Brock Lesnar will be a busy man over the next few months.
In his first MMA bout after a five-year retirement, the former heavyweight champion returns on July 9 to face Mark Hunt at UFC 200 in Las Vegas. Just over a month later, the WWE superstar will return to the scripted ring for an appearance at WWE SummerSlam on Aug. 21 in Brooklyn, New York.
While fight fans of all kinds will surely be seeing a lot of Lesnar's face this calendar year, it won't stop there. 2K Sports announced Monday that Lesnar, 38, will appear on the cover of its "WWE 2K17" video game when it hits stores Oct. 11.
Paul Heyman, Lesnar's on-screen "advocate" with WWE, spoke at length regarding Lesnar's future, along with the WWE's upcoming brand split and draft on July 19.
As a longtime friend of Lesnar's, what was your reaction to him announcing a return to the UFC?
It's what Brock wants to do. Whatever sports entertainment is behind the scenes is irrelevant -- you have to be able to deliver inside the ring. What propels Brock Lesnar to deliver like he does is the fact that he's truly a competitor. Even though it's sports entertainment, Brock is competing with everyone else that's out there so that when the show is over people say, "Wow, did you see Brock Lesnar's performance?" It's the same thing. He's a competitor and the moment he announced his retirement from mixed martial arts [in December 2011], I think he regretted the fact that he missed a chance to compete at perfect health. It's the one decision in his life he ever was second-guessing and therefore, for his own mindset, I think this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to him because he gets to go back and do something at an age when so few do it. He truly needs in his heart of hearts to do it because competition is in his blood and he wasn't ready to walk away from that yet.
With just a month and a half between UFC 200 and SummerSlam, how might the result of the UFC fight -- win or lose -- affect Lesnar's booking in WWE moving forward?
I think every day, anything that you do can change the course and affect forward movement in sports, let alone WWE. I understand what you're asking me, but I think in terms of an overall picture, when you are at Brock's level of being a box office attraction, everything affects what you're going to be doing at the next appearance. And the same thing goes for John Cena and Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, just like the same thing goes for Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor and Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. So, the result of this fight, how will it affect SummerSlam? Hopefully it will make Brock Lesnar an even bigger star on a global basis and drive a whole bunch of fans back to WWE for Aug. 21.
Lesnar is often billed as the unbeatable beast of the WWE. The question most people have is whether the gimmick still works if he loses at UFC 200?
My father was an attorney in the state of New York, which is where I came up with the term advocate. Very famously, a judge once said to my father, "If, if, if, if ..." And my father said to the judge, "I don't deal in ifs, I deal in absolutes. If my aunt had balls, she would be my uncle. She doesn't, so she's still my aunt and not my uncle." I don't deal in ifs. Here's an absolute: Brock Lesnar is stepping into the Octagon on July 9 against Mark Hunt. Here is an absolute: Brock Lesnar is appearing at WWE SummerSlam on Aug. 21. Here's an absolute: Brock Lesnar will be featured on the cover of "WWE 2K17" on Oct. 11. I can't deal in ifs in hypothetical situations. I only deal in absolutes. Whatever happens in that Octagon will likely affect things moving forward, but let's wait until July 9.
If Lesnar gets a medical suspension from his bout against Hunt, would the WWE honor that at SummerSlam?
I have absolutely no knowledge of WWE's position on such a circumstance, plus I would be speculating and it's a hypothetical. On this one I have to take a respectful pass because it's not something I have discussed. I don't know if Brock has discussed it with WWE. I doubt that he has. That's a question that is better answered by Vince McMahon himself.
You've known McMahon a long time. Considering recent events like Lesnar being allowed to compete at UFC 200 and WWE signing talent from competing promotions like A.J. Styles, how has his perspective of the business changed?
I think Vince McMahon's perspective changes several times per day and it has to if you want to survive in today's constantly changing environment. I think the entire concept of the WWE Network is indication that Vince McMahon's perspective is constantly changing because it has created a completely different business model for WWE itself. Does Brock walking between the two worlds serve as Vince McMahon's acceptance to change? I think Vince has always been willing to change. His whole goal when he bought out his father was to completely change the perception and distribution and the marketing and the promotion of this industry. I can't say that what Brock Lesnar is doing is indicative of anything regarding Vince McMahon because the only two people who know of Vince's acceptance of Brock walking between the two worlds are Brock and Vince because those are the two that had the conversation about this.
If Lesnar decides to keep fighting in the UFC, do you see a scenario in which he could hold titles in both UFC and WWE at the same time?
I don't make any predictions regarding Brock's viewpoint in terms of competing in the UFC after July 9. I know that Brock really wanted to have a training camp and really wanted to step into the Octagon and have fun competing because to him that's the greatest feeling in the world. He's a born competitor. He's not giving up WWE to do this. Could he hold the UFC and the WWE world championship? Absolutely he can and he's the only being on the face of the planet who could possibly even consider making that accomplishment happen.
Considering Lesnar's success competing in both worlds, do you see any other athlete in WWE or the UFC with the potential -- competitively and commercially -- to do the same?
