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Paul Heyman and WrestleMania: A history lesson

He may not have had his transcendent individual moment yet, but Heyman has been an important force in the background of several WrestleMania events throughout his tumultuous WWE run.

When you think about WrestleMania, the names that indubitably come to mind are Hogan, Shawn, Austin, Andre, Macho, Rock, Undertaker, Bret, and any number of others. The "Showcase of the Immortals" is littered with Match of the Year candidates; the kind of choreographed classics that remain in the annals of our brains for a lifetime. Mania is about celebrities and musicians and mainstream media attention; it’s a show that transcends a wrestling event. Sometimes, that’s a better reality for WWE than others. Often, the hardcore fan would just like to sit back and watch THE great wrestling show, without so much of the pageantry. Kid Ink, I'm looking at you playa.

But, one guy that we don’t often consider as strongly as we should has been an on-again off-again fixture at the big show for over 15 years, and this Sunday, he’ll play an enormous role in the legacy of the 31st entry in the series. That man’s name is Paul Heyman. Through his time managing CM Punk and Brock Lesnar (and Big Show, Curtis Axel, and Cesaro), Paul Heyman has never done the "advocate" deal in the main event of a WrestleMania. He’s never managed anything greater than a semi-main at the top show. It’s kind of staggering, and honestly he should have managed Punk at 29 in the main event for the Championship, but we did get that Punk/Taker epic.

That pesky "never main-evented" fact disappears in California this weekend.

Paul hasn’t really had that indelible "Mania moment" yet as a performer, but many expect that to change in Santa Clara. We'll admit, though, his reaction to Brock/Taker was pretty darn close. As we enter WrestleMania weekend 2015, we at Cageside thought it might be fun to look back at the Advocate’s history as part of WWE’s signature event.

(I didn’t know whether to go with roman numerals or not. Since they seem to disappear frequently these days, we’ll stick with the simple version.)


WM Heyman JR 17


Heyman, particularly on the heels of the current run, is one of the finest talkers we’ll ever see in professional wrestling. His vocabulary is deep, but he never shoves it anyone’s face. It isn’t about talking above people; something Arn Anderson has stated many times. The art is in talking to people. As a heel, it behooves the speaker to do it in a way that seems condescending without being over anyone's head. Paul can elicit a wide range of emotions from his captive audience. He has a knack for the dramatic and when he raises his voice, the words he chooses thunder through the wrestling ballyhoo heavens.

Mere weeks after ECW closed its doors, Paul Heyman took Vince McMahon up on a job offer. Jerry Lawler had stepped into some hot water and was on the shelf. The biggest WrestleMania this side of the Silverdome was on the way down in Houston, headlined by Steve Austin and The Rock. Heyman has worked with Jim Ross on commentary back in the NWA and WCW, and the pair had an adversarial relationship – more so on camera than off – but Heyman himself admits he could be difficult. But, in 2001, Heyman teamed up with JR to call WrestleMania, and all of were the benefactors. Because there was always a lightning bolt between Jim and Paul E., dating back to the late 1980s, their announce work was dynamite. To a much smaller degree, think of Tony Schiavone with Heenan, or Tony Schiavone with Tenay, or…damn did that guy get along with anybody in WCW?

If you happened to see "The Rise and Fall of ECW," which I highly recommend, even though some of the "and the people fell in love with him" stuff was a little over-the-top, you witnessed an off-camera moment where Paul walked down to the announce position on the go-home WrestleMania RAW, and JR encouraged him and told Heyman to follow his lead and that he would be fine. Heyman is Heyman, so he said controversial things but also put over the hell out of the matches in the ring. You see, Paul Heyman is a wrestling genius; there are no two words about it.

In Houston, JR and Heyman sparred back and forth and at times seemed to be arguing, but the product was all the better for the difference in style and the difference in attitude. No one has ever called a wrestling match like Jim Ross, but Paul Heyman challenged him, kept up with him, and dropped boatloads of intelligent comments about a hold or a man’s pride or a worker’s internal mechanisms. That booth - combined with that show - helped make 17 the odds-on favorite for greatest WrestleMania of all-time. Heyman’s first appearance was a hugely important one.


WRESTLEMANIA 19 (The Best That Never Was)

This is Paul’s "Lost Episode," because it never happened. Heyman, following the Big Show turn at Survivor Series, was slated to manage Kurt Angle in the main event against Brock Lesnar, but suffered an injury taking an F-5 in January of that year. Vince McMahon killed off Heyman’s involvement in the program. We missed out on another great "psycho yuppie" moment due to that turn of events, which is a shame.

If ever there was a match other than Punk/Lesnar that needed Heyman around, it would definitely have been Angle/Lesnar. The shooting star moment is the one people remember, but the pair would engage in some great matches together. Paul was smart enough to know what to do and how to push both of them, both up close and from a distance.



Brock Lesnar faced Goldberg in the infamous "both these jerks are leaving" match that left fans cheering for special referee, Steve Austin, and turning on both in-ring performers. Heyman was doing the SmackDown GM thing, and while he was still often aligned with Brock on television, he was nowhere to be found during this match, which was a good thing. He tried to team up with Brock on the go-home SmackDown, but was a ghost at MSG. He was a major focal point of the Mania build that year, pushing Guerrero/Angle, Brock/Goldberg, and exacerbating a number of feuds. His work as a booker during the timeframe produced some tremendous stuff, including the brand’s matches at Mania. Again, he wasn’t on camera that night (unless I missed it).

However, he helped elevate, and was thus partially responsible for Kurt and Eddie, which by itself should qualify him for knighthood. It also makes him an unsung MVP of 2004’s Mania.

