Now that Wrestlemania 29 is in the history books, I can leave it to the very qualified and supremely entertaining fellow TJR writers to break it all down and determine its ranking in the annals of time. Whether you felt it was too predictable (you're right), not edgy enough (right again) or featured too many appearances by Snooki (you betcha), you can't argue that the McMahon family and the WWE know how to put on a spectacle like nobody's business. I will give them credit that at the very least they make you feel like the $70 you plunked down at the pay window was money well spent. Excellent video packages, an unbelievably lavish stage and ring area, and a Diddy mini-concert? Only Siegfried and Roy were missing from this Caligulan bash.
There's certainly plenty to complain about when it comes to what actually happened in the ring, though. Brock Lesnar's less-than-impressive win/loss record continued to plummet. The only monster less fearsome might be Charlie Brown wearing the sheet with no holes cut in it. John Cena overcame Bronx cheers galore to send The Rock back to Hollywood...but only after they hugged it out. The Undertaker won to keep the streak alive. Dolph Ziggler not only lost in his tag team match but failed to cash in his title shot. Despite all of that, however, I will always remember Wrestlemania 29 as the event that completely cemented the legacy of one of the best and bravest minds in the business: Paul Heyman.
You may find it odd that I'd pick this time and space to celebrate a manager who went 0-2 in big matches at the biggest event in sports entertainment, but that's precisely the point. For a man who many of us thought might never again appear in a WWE ring to make such a huge impact in an extremely brief time period and end up involved in two of the three top matches on this card is unlikely enough. When you couple that with the fact that both of his high-profile matches were losses, you begin to see the simple fact that this event without Paul Heyman's contributions would be woefully short in buildup and execution. A guy who created and ran a "second-class" promotion in Philadelphia being brought in to use his expertise to deliver the goods for the guy who put him out of business? How in the world did we get here? The answer lies in the simple fact that Paul Heyman understands the business of wrestling in its most fundamental way. And he is never afraid to use that understanding in pursuit of the best angle, the most controversy, and the biggest payday. He might be one of the last few great wrestling minds among us. And we'd better hope he plans to stay awhile, because I shudder to think of the pomp and circumstance that will be missing when he inevitably overstays his welcome.
The story of how Paul Heyman got here is a lengthy but entertaining one. Younger fans might not be able to comprehend a time when a New York yuppie could brandish a mobile phone as a weapon, but that is in fact how Paul got started in the business. One of the best talkers in the business, a turn announcing for WCW proved that there was someone out there who could make Tony Schiavone slightly interesting. Who knows how much better WCW might have fared if Bill Watts and his legendary disgraceful attitude hadn't driven Mr. Heyman out of the promotion? That said, we all owe Watts a debt of gratitude for that fateful move drove the future of wrestling promotion to his crowning achievement: ECW.
The decision to convert Eastern Championship Wrestling away from the traditional NWA mold and into the new era of sports entertainment was one that can't be understated. Shoot interviews, reality-based storylines, and the dismantling of the fourth wall to treat the fans as intelligent beings rather than country bumpkins would follow. There was no doubt that this small promotion in Philly would never be able to compete with Vince & Co., but nobody in that building saw it that way, be they wrestler or fan. Underdog stories have always resonated here, and had the tale ended there, it would already be the stuff of legends. But of course it didn't end there.
Selling to the WWE was a foregone conclusion, but they were smart enough to figure out a man who had built so much out of so little could be of further use. From managing Brock Lesnar the first time around to turning on him and aligning with The Big Show, then Kurt Angle, Heyman maintained a presence with the biggest names in the biggest storylines. That winning streak continued when Heyman worked as on-air GM of Smackdown (no offense, Hall of Famer Booker T, but it's not even close) and behind-the-scenes as booker. All that did was give athletes like Chris Benoit, the Guerreros and Rey Mysterio a chance to shine and wrestle their hearts out in front of millions of viewers, a stark upgrade to the forum he had provided the Northeast diehards those many moons ago. Take those years out of the mix and think about how dull and boring the product would have been. While I'm certainly not suggesting that Heyman alone receive credit for that, the facts are clear: it was an obvious reproduction of a similar booking strategy being copied by a promotion that claimed it had no competition. I'd call that a big win indeed.
