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SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, December 7, 2001

Heyman is missed a little

Eric Benner
By ERIC BENNER
Special to SLAM! Sports


A weekly
SLAM! Wrestling
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When the ECW-WCW Alliance was folded last month at Survivor Series, it didnāt make much sense to retain Paul Heyman as colour commentator. Fortunately, popular former WWF colour commentator Jerry ĪThe Kingā Lawler was available for a big return. His re-debut along with the presence of Ric Flair helped to make the post-Survivor Series Raw one of the biggest and best this year. Paul Heyman was a nice break, but Jerry Lawler belongs at the broadcast table of Monday Night Raw.

Paul Heyman was not a bad commentator. In many ways, he was great; in some, he was even better than Lawler. For one, Heyman had an intensity that almost sounded real. Clearly, heās a man who loves the sport of wrestling, and for all heās been through, he sounds like a man possessed when calling a wrestling match.

On top of that, though, when it comes to the wrestling business, Heyman is widely regarded as at least an innovator at worst and a mastermind at best. Aside from the fact that his fingerprints have been visible on a myriad of WWF feuds and angles and even personas, Heyman is very, very good at getting angles over. He knows what to emphasize, when, and how much.

Watching commentators like WCWās Scott Hudson or Tony Schiavonne or even the WWFās own Michael Cole, I feel like they have only one setting: super high intensity. They sell every angle, every match, and every wrestler as being absolutely huge. Thatās great enthusiasm, but it also means they regard every angle and every wrestler and every match as equal, which is not a good way to tell a story. Itās much better to take a break from time to time, be fairly calm calling a match, and then go crazy when the big angle drops.

Paul Heyman had that ability. He demonstrated a good balance of treating each segment as if it were important but at the same time isolating and emphasizing the really important aspects of the show. Iāve had many disagreements with other wrestling fans about the success of Paul Heyman as a broadcast partner for Jim Ross. My typical argument is that Heyman could work very well with anyone and that his serious tone is a welcome respite from Lawlerās over-the-top and sometimes repetitive humour. Many other fans disagreed, suggesting that not only did Heyman and Ross step on each otherās toes repeatedly, but that neither of them really played the colour commentator. In professional wrestling, the play-by-play commentator sets the pace and the tone, and both Heyman and Ross seemed to be trying to do that.

After awhile, I began to agree. Paul Heyman seems to me to be a strong creative force and a capable announcer, but his tone is just too serious for me. I get tired listening to him. I donāt get tired of listening to him, as in bored of him, but tired as I listen to him. He wears me out. Heās effective, but I feel almost exhausted after listening to two hours of his Raw commentary.

When The King returned, it felt to me (and to those who were watching the show with me) as if he had never been gone. Not only has Jerry Lawler come to symbolize Monday Night Raw and WWF Attitude, but he fits perfectly.

Itās hard to take professional wrestling really seriously. Not only is it exhausting, as I described above, but it seems out of place to dramatize every segment in a wrestling show. Lawler helps to keep the pace light and energetic. He has a manner of commentating that treats the sport wrestling with respect without taking it too seriously.

Sure, his jokes can be repetitive and get old at times. But when they do, Lawler is much easier to mentally relegate to the background than Heyman.

All things considered, I would love to see Heyman pop up as a commentator on another WWF program. I may prefer Lawler, but Heyman is still a top talent. That said, Iām glad Jerry Lawler is back. His one-liners, punch lines, crude remarks, and fondness for the opposite sex all make excellent content for a televised wrestling program.

Here's the mailbag.

