Pro Wrestling

Celebrating 25 Years of The Game

Billy Gunn once said about Triple H: “When you picture sports entertainment, he’s it.”

“Behold, The King…The King of Kings…there is only one” is likely what the WWE Universe will hear this Friday at the top of the broadcast when they tune into FOX at 8 PM for Friday Night SmackDown, as WWE celebrates 25 years of Triple H. Multiple generations of fans have grown up spitting water like they’re Triple H or getting trouble for doing a crotch chop for the…dozens in attendance of their classroom. April 30th, 1995 is when the “Connecticut Blue Blood” first arrived on the scene after months of vignette’s calling out the “riff raff” of the World Wrestling Federation. We don’t know what to expect, as speculation runs rampant that he will participate in the Money in the Bank ladder match on May 10th, maybe it’ll lead elsewhere. However, what we do know is that the rise to the COO of the company and 14 World Championships was not without hardships for one Paul Levesque.

Triple H with trainer WWE Hall of Famer Killer Kowalski.

Levesque was a lifelong wrestling fan who admired the history of the sport, specifically guys such as Harley Race, Ric Flair, Greg Valentine, among others that you can see is blended into his hybrid, one of a kind style in the ring. The start of the love for wrestling was when his dad, a lifelong fanm, showed him Chief Jay Strongbow. For Leveseque, though, he started bodybuilding fresh out of high school in 1987, where he ran into Ted Arcidi at a gym he was the manager at. Arcidi, still under WWE contract, and had worked with superstars such as Jake Roberts, John Studd, Tony Atlas and Hercules Hernandez. Arcidi introduced him to Killer Kowalski (pictured above), who would then train Levesque to become a professional wrestler. He won the IWF Heavyweight Championship in 1992 and continued on the Independent Circuit until 1994 when he signed a one year deal with WCW under the name “Terra Ryzing.” He had a standout bout with Alex Wright at the 1994 Starrcade event that led to getting an offer to job to the WWF in 1995, where he debuted as the snobby rich man “Hunter Hearst Helmsley.”

He made his debut on the April 30th episode of the Wrestling Challenge, making quick work of some enhancement. He made his pay-per-view debut at Summerslam, victorious against Bob Holly. His next few programs were programs he’d probably prefer to forget, however, as a program with Henry Godwin culminated in a hog pen match at In Your House: Season’s Beatings.

His next program was a loss to garbageman Duke Droese on the Royal Rumble “Free For All”, which was the kickoff show before the kickoff show became a thing. He got destroyed at WrestleMania XII by the Ultimate Warrior in 99 seconds. The saving grace for Triple H (christened by WWF broadcaster Curt Hennig during the Darkside vs Royals match at the 1995 Survivor Series), however, is that during this time he became close backstage friends with Kevin Nash (Diesel), Scott Hall (Razor Ramon), Shawn Michaels and Sean Waltman (1-2-3 Kid), otherwise a group of top talents known as The Kliq.

From left to right: Triple H, Kevin Nash, Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman

The group was notorious for backstage politics. Shawn Michaels won the WWF Championship at WrestleMania which started a 2 year stranglehold on the gold. Kevin Nash had been the WWF Champion for over a year, prior to this. The 1-2-3 Kid was considered the future and “The Bad Guy” Razor Ramon was one of the WWFs most popular acts. With the amount of pull within the Kliq, it was only a matter of time before Triple H stopped floundering, and he did when he defeated Marc Mero for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. a championship he’d go onto win 5 times in his career.

Unfortunately, the crowd got to him. In 1996, Waltman left the WWF, with Hall and Nash later leaving. With the exit of Hall and Nash came the curtain call, in which Shawn and Triple H celebrated with them in front of the audience at Madison Square Garden. With the other 3 gone and Shawn as the champion, only one could get heat, and that was Triple H. He was supposed to win the 1996 King of the Ring and feud with Shawn Michaels. That later became Austin 3:16 as Triple H was punished for committing business sacrilege. It wasn’t until his Intercontinental title win over “Wildman” Marc Mero that he recovered from months of being a glorified jobber to the likes of Ahmed Johnson. Over the course of the next few months, he was looking for a bodyguard. After an unsuccessful attempt with Mr. Hughes, they brought in his girlfriend Joanie as the 9th Wonder of the World, Chyna. His bodyguard was so huge that she was the ultimate heat magnet, kicking the crap out of the men. “The Jezebel” as Jim Ross aptly called her completed the persona heading into 1997.

