Paul Heyman: Why I left WWE
By SIMON ROTHSTEIN of THE LILSBOYS
HE’S the man who revolutionised the wrestling business.
The outspoken leader of a hardcore cult that will never die.
The creative genius forever synonymous with the letters E-C-W.
But for more than a year no one has heard a peep out of Paul Heyman.
Where was he? Why did he walk out of the WWE in December 2006? And most importantly what does he really think of Vince McMahon’s â€˜new’ ECW?
Now, for the first time Paul answers those questions and more as only Paul can.
He also reveals the first details and advert for his exciting new project, the Heyman Hustle, which starts right here on The Sun Online on Monday February 18.
Question: Paul, let’s cut right to the chase. What happened with you and Vince McMahon?
Answer: I think what it boils down to is Vince McMahon and I have totally separate and distinct visions for what a wrestling or sports entertainment product should be. There’s nothing wrong with having those different visions, the problem was that Vince started to take the difference of opinion personally. And once that personality conflict comes into play, when you’re trying to steer the direction of a product, it becomes a bad work environment. So Vince didn’t like working with me anymore and I didn’t like working with Vince anymore. And it’s his company, so obviously he has to stay!
Question: What do you think went wrong and why?
Answer: The brand should never have been brought back after the very first One Night Stand in 2005. The follow-up show in 2006 made money, but only because it served as the platform for Rob Van Dam to beat John Cena. Then Sci-Fi Channel was willing to give a test run for the brand ECW and they currently pay a lot of money for that TV show. So the theory of bringing ECW back and making it profitable worked as a business move. But the expectation from the audience that ECW was being brought back only served to be a monumental letdown. By comparison, if someone were to resurrect The Beatles and say: “You know what, we want to make them more globally accepted, so we’re going to have a white guy, an Asian female, a Hispanic Bisexual and an African-American with a Scottish accent.” In the land of WWE that actually makes sense. But no matter how you look at it, it’s just not the Beatles. So in the same light, it’s just not ECW. â€˜Extreme’ doesn’t mean blood, or tables, or barbed wire. ECW was always about progression, moving forward, giving more bang for the buck. For example, a finish in most every match. Simple thought. A winner and a loser. And a story with it that makes sense. But if you voiced that opinion, Vince would take it personally. If you look at the attempts to recreate the nWo, to re-create Goldberg and, even now, trying to recreate Ric Flair‘s career on the line, Vince’s magic only happens when he creates it from the get-go. If Vince doesn’t create it from the get-go, he can’t embrace the formula.
Question: But why didn’t Vince just say: “Paul, I know you’re good at ECW, it’s on Sci-Fi, do your stuff, work your magic, make me some money?”
Answer: Because that goes against everything that is Vince McMahon. Vince is such a control freak that if he sneezes, the next 10 minutes of any meeting are ruined because he is so p***ed at himself for not being able to control the sneeze. And it’s worked very well for him in life. He is a billionaire. He has his own luxury private plane and, by the way, it’s a really nice plane. He has things and property and cash that every other wrestling promoter in the world doesn’t have. He has achieved these goals HIS WAY and so Vince is not about to let anyone have free reign over anything in his kingdom. That’s just not going to happen.
Question: How was it for you to see ECW – your baby, the thing you created – almost destroyed in front of your eyes?
Answer: It was a very rough road because, make no mistake about it, Vince McMahon has every right to do anything that he wants with ECW. He bought the right to exploit the intellectual property of the brand. It’s his, he owns it, and nobody can question whether or not he is entitled to do whatever he damn well pleases with it. Rob Van Dam has articulated on this brilliantly in some recent interviews and it kind of brought back the memories of that time in 2006. I tried to resign, and in front of other people because I wanted witnesses, several times in last two months of my tenure in WWE/ECW. I offered my resignation to Stephanie on several occasions. I told her the tensions between me and Vince were getting in the way of the brand, that Vince was taking everything personally, and that it was neither fun, creative, or productive any more. I thought if I left, Vince would give the brand the TLC – um, that’s Tender Loving Care, not Tables Ladders and Chairs – it needed. Stephanie kept trying to get involved, but Vince was on a tear. I dare suggest that Vince was craving for someone to compete with him on any level, in anything in life, and also at the same time, hating to lose, said: “I have the original owner of ECW, I have the original creative mind of ECW, and you know what, we’re gonna battle over the creative direction of this product.” And, at the same time, it’s like the WrestleMania main event – because it’s a predetermined finish. At the end of the day, Vince has to determine what the direction is. I’m not there to compete with him. I’m there to help him. I’m on his side, I’m his tag team partner. It just became misery to work there which is why, as Van Dam has pointed out, I just wanted out so badly I finally couldn’t take it any more.
