Paul Heyman on Roman Reigns, WWE SmackDown, Lesnar and More in B/R Exclusive
Only one person can lay claim to being the single greatest manager—or advocate—of the modern WWE era, and his name is Paul Heyman.
There is no shortage of star power on the list of legends he's helped get to the top of the industry over the course of his career, but in the last decade alone, he's been by Brock Lesnar's side for every one of his history-making accomplishments. Now, he's representing Roman Reigns on SmackDown and doing some of his strongest work to date.
It's a pairing that just makes sense and has been the best thing in all of WWE for well over a month now. On Friday's season premiere of SmackDown on Fox, Reigns lines up against a familiar foe in Braun Strowman and puts his Universal Championship on the line.
The self-proclaimed Tribal Chief is also embroiled in a heated rivalry with Jey Uso, so the face of Friday nights will have his hands full at least for the rest of the month. Heyman will be there to aid him to victory every step of the way and ensure the coveted title remains in his possession.
In an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report conducted over the phone on Wednesday, Heyman discussed his alliance with The Big Dog, how it compares to his dynamic with Lesnar, the futures of Lesnar and Ronda Rousey in WWE, his heat with AJ Styles, and much more.
Click through to catch the highlights and listen to the full interview at the end.
Predicting Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman and a Potential Rock Return
Heyman doesn't give predictions as much as he does spoilers, so while previewing Roman Reigns' upcoming Universal Championship defense against Braun Strowman on SmackDown this Friday night, he promised that the gold isn't going anywhere.
"Here we are in spooky month, and the main event of Friday Night SmackDown will see Roman Reigns slay a monster just weeks before Halloween," he said.
From there, The Big Dog still has his "I Quit" Hell in a Cell match against Jey Uso on Oct. 25 to look forward to as well. Heyman agreed it's the most compelling story being told anywhere in wrestling right now but wasn't willing to offer any other names he'd like to see challenge Reigns.
"Anyone that I mention, I would be advocating for their box-office appeal," he said. "Since I don't derive from anybody else's box-office money except Roman Reigns, I'm hesitant to endorse anybody as a box-office attraction because I'm not making any money by doing so."
As far as The Rock is concerned, Heyman made it quite clear that the multi-time champion in WWE isn't even on Reigns' radar at the moment. The Big Dog will address the challenge if The Great One opts to return to the company at some point, but for now, he's fully focused on being the Tribal Chief of WWE and dominating the active roster.
"Roman Reigns never called out The Rock. Paul Heyman never called out The Rock. Neither one of us was looking for publicity by using The Rock's name," Heyman said.
"The Rock watched SmackDown, saw how Roman Reigns was head-and-shoulders above everybody else in WWE, and The Rock started throwing around Roman Reigns' name because The Rock wanted the rub from the single biggest box-office attraction in sports entertainment today and Fox Network's biggest star, Roman Reigns."
Why the Time Was Right for Heyman and Reigns to Come Together
Before Reigns and Heyman officially came together at the end of the August 28 episode of SmackDown, their partnership could be traced as far back as when the advocate recruited The Shield to protect CM Punk's WWE Championship reign in 2012.
Despite Heyman saying otherwise initially, it was eventually revealed that the two sides were in cahoots, meaning the former Raw executive director had an eye on The Big Dog even then.
He attempted to recruit Reigns into his ranks many times in the last five years, but even he is of the mindset that it wouldn't have made as much sense to happen at any other point than right now.
"This has been in the works for eight years, and the time was never right for pulling the trigger on pairing Roman Reigns with Paul Heyman," he said. "If you look at the conversions of circumstances that's happened all in the past eight or nine months, then the time was truly perfect."
Reigns has been one of WWE's biggest stars for years, having won several world titles and headlined WrestleMania on multiple occasions. However, Heyman believes their pairing wouldn't have worked as well a few years ago and that everything The Big Dog has accomplished is only the beginning for him.
