Paul Heyman thought he had a secret.
THQ hired the creative mind behind ECW to pen the storylines in the upcoming “WWE 13” video game, but after departing from WWE in 2006 over creative differences, Heyman thought if anyone from the wrestling promotion found out about his new line of work, they’d put a stop to it immediately.
“You have to remember, I was hired by THQ before I was brought back and put on-air by WWE,” Heyman says as we meet up in New York City to talk about his latest venture. “Even before I was back in WWE, I had already written all of the Attitude Era storylines that are incorporated into the game. Much to my surprise, I was writing these with WWE’s blessing.
“When I came back, one of the inside jokes was how many people would come up to me and say: ‘Hey, I knew about you and THQ.’”
Turns out, Heyman’s not-so-secret secret is a true blessing for wrestling gamers, who will be able to live the virtual in-ring lives of Attitude Era stars like The Rock, Steve Austin, Mrs. Foley’s baby boy and D-Generation X, with gameplay and cut-scenes taken directly from historic events, and all written from the ear of one of professional wrestling’s most keen minds.
Here’s what the man behind the “Heyman Hustle” has to say about the game, his new on-screen role with WWE, and whether we’ll see a Brock Lesnar versus CM Punk match in the near future.
ESPN Playbook: You are writing the scripts for “WWE 13,” but this isn’t the first time you’ve worked with THQ on a project. How did you help get Brock Lesnar in the game last year before he returned to the ring?
Paul Heyman: I brokered the deal. I got THQ in touch with Brock’s lawyers and helped broker the deal. It was one of those things where THQ had just featured Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior and they were looking for another huge name that could be a special attraction for the game. So when they asked me my opinion, besides the fact that I’m so tight with him, Brock Lesnar was pushing huge numbers in UFC and had an obvious connection to WWE. I just thought, “Hey, here is a guy WWE fans would love to see again.” But at the time, it was unfathomable that Brock Lesnar would ever even be back in a WWE ring, so the whole concept was, if you ever want to see Brock Lesnar back in a WWE ring, you have to do it in “WWE 12” because there ain’t no way it’s ever going to happen any way else. But as it turned out, it foreshadowed what ended up becoming the major event in 2012 anyway.
Do you think Brock’s involvement in the video game actually helped smooth out the relationship between him and WWE, actually enabling him to come back this year?
You know, it’s very funny, but I don’t think there’s any such thing as a burned bridge in business, especially when it comes to Vince McMahon. Vince McMahon can end up in a federal lawsuit with you where there is mudslinging back and forth that makes the front page of The Wall Street Journal, and if tomorrow he figures out a way where the company can benefit from your involvement, you will be at a negotiating table with him at lunch. He takes nothing personally, unless he is in the middle of the fight with you. But the moment that fight becomes counterproductive to his business, and that he can make more money with you than against you, then he wants you in the fold. Pure business. And if there’s anything that’s a perfect example of that, it’s the fact that Brock and I are both back in WWE right now.
I never thought I’d see you back.
I never thought I’d go back, no way, and neither did Brock. I just got a text from Brock (pulls out phone and shows a text from Brock Lesnar). Check this out, it’s a picture of Brock and I in WWE and the text says: “Look at us, here’s a picture of us in WWE ten years ago. Who would’ve ever thought we’d be back.” We constantly say it to each other, like, “Can you believe we’re doing this?” Who would’ve predicted this a year ago? No way. It’s one of those wild, crazy curves that life throws at you, but to do it, and to be having so much fun doing it, it’s something neither one of us could’ve envisioned.
Brock came back and fought Cena, then had his epic battle against Triple H. Where does he go from here? How many more matches can we expect?
There’s a lot of very diplomatic or hyperbolic answers that I can give you, and I think the most realistic answer, the most genuine and truthful answer I can give you is this: As long as Brock Lesnar is profitable for WWE, the WWE is going to make sure that it’s worth Brock Lesnar’s while to get him in the ring. There are offers he can’t refuse, and it’s up to him to live up to the numbers that so far in this economy on pay-per-view, only Brock Lesnar has been able to deliver.
Who would you like to see him in the ring with? I’d love to see how Dolph Ziggler would bump for a big guy like Brock.