Triple H with Shawn and Chyna

Following a strong few months that included a WrestleMania program with Goldust, Triple H won the 1997 King of the Ring, coming full circle from his punishment before. But he hated the outfit. Chyna broke the scepter over Mankind’s back and then he decided to break the crown over Mankind’s head. They made another crown, and he also broke that over Mankind’s head.

He then embarked on a program against the 3 faces of Mick Foley and the program launched him into superstardom. Following an incredible cage match at the 1997 Summerslam event and a great brawl at the Canadian Stampede, Mick introduced Cactus Jack on an episode of Raw. Triple H sold the legend and aura of Cactus from overseas and in ECW perfectly to the brand new audience.

D-Generation X

Following this, he joined forces with Shawn on screen to form D-Generation X with Rick Rude and Chyna, aiding in Shawn’s feud with Bret Hart. This launched Triple H even further, as the reason people tuned in every week was to see what crazy stunt “DX” would pull next. They made it cool to rebels, ushering in The Attitude Era, the height of WWE’s popularity, during the Monday Night Wars. Triple H played a pivotal role.

Despite the untimely passing of the great Brian Pillman, as well as the departures of Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith, Owen Hart continued his feud with DX and mainly Triple H over the European title which led to an excellent match between the two at WrestleMania 14. Later that night, Shawn Michaels lost his WWF Championship to Steve Austin and took a 4 year hiatus due to a devastating back injury.

As the story goes, Shawn Michaels dropped the ball. Triple H had to look towards the Kliq to build his army and the next night, he did just that, as the most successful version of DX formed when he and Chyna aligned with Sean Waltman (known in this run as X-Pac) and the New Age Outlaws.

Following a great promo where Triple H takes over, claiming “the genesis of D-Generation X,” he and X-Pac made their presence known in the main event that evening, aligning themselves with Billy Gunn and The Road Dogg.

1998 was the year of DX. Eventually turning face, Triple H would start his Michael Buffer shtick. “Are you ready? NO. I SAID ARE YOU READDDDYYYY? Then, for the thousands in attendance, and the millions watching at home. *insert quirky line about opponent* Lllllleeeeetttt’s get ready to suck iiiiiittttt!” They became the rebels everybody wanted to be and would even get flashed by the hottest of female fans on a nightly basis. Their shtick only continued to get wackier. Eventually they feuded with the Nation of Domination, a program that culminated in a ladder match against the Rock at Summerslam 1998, in which Triple H reigned victorious.

DX even invaded WCW:

Soon thereafter, Chyna departed from DX. At WrestleMania 15, she attacked Kane causing Triple H to be disqualified but it reunited them. Later in the night, however, DX disbanded when he pedigreed XPac and cost him the European Championship against Shane McMahon, revealing the two to be in cahoots with the Corporation.

On an episode of Sunday Night Heat, everything changed for Triple H during in an interview with Jim Ross, in which many consider to be the moment he shattered the glass ceiling, christening himself “The Game.”

WWF Champion

Steve Austin didn’t want to do the favors to Triple H, thus at Summerslam, Jesse Ventura raised Mick Foley’s hand in victory for his third WWF Championship, but the next night on Raw Triple H achieved his goal by beating Mankind.

The greatest belt in WWE history.

He lost the belt to Vince McMahon shortly thereafter for some dumb reason, but he regained the gold in a match with Kane, The Rock, Davey Boy Smith, the Big Show and Mankind at Unforgiven. He then appeared on screen with Arnold Schwarzenegger, famous for roles in The Terminator, Total Recall, True Lies, Predator and Kindergarten Cop. They have since become really good friends.

He continued his program with Vince McMahon by marrying a drunk Stephanie McMahon (who he later married in real life in 2003) when she was supposed to marry Test. This culminated in a match at Armageddon, in which Triple H won, and was embraced by Stephanie. DX reunited in late 1999, consisting of them 2, The Outlaws, X-Pac and X-Pac’s girlfriend Tori.

Winning his third WWF Championship from the Big Show in January of 2000, Jim Ross named him “the cerebral assassin” on an episode of Raw. The McMahon Helmsley regime was now running the show, and they entered a feud with none other than Cactus Jack. The promo where Cactus Jack returns is one of the best, I feel, and Triple H once again somehow sells this even better.

This led to a match at the 2000 Royal Rumble in a street fight, which many consider to be the most violent match in WWE history. A month later, Mick Foley put his career on the line inside of Hell in a Cell, in which Triple H backdropped him through the ring, in my personal favorite Hell in a Cell match. At WrestleMania 2000, he defeated the Rock, Mick Foley and the Big Show in a Fatal Four Way match before losing the championship to the Rock at Backlash and they played hot potato for a little bit.

