It was an entirely different wrestling universe 30 years ago when Paul Heyman's career in professional wrestling began. Promos felt far less scripted and formulaic as each performer was expected to know how much they should commit to and how far to go to sell whatever story was going on at the time to the best of their abilities.
In 2018, that's something of a lost art. With a few notable exceptions, like current NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa, there aren't many superstars at this point in time in the WWE who are willing to commit themselves fully to their performance in a way that feels genuine and not as though it's being read directly off a page.
On Monday night, Paul Heyman grabbed hold of the WWE audience for 10 minutes, shook it collectively to attention and threw down the gauntlet to show a modern generation what dedication and commitment to an on-screen performance looks like. One week removed from a startling dive into the complex and guarded persona of Brock Lesnar, which ended with Lesnar manhandling Heyman, questioning their friendship of 16 years and calling their partnership into doubt heading into SummerSlam, Heyman sat down for a one-on-one interview with Renee Young.
Before he said a single word, Heyman sold the story he was trying to tell. A week's worth of stubble shadowed his face, his eyes were bright red and irritated as though he spent the better part of the last week crying, and Heyman gently rocked back and forth in an effort to comfort himself. He was barely holding it together, and as he started to answer each question, Heyman couldn't hold back the emotion any longer.
"Brock Lesnar has disconnected his phone number, and I've tried to reach him through intermediaries," Heyman said, as tears welled up in his eyes. "And I don't know where we stand."
Young, trying to play it straight and act like a journalist with a volatile and emotional interview subject, fed Heyman everything he needed and didn't step on the moment. She pushed Heyman for answers, and instead of Heyman giving canned answers, the tears started to flow freely from his eyes.
"You know, I have a problem with this, guys, to be honest," Heyman said, looking around at the crew operating off-screen. "Brock's not going to like this. I mean, I'm out here talking in public about this -- this is kind of a private matter. This is just going to piss him off more."
Young pressed on with more and more evidence of a fraying relationship between advocate and client, with Heyman lashing out and telling Young and others that they were enjoying this moment of comeuppance as the previously smug and overconfident Heyman suffered his downfall. He tapped into very real emotions and relationships to sell the gravity of the moment and the purpose of his promo, all at once.
Heyman pointed to his friendship with Lesnar and the relationship their kids have, despite the fact that both men rarely, if ever, open themselves up to anyone else. He talked of always planning on riding off into the sunset together, of carrying the Universal championship on one shoulder and the UFC heavyweight title on the other. He even had a brief moment where he put it all together, only for his signature line to get caught in his throat as he started to say, "reigning, defending ..."
Young pressed Heyman to see what he would do if it was all over, and Heyman acted wounded at the implication he could just jump to another client. Finally, when it came time to sell a match that most feel will get booed out of the Barclays Center in a couple of weeks, Heyman did his best to raise the stakes and peak public interest.
On a night where much of what happened outside of Ronda Rousey's Raw in-ring debut felt as though it didn't do much to push stories forward, Heyman proved how powerful an old-school approach and commitment to a moment can truly mean.
Rousey uses submission to win first match on Raw
Ronda Rousey makes Alicia Fox tap out with a submission in her debut singles match on Monday Night Raw.
Hits and misses
- Ronda Rousey's Raw in-ring debut -- just her third televised match overall -- filled the main event position for the evening and accomplished everything it set out to do. Sure, building up Alicia Fox as the longest-tenured veteran of the WWE women's locker room and then not even giving her her own entrance music rang a little bit hollow, but that faded somewhat once it was time to get down to the match. It felt as though the only thing extending the action of the match was Alexa Bliss' interference, and once that was neutralized it got down to Rousey ragdolling Fox inside and outside of the ring.
Rousey flashed her jiu-jitsu skills and got a quick tapout with an arm submission, and that was that. Bliss tried another misguided blindside attack, to which Rousey responded with an arm throw, and for all intents and purposes the lead-up to this match feels as though it's as much of a coronation as it is a challenge. It'll be interesting to see what happens on Raw and on the night of SummerSlam to see if the tension or the stakes at hand happen to change.
- Roman Reigns was all over the show on Monday night, from the opening promo through a lengthy opening match with Baron Corbin. It was a competitive, if slow match, and only swung when Finn Balor walked down the ramp and cut Corbin off from running away from Reigns. An impressive-looking spear off the steel steps and a spear later, Reigns picked up the win. Reigns would later try to take on a second match as Seth Rollins' tag team partner, but Corbin and Stephanie McMahon, by proxy, shut that down just as the match was about to happen. Reigns got a rib shot in, but left Rollins to fend for himself against Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre, which went about as well as you might imagine.
- Braun Strowman emerged from beneath a stage to upend the Kevin Owens show and send both Kevin Owens and Jinder Mahal flying. Owens once again tried to steal the briefcase on multiple occasions, and further incensed Strowman to the point where he lost his second consecutive match against Mahal, this time by disqualification. If the rule of threes is any indication, Mahal is in for something ugly next week.
- Even though the storytelling has been strained for a long time, Bayley and Sasha Banks showed something in their tag team watch with the Riott Squad as their tag team attacks and in-ring style really started to gel. A string that tied together a Bayley Frankensteiner with a top rope Meteora from Banks was particularly impressive, with Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan also putting together a solid performance. The match swung on the return of Ruby Riott, and it's easy to imagine this leading to some sort of larger tag match heading into SummerSlam.
- The B-Team picked up some appropriately goofy new entrance music, but their tag team match against The Revival was cut short when Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy turned out the lights and apparently abducted half of each tag team. We're getting a triple threat tag team championship match next week on Raw.
- Elias had his own documentary crew in place to try to right the wrongs of the mockumentary that aired on the WWE Network, but those efforts instead turned into a highlight reel of Bobby Lashley tossing Elias around. I think we can guess where this one's heading.
- Rezar defeated Titus O'Neil to balance out Apollo Crews' victory over Akam last week. The only way to settle this will be a tag team match between Titus Worldwide and the Authors of Pain, I presume?
- Bobby Roode beat Mojo Rawley in a match that dragged. While there's nothing inherently wrong in testing Rawley against established talent, this match didn't move the needle and did neither guy any favors.
- Only one match was added to the SummerSlam card, as Corbin and Balor will carry on their ongoing series in a one-on-one grudge match in Brooklyn.