Paul Heyman: WWE Hall of Famer

I came to professional wrestling late, or later than most. That’s only worth noting because if you don’t develop an interest in wrestling before you’re, say, 15 years old, history states that you’ve missed your window to develop core memories associated with it. As it stands, the only memories I have of it were from clicking past it on TV, so I never bothered to understand the intricacies of the “sport”, and therefore wasn’t willing to suspend my disbelief so that I could respect it. For my whole life, that was my relationship to pro wrestling. Fine.

Then in 2023 and against all odds, I fell in love with WWE. As you’d expect, it took a perfect storm to get me on-side, and it occurred on three fronts: a family friend who was close with WWE’s Pat Patterson (RIP) and loved talking about wrestling; a kid who I tutor who was deep in his obsession with the current iteration of WWE; and the WWE’s biggest event of the year, Wrestlemania, being held locally in Los Angeles.

Turns out, when you hear about how fun something once was, how fun that thing has again become, and you see it everywhere for a month, there’s nothing left to do but give it a few hours of your time to witness it for yourself. The Sunday night Main Event of Wrestlemania 39 (2023) was a fight between the promotion’s two biggest stars, The Tribal Chief Roman Reigns, and The American Nightmare Cody Rhodes, and it did not disappoint.

The full Wrestlemania 39 main event!

The back and forth of this match and the number of near pins was not only thrilling, but I found myself genuinely laughing at the suspense of when it would finally end. For me, that’s just good ‘ol fashioned fun. As the match progressed, I was acquainted with the stakes for each fighter, learning that the underdog Cody Rhodes’ father had been a well-known professional wrestler (The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes) with WWE and other promotions, and in his storied career he never won the most prestigious belt in the WWE: the World Heavyweight Championship. On the other side, Roman Reigns was in the middle of the most dominant modern day championship run in WWE, shattering all kinds of records for length of time holding the belt. When in doubt, I root for the little guy, and by the end of the match I was so invested in Cody winning that when Roman pinned him, I felt legitimate ache*.

(*One year later, at Wrestlemania 40, the pair had a Sunday night Main Event rematch, and this time Cody defeated Roman to finally win the title for the Rhodes’ family.)

As they say in the wrestling business, the money is in the chase, and the championship match was so exciting that for the next few months I kept tabs on the comings and goings of WWE through the clips on its YouTube channel. Eventually that wasn’t enough for me, and I began recording the weekly shows, and even attended a live event, which I loved. As I got to know the various storylines on a deep level, I became very passionate about my favorite wrestlers. But I was also fascinated by the on-screen characters who didn’t wrestle, because they usually had terrific skills on the mic, making them highly charismatic. Of that ilk, Paul Heyman stands alone in his greatness.

I wanna make clear right now that I lack the encyclopedic knowledge to run down every important moment of Paul’s lengthy career, so while I’m limited in my depth, I encourage interested parties to investigate further for the good of all of us, and leave any particularly great nuggets or video clips in the comments below 😊. In the meantime, I’m gonna lean heavily on video clips to demonstrate who Paul is, because like most anything in life, it’s always better to experience a thing first-hand.

In the wrestling business it’s very common to embody a variety of characters throughout the course of a career to keep things fresh and work new storylines. For wrestlers, this usually means cycling between being a face (good guy) and heel (bad guy). Paul has never been anything but a heel, but he’s played every version of it, including the egotistical, the sinister, and the sniveling. But one thing has remained constant, and that’s that he’s always been over (popular) with crowds.

Paul Heyman acting as the advocate for Brrrrrrock, Lessssssnar.

Paul’s current role is that of the wiseman for The Tribal Chief Roman Reigns, a role which positions him as the mouthpiece for the biggest storyline of the last half decade in WWE: the Bloodline. It might be the best work of Paul’s career.

Paul hyping the HELL out of Roman before a title defense. Roman need not utter a word.

Paul perfected his heel persona in the 90’s while moving around the independent wrestling circuit (and running his own promotion, ECW), so his promos are as likely to be filled with truth as they are fiction (in wrestling this is referred to as a “shoot” vs. a “work”.) At the 5:26 mark of the next clip you can watch Paul go off on his then-boss and the biggest name of all time in professional wrestling, Vince McMahon, with a promo that has plenty of shoot in it as he gets all his emotions off his chest talking about the real events of how WWE killed off his beloved ECW.

Over 17 minutes of Paul Heyman greatness.

Paul Heyman was inducted into WWE’s 2024 Hall of Fame class at Wrestlemania this year, and if I haven’t emphasized it enough already, when you ask Paul to get on the mic to talk, it’s always must-see television.

(This video is behind Peacock’s paywall, and Paul’s speech starts at the 19:35 mark. I think a passing familiarity with the people he name checks would increase your enjoyment, but it’s not necessary because the point is to witness Paul doing what he does best: talking.)

In the 25-minute speech, Paul manages to be darkly hilarious, passionately heartfelt, and so totally in tune with the audience’s expectations that he transitions from topic to topic without the crowd ever feeling itchy or bored. In the months since, I’ve re-watched various moments because it’s so good.

While the HD version is behind the Peacock paywall, WWE posted a chunk onto YouTube where Paul becomes his ECW boss character again to pay tribute to his roots, and there’s an entire lesson on excellent public speaking in that one short clip.

Paul talking about his ECW days during HoF speech.

There’s also this version of the speech in full, taken from someone in the arena at a high angle. While the video quality isn’t the best (the uploader had to speed up and slow down Paul to avoid the video being flagged and taken down), the final product is still awesome because you get to see the most famous characters in WWE reacting to the hilarious and heinous things coming out of Paul’s mouth.

Watch from the 23:45 mark for my favorite portion of the speech. When Paul gets to the punchline, I keep scrolling back to see every wrestler’s reaction, with Randy Orton’s being my favorite.

It may be called wrestling, but I’ve fallen in love with it because of the characters who make me feel things like love and excitement and annoyance and delight. And while many of the same character types have existed before and will exist again, there will never be another Paul Heyman.

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