Indisputably, mainstream media views wrestling as a bottom of the barrel entity in the entertainment business. It is the redheaded stepchild of theater. They believe people in it are not smart enough to run a real company, too nonathletic to make it in a real sport and/or not talented enough to become a real actor; and, its fans are pea-brained, ne'er-do-wells with nothing better to do.
Despite that the curtain was pulled down, and the tricks were reveled decades ago – the mainstream media has generally viewed it as a deceitful and fraudulent business that takes advantage of gullible people. It is almost as if wrestling-haters are venomous about being "fooled", and since they discovered this groundbreaking revelation it is fake, they have to tell every wrestling fans the news in a condescending manner.
Wrestling fans know, though, that the majority of stereotypes about wrestling are false. Aplenty of wrestling fans have jobs, some of them even have a college degree. Most wrestlers joined wrestling because they love it; and, there are copious amounts of smart people in it.
Without a doubt, Vince McMahon is an exemplary specimen of a mastermind both from an inventiveness and marketing standpoint. He is a hardworking, enthusiastic and uber-competitive entrepreneur who took a small territorial wrestling promotion and transformed it into a global phenomenon in no time. He moreover turned wrestling into the lowest form of entertainment to a trendy, must-see spectacle not once but twice.
In terms of being a visionary and ahead of the curve, no one comes close to surpassing McMahon's unparalleled curriculum vitae. However, in our lifetime, one person has matched him. This person is someone who is not afraid to tell people his name, either; in fact, he reintroduces himself whenever he is on television.
His name is Paul Heyman.
Indubitably, Heyman has had a wondrous career. He has done it all: he owned his own company, was the lead writer of both Smackdown and OVW, managed some of the biggest names, announced and has even wrestled before, well, at least tried. And many people, both inside and outside the business, fervently believe he is a wrestling genius and some even believe he has the greatest creative minds in wrestling's history.
And they could very well be right...
In the 1990s, a radical change happened. While the 80s were a free-spirited, happy-go-lucky time, the 90s evolved into this more realistic, edgy and hard-hitting era. Pop and disco were out, grunge and rap were in. Entertainment businesses were consequently adjusting to the change, hoping stay with or ahead of times
...except for wrestling.
WWE was still trying to shoehorn their cartoon product with goodie-goodie protagonist and one-dimensional antagonists. And, WCW could not decide what they wanted to be. Moreover, the product booking philosophies were stagnant and mundane. They were recycling the same timeworn characters and storylines as well as using the same exact formulas to construct their shows.
They tried rekindling the magic by repeatedly doing things that worked in the past; but, instead of lighting striking twice, they tormented the fans. Due to them seeing the same cookie-cutter, hackneyed wrestlers, stories and concepts and ideas fans became jaded and lots stopped watching.
Both companies were so imprisoned in their diminutive bubble, they had no idea how outmoded they became. Vince McMahon ran out of imaginable ideas and WCW kept ramming itself in ground, due to their self-inflicted woes (allowing people with no wrestling knowledge to make critical decisions, for instance). By the mid-1990s, many people gave both companies their last rites. It was not a matter of if they would die but rather when they would.
That was until a small indy promotion pumped blood back into wrestling's pulse.
ECW was more than a hardcore promotion – it was a revolutionary promotion and helped place wrestling into the limelight. The company never grossed millions of dollars or gained more than a cult following of 1-percenters, but it was the lighter fluid that sparked arguably the greatest era in wrestling history.
Like the greatest sitcom of all time, Seinfeld, ECW was more of a pioneering show than an evergreen one. Both shows knew people were tired of the same clichéd drivel being repeatedly rinsed, washed, dried and reused. So, both shows gave people what they wanted before they realized they wanted it.
The comparison of both is also fitting today, in a sense of them receiving a misinformed criticism of being overrated. Fans place them on a huge pedestal, and the people who watched it afterwards did not understand the hype. To them, it is nothing special and has overdone and done-to-death concepts. However, those concepts were not overdone and done-to-death concepts in their time. They were influential. So influential that everyone copied their ideas so much that they lost their entire luster.