Question: When did that happen, what was the actual date, because no one has known where you’ve been for a long time?
Answer: The final straw was the December to Dismember Pay Per View. That show was just a wreck. I knew it going in. I kept trying to pitch different things for the show that week, that weekend, and even the day of the show. All day long on the day of the show, I kept coming to Vince saying: “The people are going to throw this back in our face.”
Question: Can you give us some examples of the things that you wanted to do that Vince said “no” to?
Answer: I thought the undercard was horrible. I thought that the design of the show itself made no sense. I just felt that the entire layout of the show, the entire complexion of the event was a downer. I also thought that we were doing Bobby Lashley no favours the way he was going to win the title. Lashley winning the title, especially if you eliminate Rob Van Dam and CM Punk early, would be leapfrogging over RVD and Punk. Van Dam was the sentimental favourite, Punk was the kid that all the crowd was getting behind and they wanted to see the upset. If you don’t appease the need for the audience to see that new hero get crowned like Punk did the week before at Survivor Series when DX let him say â€˜Are you ready?’ then the audience will feel ripped off. If you don’t put that spotlight on Van Dam, with whom the paying customers have just taken this long ride back into the title chase, then the paying customer will feel ripped off. My opinion was to start the chamber off with the Big Show saying: “I’m a seven foot tall, 500lb giant, I’m gonna mow through every one of you.” And the first to take him on would be Punk. Playing to the fact that UFC is so hot and in the public consciousness, Punk chokes out Big Show in the first round of the Elimination Chamber, four-and-a-half minutes in, and now the champion is out. You know for a fact, before any two contenders lock up, I’m getting a new champion at the end of this match. Then, the first guy to come out after Big Show v Punk, would be Van Dam. You let Van Dam and Punk fight it out, and then you start feeding in the heels. Vince hated this. He especially hated the fact that Big Show liked it.
Question: Even though he was being choked out within five minutes, Big Show liked it?
Answer: Of course, because he was making a new guy! Big Show is so underappreciated in terms of how smart he is to the business, and how willing he is to make new stars. Vince wanted all babyfaces out of the way and for all the spotlight on Lashley and for Lashley to do a Goldberg-style two minute squash of The Big Show. At that point, not only did I realise that this is going to suck, not only is everyone going to throw this back at us, but this show is going to run short. And during the show, I pointed all this out to Vince, which just angered him even more, and he didn’t care. His attitude was: “When this broadcast is over, people will see a new champion, they’ll have a new hero and they’ll all be happy.” When I went to Vince right before I went out to introduce the Chamber, I pointed out again to him “Vince this show is horribly short.” I had this idea of getting 15 minutes out of the crowd, but Vince said: “No, no, no. Just go out there, make your point, and introduce the Chamber.” Which is why, when I was in the ring, I made the statement: “ECW will live long after I am gone.” Because I knew, either when I went back into the dressing room, or within the next day or two, it was time for me to leave.
Question: Was there a part of you that thought about breaking character and actually quitting in the ring live on PPV?
Answer: No, because that would be unprofessional. All that is doing is, in an emotional state, thinking that I am f***ing Vince McMahon over, and it’s a very dramatic thought but I have to say this on the record – I don’t think Vince McMahon f***ed me over. I don’t think Vince, in his mind, did anything malicious towards me. I think Vince did what he either persuaded or convinced himself was the best for business. The biggest shoot that I could do in that ring was not to say “I quit”. The biggest shoot that I could do was to make the statement “this brand goes on without me”. That’s what I said, and that’s what ended up happening.
Question: Do you think that Vince was trying to prove that Extreme didn’t work, as he didn’t invent it. That he was trying to destroy the legacy of ECW?
Answer: Like most people who make grand achievements in life – Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Richard Branson, Bill Clinton – Vince McMahon is a most complex individual.
It would take Freud himself to accurate describe, and probably 900 pages to do so, how Vince’s mind works. There’s a lot of self-justification that goes on. Vince could never accept that another brand could be successful. Look at the success of The Rise and Fall of ECW, the DVD, which has sold close to 400,000 copies worldwide and at any point is the No1 or No2 bestselling DVD in sports entertainment history. The World Class DVD is just breaking out of 10,000 units sold right now. The Rey Mysterio DVD, the John Cena My Life DVD, sold approximately 30,000 units each. You look at the staggeringly successful numbers that ECW DVD did, Vince’s answer to you will be: â€˜Well, of course it sold that many, we’ve educated the audience that ECW is something special by the fact that every time a table broke, every time a high spot happened, every time an extreme style was showcased, we’ve encouraged the audience to chant E-C-W and we’ve allowed it on our broadcast.” Now if you think about that logic, it’s so ass-backwards, that you’re going to think this man is a f***ing idiot or he’s insane, but he’s neither. He has convinced, or persuaded, himself the statement is true. And he wholeheartedly believes that the success of the first ECW PPV was because the $400,000+ gate that was in the Hammerstein Ballroom were the last vestiges of the ECW audience and all those people that bought it on PPV were WWE fans who were educated that ECW would be something special. Vince McMahon would swear on his grandchildren that is an accurate statement. He won’t be lying, he’ll mean it when he says it, unfortunately it’s the furthest thing from the truth.
