Many fans know Paul Heyman in WWE for his onscreen role as the villainous “advocate” for Brock Lesnar, but some may not be aware of his long history of his background in creative as a wrestling booker. Heyman was the owner and prime creative force in Extreme Championship Wrestling from 1993 until its closure in 2001 and eventual purchase by WWE.
Though his recent on-camera run in WWE extends back to 2012, Heyman received a major backstage promotion in June 2019, when he was named the Executive Director of Monday Night Raw. Former WCW booker and nWo mastermind Eric Bischoff was named to a similar position for Smackdown, with the expectation being that Vince McMahon would be loosening his legendarily tight-fisted hold on WWE’s creative reins by empowering Heyman and Bischoff to shape Raw and Smackdown in their respective images.
Things didn’t work out so well for Bischoff, who departed Smackdown in October 2019 amid rumors that he’d been ineffectual, contributed little creatively, and had taken the job despite being totally unfamiliar with Smackdown‘s roster and storylines. He was replaced by Bruce Prichard, who similarly hasn’t done much to revitalize Smackdown‘s booking despite its juicy primetime time slot on Fox, and its storylines have remained in a creative quagmire for months.
Meanwhile, under Heyman’s direction Raw has experienced a creative renaissance in the year since he first became its Executive Director. Heyman’s philosophy in booking Raw has clearly focused on developing younger talent and turning seasoned talent that has gone misused in WWE into his personal reclamation projects. Supposedly, Heyman sees young talent as the key to not just building the next generation of main event stars, but to appealing more towards teenage fans, which is a demographic WWE has struggled to connect with in recent years. Some of the young talent Heyman had been rumored to target after taking over Raw have included Aleister Black, Andrade, Ricochet, Cedric Alexander, the Street Profits, Austin Theory and Angel Garza. Thanks to WWE’s policy of keeping couples together, Black and Andrade brought their real-life partners Zelina Vega and Charlotte Flair with them to Raw, both of whom Heyman was also eager to push.
Heyman has also supposedly kept an eye out for veteran WWE talents who were going under-used. He’s been credited as the driving force behind Asuka’s rejuvenation as a heel with the Kabuki Warriors, Drew McIntyre’s ascent up the card into main event status, Apollo Crews’s recent acquisition and ongoing push on Raw, and was supposedly one of the earlier supporters of Bray Wyatt’s concept for the Firefly Fun House before losing Wyatt to Smackdown.
If fans have been mostly complimentary of Heyman’s efforts to build up young and underused talent, it seems he hasn’t completely won over the biggest and most important critic of all: Vince McMahon. McMahon, who’s notorious for tossing out and rewriting tv scripts sometimes mere hours before airtime, has reportedly been responsible for stopping the pushes of some of the wrestlers Heyman picked out to build after disagreeing with Heyman on their potential ceilings.
The two most notable examples would be Cedric Alexander, who was supposedly buried on McMahon’s orders after his U.S. Championship feud with AJ Styles, and Ricochet, who lost a 24/7 Championship match to the seldom-seen Riddick Moss the same week he was squashed by Brock Lesnar at Super Showdown. McMahon was said to have “given up” on Ricochet, a tremendous in-ring talent who Heyman had identified as having strong appeal with teenaged viewers, barely a year into his main roster career. After disappearing for months, Ricochet and Alexander have only recently reemerged in a thrown-together tag team that’s had mixed results in the tag division so far and another loss — this time to the NXT team of Shane Throne and Brendan Vink — on the May 4 episode of Raw.
An even more troubling sign of Vince McMahon’s lack of patience with Heyman’s approach to building new stars came in a recent interview where McMahon blamed WWE’s television ratings dip not on the COVID-19 virus or empty arena shows, but on Raw pushing younger talent and not having Brock Lesnar as champion anymore. Even though McMahon didn’t mention Heyman by name, it seems difficult not to view his comments as a slap in the face towards Heyman, with McMahon indirectly blaming Heyman’s booking philosophy and hand-picked champion for WWE’s reduced ratings.
While casual fans may be drawn in every once in a while for a nostalgia pop by an advertised appearance of Goldberg, John Cena, Steve Austin, and yes, even Brock Lesnar, the dwindling fanbase that still watches Raw and Smackdown on a weekly basis has been bemoaning WWE’s struggles to build the next generation of stars for a good long while now. Though it might be a bit of a “chicken and the egg” paradox, Vince McMahon’s belief that WWE needs to rely on big name part-timers like Brock Lesnar to draw viewers largely stems from WWE’s past — and ongoing — failure to build up a new generation of top stars, since young talent remains blocked by big name part-timers like Brock Lesnar.
Even the hottest star going in WWE right now, Bray Wyatt, was sacrificed to put over Goldberg at Super Showdown — the same show at which Ricochet got squashed by Brock Lesnar — because the aging WCW legend threw a backstage hissy fit about losing to The Fiend. If Vince McMahon is all too happy to throw over WWE’s biggest present-day star (and top merchandise mover) Bray Wyatt to keep an aging part-timer happy, what kind of chance will an Aleister Black or Andrade have of reaching main event status before Vince can derail their push?
With Roman Reigns in quarantine indefinitely and Kevin Owens out with an ankle injury since WrestleMania 36, it’s become very apparent over the last month just how thin the top card has gotten in WWE. Paul Heyman has been doing his best to remedy that issue by finally trying to create the next generation of stars on Raw. The question now is, will Heyman get the time he needs to make that happen, or will Vince McMahon destroy his ability to build up the next Brock Lesnar by sacrificing the present generation of talent to put over the current Brock Lesnar.
Further Reading: Vince McMahon is Right: WWE Needs Brock Lesnar
Paul Heyman has looked to feature new talent since taking over Raw, but Vince McMahon's impatience may undercut his efforts.