He entered a love triangle with Kurt Angle in a feud still talked about to this day, which of course, seeing as Kurt Angle is arguably the greatest performer in the history of pro wrestling. During this time, DX split again, but rejoined to wrestle the Radicalz on an episode of Raw, before Triple H told them to suck it. On the same episode, he was revealed as the mastermind behind Steve Austin’s attack a year prior. They feuded up until No Way Out 2001 where they fought in a 3 Stages of Hell match. He was #1 on the PWI 500 in 2000.

Months later, they formed an alliance as The Two Man Powertrip. Austin was the WWF Champion, Triple H was once again Intercontinental Champion (other than the week after Jeff Hardy pulled “the upset of the decade”) and they were the WWF Tag Team Champions. When they defeated the Brothers of Destruction, Triple H became only the 7th Grand Slam Champion in WWE history.

That title reign did not last long, as on Raw, May 21st 2001, he tore his quad in a title defense against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. In an injury that a normal person physically cannot stand up on, he finished the match and even was locked into the Walls of Jericho, which all of the punishment is in the quads. He was out for 8 months before his heroic return in January at Madison Square Garden right before the Royal Rumble, in one of the loudest ovations in wrestling history.

He won the 2002 Royal Rumble and subsequently divorced Stephanie McMahon on television. He defeated Chris Jericho in the main event of WrestleMania 18 to become the Undisputed Champion.

He lost it to Hulk Hogan and went to Raw after a brief run on SmackDown. During this Raw run began what many refer to as Triple H’s “reign of terror.” But first, was the return of Shawn Michaels.

He lost to Shawn at Summerslam, but was later awarded the World Heavyweight Championship from Raw general manager Eric Bischoff. This was the most controversial run of Triple H’s career, because in 2003 the WWE drew upon Booker T’s real-life crime and had a somewhat racist storyline about his questionable past heading into WrestleMania 19, where Triple H defeated Booker T in the World Championship match in one of the worst and most inexplicable booking decisions the WWE has ever made. In 2003, he formed Evolution with Batista, Randy Orton and Ric Flair.

Evolution ran roughshod on Raw and gave future crossover stars Randy Orton and Dave Bautista (“Batista”) a massive rub. Following a program with Bill Goldberg which saw the title change hands a couple of times, Triple H went back to feuding with Shawn Michaels, but Chris Benoit joined the fray after his 2004 Royal Rumble win, leading to a triple threat match in the main event of WrestleMania XX. Triple H tapped out in one of the most dramatic finishes of all-time. After a reign that saw Benoit hold the belt until Summerslam, Randy Orton won the World Championship…then failed as a top guy, prompting them to put the championship back on Triple H and kicking Randy Orton out of Evolution. Batista and Triple H teased breakup for months until it finally happened leading into WrestleMania 21, when Triple H tried to run over Batista with the limo of John Bradshaw Layfield to try and get him to SmackDown. Batista turned on Evolution and defeated Triple H in the main event of WrestleMania 21. He then lost 2 more times to Batista before taking time off to heal nagging injuries.

In his absence, Batista went to SmackDown while Raw had new blood such as John Cena and Kurt Angle. Triple H feuded with Ric Flair before re-entering the title picture right before WrestleMania 22, where he tapped out to John Cena. He was slowly teasing a DX reunion, until they finally reunited on June 12th 2006, and feuded throughout the summer with the McMahon Family.

Post-Reign of Terror

DX continued their shtick until New Years Revolution 2007 when Triple H once again tore his quad. By the time Summerslam rolled around in August, he was ready to go and defeated Raw’s new “king”, King Bookah! 2 months after at No Mercy, he beat Randy Orton in the first match of the night after goading him into the match, for his sixth WWE Championship. After a grueling matchup with Umaga, he lost it to Randy Orton in a last man standing match to end the show. He didn’t win it back until Backlash 2008, and then he made a shocking transition to SmackDown, where he worked to elevate younger talent such as Shelton Benjamin, The Brian Kendrick and the Great Khali.

He feuded with Jeff Hardy, but Jeff couldn’t beat him for the belt. At Survivor Series after Jeff Hardy was taken out before the show, Edge returned to defeat Triple H and Vladimir Kozlov to win the WWE Championship for the third time. At Armageddon, Jeff Hardy finally climbed the top of the mountain by defeating both Edge and Triple H.

He won the championship for the 7th time inside of the Elimination Chamber and successfully defended the championship against Randy Orton in the main event of WrestleMania 25 before he lost it to Randy at Backlash and started taking a lesser schedule.