I'll say precious little in this space of the "resurrected" ECW, other than to opine (as many others have) that I am confident in saying what ultimately translated to the screen bore little resemblance to the grand visions Heyman had. Unlike the equally brash Vince Russo, Heyman never made himself the centerpiece of a storyline, a tradition that carries to this day. That is advice most bookers still haven't figured out, and it's not surprising that the future of the booking biz was wrestling Brock Lesnar even as the current caretaker was mulling over another match with Donald Trump. Heyman, on the other hand, was content to be involved without being OVERLY involved. One good point of the dark 2nd ECW years was that it got the fans a chance to be on Heyman's side for a bit. Fortunately for us, though, it's so much easier (and more fun) to detest him.
Bringing us to the current day, nobody consistently delivers in his role the way Heyman has been able to. His insertion into the return of Brock Lesnar and turning of CM Punk into reviled villain have been genius and could not have been managed by anyone else. Despite the plodding pace of three hour Raws, Heyman's interview time and promo time have been tremendous. I defy anyone to name a single person (other than Punk) who has been able to captivate WWE audiences each week without fail. It's simply been one strong promo after another for a guy who's made a career out of it. It's impressive to watch. We can (and have) complained about the build for this Wrestlemania, but you can't argue that Heyman made both of his matches personal in a major way. His face-to-face confrontation with Triple H once again brought smart fans into the fold with its shoot style and allowed the face supporters to enjoy the brash mouthpiece get his just desserts. While all managers in wrestling history have been comfortable with being the butt of the joke, Heyman revels in it. There is rarely a time when this man comes out on top, and even when he does, it's short-lived. That is intentional in a way that anyone studying the arc of CM Punk should be familiar with. We love seeing the guy take a beating, but he's always got a backup plan.
As to the Taker match, how can anyone top The Streak at this point? The pressure on the opponent in this match has to be more than almost any other. Just about everyone feels it won't be broken, so you have to find a way to make it intense and believable. When Heyman came out dressed as the recently deceased Paul Bearer to antagonize the Dead Man, it was a thing of genius. Far from being offended at using "ashes" in the plotline, I loved it. Anyone being offended at a wrestling gimmick at this point is missing the point. I don't think CM Punk rubbed the earthly remains of Paul Bearer on himself anymore than I think the Big Boss Man dragged away Big Show's dad in a coffin. What it did do, however, was give one of the most intense superstars in wrestling history a thoroughly personal motivation to beat Punk and his manager within an inch of their lives. That made the match better, brought social media alive, and allowed for Heyman to once again orchestrate the most out of a storyline.
Now we get to the event we've been waiting for: the chance for this master manipulator to guide his two shining stars to victory. Surely there's no chance that this devious genius will have his charges lose to two huge (but admittedly part-time and past-their-expiration-date) names, right? Think again. Not only does Heyman come out on the wrong side of both affairs, but he suffers a superkick to the chops by the showstopper Shawn Michaels. Further evidence, as if it was needed, that this is a man who loves the spotlight but doesn't need it. I truly believe Mr. Heyman when he says he is having the time of his life working with two athletes he genuinely respects and enjoys. It's never more evident than it was on Sunday night, when much like Chris Jericho, he put himself to the side and allowed the business to win out in the end. It's a principle that has guided him from the beginning, and it's something we don't get to see too often in this industry. There are plenty of columns delineating how fantastic it is that Rock decided to come back, and of course it's great to see him and his energy (and his wrist notes) again. Not so many heralding the return of one of the greatest minds in the business. Which one has had more impact? Which one has consistently delivered each and every week? I'll give you a hint: he wasn't in GI Joe. (Although I could see him as Dr. Mindbender, but that's the fanboy speaking. As you were.)
I write this for TJR before Monday Night Raw, so I've no idea what to expect from Mr. Heyman tomorrow night. I can assume it will be brilliant. I don't know that there's anyone else, with all due respect to CM Punk, who has ever said so many things that I've been thinking. That's not a coincidence. His battles with the McMahons behind the scenes are well-publicized, and he's got many irons in the fire outside of the business, so I've no doubt we're all running on borrowed time to some extent. But I'd advise before you put this Wrestlemania into mothballs and gear up for the next one that you stop and reflect a moment on a man with the hustle, tenacity, and respect for this business that we as fans should want everyone to have. You'll hate the hell out of him on Monday and beyond. But you'll miss him beyond words when he's gone.
That's all for this week. I hope everyone had a happy (and healthy) Wrestlemania weekend. As always, you can reach me on Twitter at @coffeyfan77 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.