In January, I made my return to writing in the Columns Forum, and I want to say a special thank you to those who voted me Columnist of the Month. Many of those guys I didn’t know a month ago. I wanted to use this space to do something special, to pay homage to a man who rarely receives such praise but deserves it nonetheless.
January 2013 COTM - A Paul Heyman Appreciation Piece: A Tribute to Voice and Ambition
Feb 15, 2013 - 1:43:50 PM
A Paul Heyman Appreciation Piece: A Tribute to Voice and Ambition
On the February 11, 2013 edition of WWE RAW, amidst jeers from the live audience, Paul Heyman sought to give his resignation. Only a couple weeks prior, wrestling fans were made privy to Vince McMahon dressing down the former owner of ECW in a so-called performance review. Though the performance review was but theatre for WWE TV and the resignation didn’t last a single segment, it got me thinking this: One day it will really be Paul Heyman’s farewell. Paul Heyman, whose history and influence reaches into WCW, ECW, and WWE, will not always be with us. I will not be one to wait until he leaves to pay tribute to what he has done in the business. It was the often-audacious, sometimes-poetic Kanye West, on a tribute song to Jay-Z, who said, “If you admire someone you should go ‘head and tell ‘em. People never get the flowers while they can still smell ‘em.” Even though it was not his actual curtain call on Monday, it is never too early for me to throw flowers at the feet of Mr. Paul Heyman.
The first time I saw Paul Heyman was in 1991, as he portrayed Paul E. Dangerously on the Power Hour. I can’t remember a word he said, nor can I remember a word Jim Ross said, but I cannot forget the two of them standing together each week. I would watch their motions and movements and the tension they created between them. I would listen to more than their words. I would listen to the tone. At just eight years old, it may have been the first time I understood what it was like to be glued to the TV. It was, for a fact, the first time I realized you didn’t have to be 6’5” and 275 lbs. to be larger than life. All you needed were two things: a strong, convincing, convicting voice and a tone to match it. In fact, I would say this is the legacy of the man Paul Heyman: a gripping voice and a perfect tone tied together with an intellect and ambition rivaled by very few in the business. If you check his resume, he got to work at eleven years old and he has never slacked a day since.
If you want to know the stature of a man, of a manager, measure him by the men who stand next to him. In 1992, Paul E. Dangerously formed a group called the Dangerous Alliance. Who were the men willing to stand next to him and carry forth his name? Only the entire roster of top heels in the WCW at that time. Rick Rude, Medusa, Steve Austin, Arn Anderson, Larry Zbyszko, and Bobby Eaton made up the Dangerous Alliance. These were not just some of the best wrestlers the sport has ever known, but some of them were also the best talkers. What is the point of saying that? The Dangerous Alliance wasn’t just a random group, nor was it a gathering of guys who were so weak verbally they had to have a manager. Rather, it was the best of the best that WCW had to offer, post 4-Horsemen, and WCW trusted their brand with one man: Paul E. Dangerously. For most of 1992, it was the Dangerous Alliance that dominated WCW.
They were not without their bad days, though. I can tell you, to this day, where I was standing in my parents’ house when Paul E. Dangerously and Medusa split ways. Perhaps I remember so well because Paul E. Dangerously let loose one of the most sexist, overbearing rants in wrestling history. It was not like anything you saw on WCW or WWF TV or PPV at that time. Even before the rant, standing with Harley Race and Vader, the confidence of Paul E. almost pushed those two off-screen. With Medusa, Paul E. got his words in, demeaning as they were, but he took a beating in return (including a kick to the face and a ground-pounding). Perhaps this should have been a teachable moment for me. Perhaps I should have been focused on the liberation of Medusa, but I was such a mark for Paul E. that I was still cheering for him even after the awful rant and the beating he took from the newly-freed Medusa. It is only now I realize that even though I was only a nine-year-old kid, I was already a Heyman Guy.
It is interesting how I viewed Paul E. Dangerously. To me, he was a man who had a gift that was almost a curse. His verbal talents were almost too much for him to bear. It seemed like, pre-rant, he was just an average man living in a world of giants. But then his fever kicked in. Then he got to gabbing. Then he had the oration of an ostrich neck: in other words, the power of his spoken word made him three feet taller than he was in silence. That is why I never hated him no matter what he said. I understood his gift. I valued it. I recognized that it sometimes made him get carried away. And, to this day, though he never had the arm span of a man like El Gigante, he was the only guy in WCW at that time, when he got to ranting, that could reach through the television, grab me at my throat, reach into my mind, and make his every word echo forever in my memory bank.
And that’s only what he did pre-ECW.
To go into what he accomplished for the wrestling world by creating ECW would take words I do not possess, space and time I do not have. Here is what I mean when I say Paul Heyman’s legacy is that of a gripping voice, a perfect tone, and an almost unrivaled intellect and ambition: it is arguable that everything we talk about when we talk about Monday Night Wars and Ratings and Attitude is because of Paul Heyman and his vision for ECW.
I remember finding ECW for the first time, sometime in the middle of the night. It was truly like a movie scene where a man meets a woman, throws up his arms and declares, Where have you been all my life? Prior to ECW, I had no thought that WCW and WWF were lacking elements I wanted to see. After ECW, I never viewed either product the same. There was a grit and a grime and a reality in ECW that matched the changing 90’s world. And it is a truth, in the Monday Night Wars, that WCW stole away ECW’s talent and the WWF would eventually steal ECW’s style. What a testament! Especially when you consider WCW and WWF only emulated. When Paul Heyman created the blueprint that would revolutionize the wrestling world, there was no cheat sheet for him to copy from.
