Ron Simmons has been announced for WWE’s Hall of Fame this year, and it’s not before time (for the record, he was one of my ‘Core 50’ in the RTV Hall of Fame). That means I need to announce my fourth entrant, and it’s a man with an undeniable influence on what pro-wrestling is today. He spent a short time away from wrestling, but now that he and Brock Lesnar have signed a promotional deal with WWE again, he entrance is timely.
There are lots of things that make Heyman a special and important figure in the history of pro-wrestling. Heyman, witty and passionate, was one of the best, and most underrated, commentators of his time and all time. Paul E. Dangerously, complete with chunky contemporary mobile phone, is one of the greatest managers of all time, implementing a great modern character of a sleazy, brash, New York yuppie to manage people like The Undertaker, Steve Austin, Rick Rude, Arn Anderson, Don Muraco, Jimmy Snuka, Big Show, and Kurt Angle to great success. Most successfully perhaps was his run with “The Next Big Thing” Brock Lesnar, a man with almost zero charisma, who he managed to the very top of the industry. More importantly than anything though was his management of ECW wrestlers like Sabu, Taz, Rhino, 911, Shane Douglas, and Tommy Dreamer, the life-blood of ECW. Indeed, this is emblematic of his most significant impact, being the driving force behind a significant part of the inspiration and catalyst for one of the most brazen and successful period in wrestling history.
In 1993, Eastern Championship Wrestling was a simple affiliate of the NWA, but with Heyman a creative force there, it soon became its most successful affiliate, and would become a catalyst for a new, hardcore, era of pro-wrestling. Due to its success, the NWA booked ECW’s champion, Shane Douglas to become the NWA World Champion, but Heyman (along with Douglas and one-time ECW owner, Tod Gordon) conspired against the NWA, taking the title and trashing it, along with the “tradition” of the promotion and the outdated approach to wrestling they said it represented. From here, ECW went ‘Extreme’, favouring more realistic characters that were encouraged to shoot on other wrestlers and promotions, brutal “hardcore” wrestling which required more sacrifice from wrestlers than ever before, a more interactive experience for the fans (including them providing weapons for matches and ‘smart’ chanting), the introduction of Mexican and Japanese styles to North America where they had largely been absent before, and a focus on high-level technical wrestling alongside the “hardcore” work. Because of this focus, ECW boasts a particularly impressive alumni, including Mick Foley, Rey Mysterio Jr, Chris Jericho, Steve Austin, Rob Van Dam, and Eddie Guerrero, among others already mentioned under Heyman’s management.
Though moguls like Eric Bischoff and Vince McMahon like to deny it, the influence of this revolution was palpable in both organisations. In its growth, WCW banked largely on an influx of cruiserweights, many from Japan and Mexico, as well as pilfering talent from ECW like Mike Awesome and Raven once ECW had made successes of them. The WWF, which had a better relationship with Heyman, including a kayfabe ‘Invasion’ angle in 1997, nonetheless also borrowed from ECW, especially in terms of the more adult-oriented and “hardcore” Attitude Era.
ECW wasn’t the only catalyst for this golden era of wrestling, but it’s own attitude and originality had a significant hand in it, and for that, Heyman deserves to be enshrined in any Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame.