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wrestling / Columns

The Piledriver Report 12.13.06: The Fall of Paul Heyman and the New ECW

December 13, 2006 | Posted by RSarnecky

WHAT?! It’s the one word that I can use to describe what went through my mind when I read on the Wrestling Observer website “Obviously the Paul Heyman situation is something that is going to require a major feature, but there is a lot that is out on the story that isn’t correct. The story is not a work in the sense that Heyman was sent home, and the WWE web site reactions actually read like honest reactions. Everything reads on the web site as if it’s storyline, and tonight with the Heyman promos, for those who are convinced it is, you’ll have more ammunition. Except it’s not. It was inevitable, for the same reasons it was inevitable that Heyman’s previous runs in creative ended. There are two different ideas of what the business is, and the idea of the guy who owns the company will always win out at the end.”

Was Heyman released? Didn’t he recently resign with the WWE? I had trouble understanding what was going on. I then turned to www.wwe.com. The WWE’s website delivered the following statement, which blended real life with storyline: “Distraught by the results of December to Dismember, ECW Representative Paul Heyman appeared to be distant and depressed Monday afternoon at the North Charleston Coliseum hours before an ECW live event. This condition was further exasperated by Mr. McMahon, who decided to send Heyman home. The WWE Chairman cited slumping television ratings and a disgruntled talent roster as causes for Mr. Heyman’s dismissal.”

It was obvious that Paul Heyman was sent home, but there were a lot of questions left to be answered. Was he just sent home, or was he released? Can he work elsewhere, or is he still collecting a paycheck signed by Vince McMahon? Plus, what is the real reason for his being “sent home?”

I turned to www.pwinsider.com for more answers. Dave Scherer reported “Paul Heyman is gone from WWE. From talking to a number of people in the company, the impression I received was that Vince McMahon was irate about how awful the PPV was last night and wanted to pin the blame on Heyman for it. Anyone who knows anything about Heyman’s booking, as I have for years now, have a pretty good idea that the show was much more McMahon than Heyman. But according to people I spoke with, Heyman got pinned with the blame for it with the theory being that “he is caught in the past and doesn’t understand the new vision of ECW”. You know, the vision that ends PPVs a half-hour early and makes the fans boo what WWE creative books for them. The problems started yesterday at the ECW PPV when everyone realized that the show really stunk. Heyman was said to be unhappy with the way that the show was booked (big shock right) and sources backstage told me that he voiced that concern both before the show and after it. People at TV told me today that it was obvious that there were issues between Vince McMahon and Heyman because of the how the show played out on pay TV, with everyone knowing it was a disaster. Problems carried over from last night and led to the incidents that happened today. A number of sources told me that there was a meeting today around two o’clock with Heyman, Vince McMahon and Stephanie McMahon-Levesque at the building. Heyman came out the meeting and seemed like his normal self, with no one I talked to having any idea that something bad had happened. Shortly thereafter, Heyman gathered his things and left the building to go home. The word going around from everyone I talked to is that this is not a storyline in any way and he is legitimately done with the company.”

According to this week’s Wrestling Observer, Heyman, Vince and Stephanie McMahon had a meeting during the day of last week’s RAW. Vince believed that the show bombed due to Paul Heyman. The funny thing is that Vince McMahon thought the show was good, until he found out about the complaints from fan services and that Direct TV was flooded with phone calls bashing the show. It was then that Heyman took the fall. Vince argument was that Paul Heyman gave him the script late. Therefore, McMahon didn’t have time to fix things up. Apparently, Heyman was supposed to give the pay per view script to McMahon several weeks ago. Heyman didn’t finish the script until the week before the show. All of the finishes and most of the show was from his script. Vince and Stephanie only had major input on the Elimination Chamber match.

