Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ladies and Gentleman, My Name is Paul Heyman

I wrap up 2014's wrestling series of blogs with a BluRay from WWE Home Video that came out a few months ago that I have been anticipating for quite some time. That is right, it is another somewhat timely review with my third wrestling related blog of a home video release of 2014 in 2014 with my entry for Ladies and Gentleman, My Name is Paul Heyman (trailer). Read on to find out why WWE's documentary on who I feel is hands-down the best talker and one of the top managers in the business, is easily WWE's best home video release in quite some time.

Paul Heyman stated shortly before the release of this video that he has been dodging the home video department since he came back to WWE with Brock Lesnar in 2012 to do a tell-all story of him. He has been reluctant to let it all out on the air, but the persistent filmmakers at WWE Home Video finally got to him along with many of Paul's colleagues over the years and put together an in depth two hour look at the life and times of Paul Heyman. I have heard past interviews on many different media outlets with Paul throughout the past quarter century, and have always wanted to know more about the various pit stops along the course of his career and The Life and Times of Paul Heyman gives what seems the appropriate amount of time to the many parts of his time in and out of the squared circle.

It could be that Paul is such a naturally gifted talker that he can command my full attention at any part of his story, no matter how significant it is in the big picture. However, almost every facet of Heyman's life is significant because of how much it differs from the stereotypical wrestler documentary who broke in through independent territories and eventually landed a gig in the big leagues. While there is an element of truth to that in Paul's tale, the way he wound up to where he is today is so astoundingly different that my eyes were glued to the screen throughout whether parts of these stories were recycled or new to me.

A good chunk of the early part of the biography is how Heyman broke into the business as an enterprising photographer for what were essentially his own self-published fanzines at the time, and how he conned his way into a press pass for old school Madison Square Garden shows in the former WWWF in the late 1970s. Legendary wrestling journalist, Bill Apter is brought in to recollect how much he loathed Heyman for stealing many prized shots, and later on Heyman goes on to tell through his photography days how he made connections with talent behind-the-scenes that paved the way for him to break into the business as a manager under the name Paul E. Dangerously.

I never knew too much about Paul Heyman's brief runs in the AWA and Memphis territories, so it was enlightening to hear Paul talk about how much a learning experience the AWA was and how much heat he generated from his short time in Memphis. Lawler of course is brought in to add about how delighted he was to do business with Heyman so much that he had to grant him an early exit from the promotion. The documentary really kicks into gear when recanting memories from Paul's run in WCW from 1988 until 1993. I do not remember much of Heyman doing color commentary at this time, but hearing Ross and Heyman present day give props for learning from each other for calling a year of action in his early days in WCW was particularly insightful to hear today. Also, somehow after watching countless WWE home video releases I do not recall much early 90s WCW content, so it was also refreshing to see a good portion of the feature talk about Heyman's big break in WCW forming the Dangerous Alliance stable and the wars they faced.

From there the documentary shifts to Paul landing in and taking control over ECW. I was a little worried we were going to get a rehashed Rise and Fall of ECW segment here, but the documentary has a fresh take on it for this biography. In The Life and Times of Paul Heyman, it covers ECW by mostly focusing on just how the promotion effected Heyman, and how he took control of the promotion a couple years in and rode the highs, but unfortunately was not able to get the promotion to grow accordingly to the high demand enough that he was forced to close up shop after going bankrupt. There are many fascinating interview snippets here with former ECW colleagues such as Tommy Dreamer, Gabe Sapolski, Joey Styles and Todd Gordon who shed some light with new details concerning rumors of WWE loaning ECW money to make ends meet in their final months and just having a new perspective on Paul all these years later after the fact made this portion of the documentary easily the most enticing to indulge.

It is worth restating this ECW portion of the feature is not another three hour rehash of previously released content and does not overstay its welcome. It covers the longest and arguably most pivotal part of Paul's wrestling career in just over a half hour, and its new perspective on ECW makes it a cannot miss part of the feature. That is not to take away anything from The Rise and Fall of ECW, which is an incredibly comprehensive, three hour documentary on the old ECW in 2004 from WWE that should be a must watch for any wrestling fan.

After ECW, the biography goes in great depth in Heyman's first run in WWE from 2001-2006. Aside from a few appearances from the 1997 ECW invasion angle on RAW, and owning one or two of ECW's very first DVDs that hit the market, this was my first main exposure to Paul Heyman on a regular basis. I remember loving him and Jim Ross teaming up in color commentary for most of 2001 and the documentary gives more present day insight from both men and shows clips of how even though the two bickered a lot on air, that they brought out the best in each other and I absolutely enjoyed that year for announcing on RAW. Go back and watch Wrestlemania X7, it is easily one of the best Wrestlemania cards of all time, and it also helps tremendously that it has one of the best announce teams of all the Wrestlemanias with Ross and Heyman.

