Paul Heyman and Company: What It Takes to Be a Pioneer

Justin LaBarFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2012

If they taught the history of pro wrestling in school, Paul Heyman's face should grace the cover of a textbook.


Heyman is a pioneer. In a business filled with those clamoring to hold on to any spot they can, Heyman can come and go as he pleases. He doesn't need a spot every week in wrestling.


He arrives, shows them how it's done, then he leaves—because he can. Not easy to do, but it's easy to spot, and there's a rhyme to the results.


Adult film star Lisa Ann (Sarah Palin lookalike) visits the Pittsburgh radio station where I broadcast every time she is in town. Lisa Ann has become a pioneer for ladies who break into the entertainment industry via pornography.


She's 40 years old and still gets paid in the adult film industry. But she doesn't need to. She has branched out to a show on Sirius radio, is writing a book and is working in mainstream films and music videos.


I used Lisa Ann as an example because of the parallels in stereotypes, characters, cultures, politics and greed between the adult entertainment world and pro wrestling. The movie The Wrestler was on to something when it made comparisons between a pro wrestler and a stripper.


Lisa Ann understands that she isn't going to be in the adult film industry forever. Another body and face is waiting to take her spot. The same applies in wrestling. You must be an entrepreneur and create opportunities.


Heyman and Lisa Ann are very similar in those regards. He isn't afraid to fail. Always trying something new and not trying to rehash. Not trying to build his name for one payday, but building his name as a brand for a career of royalties.


Heyman always leaves the audience wanting more. He doesn't overstay his welcome, and he doesn't become a mark for himself. He continues to build the brand. When he's got your attention looking at his right hand, he is already preparing to draw your attention to his left.


Chris Jericho, The Rock, Stone Cold, JBL—all building a brand in and out of wrestling.


Heyman is a pioneer, but you can also put savior on his resume. How many times has he saved the wrestling world?


When the product needed to be challenged, he saved it by building the original ECW. He pushed WWF and WCW to do things differently.


His creation of the original ECW saved many careers that otherwise may not have been, due to lack of opportunity and creativity elsewhere. He rubbed two nickels together to make gold.


He saved the audience in terms of commentary, providing a competent, entertaining voice to accompany Jim Ross when Jerry Lawler left WWE for much of 2001.


His guidance saved Brock Lesnar from what I imagine could have been many more bumps in the road during his first run with WWE as a young professional wrestler in his early 20s.


Sure, there are some other top names who performed in clutch positions for WWE over the years, but they had no choice. Wrestling is all they knew. Heyman gives wrestling the privilege.


Now, in 2012, Heyman is back to saving WWE again. The company signed Lesnar to a one-year contract, and it knows what it wants him to start and end with. Start with Cena, end with WrestleMania 29.


What do you do in between?


I don't blame WWE for signing Lesnar when he became a free agent. He's Brock Lesnar. But how do you keep capitalizing on his name, keep momentum in a storyline, but not use all of his negotiated number of days?


Paul Heyman saves the day again.


One of the best who can sell it on the microphone and one of the best who can deliver a big fight performance in the ring. A winning combination that doesn't work unless you have Heyman.


No disrespect to Lesnar's accolades and persona, but you can make nearly anybody look tough in a predetermined fight. You can't make everybody sound good.


The unfortunate thing for wrestling fans is we know our time watching Heyman back in the ring making it look so easy has a quickly approaching expiration date. He doesn't need Vince McMahon, so McMahon isn't going to give him a position worthy of Heyman's acumen.


He's too smart for McMahon to keep around, and he's too smart to take anything beneath his qualifications.


He'll ride off into the distance, continue to build his brand elsewhere and wait for the bat signal to once again make the save.