Hunter Hearst Helmsley acquired many sobriquets over his last 25 years in WWE.
The Cerebral Assassin, the Game, The King Of Kings. Triple H is beloved by many a WWE fan and even considered by some to be among the greatest of all time. No one can doubt his intensity in the ring or cast aspersions over his obvious devotion and fandom of wrestling or – if you’re so inclined to call it that – ‘sports entertainment’. However, caution is advised with such proclamations of greatness.
It should be remembered that Triple H’s rise to power in WWE was preceded by his long-standing association with the so-called Kliq. Led by the likes of Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, they ran roughshod over the mid-90s WWF locker room, burying anyone they didn’t like and trying to influence the creative direction of the company – sometimes to its detriment. The fruits of that endeavour were realised in the genesis of WWE’s D-Generation X and WCW’s NWO factions. However, it’s far from clear whether Triple H was at the forefront of DX’s inception. In fact, in hindsight, maybe he was just the right guy in the right place at the right time, standing on the shoulders of giants.
Be that as it may, Triple H took a ball that was dropped by an injured Shawn Michaels and ran with it, turning DX into an army beloved by a ravenous, attitudinal audience.
Such opportunism is also relevant when considering his peers, specifically The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mankind and the Undertaker. While the standout qualities of these WWE Superstars are tangible in terms of their in-ring output, charisma and star-quality, Triple H’s standout qualities seem to be more ethereal in nature.
The Rock’s electricity in the ring and on the mic; Austin’s anti-hero persona and general badassery speaks for itself; the Undertaker struck fear into the hearts of fans and Mankind would lay it all on the line and pour passion into the mic every night. Meanwhile, Triple H was deemed ‘cerebral’ because he supposedly got inside people’s heads. One way that he demonstrated this ‘cerebral’ nature was through the utterly harrowing, quite obviously triggering and completely, utterly deplorable storyline ‘marriage’ to Stephanie McMahon angle whereby he drugged her and ‘married’ her in a drive-thru wedding ceremony in Las Vegas. Such was the sledgehammer-like sensitivity with which this was dealt with that it was even made light of relatively recently in an OMFG-moment on Twitter.
Plus, the whole stealing-someone-else’s-girlfriend wrestling storyline was played out to much better effect (and without the creepy drugging and then marrying the boss’s daughter element) in ECW several years before by Raven and Tommy Dreamer. Such is the derivative nature of WWE at that time that it’s not difficult to see that they were so far behind the curve and way off-base with the whole thing.
Hey, you still remember it though, right?
It was also around this time that WWE’s weekly programming went to the absolute pits for the most part. Every week RAW would open with another average 20-minute promo from Vince about how great and cerebral Triple H was (because in another WTF moment it turned out Stephanie was in on it the whole time, which obviously makes it OK). Match endings became interference-laden. For example, Triple H vs.The Rock in an Iron Man match at Judgement Day 2000 was a solid match if only for The Rock’s charisma and selling like death for Triple H. However, it’s ending involved run-ins from Vince, Shane, Stephanie and even the Undertaker who was somehow roped into the thing.
This was still a coronation of sorts for Triple H as a main event heel, and he went from there to dominate – for better or worse.
His best matches were, unsurprisingly, against Mick Foley as Mankind and, specifically, Cactus Jack personas. After getting Mankind kayfabe ‘fired’ from WWE, Foley cut the promo of his life and revealed his return to his Cactus Jack persona in the run-up to the 2000 Royal Rumble. As Foley cues up the reveal, it certainly sends shivers down the spine even to this day.
To be fair, Triple H’s reaction is priceless and the payoff of their Royal Rumble Street Fight at Madison Square Garden was great and yet Cactus losing somehow felt wrong. Obviously, it was about getting Triple H over as a main-eventer but it didn’t really feel like he took any of the significant risks in the match, leaving Jack to deal with the real barbed wire and take all of the sickening bumps. His opportunity came at the expense of Foley in the long run. At least so it seemed.
In his late 90s / early 2000s heyday when there was a stacked mid-card filled with the likes of Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho and, dare I say, Chris Benoit, it seemed as though Triple H was fast-tracked to the top despite the intense competition. It’s difficult to understand why, even considering that Jericho had his shot later on.
Triple H went on to take more of a behind-the-scenes role. However, all his turnaround of NXT for the better really amounted to was to make it into an actual wrestling promotion rather than a sports entertainment reality show.
WWE’s global takeover is also, at least in part, his responsibility, alongside some disparaging comments about the safety of small UK indy promotions which seems ironic in all sorts of ways.
From degenerate to a company executive, there is no denying Triple H’s incredible work ethic. Many people would say any great moments are overshadowed by the overwhelming fear of Triple H’s long view of the wrestling business – takeover and homogeneity – and it’s hard to be down with that.
However, you cannot deny that over twenty-five years he hasn’t left his mark on the wrestling industry – love him or hate him.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @goodmanstephenj. Thanks for reading!