Anyways, Heyman, the mastermind behind ECW, looked at both WCW and WWE's problems and used them to his advantage. WWE was cartoony. ECW was realistic. WCW's wrestling style was antiquated and insipid. ECW's was more fast-paced, athletic and edgy. Both WWE and WCW had their own wrestling styles. ECW had a diversity of styles. WWE and WCW had black and white characters. ECW had multifaceted and shades of gray characters. WWE and WCW still used white-meat protagonists. ECW used antiheroic protagonists.
Because WCW and WWE wanted the most versed talent on their roster, Heyman had to make use of the rejects. By virtue of accentuating their strengths and hiding their weaknesses, though, he turned wrestlers who nobody wanted into the hottest free agents on the market.
He took a beer-belly drunk, who should have sued whoever taught him how to wrestle, and turned him into Sandman.
He took an undersized, slightly husky wrestler and turned him into Tazz, one of the scariest wrestler ever.
He took a generic-looking jobber with the most basic move set and lackluster personality and turned him into Tommy Dreamer, the Innovator of Violence.
Oh, and yeah, he took a "Hollywood Blonde" and helped hone his craft, turn him into a foul-mouth, in-your-face antihero, and helped enable him become the biggest act in wrestling history; you might know him as Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Despite having shoddy resources and a limited budget - not to mention the bigger companies coping his philosophies and stealing his wrestlers - Heyman manufactured something that still lives through its spirit, to this day.
After being a terrific foil of Jim Ross, playing the Devil's Advocate color commentating role, WWE gave Heyman a shot to display his creative aptitudes in 2002. Before Heyman arrived, SmackDown was WWE's B-Show and was more of a nuisance than an attribute. It was a show where WWE had to continue developing their storylines but did not want to give away anything special on it. It was diluting and overexposing the product, so WWE considered scrapping it.
Instead of scrapping it, though, McMahon rebranded it and made it its own show instead of a continuation of Raw. McMahon wanted both the Raw team and SmackDown team to compete with each other for superiority.
McMahon, however, never envisioned or intended for SmackDown to transform into its number one show. However, Paul Heyman found a way not only to slaughter Raw from a quality standpoint – he also found a way to beat Raw in the ratings too.
No matter how much WWE tried nailing it into peoples' hads Raw was the A-show - people did not have to be a genius to realize Smackdown was vastly superior. SmackDown had fresher faces; superior booking, better in-ring workers, and its stories' purposes were to augment the excitement over an upcoming match. With less recourses, SmackDown became must-see TV and of the best times in wrestling.
Logically, McMahon could have easily fixed this problem: move Paul Heyman to Raw's team. There is no denying that Heyman comes with baggage, as he can be a deceitful person, but that is not the real reason he never received a better creative job.
Both Stephanie and Vince McMahon can tell us that is the reason until they are blue in the face, although everyone knows they are lying through their teeth. They, especially Vince, cannot fathom with other employees possibly believing that the McMahons are the second smartest people in the room; and both McMahon and Heyman rarely ever see eye-to-eye on subjects.
After all, McMahon dealt with HBK's antics for years. No way Heyman was a bigger pain than HBK was, and all due respect, to the greatest in-ring performer in WWE's history, but Heyman could have helped the company more than HBK did too.
When Heyman was booking OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling, WWE's developmental program), Shane McMahon was advocating for a Rise and Fall ECW documentary. After its overachieving success, Vince realized he could make money off it. So, a year later, he announced the birth of WWECW – a weekly-televised program on Tuesday Nights.
Even though it was WWE's C-show, McMahon and Heyman butted heads again. Heyman wanted the company to be an evolution of ECW while McMahon wanted it to be a hybrid of "Sports Entertainment" and nostalgia with a touch of Science Fiction for the Scfy network watchers. It quickly became a train-wreck, and Vince McMahon fired Paul Heyman from being ECW's creative team in no time.
An upset Heyman turned down a head-writing developmental job and departed ways with WWE. McMahon cut off his nose off to spite his face, allowing a genius to depart from the company around the time TNA was gaining recognition.
TNA had a stacked roster, primetime television on Spike TV, a massive budget and all the needed resources needed to build a successful company except a good head-booker. After the much-helpful Dusty Rhodes departed from the company, they hired Vince Russo - the homeless version of Paul Heyman.
