Paul Heyman discusses Lesnar, Rollins, Rousey and the future of WWE
CBS Sports spoke with Paul Heyman, a wrestling industry legend and the advocate for Brock Lesnar, ahead of WWE SummerSlam. He discussed everything from his client's match to the future of sports entertainment.
There are few people in WWE who have worn as many hats as Paul Heyman. Right now, he's the reigning, defending, unofficial champion of WWE hype men, able to enthrall a television audience with his interviews and act as mouthpiece and advocate for the legit scariest dude on the roster, former UFC and WWE champion Brock Lesnar.
But Heyman has done pretty much everything in his roughly three-decade pro wrestling career. He was the mad scientist behind the original Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion. He's been on the creative team, the talent development team and the production side. On screen, he's been a color commentator, a heel manager and a (likely reluctant) occasional in-ring performer. He's been everything from a promoter to a ringside photographer. For better or worse, Paul Heyman has seen it all.
That's why, as WWE heads into one of its most important shows of the year, SummerSlam, we decided to pick Heyman's brain on a number of topics. Here's our attempt to keep pace with one of WWE's most gifted talkers.
CBS Sports: The WWE Universe was saddened recently by the passing of Hall of Famer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. Having worked with a lot of the best in the business yourself, what do you think it was about Piper that made him such a captivating performer?
Paul Heyman: "His willingness to ignore barriers and boundaries and to put himself out there on a ledge at all times, and to say daring things that sometimes made no sense at all, but [they] were said with such passionate delivery that people would read into it and find meaning in his words. I think Piper was such a unique character because he was so uninhibited in his approach to putting his personality out there to the masses."
CBS Sports: You seem to be one of the only people Brock Lesnar completely trusts. What's the secret to keeping a guy like Lesnar content?
Paul Heyman: "I've never let him down. I always tell Brock Lesnar the truth. I don't appease Brock Lesnar. I don't placate Brock Lesnar. When Brock Lesnar asks me for an opinion, I give to him an honest opinion that I'm willing to back up with facts, with theory. It's never just what he wants to hear, or what benefits me the most. And I get the same from him, I assure you."
CBS Sports: The Undertaker violated one of your rules, which is, 'Thou shall not intentionally provoke Brock Lesnar.' What can we expect to see when The Undertaker seeks revenge against Lesnar at SummerSlam?
Paul Heyman: "Well, I think anyone that is considering subscribing to the WWE Network to watch Brock Lesnar -- who gets top billing, by the way -- versus The Undertaker, needs to take into account the following: How many more times in life will you get to see Brock Lesnar wrestle a match? There's only a certain number of matches he's willing to do before he just goes and becomes a farmer and a hunter full time. As for the The Undertaker, you have to ask yourself the same question: How many more matches does The Undertaker have? And my answer to that is one. Because he's gonna get his ass kicked so bad at SummerSlam, I don't know if you'll ever see the Undertaker again.
"I mean, listen. Everybody looked at WrestleMania 30 like it was fait accompli, like it was a foregone conclusion [The Undertaker] was gonna be 22-0. They had the pyro ready, they had the billboard ready, they had the 22-0 T-shirt ready, they had the 22-0 sweatshirt and hoodie ready, they had the 22-0 poster, they had the 22-0 plaque all ready for merchandise. Not only did it become 21-1, but The Undertaker got beat up so bad by Brock Lesnar that The Undertaker left WrestleMania in an ambulance, spent a week in the hospital and needed an entire year to recover from the beating that he suffered at the hands of Brock Lesnar. Why does anybody think SummerSlam is going to be any different?"
CBS Sports: What do you think of the job Seth Rollins has been doing as WWE Champion?
Paul Heyman: "I think Seth Rollins is a perennial champion for the next decade. I think in the same way that John Cena and Randy Orton are multi, multi-time champions from 2005 on, I think that is now Seth Rollins' position. I think Seth Rollins is in the title picture for the next decade. He has established himself as a main event performer. He has delivered on every occasion that he has had the opportunity to perform. And he has risen to the top faster than anyone else that has been called up so far from NXT. So I think Seth Rollins is just at the very beginning of his career as a main eventer.
