Brock Lesnar is set to defend his Universal Championship Sunday against Roman Reigns in what many believe will be Lesnar’s final WWE match. As usual, Paul Heyman will be at his side.
Heyman recalled where it all began for him and Lesnar Thursday night in New Orleans at his show, “An Evening With Paul Heyman.”
Lesnar had spent time in Ohio Valley Wrestling, WWE’s then-version of NXT, from 2000 to 2002, and he grew tired of it. He told WWE he was going to go back to Minnesota, so instead the company began putting him in dark matches.
“Brock was in the ring early in the day during a show and there was a bunch of these old-timers that, at the time, were producers and they’re giving him the worst advice ever,” Heyman explained.
“You should be a Russian!” they told Lesnar, according to Heyman. “You should stand in the middle of the ring and do nothing and just let people bounce off of you.”
This disgusted Heyman. Lesnar was a former NCAA champion and an NFL tryout who recorded outstanding combine workout numbers despite a horrible motorcycle accident.
“He showed up at (Vikings) camp at 295 pounds with a broken jaw, fractured pelvis and a torn groin, and ran the 100-yard dash in olympic-qualifying time,” Heyman said. “Think about the enormity of the athletic ability we’re discussing. This guy is inside the ring as an NCAA Division I Heavyweight Champion and people were saying to him, ‘You should be a Russian, you should just stand there!’ Like the Warlord or something. Come on, are you kidding me?”
Tazz, Heyman’s former ECW protege, was with the WWE at the time, and he told Lesnar not to listen to the advice of the old-timers, but instead talk to Heyman. Lesnar obliged.
“You realize if you do what they’re telling you, it will ruin you,” Heyman told Lesnar. “You’ll leave here in six months. I go, ‘You want me to talk to Vince about this?’
“He goes, ‘Yeah, I’d really like you to talk to Vince about this.’”
And now the kicker.
“I was scheduled to come back on the air in 2002 at WrestleMania with Chris Benoit,” Heyman said. “I went to Vince (McMahon) two or three weeks before WrestleMania and I said, ‘Hey I want you to let me produce Brock Lesnar’s matches.’”
McMahon agreed, and Lesnar began wrestling smaller wrestlers such as Spike Dudley and Funaki, choices of his own, and the matches impressed McMahon. Lesnar could throw Dudley and Funaki across the ring with ease, similar to what we recently saw WWE to do with Braun Strowman.
Two weeks later, it was time for WrestleMania and the pre-show meeting.
“We get to the Benoit match and Vince doesn’t even mention [it],” Heyman said.
Heyman confronted McMahon after the meeting.
“Hey, this thing with Benoit, it’s off?” Heyman asked.
“I think I’m going to put you with Brock Lesnar,” McMahon said. “What do you think about that?”
Heyman was bursting with excitement inside, but did not show it.
“I watched him break in. I watched his tapes from OVW. I watched his dark matches. I produced the last three weeks of the dark matches. I knew this was the next big thing. There was nothing and nobody like Brock Lesnar.”
He obviously agreed.
“You start the day after WrestleMania,” McMahon said.
“Watch out though,” Heyman told McMahon.
“Yeah, why’s that?”
“And I said to Vince, ‘You know, he’s the next big thing.’”
“Vince looks at me and goes, ‘God damn it, Paul. That nickname would suck!’”
“I have to tell you—I have butted heads with Vince McMahon for many, many years and to his credit, he’s been right most of the time in our arguments—I’ll give him that because I’m his boy. I’m sucking his ass right now, OK? I’m protecting my job at least through Sunday.
“But on that one, I can tell you—I was right.”
Sunday’s show could be the last ride for the Lesnar-Heyman partnership 16 years in the making.