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Paul Heyman Opens Up About SummerSlam's Tribal Combat, Roman Reigns Mindset

Ahead of Tribal Combat between Roman and Jey at SummerSlam 2023, Paul Heyman grants USA Insider an exclusive interview!

By Chris Phelan
Paul Heyman looking into the camera with a stern look on his face

As one of the most influential and creative minds in wrestling history, we jumped at the opportunity to speak to Paul Heyman, the Special Counsel to Roman Reigns and the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. Heyman's contributions to the world of professional wrestling are unparalleled – from getting his start as on-air talent in NWA and WCW to helming ECW to his time as both behind-the-scenes and on-camera talent in WWE, he is arguably the most notable wrestling mind on the planet. So, picking his brain about Reigns title defense at SummerSlam and all things WWE was a no-brainer.

What is Roman Reigns' SummerSlam Mindset?

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With SummerSlam 2023 on the horizon, Heyman had no interest in talking about himself, his contributions to wrestling, or where he stands in history – the Wiseman is laser-focused on Tribal Combat, Roman Reigns, and The Bloodline. For him, it's not about the past but what's ahead. 

That's OK with us, as SummerSlam is shaping up to blow the roof off Ford Field on Aug 5. With Jey Uso challenging Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship in a match coined "Tribal Combat," Heyman wasted no time giving USA Insider a glimpse into the mind of his champion. After we pointed out that Reigns is technically on a losing streak for the first time in over three years, Heyman assured us that the champion is undeterred in his focus on SummerSlam.

"Of course the loss is hanging over Roman's head – it's the Sword of Damocles," Heyman said, referring to the ancient Roman parable that signifies something terrible could happen to you at any time. "Jey Uso has stripped the Tribal Chief of his sense of invincibility, invulnerability, of the sense that he is impervious to loss. We've never presented Roman Reigns as a god, only that he's in God Mode. But we've always been very aware that he's not a god – he's a man, he's a Tribal Chief. He's a father of five; he's a husband, he's a son. He's a human being, and this human being lost – in a tag team match, admittedly – but still lost."

RELATED: 5 WWE Superstars Who Made the Most of Their SummerSlam Debuts

Heyman continued, noting that Jey Uso may have opened a door he may later regret.

"And Jey Uso, who knows Roman Reigns better than any other being on the planet – they were raised as brothers, not cousins – and Jey Uso pierced that veil and exposed the vulnerability, so this is where all leaders and great warriors and chieftains must do," he added. "This is where Roman Reigns must rise to the occasion. This is where Roman Reigns gets to prove that adversity that does define the Tribal Chief and the Tribal Chief will turn back all adversity when faced with the task. So in many ways, the most devastating moment of the past few years for Roman Reigns, which was a loss in a tag team match to his cousin Jey Uso, was also the defining moment leading to us witnessing the greatness of Roman Reigns in that when taken down to such a low, it only propels him to rise to new heights."

It's a scary thought for the WWE Universe. Now that Reigns has tasted loss, he may become more powerful – and more unstoppable – than ever. 

What's Paul Heyman's All-Time Favorite SummerSlam Match?

Paul Heyman

A week ahead of SummerSlam 2023, we couldn't help but ask Heyman to reveal his all-time favorite SummerSlam match. We were curious how he would answer – would he pick a workrate classic like Bret vs. Bulldog in 1992 or a car-crash spectacle involving his two most well-known clients, like Roman vs. Brock at SummerSlam 2022? 

As it turned out, we should've seen Heyman's answer coming a mile away.

"The one coming up between Roman Reigns and Jey Uso in Tribal Combat is my favorite match," Heyman told us flatly. "I understand the enormity of the emotions that are tied into this fight, this championship match, this battle for the Head of the Table. I understand how personal it is, not just to Roman Reigns, but to Jey Uso. I understand how personal it is to Solo Sikoa, I understand how personal it is to Afa and Sika, and how personal it is to me. If nothing else, this is my favorite SummerSlam match of all time because I never enjoyed the anticipation for a match as much as I have for this one."

As one of the most intimidating men in WWE history, Paul Heyman's mere presence when being interviewed can cause anyone to be thrown off their interviewing game. It doesn't matter where Heyman is, and it doesn't matter if WWE cameras are rolling or not – he is an expert in his craft. Being the Special Counsel is not a job title in name only; he lives and breathes the responsibility it carries. 