I asked fellow LoP columnists to contribute to the piece. One of the first I heard from was Hustle, who did not shy away from the controversies surrounding Paul Heyman, while still bringing to light what this man has offered the sport:
As a huge football fan, I can't help but admire Ray Lewis for the way he plays on the field, but more importantly, for the fact that he is, without a doubt, the greatest leader in the history of the sport. When he talks, his teammates listen. When he's done, they're willing to go to hell and back for that man.
Paul Heyman is like the Ray Lewis of the wrestling world. Say what you will about his business practices, or the fact that he hasn't always been honest with people, but when that man talks, people listen. He has always been able to get people to rally around him. That "hell and back" mentality? Ask the members of the original ECW what they would have done for the man back then. They were busting their asses on a regular basis, sometimes without getting paid, but they believed in Paul Heyman and they believed in Paul Heyman's cause, so they continued to fight. That's a rare thing in wrestling. Not even Vince McMahon can say he commands that kind of love and loyalty. It's something that will be a part of Paul Heyman's legacy, and it can't be taken away from him, no matter what.
Next I heard from a former LoP columnist who is considered the heart of the Column Forums right now. Mizfan took off his Miz hat to talk to us about one of his favorite times in WWE history:
I still remember watching Heyman sweat and screech in the camp of Brock Lesnar and booking Smackdown to lofty heights in the early days of my fandom. I loved every second of it, and no matter how many times he has his creations corrupted, his chest compared to dessert foods, or is forced to eat soap, I will always owe a portion of every minute I spend on wrestling to that evil genius.
Lastly, a columnist who admits he is not a Heyman guy, Mazza shares a few thoughts on what he does like about Paul Heyman:
I have never been a Paul Heyman guy. I wasn't a follower or fan of the original ECW, as an authority figure in the WWE he never really appealed to me and when he was at the announce booth he often made me want to rip off my ears. Whilst I am sure others will (probably in this very column) discuss his work in these three roles in a positive light, I will stick to what I believe is his calling in this crazy world we call pro-wrestling. Management. Like tag team wrestling, it's was an almost dead art form that has seemingly been resurrected in 2012 and Paul E has pretty much done that on his lonesome. When you see Dutch Mantel making a return to TV in a managerial capacity in 2013, it is a safe bet to say that it is thanks to Heyman's recent success. His work with Lesnar was great but that will come as no surprise to anybody who saw them pair up the first time around. With Heyman as a mouthpiece, Brock hardly had time to wear in the "Next" part of his "Next Big Thing" nickname. He made it to the top in no time at all and returned at the top 8 years later, with Paul once again going to bat for him. Lesnar is one thing but what logical reason would there be to pair him with a man that can clearly speak for himself and is on top of the mountain? None whatsoever. Plenty of people were happy to have Paul back on TV but most thought that there was nothing at all he could do for Punk. Well all that meant is that he had to raise his game to make himself relevant. I always thought he was a very good manager when I caught occasional glimpses of him as head of the Dangerous Alliance as well as his allegiance switching days over on Smackdown. His work with Punk however has raised his stock in my eyes to new levels. Not quite Heenan levels but definitely in the mix with all the other greats. Simply put, he has added layers to Punk's character. He has given different channels for the pipe bomb guy to express himself. He has raised his stock in the business and got him over as a heel when people were reluctant to see him turn. Whilst obviously Punk also gets a lot of the credit, Heyman has ensured that every booking decision made concerning Cookie Puss has not only stuck, but been extremely well executed. There is no higher praise I can throw the man's way than that.
The legacy of Paul Heyman extends far beyond WCW and ECW. He has been able to make more than one successful run with former rival WWE. What Paul Heyman has done for Brock Lesnar and CM Punk and even the Shield, what he has done for WWE by assisting these guys, should never be overlooked.
It’s more than his voice. It’s more than his words. It’s every little detail. It’s even how he stands next to CM Punk, the way he clutches the WWE Championship, and how the two men complement each other. It was the same with the Dangerous Alliance and with ECW, Paul Heyman makes you love and appreciate things you are not supposed to love or appreciate. And that is what the best heels do. They do not, like most from the last decade, just act unreasonably whiney, or dirty, or unfair. That is what we often get these days: “I’m a heel and I’m mean and cowardly for no reason.”
It wasn’t like that with the greats. Not with Bobby Heenan, who made known he thought Hulk Hogan was a cheat all through the 80s and 90s. In 1996, when Hulk Hogan turned heel, Bobby Heenan declared, “I told you so.” It is the same with Paul Heyman. He makes you appreciate CM Punk and Brock Lesnar and the Shield, all for very different reasons. He helps them build an argument for why they do what they do and why they are what they are. By doing that, you have two sides who both think they are right and justified. That is what makes for compelling TV.
And herein lies the greatest compliment I can give a man who has played the heel most of his life. Even though I am a Heyman Guy, even though I have loved and supported him for more than twenty years, even though I’m on his side, it just felt wrong saying so many nice things about him.
And that is because he has played the heel so well. The only way we know how to thank him is to jeer him. So, because I love and appreciate you, Paul Heman, let me say: You are loud and obnoxious. Your built-in voice is the reason guys like Jimmy Hart need a megaphone to compete. You are overbearing and overreaching. You were reviled in the very arena you gave your resignation.
But when the words “Heyman Guy” were mentioned on that night, you still got a pop. Because we understand what you have given to this sport, what you have offered so many young stars, and how you helped change the business.
We remember. We will always remember. Whether you leave out tomorrow or in ten years, your legacy will be strong. Now let me cease throwing flowers at your feet so we can get back to jeering you some more.
Hopefully for many years to come.