"I don't think either I or Roman Reigns were ready for this before 2020," he said. "Neither one of us were ready, and part of the reason for that is Roman Reigns is just now entering his prime. If you take a look at the first eight years of Roman Reigns' body of work in WWE, it's all been the buildup to this moment. Roman Reigns is entering the stage of his career that will be the defining years of his WWE tenure."
Fans had been begging for Reigns to go rogue as early as 2015 coming off his polarizing Royal Rumble victory. While it would have been wise for WWE to capitalize off the boos he was receiving at the time by turning him heel, Heyman doesn't think it would have been the same critically acclaimed version of The Big Dog we're currently getting on SmackDown.
"The Roman Reigns that you see today could not have been presented even a year ago," he said. "He was still too young a year ago. But now that Roman Reigns, both on camera and behind the scenes, has the experience, has weathered all the storms on camera and behind the scenes, now that he has a few more years to him in terms of chronological age, now Roman Reigns is ready."
What Has Surprised Heyman About Working with Reigns so Far?
In the short time Heyman has been working closely with Reigns, the two things about The Big Dog that have surprised him the most have been his incredible learning curve and his consistent ability to rise to the occasion.
Reigns soaks in Heyman's knowledge and experience like a sponge, much like Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey have over the years. All three have thrived while with him because of their ability to adapt on the fly and rapidly evolve.
"The only two people I've worked with that had this level of a learning curve were Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey," he said. "Their learning curve was not week-to-week, day-to-day, not hour-to-hour or even minute-to-minute. Their learning curves was moment-to-moment, and Roman Reigns' learning curve is as fast if not faster than that."
Heyman has been in the business for decades, but few people have pushed him to his creative limit each week the way Reigns has this last month and a half. It's managed to bring the best out of both men as well as make for riveting television.
"I have never, as a talent, been challenged to up my game every week as I am right now every Friday with Roman Reigns," he said. "The difference in the man, the performer, the talent that I get to work with every Friday, the difference in him the next Friday, is indescribable. He walks in the day [after] every Friday driven and determined to make all previous performances pale in comparison.
"The challenge for me is to keep up with him because I think we're seeing Roman Reigns aspire to a level of greatness that no one else in WWE or sports entertainment has ever achieved before, and it's truly a lofty goal of mine simply to keep up with him."
Comparing SmackDown from 2002 to 2020
Heyman has as much of a presence on SmackDown these days as he did in 2002 when the Brand Extension was originally instituted, except he had more creative influence on the writing team then than he does today.
In fact, he was as important as anyone in the early rise of the blue brand and establishing it as a true alternative to Raw. That period is widely regarded by fans to be among the best in the show's history and rightfully so, as several stars were created because of the opportunities they were being afforded.
Heyman believes the general aura surrounding SmackDown has remained the same over the years with the biggest difference being that the blue brand finds itself on a much bigger platform than it did when he ran the show.
"Back in 2002, SmackDown was on a fledgling network called UPN where Dean Valentine was ready to pull the plug on a multi-million dollar broadcast," he said. "Today, SmackDown is on Fox Network, available on a global basis with global distribution and is a multi-billion dollar licensed franchise. I think the difference between 2002 and 2020 is not just 18 years but the exponentially larger value of the brand itself."
The battle for brand supremacy between the Raw and SmackDown locker rooms was most definitely prevalent when the Brand Split started in 2002. Following this year's draft, it may well be like that still, but Heyman doesn't concern himself with that type of stuff anymore.
He said: "I am not in the WWE business. I am not in the SmackDown vs. Raw business. I am in the Roman Reigns business right now."
What Does the Future Hold for Brock Lesnar?
Interestingly enough, it was reported soon after Roman Reigns resurfaced at SummerSlam and joined up with Heyman days later on SmackDown that Brock Lesnar was now a free agent with contract talks hitting an impasse.
