Paul Heyman Interview

Courtesy og

By Jon Robinson

Paul Heyman Interview

ECW, Bischoff, and cell phones.

January 04, 2005 - Extreme Championship Wrestling might have started in a bingo hall, but the style, storylines, and suplexes through tables innovated the entire sport of professional wrestling, instituting the "attitude" that continued into Monday nights for years.

The wrestling was so good, in fact, that the man in charge, Paul Heyman thinks they would have eventually dethroned the WWE as the #1 organization in the business if they could've toughed it out through the financial hardships.

In a new DVD, "The Rise and Fall of ECW", the entire saga of ECW is revealed through the athletes and personalities who made it such a hit with fans.

IGN Sports caught up with the man who oversaw it all to get his thoughts on the DVD, working with Eric Bischoff, and what might have been.

IGN Sports: Cell phones sure have changed since the days when you used to use yours to smack Jim Cornett upside the head.

Paul Heyman: They sure have. [laughs]

IGN Sports: Then again, so has wrestling. Did you realize that you were going to transform the entire sport of wrestling from a bingo hall?

Paul Heyman: That was always our goal, to transform it from a bingo hall while at the same time expand ourselves. We were determined to shakeup the industry, that was our goal, that was what we were doing.

IGN Sports: Were you surprised at the honest portrayal ECW was given in the DVD?

Paul Heyman: At first, I wasn't happy that they were working on the DVD. I didn't think that they were going to do ECW justice. But then the other guys who are on it, the other guys who I work with started calling me and telling me I had to see it because it was turning into this great thing that was actually paying homage to us and everything we did. It was an honest portrayal. I finally sat down and watched what they had already put together and I was absolutely, positively blown away by it.

IGN Sports: They have a documentary on one disc and a collection of matches on the other. Did you have any say in what matches were selected for the second disc?

Paul Heyman: No, and to be honest, I'm not even all that crazy about some of the matches they picked. There were a lot more matches that were far more indicative of the style that ECW employed. I just think the three-hour history portion of who we were and what we did, what we were about, was one of the best…far better than any Behind the Music or True Hollywood Story. This is the most accurate look into the behind the scenes dealings within professional wrestling that I've ever seen.

IGN Sports: With everything you guys did, from the burning tables and canes to the language and storylines, was there ever any thought of going to HBO or Showtime and seeing if you could get even more extreme?

Paul Heyman: We were actually negotiating to do Showtime until WWE went to Spike TV and they got the exclusive agreement with Viacom. Showtime is a Viacom property, so we were off of that negotiation. We did have some negotiations with HBO as well, we were actually talking to them back in 1995, but an executive way-way high up vetoed it. We talked to them again toward the end and they were interested, but it was like "Come back and talk to us in three months." And we didn't have three months left as a company.

IGN Sports: I could just imagine what New Jack would've said on Showtime.

Paul Heyman: It would have been revolutionary, I assure you.

IGN Sports: One thing that was cool about the DVD is how it made ECW look like almost a Mom and Pop wrestling shop with Bubba doing the books, Tommy Dreamer carrying the merchandise, and even Stevie Richards answering the phone.

Paul Heyman: Yeah, it was never a matter of just learning the wrestling business, it was also a matter of teaching these guys something else to go along with it because if not, once you get hurt wrestling, and it unfortunately happens to everybody, then what are you going to do? But at least if they had another trade, whether it was promoting or answering phones or writing press releases or designing t-shirts, at least then you have something you can fall back on. At least then you can have something else to give the industry that you love so much, you'd give your life for.


IGN Sports: Looking back, do you think you shot too big in trying to compete on a national basis with WCW and WWE?

Paul Heyman: I think what happened was simple. We lost our network, and once we lost our network, an executive at In Demand, a man named Dan York, made a conscience decision that without a network, the odds were against us surviving. Without the network to keep us alive, they made the decision not to give us the pay-per-view money. It costs $250,000 to do a live pay-per-view show. You multiply that by a year's worth of shows, you're talking six shows, that's a million and a half dollars. And without a network to promote your business, you're going down. Same thing happened to WCW. Once they were off Turner, they couldn't sustain without the network and their pay-per-view money. That was it. It was over.

IGN Sports: Eric Bischoff seems in denial on the DVD about the influence ECW had on the sport. Was that a work for the DVD to spice it up or is that really how he feels?

Paul Heyman: I think honest Eric Bischoff is a work onto himself. I think he works himself into believing his own opinions most of the time. I think Eric Bischoff can deny that the sun is coming out tomorrow, that's just how Eric is. Listen, he has to live with himself. I don't have to live with him. He has to deal with who he is every day of his life and I think that's a tough enough bargain on its own. He has to wake up and be Eric Bischoff tomorrow. Isn't that bad enough?

