If one were to go back in time to the early 2000s and post on the old message board sites that Triple H would be viewed one day as the man that would save WWE from creative bankruptcy, single-mindedness and egoism, they would most likely be banned from the board and called a series of cancellable-slurs.
Triple H, the man whose Reign of Terror and perceived selfishness at the top of the card weakened WWE greatly as it tried to rebound from the losses of Steve Austin, The Rock and Mick Foley, would be viewed as the man that is going to save WWE? The white knight riding into town to rescue the company (and therefore a huge portion of the wrestling industry) with all of his great ideas and populist creative direction? Really? That guy?
Indeed, the rehabilitation of Triple H’s image to the professional wrestling audience and media has been fascinating to watch. As he assumed the role vacated by Vince McMahon, Triple H’s reputation as a visionary quickly took hold of the wrestling world; his obvious differences from Vince McMahon, who was barely functioning as a creative mind by the time of his departure, gave room for optimism that WWE could rapidly improve under his watch.
Triple H is far removed from his days as the eternal WWE world champion; the guy who spoke with strong racial overtones in his feud with Booker T leading up to WrestleMania 19 and then beat him–or the guy who ate up Scott Steiner during his first major WWE match when the company was starved for star power–or the guy who tortured fans with gratuitous 30-minute matches that didn’t get over.
No, this version of Triple H, now more commonly referred to by his real name, Paul Levesque, is a beloved figure in some corners of the wrestling community.
While the hardcore fans of the early 2000s are unlikely to shake their opinions on Triple H, the fact is many fans today view him as the man who did tremendous things with the NXT brand under his watch; introducing a faster style of wrestling that pushed a diverse ray of talent regardless of race, size or gender. Papa Triple H is the friendly, creative mind behind NXT, a peak wrestling show that blended traditionalist storytelling with exciting indie wrestling. Triple H, the egoist, has become a distant memory, or if you are a younger fan, he never existed at all.
Consider wrestling fans who are now in their late teens or early 20s; to them, Triple H and NXT likely introduced them to wrestling outside of Vince McMahon’s limited imagination. The same way that Ring of Honor did to a generation of fans previously, and ECW to a generation of fans before that; NXT connected those fans with a different, often more sophisticated style of wrestling that helped foster a deeper interest in the artform.
While Triple H rehabilitated his image in the background of NXT; WWE was largely falling apart as McMahon went to war with the dwindling fanbase over what his product was supposed to be and who his top stars should be. By virtue of not being Vince McMahon, Triple H’s eventual inheritance of the main roster’s creative direction was always going to be met with optimism, but his work in NXT provided a legitimate blueprint for what the company might look like with him finally in the big seat.
However, as Triple H cultivated his image as wrestling’s next great innovator, shamelessly adopting practices used by American indie companies and slapping the WWE branding upon it, a duality emerged between his two public personas. Paul Levesque, the suit-wearing corporate executive that smiled and took mark pictures with incoming indie talent, was usually in control, but every so often, Triple H, the arrogant and jealous veteran star, would also emerge.
As he is now seemingly in complete control of WWE’s creative process, what can we really expect from a Triple H-led product?
While NXT provides some sort of guidance, his behavior in recent years makes it hard to predict exactly what Triple H wants the product to be. The dual personalities, one called Paul Levesque and the other Triple H, have led to a string of contradictions and hippocratic statements and actions that make for an uncertain future.
Paul Levesque curried favor with hardcore wrestling fans by signing the best indie wrestlers and putting them on NXT. Triple H publicly stated that those talents didn’t know how to work and the WWE Performance Center needed to re-teach talent and get them out of bad habits.
Paul Levesque openly catered to fans’ opinions and interests by presenting them with a distinctly different product from WWE’s main roster, one that embraced many of the ideas Vince McMahon was shunning. Triple H mocked fans who wanted something different during promos on RAW.
Paul Levesque respected wrestling history and was credited with reaching out to Bruno Sammartino and mending fences so he could be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Triple H repeated the lie that Vince McMahon made pro wrestling a major form of entertainment, essentially nullifying the historical significance of Sammartino’s career.
Paul Levesque is a fatherly figure who encourages talent to be open with him and says anyone can talk to him whenever they want. Triple H laughs along with his old buddies when he hears personal stories about struggles WWE talent have faced.
People can evolve and change over time, and as Triple H has faded away from being an active talent that is always in the spotlight, his reputation among fans and media has improved. That doesn’t necessarily mean that his public persona will match his deeper philosophies behind wrestling and what the WWE product will ultimately look like.
Nothing about Triple H’s active wrestling career suggested that he would become a champion for undersized wrestlers who cut their teeth on the indie scene.
Yet, his time in NXT showed that was indeed something he could do. Did he do that because he understood that was the best way to make his product and vision stand out compared to WWE’s main roster?
Or did he do that because he genuinely thought that was how wrestling should be?
Only time, and a much longer time span than a few weeks of him running the show, will tell us what Triple H’s real sentiments are about how WWE should be presented and which talent should be elevated. Despite his attempts to present a wholesome image to the fans at home; there are still plenty of question marks about Triple H’s philosophies lurking underneath the surface.
In the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@JesseCollings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the first two weeks of Triple H’s time in charge of WWE. They go over their thoughts on SummerSlam, his first few television shows, and discuss fan and media impressions of Triple H’s role, the political issues that Triple H faces, the differences between Triple H and Vince, and more.