The Beast Incarnate was last seen at WrestleMania 36 in April when he lost the WWE Championship in a matter of minutes to Drew McIntyre. There's been no real word on when he might return, although there isn't much of a point to him being around right now without fans in attendance.
When asked about Lesnar's status with WWE and how he feels about his recent alliance with Reigns, Heyman made it known that The Beast will pop up whenever and wherever he chooses to do so.
"Brock Lesnar does whatever Brock Lesnar wants to do," he said. "If Brock Lesnar feels like returning to WWE or UFC or getting into NASCAR or dunking in a basketball against LeBron James, Brock Lesnar is going to do whatever the hell Brock Lesnar wants to do. It would be remiss of me to give any clues as to what Brock Lesnar is thinking because he's going to do whatever he wants to do."
It's all but a guarantee that Lesnar will be back in WWE eventually. When he is, it will be interesting to see where he stands in this Heyman-Reigns relationship, or if he'll just return to Raw and resume his pursuit of the WWE title.
The Difference in the Dynamic Heyman Has with Reigns and Lesnar
Perhaps the best part about the Heyman-Reigns alliance is that it's completely different from the dynamic he has with his longtime client, Lesnar.
The main reason why Heyman hasn't managed anyone outside of Lesnar until Reigns was because nothing seemed to make as much sense. The last true "Paul Heyman Guy" in WWE was Cesaro in 2014, yet Heyman argues he's more of a "Roman Reigns Guy" than the other way around.
"I don't know if Roman Reigns is a 'Paul Heyman Guy' as much as Paul Heyman is a 'Roman Reigns Guy' and I'd submit that is the different dynamic with what I do with Brock Lesnar and what I do with Roman Reigns," he said.
"With Brock Lesnar, you had a very interesting relationship. In 2002, I was this 'legendary manager' who took the next big thing under his wing, a NCAA Division 1 heavyweight champion, and I navigated his trajectory to the very top of WWE and all of sports entertainment. With Roman Reigns, you have an eight-year veteran, a four-time WrestleMania main eventer, someone who if he retired today is a first-ballot WWE Hall of Famer and someone who could retire today if he wanted to."
Both Lesnar and Reigns have enjoyed great success in their careers, but Heyman feels that The Big Dog has the rest of his career ahead of him while Lesnar has virtually done all he can do and doesn't have to return if he doesn't want to.
Reigns wants to remain "the man" for as long as possible, and that's what Heyman admires most about him.
"The burden of being on top, the responsibility and the accountability and the challenge of staying on top, is so enormous that you need someone to be a special counsel in how to deflect all of these challenges that come up against your status and position of being the undisputed, No. 1, top box-office attraction in WWE," he said.
"Who better than I to protect Roman Reigns' position and status as the undisputed, No. 1, top box-office attraction in WWE, and that's a huge difference between my role serving Brock Lesnar and my role serving Roman Reigns."
Serving as Raw Executive Director and Addressing the AJ Styles Situation
Heyman has virtually done it all in WWE over the past 20 years both on camera and behind the scenes. He's not only managed the likes of Lesnar and Reigns, but he's also played a pivotal role in writing Raw as its executive director from June 2019 through June 2020.
His creative influence on the red roster quickly became apparent to viewers simply through who was being pushed and who was less of a focal point. During that time, he also made regular appearances as the advocate for then-universal champion Lesnar.
"I've enjoyed every role I've ever held or I wouldn't be holding that position," Heyman said. "I'm someone who operates out of passion for what I'm doing, and if I'm dispassionate about what I'm doing, I fail miserably at it. I'm just not good at it. I have to believe what I'm doing. I have to quasi-obsessed with what I'm doing or I'm just no good at it.
"That's something that has driven me to some very high highs in my life and it's something that exposes me in a lifetime of peaks and valleys to the valleys when I'm not passionate about it because when I'm not passionate, I pretty much suck at it in life."