Question: So after December to Dismember, you literally left that night and never came back?
Answer: No, we clashed that night after the show, and the next day too. By then, that was fait accompli. We were clashing on the plane going to North Charleston, South Carolina. It was ridiculous. So by the time we got to North Charleston, I had already called home and said: “Just so you know, I’m coming home tonight.” I’d already made up my mind. After the producers’ meeting, Vince, Stephanie and I sat in that room trying to determine what the future held, and I just wanted to go home. We sat there for a while, there’s a lot of history with me and Vince, and there was a lot I wanted to say to him, to his face, and there was a lot that he wanted to say to my face. I think we both had merits in our argument. At the end of the day, I shook his hand and went home and I’ve never looked back.
Question: Have you spoken to Vince or Stephanie since?
Answer: Oh, Stephanie called me the next day several times, and tried to repair it. I don’t think there was anything to repair. I had a run in the wrestling industry that in my wildest dreams as a kid I could never have imagined. As a performer I accomplished everything I could possibly have wanted. As I writer/booker, I had a run that all but the most uber-successful people in the history of this business could have ever fantasised about. I owned a company that is the only company in history to be resurrected. Ted Turner lost hundreds of millions of dollars on WCW, no-one’s calling for the resurrection of that promotion. My tiny little creative vision called ECW not only was resurrected but still stands today without me. What more is there left for me to do? Stephanie made me an offer in 2007 to come back and run developmental, because of the success we had in OVW. She said; “Vince wants you to create new stars again, do what you were doing in OVW and also get Deep South Wrestling on track.” They offered me that position, with the same pay, same stock options, same benefits. It was a wonderful offer and anybody that has the opinion they wanted to drive Paul Heyman out of the business should understand that this offer was given to me and it was most flattering. Of course, I’m sure that part of the deal would be “no contact with Vince” but Stephanie really wanted me to take the job, and was pushing me to take the job. Stephanie was shocked that I wouldn’t jump all over this opportunity because on a money basis, it was an insanely lucrative deal. A miniscule amount of the work I had to put in before, on a job that I truly enjoy which is developing characters, working with the next generation so every star of the next generation will have been moulded at least partially by me. It was a very financially lucrative and creatively fulfilling job but by this point I just didn’t want it any more.
Question: Our MMA correspondent at The Sun, Mark Gilbert, said you were trying to buy Strike Force at one point, is that true?
Answer: You kind of caught me off guard in asking the question, but it’s 100% true. I don’t know whose names I’m supposed or not supposed to discuss, so I will skirt the issue of who else was involved by simply saying we formed a group of qualified, intelligent, motivated people last summer and had some meetings with Scott Coker about buying Strike Force and obviously keeping Coker intricately involved. I think Strike Force was in a position to, if not challenge UFC, then be what ECW was in the 90s which is a very viable alternative brand. I have a lot of admiration for what Scott Coker and his team have built in Northern California, and I like the name Strike Force. Good name for branding. I like their presentation, I think they have some marketable fighters under contract, and we had a collective vision that I think could have really, really worked. The negotiations stopped because one of the key people in our group ended up being someone we didn’t want to get stuck with, because we realised in the negotiations that he was the wrong guy for the deal. Scott Coker is a good man. I like him personally, love his organization, and think he deserves a lot of credit for what he’s built.
Question: Finally let’s talk about the Heyman Hustle. Let’s give people a taste of what’s going to happen on The Sun’s website in two weeks time.
Answer: Well, my partner Mitchell Stuart always laughs at me because I define the Hustle as the High Definition Video Blog of a Rambling Mind. Our goal is to break ground in the wireless/broadband and digital/mobile platforms, which get so much attention from the entertainment industry right now because its unchartered turf and no-one has been able to figure out what the future holds on this constantly evolving concept. We want to peel back the layers of celebrity and we’re going to demonstrate that larger-than-life personalities are not only found on television and the movies. We’re going to find the extraordinary in the ordinary and find the ordinary in the extraordinary. So, we’re just diving in as deep as we can go and trying to be the leaders of the exploration of this new universe. So, we’re content providers in a brand new, exploding, and already rapidly changing field. Damn, that sounds exhilarating!