Professional wrestling has taken Paul Heyman all over the world for more than 35 years as he’s performed at nearly every major arena in the U.S. and has held a microphone in front of a crowd of more than 150,000 fans.
But coming to Philadelphia will always be special.
“And it’s not about any particular arena,” Heyman said. “I’m equally at home in the Wells Fargo Center as I would have been at The Spectrum as I was at WCW in the Civic Center and at ECW at a dilapidated bingo hall on the wrong side of the train tracks at Swanson and Ritner. It’s not about the four walls that host you, it’s about the audience that’s in there.”
Heyman will feel at home again on Oct. 8 when WWE returns to the Wells Fargo Center for Extreme Rules, the company’s first “premium live event” — formerly known as pay-per-views — in Philadelphia in more than two years.
Philadelphia has long been one of WWE’s traditional stops but the company’s travel was limited during the pandemic. The 30-month gap between premium live events in Philadelphia — the last was Elimination Chamber in March 2020 at the Wells Fargo Center — is the longest gap between signature shows in Philly in 10 years.
Tickets for Extreme Rules go on sale July 15 at 10 a.m. and fans can register for a presale by visiting wwe.com/extreme-rules-presale-2022.
“It’s a litmus test,” Heyman said of the Philly crowd. “There’s an honesty from the Philadelphia sports fan that comes through, that permeates through the television set when you watch these events on television. There’s no BS from a Philadelphia crowd. If they like you, they will reward you and bestow on you an affirmation that is quite — no pun intended — extreme and if they don’t like you and don’t like what you’re presenting, their negative reaction is quite — no pun intended — extreme. You’re going to know where you stand when you perform in Philly.”
Heyman isn’t expecting WWE’s absence to make the fans grow fonder.
“I don’t know if there is the sentiment in Philadelphia that lends itself to ‘Hey, we’re going to have a good time because we haven’t been here in a while,’ ” Heyman said. “I would suggest in Philadelphia that everyone who plays that city needs to bring their A plus, plus, plus, plus game because the sentimentality of ‘Oh, wow. I’m so glad they’re back and they haven’t been here in a while’ wears off after five minutes and then the crowd is demanding and wants what they paid for.”
Heyman helped revolutionize pro wrestling during the 1990s with his Extreme Championship Wrestling, which ran out of what is now called the 2300 Arena in South Philly. The company changed the business by pushing the envelope with a gritty, more realistic product and they introduced “extreme wrestling” to the mainstream.
Since WWE’s October event — which was last held in Philly in 2019 — has “extreme” in the name, it only seems fitting that it’s being held again in South Philly.
“The Philadelphia mindset, the Philadelphia sports fan ushered in a mindset that is still to this day not only clamored for but desired by fans worldwide but it can never be duplicated outside of Philly,” Heyman said. “Anytime there is an Extreme Rules pay-per-view or premium live event as they’re called now outside of Philadelphia, it’s a crime.”
“I can’t say enough about the Philadelphia sports fan and the character in and of itself that the sports fan plays. The star of the show when you play Philly is the crowd. They will make sure that a global audience understands that its WWE Extreme Rules in Philadelphia starring the Philadelphia crowd. That’s why it’s so famous.”
Heyman, 56, is currently the on-screen “special counsel” of Roman Reigns, who holds the company’s top championships: the WWE title and the Universal title. Reigns, known as “The Tribal Chief,” is expected by most to enter Extreme Rules as champion.
The cousin of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Reigns was an All-ACC defensive tackle at Georgia Tech and spent time in NFL training camps. Reigns has spent his entire career in WWE and broke into the business years after Heyman was running ECW shows in South Philly.
But Heyman said Reigns is the “one of the toughest men to ever step foot into a WWE ring.” So the champ could certainly hold his own inside a dilapidated bingo hall on the wrong side of the train tracks at Swanson and Ritner.
“He has the agility and aptitude of a Division I athlete and don’t ever lose sight that Roman Reigns could be the UFC heavyweight champion in a heartbeat,” Heyman said. “The aura of him being presented as The Tribal Chief at times betrays what an extremely — all pun intended — tough man and athlete who stands before you as your tribal chief.”