Interview with Mike Mooneyham (2/01)
Triple H Is "The Game"
Conducted by Mike Mooneyham

The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin may get the nod for generating the biggest pops in the wrestling business, but no wrestler has produced more quality high-profile matches over the past year than the man they call "The Game."

With Austin sitting on the sideline for most of 2000, Hunter Hearst Helmsley stepped in and provided the World Wrestling Federation with some of its most dramatic bouts as well as emerging as the company's No. 1 heel. Perhaps Triple H's most valuable attribute is that he is a serious student of the game, mixing old school with today's cutting-edge style, but never forgetting the fundamentals of the business.

"It's different now," Helmsley said last week. "You get a guy like Kurt Angle, and Kurt's a tremendous talent. He's the fastest I've ever seen anyone pick this business up. But years ago they wouldn't even look at you if you didn't have quite a few years in the business. I broke in very quickly - from doing independent shows for a short time to joining WCW to here. For a guy to only be in the business for that short of a time to this, it was a huge step."

Helmsley was trained in the early '90s by mat great Killer Kowalski and joined WCW in 1994 under the name Terra Rizing. He was never given the opportunity to hit his stride in Atlanta, with the company eventually changing his moniker to his real-life name, Jean- Paul Levesque, along with a French-Canadian aristocrat gimmick. Before WCW was able to team him with Lord Steven Regal as The Bluebloods, a spot that was later filled by Bobby Eaton, Helmsley was signed by the WWF in May 1995. With a gimmick similar to Regal's and billed as the "American Blueblood from Greenwich, Connecticut," he used a finisher aptly named "The Pedigree."

Helmsley quickly befriended a group inside the WWF dubbed "The Clique," a powerful unit composed of Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash (Diesel), Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) and Sean Waltman (1-2-3 Kid), but the faction disbanded after Hall and Nash left for WCW the following year. Helmsley, considered one of the hardest workers in the company, was rewarded a year later when he became a founding member of another popular rogue group, Degeneration X, along with Michaels and his future love interest, Chyna (Joanie Lauer).

"I had a lot of things to learn and I paid my dues, but the difference is, instead of paying most of those dues in the independents, I was paying them in a very physical way for everybody to see. I've always believed I had that ability, and I believe a lot of other people thought I had the ability to do what I'm doing now, but I've also believed that you shine with that ability when you're given the opportunity to. It was just a matter of me getting put in the right position to fully utilize what I could do, instead of doing it before I was ready."

Helmsley's strong work ethic paid off in dividends, as he was elevated to a leading role in the company. During the past year the former WWF world heavyweight champion has been involved in some of the promotion's top programs with Austin, The Rock, Angle and Mick Foley.

"I learned this business the old school way," said Helmsley, who calls his ex-trainer Kowalski "a great guy" and credits the older generation for paving the road for today's stars. "I very strongly believe that it's the best way - not just high spots and what gets the biggest pop or how to be flashy or do a four-minute match. It's how to work, how to think and the psychology of the business. I was taught that from day one.

"I sound like an old-timer, but a lot of times, with some of the newer guys, it's just about high spots. I see guys coming in and doing dark matches doing all these high spots. Yet if I called a side headlock to the guy, he'd go, `What the hell's that'? Not that anyone wants to see those things, but it's like playing basketball. If you can slam-dunk the ball, that's tremendous. But if you don't have good dribbling skills and you can't pass well, and you can't work as a team with other guys, the fundamentals are missing in your game. No matter how tall or how high you can jump or how well you can dunk, you're a limited player, and I believe that's what happens in our business now."

Helmsley laments the fact that, unlike years ago, today there is a limited number of places to learn the trade.

"What happens is that they break into the business a year later, or less than that, and they're in the ring with the biggest promotion in the world on the hottest show on TV in the world, or they're in a position they don't have time to learn. I see it all the time. I watch guys in WCW sometimes, and it's not a knock on any of the guys there, but I see guys that they're doing a terrible injustice to by putting them in the ring before they are ready. Those guys go out there and they're stinking the joint out. It's not fair for them to have to learn in that position, and it's not fair for them to be put in positions that they cannot handle."

Even more damaging, Helmsley says, is that some never recover from the fans' initial impression.

"Even if they disappeared and came back two years from now, people may recognize them and remember that they stunk. It's not fair to those guys. But where are you going to go? There's not a lot of real good talent coming up in the business. I've never had more people asking me about getting into the business, so it's not for a lack of people. I don't think they're learning it the right way. You can spend all the time you want in a school, but until after you go through that school and get in front of people, that's when you learn to work. It takes time.

