The John Report: Respecting The Game
“It’s not an easy life. Careers are short, careers are fast. I’m not that tough, I’m no tougher than anybody else in our business, but I respect our business. I love our business. I put my life on the line every day for our business and I gladly do it. And I will continue to do it until I can do it no longer. You have to earn respect in the business. It’s not given to you. You earn it.” – Triple H talking about the wrestling business to Tough Enough students during season one.
When you think about World Wrestling Entertainment over the last 15 years one of the first names that will pop in your mind is that of Hunter Hearst Helmsley or Triple H. The Game. The Cerebral Assassin. The King of Kings. Pick a name, you know who it is. There’s a good chance you have a strong opinion on him too. He’s been in WWE’s main event for over ten years now. At the past ten WrestleMania’s, he’s wrestled in the WWE or World Title match eight times and one of those times was due to injury. Some think he’s a great company guy while others think he’s selfish. Some think he’s still got it while others think he’s overrated. Either way, HHH is the kind of guy that draws attention good or bad among fans of all kind. In my decade of writing online, there’s no person in WWE that can either be as loved as he is by one side or as criticized as he is by the other side.
In preparation for this article I realized that despite writing online for ten years myself (on and off at various points, mind you) I have never really written a full column about the guy. Crazy huh? I’ve covered a lot of people before, but not him. I figure he’s due. While doing some digging, I found out that he’s been working for WWE for 15 years now. What better way to catch up on his career than by running through it year by year with some thoughts that come to mind? I’ll try to hit the highs and lows as best I can. I’m mostly going off the top of my head here with a few peaks at his Wikipedia page when I forget some of the details. And don’t worry no Chyna pics here. We don’t need to re-live that chapter of his life. Speaking of it/her, HHH deserves massive praise for going from a questionable looking female to marrying a beautiful and rich woman. No wonder some people hate him! He struck gold in the marriage department. Okay, I better get back on topic before I offend the female readers.
A Year by Year look at Triple H’s career
1995 – Debuted as the “Connecticut Blue Blood” Hunter Hearst Helmsley. He wore a robe, he did a bow and he was an arrogant heel that we were told came from a rich family. Not much happened for him that first year.
1996 – He had valets with him at ringside for his matches and he lost to the Ultimate Warrior in under two minutes at WM12. Later in the year, he was scheduled to win King of the Ring, but that changed when he took part in the MSG Incident (hugging Michaels, Diesel, Razor in ring while out of character). He bounced back by winning the Intercontinental Title later in the year.
1997 – This was a big year because Chyna debuted as his manager/bodyguard. She stood out because she basically looked like a dude. He went on to win King of the Ring, having his first good feud in the WWF with Mick Foley. Once the fall came, his gimmick changed. Gone was the blue blood stuff, replaced by the cocky, arrogant character known as Triple H – the buddy of Shawn Michaels. The best part about the change was we got to see how funny he really was. You could tell he was having fun too.
“What I can tell you about Triple H? There are few people in this business that have a real, honest commitment inside to this business and the company. But I can assure you there is no one in this busines today that has the commitment to this business that Triple H has. And it’s not because of belts or money; it’s because inside, in his heart, he loves this business. This business is what he lives and breathes about.” – Shawn Michaels
1998 – With the DX gimmick going strong and Shawn forcing to retire (or so we thought) due to back injury, he led the new DX with the New Age Outlaws & X-Pac joining him. They were hilarious. They did a lot of funny stuff, most memorably the WCW invasion and the parody sketch of The Nation of Domination. In-ring, he was starting to come into his own thanks to that memorable ****1/4 ladder match with The Rock at Summerslam of that year. A knee injury slowed him down to end the year, but there were rumblings that a main event push was coming in 1999.
1999 – He turned heel at WrestleMania, joining The Corporation and his push up the ladder began. He also became noticeably bigger this year. I always joked, calling it the “HHH Diet” because if you look at him in late 1999 he looks like a different guy compared to the skinny frame he sported the year before. I’m not saying he used something. I don’t care. Just saying you could really notice it. You could also notice his work in the ring improved. He really found his niche as an overpowering heel. The year ended with his first WWF World Title and that legendary angle where he married a passed out Stephanie McMahon (the sweetheart daughter of Vince) on her wedding day to Test. At the last PPV that year, Armageddon, Stephanie turned on her dad and the McMahon-Helmsley era began.
