By Mike Mooneyham

Dec. 17, 2006

It was one year ago when Vince McMahon officially disposed of Eric Bischoff as Raw general manager at the North Charleston Coliseum. The storyline played out over the course of a nationally televised Raw that culminated with McMahon tossing him into a garbage truck and Bischoff being driven out of the arena following a “trial” where his history of unscrupulous actions were listed.

Two weeks ago, almost one year later to the day, another figurehead GM was sent home, but this time under different circumstances. Paul Heyman, the creative force behind ECW, left the North Charleston Coliseum following a closed-door meeting with McMahon and daughter Stephanie McMahon-Levesque several hours prior to a combined ECW and Raw show. Heyman immediately went to the airport and flew back to New York.

The WWE chairman cited slumping television ratings and a disgruntled talent roster as causes for Heyman’s dismissal. It is believed that an increasing number of creative disagreements led to the split, and that Heyman had been overruled on a number of decisions regarding the product.

Company statements described Heyman as “distant and depressed” hours before the North Charleston event.

Reports of the incident rippled through the arena as wrestlers and fans arrived at the venue for the show.

“I’m shocked. I don’t know what’s going on right now,” longtime ECW star Tommy Dreamer told the company Web site.

“I think that without Paul fighting for a better direction to take ECW, I fear that it’s in for some horrible changes,” lamented former ECW world champ Rob Van Dam.

Paul Heyman

Paul Heyman

“To quote a famous man, Hulkamania dies when Hogan dies, ‘Woo’ dies when Ric Flair dies, but when that man (Heyman) is gone and while he’s gone, ECW will live on,” said newcomer Elijah Burke.

The 41-year-old Heyman was the driving force behind one of the most influential wrestling organizations of the modern era – Extreme Championship Wrestling. The WWE-run ECW has been a far cry, however, from the original version that helped revolutionize the wrestling business during the ’90s. With the new, watered-down brand of ECW, Heyman was head writer but had limited authority and was subject to considerable editing by McMahon. It was a situation, though, he accepted coming into the position. Heyman admitted earlier this year that he likely would be the odd man out if a situation arose among himself and the McMahons.

“The only person who has power is Vince McMahon. He is single-handedly the majority stockholder and can do any damn thing he wants,” Heyman said at the time. “How much influence will I have? As long as corporately they’re open to making this an alternative product with a different vision, a different look and a different theme, I think I’ll have significant influence.”

Sources say the most recent dispute stemmed from basic differences on how the new ECW should be run. More specifically, however, both sides blamed one another on the poor showing and execution of the previous night’s ECW pay-per-view.

Most insiders would agree at this point that the ECW experiment, now six months old, has been a failure. Ratings have begun to show signs of dipping for its weekly one-hour show on the Sci-Fi channel. More importantly, the show has failed to produce new breakout stars, one of the major goals of the company going into the venture. With the possible exception of CM Punk, who has cultivated a strong following, no new legitimate superstars have emerged. And, almost inexplicably, Punk’s winning streak came to a screeching halt at the December to Dismember pay-per-view when he was eliminated in favor of Smackdown crossover talent Bobby Lashley.

Among the many questionable calls at the poorly received pay-per-view were pulling ECW favorite Sabu out of the Extreme Elimination Chamber match, having ECW mainstay Van Dam eliminated early, putting the ECW title on an “outsider” like Lashley, and announcing only two matches heading into the show. The pay-per-view also inexcusably ended only 22 minutes into the third hour and was the shortest WWE PPV in recent memory.

“That disappointing show was just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said one WWE source.

WWE lead announcer Jim Ross added his two cents on Heyman’s dismissal in a recent blog.

“Unfortunate to see Paul Heyman, the former ECW guru, leave the WWE. Paul is a bright guy with many interests and will no doubt ‘land on his feet.’ I have known and worked with Paul for many years, even when I was ‘thinner’ and ‘Happy Heyman’ had hair. We had our battles but Heyman is a sharpie cookie and won’t need a telethon or fund-raiser any time soon. I wish him the best in whatever he chooses to do.”

Heyman’s departure now gives McMahon the opportunity to move closer toward his “vision” for ECW, although most longtime ECW fans likely will see it as moving even further away from what they consider to be a viable alternative to the Raw and Smackdown brands. And with the dethroning and imminent departure of Big Show, McMahon seems determined to build the promotion around Lashley, who seems an odd fit to carry the banner for the hardcore promotion. Lashley wanted off the Smackdown brand due to personal issues with lead writer Michael Hayes and was reluctant in sharing the spotlight with WWE champ Batista.

Heyman reportedly butted heads with McMahon over the sudden ascension of Lashley to the ECW crown, but the WWE owner has been steadfast in his push to build the ECW brand aroud the three-time national collegiate wrestling champ.

This wasn’t the first time Heyman and McMahon have parted ways. The New York native was removed twice from creative positions on Smackdown, but both times was brought back months later with new assignments.

Heyman may be reassigned again rather than fired outright, not only because of his creative value to the company, but because of the immediate impact he might have working with a rival organization, namely TNA. The possibility of Heyman signing on with TNA, however, would be remote at the present time due to key individuals who comprise the TNA power structure.

McMahon could opt to send Heyman back to Ohio Valley Wrestling, where Heyman enjoyed a successful behind-the-scenes role following the forced departure of Jim Cornette, or one of the parties could simply break the contract.

Dave Lagana, who was part of the writing team with Heyman and a former head writer on Smackdown, is expected to assume lead writing duties in ECW.

Making the dysfunctional ECW situation even more precarious is the uncertain future of two of its most popular homegrown stars. Both Sabu and Rob Van Dam, whose contract is up soon, have been in the company doghouse since being busted on drug charges earlier this year. Van Dam, arguably the favorite among veteran ECW fans, further alienated himself with management when he refused – for the second straight year – to join a WWE troupe on its annual goodwill holiday trip to Iraq.

If Heyman were to decide to jump ship and join another group or even start his own promotion, it’s almost a lock that Van Dam, Sabu and a host of other disgruntled ECW orginals would follow their leader.

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air WWE’s Armageddon pay-per-view at 8 p.m. tonight. Cover charge is $7.