On-air COO

After a match with the Undertaker at WrestleMania 27 took him out of action in kayfabe, he returned in June as the COO of WWE, relieving Vince McMahon of his duties. He was now an on-air authority figure, and mainly did a program with CM Punk.

He battled the Undertaker at WrestleMania for a third time at 28, this time inside Hell in a Cell, in the end of an era match (but it wasn’t really the end of an era). A few weeks later, Brock Lesnar broke his arm. He returned at Raw 1000 in a DX reunion.

That same night, Stephanie McMahon persuaded Paul Heyman to accept Triple H’s challenge to Brock Lesnar and they fought at Summerslam, then again at WrestleMania 29.

In 2013, Daniel Bryan took the world by storm and the YES Movement became the most over thing the WWE had seen in a longtime. Following his victory over John Cena at Summerslam, Triple H turned on Daniel Bryan and cost him the WWE Championship, seeing as he thought he was a “solid B+ player.” He continued to screw Bryan over until it culminated in a match to open WrestleMania 30, which Bryan won and advanced to the main event, which he also won.

I mean, remember that time that he was in the ring with Bret Hart, Mick Foley, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, CM Punk, among others in a segment about Randy Orton and John Cena and the crowd hijacked it for Daniel Bryan?

Triple H’s iconic entrance at WrestleMania 30.

After that, Evolution reunited to face the Shield which ended in the Shield disbanding and Seth Rollins joining Triple H, before becoming the WWE Champion. Following Rollins untimely injury, Triple H won the Royal Rumble for a second time in 2016 to become the WWE Champion once again, his 14th total World Championship. He dropped it to Roman Reigns in the main event of WrestleMania 32, albeit one of the most poorly received main event matches in WrestleMania history. That said, he had an absolute banger of a match with Dean Ambrose at Roadblock.

He wrestled Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey in Ronda Rousey’s debut match at WrestleMania 34:

On the build to WrestleMania 35, he made Becky Lynch look like the star she truly is: the biggest female star in wrestling history.

Triple H has gotten a lot of flack over the years for “sleeping his way to the top”, but he was already a multi-champion and bonafide superstar before he started dating Stephanie McMahon. He gets flack for not putting over talent while at the top, but he’s put over more than most. While some exceptions such as Booker T and CM Punk aren’t good, he’s made a number of people, such as tapping out to Chris Benoit, John Cena and Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania. He lost multiple times to Shelton Benjamin cleanly. Batista, Randy Orton, Bill Goldberg, Jeff Hardy, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Sheamus, Ronda Rousey, The Big Show, among others were put over by beating Triple H in big time matches. However, Triple H’s biggest claim to fame for the future is NXT.

NXT

Triple H with Aleister Black and Ricochet.

Triple H was named Executive Vice President of Talent and Live Events in 2011, which led him to revamping NXT as its own developmental program in 2012 that he overseas. Since, he has started up NXT UK which you can watch every Thursday on the WWE Network. From 2014-2019, NXT was on the WWE Network, even being its first live show as NXT ArRival which saw Cesaro and Sami Zayn tear the house down and Neville win the NXT Championship. The first NXT Takeover in May of 2014, and 31 events later, Takeover is an event every wrestling fan looks forward to. NXT went live on the USA Network late last year.

Triple H with Adam Cole and Shayna Baszler.

Triple H has signed some of the world’s most elite wrestling talent, and NXT has been a launching for future WWE Champions Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt and Drew McIntyre. His signings of the Four Horsewomen (3 of which are currently Women’s Champion on 3 different brands) as well as most of the other top talents they have are the reason for the women’s evolution, which Becky Lynch has been elevated to the face of the company, the first female to ever be considered as such. For him, he works hands on in helping mold each of these talents as a father figure. Each one of the signings are his protege’s under his wing. He is the reason for the WWE Performance Center, a state of the art facility that helps mold superstars and is one of the main reasons WWE can still run shows amidst the outbreak of COVID19.

Triple H celebrating title wins with some of his NXT proteges.

I mean, what a dad. He currently works as the Executive Vice President of Global Talent Strategy and Development for the WWE. But overall, he will forever be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, professional wrestler of all-time. From a kayfabe sense, he’s won 24 total championships, 2 Royal Rumble’s and a King of the Ring. From the standpoint of helping the future, nothing has helped change the landscape going forward more than NXT. From a regular perspective, he is an excellent character who was the perfect mixture of badass and quirkiness and was a great in ring master. All hail.

Reminder that you can catch WWE’s celebration of 25 Years of Triple H this Friday on FOX at 8 PM. I think it’ll get him back involved into canon storyline, but potentially not. Either way, this Triple H fan is extremely hype.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheJameus

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