Doing an interview with a professional wrestler/sports entertainer/WWE Superstar can be a difficult task to take on, because they’ve gotten so used to being a certain character, a particular persona that they sometimes immediately enter into performance mode when holding a conversation about the industry in which they’ve chosen to make their living. I’ve made it a point to try having candid talks with each and every one of them to give you some insight into how the business works and how they view certain events that have happened throughout their careers. After all, watching them cut promos and selling pay-per-views is something you can see from them across plenty of hours of TV time throughout the week. I find it much more interesting to catch a glimpse of a side of them that isn’t all that public very often. That’s what makes Paul Heyman such a fascinating guy to speak with.
For all of his contributions across wrestling, be it as a ringside manager fronting the Dangerous Alliance and helping steer the likes of Bobby Eaton, Rick Rude, “Stunning” Steve Austin or Arn Anderson to success, or a color commentator or a promoter (a little company known as ECW) or a behind-the-scenes creative mind or an advocate, Paul Heyman has managed to blur the lines concerning his true identity. You see, he’s the guy we all perceive him to be, but he’s also not really the guy. He’s working you a good amount of the time unless he’s not. He’s a walking contradiction of sorts, making him a great interview subject, because one second he’ll give you a remarkably honest and real response as Paul Heyman the man and the next he’s pitching you on the enormity of the match he’s involved in at WrestleMania as Paul Heyman the character. It’s a juggling act to figure out which Heyman you’re talking to at any given moment, but both of them are incredibly knowledgeable about the wrestling business and its history, so either way, you’re bound to find an intelligent answer at the opposite end of your question.
Heading into the home stretch for the WWE’s biggest show of the year, WrestleMania XXX, which will be their first pay-per-view aired on the new WWE Network, I had some time to chat with Paul Heyman who will be standing ringside for one of the biggest matches on the card, as the Undertaker’s undefeated WrestleMania streak (it now stands at 21-0) is challenged by Brock Lesnar. We discussed the legacy of such a match, the difference in his roles as manager and now advocate, some thoughts on the now-departed CM Punk and his predictions for WrestleMania XXX, among other things. Strap in and enjoy, wrestling fans. Paul Heyman has the floor.
Billy Donnelly – It’s a pleasure to talk to you today. I’ve been a fan of yours going all the way back to the days of the Dangerous Alliance and your feuds with Missy Hyatt and all that. So I think the proper place to start is, back then, in your time as a manager, when managers and stables were kind of a key component of the business, with the collections of heels really kind of getting traction with the audience because of who they were associated with – whether it was you or Bobby Heenan or Jimmy Hart. After being phased out, they seem to be getting a resurgence. Why do you think it is now that managers are kind of being reintegrated into the business and where do you see their role now moving forward, with you once again being a key component of them being a major part?
Paul Heyman – I don’t consider myself a manager. I consider myself an advocate. I think the age of the wrestling manager died many many years ago, which is why, when I did the Dangerous Alliance, I declared myself the CEO. I didn’t want to be called the manager. In 2002, when I was with Brock Lesnar, I declared myself his “Agent,” because I didn’t want to be called a manager. I think the manager has the stigma of Captain Lou Albano and Freddie Blassie and The Grand Wizard and Bobby Heenan and Jimmy Hart and Sensational Sherri, and all those people that accomplished during that time when a manager was in vogue. And that era of sports entertainment/professional wrestling is over! So I don’t consider myself to be a manager because it’s a different role today. I think the role is more suited for, at least for me, to be an advocate. I certainly cannot be a valet. And I don’t want to just be a manager! I want to be so much more. And I think the role has evolved in that, especially when it comes to the needs and wants and ambitions of Brock Lesnar.
Billy Donnelly – Well this is now two years in a row that you’ve been a part of the Undertaker’s streak being challenged at WrestleMania. Last year with CM Punk, this year Brock Lesnar. I know what it’s like seeing it as a fan. I’ve been at WrestleMania when it’s being challenged and I know what it’s like when that match comes about. What is it like being there on such a grand stage at such an event ringside, when this is happening? What does that feel like?
