Now, anybody that has read my columns regularly knows by now that I am a huge Paul Heyman fan. I truly believe that he was the architect behind the original ECW and that he helped make the stars of ECW what they are today and who they will be historically ten years down the road.
Think about all the great stars ECW has made throughout the years, even the current product that is nothing more than SmackDown!-lite.
It’s pretty much a who’s-who of wrestling history: Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio, Steve Austin, Rob Van Dam, Tazz, Tommy Dreamer, Sabu, Raven, the Sandman, the Dudley Boys, Yoshihiro Tajiri, CM Punk, the list goes on and on. Heyman’s had the opportunity to work with all those names and then some, and even some that weren’t the product of ECW; guys like Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, and Big Show have all worked with Paul Heyman over the years.
However, I feel that in December 2006, at the now-infamous December to Dismember PPV (or as Tommy Dreamer called it “December to Disappoint”), Heyman and the very spirit of ECW were both unceremoniously kicked out of the WWE. The next Tuesday, a recorded promo from Paul Heyman, in which he was visibly in tears, aired leading up to the rematch between then-ECW Champion Bobby Lashley and the Big Show. By now, anybody that is actually reading this should know that the reason Heyman was in tears was a.) he was getting fired from WWE and b.) the vision of ECW that he spent his entire adult life working on, building, nurturing, and paying for (in more ways than one) was no longer a part of WWE or wrestling for that matter.
Heyman has not been seen or heard from since that day…
Until just recently, when he made some comments in an interview he did with the Sun newspaper in
London. He then did a follow-up interview on February 15, 2008, to help promote the debut of a new series in the Sun newspaper called “The Heyman Hustle”.
Now, I know what you’re thinking…"Yeah, that’s a credible source; the Sun? You’re going to trust what the Sun says?"
My response to that is, “Good point.”
But, if Paul Heyman is behind these quotes and they’re not just spewing things out, but rather having an intensive Q&A with the guy, I’m going to tend to believe that, regardless of who’s asking the questions. Besides, don’t you know by now that you can’t trust everything you read, see, or hear in the media anyway? See example: Chris Benoit.
Paul Heyman has some rather interesting things to say about Stephanie and Vince McMahon, as well as TNA. As I mentioned last time, this is going to take some getting into, and unfortunately, I won’t be able to cover the entire interview. But what little I can cover, I’m going to break down what I think of each quote as I go along here.
When asked about comments he made previously about Stephanie McMahon, and in particular whether the rumblings about his working relationship with the Billion-Dollar Princess had any truth behind them, Heyman gave a very lengthy response:
“They weren't rumours, Stephanie and I clashed heavily through most of my tenure in WWE.
And I don't think it should be a surprise that we did. I came into WWE just as Stephanie was taking over the writing team. Stephanie is a lot like her father. Even those closest to her would refer to her as The Vincess. And they said it in a manner that cannot be mistaken — they mean it as the ultimate compliment.
“She has that drive, she has that ambition and she craves doing the job. Stephanie wakes up in the morning motivated to already be at the second item of the day on her yellow notepad. Steph competes with herself to be better at her job tomorrow than she is today, and better two days from now than she is tomorrow. This is an inspired person in terms of getting work done. If you don't admire their work ethic, that intensity of passion to make it all happen, then you're clearly missing something.
“Stephanie was put in the position by her father that she had to prove to him every day that she could lead and manage people as he does. She had to show Vince that a group of people could be placed under her umbrella and be brought forward with her vision.
“So along comes Heyman. Fresh out of his own promotion, a seven-year adventure that was like a rollercoaster with the blindfolds on. It's pre-determined that we're going clash. And that's a test for Stephanie because her father has had to deal with strong personalities — be it his own dad, competing promoters or wrestlers from Bruno Sammartino to Steve Austin — it's just part of owning a company. I faced that when I had my own company. So I do understand it from their perspective.
“But by the end of my time in WWE, I can only say that she was quite supportive and would not accept my resignation on several occasions, and seriously tried to help the situation.”
Clearly, Paul Heyman and Stephanie McMahon had some serious clashes going on backstage, and particularly in the creative board room. Remember, Heyman was actually kicked off the writing team by Stephanie and then brought back more than once.
But, Heyman clearly can now look back and see that it was just Stephanie doing what she felt was right for the company, and now has no ill will towards her or her father.
You gotta love that she’s being called by various people “The Vincess” because of how much she resembles Vince in terms of work ethic, drive, and determination. Funny; I would’ve thought they’d be calling her “Mrs. McMahon” and Triple H “Paul McMahon”.
Not a knock against Triple H, but rather high praise for the heiress of World Wrestling Entertainment…or is she?
“I have my own conspiracy theory on this and I know some people won't take it seriously because sometimes I don't take it seriously. But then, other times, I'm convinced that it's very accurate.
“Oh boy, here we go. I'm sure this is going to p*** everybody off.
