Lesnar and John Cena, everyone was on the edge of their seat. If you were booking that angle, what would you do differently?
I view that incident from Monday Night Raw differently than you do. I view it as that Brock Lesnar punked out a ring full of WWE Hall of Famers, including the immortal Hulk Hogan. And John Cena thought he was going to play Superman—gonna be a hero—and dived into the ring, but didn’t have what it takes to jump on Brock Lesnar.
Okay, that’s fair. You’ve talked about it a lot this week, but two days away, how do you see the Cena/Lesnar match playing out at SummerSlam?
I’ll be happy to tell you what’s gonna happen Sunday. I’ll save you the time and the effort of scratching your head trying to figure out where this leads. Brock Lesnar is going to deliver a beating to John Cena, the likes of which John Cena has never experienced in his life. When Brock Lesnar is done sadistically smacking around John Cena, Brock Lesnar will hoist John Cena up on his mammoth shoulders. Brock Lesnar will F5 John Cena. Brock Lesnar will pin John Cena. And Brock Lesnar will go on to be the reigning, defending, undisputed WWE heavyweight champion of the world.
Let’s talk about the DVD, “Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman”. You came from ECW, which was so anti-establishment and so anti-corporation, so how tough was it to make the transition to the highly corporate organization of WWE?
Really? No growing pains, nothing like that?
Always growing pains. There’s always growing pains in any transition. But you need to acclimate and reinvent and evolve or you get left behind. Your stuck in a previous role. I’m very comfortable in my role right now. I can’t tell you there’s ever been a time that I was uncomfortable in my role, even if the role was an uncomfortable one to manage. I don’t know why anyone would be interested in whether or not I had difficulty transitioning into a role where I serve at the pleasure of a chairman, instead of being the final decision maker myself. I don’t care when other people have problems at their jobs—that’s their problems. So if I had issues in my career, in my job, I don’t know why anybody would be interested in hearing me bitch, moan, and complain. Just do your job, get it done to the best of your ability, and move on to the next day.
The Attitude Era of the WWE is looked at as one of the most, if not the most exciting era for the WWE, and when it became edgier. Do you find it ironic that you weren’t a part of the organization at that point, even though you might have driven the corporation to that?
I don’t find it ironic at all because I was too busy setting the trends and demonstrating the way for the entire industry to go. Most visionaries and revolutionaries don’t get to participate in the benefits of their concepts. They show others the way and that is the cost of coming up with your own ideas. People that are far better distributed and far better funded are going to take it on a bigger platform than you can and make far more money than you do on it.
The understanding is that you kind of set this trend. Do you outright claim responsibility for forcing WWE to become edgier because of what you were doing?
I don’t claim responsibility for anything. That’s for other people to judge. I don’t spend my time thinking about how the “Attitude Era” came about. I also have no problem with how the world operates. I’m a realist. I don’t fantasize about a world that doesn’t exist. The bigger companies are always going to profit more from ideas that are out there or already in existence or delivered to them than the person who conceives the concept to begin with. Unless that person ends up getting very well funded and finds distribution channels on their own. How many of Bill Gates’ big moves at Microsoft were based off his very own ideas that no one else gave him the impetus to conceive of these grander ideas? Steve Jobs is another example. Is everything that ever happened at Apple a complete creation of Steve Jobs, or was he influenced by other people? Did he have a catalyst that helped spur a bigger, better, wilder idea? That’s just the real world. And that’s the world that we live in. I can sit here and say, “Oh, gee, that was my idea, I should have profited more from it.” But that’s not real! And I only deal in reality. I accept the world for what it is, and I deal with it based on my knowledge of how the world operates.
Before this interview, I revisited “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s podcast and you said that you still talk to CM Punk and that’s he’s a friend—he’ll always be a friend. Have you spoken to him recently? And do you guys have a "no-wrestling policy" when you guys talk now?
It would be very uncomfortable to describe to anyone any personal conversations I have with anybody. It would be akin to me saying, “So what did you and your wife talk about at the dinner table last night?” Or, “Hey, I heard you went to the baseball game with your best friend, what was he talking to you about?” The answer is, to the entire world, none of your business. Whether Punk and I have a “no-wrestling policy” or a “no-music policy” or a “no-religion policy,” that’s between us. And since we’re not marketing anything in public together, I’m hesitant in describing anything regarding a conversation I would have with—whether it’s CM Punk, or any other friend of mine.
Understood. Switching gears, you’re known for your superb skills on the microphone. In your opinion, of those wrestler that you have worked with, who is the best of all time in terms of cutting a promo?
That I’ve worked with in terms of writing and producing for them? Or in terms of teaching them? Or in terms of, “I’m on the same roster at the same time I watch that guy and I say, ‘Oh my God, he’s great’”?
I think the last criteria broadens the scope a bit...
I think John Cena has been on top for over 10 years because he understands how to convey his message to his audience. I think “Stone Cold” Steve Austin has revolutionized the way in which a character on a wrestling program can speak. I think that when Vince McMahon was opposed against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, there were things that he said and things that he did that were absolutely brilliant and ground-breaking and changed the sculpt of the villain in professional wrestling. So there are a lot of people that I watched—hey, The Rock is one of the biggest movie stars of the past decade. There’s a reason for it: He understands how to convey his message. And he learned that in front of a live audience in WWE, so how could you not include him on that list? There are others that are coming up—I thought the work that Punk did as Champion was simply brilliant and ground-breaking and trend setting, so I would be remiss not to include him on this list as well.
You’re not a wrestler but you’re at the top all-time of people on the mic. If there’s a storyline to sell, does Vince pick The Rock, Stone Cold, or Paul Heyman?
I would hope Vince would pick Paul Heyman. I’m not one to judge my own work. I look at every performance on RAW as the audition to appear on next week’s TV show.
What drew you back to the WWE? There were years there where seemed like it would never happen.
It was the right time, the right place, the right offer, the right person to work with. It was a perfect storm. Everything came together at the right time and the right place.
You and Vince now are probably, as an outsider looking in, you and Vince—Vince needs the promotion, the Studio 54 guy. You guys’ relationship now, is it fair to say it’s the best it’s ever been?
If you’re asking me how I would describe my relationship with Vince McMahon, my answer would be strictly platonic.
Watching the DVD, it’s clear that you’re a highly competitive person.You also have an ability to spin a loss into a blessing in disguise. Have you encountered a real loss in this business, and if there’s a real loss that you look back on, is there one that sticks out to you?
I think the loss of the ECW brand itself was a devastating loss. Everything in life can be overanalyzed—I take a very pragmatic approach to this. I’m here today, which means I should be planning for tomorrow. And when I get to tomorrow, I better start planning for the day after. I could look back on my successes and my failures, and I should learn from both of them. But to dwell on them does me no good at all. So I move forward based on the lessons that I’ve learned and having survived the ass kickings that I’ve taken in my life.