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By: Zach Arnold, Special Guest Columnist
UFC 116 this past Saturday in Las Vegas will go down as one of the more historically-notable events in MMA history. Brock Lesnar came back from a serious illness and managed to outlast a very game heavyweight in Shane Carwin. Lesnar, who is as hated as anybody by MMA fans, has managed to flip the script. He's gone from being the invader to being the UFC Heavyweight champion.
There is still lingering resentment from many who feel that he was given special privileges for not having to work the minor league circuit like other MMA greats, but the truth is that Brock Lesnar in 2010 has the same effect that Hulk Hogan had on then-WWF undercards in the 80s -- if you work on the same show that they are on, you are going to make more money. That's something the UFC undercard fighters can definitely appreciate.
For as much exposure as Brock Lesnar's fight received on Saturday night, one person all week long found himself at the center of attention in the media. Paul Heyman, the Svengali of all things Mr. Lesnar, spent a week in Las Vegas getting free publicity in the media wherever he went. He was electric in every interview he was involved in. Heyman's presence brings up a question that everyone in the MMA and pro wrestling worlds is asking:
What is he up to now?
Paul Heyman, like all good con men and all good shysters, is a few steps ahead of everyone else. By the time you figure out what he's up to, he's trying to sell you something else. That's the key to working people over -- the ability to take kernels of truth and spin them the way you want, sell them, repackage them, and then move onto something else and continue to keep people's attention before they get bored.
Heyman knows that his relationship with Brock Lesnar is one that mutually benefits both parties. Some would say he got lucky for picking the one pro wrestler who could make it into sports. Others might say that Mr. Heyman saw it coming along all the way. Whatever the case may be, Paul Heyman is positioning himself to make new history and no one sees it coming.
He's positioned himself to become MMA's first pro wrestling style manager.
MMA has a lot of new superstars and many of them are good talkers, something that has been crushed by WWE's constantly scripted promos and storylines. MMA is real and wrestling has lost touch with reality. Managers used to be a key component of wrestling, but WWE is not a place for managers and hasn't been for a long time. Managers serve a purpose -- to be mouthpieces for those who don't want to talk or can't talk.
In the case of Brock Lesnar, having Paul Heyman as his pro wrestling style manager in MMA works out beautifully. Brock hates dealing with the media and dealing with people. Paul loves dealing with the media and dealing with people. It's fresh meat to him.
A healthy portion of MMA media writers come from pro wrestling or like pro wrestling, which allows Heyman to get free media at UFC events and discuss whatever he wants to discuss in a forum where he's not going to get attacked or questioned. Plus, a lot of the interviews go viral very quickly, so Heyman gets publicity for free and without having to work at it. Everyone loves to mark out for him. Plus, he's politically incorrect and yet smooth-talking at the same time.
Paul Heyman gets to bring back Paul E. Dangerously without the ridiculously big cell phone in tow. He also gets to live out being MMA's first real manager without having to travel to television weekly. He shows up whenever Brock shows up somewhere, does his PR, and goes back home.
By having Paul Heyman doing the media rounds, Brock Lesnar gets to avoid the media scrutiny from those who say "why won't he cooperate with us." Heyman gets to fill in that media vacuum by putting over Brock's fights, the men Brock is fighting, and his own business projects (which include a new book project with Brock coming out soon).
Heyman gets to live out history with the biggest superstar in Mixed Martial Arts. It's literally a dream gig with full-time benefits for part-time work.
If you noticed in the many interviews Heyman did last week to hype up UFC 116, he trashed the current direction of pro wrestling. While he was doing this, his credibility soared because fans got to see Jim Ross, Steve Austin, Bill Goldberg, and The Rock in attendance at UFC 116. The Undertaker is also a huge MMA fan.
Wrestling fans are seeing something bizarre and they are able to connect the dots. If it's safe for the wrestlers to mark out for MMA, then I guess it's safe enough for us to do so. While this is happening, Vince McMahon continues to be in a state of denial on quarterly conference calls when he refuses to acknowledge UFC as direct PPV competition. Buy rate data indicates that when UFC runs a major PPV event the night before a WWE PPV, the WWE PPV buy rate gets hurt.
Back to Heyman, however. Why is he trashing the current state of pro wrestling in media interviews? Doesn't he come from the pro wrestling world? Why would he turn on wrestling?
Heyman's attacks on the state of wrestling allow him to do several things. First, he's getting to say something "controversial." It's only controversial in the minds of those who are in still in WWE who believe that UFC has nothing to do with their struggles.
However, for disgruntled wrestling fans, they are cheering Heyman on when they see him trash where WWE and TNA are taking wrestling. By attacking 'corporate wrestling' as Jim Cornette likes to call it, Paul Heyman is able to do the same thing in 2010 that he was doing in the early 90s when he started ECW.
He's playing the role as a guy standing up against "the man," and in this case, "the man" is Vince McMahon and what he's done to professional wrestling.