From there it shifts to Paul's behind-the-scenes work being the head writer for Smackdown in 2002 and 2003 and later his stint as on air GM of Smackdown back when the roster split of RAW and Smackdown actually meant something for a few years. I was surprised to learn from Heyman here that he takes more pride here in Smackdown's rating success over RAW than all the success he had with ECW. I really liked how the documentary covers the controversies that got Heyman off of writing Smackdown, and how Paul ended up embracing WWE's version of a demotion to working in their then-developmental promotion, Ohio Valley Wrestling. It is here where we get great perspective from some of the talent Paul helped groom for success such as Beth Phoenix and CM Punk who I presumed must have been interviewed for this shortly before he departed WWE. Throughout the feature, Paul makes it clear his favorite aspect of the business is developing talent, and it was great to see this justified so throughout the documentary with interviews with from former aforementioned ECW talent, stars that had great runs under his command in Smackdown like Edge, Big Show and Brock Lesnar, then-OVW talent like Beth and CM Punk and present day stars such as Natalya and Renee Young.

I was wondering if WWE was going to really go into detail on their version of ECW that lasted from 2006-2010. Heyman did not hold anything back and I love how he matter-of-factly states how he absolutely hated it and how it got sabotaged from the beginning and eventually got him out of the company at the end of 2006. The feature highlights some of his business ventures he attempted while out of wrestling for five and a half years before returning and focusing on the success he had upon returning in 2012 managing Brock Lesnar and CM Punk. The documentary closes with talent and Paul himself reflecting on his legacy, and whether or not the talent considers themselves Paul Heyman guys/girls.

For the extra features, we have an assortment of classic Paul Heyman promos totaling roughly three hours. As I stated before, I never saw much of his old AWA and WCW promos in their entirety until this BluRay, and you can tell from his very first promos on here from the AWA in 1987 that Heyman was a natural on the microphone, and that he only got better with every succeeding promo. His WCW work is where he exploded with the Dangerous Alliance stable, and established his trademark oversized cell phone always at his side, so it was awesome to see a great collection of WCW and ECW promos where we saw one of Paul's multiple great runs on the microphone. There are some incredible in-depth vintage promos from Heyman, and then there are some nice quick little bite sized ones where him and Jim Ross in their old WCW announcing days hilariously attempt to hype up the ill-fated tag team of the Ding Dongs and witness Sting berate Paul for messing with his action figure.

Disc two has most of his best WWE promos from 2001 until earlier this year. Probably my favorite promos included on this collection are where Paul interviews a teddy bear in his old "Danger Zone" segment in the AWA, handing out the first ever "Paul E. Awards" to every member of the Dangerous Alliance, hyping up ECW coming to PPV, trashing Vince McMahon towards the end of the ECW/WCW Alliance invasion angle in 2001, boasting over conquering Undertaker's undefeated streak the day after Wrestlemania XXX, and of course the unforgettable Vince McMahon performance review of Heyman in early 2013. Two more classic promos I wish that could have made the cut, but my links here will have to suffice for now, are a "Extreme Debate" between Heyman and Jerry Lawler on RAW in 1997 which was my first time witnessing a memorable Paul Heyman promo, and Heyman's awesome promo boasting over Brock Lesnar's dominating victory over John Cena the day after Summerslam 2014 where he emphatically ended it in perfect candor with "Eat, Sleep, Conquer...John Cena."

There are three matches featuring Paul Heyman, with an old WCW match from 1989 where he teams with the original Midnight Express against Jim Cornette's new Midnight Express in a surprisingly lackluster match with too much stalling. The other two are more entertaining affairs where he teams with a young Brock Lesnar destroying the Hardy Boyz in 2002, and a match in 2013 where he teams with Curtis Axel against CM Punk in a no DQ match that was far better than it had any right to be. For BluRay Extras there are an hour and a half of extra stories that did not make the main feature covering Paul's entire career, with many interesting stories such as Paul riding his bike off of his parent's house, Jim Ross giving an in depth reason why he considers Paul one of his few true friends in the wrestling business, and Stephanie McMahon sharing an incredibly touching story about Heyman. This extra 90 minute assortment of cutting room floor stories are incredibly entertaining and provide extra details on how the gears rotate in Paul's brilliant mind for the business and are well worth the extra few dollars for the BluRay release.

Ladies and Gentleman, My Name is Paul Heyman is easily the best WWE-made documentary in recent years. A lot of the times I get that ugly feeling where WWE cannot help themselves and sugar coat certain aspects of the past with their revisionist history, but here it feels that they did not hold anything back, or at the very most lightly danced around some touchy topics, but left a whole lot more room than one would presume so you can easily read between the lines. Watching all these old school AWA/WCW/ECW promos for the first time was quite the entertaining history course, and reliving all those great WWE promos never got old for a second. Again, make sure to get the BluRay release for all the bonus story goodness, which adds up to a grand total of the best eight hours of content WWE Home Video has put out in quite some time.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Warrior Week on WWE Network
WWE Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
WWE Wrestlemania 28
WWE Wrestlemania 29

No comments:

Post a Comment