Who Hustled Whom? Vince McMahon and Paul Heyman's Extreme Gamesmanship

Tim ListAnalyst IFebruary 9, 2010

So, who got the last laugh? Did Paul Heyman walk away from WWE and do what so many others can't seem to do, which is simply let go? Or did Vince McMahon mutilate Heyman's
legacy with his callous cancellation of the ECW brand?

In 1999, Paul Heyman, recognized as the best booker (which means he's the guy that writes the storylines, determines who wins and loses) in the pro wrestling game scored a national television contract on The Nashville Network for his ECW promotion.

Vince McMahon raided ECW of Taz (who was the Heavyweight Champion) and The Dudleys (who were the tag team champions).

Shortly after going on TNN, Heyman learned the network was re-branding itself The National Network, and was making a 26 million dollar per year play for USA Network's Monday Night Raw franchise. Heyman's ECW was being unceremoniously left to wither and die by TNN.

In the midst of all this, USA Network sued WWE (then World Wrestling Federation) to keep the Monday night franchise on the USA airwaves. Ted Turner's WCW was in free-fall. ECW's survival depended on where WWE would land. WWE ended up winning the lawsuit.

While all this was going on, Heyman went to Vince McMahon and either asked for help,
threatened to sue, offered to join WWE, or something. Because when their meeting was over, Heyman walked away with a $500,000 loan to ECW. This is Mid-July, 2000.

Raw made the move in September. WCW was in collapse, Eric Bischoff was trying to buy the company with the backing of Fuscient Media. Heyman's show was a lame duck. The Mad Scientist only had his old syndicated package to air his programs. That couldn't satisfy the video game company, action figure corporation, or other license holders. Heyman was in trouble.

As WCW collapsed, people turned their backs on the promotion, but not so with ECW. The promotion drew 5,000 people in Mississauga outside of Toronto, continued to sell out The Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, sold out the Aragon Ballroom and Odeaum Theatre in Chicago, 4,000 people in Buffallo, New York. People loved ECW. WCW, meanwhile, was a lame duck promotion with great time slots.

Then the whole industry changed with the new year. Heyman's negotiations with USA Network ended when Barry Diller decided he only wanted the number one brand on his network. TBS executive Jamie Kellner gave the word to sell off the assets of WCW. Vince McMahon's lifelong dream of a monopoly was coming true.

WCW was sold in a firesale to WWE for pennies on the dollar.

ECW declared bankruptcy so that McMahon could buy the assets from the court instead of battling against Acclaim Entertainment Video Game company and others who may buy the rights just to keep Vince away from the brand.

Heyman joined the WWE Creative Team, and went on air to famously replace Jerry Lawler as Jim Ross's co-host on Monday Night Raw, which ironically was on the same network that just threw ECW into the abyss, TNN (later known as SpikeTV).

Heyman made an immediate impact, spearheading pushes for Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit against the heel team of Stone Cold Steve Austin and HHH.

Then came the 1st Invasion angle. The import of WCW failed miserably when Monday Nitro took over the last segment of Monday Night Raw from Tacoma, Washington. Something had to be done. Against the wishes of the bankruptcy court, McMahon initiated The Alliance,
as Heyman and several former members of the ECW locker room announced the return of ECW, but then Shane McMahon on air merged ECW with his own WCW, and Stephanie McMahon was announced as the storyline owner of the new ECW.

The Alliance angle was scrapped after Survivor Series 2001. Heyman went on to make a huge impact again when he re-appeared next March with his newest charge, Brock Lesnar.
Then Heyman solidifed his rep as the best writer and booker in the business when he took over Smackdown and lead the show to trumping Monday Night Raw for the only time in the history of the two shows.

Heyman's many fallouts with WWE lead to him being the odd man out, but no one could deny he was needed for The Rise and Fall of ECW DVD. At the time of the writing of this story, that DVD is the best selling DVD on a global basis in WWE history.

The success of the DVD lead to ECW One Night Stand on June 12, 2005, a show written by Paul Heyman. People backstage were shocked that McMahon sat next to Heyman all night while Heyman produced the announcers on headsets. McMahon never lets that happen.

A year later, the brand was re-launched, but Heyman and the McMahons clashed over the vision. After getting the WWE and ECW Titles on Rob Van Dam, Heyman saw everything collapse. RVD was arrested for marijuana possession. A title change was needed. In the city where it all began, Philadelphia, the trap was set. Heyman turned heel, and cost RVD the title against The Big Show. A memorable scene on television as the Philly fans were outaged.

WWE then started watering down the brand. Heyman and McMahon clashed. On December 3, 2006, The December To Dismember pay per view bombed with the fans. Heyman was furious. The brand he spent his career building was being torn apart by McMahon. When the two of them and Stephanie McMahon LeVesque had a closed door meeting the next day, the result was Heyman leaving WWE.

There was never a mention of a release granted on WWE.com, totally against how WWE conducts business.

Apparently, WWE tried to keep Heyman in the fold, offering him a job in WWE developmental, where Heyman replaced Jim Cornette in 2005 after Tommy Dreamer's failure to follow in Cornette's footsteps in OVW. Dreamer's tenture as creative head of OVW saw a bunch of ECW style angles like men vs women and extreme brawls, but without the backstory needed to make any of these things mean anything. Heyman, meanwhile, turned Mr. Anderson into Mr.Kennedy, highlighted talents like CM Punk, Beth Phoenix, Matt Cappotelli, Armando Allejandro Estrada, and proved himself to be the best at creating characters and developing them on television. His work with Kennedy, Cappotelli, Anderson, and Armando were really something to see.

But Heyman wanted out of the wrestling business to pursue other goals like "The Heyman Hustle" website and video series with The UK Sun's Simon Rothstein and New York partner Mitchell Stuart of HQ Productions and Looking For Larry Productions.

So now we come to the end of our story. Vince McMahon has announced the cancellation of the ECW brand. In its place, a new concept called NXT, which is a reality based show created by WWE Executive Producer and Board of Directors member Kevin Dunn.

What we're trying to figure out is whether Vince McMahon just gave Paul Heyman an insulting end to Heyman's legacy, or whether Paul Heyman even cares. The man only speaks through his blogs on his Heyman Hustle website, and rarely gives press interviews. Heyman is obviously close with UFC Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar, and recently got involved in the Lesnar "Canadian Health Care" controversy.
But while Peter "Taz" or "Tazz" Senerca and Tommy Dreamer and Shane Douglas and others have spoken out about the way McMahon discontinued the brand, Heyman has not said a word, even on his website. You have to wonder if Heyman is hiding the hurt, or if he's simply as some have suggested, someone who has moved on from pro wrestling and is focusing on his projects and life with his family and children.

Either way, ECW will cease to exist in two weeks, and Vince McMahon has squeezed every dollar and bit of life out of the brand. Meanwhile, the man who spearheaded Nitro to its huge run, Eric Bischoff is back in the business, a top star on TNA as well as a major executive, partnering with Hulk Hogan in their partial takeover of the brand.

And The Mad Scientist? He's not saying. He's working on his website, obviously, but whether or not he'll ever be back in wrestling remains to be seen.