Vince believed that the ideas that didn’t work were Heyman’s. One such idea was eliminating Sabu from the main event match. In theory, having Sabu replaced by Hardcore Holly makes sense. Originally, there were four babyfaces in the match; Sabu, Rob Van Dam, CM Punk, and Bobby Lashley. Out of the four fan favorites, Bobby Lashley would appear to be the least popular of the babyface group. The feeling was that the match needed an additional heel in the match. This was decided a couple of days before the pay per view. However, the addition of Hardcore Holly as that heel was not made until the day of the show. Despite Heyman getting the blame, there is no solid proof on who made decision, and no one has stepped up to take credit for the idea.

Vince also blamed Heyman for mistiming the pay per view, as it ended over a half-hour too soon. Heyman can’t be solely blamed for this as the area of timing is seen by many different people before the pay per view starts. Any number of people should have caught this before or even during the telecast. One major problem with the timing turned out to be the decision to have Bobby Lashley face the Big Show alone in the ring at the end. The Big Show is so beat up at this point, with knee and back injuries, that he could not wrestle longer then just a handful of minutes.

Due to the lack of direction, not having a fully advertised show, and the negative response to the pulling of Sabu from the main event led to a lack of confidence in Paul Heyman. Heyman already had people against him for his decision to go with Bobby Lashley as the ECW World Champion. Apparently, Heyman talked Lashley into joining the ECW brand with the promise of a World title reign. Heyman wanted to turn Lashley heel the next night, trying to recreate the Heyman-Lesnar tandem that was extremely successful in the 2002 WWE. His long term plan was to build up Lashley for a WresteMania match against either Rob Van Dam or CM Punk, depending on which wrestler was the more over of the two.

Vince didn’t share Heyman’s view on Lashley. Many in the company believed that Lashley was too green to be given the ECW World title. Vince also didn’t see Lashley as a heel. He believes that Lashley could be a superhero type babyface. Vince’s pick as a top heel was Rob Van Dam. Vince originally wanted RVD to turn heel when he returned from his suspension earlier this year. However, Heyman was strongly against that idea.

In defense, Heyman blamed the poor show on McMahon’s changes. One of the biggest areas where there may have possibly been some disagreement between the Heyman side and the McMahon side centers around the order of eliminations in the Elimination Chamber match. According to some sources, Heyman wanted CM Punk to be protected in the match. The Big Show and CM Punk would start the match. Around the four-minute mark, Punk would make The Big Show tap out to the anaconda vise before Punk would then get eliminated from the contest.

Some claim that the order of eliminations that were actual on the show were thought up by Heyman, and not McMahon. The theory was that by eliminating the other faces early, Lashley would have to overcome the odds to win the title. Therefore, the title change would get over really big with the live crowd.

The proof seems to lean towards the actual eliminations being a McMahon call. The day before the pay per view, most wrestlers knew that Punk was going to make The Big Show tap out. When they learned of the eliminations on the day of the show, several wrestlers were not happy with the news. It was well known that The Big Show was asked, and agreed, to put over CM Punk. There were several different series of eliminations that were suggested. One had The Big Show eliminate RVD, then CM Punk would eliminate Show. Punk would then be pinned by Test. Bobby Lashley would pin Test to win the title. According to whom you believe, McMahon didn’t agree with these scenarios. He felt that beating Test and then The Big Show at the end of the match would get Lashely over stronger in the end. That was the point of the match, to get Lashley over as big as possible.

While the December to Dismember pay per view led to Heyman being pulled from the creative and on-air talent roles he held in the ECW brand, the poorly received broadcast wasn’t the only reason for his dismissal. Many felt the pressure of ECW failing was getting to Heyman, although he never showed it to anyone. Since the return of the brand, he would fight tooth and nail, on some days, for things that he believed that the fan base wanted ECW to be. However, there were times when he would just be completely frustrated with the whole system. Unlike what most fans believe, the direction of ECW wasn’t completely Vince’s view of what ECW should be. Heyman had a lot of input into the ECW product. However, they had constant disagreement on the brand. When they were at a deadlock, the decision that would always be used was the owner of the brand; Vince McMahon. From the first day that ECW was brought back, the people in the WWE had one opinion about Extreme Championship Wrestling. They believed that ECW never had many fans. The fans they did have however, were very vocal. Vince’s plan was to turn the “new” ECW into a new global brand along the lines of RAW and SmackDown!.

