Most fans today know about how Triple H transformed WWE’s developmental promotion NXT, by bringing in and pushing top indie talent starting in 2014. Years before Triple H’s version of NXT emerged, there was Ohio Valley Wrestling. Paul Heyman would attempt the same type of philosophy in OVW starting in 2005. This is the story about how Heyman transformed a southern based WWE developmental territory into something much different.
OVW was WWE’s top developmental territory based in Louisville, Kentucky run by Jim Cornette. While OVW was the breeding ground for many future WWE stars under Cornette’s watch, he was eventually fired by the company after slapping a developmental talent in Anthony Carelli (Santino Marella). After Cornette was let go, WWE needed someone else to run the creative aspects of the territory. According to Bruce Prichard, it was Stephanie McMahon who made the decision to send Paul Heyman to OVW and take control.
While many saw that as a demotion for Heyman, who was both on creative and on air talent on the man roster…Heyman saw it as a blessing. Paul had grown tired of WWE’s corporate machine up north and loved the idea of getting to work with young talent and help develop new stars. Heyman began working full time in OVW starting in July of 2005. His presence and changes to the territory were almost immediate.
When Heyman arrived in Kentucky, one of the first things he did was bring all the OVW talent into an empty Davis Arena (Where they did TV) and observe the wrestlers in the ring. He observed the wrestlers and made a list of their good and bad points. He also started to phase out many of Jim Cornette’s friends and allies off OVW television. One of which was manager Kenny Bolin.
Cornette used Bolin as the mouthpiece for many of the wrestlers he felt couldn’t cut promos on their own. Heyman decided to let Bolin’s wrestlers talk more, relegating Bolin almost obsolete. He eventually quit OVW, which Bolin feels was Heyman’s plan all along. Heyman wrote a general outline for OVW TV and spent hours after a taping in post production. This was a very different style of running television than Jim Cornette who had everything prepared ahead of time. Heyman’s style of producing angered OVW owner Danny Davis, who was constantly stuck at the arena for hours after the show was taped.
Another change Heyman made was moving longtime OVW fans from the TV side of the arena to the other side where they couldn’t be seen. Heyman supposedly did this to bring in a much more younger, hipper looking audience for TV purposes. He also alienated old OVW fans by changing Cornette’s style of booking. Cornette booked southern style wrestling, while Heyman tried to bring in an ECW vibe to shows. This turned off many loyal fans who were accustomed to seeing their style of wrasslin’.
The OVW talent roster also saw changes, as Paul began pushing wrestlers with more of an indie background, than pushing wrestlers with zero experience in wrestling. Wrestlers like CM Punk, Brent Albright, Johnny Jeter, Paul Burchill, Ken Anderson, Beth Phoenix, Alexis Laree…etc… were pushed more and given much more exposure. The match quality in OVW seemed to improve exponentially. Wrestler Caylen Croft, who worked for both Cornette and Heyman in OVW, said that each had their strengths and weaknesses as bookers.
Cornette had a very old school approach to pro wrestling and even went as far to forbid babyfaces and heels from hanging out with each other after a show. Heyman was more loose with rules and invited the wrestlers to sit in with him and pick his brain. Heyman did this a lot to see what wrestlers were committed and what wrestlers were just there for a paycheck. CM Punk would supposedly spend hours after shows talking with Heyman about ideas.
While OVW had changed in match quality and had a hipper feel to it. It wasn’t what the diehard fans of OVW wanted. Ratings for their TV dropped and local fans didn’t want to attend house shows. Ultimately in 2006, Paul Heyman was dropped as OVW booker and brought back to the main roster to help spearhead WWE’s version of ECW. Just two years later, WWE dissolved their partnership with OVW as a developmental territory.