IGN Sports: But now you guys work under the same umbrella. When you see him at company meetings do you say hi or do you want to spit on him from across the room?

Paul Heyman: We don't have any conflicting things anymore. He doesn't have a company and Ted Turner's unlimited ATM card to throw $250,000 signing bonuses at my wrestlers to leave, and I don't have a company for him to play games with. Eric and I are fine because there's nothing to not get along about anymore.

IGN Sports: The DVD shows the part about Mike Awesome and how he left ECW for WCW. Does that play into the fact that he's not in WWE right now?

Paul Heyman: Mike Awesome came to WWE when WWE purchased WCW, and it was the assessment of many with WWE that he just couldn't cut it. Mike Awesome got over in ECW a very certain way. He was given guys like Spike Dudley, who could take some of the biggest beatings on the face of the planet, and he got over on delivering those beatings to those guys. He couldn't do that in WWE, therefore the formula wouldn't be successful. It's the same thing that happened to Raven when he went to WCW. It's the same thing that happened to Public Enemy. Mike just didn't pan out.

IGN Sports: Were there any angles or matches in ECW that were even too extreme for you?

Paul Heyman: I think the barbed wire match with Terry Funk and Sabu in August 1997, where they got all tangled up in the barbed wire and we had to get wire cutters to actually cut them free, that's about as extreme a match as I've ever seen or would want to see.

IGN Sports: But don't you think that it was these extreme matches that really contributed to the rise of ECW, or was the rise more a testament to the talent you had on your roster?

Paul Heyman: I think it was a testament to the work ethic of the wrestlers on the roster, I think the extreme nature of the matches helped, I think Benoit and Guerrero helped, I think the storylines helped, I think the street credibility helped, and I think the audience helped. We brought the Luchadores into the country. We introduced cruiserweights. We introduced the shoot interview. There were many different things that we brought to the table and they all contributed to the success of the organization.

IGN Sports: Did you have a favorite ECW wrestler to watch?

Paul Heyman: Who can deny that it was a pleasure to watch Rob Van Dam interact with the audience and tear the house down for 30 minutes a night. At the same time, I was a huge fan of Public Enemy. They were going into the stands at a time when no one else was doing that. I was a fan of the Dudley Boyz and the shoot style of Tazz. I was a huge fan of Raven because of the way he redefined how a champion should wrestle. I was a huge fan of Shane Douglas and how he used the microphone during a match. Sabu, Chris Benoit, they are all my favorites. Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, Justin Credible, who didn't I like? There are so few people that I didn't like that that list would be a lot shorter.

IGN Sports: What was your favorite ECW match of all time?

Paul Heyman: In some ways it's Terry Funk vs. Raven because it was the last match at Barely Legal and when that match ended we completed our first pay-per-view. We made it. But if I look back at ECW, my favorite match to watch is still Beulah McGillicutty versus Bill Alfonzo. September 20th, 1997, it was five of the most intense minutes I've ever seen. What I like most about it is here were two people who weren't trained wrestlers and they were doing things in the ring that most trained wrestlers don't have the balls or the guts to do. They loved ECW and they loved performing for that audience. In that match they thrived on the audience reaction so much that they put on one of the bloodiest, gutsiest, hardcore and extreme performances in the history of this industry. It blew me away when I was watching it live, and it still holds up over time.

IGN Sports: Do you have a favorite gimmick that you helped create in ECW?

Paul Heyman: I think ECW itself was a gimmick. I think getting the audience to chant ECW was really something. I don't care if you draw 70,000 people in a dome for Wrestlemania, nobody chants WWE. The only time you ever hear anyone chant WCW, it's always followed by the word "sucks". I was on 57th Ave. in New York city and there was a three-car pileup and a bunch of people looked at the car wreck and started chanting ECW. It's become part of the country's lexicon. It's an accepted, acknowledged phrase. For us to have built that from a bingo hall and then extend it out is really something. For us to accomplish that is really my favorite gimmick.

IGN Sports: Do you think if ECW would've kept its network deal, would it still be around today as the number two organization behind WWE?

Paul Heyman: The whole wrestling industry collapsed in 2001. The bubble burst on the industry and WCW and ECW collapsed under the weight of it all. If we were still around today, no I don't think we'd be number two. I think we would mop the floor with WWE simply because of our work ethic and the rabid fan base and how the fans promoted us themselves. I think if we could've survived that year, it would be an entirely different industry today.