"I mean, Seth Rollins was involved in the main event of this year's WrestleMania, but he wasn't advertised as a main event at this year's WrestleMania. We have yet to see Seth Rollins have the opportunity to perform in a WrestleMania main event. I don't think you've even seen Seth Rollins scratch the surface of what he's capable of doing."
CBS Sports: If Ronda Rousey were to show up in WWE, what advice would you give her? Do you think she has a natural talent for WWE?
Paul Heyman: "If Ronda Rousey were to show up in WWE, the best advice that I could give her is to sign on the dotted line and appoint Paul Heyman as her advocate."
CBS Sports: You've been known for years as a man with a great eye for talent. What's your assessment of the current WWE roster? Is there anyone that stands out as a huge star in the making, that maybe isn't on top yet?
Paul Heyman: "I think there is a roster filled with superstars that have yet to be exploited to their full potential. I don't think anyone realizes how much Bray Wyatt has to offer. Roman Reigns has been in an advertised WrestleMania main event. I don't think people have even seen more than one or two layers of Roman Reigns, and there's a lot -- there's a lot more to Roman Reigns than what you've seen so far. Cesaro, who has been knocking on the door of the main events for the past several years, is just now coming into his own, and what an opportunity he has with Kevin Owens to put on career-making performances for both of them at SummerSlam.
"I think the women have an opportunity just in the next year or so to become bona fide, first-time-ever pay-per-view main eventers in WWE. How could you not look at the Bellas, how could you not look at Paige, how could you not look at Charlotte and Sasha Banks, how could you not look at these women and say that they are going to main event? Because they are. It's the journey that they're on and they back it up with their performances every night.
"And there's a crop of talent in NXT that has not had the mass exposure of network television outside of the WWE Network, that is just chomping at the bit to take advantage of the opportunity of that mass exposure. So I think it's a roster full of people that are going to ascend to the top. I think the question is who gets there first, and who gets there second and third?"
CBS Sports: You mentioned NXT. If you had to take just one superstar or Diva from the NXT roster and mentor them to find their true potential, who would you choose and why?
Paul Heyman: "I wouldn't pick just one. I would never just pick one. I would want several -- and both male and female, because several years ago, I did a mixed martial arts radio show on the air with Ariel Helwani. And I made the statement that if I were Hank Steinbrenner and I got rid of Brian Cashman and I made Paul Heyman the general manager of the New York Yankees, the first thing I would do is I would retire Derek Jeter and the second thing I would do is get rid of A-Rod. And the reason why was because A-Rod has hit 600 home runs, but he won't hit 600 more. Jeter put in his two decades of service but he doesn't have two decades more. Understanding that the Yankees were an aging team, I would get a crop of 21- and 22-year-olds, so that even if it took five years to build the best team in baseball, by the time they became the best team in baseball, everybody would be 26 or 27, and they would have a 10-year run on top.
"When I said it, everyone thought I was nuts. Even the people in the New York media said, "How could you say such a thing?" And then, of course, when Jeter retired, it's exactly what the Yankees did. They went after all the young talent that was out there and they started to build their team not just for this season and next season, but for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 season.
"It's the same thing. I wouldn't pick just one piece of talent to build around today. I would take several pieces of talent so that it's not just WrestleMania in 2016 and 2017. Then I'd be looking at who's main eventing WrestleMania in 2020, 2021, 2022."
CBS Sports: You also briefly mentioned Cesaro. You had an on-air association with him for a little bit. Have you coached him up at all since your on-air relationship ended? Because it seems once again, like you said, he's knocking at the door of that upper echelon.
Paul Heyman: "I've always been of the opinion that great talent can't be held down. I've offered Cesaro no more advice than anyone else that has sought out my advice in the locker room. He is one of many. I am a huge, huge fan of his work and I think he has the potential to go all the way. He is back knocking harder than ever because he worked his way back up into that position. And if for some reason he doesn't get main event status at this attempt, I would expect in 60, 90, 120, 180 days, however many days it takes, he'll be knocking on the door again. He's not gonna be denied.
