In the world of professional wrestling, Paul Heyman is a man who needs no introduction.
He’s the creative genius who took a little-known wrestling company called Extreme Championship Wrestling and built it into a cult-like promotion that is now a legendary and unrivaled part of wrestling history.
When he finished that, he joined the big dog of pro wrestling, World Wrestling Entertainment, where he showed the mainstream wrestling world who Paul Heyman was, with his cutting-edge, raw promos, passion and ability to work a crowd like few before him or since.
Even today, several decades into his sure-fire hall of fame career, the name Paul Heyman continues to resonate with fans.
Thanks to his new documentary — aptly entitled Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman — the rest of the world can now wake up to Paul Heyman and his mountain of accomplishments.
The documentary — which covers Heyman’s entire life in the business, from swindling his way into Madison Square Garden as teenager to learning from the likes of Dusty Rhodes and Jim Ross, to his up-and-down relationship with Vince McMahon, to firing his own mother, and much more — is a fascinating look at one of wrestling’s most gifted, and controversial, personalities.
For his part, the man himself had only one prerequisite when WWE set out to tell his story.
“I was interviewed for it and my desire in that interview was to be 100% forthright in it,” Heyman said in a telephone interview, admitting he hadn’t yet been able to convince himself to watch the main feature, just some of the extras.
“I know there is a lot of old footage in it and I really hate looking back on the past, because I’ll end up realizing (with) all the things I did, how much better I could’ve done them and I’ll be so self-critical in watching it that I won’t get any enjoyment out of it,” he added with a chuckle.
Perhaps it’s fitting that a man who continues to rewrite history with amazing and unforgettable promos is hesitant to look back. Be that as it may, Heyman does admit the respect and admiration thrown his way at this stage in his career is certainly grounding.
Throughout the DVD, a number of legendary and influential wrestling personalities toss around words like genius, prodigy and brilliant when discussing the Scarsdale, N.Y., native.
“I’m very humbled by the praise that has been bestowed upon me by people for whom I have such enormous respect and admiration,” Heyman said. “This is a most unique experience for me because my whole life, my desire, my ambition, my drive, was to be the absolute best at what I do, no matter what it is. Whether it was as a manager/advocate, a commentator, a writer, the owner, the promoter … anything that I took on, I wanted to excel far and above anybody else at doing it.”
Much of that Heyman hustle (we learn the multitude of meanings behind Heyman Hustle while watching this documentary) is on full display in the documentary, complete with commentary from a cast of characters whose lives were forever altered by Heyman.
But more humbling than any amount of adulation, Heyman says, is becoming a parent.
“Once you have children, what you truly learn is any hype, any compliments that are thrown your way, any praise that is thrown your way, you need to take with a grain of salt in the same way that you take criticism with a grain of salt.”
He breaks away from wrestling for an example.
“One of the greatest stories I’ve ever heard about humility was told by Billy Joel,” Heyman said of the legendary singer/songwriter. “Billy Joel told the story of how he played Madison Square Garden and it was sold out in one minute to see him. And when he came out on stage, he got a 15-minute standing ovation and literally had to beg the audience to stop cheering so he could start his concert. And he put on a legendary, three-and-a-half-hour concert at Madison Square Garden that is still talked about today. And he says, ‘and then, 45 minutes later, there I was, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Long Island Expressway like every other schmuck in New York,’ ” he said.
“That’s the reality of it all. I am humbled by the praise that people are bestowing upon me, but I also know the reality of the man of which they speak.”
The first portion of the documentary focuses on the rise of a stubborn young man with a love for pro wrestling, one who refuses to take no for an answer and one who begins hustling — the verb and the noun — at very young age. Heyman’s ambition and will to succeed as a young man have served him well his entire life.
When asked whether he’s ever encountered anyone in his career who reminds him of his younger self, Heyman is indifferent.