Some people perceive Heyman as a one-trick-pony but nobody adjusted to the times more than he did. He knew ECW was not what the wrestling business needed. It instead needed something different and more up-to-date and could implement his envisions in a rising company.
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, months turned into years and still, TNA did not even give Paul Heyman a phone call. They were instead content with the definition of a one-trick-pony - a man whose shtick became tiresome and needed shrewder people to implement his ideas within context of wrestling.
In 2009 – after Russo single-handily ruined everything promising about TNA – they finally gave Heyman a phone call. Instead of handing him the keys and begging on their knees, the parties could not come to an agreement, largely because of a creative dispute.
Just when it appeared Heyman would never step foot in wrestling again, he became Brock Lesnar's advocate in WWE. His career went in a full-circle, as he began his on-screen career as an obnoxious and smug New Yorker and became essentially the same thing at the end of his career.
When Heyman's character is in peril, he will advocate he is just Brock Lesnars's advocator. Nothing more, nothing less. However, symbolic to his entire career, he overachieved again.
He is the highlight of the show almost every time he is on WWE TV, due to how fabulous his promos are. He is a master on the microphone, grasping the importance of pausing, emphasizing specific words, and what facial expression to make. He is fluent, persuasive, and convincing and portrays his persona to perfection.
Most importantly, though, he knows how to build up his Beast Incarnate and sell his matches. He walks a thin line between putting something in a different perspective and boldface lying. Shrewdly, he will make something impressive Lesnar accomplished as is into the one of the greatest achievements ever, by dint of convincingly selling it.
A perfect example was Lesnar conquering the streak.
After Lesnar beat Undertaker, it was shocking, surprising and came out of nowhere. Even Lesnar and Heyman were in awe (as Lesnar had a grinning smirk upon his face and Heyman put his hands over his mouth and kept telling Lesnar he broke the streak to remind himself that it literally happened). The next night, though, Heyman spun the narrative of the match in a completely different direction. In reality, it was an even-steven battle; both hit their finisher, and both kicked out until the very shocking finish happened.
But Heyman articulated that it was this one-sided demolition, wherein Lesnar turned a mythical creature into just a man; and through ultra-conviction, believing what he said and using evidence to support his claim, Heyman altered people's perspectives on the match entirely.
Many WWE superstars try jamming hyperbole down our throats, and most of us just roll our eyes at it. Heyman enormously hyperbolizes Lesnar, but through fluent articulation, well-stated claims and uncanny conviction we believe everything he says about his brute.
The other beauty of the Heyman is WWE does not have to create big angles to sell Lesnar’s matches. Besides, Heyman can augment the anticipation, exquisitely promote, and impeccably convey the reasons the match is must-see in 10 minutes better than WWE's creative team could in 10 weeks. He also took a WrestleMania main event nobody wanted to see and added interesting twists and tidbits to make it seem, at the very least, worth checking out.
Paul E came back to WWE for one reason, to help his friend by being his mouthpiece. However, he has achieved so much more than anyone expected. He has turned his friend from an interesting persona into the most must-see, hottest entities in WWE. He has band-aided dubious booking decisions, like John Cena and Triple H defeating him, by coming up with imaginative excuses of why he lost; and, his propaganda promos have made money-matches more intriguing than almost any WWE storyline has in years.
Some people have Heyman as the runner-up or third greatest mouthpieces in the past, behind Bobby Heenan and possibly Jim Cornette. Now, though, it is not even up for discussion. He has solidified himself as the greatest mouthpiece ever, and it is not close. In fact, his promos are such magnum opuses, they could be illustrations of verbal art, blueprints on how to articulate sentiments in eloquent, persuading, believable and ingenious manner, and the fundamentals on how to convey, narrate and structure a compelling story.
Heyman has found so many ways to entertain fans, give them what they want and solidify himself as one of the most important minds in wrestling history.
And for those reasons and more, I want to thank him - for his uncanny contributions to this business, discovering different ways to be so awesome and constantly reminding us why we love this sometimes frustrating and very peculiar source of entertainment.