Paul Heyman – It’s an honor. It’s a privilege. It’s a blessing. I get to witness up close the match that has the single most historical significance of any match on Wrestlemania and the one whose result can potentially lead to the most long ranging ramifications for someone’s career should they be the one to break the streak. So for me to be ringside is an honor because I get to see someone that I knew in the very infancy of his career, the Undertaker, and number two, I get the best seat in the house for the most compelling story that’s going to be told on the grandest stage of them all.
Billy Donnelly – You’ve gotten yourself in hot water in the past in WWE with your passion for the business and your outspoken nature, especially when it comes to creative and the direction of certain talent. Are you still that same guy behind the scenes or have you kind of curbed that a little bit as you’ve settled into your role with CM Punk and Brock Lesnar and Curtis Axel and being advocates for these guys?
Paul Heyman – I think I’m even more passionate now than I ever have been in my life but I’m more mature and therefore I’ve learned the art of diplomacy in stark contrast to the act of being bombastic and screaming at the top of my lungs to make myself be heard.
Billy Donnelly – How difficult was it to cut that CM Punk promo in front of this rabid Chicago crowd and manage to pivot it away from what they were expecting to get all that focus on Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker?
Paul Heyman – The easiest interview I’ve ever done in my entire career.
Billy Donnelly – Really?
Paul Heyman – Because I knew the task at hand. Think about this. I didn’t say one disparaging thing about CM Punk. It’s because I have nothing disparaging to say about him. I said, “If CM Punk were in this ring tonight, he would prove to everyone that he is what he always claims to be: The best in the world.” And I believe that to be true! I said everything about CM Punk that I felt in my heart and at the end of the day, we don’t have that television show on the air to sing the praises of those who are not with us or just heap praise on people because we like them. The television show is a promotional vehicle to entice the audience to purchase the network or the individual pay-per-view. My task at hand is to elicit the response from the viewer that they find the Brock Lesnar versus Undertaker match compelling enough to purchase the pay-per-view or get involved with WWE Network to see the match. So when I went out in Chicago, I knew my responsibility was to sell you on Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker any way that I had to, which included sitting there for the first ten minutes and discussing the 800-pound elephant in the room, which is why CM Punk wasn’t appearing in his hometown.
Billy Donnelly – It was a masterful performance, I will tell you that. I think that was one of those things where everybody was waiting for you to talk about that. It was just a beautiful transition to move to where it needed to be and it caught people off guard because here they were going with you on that journey without even knowing it.
Paul Heyman – Listen, when I was a kid, I was a photographer, and Led Zeppelin played Madison Square Garden. All night long, that audience was clamoring to hear Stairway to Heaven. The original setlist for Led Zep at Madison Square Garden was Stairway to Heaven was going to be the fourth song that they played. But Robert Plant could feel that the audience was waiting for that to be the end all be all. So on their second encore, their second curtain call, the second time they came out after the show was supposedly over, the spotlight went on to Jimmy Page. Jimmy Page stared at his guitar for a good minute and when he hit the first chords of Stairway to Heaven, it was a spiritual orgasm in Madison Square Garden the likes of which I cannot describe to you. Jimmy Page just smiled at that audience and it was another thirty to forty-five seconds before he went into the next chord for Stairway to Heaven, because he knew that he owned them. As a performer, to get the opportunity to come out in Chicago to CM Punk’s music and to sit down Punk-style in the ring, and tell the true intimate story of this Paul Heyman guy, while I’m doing my job promoting Brock versus Undertaker is the greatest professional high you can offer me.
Billy Donnelly – I made the pilgrimage to the ECW Arena once. I was there for House Party ‘99, the night the Dudleys called out the Public Enemy. I’ve never experienced anything like it. What was it that made that crowd in that place so unique and so unlike any fans anywhere else?
Paul Heyman – Because the most popular character in ECW was the collective audience. The audience knew its role better than any individual performer that was wrestling inside the ring.
Billy Donnelly – Fair enough. If they gave you the book to close out Wrestlemania 30 in the most fitting, most perfect way, how do you think WrestleMania XXX ends?
Paul Heyman – With Brock Lesnar dragging Daniel Bryan, Triple H, Randy Orton or Dave Batista back out of their celebration, out to the ring, and pinning them on top of the already vanquished Undertaker and leaving Wrestlemania 30 not only as the man who broke the streak but the man who leaves as the Undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion. But that’s just my vision. I don’t know if it’s shared by others.