Another major problem had to do with the lack of star power in the ECW brand. While Rob Van Dam was a shoe-in to join the brand, the WWE felt the brand needed more fire power. Enter Randy Orton. Randy was originally supposed to be sent to the new ECW. However, Triple H wanted Orton on RAW because he needed a top heel to feud with after his and Shawn’s war against Vince, Shane, and the cheerleaders came to a conclusion. To counter the loss of Orton, Vince sent Kurt Angle over to the ECW brand. Shortly after starting with ECW, Kurt Angle was suspended due to his problems. While he was on suspension, Rob Van Dam and Sabu were caught with pot after being pulled over by the police. RVD was suspended by the WWE for a month. While Angle and Van Dam were sitting at home, Sabu and The Big Show were left to hold down the fort. Eventually, The Big Show’s injuries caught up to him, and he wasn’t the right man to led the brand as World Champion. The big problem during all of this chaos was that the WWE never sent over permanent reinforcements to help ECW have some star power that they were missing, unless you count the special appearances by RAW and SmackDown! superstars.

A third problem is that the new ECW never established its own identity. RAW is the WWE’s flagship show. SmackDown! is the WWE’s network television program. What is ECW on Sci-Fi? When ECW stood for Extreme Championship Wrestling, that federation had an identity. They were the underdog wrestling promotion, which was housed in a dingy bingo hall in the dregs of South Philadelphia. They were revolutionary, counter-culture, and edgy. While the “Big Two” were catering to the cartoon watching, wrestling buddy-playing adolescences, the real ECW was focusing on the lost adult male demographic. ECW. They used popular hip-hop and hard rock music of the time to set the tone. They presented wrestlers who busted their asses, and each other’s foreheads. Whether it was a violent weapons filled match, a lucha libra encounter, or a scientific classic, the fans always left the ECW Arena waiting in anticipation for the next month’s show. They were the first promotion to air a lesbian angle on television. They presented a chain smoking, beer drinking Sandman years before the WWE thought “stone cold” was cool. Lucha Libras and cruiserweights were on display way before WCW made them a staple on Monday Nitro.

What is the identity of the new ECW? What separates them apart from the other two WWE brands? The dim lit arena, and “Extreme Rules” matches? That’s not exactly a historical contribution to the wrestling industry. It also shows that the WWE has no clue what the real ECW was all about. Extreme Rules? As listed above, the Paul Heyman ECW was more then just barbed wire baseball bats. The WWE’s version of ECW was never taken seriously by the fans, thus the nickname of WWECW for the new version.

In order to be successful, the WWE needed ECW to establish its own identity that would separate itself from the rest of the pact. The five hours of wrestling on TV each week between RAW, SmackDown!, and TNA Impact (not to mention the monthly pay per views) is more wrestling then the average fan needs to watch. The new ECW needed to separate itself from the already crowded pack of wrestling shows. This version of ECW needed to give the fans something different then the usual cookie cutter wrestling shows. While this ECW gave the fans more actual “wrestling” then the WWE’s other offerings, they also filled the show with too many WWE style characters and gimmicks, like the vampire Kevin Thorn and the exhibitionist Kelly Kelly.

While the brand started out strong from a ratings standpoint, lately the numbers have been sliding somewhat. After initially praising ECW, the Sci-Fi network appears to be backing off of their support for their show. Despite the complaints of the networks hardcore viewers, ECW’s early ratings made the network executives very happy. Over the last month or so, with ratings dropping, the Sci-Fi network never mentions the ECW show when talking about the successful ratings that the network gets. They praise shows that deliver lower ratings than ECW in their monthly press releases, while ignoring the WWE’s third brand. When the WWE and Sci-Fi extended their contract to air ECW, the Sci-Fi network had the option to air replays. However, the network has decided against doing it.