Much in the same vein that Heyman went after corporate wrestling in 1993 with ECW, Heyman is doing the exact same thing in 2010 by promoting UFC and Brock Lesnar. Except, Heyman doesn't have to put up any of his own money, and he gets to make money off of it.
Heyman is able to convince disgruntled wrestling fans that he feels their pain and knows what's up. Just like ECW promised to bring more reality and violence to wrestling in the 90s, Heyman feels that UFC is doing the exact same thing to pro wrestling in 2010.
Paul Heyman is getting to relive his days as a promoter without losing any of his family's money. He is the promoter of the biggest draw in UFC. Heyman is promoting Lesnar in the same manner that he promoted ECW for so many years. Raw, violent, ready for game day, real, and most importantly -- not fake.
What's more real than Mixed Martial Arts? Professional wrestling doesn't have an answer to that question at the moment.
Look at the amount of pro wrestlers who go to MMA shows or talk about MMA these days. Jeff Hardy was on camera when Spike TV broadcasted a UFC Fight Night event on 3/31 from Charlotte. Kurt Angle can't shut up about how he's wanted to get into MMA for years and how he could beat the top guys with new holds no one has ever seen before. Batista just left millions of dollars on the table with WWE to try to get a deal with Strikeforce to perhaps fight Bobby Lashley.
Wrestling fans are seeing the message. The biggest stars in pro wrestling are as unhappy as they are in the way the business is headed.
There is one key point to understand when Paul Heyman attacks the current direction of the wrestling business. Do not confuse Heyman's attack with the current state of wrestling as an attack on pro wrestling in general. He loves wrestling, or at least what it used to be.
We know that one promotion, TNA, wants Paul Heyman to be their savior. They want him to come into the company and turn it around. The truth is that TNA is a sinking ship and it's a brand that literally has 'burned down a town,' if by town you mean their entire audience.
Why should Paul Heyman trust TNA to give him what he wants? Therein lies the opening Heyman is leaving himself to get back into pro wrestling, while also keeping his foot in the door in the MMA world by being Lesnar's manager.
Heyman views himself much in the same mold as Dana White. There are many comparisons one can make between Dana White and Vince McMahon and they all are accurate. However, Paul Heyman also sees a bit of himself in Dana White.
White curses and doesn't give a damn what his critics think. White is every bit as raw and as extreme as Heyman. White and the UFC are the outsiders who are changing, transforming, and attacking the wrestling business by giving fans an alternative to corporate wrestling, which is insulting to the intelligence of so many loyal fans.
It was Dana White who coined the phrase "do you want to be a [expletive] fighter?" That's exactly the kind of thing a master of psychology like Paul Heyman would say to young fighters with minds that he can mold.
So, what if Paul Heyman sees himself as someone who can become pro wrestling's version of Dana White?
If TNA was to give into his demands, they would more than likely have to give up a piece of the company to Paul (or at least some sort of possible tie-in with Panda Energy). This would be similar to the business arrangement Dana White has with Lorenzo & Frank Fertitta III.
TNA is also on the same network as UFC, Spike TV. Spike TV used to be the network known as TNN, which is where ECW was on television a little over a decade ago. If Paul Heyman can convince Spike TV executives that he can do the same thing with TNA that Dana White has done for the UFC, then for the first time in his life he feels like he could get complete network support for a product that he is involved in producing. That's a huge win for him if he can pull it off.
Make no mistake about the fact that Heyman would be more interested in getting back into the pro wrestling fold as opposed to competing against the UFC in the MMA industry. Heyman made it very clear in multiple interviews as to his admiration for the UFC and the brand that they built. He said the only result in competing against Dana White and UFC would be to get your ass kicked.
Competing in the MMA world on a business venture makes no sense for Paul Heyman. He would find himself in a totally uphill battle as far as promoting a competing product. Furthermore, Heyman would be giving up his plum gig now of being Brock Lesnar's public manager. Why would Heyman give up all the things he has going for him in MMA by making enemies and gaining little out of it?
If Heyman is able to get the right offer from TNA, he can be the Dana White of professional wrestling. He can also keep what he has in the world of MMA. It's the ultimate win/win situation for him.
If you sit back and look at what Paul Heyman is up to, he's a genius for the way that he has positioned himself to do big things in MMA, pro wrestling, or both industries. In MMA, he gets to live out his old days as a manager as a de facto promoter of the biggest superstar in UFC.
He also gets to live out his gimmick of being the outsider that 'tells truth to power' on behalf of fans by saying what everyone feels, which is that corporate wrestling sucks right now. Most importantly, however, Heyman is placing him in a role where he can keep his MMA duties but also get back into a powerful position in professional wrestling and do it on his own terms.
He gets to do all of this without losing a single cent. In every way imaginable, Heyman's Hustle has everyone talking, and that means new opportunities open up every day for one of pro wrestling's most brilliant minds ever.
Zach Arnold is the Owner/Writer of FightOpinion.com. Check out the site for more from Zach daily.
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