“Knowing the mistakes that a young Paul Heyman made, I have a different opinion of my early work than most other people do,” he said. “I don’t like most of my early work because I think I have a far better understanding now on how to approach the concept of talking people into the building, or talking people into buying the (WWE) Network … into selling the concept or the product or the storyline I’m telling. When I was younger, I think I got a great deal of notoriety and recognizability simply based on how much energy and intensity I was able to bring to a television screen or to a live event. I know some of the promos that I’ve done from when I was younger, and I know how I would approach those situations now when I think I could sell it so much better now then I did before.
“So looking at someone and saying, ‘Hey, that’s a young Paul Heyman,’ to me, isn’t that much of a compliment.”
The documentary also answers a lot of questions about the relationships Heyman has with many people, including Vince McMahon and Jim Ross. But its greatest asset may well be the powerful words used to describe Heyman by those whose lives he’s touched. The likes of Joey Styles, Tommy Dreamer and Stephanie McMahon offer us insight into the close, and sometimes rocky, relationships they’ve built with Heyman.
WWE Hall of Famer and Canadian Adam (Edge) Copeland goes so far as to call Heyman the only person left in the business who genuinely cares about what fans want, something Heyman credits to being a fan himself.
“One of the reasons why it was beneficial for everyone that I got out of the business for five and a half years is because I stopped being a fan,” Heyman said. “Once I found my passion for this most unique form of entertainment, I became capable of relating to audience again and understanding how to push their buttons. I don’t think that anyone can write or produce or direct without having some sort of finger on the pulse of not just the current culture that permeates throughout the land, but also where that culture may be headed. And in order to have a finger on that pulse, you have to be a fan, you have to want to see something happen as badly as the audience wants to see it happen. You have to want to live that moment, backstage, watching the audience watching it unfold. And, I’m very appreciative of Adam’s comment. I certainly would describe myself to this day, as a fan.”
Former ECW star Raven delivers one of the more memorable lines of the documentary, when he says that while Heyman never had a problem with lying to the workers, he never, ever lied to the fans.
That, Heyman said, was a simple philosophy.
“My obligation as the promoter of ECW was to always be honest, 100%, with the audience,” he said. “That was my relationship with the audience and that was my obligation to them. If you support this promotion, this concept, this theory, this revolution, as the leader of this revolution I promise you I will never, ever, ever lie to you. As far as the wrestlers go, my responsibility to the company itself was to get it from Day 1 to Day 2, from Day 2 to Day 3, and we can take those numbers all the way up to however many days there are in seven-and-a-half years,” he said, before elaborating.
“The day I ended up becoming a partner in ECW, let alone the day I became the sole owner of ECW, ECW was on death’s door,” he said. “I came in and I took over creative, September 18, 1993, Tod Gordon couldn’t pay me because he had bled himself dry paying Eddie Gilbert. I came in and I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll come in for half. I’ll work for free, I’ll come for half.’
“We had enough in the budget to last us to the first major event that I completely scripted, which was the November to Remember 1993. If that show didn’t completely sell out, the promotion would have folded. That got us enough of a budget to last to February 1994, which ended up being The Night The Line Was Crossed. If that show didn’t sell out completely, and we sell a certain number of T-shirts and videotapes, we wouldn’t have been open the next day. We survived. Literally, it was a struggle to survive every day,” Heyman said, before finishing his original thought.
“There are times when you’re in that position where the truth is counterproductive and you have to make the conscious decision that your own credibility with a specific person will have to be sacrificed simply to get the company to the next day.”
One of the funnier moments of the DVD comes when viewers learn Heyman allegedly fired his own mother, a Holocaust survivor, in the ECW days.
Not quite so, according to Heyman, ever the fantastic storyteller.
“The whole story in there isn’t really told,” Heyman said, before clearing up the matter.
“My mother didn’t really work in merchandise. What happened was we had a fulfillment company and they had done a lot of work with some Major League Baseball teams and as our television was expanding, the demand for our videotapes became overwhelming to us. So we hired a fulfillment company,” he said, explaining that the company often messed up orders.
“People who got the wrong tape sent to them, or they didn’t get a delivery, would complain loudly. One day, at my house, a letter from the Better Business Bureau came in saying, ‘Hey, this person complained, can you fix it?’ ”
In stepped his mother.
