When considering a list of the most influential people in the history of professional wrestling, especially when you exclude anyone with the surname “McMahon,” one might only need a few moments before settling on Paul Heyman. He was heavily involved in arguably WCW’s greatest match, The Dangerous Alliance vs Sting’s Squadron at Wrestle War 1992. He was the driving creative force behind ECW through its brief but meaningful existence. He bounced checks. He invested in the film Rollerball. When he arrived in WWE, he was immediately put as the color commentator next to JR before what is commonly considered WWE’s greatest show ever, WrestleMania X-7.
One cannot picture Brock Lesnar’s meteoric rise in WWE back in 2002 without Heyman by his side. He tried, and failed, to help Vince McMahon resurrect ECW leading to what is commonly considered WWE’s worst show ever, December to Dismember 2006. A true renaissance man, if there ever was one.
Heyman had a lot of sticks in the fire in 2020. As the advocate for the reigning, defending, undisputed, Universal champion Brock Lesnar, he was a central figure in Brock Lesnar deciding to enter the Royal Rumble at #1 and eliminate 12 men before “Big Daddy” Drew McIntyre sauntered down and literally kicked him out of the ring. This led to the clash between McIntyre and Lesnar, who main-evented what is commonly considered WWE’s weirdest show ever, WrestleMania 36. All credit to Heyman for doing what he does best, sell a match by putting over not just his guy, but the opponent as well. Once Lesnar was dispatched, that was really all we saw of Heyman on screen.
Meanwhile, since the summer of 2019, Heyman was named the shoot executive director of Monday Night RAW, as WWE shifted their focus to SmackDown’s upcoming move to network television. As a promoter, Heyman’s influence was all over RAW. There were pushes for unconventional superstars like Aleister Black and Andrade Almas. The show was moderately compelling. It was clear that people could tell this was not your typical Vince McMahon joint any longer.
The problem I’ve had with this new Dangerous Alliance is that, so far, Heyman appears to function as mere bystander while Roman spirals into the paranoia and greed commonly associated with heel wrestlers.
Entering 2020, Heyman still held that role, though his counterpart on SmackDown, Eric Bischoff, had lasted only a few months before he was let go, with reports citing he didn’t really do much of anything while on the job, As Heyman was taking time off screen following the departure of Lesnar from WWE programming, he was unceremoniously removed from the position after roughly a year. For a few months, it looked like perhaps Heyman was going to be done with the company for a while with Lesnar seemingly content to remain sequestered in Minnesota with his guns and family and Vince McMahon content to write five hours of network television a week by himself.
While fans had long resented Roman Reigns for being forced down their throats as a smiling, gracious babyface character, it appeared that WWE had finally gotten over their cold feet and turned him to the dark side following his return from sabbatical following SummerSlam. Roman was now a vicious heel. He showed up at the end of the show to absolutely truck poor Braun Strowman and Bray Wyatt, and won Wyatt’s Universal Championship during a triple threat match only two weeks later at Payback.
But what was the cherry on top of this new bad guy sundae? Paul Heyman was now working for Roman Reigns. Heyman, the advocate for Brock Lesnar for almost 20 years, was now the guy advising WWE’s golden boy. It was pretty instant heel credibility while allowing Roman to attempt the transition that his cousin, The Rock, once successfully completed. Take the hated white meat babyface, turn heel and become a mega star, turn back babyface and suddenly there aren’t enough poly-cotton blend t-shirts in the world to print what they’d be able to sell.
The problem I’ve had with this new dangerous alliance is that, so far, Heyman appears to function as a bystander as Roman spirals into the paranoia and greed commonly associated with heel wrestlers. Where he served as Lesnar’s mouthpiece and occasional beggar of mercy for whatever opponent had just gotten their guts suplexed out of them, he seems more like garnish on a fancy meal. Reigns has come a very long way on the microphone and I don’t think you’d see a lot of arguments when I say it’s the best work he’s ever done.
Heyman is not even a liability, in the way someone might target Paul Bearer to mess with the Undertaker. Reigns does not appear to have any outward affection toward Heyman on-screen. In fact, he comes across as a built-in “Pull In Case Of Emergency Babyface Needs” lever where simply having Heyman screw over Reigns at some point down the line, well, that’s all you’d need to position him as a good guy again.
Heyman has spent more than half the total year affiliated with whoever happened to be holding WWE’s Universal Championship. This may have included a possible swan song as Brock Lesnar’s advocate. He was gone for a good chunk and when he came back, while relevant as a character who appears regularly on a show, is largely inconsequential to the real story being told. The man’s reputation in the industry precedes him, but 2020 might just be a year to forget for old Paul E.