I would too. The thing about Brock has always been, who can push Brock to a level where you actually get to see the best of Brock Lesnar, because very rarely have people ever gotten a chance to see that. I mean, really, who can keep up with him? This is not wrestling hype, he’s a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. He won the NCAA Division 1 heavyweight championship, so he’s a great amateur wrestler. He was the WWE heavyweight champion, so he’s a great showman and entertainer. He was the UFC heavyweight champion. People can debate his legacy in UFC all they want, but he beat Randy Couture. He crushed Frank Mir. He ended Heath Herring’s career. Shane Carwin was a first-round terminator that no one could touch until Brock choked him out after surviving a beating nobody else could have ever survived from Shane Carwin. So I think his legacy proves that he’s a once-in-a-lifetime athlete, and when he’s pushed, he delivers moments in the ring that nobody else on the planet can deliver.
Even though you’re currently representing both CM Punk and Brock Lesnar on the show, do you see a day down the road where the two of them will have a match?
I don’t know. I don’t know the dynamic of that match because they are two such different styles of professional wrestling. Brock is an explosive MMA-style fighter who brings with him the element of UFC into the ring with him now. And while Punk has trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he is more the equivalent of the modern 60-minute man. Punk is the updated version of what Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat and Jack Brisco and Terry Funk and the NWA champions of old used to bring to the table in that you can put anybody in the ring with CM Punk at any time and you can say, “Main event for me tonight,” and he will turn to you and tell you that the people are going to go home happy because he’s going to give them their money’s worth. So there’s a very big and different dynamic between Brock Lesnar and CM Punk, almost like we’re talking about two different genres within the same category of professional wrestling/sports entertainment.
The “WWE 13” video game is all about the Attitude Era, and one of the era’s biggest stars, The Rock, is eyeing a match against Punk at the Royal Rumble. What do you think will happen if Punk gets the chance to square off against “The Great One”?
I think it’s very interesting to see Punk and The Rock get it on at the Rumble, because I think the question with Punk has always been "Wow, I wonder what would happen if this guy had been in the Attitude Era?" I think the question is really, how much would he have dominated the Attitude Era? I just look at Punk and he’s a chameleon. He adapts to whatever surrounding he is in. When Punk gets into the ring with Daniel Bryan, you’re going to see a classic wrestling match, the likes of which nobody can compete with today. When Punk gets into the ring with a Mick Foley or a Mankind from the Attitude Era, you would see a brawl, the likes of which no one would be able to compete. When Punk gets into the ring with Rey Mysterio, you get to see a lucha-style match in the modern-day style that nobody else can compete with. So I think The Rock is looking to have an Attitude Era-style fight with CM Punk, and I think Punk is going to show The Rock that the style has evolved over the past 12 years, and if The Rock is coming to rep the Attitude Era, it’s going to be treated like the Hall of Fame exhibit it’s supposed to be.
Going even further back and into your old ECW days, is there anybody who surprised you by how big they blew up when they left for a bigger promotion, or on the flip side, somebody who you thought might be a star but never made it in WCW or WWE?
No, because I pretty much had a handle on how we were protecting some of our guys, and on the ones we were pushing, it was obvious who was going to be a star. When we did the Mick Foley interviews that ended up being his launching pad to becoming the WWE champion, you could just tell for years that Mick had that magic inside him, and the same for Steve Austin. And for the guys who ended up going to WCW or WWE and didn’t quite make it, I knew because these were characters who were created in our shop, so to speak, and when you take them out of that element and you don’t have Dr. Frankenstein protecting the monster, the villagers are going to burn them at the stake.
So when you think back, how much of WWE’s Attitude Era is owed to what you were already doing in ECW?
Everything! It’s funny, because when you interview writers from that era, they will blatantly tell you that they’d watch ECW television, get ideas, sit on those ideas for a couple of months, then pitch them to Vince and say “Hey, I got this great idea for The Undertaker and The Big Show where they go through a ring,” failing to mention that they saw Taz and Bam Bam Bigelow do it in Asbury Park.
Vince McMahon became a billionaire based on Attitude, and Attitude was spawned by the ECW experience. If I could give you one sound bite, one headline, it’s this: Vince McMahon might not proclaim himself to be a Paul Heyman guy, but he sure should.