Then, he had his ECW run, which ended with a whimper, was never handled correctly, leaving a very bitter taste in the ole' ball cap's mouth. He also worked with OVW as head booker and writer in 2005. Due to disputes with Vince over ECW and some of Heyman’s favorites being misused, it would be a long time before we’d ever see Paul Heyman again at a WrestleMania.



Paul’s first appearance in nine Manias took place at MetLife at the New Meadowlands. He would be a key part of two matches that evening; one of them ended up being a Match of the Year candidate, though it might have been topped at SummerSlam as both of Heyman’s clients battled each other in a legendary battle. CM Punk challenged the Undertaker, which at WrestleMania usually means the most important spot on the card. While the annual Taker match didn’t often main event once the Streak became a thing, it ended up as the feature bout and the one people would be talking about the next day. Punk was at the top of his game, and despite not being able to main event the show the way he felt he deserved, he worked his ass off against Take. All Paul had to do was what he does better than anyone ever has, with the possible exception of Cornette’s vintage years: he sold the drama without laying a finger on the match.

The camera never has to find Paul, because our eyes instinctively look for him. When Punk pulled Taker off the top rope to thwart Old School, Paul grinned and laughed, but he wasn’t even in focus on the screen. It didn’t matter, because we saw it either way. When Punk insulted the move by doing it himself, Heyman held up the urn. He screamed "one second away," which he used all the way back in 2001 with Jim Ross repeatedly to help sell the stakes of 17’s biggest matches. When Punk was in pain, when Taker was on fire, or when the Phenom somehow kicked out of another signature move or escaped a submission, it was Heyman who looked the most stressed out of the three of them. It was beautiful to watch. It always is. The guy "gets it," as much or more than anyone ever has in the business.

Heyman’s only interference was to jump up on the apron and distract Undertaker with the urn, which occurred less than three minutes before the finish. Paul sold dejection for the loss and mild disappointment with his client simultaneously after that final Tombstone ended the clash. It was the last truly great Undertaker match, and Paul and Punk were the main reasons. But, Paul wasn’t done with this show.

HBK Heyman 29

His best work, as a character, has been with Brock Lesnar, because the two were an ideal match for one another. As much as I loved the Dangerous Alliance or anything else he’s done, he’ll be remembered more for "Bbbbbbrrroooooock Llllllesnar" than anything else. Brock listened to Paul when he was still relatively green. He continues to trust Heyman and always has, and it’s been the best decision he’s ever made, except the lucrative contract he signed this past Monday night. I’m sure Paul’s opinion was at least a small part of that choice as well. In New York, less than a year after returning to manage Lesnar once again, Brock had his rematch with Triple H. Shawn Michaels was the referee for the contest and Paul had been quite the prick in the run-up to WrestleMania, including the "loser gets Stephanie" line on RAW.

Paul watched the Beast and the Game beat each other half to death, both inside the ring and outside, and reports emerged the next day that Brock had suffered a concussion during the match. Even if it wasn’t true, the match was freaking brutal. On this night - as Mania is usually the reward for the fans and when many of their heroes get their due - Paul Heyman’s two clients lost, and Heyman took Sweet Chin Music from Michaels, who took an F-5 himself. WrestleMania 29 was seen as a disappointment, but it had nothing to do with Heyman and his peeps. For them, it was quite a night. The Punk/Taker match is one of the better Mania matches in history.



Paul was at his absolute best as an "advocate" in New Orleans. One point that sometimes isn’t emphasized strongly enough, though I did mention it in my "sports agent" piece last spring, is that Heyman isn’t a guy who cheats all that much for his client. Paul Heyman is a manager, who simply sells the match through his own facial expressions and body language. His role is as advisor to the very best in the world. Brock Lesnar doesn’t need anyone to cheat for him, and he’s more of a bad ass just doing it on his own and having a smarmy, smart-ass cheerlead for him and then stick it down everybody’s throat the next night on television. CM Punk needed it more than Brock, because he’s smaller and because THAT kind of heel needed the underhanded Paul Heyman character, the one that hired the Shield and hired Brad Maddox.

Paul will cheat, but it’s very rare, and as a result, it’s extremely effective. He’s a dick, period. That’s why the character is so valuable to WWE; it adds something that couldn’t be acquired in any other way.

But, while watching Brock end the Undertaker’s streak, in a match no one would call great, it was Paul Heyman that did the best work that night. Brock did what he does and Taker, God bless him, did everything he was capable of, but Paul’s exasperation made that segment what it was. When Lesnar got the three count, Paul’s stunned face, which would morph into a Gargamel-like smile, was all we needed to see. It was such a perfect decision for both Paul and his client to momentarily push the idea that they were as shocked as everyone else, and then realize what they’d just done.

Heyman, because he never quite feels like a WWE employee when he’s on camera, much like his client, is always a special attraction. Those two as unit comprise by far the most integral portion of WWE business, in large part because they feel like an independent entity. Paul knows it, he plays into it, and at WrestleMania 30, in perhaps the most unexpected finish we’ve ever witnessed in that show’s history, he acted it in such a way that, like everything he does, it felt real.



Here’s where you come in. What will Paul Heyman do on Sunday, other than be great at his job? Does he turn on Brock Lesnar for the second time, pulling Roman Reigns with him to completely flip the WWE script? Does he stick with Lesnar and sell defeat when Brock loses the Championship? Does he raise the arms of his client and maniacally laugh as the now re-signed Lesnar defeats Vince’s chosen one? Does he take a spear? Does he eat a Superman punch? Does he take an F-5? What say you?

All we know is he’s going to matter, big time, and we can’t wait to see it. Paul needs his moment. God knows he’s earned it.

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