Before having one of the greatest non-wrestling careers in pro wrestling, Paul Heyman was a teenage fan looking for a break.
He found his way into Madison Square Garden, earning a few dollars as a photographer. Almost 30 years later, Heyman is gearing up to walk into MSG one more time when his client Brock Lesnar battles the Big Show during a live special on WWE Network Saturday, Oct. 3 at 8/7CT. It marks the first time Lesnar has competed in The Mecca in more than a decade.
“As any kid in New York, you live with the legend of the New York Knicks winning the championship, the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup, Frank Sinatra playing the Garden, Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier. It’s folklore in New York to just go to an event in Madison Square Garden, let alone perform,” Heyman said during an interview ahead of Brock Lesnar’s Go to Hell Tour running through Brocktober (October).
“As a kid I grew up learning a lot about this industry from the three managers who had a monopoly on that role in Vince McMahon’s father’s promotion WWWF. There was Captain Lou Albano, Freddie Blassie and The Grand Wizard. To be able to bring a modern day version of that role as an advocate for the top box office attraction in sports entertainment — not just in WWE, but UFC or any kind of combat sports or sports entertainment — it’s a fantasy come true. It’s a dream. I get to live it out Saturday night in Madison Square Garden.”
The respected — and at times controversial — figure was an intricate part of Lesnar’s first WWE run back in 2002. During this time the two formed an unbreakable bond. “Brock Lesnar and I, for how different we are, we have the same core values both personally and professionally,” Heyman said.
“We became friends instantaneously because when we met we were both about to become fathers for the very first time. Our daughters were born just a few months apart. We both had kept it private. We weren’t telling everybody, ‘Hey, I’m going to be a father!’ We just kept it a secret. It just came out in a conversation when we first started working together. Instantly we hit it off on that because the only people we would talk to about our daughters were each other. We both put our family first.”
Heyman says he and Lesnar each grew into a situation where they learned to work to live instead of live to work.
“Professionally we push and motivate and inspire and support each other in a way that probably only the two of us understand,” Heyman explains. “Every single time I perform on television as Brock Lesnar’s advocate, I’m obsessed with making sure that this performance will be the best one ever delivered —knowing that next week I’m going to need to do better than I do this week. Then in two weeks, I want to top whatever I do the next week. A lot of that inspiration comes from Brock Lesnar, because he wouldn’t have it any other way. He wouldn’t let someone just be his advocate. You have to go out there every night as if it were the last performance of your life and deliver the best performance of your career.
“By the same token, every single time Brock Lesnar steps foot in the ring he is determined that this will be his best performance in the ring ever,” Heyman continues. “Some of that comes from me because when he has that mindset some people would say, ‘You have WrestleMania. Don’t go out there and do things. Save things for WrestleMania. Save things for the biggest shows of your life.’ To Brock Lesnar, every show he performs on is the biggest show of his life. He wants whatever his performance is now to be the best of his career because he knows he will be driven the next time to top it. He gets that support from me. So we play off each other and inspire each other and compel each other to do more and go further and take chances and be the best we could possibly ever be every single time we go out there.”
After MSG, the Go to Hell Tour heads to Boston on Oct. 5 for Monday Night Raw on USA Network at 8/7CT. Lesnar will then be a featured guest of Steve Austin’s Stone Cold Podcast on Oct. 19, immediately follow Raw. Austin has made it clear he will not be facing Lesnar at WrestleMania 32 next year in Dallas, but that doesn’t stop many fans from rooting for the dream match. This show may be the closest we get.
“I think it’s a very interesting scenario,” Heyman agrees. “Brock Lesnar has not been in a position where he had to speak for a full hour. This is a first time for Brock. Austin is a great host, and he does tremendous research on the subject matter. Then he goes with his gut when he is on the air. So you have two very interesting people with great passion for what they do. There is no shortage of topics for them to talk about. I am watching this as a fan because I really don’t know what to expect. I don’t think either one of them knows what to expect yet.
“Brock has no game plan walking into this podcast,” Heyman continues. “I would suspect that Steve Austin is going to feel it the night that he sits in front of that microphone. While he will be profoundly researched and have all his facts and figures, I think Steve is still going to improvise it with that ammunition and having the resource of all that information. I still think Steve is going to feel it the night of the show and go where he feels he needs to deliver the best podcast for the audience.”
The last stop of this trek leads to Lesnar squaring off with The Undertaker at Hell in a Cell, Sunday, Oct. 25 on Pay-Per-View and WWE Network. This will be the third match in their historic series, and Heyman believes the timing couldn’t be better for the cataclysmic collision.
“There is such an interest in this final confrontation,” he said. “I think it’s very safe to say Brock Lesnar versus The Undertaker at Hell in a Cell is the final time these two will step in the ring against each other. This interest was there for their rivalry at SummerSlam and when we made our case after SummerSlam the next night on Raw. This is the time to exploit that public interest. Holding this match off until WrestleMania would have been a mistake.
“The people want it now. The audience wants it now. There is a long time between now and WrestleMania. Someone could get hurt. The audience could lose interest. Something else may garner more attention. This is the time to exploit that opportunity. No, I’m not surprised it is happening this fast. I’m very happy that we are doing this particular match on this particular pay-per-view.”
Following Lesnar’s one last battle with The Deadman where does The Beast Incarnate go next?
“This may sound like a cliché answer, but it’s really up to the audience,” Heyman said.
“Who does the audience want Brock Lesnar to face? Who will the audience be willing to pay or to subscribe to the WWE Network or buy a ticket to see as an opponent for Brock Lesnar? What will entice the audience to spend the most money? That is how I would approach any suggestion I would have as Brock’s next opponent. Is there someone that intrigues the audience as to what would happen when they stepped in the ring with Brock Lesnar?
“That is how I gauge what is best for a Brock Lesnar scenario going into WrestleMania. What does the audience want to see? What do they want to see the most? What is the attraction that more people want to see?”
Heyman is no doubt a master of the mic, but he also had tremendous success as the ECW visionary and being a part of various creative teams. Even though WWE’s ratings the last few weeks haven’t been the best competing against the NFL and the return of Fall TV, he doesn’t believe there should be kneejerk reactions.
“This is not dissimilar to any other forms of entertainment. The key has always been to replace those who leave, to bring in more fans at any time you are losing fans. At this particular point in time there is a search to find the new fan. I am not one who looks at the ratings every Tuesday and says, ‘Well, we haven’t replaced everybody that is left. The ratings didn’t double.’ I’m not expecting that type of increase tomorrow or the next week or the week after that. Any business with longevity, and this is the one company in the business that has survived, deals with this. They survive because when there was an erosion of the audience and they had to replenish the audience, there isn’t a panic. Panic is never the answer. Panic never brings up the ratings.
“A long-term solution is with a number of brand new stars, all in compelling situations with riveting storylines and new match-ups. That is what will bring an upswing to the ratings ever so slowly to where the average rating goes up a little bit each month. Then a couple of years from now the erosion have taken place of the people that have left being fans and a new generation or group or crop of fans has come in. It’s natural evolution of any form of entertainment.”
See Brock Lesnar battle the Big Show in a live special on the WWE Network Saturday, Oct. 3 at8/7CT. Lesnar will square off with The Undertaker at Hell in a Cell 8/7CT Sunday, Oct. 25 on Pay-Per-View and WWE Network.
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Photos Courtesy: WWE