2000 – This was by far his best year. He was amazing in 2000. He had the two best feuds of the year (with Cactus Jack and with The Rock), he had three of the best matches of the year (Cactus, Rock, Jericho) and he was the best overall performer in a year that I feel was the best in the history of WWE. On top of that, he had great matches with everybody. There’s even a match from Raw with Taka Michinoku – a good worker who was nearly a jobber by this point – that got a lot of praise on the internet because of how much offense HHH gave him. You know how in sports there’s a Most Valuable Player trophy given to the guy that makes everybody around him better? In 2000, HHH defined what it meant to be the MVP. Any time he had a match it was better for him being in it. His promos were fantastic because his main event heel persona was still fresh. In terms of angles, he made them work. Remember the Angle/Stephanie/HHH love triangle in the summer of 2000? That was a HUGE deal. He was at the center of everything in 2000 and he delivered the goods in every possible way. I’ll go so far as to say that Triple H in 2000 had as good a year as anybody in the history of the company.
“One thing that comes to mind with Triple H: He’s our generation’s version of Ric Flair. A guy who can lead in the ring and have tremendous performances with everyone, from the biggest of the big, to the smallest of the small, and everyone in between. He always gives his 100%. In our Last Man Standing match he could barley walk before it- and he couldn’t walk real well after it, either – but he never thought twice about going out there and giving a great match. You have to respect a guy like that.” – Chris Jericho
2001 – The year picked up where his awesome 2000 ended thanks to a hot feud with Steve Austin. Their 2/3 falls match at No Way Out 2001 is one of my 10 favorite matches ever (I gave it five stars). A couple months later, he formed the two man Power Trip alliance with Austin that had so much potential. They ended up winning the tag titles and then in the match where they dropped the tag belts to Jericho & Benoit (maybe the best Raw match ever), Hunter tore his quad muscle in the ring. Amazingly, though, HHH continued working AFTER tearing his left quad and went to the planned finish where he had to take the Walls of Jericho on the announce table. He didn’t have to do that. Nobody would criticize him if he laid in a heap in pain. The guy earned so much respect that night. Sadly, though, he would miss the rest of the year due to the major injury. A lot of people ask about what caused the WCW Invasion to fail. To me, missing HHH for that entire angle was a huge blow. I’m not sure if he would have turned face against Austin or if they would have continued to dominate, but he was as good as anybody in the WWF at that time. His presence would have made it better, I’m sure of it.
2002 – His return to Raw in MSG in January of 2002 was huge. Maybe the biggest pop I’ve ever heard for a returning superstar. The other thing was he looked bigger. Too big. It seemed to hurt his mobility although obviously the major quad surgery hurt that too. It was also known by smart fans at this point that he was dating Stephanie in real life, so when they did the on screen divorce angle it garnered a lot of attention (the vow renewal segment where HHH dumped her was fantastic, by the way). His WMX8 return and World Title win over Jericho was weak. It focused too much on the HHH/Stephanie story while burying Jericho big time. He dropped the Undisputed World Title to Hulk Hogan at Backlash a month later. After a good, but not great Hell in a Cell match with Jericho while he was on Smackdown, the wheels were in motion to get him back on Raw. Shawn Michaels was back as a regular on camera, so they reunited DX for one night and HHH turned on him. After seven months as a face, Hunter was back to his preferred role as a heel. At Summerslam, Michaels made his in ring return in a street fight to defeat HHH in a match that I said was ****1/2 (out of five stars) and was clearly the best match Hunter had since returning from the quad injury. A month after that, Hunter was given the World Heavyweight Title by Eric Bischoff. All seemed right in the world of HHH again. Wrong. His feud with Kane revolved around the infamous Katie Vick storyline that saw HHH simulate having sex with the corpse of Katie, which was a mannequin. I swear to God, if I ever met Vince McMahon and he let me ask him one question I would ask what he was thinking with regards to Katie Vick. One of the worst angles ever, if not the worst. Maybe it was HHH’s punishment for dating Vince’s daughter? I don’t know. I guess he passed that test. He ended up dropping the World Title to Michaels at Survivor Series only to get it back a month later to end the year.
