Back in 1997 I spent a lot of time on the RSPW (rec.sport.pro-wrestling) newsgroup because I did not have cable to watch the Monday Night Wars. On one particular edition of RAW from Canada, a person held a sign that said “HHH: Midcard 4 Life” and I completely agreed with that sentiment. As DX was in its formative state, I hated Hunter Hearst-Helmsley the character and the guy. I saw someone who was just attaching himself to the hot act (Shawn Michaels) and trying to ride that to the top of the card. For years and years I didn’t like the guy at all, but that has changed. Have I matured or did I just have my eyes opened to his greatness?
Let’s go back to ’97, when Hunter was still wearing those riding pants and coming out to “Ode to Joy” (a great theme) and feuding with three faces of Mick Foley. I didn’t have much love for his in-ring work at all, which centered around a million different knee-based moves. For someone out of the Kowalski school, I was expecting more. When that feud ended and Owen Hart was subsequently jobbed out to HHH when there was potential to build something in the aftermath of Montreal, I was really peeved. Sure, he became a babyface as leader of DX but I was on Team Rock and Team Nation. I didn’t respect the notion of getting yourself over by being crude in a way that nobody could before.
Then at the manure farm called Wrestlemania 15, he turned heel again and would be shoved down our throats all through the summer. Like others, I just didn’t see him on the level of Rock, Austin, Undertaker, and even Foley. Believe it or not, I was apoplectic when he got all the heat out of the Test-Stephanie angle because I thought Test had the potential to be a better version of Kevin Nash. That was all squandered because he looked like a chump in the aftermath. Meanwhile, Triple H got the world title and feuded with Foley again, who puts him over strong each and every time. The matches were good but I didn’t want to hear it because it was not what I wanted.
I didn’t even want to believe in Triple H. I hated the entire Trips/Steph machinations all the way through 2000 with Kurt Angle because it was making the Rock a total afterthought and this guy I didn’t respect was hogging all the proverbial oxygen in the room.
So I took some time off from regular watching. I came back in early 2002….just as HHH returned from a serious quad injury. He would main event Wrestlemania 18 and win the Undisputed title. I knew of his real life involvement with Stephanie McMahon and I figured this would continue to be the same old thing for years to come. So I went away again. And yet HHH stayed on top, with the Reign of Terror in 2003 all the way to the ruination of the 2011 Summer of Punk. Would this guy ever leave my TV?
My opinion has changed, and it is not entirely because FINALLY HHH-led NXT is coming to my backyard of Lowell, Massachusetts next month. I have a great interest in political science but if you look at levels of the U.S. government there isn’t much to like. Nobody really leads, and there hasn’t been a master politician since Bill Clinton left office in 2001. Wrestling is its own political world, and HHH is without question the best politician since the halcyon days of Hulk Hogan.
When he was Jean-Paul Levesque in WCW, they had some plans for him such as pairing him with Lord Steven Regal in a group of snobby Europeans. But he chose to leave for the WWF and a lower salary in the hopes of truly making it big. That was a risk he took that I really respect. After the MSG curtain call in May 1996, he was punished and demoted for months but he stayed quiet and took it like a man.
One problem with today’s product and wrestlers: they seem very afraid to advocate for themselves or maneuver politically in any way. It’s the “reaching for the brass ring” thing that Vince McMahon talked about on Steve Austin’s podcast. Sometimes you need help reaching, so he used a ladder called Shawn Michaels. Nobody is completely innocent all the time. If you want to advance at work, you have to position yourself correctly. I was promoted the first time at my current job in 2010 because I made sure to make a big show of how much I was teaching other employees about daily processes. I’d rather not do something like that: but it worked.
Triple H never failed to advocate for himself and that led to the criticism from his mid-2000s endless reigns at the top. Should he have beaten CM Punk? Probably not. Should he have beaten Booker T after making racially charged remarks in the build? Absolutely not. But the guy, for lack of a better term, gives a shit about what he’s doing. I love the old school seriousness with which he approaches professional wrestling.
But the most beautiful Machiavellian moves by Triple H has been in the last few years in dealing with the push of Roman Reigns. I don’t know how he does it, whether it be leaks to dirt sheets or something, but Triple H always seems to be on the more favorable side of fan support. After the breakup of the Shield, HHH was portrayed a Roman Reigns backer all the way, with a main event at Wrestlemania looming while Vince wanted to go back to Rock vs Brock or something similar. When this Reigns push was derailed by the fall 2014 injury, things started to shift after Roman was booed at Mania. Suddenly, Triple H was backing Seth Rollins and not Reigns.
Dylan Hales of the Wrestling Culture podcast has been pushing a theory for about a year that there is a “political hit” out on Reigns. I didn’t buy it when first espoused, but it looks to be 150% true now. Roman Reigns has not booked as a sympathetic babyface nor as an asskicking babyface. He’s been given title chances and the way he has blown them has done nothing for him. Win the title at Survivor Series? Then he beat up HHH for no reason and got blindsided by the MITB briefcase holder. Finally win the title to cheers in Philly? Lose it clean as a sheet with HHH doing the honors in Orlando, a place where Triple H is God because of NXT. And of course, there was HHH smashing up Reign’s face on a broadcast table in Detroit a few weeks back to huge applause.
All this time, Triple H has been positioned as the on-screen conscience of the Internet Wrestling Fan; the person who values work in the ring (not Roman’s strong suit), who values old school storytelling, and one who is not obsessed with size alone. That last one is funny because nobody is as much of a workout fiend than Trips, but yet this is the perception that is there.
So no matter how I felt about the guy years ago, I definitely respect how the guy has maneuvered politically to always be cast in a favorable light. I know exactly what he’s doing when he stands in the ring acting like a hero at NXT shows, but I don’t care. I just want to watch good wrestling and he is delivering what I want to see. In entertainment that is what counts. So here’s to you Triple H: you win again, and the prize is my wrestling fan heart.