There has been a week-long celebration in the WWE Universe with segments on Smackdown last week and Monday’s Raw dedicated to the news that Triple H has achieved the milestone of 25 years in WWE. It’s fair to say that fans opinions on him are divided and some commentators who have been in ‘the biz’ are also divided when it comes to him. For me, I’ve always been a fan of his, even prior to his move behind the scenes and pre NXT. Triple H was (and still is) an important part of WWE, and his contributions both in and out of the ring cannot be overlooked.
It was 25 years ago tomorrow, in 1995, Triple H arrived in WWE after a one year stint in WCW. He’s told the story of his departure a few times, but if you read his book ‘Making The Game – Triple H’s Approach to a Better Body’, a half autobiographical, half workout tips book, he tells of his early beginnings and his time with WCW. Having been trained by the legendary Killer Kowalski, Paul Levesque arrived in WCW and signed a one year deal, dropping the Terra Ryzing name he was reluctantly using before and now being dubbed ‘The French Guy’, Jean-Paul Lévesque. He formed one half of ‘The Bluebloods’ alongside a man who would prove to be lifelong friend, William Regal. When his WCW deal was almost up, he contacted the WWF (as it was back then) and made the move he’d dreamed of since he was a young boy, becoming Hunter Hearst Helmsley in the process.
This was before the Monday Night Wars had really began, and although there was a rivalry for viewers at the time, the stakes would be much higher a few years down the line. His early beginnings in WWF/WWE were turbulent, to say the least. He carried the can for the infamous curtain call and was punished for the kayfabe break. Reading into this, he was unlucky in copping for the fallout. His friends who also participated in it, Kevin Nash & Scott Hall were off to WCW, so they couldn’t be punished. Shawn Michaels was the top guy and had a reputation for being ‘difficult’ at that time, so he was never going to be punished. So it fell to Triple H to feel the full wrath of the bosses. And feel the wrath he did. He was scheduled to win King of the Ring in 1996 (back when that tournament created the next breakout star). As we all know, plans were changed and a young up and comer named “Stone Cold” Steve Austin won the tournament. Wonder how his career panned out? Some think Hunter’s feud with Henry Godwinn that led a ‘Hogpen’ match and being tossed into pig sh*t was part of Triple H’s punishment, but that was before the curtain call – he actually enjoyed that period of his career.
I’ve always been a firm believer that those who make mistakes and learn from them will do better in the long term. If you never put a foot wrong, or make an error, how else can you learn some of the nuances in life? God knows I’ve made some mistakes in my life, but I would like to believe I’ve become a more careful and wiser person for it. Mistakes are experiences, and if you admit you were wrong and take your punishment, it will only benefit you in the long run. Triple H may have been a victim of circumstance at that time, but it humbled him and made him stand on his own two feet and accept responsibility for his actions – something every leader or boss needs to be successful.
Once his ‘punishment’ was over – although he was never officially told it was over, he and Shawn Michaels pushed the idea of a new faction in late 1997 (after Triple H won King of the Ring in June 1997). This would become a cornerstone of WWF/WWE going forward and alongside Stone Cold Steve Austin, would spearhead the company during the Monday Night Wars. It’s hard to convey just how important Degeneration-X were in the history of pro wrestling. Sometimes WWE catches lightning in a bottle and DX was just that. They managed to capture the mood at the time in the late 1990s and also tap into their fan base. Their gear was cool. Their promos were cool. They were brash, rude, anti-establishment and everything in between. Triple H may not have been the leader initially (that was Shawn), but he took the mantle when Shawn departed (after Wrestlemania XIV) and ran with the ball, establishing DX as one of the most popular stables there ever was. They were a key component of WWE eventually winning the Monday Night Wars.
Triple H would continue to be part of successful factions when DX were rebooted some years later and also as part of one of my favourite stables, Evolution. He wasn’t solely a stable guy and his heel work is probably some of the best there ever was. Hugely popular with fans, as a respected top heel, during the peak WWE period (1999-2002), even his return from injury was greeted with a huge pop from fans. Triple H was one of the last true killer heels I can remember. He rarely (if ever) was the cowardly heel and ran from opponents. He was conniving, sneaky, dangerous, and underhand and more than a match for anyone. He was legit strong and tough, never backing down from a challenge and would be incredulous if anyone dared to challenge him for his title. He surrounded himself with teams and aligned himself with authority figures to protect his standing at the top of the pile. Triple H won 14 World Titles in his WWE career while main eventing several WrestleManias and numerous other pay-per-views as well.
As his career progressed, he showed more and more interest in the booking of matches and became involved in the ‘office’ side of things over the last decade. Many people in wrestling have stated that he’s always had a good mind for the business and is a true student of the game. He understands wrestling, both in and out of the ring and is constantly looking to the future. The development of FCW into NXT was driven largely by him, and he was a major voice in pushing for investment into finding and securing talent not just in the United States, but around the globe. The authority figure he portrayed in the ring was fun to watch, but the impact he’s had outside the ring is clear to see.
The NXT brand is his baby and he is a staunch supporter and defender of the brand. He’s become more synonymous with NXT than WWE at this point. Again, this harks back to the first incarnation of DX when he had his finger on the pulse of the WWE fans. NXT has its own diehard fan base and supporters. They see Triple H as their leader, much like WWE fans see Vince McMahon as theirs. Character portrayals aside, Triple H has and is having a major impact on professional wrestling. He has made NXT not just the feeder brand for Raw and Smackdown, but a serious competitor. Vince must be happy that Triple H is on his side.
What does the future hold for WWE and Triple H? I can see him only going from strength to strength. If NXT is anything to go by, one thing can be sure; he gets wrestling. He gets fans and what they want. He has paid his dues, walked the walk and talked the talk. He’s seen the highs and the lows and knows how to act. Should Triple H one day inherit the reigns of WWE as a whole, I think it would be in very safe hands.
Happy 25 years Triple H, and here’s to another 25 more.