AJ Styles, who was on the Raw roster for almost the entire time Heyman served as executive director, reportedly left for SmackDown over issues he had with Heyman.
Although The Phenomenal One later confirmed the rumors, there was a reason why Heyman never offered his side of the story to what really happened that led to the wrestler's unhappiness on Monday nights.
"In the 50 or so weeks that I was the executive director of Monday Night Raw, I never discussed being the executive director of Monday Night Raw, and the reason why is because when you're in that position, you're privy to the top echelon, inner-sanctum of the inner workings of WWE," he said.
"Along with that position comes an expectation of confidentiality and secrecy. I never violated that confidentiality or secrecy while executive director, which is why I didn't do any interviews while executive director.
He continued: "I won't discuss anything I did as executive director, whether it's something worthy of praise or criticism, because I will respect the responsibility that I had to keep everything that I did as executive director secret or confidential, whether that's in the face of criticism or praise that has been bestowed upon me."
Could Heyman Eventually Manage Ronda Rousey in WWE?
Although Heyman didn't have the chance to serve as Ronda Rousey's on-screen manager for her year in WWE to date, he did work extensively with her behind the scenes.
If the opportunity presented itself for him to welcome the former UFC star back to WWE and make her the first official "Paul Heyman Girl," he won't pass it up.
"I would never limit any contribution that I could make to Ronda Rousey's presentation or Ronda Rousey's vision for herself in WWE or outside of WWE," he said. "Working with Ronda Rousey is one of the greatest honors of my personal and professional life."
Heyman went on to praise Rousey's impressive accolades and ability to adapt on the fly. He also teased that more success could be coming for her, even if it doesn't involve WWE.
"She is a barrier-breaking, a trend-setter, and every other analogy that you can give," he said. "Ronda Rousey is the disrupter of the status quo. Never, ever willing to rest on her laurels. Always looking to blaze a new trail. Not just redefine the role that she's placed in but to find something that's bigger and better and grander for that role.
"Look at what she did for women's MMA. Look at what she did for the presentation of women in WWE. She not only redefines a role, she creates an entirely new definition with everything that she does, and she's only in her early 30s."
How Reigns Is Redefining the Heel Role
Reigns once claimed he wasn't a good guy or a bad guy, but rather the guy in WWE. He truly believed that after winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 32 and that phrase is especially applicable to his current character as well.
When Reigns aligned with Heyman in late August, fans immediately took it to mean he turned heel. Technically, that's exactly what happened, but the mastermind behind ECW suggests there are more layers to The Big Dog than what meets the eye.
"I would like to think the Roman Reigns character is so progressive that we can do away with the antiquated notion of heels and babyfaces, protagonists and antagonists, good guys and bad guys," he said.
"Anyone who watches contemporary television, be it Better Call Saul or Peaky Blinders, will see compelling, riveting characters that are placed in compromising situations that they have to navigate their personas through. There will be times when these characters are unscrupulous and there will be times when these characters will do things every viewer can relate to."
The same can be said about Reigns, who has definitely done what he's needed to do in order to get the job done. However, he also hasn't changed drastically from how he was prior to partnering up with Heyman. Most of his actions up to this point have been realistic because almost anyone could find themselves in a similar situation on any given day.
Heyman is hoping that by Reigns continuing to hone his character and find what works for him, they can do away with the tired babyface and heel labels eventually. He believes that is the future of the industry and that the shades-of-gray Reigns is merely leading the charge.
"What we're trying to present here is a forward-thinking character that cannot be confined or constrained by definitions or labels that have been placed on previous personas whether it be in WWE, sports entertainment, or dramatic television in the past," he said.
So far, they've succeeded, and if Reigns can benefit from being portrayed in the light he has lately, surely more Superstars can come across more authentic if they too follow that formula of doing what any normal human would and establishing multiple layers to their persona.
Catch Paul Heyman and Roman Reigns in the main event on WWE SmackDown this Friday at 8/7c, only on Fox.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.