It’s hard to believe, but it’s been well over a decade since the original incarnation of ECW closed its doors. So, if your first memory of Paul Heyman is that of the color commentator for Wrestlemania X-Seven, or Brock Lesnar’s agent, or even CM Punk’s best friend, you’re excused.
But for the rest of this interview, it’s important to note that Paul Heyman is on a short list next to Vince McMahon of people who have truly revolutionized the pro wrestling industry.
I spoke to the former “Mad Scientist of Extreme” in the days leading up to “The Best vs. The Beast” match at SummerSlam and got his thoughts on sports entertainment’s next revolution, John Cena’s unique appeal, and the moment he hopes he’s remembered for…
Gordon Holmes (@gordonholmes): If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s probably safe to argue that nobody in the wrestling industry has been more flattered than you over the past few decades.
Paul Heyman (@HeymanHustle): (Laughs)
Holmes: ECW has been imitated and rehashed so often that there’s no way it can be the next big thing for the business. I guess what I’m getting at is; what will be the thing that sparks the next boom period?
Heyman: The next big thing as far as presenting professional wrestling will be star-driven. It will be a personality that changes the game. Whose approach in the ring and in interviews is unlike anyone else that is out there today. And therefore his matches would have to be wrestled in a manner that no one else has been doing, at least for the past few years. And when that personality catches on, the industry will go along with him. That has always been the history of WWE and of professional wrestling. When the (Bruno) Sammartino era was over and they put Bob Backlund in as champion, Bob Backlund needed all of that support from the undercard to carry the load. But when the Hulk Hogan era took off, the entire company was built around Hulk Hogan. When the Steve Austin era took off, he had great support, but Steve Austin’s name and box-office attraction, and merchandise sales alone would have made this a multi-multi-multi million dollar company. And it’s the same today. If a personality catches fire to such a degree that it becomes a one-man cottage industry.
Holmes: I’m trying to think of a really unique personality and I keep coming back to Dean Ambrose. Could he be the guy?
Heyman: I think all three members of The Shield have the opportunity to grab the top spot in WWE and carve an image for the next several years for this company.
Holmes: John Cena has one of the most interesting dynamics I’ve ever seen in that half of the audience loves him while the other half hates him. Is there any way to course correct to bring everybody on board?
Heyman: With all due respect, I think you’re missing it. The dynamic of children loving Cena and adult males hating Cena with such a passion is what makes him so fascinating. When there are 40,000 people in MetLife Stadium screaming “Let’s go, Cena” and 40,000 people in the very same stadium at the very same time challenging that half of the crowd saying, “Cena sucks.” That’s 80,000 engaged fans that paid for the privilege of being there. It’s very simple mathematics to me. John Cena drew 80,000 people who wanted to react to him. And to me, that makes him the top guy.
Holmes: The fans eventually turned on Hulk Hogan. The fans have turned on The Rock several times. The fans never turned on Steve Austin. So ideally would you rather have someone who is universally loved like a Steve Austin or someone who gets this intense mixed reaction like a John Cena?
Heyman: Do you prefer a ridiculously hot blonde or a sexy, sultry brunette?
Heyman: I’ll take them both. Steve Austin can draw 80,000 people to cheer him on. Brock Lesnar can draw 80,000 people to boo him into the next country. And John Cena can draw 80,000 people who will debate whether he should be cheered or booed. I just care that they pay to see you.
Holmes: An excellent point.
Holmes: Your friend Brock Lesnar is back in the WWE, you’re having wars of words every night with CM Punk. Is this the happiest time in your career?
Heyman: I’ve been remarkably blessed by the fact that I’ve had many different careers in this industry. I can’t truly compare the difference of being the lead color commentator with Jim Ross with being the owner of the upstart company that breaks every rule, breaks every taboo and spearheads a movement that actually gets it on worldwide Pay Per View with ECW. I can’t compare that with being Brock Lesnar’s advocate, going into SummerSlam in this focal-point match against my former protégé CM Punk. These are different careers to the point that it feels like I’ve lived many different lives. And to compare them would force me to look back on what I used to do and I never look back, I’m always looking into the future. All eyes are on SummerSlam, and my wheels are always spinning to what we’re going to do at Survivor Series, into the Royal Rumble, and ultimately Wrestlemania.
Holmes: You don’t like to look back, but I’m going to ask this anyway. You tweeted a picture of your children outside of the old ECW Arena. And if years from now, if they ask what Dad did for a living and you could only show them one match or one moment, what would it be?
Heyman: I will confess to you that your question has caught me off guard. In all candor, I would hope that just simply based on the decade in the making of “The Best vs. The Beast” that what Brock Lesnar and CM Punk will pull off this Sunday at SummerSlam will be so epic, so compelling, so riveting, and of such premium quality that if one day my children want to show their children, “Here’s what the old man did for a living,” my children will show their children that match.
Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes
Watch “WWE: SummerSlam,” Sunday, August 18, 2013 at 8 pm ET on Pay Per View.