“He doesn’t try to be somebody else. He’s Triple H, and all he’s doing is being himself. And he turns the volume all the way up to 5 or 10 depending on where he’s at. All he’s doing is being himself and that’s what’s made him successful. It’s Triple H.” – Steve Austin
2003 – His title feud with Scott Steiner at the start of the year was a huge flop. The posedown on Raw was one of the worst ways to hype a title match I’ve ever seen. They had a brutal match at the Rumble and then a rematch at No Way Out that was also bad, but better than the first. At WrestleMania he defended against Booker T. in a match that a lot of people thought Booker would win. Didn’t happen. This was around the time when some internet fans were starting to get on HHH due to the fact that he was engaged to Stephanie by this point, so people thought he was using his power to avoid putting people over. Triple H and Stephanie got married in October of 2003, so he officially became his boss Vince McMahon’s son in law at that point. Later in the year, he dropped the belt to Goldberg, but after he flopped as champion they put the belt on HHH again. Personally, I always thought Goldberg was a very overrated talent. He drew in WCW, but he wasn’t that talented. There wasn’t much depth to him. Some will complain about him being poorly booked. He was in some ways. Ultimately, though, the lack of talent is what hurt him in my eyes. It wasn’t a good year for Hunter in terms of feuds or quality matches although I’d recommend checking out the match against HBK on Raw to end 2003. On the bright side, seeds were planted for a bright future because the Evolution stable with Orton, Batista & Flair had begun and that led to good things.
2004 – This was a good year for him. His feud with Michaels picked up again while Chris Benoit won the Royal Rumble, setting up a showdown for HHH. In other words, after having a year full of poor matches with poor opponents, Hunter was all set to feud with two of the three best workers in the company (Angle being the other). The result? A great year for Hunter, probably the second best of his career after 2000. The HHH/Michaels/Benoit trio had two matches at the five star level at WM20 and Backlash while Hunter had individual feuds with both guys. I loved the Hell in a Cell match with Michaels at Bad Blood while the Benoit feud led to a very good Ironman match with HHH on Raw. Somewhere in there, Eugene got involved too and Hunter went over him at Summerslam that year. The night after Summerslam (at a Raw I was at actually), Evolution turned on new World Champion Randy Orton. The deal was Hunter was jealous that somebody else got the belt from Benoit instead of him, so they attacked him viciously and Hunter won the title back at Unforgiven a month later in cheap fashion. They ended up making the World Title vacant to end the year, which led to the beginning of the great HHH/Batista storyline. As we ended 2004, though, one thing seemed clear to me. The quality wrestler that was HHH was back. He looked healthy, he was having great matches with a lot of different people and the future was bright.
2005 – The Batista feud that started the year was fantastic. The fans really bought into how Triple H tried to screw Batista over by avoiding him. Batista ended up winning the Rumble while also learning of HHH’s heel tactics. That led to a very good match at WrestleMania where HHH dropped the title to him. It was the second year in a row where HHH put over a first time World Champion. They followed that up with a couple more really good matches, including a ****1/4 Hell in a Cell match at Vengeance that made me marvel at how good it was. He took some time off to rest injuries, then came back and had a mini feud with Ric Flair that ended with HHH ultimately winning it as the heel. The Batista feud was huge for Batista while also proving that HHH had a lot of value as the veteran wrestler that could put over the fresh main eventers.
“He’s a classy guy. He’s a leader. He’s always willing to help, and that’s unusual when you’re on top of this business. He’s a ring general, so he’s able to change the tide in the ring in the middle of a match. He just knows what he’s doing.” – Ric Flair
2006 – The heel version of Triple H was prominent in the early part of the year as he earned a championship match at WrestleMania 22 against John Cena. Cena was already the title holder, so HHH didn’t have to drop the belt this year. He simply tapped clean to the STF in the center of the ring making it the third year in a row where he put over the babyface choice of that year. Following WM, he kept coming up short in title matches and he started to do crotch chops, which was a sign that DX was coming back. It led to him teaming up with Shawn Michaels again as well as a feud with the McMahon family that was very tongue in cheek. The DX/McMahons feud was campy. Match quality didn’t really matter. Later in the year, after they ended the McMahons feud, DX moved on to feud with Rated RKO, which was made up of Orton and Edge. They had a few good matches. Nothing special, though. I’d say 2006 was a big step back for HHH in terms of in-ring action, but you could see he was having a lot of fun doing the DX comedy.
2007 – The year started out in a bad way for him since he tore his right quad muscle in January. It was the same way he tore his left quad in 2001. He was out of action for seven months, returning at Summerslam. He quickly had another feud with Orton, winning and losing the WWE Title at No Mercy. He looked good in his return from his second major leg injury although in his late 30s with two torn quad injuries behind him it was unlikely that he would regain the quality form he had earlier in the decade.
