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Paul Heyman’s road to the WWE Hall of Fame has roots in Philadelphia: ‘An induction destined to be extreme’

Extreme Championship Wrestling "could never have happened in any other city,” Heyman said.

WWE's Paul Heyman is one of the founders of Extreme Championship Wrestling, which was based in Philadelphia.
WWE's Paul Heyman is one of the founders of Extreme Championship Wrestling, which was based in Philadelphia.Read moreWWE / Eric Johnson

Only in pro wrestling can a brassy New Yorker peddling an ultra-violent brand of sports entertainment — where any weapon was legal and often brought from home by bloodthirsty fans — can join the hall of fame.

Paul Heyman, the consummate showman whose Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion galvanized Philadelphians and made industrywide waves from a bingo hall at the corner of Swanson and Ritner streets in the late 1990s, will be the first member of the 2024 class inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be held at the Wells Fargo Center on April 5.

“I’m a native New Yorker,” Heyman, 58, said. “But I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to be inducted anywhere else besides Philadelphia.”

Heyman’s induction ceremony is one of several events culminating in WrestleMania XL, a two-night extravaganza on April 6 and 7 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Following behind Undisputed Universal champion Roman Reigns as he saunters to the ring for his marquee matchup with baby face Cody Rhodes will be Heyman, spokesperson and hype man.

» READ MORE: WrestleMania descends on Philadelphia: Five days of title fights, star showdowns, and fan festivities

This will be Heyman’s seventh WrestleMania appearance, serving as an exclamation point on his more than 40 years in the wrestling business, which began as a photographer for the World Wide Wrestling Federation, precursor to the WWE, in the 1970s at Madison Square Garden.

He learned more from behind the curtain than behind the camera lens.

Continuing his education with stints as a manager and an announcer in the territory days of the National Wrestling Alliance and World Championship Wrestling, Heyman eventually took control of ECW in 1995, setting a new course for the industry.

Mainstream wrestling, at that time, was little more than family-friendly entertainment. ECW brought adult storylines, a grittier presentation, and an intentional lack of tradition. It embraced hard landings and bloody faces. The fans demanded commitment from the wrestlers in both performance and attitude. Fans wanted to see a fight, fixed or not.

But don’t get it muddled. Heyman insists his promotion was more than blood-soaked mats and rings roped in barbed wire. He saw his wrestlers as multifaceted and flawed characters that were dropped into compelling situations as part of a twisted opera played out in an old Mummer’s rehearsal space under I-95.

At the heart of each story lay three questions: Who are these people? Why are they fighting? And why should the audience give a damn?

» READ MORE: From 2022: WWE will receive a ‘litmus test’ when Extreme Rules returns to Philadelphia in October

“The violence was one component,” he said. “The secret sauce was the depth of the personas, and then the intricate ways that we matched them up against each other.”

After ECW folded in 2001, he moved on to the WWE, where he’s served various roles over the last 20 years, before settling in as the valet of the company’s biggest star.

He made his name in Philadelphia as a rebel, but now he’s gone corporate. Heyman traded his signature ball cap and ponytail for a close-cropped horseshoe hair cut and an ill-fitted suit, transitioning from hanging with the outcasts to advocating for the poster boy.

But you can’t take the Philadelphia out of the New Yorker.

“ECW could never have happened in any other city,” he said. “And Paul Heyman in the hall of fame? Maybe. But with ECW? That’s an induction that’s destined to be extreme.”