Does Paul Heyman's Shoulders Hurt From Carrying Roman Reigns' Titles?

Paul Heyman

 In 2023, the WWE Universe's mental image of Paul Heyman is of the man impeccably dressed with the Universal Championship and WWE Championship draped over his shoulders.

As it turns out, he is well aware of the weight he carries.

"You know, I'm a kid who grew up in the shadow of Madison Square Garden," he told us. "I'm someone who used to go to school and defend the concept of Bruno Sammartino and Superstar Billy Graham and Pedro Morales – and even later, much to my 20/20 hindsight chagrin, Bob Backlund. When you think of the history that I carry on my shoulders – on one shoulder the title that represents Buddy Rogers, Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, Superstar Billy Graham, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Brock Lesnar, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, John Cena, The Undertaker, Ric Flair. And on the other shoulder, I carry the Universal Championship, which started as a secondary title until Brock Lesnar had a 500-plus day title reign with it, with me, only to be eclipsed by a thousand-plus day title reign by the Tribal Chief Roman Reigns, with me. The Universal Title on SmackDown held by Roman Reigns meant more than the WWE Title on Monday Night RAW despite all of its lineage. Both of these titles are displayed on my shoulders. I am so aware of the history I'm documenting by standing there with these two titles on my shoulders."

Paul Heyman is a true student of the game, and he acknowledged the great responsibility he willingly accepts when treating the titles on his shoulders with such reverence.

"It's a religious experience, because I understand how sacred the history is and how it's symbolized in those two championships that are on my shoulders," Heyman asserted. "This is not 'bling' to me. This is someone walking around with the Stanley Cup. This is someone carrying around not only their own Academy Award, but an Academy Award representing the greatest actors in history. This is the trophy of all trophies in this industry, and I get to display it on television at all times – and I get to display both of them. Roman Reigns is the current reigning, defending Undisputed WWE Universal Heavyweight Champion, and therefore, he wears the new championship that was designed to signify that. But he allows me – he blesses me – with the opportunity to stand at his side and display all the history that goes into that unified, undisputed championship that adorns his waist – so that you never forget the lineage of what he's carrying around because I'm there to remind you of it at every second."

(At this point in the interview, we had to pause and pick our jaws up off the floor, as we weren't expecting a SmackDown-worthy promo to be cut on us by one of the greatest talkers in pro wrestling history.)

Paul Heyman – and his clients, associates, and Tribal Chiefs – have been no strangers to spectacles in pro wrestling. The WWE Universe constantly feels like they've seen it all – until something new blows their mind. It's impossible to be jaded as a wrestling fan. If WarGames in the late 80s didn't blow you away, maybe Taz and Bam Bam Bigelow crashing through the ring in 90s-era ECW did. If Brock Lesnar and The Big Show imploding a WWE ring after a superplex didn't impress you, maybe Shane McMahon's countless dives off Hell in a Cell did. 

Has the WWE Universe Seen It All By Now?

Talking to a man always looking towards the future, we had to ask Paul Heyman about SummerSlam 2022. Brock Lesnar's decision to bring his personal farm equipment into the Last Man Standing match against Roman Reigns in the evening's main event was a jaw-dropping moment in WWE history. Once again, the bar was raised for spectacles in wrestling. Point blank, we asked Heyman: What's left? Is there anything left in wrestling that can really shock the WWE Universe? After all, it's hard to top "tractor attempting to flip the ring upside down."

Heyman seemed to chuckle at the incredulous nature of the question. For the first (and only) time during our conversation, he gave us a chilling, one-sentence answer to being asked if the WWE Universe has seen everything by now:

"I don't think we've even started."

And on that note, our interview time ended.

After speaking to Paul Heyman, we've come to a brazen realization: Roman Reigns is still at the top of his game. The Tribal Chief knows the gravity of the situation he's found himself in. There is no WWE Superstar in the world with more to gain – and more to lose – than Roman Reigns on August 5, which makes him extremely dangerous.

Unlike the Wiseman, we're not in the spoiler business, but after seeing The Bloodline's drama through the eyes of Heyman, we don't like Jey Uso's odds at SummerSlam. The confidence Heyman has in the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion is tangible – and we don't think Reigns is slowing down.

In fact, he might just be getting started.

You can tune in to Peacock to watch WWE's SummerSlam on August 5. In the meantime, catch up on all things WWE Universe on Peacock as well.

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