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28th Jun 2019

Can Paul Heyman save WWE from its creative slump?

Wil Jones

Thursday brought the unexpected news that Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff have been named as Executive Directors of Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live respectively

WWE is in a slump right now. Last week’s Stomping Grounds pay-per-view was marred by poor ticket sales and the crowd chanting CM Punk throughout the main event. The booking has been woeful of late, punctuated with endless Baron Corbin rematches and confusing new additions like the ‘wildcard rule’. With New Japan Pro Wrestling making inroads into the West and AEW set to debut its weekly show soon, it is coming at the worst time at the company. Despite what Seth Rollins might tweet, WWE is not in a good place.

Action is needed – and this week it was announced that Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff have been appointed as ‘Executive Directors’ of Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live respectively, reportedly having creative control over either show. It is impossible not to notice the irony that the reigns have been handed to the two guys that ran WCW and ECW in the late 1990s, WWE’s two biggest competitors that they drove out of business.

The addition of Bischoff could go either way – he was in charge of WCW both its commercial height and eventual downfall, and the less said about his tenure in TNA Impact, the better. But it is Paul Heyman being given the keys to the flagship show that is getting wrestling fans excited.

Paul Heyman is generally regarded as one of the smartest minds in pro wrestling. Starting out as a manager in WCW, in the mid-1990s Heyman changed wrestling forever with his stewardship of ECW. He took a regional promotion and turned into the number three company in America. And while some of it might be horribly dated now, it perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the 90s – grungy, anti-establishment, alternative, boundary-pushing, lots of dudes in plaid shirts. It was smart and innovative and forward thinking – traits WWE is sorely lacking in 2019.

Following WWE’s takeover of ECW, Heyman would then become lead writer for SmackDown from July 2002 to February 2003, an era beloved by fans for fantastic matches featuring the ‘SmackDown Six’ of Edge, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero. He’d also later oversee developmental territory OVW, where he’d shepherd an indie wrestler named CM Punk, who no one else saw potential in, into one of the biggest stars of all time.

The question then is: can Paul Heyman work his magic again? For the last few years, he has served as Brock Lesnar’s on-screen advocate, often appearing in-lieu of Lesnar due to the former UFC star only being contracted for a very limited number of appearances. In truth, that schtick has gotten pretty stale, though the fault of that is mostly down to Lesnar’s lack of screen time rather than anything Heyman has done.

We are a long way from the late-1990s, and even the height of Heyman’s success with CM Punk was a long time ago. Like anyone, Heyman talks a good game, but whether he still has any ideas in the tank remains to be seen. Yet despite the ongoing malaise, WWE’s roster is currently stacked with incredible talents, and if anyone would know how to utilise them, you’d think it would be Paul Heyman.

Really, the most promising thing about the appointment of Heyman and Bischoff is the fact that someone – anyone – new has been drafted in. It shows that WWE is acknowledging it has a problem, and they need to mix things up. Of course, the big question here is whether Vince McMahon will actually let Heyman and Bischoff have the final say. That will be the real indication of change.