Casey Johnson, from johns1ca@hotmail.com, writes:
"The WWF keeps saying that the winner of the matches at the PPV will be the first ever undisputed champion. Ross even said that 'even Lou Thesz wasn't an undisputed champion.' However, according to http://www.wrestling-titles.com/titles/world/world-h/ Thesz unified the following titles to become undisputed champion:

* National Wrestling Association World Heavyweight title, defeating Bill Longson on 48/07/20 in Indianapolis, IN
* National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight title, awarded on 49/11/27
when champion Orville Brown is injured in an automobile accident on 49/11/01 before a unification match scheduled on 49/11/25 in St. Louis, MO
* Defends against A.W.A. (Boston) World Heavyweight champion Gorgeous George on 50/07/27 in Chicago, IL (A.W.A. title not on line)
* Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium version of the world title, defeating Baron Michele Leone on 52/05/21 in Los Angeles, CA.

So what's the deal? Was Thesz an undisputed champion?

I could also point out that the other companies in the world probably don't agree with the WWF championship, but in my opinion, the WWF and WCW titles are the only ones left that have true lineage (The NWA lost their lineage three times in the 90's with Flair, Flair again, and Douglas- and beside that, the NWA title is vacant right now)."

As always, I can offer insight if not a definite answer. In theory, the term 'undisputed champion' means exactly what it sounds like: no one would dispute the champion. For that to be so, the individual in question must in theory be the champion of every generally accepted organization.

Since we live in a market economy, there are often more than one organization offering a given sport. As a result, it is difficult for one individual to be an undisputed champion.

Really, the crux of the matter here is what we want to define as 'undisputed'. If the WWF means undisputed within North America, then there's a good chance I would agree with them. If you had asked me four or five years ago what belts an undisputed champion would have to possess within North America, I would likely have said "WWF, WCW, ECW, and NWA". As you pointed out, not only had the NWA belt lost its way back then, but since the retirement of Steve Corino there doesn't seem to be a champion at all for that belt. ECW's belt is gone since the company shut their doors and the WWF absorbed its talent but not its championships. That leaves only the two belts being fought over at Vengeance.

I don't know enough to tell you whether there were other titles out there in North America that Lou Thesz did not hold when he was called an undisputed champion. Given the regional nature of wrestling back then, I would bet that there were indeed other organizations and other belts, and that in reality he was quite disputed after all. That's a guess, though.

Meanwhile, back in the present, whoever walks out of Vengeance with both belts could be considered an undisputed champion in North America. If another organization steps up to the plate and really makes a name for itself, like perhaps XWF or some other newcomer, then it would crown its own champion. Once that organization was established and had a real fan base in the wrestling community, then I would recognize that title as essentially a dispute over who the real champion is, and the WWF's champion would cease to be undisputed.

Of course, if the WWF intends for their champion to be truly undisputed on a worldwide basis, as the name of the titles being fought over suggests, then there's no way they could back up that claim. There are several championships over in Japan and perhaps one or two in Mexico that would render any WWF-WCW champion disputed.

The same could be said for Mr. Thesz in his day. If there was another strong champion in Japan or Mexico, then his reign was also disputed.

It may seem like splitting hairs, but the WWF is making a big claim this weekend, and I don't think they can really back it up.


Kelly Vaders, from kellynchad@ns.sympatico.ca, writes:
"I have been attending cards recently for a small independent promotion here in Halifax and, while the in-ring work has been so-so (and even less impressive among the heavyweights,) the psychology behind the matches makes up greatly for any shortcomings on the technical side and, as a result, fan interest in the match skyrockets. It would appear that a large segment of wrestling's fan base are looking for a story in the match itself, but I think that the WWF, for example, seems to have abandoned entirely this aspect that separates a mere Hardy-esque spotfest from a Bulldogs-Hart Foundation classic. What are your thoughts on this?"

I spent so much space and time answering Casey's question above and I have so much to say on this matter that barring a major happening in the world of wrestling, I'd love to address this in my column next week. I thought I'd post this letter anyway just in case other fans wanted to chime in with their own two cents to be published with next week's column.

Suffice it to say that though I hate to say it, I completely agree with you, Kelly.


That's all for this week. Have a fantastic weekend.




Send email to ebenner@hotmail.com.


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