2008 – He was back in the title picture after returning from injury, taking on Orton and Cena in a triple threat match at WrestleMania. The match seemed pretty flat because we’ve seen these guys wrestle a lot by this point, so doing a triple threat at Mania wasn’t that big of a deal. Plus, HHH’s face character was pretty bland because if he doesn’t have DX jokes to make there’s not much to him. After Mania, he won the belt from Orton and successfully defended it against him after WM. Realizing he was starting to get bland on Raw, they moved him to Smackdown in the draft lottery. This was huge because he had been on Raw for so long and the running joke that “HHH doesn’t want to work Tuesdays” that Paul Heyman made at the 2005 ECW PPV had gained a lot of steam. The idea was he would help the ratings on MyNetworkTV where Smackdown was now airing. Did it happen? Not really. Ratings didn’t really move with him. The move to Smackdown led to better matches from HHH because Smackdown was more of the wrestling show. I really enjoyed the matches he had with Jeff Hardy while the Kozlov feud wasn’t good at all.
2009 – It was time for another feud with Randy Orton. Yawn. They feuded so many times over the years that it wasn’t met with a lot of buzz. Orton won the Rumble while HHH brought the title from Smackdown with him. This time they had Orton attack Shane, Stephanie and Vince. It was revealed that HHH is actually married to Stephanie. Shocking! I loved how they made a big deal out of that considering they were married for 6 years. No idea what percentage of the audience knew or not, but they acted like nobody knew. This led to many hilariously bad Orton/HHH segments including the awful one in Orton’s “house” where HHH attacked him. My name for HHH became “Hunter the McMahon Family Avenger” as he did his promos while puffing his cheeks out. Remember too that a couple years before this he feuded with Vince and Shane for a long time. And they wonder why nobody cared when they had a boring match in the WM25 main event? That should have told them that the feud was dead. But no! They feuded for three more months. It was one of the worst feuds of the year, at least to me. A huge letdown. When they did the draft lottery, HHH was moved to Raw again even though he was on Raw for months before. To prove that he was a very smart man, he dumped the Avenger gimmick to go back to doing DX with Shawn. They had some fun, did some good segments (Vince’s birthday), did some really bad ones (Little People’s Court) and then as we got into 2010 it just ended.
2010 – Looks like no Triple in a title match at WrestleMania. Crazy huh? I’m not sure what the future holds for him, but there’s talk of a heel turn later in the year. I’m in favor of it because his babyface act has really become stale. The guy’s better as a heel. I think he knows it. We know it. Let’s see it happen.
There’s no question that the best period of his career came between 1998 to early 2001 when he tore his quad. After that there have been a lot of ups and downs, but as I wrote I’d put the 2000 version of HHH up against any wrestler in any calendar year in terms of having great matches. That was his best year. He really came back strong in 2004 and 2005 before getting hurt again in 2007. It’s a shame that injuries have slowed him down as much as they have because there’s no telling how much better his career would have been. It comes with the business, though.
The Other Side of Triple H
It’s not fair to talk about Triple H without looking into his life outside the ring a little. That’s what society does to people in the public eye. As we all know Triple H has been married to Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie since 2003 (as WWE finally acknowledged in early 2009) and he has two daughters with his wife. There are those that think that’s not a big deal. There are others that think it’s a big deal. What does HHH think?
“I haven’t read a dirt sheet in 10 years. And that’s the damn truth. Yes I’m in a top position. Yes I’m married to the boss’s daughter. Yes I sit in production meetings. But, at the end of the day, there is only one person with stroke in this business. And that’s Vince McMahon. If he doesn’t like something, whether it’s my idea or not, it’s not going to happen. I want guys like John Cena around. I want to bring new guys up and help make them. People always accuse me of not wanting to drop the belt to a guy. That’s complete crap. I didn’t drop the belt to RVD because no one asked me to drop it to RVD. I’ve yet to see Hulk Hogan lose to anybody. He wrestles once every 6 months, and it doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest name in active competition today, he’s not going to lose to you. There was supposed to be a Hogan/Michaels II, and Hogan was supposed to lose. All of a sudden his knee started bugging him.” – Triple H in 2006
I can totally see where he’s coming from in terms of saying he was never asked to put over a guy like RVD, but people will blame him for that. I get that. It comes with the territory, though. He works for a company, he marries the boss’ daughter and he becomes part of the family that runs this company. There are those that will shrug their shoulders, say “no big deal” and move on. Others will think of conspiracy theories to somehow put the blame on Triple H. Just last week I made a joke that the answer to every WWE question is that either “Vince is crazy” or “blame Triple H.” It’s a joke, though. I don’t really think he holds people down or refuses to put people over. Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe I just want to see the good in people.