"You get a guy like Kurt, who picked it up tremendously fast, but Kurt had the benefit on the flip side of that to be working with some of the best guys in the business at a time where the guys are the most unselfish they've ever been in the business. Guys who are willing to teach a guy when we're not in the ring. Guys who will go out there after a match is over and tell a guy what he needs to do to - how to improve his character, how to do promos, how to do this, how to do that. Ten years ago you would have never seen that. Now it's a common occurrence to see top guys in the company pull anybody in our company aside and say, `Hey, I was watching your match, try this, this will be better, or you need to work on this more. Top to bottom it's that way. That's why I think our company is so successful and will continue to be."

Despite their differences in the past, Helmsley still believes WCW star Bill Goldberg could make a big impact in the WWF, a move Goldberg has expressed interest in.

Goldberg, whose meteoric rise in the wrestling business was somewhat offset by WCW's plummet over the past two years, expressed his frustrations at a licensing show last year in New York when he launched an obscenity-laced tirade at Helmsley, who was stationed at a nearby WWF booth with Stephanie McMahon. Goldberg reportedly had been infuriated over comments Triple H made in a radio interview about Goldberg's lack of experience and potential value to the WWF.

"I've never asked him directly, but I guess he heard some comments I made about him and he was unhappy about it," said Helmsley. "My belief is that if Bill Goldberg had an issue with me, he should have personally walked up to me, pulled me aside, and said, 'Hey, can I talk to you a minute?' and then if he wanted to threaten me face to face, fine. But it was wrong place, wrong time, wrong action. To go and embarrass himself and myself in front of a bunch of people who weren't necessarily a wrestling crowd, but rather business people at a convention - a long line of people who didn't know what the hell was going on. They saw this gigantic bald guy threatening this other big guy, and they just freaked out. I've heard since that he understands that he just flew off the handle at the wrong place and wrong time. But if he still wants to physically assault me, that's fine, he can have his opinion."

Helmsley said he hopes the two will have a better chance to meet down the road.

"I don't know Bill. I've met him one time, and he doesn't know me. So I guess it was just a misunderstanding. Maybe we would like one another. Maybe we would hate one another. From 30 feet away you're never going to know."

Helmsley said Goldberg, like anyone else who joins the WWF, would have to blend in with the talent there.

"If you can't get along with the people here, there's no point in bringing you in. I think the biggest issue with guys in WCW, and that's anybody there, is the difference in how the company is run there. A lot of guys are out for themselves. There's a lot of paranoia, and a lot of it is justified because of the way things have been run."

Helmsley lists Kevin Nash and Scott Steiner as two other high draft picks on a WWF wish list.

"Obviously, Kevin Nash is a friend of mine, but I think Kevin is one of the best big men in the business Kevin's issues are always his health and his legs. Scott Steiner is another. Goldberg, of course, could be a big impact player in the business, but he has a lot to learn."


MM: What's your take on Chyna's book?

HHH: It's a good book if you're a wrestling fan, but it's a great book even if you're not a wrestling fan. A lot of women would read that book and be inspired. It's a very inspirational story of a person who had a lot of things to overcome in their life and did. It's a very inspiring story. It's not just about wrestling. Wrestling is just what she happened to do. It's a very empowering thing for women in overcoming a lot of odds. It's a very good book, and it reads well, too.

MM: Explain a little about the passage in the book where Chyna became very upset after she was asked to leave the Drew Carey set.

HHH: I'm in there in the middle of working, and all I heard, and I didn't really hear the statement, my impression was that they didn't want people in the behind the scenes area, which I can understand because we try to avoid that, too. I didn't realize that she was asked to leave. It was just a big blowout.

MM: But she gave it right back to them?

HHH: Pretty much. The one thing about Chyna is, you get a 200-pound, six-foot woman upset, you think regular women are hard to deal with, try that one for size sometime.

MM: She's staying pretty busy?

HHH: She's doing very well, and the book's very successful. She's got an exercise video out now, and that's doing very well. She's got so much stuff going on right now. She hasn't been on the show much because of the neck injury deal, and it's actually better for her, because she's doing so much stuff outside of our business. It's involved with our business, but it's promotion. She's traveling more than if she was just wrestling. She's doing everything. "Good Morning America" to "Conan O'Brien" to "Regis." You name it, she's on it. It's great. It's good for her. She's riding the wave right now.

MM: What's your take on Ric Flair?

