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A notebook on ‘An Evening with Paul Heyman’ in New Orleans

Pete Sweeney for Cageside Seats

It is Thursday night, WrestleMania week in New Orleans. A little less than an hour before showtime. A line of 100 people stretches around the corner from Canal Street.

Fans have arrived early to see “The Advocate of Extreme: An Evening With Paul Heyman.”

A few minutes after 10 p.m., the host invites Heyman to the stage. But that is not who emerges from the curtain.

WWE legend Jim Ross struts on stage. And the first words out of his mouth?

“I am not Paul Heyman,” he says, bluntly. “Thank God there is only one f-cking Paul Heyman.”

It is the perfect introduction to a two-hour exhibition of everything you would expect from a two-hour exhibition featuring Paul Heyman—stories, insults and flashes of the best improv in sports entertainment.

The latter stands out the most because of just how little there is to the script, if you could even call it that. After an initial welcome, Heyman hands the mic to Keith Elliot Greenberg, a name you may recognize for his early work on WWF magazine.

Heyman tells the audience it could ask anything, less his children.

Initially came the obvious. Is WrestleMania 34 it?

“Brock Lesnar’s contract ends this Sunday night,” Heyman says. “If he leaves, I leave with him. It doesn’t mean that something may not come up in the future that would entice me to come back and do something. I don’t see anybody on the male roster that I would have the same chemistry with, put together the same body of work with, have the same impact and do what I’ve done with Brock since 2002. It just doesn’t exist.”

That said, Heyman refuses to rule out working with a member of the WWE female roster or taking on another position with the company.

“I’m very intrigued with the possibility of Ronda Rousey, but the question would be, am I intrigued with the possibility of working next to Ronda Rousey or opposed to Ronda Rousey? Because there are other members of the female roster. I’ve made it no secret—I think that Charlotte Flair will main event WrestleMania. I’m a big fan of Asuka.

“I’m a big fan of Mandy Rose but for a whole, different reason.”

That last part livens the late-night crowd.

Throughout the show, Heyman answers question after question, occasionally getting into spats with audience members. The great thing about Heyman is that unlike most hosts, he never takes away an adversary’s mic. He never shuts down, but rather encourages, altercation.

Topics of the night include ending the Undertaker’s streak and how he and Lesnar may have caught everyone, perhaps even including the Undertaker, by surprise (that’s maybe why there was no music cued up, he says with a sly smile), Dean Ambrose’s awful appearance on the Stone Cold podcast and why he couldn’t name just one greatest ECW champion of all time because of how much Shane Douglas, The Sandman, Taz, Raven and Sabu meant to him at different time periods.

In the middle of the show, Heyman surprises the audience by inviting Rob Van Dam to the stage. Van Dam stays true to the nature of the night by being just as candid as Heyman.

Van Dam describes how he enjoyed working for TNA because he “stayed true to his values” and that WWE is not likely because at this point in his career he’s looking to make more money for less matches.

Van Dam leads the crowd in a quick “whole f-ckin show” chant.

With Van Dam by his side, Heyman reminisces on the late 1990s, when Van Dam and Jerry Lynn were doing the type of things that are beginning to regain attention today.

“I thought Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn at Hardcore Heaven 1999—that’s the greatest ECW match,” Heyman says. “I thought the series of matches between Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn was the definition of ECW in terms of the style, and of all the people—I say this with great respect and admiration—if you look at the style that’s becoming very popular today due to the Bullet Club and Kenny Omega, and all these guys—the revolutionaries and the evolutionaries—so much of that was being done by Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn in 1998 and 1999.

“It’s not a knock on anybody. That’s just the way I see it. Rob Van Dam was innovating way back before his time.”

Before the night is over, an audience member raises a question about CM Punk, and whether or not Punk knew about March 3, 2014, when to start Raw in Chicago, WWE played Heyman out to Punk’s theme—”Cult of Personality.”

Punk never knew, Heyman reasons, because he didn’t feel he needed to.

“Punk and I had seen this industry in very similar ways for a long time,” he explains. The industry moves forward without you. The industry moved forward without Bruno Sammartino. The industry moved forward without Bob Backlund. The industry moved forward without Hulk Hogan. The industry moved forward without Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock.

“In the past year, John Cena, who pulled this wagon, has been the man in WWE for 15 years, John Cena made fewer appearances than he ever has on any given year than he has since 2002. The company moves on. The company’s going to move on without Brock Lesnar. The company’s going to move on without Paul Heyman. The company’s going to move on without Roman Reigns, and guess what? The company’s going to move on one day without Vince McMahon. It just is.

“And if it doesn’t move forward, then what have we built?”

The audience takes to this anecdote more than anything throughout the entire night, I find. Heyman himself knows his greatest achievement isn’t ECW, which ultimately failed.

It’s that ECW and what he has been able to do on the mic as a promoter are key strands in the grand mechanism that will continue to exist no matter who’s at the controls, for forever.

That is his legacy. We can’t be Paul Heyman, and I don’t think anyone can.

After Ross said, “Thank God there is only one f-cking Paul Heyman,” he added how working with Heyman in the early 2000s “made him love wrestling again.”

This isn’t news to JR, but Heyman made many of the people in New Orleans this week love wrestling to begin with.

For more events like “An Evening With Paul Heyman,” check out Inside the Ropes.

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