Billy Donnelly – How close is Brock Lesnar to what we see in the ring? Because I think when Lesnar hits the ring and he’s in there with anyone, whether it’s the Undertaker, whether it’s Triple H, whether it’s Shawn Michaels, there is this impression that he is in there and he likes to hurt people, which may play into the persona, but I’m wondering how close to that is Brock Lesnar to the Brock Lesnar that we’ve come to know week in and week out?
Paul Heyman – I think the Brock Lesnar you see on television is an understated and toned down version of the beast that lives in real life. Any visit to Brock’s trophy wall from his days of hunting will tell you that this is a natural born killer. Brock Lesnar is a predator and when I tell you that he’s a conqueror, if Brock Lesnar lived in a different time in history, he would be on his horse holding the severed head of the emperor whose kingdom he just conquered.
Billy Donnelly – Knowing how well you know him, do you think we’ll see CM Punk inside a WWE ring anytime soon?
Paul Heyman – You know, there were only three people in the room that night, and that was CM Punk, Vince McMahon and Triple H, and none of the three have talked about it. So whether CM Punk will ever or won’t ever appear in WWE again is truly only known by the three people that were in the room on that given evening. Anything else that is stated about it is merely speculation.
Billy Donnelly – Are there other Paul Heyman guys that are still lurking that we need to be aware of or have on our radar that are ready to break out into the future?
Paul Heyman – Oh absolutely! I’ve already signed a new Paul Heyman guy!
Billy Donnelly – Oh really?!
Paul Heyman – Absolutely!
Billy Donnelly – Is there anyone that you can clue me in on?
Paul Heyman – Yes! I have signed a new Paul Heyman guy.
Billy Donnelly – But his identity will remain quiet?
Paul Heyman – Oh no! We’re going to broadcast his identity and we’re going to publicize and promote it and present it and market it and make as big a splash as humanly possible regarding this new Paul Heyman guy.
Billy Donnelly – Just not to me.
Paul Heyman – Oh, it can be to you, it just can’t be now!
Billy Donnelly – I will take it as it is. Are there any other guys along the way were Paul Heyman guys that you were surprised didn’t take it to that next level or didn’t connect in the way that you thought they were capable of?
Paul Heyman – No, because there’s always extenuating circumstances. Becoming a top-tier talent requires perseverance, a certain level of diplomacy, a certain level of strategy, a certain level of luck, requires sometimes merely a miracle! The odds are against… I saw a report the other day that 2% of Screen Actors Guild performers actually make a living as actors and actresses. And 98% of those who hold the the SAG card need supplemental income just to survive. So of that 2%, how many aspire and actually become a well known character actor or actress? How many of those become a supporting player? And how many of those can actually star in a TV show or a movie or a vehicle in which they get top billing? Same way in WWE or in sports entertainment. The odds are dramatically against you, so those who make it? It’s practically a miracle.
Billy Donnelly – Speaking about odds, if I am a betting man, what are the odds of Brock Lesnar ending the streak at WrestleMania XXX?
Paul Heyman – I don’t think it’s a prediction, I think it’s a spoiler! Brock Lesnar is going to defeat the Undertaker and break the streak. But what I want to emphasize to you here is this. When Brock Lesnar defeats the Undertaker, it takes nothing away from the magnitude of the Undertaker’s undefeated streak going 21 victories in 21 consecutive appearances at WrestleMania. It is a streak that no one will be able to match, Brock Lesnar can’t match it. John Cena can’t match it. They named a battle royale after Andre the Giant, he couldn’t go 3 and 0! So, to me, everybody looks at this as though the Undertaker losing is a catastrophe, that it’s armageddon, the end of the universe. And I don’t! I think ending the streak is a celebration of the accomplishment and all good things must come to an end! But if you are a betting man, this much I’ll tell you. Look at it from this perspective: Brock Lesnar does not have to win, but the Undertaker must not lose.
Billy Donnelly – Paul, it’s been an honor and a privilege and a pleasure. I’ve been a huge fan since forever, so thank you very much for taking the time.
Paul Heyman – The pleasure is all mine. Thank you, sir.
Famously fired via Facebook, Billy Donnelly ("The Infamous Billy The Kidd") has insisted on staying true to his honest opinions (like Greedo shooting first being BS) in order to build a true geek community that serves its readership with credible commentary.
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