The short answer to that is no. The long answer is that this is one of the things Brock Lesnar discussed at length with 2K Sports when they wanted him to be the cover art for "WWE 2K17." When the game comes out you'll see that Brock wanted his name attached to something that's unique, different and extraordinary. I have all the respect in the world -- more so than most would ever believe -- for John Cena, for example. But John Cena could not main event WrestleMania, main event SummerSlam and then walk into the Octagon in true heavyweight competition against another heavyweight UFC fighter. Nor could Conor McGregor, the biggest box office attraction with the exception of Brock Lesnar in UFC, go from a UFC fight and then transfer over to do all the hype, all the television, all the publicity going into a WWE pay-per-view event and then continue to perform at the top level of sports entertainment. It just can't happen. Ronda Rousey can make an appearance at WrestleMania. But can she work a full schedule to promote WrestleMania and then get into the Octagon and fight Holly Holm or Miesha Tate? The fact is you can't expect them to. It would be unrealistic to expect them to. This is something not even Vince McMahon or Dana White could pull off. What makes Brock Lesnar different is that there's nothing I say about him that's simply hype. My job is to hype him, but there's nothing I say that isn't rooted in reality. There is one being on the face of the planet that could possibly pull this off and his name is Brock Lesnar.
Would it matter if McGregor were a Heyman guy?
It would certainly matter to me because I would love a piece of his income and, again, it would be nice to have Conor McGregor to appear at WWE SummerSlam or to be able to feature him in this game. I would love for Conor McGregor to be a Paul Heyman guy, but Conor McGregor could not walk between these two worlds or these two universes like Brock Lesnar. It's just not a possibility. It's what makes Brock Lesnar unique.
You were famously part of the writing team during the days of the "Smackdown Six." Which superstars within the company do you see that SmackDown could be built around in the upcoming draft?
I think one of the biggest components of this draft is going to be the NXT factor. You are going to have a whole bunch of new opportunities for people to move up into the main event mix just by the very nature of Raw and Smackdown having an exclusive roster. As we saw with the debut of The Shield a few years ago, you can get a lot of people into that mix very, very fast if they seize the moment of the opportunity which is given to them. I can't actually sit here and tell you that I was a fan of the whole new era concept, but in my opinion the new era does begin on July 19 because, from the indications that I have received, the desire is to have true competition between the two brands.
How important will it be for SmackDown to feel special again once it goes live on Tuesday nights?
I think it's paramount. SmackDown has to come across as a brand that is truly competing with Monday Night Raw. If the brand is not competitive with WWE in terms of talent, production, look, presentation -- just in terms of the manner in which the announcers get to describe the product -- it's doomed. But I don't see it going down that way. Vince McMahon is not known for doing things half-ass and I'm sure that the directive within WWE is that as of July 19 when this brand split happens there will be an equal and distinctive roster on each side and that they are going to compete. Vince, much like Brock Lesnar, thrives on competition. Just like he did in 2002, when there is no one out there competing with Vince McMahon, he will create his own competition.
As far as new talent coming into WWE, who would you like to see Lesnar compete against?
Obviously, whoever holds the WWE world heavyweight championship. Once you get past that, just look at the NXT roster and you'll see guys like Samoa Joe and [Finn] Balor and all this talent that is coming up and about to break into the main roster. I would love to see these guys. I would love to see modern-day Brock Lesnar against modern-day Randy Orton. And I still don't think the public is tired of seeing Lesnar against John Cena.
Which NXT talent do you believe is destined for big things on the main roster?
I think Balor is ready to be a main event superstar. I think Samoa Joe has always been a main event superstar. That NXT roster is filled with A-listers who are ready to move up and make a significant impact on both Raw and SmackDown. You seriously take a look and you realize how well positioned WWE is for this draft because there is so much talent in NXT. To go even further, NXT is practically guaranteed to lose not only its top tier, but particularly its top 1-A tier in this draft (or six months after the draft). Yet nobody in NXT is sweating this because the depth is so deep with A-level talent right now.
Given Roman Reigns' recent suspension for violating the WWE's wellness policy, what is some advice that you would give him?
I don't know any better advice I can give someone than to say I make no excuses and I own this. That's called accountability and it's the same thing I teach my children. The man took accountability for his actions.
Do you have any information regarding whether you will be accompanying Lesnar to the Octagon at UFC 200?
[Heyman laughs.] What purpose would I be serving if I were to accompany Brock Lesnar to the Octagon? Will I tell him to throw more jabs? Will I tell him to go for the takedown now or switch to the jiu-jitsu concept? I find it funny that there is all this speculation. I wish I could find a purpose to serve to go out with Brock. It will be very funny for me to watch him walk down the aisle without me, but until I find a genuine purpose for me to accompany him I really don't know in what capacity I could serve to help him win that fight.
Long after his career is over, what do you see Lesnar doing at age 60?
Buying more farmland in Saskatchewan. The man is a farmer. He loves to farm. It's what is in his heart and is what he will pass down to his children. Brock Lesnar is a farmer and performing and fighting is what allows him to buy more farmland.