HHH: There's nobody in this business that everybody likes. Flair's one of those that guys say all the time, 'Oh, I don't like him,' or 'Oh, he screwed me over when he was the booker.' I like Ric. Ric has never done anything bad to me. He's never been anything but great to me. Growing up, I was the biggest Flair mark there was. And to this day, if you had asked me to pick one guy in his prime who I would want to work with, it would be Flair. Pick one guy that you would consider probably the best worker of all time in his prime or in his day, I would pick Flair. Granted, that's who I grew up watching, and there's other guys I would have to give honorable mention to Buddy Rogers and guys like that but, Flair, to me, encompassed so many things, that Ric Flair would be as over today and as strong today as he was in '83 or in '85. He was that good of a worker in that day. He was the last of the true traveling champions. One of the things that I always tried to do, and I hate when guys say you patterned yourself after somebody. I didn't pattern myself after Flair, but the one thing that I did try to pattern myself was the ability, and this is always what I respected the most about Flair, the ability, no matter who the opponent, to have a great match with. The ability to go in the ring with Brody and just tear it up with him, or the Funks, or the Briscos, Bockwinkel, Race, Rhodes, Steamboat. Luger, Sting, those guys should drop down and kiss his ass every day for making their careers. He made a lot of guys in this business. He had tremendous matches with all those guys. That's one of the things that I'm proudest of all I've accomplished in the business, not that I've done anything to the extent that he has, but to be able to work with a wide variety of guys, whether it's Foley or Austin or The Rock, The Undertaker, Big Show, Jericho, all the way down to Taka, just numerous guys. And there's a part of me that wishes it was still the old days, because I would love nothing more than to make a trip to Japan and work with the top guys there, and go to different places. I love that challenge, to go to the different places and work with the top guys in those places and have great matches with. That would be the best to me. That's the challenge of it.

MM: Don't know if you caught the match last night on Nitro, but Nash absolutely tried to make Flair look as bad as possible. Not only did he give him no offense, which was part of the deal, but he was his usual lazy self in the process.

HHH: I didn't see it, so I can't say.

MM: He held him down without applying any pressure at all on purpose, I'm sure. I guess Eric's booking again. It was a real injustice.

HHH: I didn't see it, so when you said Kevin and Ric, I didn't even know they worked together.

MM: It was just an angle. Ric had to sell for an eternity.

HHH: Oh man. The biggest suggestion I could give to that company, if I could make one, would be: Don't book to hurt us. Book to make yourself successful. I swear to God, all they do is look at our show, and they say, 'God, if we could only put them out of business.' It's like, please, just try to improve what you're putting on TV. Slowly try to improve your product, and be happy with what you do, and that will make people happy with what you do. I think they miss the boat a lot of times.

MM: What do you think about the possibility of Paul E. (Paul Heyman) coming in?

HHH: I'm still not sure whether that's a reality or just a rumor. I don't know Paul E. that well, but obviously in seeing the things that he has done with his company and his ability to create a lot, where sometimes he didn't have much to work with, obviously he's very much a genius. He might not be the best businessman in the world, but as far as the business goes, he's a hell of a mind. Anytime I can sit down and rub noggins with somebody who has as Much experience as that and has been in the business that long and has done what he's done, I would love that opportunity. It would be a thrill for me to be able to sit in a room and pick his brain and to hear his take on things and get a fresh perspective. I would love the opportunity.

MM: Have you noticed the improvement in P.J. (Justin Credible)?

HHH: I like P.J. a lot. He's gotten very good over the last few years. P.J. did exactly what he needed to do. He needed to leave here, and go learn to master his craft. And he's done that very successfully. I just talked to him the other day. Now what he has to do is come here, remember all the things he learned there, and start here with a clean slate of canvas. He needs to come in and start to paint a whole new picture. Now he's got all the paint on the pallet to do it with, which he didn't have before. He has that now. It's just up to him to come in here. When you come into this company, there's a helluva opportunity. They give you the ball. They tell you to run with it. They let you run with it, but if you drop it, they'll take it away real quick. So you have to make the best of your opportunity. And I think he will, because he has all the ability to and he wants it badly. I think he'll do it very well.

MM: Your opinion of Vince Russo?

HHH: I have nothing against him personally. He's a great idea guy, comes up with a lot of wacky stuff, but he's got to have somebody to throw it off of, and he's got to have somebody to control him. He's a helluva stallion with ideas, but somebody's got to be sitting on him, holding the reins and guiding the horse. He didn't have that there (WCW), and left to his own devices, he killed himself.

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