If you follow me on Twitter, or have seen some of my previous posts here, you’ll know I have something of a love/hate relationship with elements of pro-wrestling, particularly WWE, but that I am something of a self-confessed ‘mark’ so keep on watching regardless.
Every now and again though the biggest “Sports Entertainment” company in the world gets it spot on and, much like previous documentary packages You Think You Know Me (Edge), Best In The World (CM Punk) and most notably The Rise and Fall of ECW, Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman does the rare thing of breaking down (most) of the walls of the ‘sport’ to be both enlightening and entertaining.
What instantly helps is the subject, Paul Heyman has, for the best part of the last 30 years, been one of the most arresting and charismatic figures on pro-wrestling TV.
From NWA and WCW, through his legendary run in ECW to being “the 1 behind the 1 in 21 and 1” in WWE he has managed big stars and, more importantly, rising stars both on camera and off and has left a legacy that has changed the face of pro-wrestling, even if some of the powers that be would like to downplay it.
As with many of these documentaries from WWE much of the most interesting stuff comes early on. Here its as we see personal archive of Heyman’s as a photographer and interviewer for his own fanzines and then magazines as a teenager in New York.
One particularly striking image is him with Captain Lou Albano, Classy Freddie Blassie and The Grand Wizard, three renowned on-screen managers of the late 70s and 80s who Heyman would go on to emulate and, arguably, better in years to come.
What makes this section so good is it is, largely, devoid of politics. Gone, it seems are the days of WWE doing its best to put everyone else down (even though they went out of business years ago) so we just get Heyman’s views of other organisations and performers, and, in many cases their views of him. All of this does back up Heyman’s on screen persona in WWE but also seems to have the ring of truth that is becoming rather easier to spot on WWE TV these days.
The ECW portion seems, counter-intuatively, to be the most swayed section as all those interviewed only have good things to say about Heyman, though many admit they’ve had their problems with him in the past and WWE once again comes of it looking like the hero. It is very nice seeing some non-WWE faces here though, particularly in the form of past ECW performers like Raven and Tommy Dreamer and the man who gave Heyman his job there, Tod Gordon.
As we head into his WWE tenure it seems Heyman is actually given a little more free rein to ‘shoot’ (albeit in a controlled way) as he discusses his time as commentator, Brock Lesnar’s manager (seemingly both on and off-screen, which may be telling in Lesnar’s career trajectory in WWE) and his time as head writer on Smackdown.
Where this gets really interesting is in his arguable ‘fall from grace’ and, while the reasoning is somewhat sanitized (we don’t get anything from Vince McMahon while Stephanie McMahon and Heyman give a very by the numbers explanation of what may have happened), hearing Heyman discuss his work in OVW and getting CM Punk’s comments (obviously recorded before he “took his ball and went home” in January) on the period is genuinely fascinating.
This section did also leave me wondering if those in charge at WWE really pay attention to this stuff as it is evident how they have, from time to time, mishandled amazing talent leading to things like the current Punk situation – but who am I to say, I’m just an internet ‘smark’, aren’t I?
This is most interesting as it sets up for some stuff about his time out of pro-wrestling setting up Heyman Hustle and leading into the Looking4Larry creative agency which I had previously not been entirely aware of.
While this could feel like a contractual obligation section from WWE, as its clear Heyman is back in the fold as long as this side of his work gets its publicity, it is really interesting to see that the on-screen character is far from the be all and end all of the man, especially as we get a glimpse of Heyman the family man too.
In the end I think, once again, it is the subject that allows this WWE documentary to really stand out from the pack (I can’t see one on John Cena being as varied and interesting) but it is all handled well.
While there are a few moments that clearly shy away from some things or stick to the ‘official story’, and it is undeniably a puff piece for one of their best workers, Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman sits in the top bracket of WWE releases and I would say is a must for anyone with an interest in the last 30 years of pro-wrestling history, particularly if you want to see it away from Hulk Hogan and his ilk.