"There's an old expression in this industry and that's 'never take 'no' for an answer.' I think that applies to any facet of showbusiness. It also applies to any facet of sports. The .250 baseball player who needs to hit .300 to make it to the team and he gets the right batting coaches and he learns how to pit his elbow differently, he learns how to hit the ball differently, he learns how to run faster to first base. He gets his average up to .300 so he can make the team. The basketball player who can't dunk that won't get on the team unless he dunks. Spends his entire summer learning how to dunk that basketball so he can make the team. The actor that never played Broadway and he has to learn how to carry a showtune. Same thing.
"Great talent can't be denied. Cesaro is a great talent. He'll never take 'no' for an answer. Every time they tell him no, he can't main event, just makes him want it even more. He is a hungry, capable athlete and performer that will get there."
CBS Sports: On your documentary 'Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name Is Paul Heyman,' you told the story of how you once snuck into Madison Square Garden as a teen to take photos backstage. Was that as risky and nerve-wracking as it sounds?
Paul Heyman: "It wasn't nerve-wracking at all for me, because it's tunnel vision. Anything worth having in life is worth risking it all for. I wanted to learn the industry from the production side, from the writing side, from the directing side, how it operates behind the scenes. I was never interested in sitting out in the crowd. Never. It was just not my thing. I always wanted to understand how it was put together and why things that happened, happened. So no, it wasn't nerve-wracking at all for me, because again, it's that whole theory of never taking no for an answer. I couldn't imagine a scenario where I was going to allow myself to be denied."
CBS Sports: Having looked up to guys like Freddie Blassie and the Grand Wizard in your youth, what do you think about the lack of managers in present-day WWE? Is being a great manager a dying art?
Paul Heyman: "I don't know how to answer that question properly because I legitimately do not consider myself a manager. My role is different than Freddie Blassie, the Grand Wizard and Lou Albano's, and Bobby Heenan's, Jimmy Hart's and J.J. Dillon's as well. I legitimately consider myself Brock Lesnar's advocate. That's my primary purpose to serve to the WWE Universe.
"Have I been a manager in the past? I've done that role, absolutely. But I don't think I do it today anymore, and there are several reasons for that. One, I don't think there's a role for managers in today's presentation of sports entertainment. There may be in the future, but right now I don't see how that role fits in. Two, my work with Brock Lesnar, there is no reason for me to ever be physically involved in a Brock Lesnar match, and part of a manager's job is to be physically involved. There's no reason for me to ever be involved in a Brock Lesnar match; it's not what I do. He has it well taken care of. He does the physicality, I do the talking. It's a great pairing.
"Do I think that there will be managers in the future? Yeah, if the right one comes along, if the right circumstance comes along, if the right act comes along. But the business constantly evolves, and that's another reason why I chose not to be called a manager anymore, but an advocate, because I think the roles have to evolve. Do I think there will be other advocates? Absolutely. There may be agents. But I don't know if the stereotypical wrestling manager exists out there anymore."
CBS Sports: Is there anything about running Extreme Championship Wrestling that you truly miss?
Paul Heyman: "I'm sure that there would be if I took the time to sit down and reminisce. But there are so many more things that I want to accomplish in the future. I never look back. That DVD was one interview that lasted 18 hours and was absolute torture for me. Because for 17 those hours, I had to look back, and I hate doing that. I despise it, because there is nothing I can do to alter what has happened either for the better or to attempt to relive it. So I never look back. I'm emboldened by the knowledge that I gained from the experiences that I encounter, but I never spend my time reminiscing because it's in the past and it's gone, and there is nothing I can do about it. There is so much more I want to do and I want to accomplish. That's really where my focus always is.
"I'll give you this: The moment the referee's hand hit three at WrestleMania 30 and Brock Lesnar conquered the streak, at that very moment, the first thing that went into my mind was, 'OK, how do we capitalize on this?' I never sat there and said, "Wow, all the work that got put into this, and all the things that led to this," and Brock's journey to get to this moment wasn't on my mind. What was on my mind was how do we capitalize on this? Where do we go from here? That's how I live my life.
"So I wish I had a more profound answer for you about something in ECW that I miss, but that would actually require me missing or thinking about the past, and I never think about the past."
Paul Heyman will stand alongside Brock Lesnar as he takes on The Undertaker in one of two main events for Sunday's WWE SummerSlam pay-per-view. The event is available live on the WWE Network and on pay-per-view systems for most cable and satellite companies.
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