“The theory is that Vince envisions himself running WWE well into his 90s, bypassing the Stephanie/Shane generation and going forward with the succession to Shane's sons because then it's a McMahon running the company. Stephanie, who is far more publicly visible than her brother, has the boost of running the creative and talent ends, which is what most of the public sees. Stephanie will drive the product. Shane, who has made and cultivated and nurtured new business relationships and explored new mediums and platforms and applications, grooms the next generation.
“It's the same deal that is going on right now with The Royal Family — The Queen is staying alive so Prince Charles doesn't get the throne! Vince has taken note of this exceptional Machiavellian play and has incorporated it into his own life.”
Now, I will agree with a lot of what Heyman has to say in this article, but I’m not so sure about this little “conspiracy theory” he has going here. Oliver Stone thinks this is a little over the top. If I recall correctly, didn’t Vince always think of Triple H like his own son? So, regardless of whether it’s Stephanie running things when Vince McMahon’s done or it’s one of Shane’s offspring, it’s still going to be a McMahon running the show. And besides, if memory serves me correctly, didn’t Vince once say that he’s not going to step down from the chairman’s position in WWE until he’s six feet into the ground? So technically, if that’s true, then it really isn’t Vince’s call to make now, is it?
But Heyman wasn’t done there. He went on to talk about whether or not he still watches professional wrestling and, more particularly, the very company that fired him a little over a year ago, WWE:
“Of course I still watch it. I'm still a big fan and I still appreciate the art form. I still get goosebumps seeing the live reaction when it hits. I never lost a love for the business, it's just that my time in it is up.
I lived out every dream I could have possibly imagined about the wrestling industry when I was a kid. I had a blast and loved every minute, even the bad ones.
Well, most of the bad ones. But I have other dreams, too, and I feel a need to pursue them.
“As for the product, I think WWE is a fantastic company whose stock is undervalued. They lost their biggest cash cow, John Cena, and still turned in a fourth quarter that was so profitable it exceeded Wall Street's wildest expectations. This is a corporation that knows how to maximise assets.
“The product is what we as fans put all of our passion into, and discuss and debate, but it's a business. And as a business it's the dominant brand with a market share that is mind-boggling.
“I don't get emotionally involved like that any more because I lost enough hair and gained enough weight worrying about these things when I was working there. So now, I can just sit back and enjoy it for what it is — and that is the public vehicle given to the networks to sell ad time for a thriving corporation, designed in part to satisfy the network's criteria for paying the license fees, coupled with the need to promote, promote, promote.
From a business model perspective, Vince McMahon's theory and implementation of television is a fascinating study.”
You gotta love that he mentioned that when John Cena was hurt, WWE turned in a huge fourth quarter. Gee, I wonder why that could be…could it have something to do with the majority of the fans’ unadulterated hatred for Cena? Perhaps. And yes, Mr. Heyman, we do discuss and debate wrestling…hell, some of us even write columns about it. But anyway…
So, for the most part, what Paul Heyman is saying, for lack of a better term, is something to the effect of, “I’m done being on the inside of the business; now I just want to watch it and enjoy it.” Clearly, there are no hard feelings between Heyman and the McMahons because Heyman gets it: it’s a business and something like what happened at December to Dismember shouldn’t be taken personally.
So then, I’m to assume that an extreme revolution will not be taking place in TNA, correct?
“I have no interest in TNA.
“They don't want someone to come in and completely change their formula. I don't even think they want to hear that their formula is in need of changing. They have a strong comfort level, thanks to the television contract with Spike in
America and what looks like the stopping of their heavy financial bleeding.
“TNA is a vanity piece and they don't want someone who comes in and says: ‘We really have to address all these situations.’ The offer that Stephanie gave me to work with all the WWE's developmental talent would be one I would be very inclined to take, if I had any interest in staying in the wrestling business. But now I want to pursue these other dreams and challenge myself to do other things creatively.
“I would see TNA as a step down. It's a viable place to work, but I'm not interested in just doing a job. I want to be intellectually, spiritually and creatively stimulated and challenged. I want to create and participate in a vibrant creative atmosphere.
Bluntly, I don't see that as being part of what they could offer.”
Again, he’s saying here that he’s pretty much done with professional wrestling as far as being on the inside is concerned. But how about the part where he cracks TNA for being, in essence, too comfortable and myopic with where they are right now as opposed to going forward or challenging themselves. “I would see TNA as a step down”? OUCH!
You know what they say about the truth hurting, right?
But, he wasn’t done there…far from it:
“I think TNA has a major hurdle to overcome — and that's the fact that they have no BRAND. There's no one on that roster that is branded TNA.
“You look at Kurt Angle and you think WWE. You look at Booker T and think WCW, five-time, five-time, five-time or King Booker in WWE. You look at The Dudleys and think ECW or WWE or even tables. You look at Samoa Joe, who should be the TNA guy, and you think this guy's great, when's he going to WWE.
“Are there hot moments? Sure. Are there personalities to like? Sure. Is there a good work rate? Sure. But there is no TNA style, TNA persona or TNA brand. They had an opportunity to do this with the X Division, which is a totally unique concept you don't see anywhere else in wrestling, MMA or sports entertainment. That could have been their version of what UFC did with the Octagon but they diminished the effectiveness of their own creation. They had a totally different and unique look and presentation, and then tossed it aside like it was just another gimmick. For the life of me I can't understand why.”
