Paul Heyman on How Roman Reigns Is Achieving Greatness on WWE 'SmackDown'
Paul Heyman's track record speaks for itself. So it's no surprise that the combination of this perennial advocate of top WWE Superstars and Roman Reigns is proving to be a winning one. As Universal Champion Reigns transitions from “The Big Dog” to “Tribal Chief,” the maestro of the microphone is playing a key role in making that evolution a success.
After spending much of his recent WWE run with Brock Lesnar, Heyman can now help another athlete truly be his or her best. Expect the special adviser to make his presence felt when Reigns defends the gold against Braun Strowman during SmackDown's season premiere October 16.
“What better way to demonstrate the greatness of Roman Reigns as the Universal heavyweight champion than to slay a monster this close to Halloween,” Heyman said.
We sat down with Heyman to talk more about this new alliance and traveling outside “Suplex City.”
What was the most fulfilling part of your tenure as executive director of Raw?
Paul Heyman: When I was executive director of Raw, I refused to talk about being the executive director of Raw because when you’re in that position, you’re privy to [the] inner sanctum of WWE. I’ve always felt there is an expectation and responsibility of confidentiality and secrecy that goes along with that job. I honored it then and continue to honor it to this day.... That being said, on a general basis, my favorite part of the job and the part I’m most proud of was development of talent. I’ve always loved developing talent. It was unofficially at times in WCW [World Championship Wrestling]. Certainly, I’ve built my reputation in doing it in ECW [Extreme Championship Wrestling] and have done it with certain tenures with my run in WWE.
Certainly, with Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey and now Roman Reigns...On a specific basis, what I’m most proud of after the fact is that even after my run concluded, the chairman of the board, Vince McMahon, was asked on a quarterly earnings call about Paul Heyman no longer being the executive director on Monday Night Raw. His answer was how happy he was with the creativity I'd brought to the role. Any time someone is replaced in that level of corporate positioning, you will always hear, “We appreciate what he brought to the table, but it was time to do something else. He was great at what he did, but this other move is even better.” Vince offered nothing but how happy he was with my creativity. Even after the fact, for the chairman of the board of a publicly traded company to sing the praises of what I brought to the job is something I am exceedingly proud of.
You mention working with talent like Brock Lesnar, whom you guided in WWE. What made transitioning to Roman Reigns the right move?
If you remember how Roman Reigns debuted in WWE, it was in 2012 as part of The Shield. The Shield was brought in to protect the title reign of CM Punk. The idea of [my] being paired with Roman Reigns is something that dates back to his debut on the main roster of WWE. This is something we have discussed for many years. It’s no secret—we’ve acknowledged this for a long time. The timing was never right.
With everything that happened this year—Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, Roman Reigns not at WrestleMania, the entire landscape of sports and sports entertainment changing, Roman Reigns taking a hiatus, Paul Heyman being removed as executive director of Raw—it was just the perfect time to put these two together and see the level they could push each other to achieve on camera and behind the scenes.
How would you compare working with Roman to Brock?
That’s a difficult question to answer because it’s very hard to differentiate the vision and goals and desires of Roman Reigns behind the scenes [from those] on camera at the moment. They are one and the same. Roman Reigns accomplished a body of work in his first eight years on the main roster in WWE that will go down in history. To his enormous credit, he looked back at that body of work and felt very unfulfilled and unsatisfied because, much like Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey, Roman realized history will be unappreciative of Roman Reigns’ contribution to the narrative of WWE 25, 50 and 100 years from now.
As he enters his prime, Roman decided to challenge himself to put forth a body of work that would make the past eight years pale in comparison—make people realize that the past eight years was the warmup for...the true Hall of Fame, legendary portion of his career. Everything you’ve seen Roman Reigns accomplish until now was just setting the table for the history you’re going to witness unfold in the next few weeks, months, years. He was just getting ready for this portion of his career.
It feels organic how this transformation of Roman has happened. It doesn’t feel forced. He's embracing his Samoan heritage onscreen and working with family in Jey Uso, who has really stepped up to the plate.
It would be inaccurate to say that Roman ever denied his heritage It would be very accurate to say that Roman for the past eight years made sure he performed at such a level that it didn’t matter what his heritage was. It didn’t matter the lineage. It didn’t matter the legacy. That if he was John Doe walking off the street, performing at this level, he would have achieved the same as what he's done up until now. Now that he's demonstrated it, there was no nepotism. There was no favoritism. He [proved he] could carry the weight and burden of the responsibilities of a multitime WrestleMania main eventer.
Now he can come forth with: This is my heritage. This is my legacy. These are the expectations that are thrust upon me on a daily basis. I not only live up to them. I exceed them. Now he sets the standard for the next generation. He has established a body of work nobody can deny. It becomes a prevalent part of his presentation to acknowledge the history of his family and enormous responsibility and accountability that come with it.
WWEYou are so good at feeding off the crowd. How do you feel WWE has done in adapting to the current times with the ThunderDome?
There is no choice but to adapt. It’s the reality of the situation. My father’s favorite joke was the pessimist says things can’t possibly get any worse. The optimist says of course they can. My father loved that joke because he felt stupid people won’t get it. The moral of that story is you have to be a realist. I look at the situation as a realist. Either we present the product in the best possible light, constantly adapting on a week-to-week basis as we move forward, or we don’t, and there is nothing to present. I always loved the interaction with the audience. It’s one of the reasons why, when I went out to the ring with whomever I was working with, I knew the message I wanted to deliver. I never worked off a script or worked on a word-for-word, sentence-by-sentence basis because it depended on the mood of the crowd. Would the crowd try to hijack the interview?
If something happened during the promo, I could adapt and interact with the audience. I thought about the interaction with the audience. When you can make that musical synergy with the crowd, [it's] the greatest high in life. It was better than sex—or at least the sex most people would have. Getting used to not feeling that [due to the lack of audience participation] when there is a message to deliver is a completely different presentation. It’s something you either get used to very quickly or you’re going to fall behind on the times because someone else on the roster is going to figure out the best way to deliver their message on ThunderDome. If you want to stay at the very top of the industry, you adapt to the circumstances presented to you. You have to not only survive but thrive.
How do you think SmackDown made out in the WWE Draft?
I think Friday Night SmackDown got the better of the draft. Perhaps the best of the draft was right off the top when SmackDown’s first pick was Roman Reigns. The fact that this network can keep Roman Reigns as their premiere star on Friday nights on network is the determining factor: SmackDown won the draft this year and perhaps scored the greatest draft pick in the history of the WWE Draft.
Do you think we’ve seen the last of Brock Lesnar in a WWE ring?
Whether you watch Fox News, CNN, MSNBC or whatever channel, here is what they put in the lower-third breaking news. And it’s the same breaking news for the past 20 years. Brock Lesnar does whatever Brock Lesnar wants to do. You can say that about winning the NCAA Division I heavyweight championship, becoming the youngest WWE champion ever, winning the UFC title from the greatest heavyweight of all-time Randy Couture, coming back to WWE and conquering The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania. When Brock Lesnar wants to do something next, he will do it because Brock Lesnar does what Brock Lesnar wants to do.
WWE SmackDown, Fridays, 8/7c, Fox