There are other instances, though, that his detractors will point to. When the Montreal Screwjob happened at Survivor Series 1997 the idea to screw Bret over was Hunter’s idea. I don’t know how true that is, but enough people involved have said it to make me believe it. That’s another thing where some are going to say that WWE was in the wrong, but others believe it was the right move because they thought Bret might take the World Title to WCW. You know what this probably did, though? It earned him the trust of Vince McMahon. It let him know that of all the people that Vince had on the roster, a guy like HHH was somebody he could turn to as a loyal WWE employee.
To deny that HHH has backstage influence would be wrong too. He definitely has some influence. When Sheamus shot up the card to become the WWE Champion it came out that he was one of HHH’s “boys” meaning he was somebody HHH liked among the newer wrestlers. Next thing you know the guy goes from wrestling Goldust in ECW to WWE Champion in a couple of months. Coincidence? Or proof that the influence exists? It’s all up to you and your personal feelings on the guy. Personally, I like Sheamus. I’m glad they pushed somebody new. People want to blame HHH? Fine, I can’t stop them. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, after all.
One of the best things about Triple H is his sense of humor. Sometimes he’ll try to do something to make us laugh and he’ll fail miserably, but he’ll be the first guy to make fun of himself for that too. I like that. If you can’t make fun of yourself, who can you make fun of? I think a lot of wrestling fans have a sense of humor because if you can’t laugh when you watch wrestling you might be watching for the wrong reasons. Maybe he’d be upset at me for making jokes about how if you want to get a push in WWE you should find out what gym HHH trains at because it worked for Sheamus (HHH told us that he works out with Sheamus on the road). It’s a joke. When I say that if a WWE performer is in an interview they should always say HHH is the best wrestler ever and that they want to work with him I’m only joking. It’s funny, though; the diehard HHH fans will get on me for stuff like that. And I ask why? Hunter’s a joker. There has never been a performer in the history of WWE that has made more dick jokes than this guy. I can still remember him doing guest commentary one time saying “testes testes…1…2…3″ and it made me laugh. How about all the sausages over the years? The guy has a sense of humor. That’s what makes him appealing to his fans. He comes off like a regular guy living the dream, having fun and enjoying life.
I don’t know how much longer Triple H is going to wrestle. He’ll be 41 years old this year. He’s got two torn quads, he’s got bad knees and I’m sure other pains that we don’t know about just from being a pro wrestler for twenty years. That’s what happens. He’s also got a tremendous weight on his shoulders because in all likelihood when his father in law Vince, who will be 65 years old this year, decides to step down it will be Triple H running the company from a creative standpoint along with his wife. Stephanie’s already second in command while Triple H has been sitting in creative meetings for many years. Does he have say in booking plans? Probably. How much? I don’t know. I’ll never know. Doesn’t matter. Point is, aside from his father in law, the future of the WWE will be in his hands. Whether you like him or you don’t like him, one thing’s for sure. He’s not going away.
Through the years I’ve read, seen and heard a lot of things about HHH. However, it’s this quote that I feel best summarizes the man:
“I watch wrestling tapes all the time from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s-whatever I can get. I don’t watch for moves; I watch for the story they’re telling, why they did things at a particular time. A lot of our guys today don’t understand the business. We all grew up as huge wrestling fans, and we need to understand why we liked it so much. It was because back then, they told stories, as opposed to just flip, flopping, and flying. The guys that make the most money in our business have never been the guys that do moonsaults and jump off the top rope and do big dropkicks. It’s the guys that tell the best stories that are in the main events, that are on top.” – Triple H
What that tells me is that he’s a fan. He’s not a guy like Lesnar that went into WWE because he had nothing else or Goldberg going into wrestling because he failed at football. Hunter wanted to be a wrestler and he became one. Deep down, at his core, despite all the success he’s had and all the power he has now as well as going forward, the guy loves the business. He grew up wanting to be a wrestler, he pursued that dream and then when he accomplished it he didn’t rest on his laurels. He continued working as hard as he possibly could to achieve that dream.
Ultimately, Triple H is a fan of pro wrestling that’s living his dream. I think wrestling fans are always going to be on the fence with him. Some are going to always like what he does while some will always criticize. It comes with the territory of being who he is. You can call him what you want, good or bad, but I think one thing’s for sure. The man has earned our respect through 15 years of hard work and for years to come both on screen and off.
The one thing all wrestling fans should agree on is that HHH deserves at least one thing: Respect.
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Big thanks to triplehunleashed.com for the quotes used in this article. They have a really awesome HHH interview archive there.
Later in the week I might post a top 20 match list of HHH on my blog. It won’t be that detailed, but I’ll make sure to list the matches that I like the best from his career. Thanks for reading.
John Canton – firstname.lastname@example.org
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