Now, I do have to disagree once again with Paul E.
This time, I have to disagree with his assessment that when people look at Samoa Joe, they think, “When’s he going to WWE?” I’d say that Samoa Joe is perhaps the best homegrown talent TNA has ever had in that company, period. They would have to be (forgive me, all of you out there that either are caring for the mentally-challenged or are mentally-challenged) mentally-retarded to let that guy go to WWE. Reason being is because he is arguably their biggest star right now, and is uber-over with the crowd right now. He’d be equally dumb to go to WWE because he would have zero chance of making it out of mid-card status in WWE, even if he were to go to ECW.
The reason being is because Vince McMahon, for whatever reason, doesn’t like pushing guys that earned main event status while not under his watch. Guys like Steve Austin, the Rock, Mick Foley, and Triple H all got their main event status under his watch. Guys like Booker T., Tazz, Raven, Tommy Dreamer, and Scott Steiner did not, therefore their careers in WWE did not live up to their careers outside WWE.
Even when Goldberg got the World Heavyweight Championship, he didn’t have it for nearly as long in WWE as he did in WCW. But then again, WCW made the fatal mistake of growing that guy’s ego to begin with, so that one’s not on Vince.
But, then again, Samoa Joe probably isn’t going to get the TNA World Heavyweight Championship anytime soon, either, because of who they have as the champion now (Kurt Angle). But is there a problem with the talent in TNA?
Paul E. says no.
“I don't think the problem is in the talent, it's in the BRANDING of that talent. If you walked Angle through the airport, nobody would say: ‘There's that guy from TNA.’
Nobody equates Angle, or anybody in that company, to TNA. As a company, they desperately need to address that.
“TNA is WWE-Lite. Their TV show is the same thing as ECW's TV show. Their six-sided ring is the same as a four-sided ring. There is nothing that is enough of a difference maker in the audience's mind that makes me as a fan say I'm watching an alternative, a different style, a different product and most importantly, a different brand. They have a product that is clearly using the WWE formula with lighting that is less spectacular than Vince's.”
Again, I’m going to have to disagree when Heyman says that TNA’s show is much like ECW’s show; TNA’s is two hours long, whereas ECW is only one hour long.
But, I do see where he’s going with that.
I will agree with Heyman in terms of TNA being “WWE-lite”. See, the problem that I had in the past is whenever people would call TNA’s roster full of nothing but “WWE rejects”.
Last time I checked, a guy who once main-evented Wrestlemania cannot, under any circumstances, be considered a WWE reject. Kurt Angle is not a reject, and neither is Booker T, the
Dudleys, Christian, Rhino, nor Gail Kim. Tomko, on the other hand, is a different story. So is Test…but then again, look how long Test lasted in TNA. As they say in the business, “Long enough for a cup of coffee and that’s about it.”
See, in order to see your side of the argument, all you have to do is word what you’re saying right. Instead of calling the TNA roster a group of WWE rejects, just call TNA “WWE-lite”…oh, and it helps when you’re the former architect of ECW.
But, I still believe that TNA needs to check itself if they want to stay in that coveted #2 American promotion spot, because Ring of Honor, despite their recent financial woes, is back with a vengeance. Sure, they may not be a national power yet, but if you give Gabe Sapolsky time, it may get there one day.
However, as I mentioned in a previous column, WWE is not going to have to sweat either one of those two promotions, because in the end, as always, WWE will stand firmly at the top of the mountain.
Any other result, in Stephanie McMahon’s eyes, would be a complete and utter failure. And according Paul Heyman, to Stephanie McMahon, failure is not an option; hell, it’s not even in her friggin vocabulary.
Now, when I said that Bischoff and Hogan’s up-start promotion was going to eat TNA alive, I may have been a little too emotional when I said that and just assumed that was going to be the case. However, now I’m even more pissed off at both of those guys for pulling a major swerve, saying that their new wrestling promotion is nothing more than a reality TV show. WHAT?
To make matters worse, Hogan says that he duped us all just so he could get a spot at Wrestlemania 24.
Hulkster, let me help you with something…how old are you now…60? I’m going to spell it out for you so even you can understand, brother…IT’S OVER!
LET IT GO!
YOU’RE OLD, FALLING APART, AND NO LONGER IN EVEN HALFWAY-DECENT HEALTH! Do you honestly think Vince McMahon is willing to drive Wrestlemania 24 into the red by bringing you back? Why? What can you possibly provide Wrestlemania 24 other than a nostalgia act? They already have one for Wrestlemania 24; it’s called Ric Flair’s last match.
Hulk, for the sake of whatever is left of your legacy, do us all a favor and please go away…forever.
To read the Paul Heyman interview with the Sun on February 15, 2008 in its entirety, visit http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/sport/wrestling/heyman/article807442.ece
To the many that have fallen before this day, God Bless you all, and may you be in a much better place today than you were here. Your memories will live on, though you are gone.