The ECW house show run has held its own since the rebirth. However, the WWE has decided to stop ECW from running house shows as a separate brand. Even though the house show numbers are slightly above expectations for the WWE, they believe the company couldn’t make money off of those house show tours. In the future, the ECW brand will tour with the SmackDown! group on their house show runs.

Is ECW on life support, or will it survive? That depends. With the house show circuit about to become extinct, ECW’s survival depends on whether or not they are able to stay on TV. If the Sci-Fi network decides to drop ECW after December 2007, then chances are that the new ECW will be no longer. The main ingredient that the WWE needed to give the new ECW a chance for prosperity is the piece of the puzzle that they just got rid of: Paul Heyman. Not just Paul Heyman, but a WWE hands off ECW with Paul Heyman running the show. That appears to be nothing more then a pipe dream now.

On December 5th, Stephanie McMahon announced to the staff that “due to a personality conflict” between her father and Heyman, it was necessary to replace Heyman as lead writer of ECW. In his place, former head SmackDown! writer and Heyman protégé, David Lagana will be taking over the reigns of head writer on ECW.

What will happen to Heyman? Can fans dream of Paul Heyman leading the charge over at TNA to take down the Evil Empire at the WWE? Chances of that happening, at this point, are very slim. First of all, TNA recently hired Vince Russo to their creative staff. They aren’t going to get rid of him that quickly. He is going to have to fail for more than one month before TNA pulls the plug on the Russo experiment. Plus, TNA has a booking committee, which at this point in time, consists of Russo, Dutch Mantel, and Jeff Jarrett. Paul Heyman has already proven in his tenure with the WWE that he doesn’t get along well with others when it comes to creative committees. It has to be his book, or eventually there will be problems.

At the meeting with the staff, Stephanie McMahon put an end to any TNA rumors for the moment. She announced that the WWE was going to find something else for Heyman to do while he remains with the company. Since he is out of the ECW brand, and there is no way in hell that the McMahons would allow him to touch the creative committees on the RAW or SmackDown! brands, you can bet that he will not be used on any WWE creative team.

He could be used as on-air talent on either RAW or SmackDown!, but that’s probably highly unlikely as well. In my opinion, Paul Heyman is looked at as the bastard stepchild of the WWE. Nobody wants him around. However, if you let him out of the house, you never know what kind of trouble he’ll cause. I believe they will send him back down to Ohio Valley. When he was working in Ohio Valley, he was producing arguably the best wrestling show on television. Since he left to run WWECW, the Ohio developmental territory has been going down hill. By putting Heyman back in charge of Ohio Valley, the WWE will have the best of both worlds, they will have Heyman out of their hair, in a place where he can’t do any harm, and will help the WWE by developing their young talent.

There is a very good chance that last Sunday’s pay per view will be the final time you ever see Paul Heyman on a national wrestling stage. If it is, hopefully, his time in the business will not be remembered for the rebirth of WWECW. The fans shouldn’t remember ECW on Sci-Fi. Don’t let McMahons’ new version ruin your memories of the real ECW. After all, Vince’s new brand isn’t ECW. It’s WWECW. The fans should remember Paul Heyman as the mad genius of Extreme Championship Wrestling. They should remember a small bingo hall in South Philadelphia. They should remember Tazz vs. Sabu. They should remember Tommy Dreamer vs. Raven. They should remember Sandman coming to the ring with “Enter Sandman” blasting throughout the arena with the crowd singing along. They should remember Cactus Jack spitting on his WCW World Tag Team title belt, and Brian Pillman threatening to urinate in the ring. They should remember Shane Douglas becoming the true “Franchise” of ECW. They should remember when Jerry Lawler invaded the ECW Arena. They should remember the Dudleys, Public Enemy, the Gangstas, the Eliminators, and the numerous tag teams that fought in ECW during the late nineties. They should remember Terry Funk for putting his body on the line at a time when most men his age are thinking about retirement. Mostly, they should remember the initials of E-C-W. Remember the pride that those three letters made you feel. Remember the loyalty that you felt for that underdog promotion. Remember the real ECW, hold those memories close to your heart, and don’t ever forget it. I know I won’t.

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