“Of course my mother said, ‘Oh, you don’t want this to happen to you, you’re going to ruin your reputation, I’ll step in and I’ll fix the fulfillment house.’ So my mother ended up dealing with the fulfillment house on a daily basis, staying on top of them to make sure they didn’t screw up. And she was very good at it.
“Then one day, there was a massive screwup in merchandise and I said, ‘This isn’t working and I’m changing fulfillment houses and you don’t need to call them anymore.’
“And she says, ‘What, are you firing me?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I’m firing you.’ And she says, ‘Well, you can’t fire me, I’m your mother.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m not firing you as my mother, I’m just firing you as being on top of the fulfillment house.’ And she said, ‘Well, I’m glad that you feel that way and I hope you don’t look stupid when I decide not to accept this conversation as ever happening.’ And she hung up on me, she called the fulfillment house, and ended up doing what she had to do anyway. And that was the end of the conversation. I tried to fire my mother, but she wouldn’t go away,” he added with a laugh.
Notably absent from the documentary was Vince McMahon himself, who has a long and complicated history with Heyman. The relationship is covered extensively, but only from Heyman’s perspective. The absence of McMahon on the documentary shouldn’t be seen as a slight, Heyman said.
“This DVD was produced during the rollout for the launch of the (WWE) Network and I just don’t think the man had a single moment of time to do anything,” he said when asked about McMahon’s absence.
The conversation then shifts from Heyman’s past to the present. Just months after his client Brock Lesnar stunned the wrestling world by ending the seemingly-unbreakable winning streak of The Undertaker at WrestleMania at 21-0, Heyman will escort Lesnar into SummerSlam to face the WWE World Heavyweight champion John Cena, something of a legend himself.
Heyman is asked where Lesnar’s place in wrestling history would be if he defeats Cena on Sunday.
“I resent the question ‘if’ Brock Lesnar beats John Cena,” Heyman answers, much to the excitement of the reporter, who prepares for a patented Heyman promo.
“I think it’s fait accompli that Brock Lesnar is going to beat John Cena,” Heyman said matter of factly. “This is not a matter of, ‘Can Brock Lesnar defeat John Cena?’ I think the question to be answered at SummerSlam is, ‘Just how severe of a beating is Brock Lesnar going to put on John Cena at SummerSlam?’”
“If you think back in history, for 21 matches The Undertaker was undefeated. And not only undefeated, but it was a rare moment when someone scored a two-count on The Undertaker at WrestleMania. So not only did Brock Lesnar conquer The Undertaker, he did so with no controversy, no outside interference, no manager distraction. There is no excuse here. Brock Lesnar beat The Undertaker so badly that The Undertaker was hospitalized and has never been seen since. The same fate awaits John Cena. John Cena has been a 15-time WWE champion in 10 years … Brock Lesnar couldn’t care less. To Brock Lesnar, that just seems like a man to conquer, which is why I tried to tell this to John Cena so he understood what was coming his way, John Cena only wants to beat Brock Lesnar. Beating John Cena won’t be enough for Brock. Conquering John Cena and taking the title away from John Cena is what will happen at SummerSlam.”
His point made, the reporter completely sold on Lesnar, the subject turns back to the documentary.
“I’m very happy of the reviews that it’s getting,” Heyman admitted (the DVD is currently out of stock on several online sites including shop.wwe.com). “This story could’ve been told many different ways,” he said with a hearty laugh. “I wasn’t very sure which way they were going with it and I had no creative control over it. I obviously will end up watching it because my kids have a lot of questions about it. I’m glad that they’re represented in it and that my parents are represented in it.”
In true Paul Heyman fashion, the past is not where he has his attention.
“I think my biggest concern, and I told this to [mixed-martial arts journalist] Ariel Helwani on his show the other day, my biggest concern was I really don’t want this to be a career retrospective … ‘Look at all I did.’
“I don’t mind it being, ‘A look at what I’ve done so far,’ as long as there is an understanding you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Those words should be music to a wrestling fans’ ears.