Raw Magazine (6/01)
On Top of his Game
The More Triple H Is Hated, the More He Loves It
By Aaron Williams

Triple H knew this was his chance. For years, he had studied his craft, honed his skills, and prepared for the day when he would be given the opportunity to be one of the top Superstars responsible for carrying the World Wrestling Federation. As the fall of 1999 approached, he knew that his time had come, and for better or worse, his performance over the next several months would either make or break his career. Looking back almost two years later, not even Hunter's most ardent supporters could have predicted the success he has attained. From refining his character, to pulling off matches thought impossible in today's sports-entertainment environment, to playing the integral role in the behind the scenes activities of the Federation, he has, in many ways, changed the way the game is played.

There comes a point in everyone's career when learning one's craft takes a back seat to applying what has been learned. For Hunter, that point came in the fall of 1999. Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin were hampered by injuries, and he and The Rock were given the ball and asked to take the Federation to new heights. While he definitely felt the pressure of being put in such a high-profile position, he also felt that the timing couldn't have been better.

"In the months leading up to that point, I was preparing for it to be my time," Hunter recalls. "When the time came, it was really on myself and The Rock. I think that there was a feeling of a lot of pressure because some very important people were gone and we were still expected to draw. But I work best under pressure, and at that point, there were really no restrictions to what we could do. It was full steam ahead for both of us. I don't think there was ever a question of whether The Rock and I could do it. We were ready."

Hunter didn't always feel this way, and if he had been asked to play such a prominent role a few years earlier, he questions whether he would have done well. Although he studied the business from the moment he first stepped into the ring, in the early part of his career he was more concerned with "enjoying the business" rather than really learning it.

"I was into the business, and studied it a lot, but I didn't apply what I was learning as much as I could have," says Hunter. "There was a point n time when I was still learning, and I just wasn't ready to be where I wanted to be. I knew that, and I was really more set on enjoying the business. It's not that I don't enjoy it now, but it was more just going along and doing things. I knew it wasn't my time, and I knew I wasn't ready.

"Until I was ready, I didn't want to do it. So I spent time learning, sitting back, being a young guy in the business and enjoying all the perks that come along with it," he continues. "Now I'm much more serious about it. Believe me, it's a dream job and I'm thankful everyday for what I do, for the honor to do what I do. But at the same time, I'm very determined and focused and try not to leave any stone unturned."

Today, rarely a moment goes by when Hunter isn't thinking about the World Wrestling Federation, and if he isn't wrestling or working out, you can be sure that he is working on future storylines or the nuances of his character's actions. Always searching for ways to improve the Federation's product, Hunter spends countless hours watching matches. He understand that even though he is more in the application than learning stage, the learning process never really ends. So he watched other Superstars' matches with a keen eye, always asking questions that go beyond the ordinary, probing deep into the psychology and philosophy of the business.

Instead of simply admiring moves or asking just how such a particular move is executed, he asks questions such as, "Why are they doing those moves at this particular time?" and "How do those moves fit in with those Superstars' particular angles?" and "What kinds of things are the crowd responding to?"

As a result, he has earned such monikers as "The Cerebral Assassin" and "The Most Intelligent Superstar in the Business." More importantly, he has earned the respect of his peers who admire his instincts for and knowledge of the profession, and his boss who appreciates his work ethic. "You can learn from everything. Even daily things like watching a movie might spur an idea," says Hunter. "I try to incorporate everything I do back into the busines, and that's why I think people have given me those nicknames. That's how the whole 'Game" nickname started. Vince [McMahon] used to say that I was the biggest student of the game. And then it came down to the point where they thought I wasn't just a student anymore, but "the Game.'"

Hunter spends most of the time studying the business by himself, but he is very open to others and their ideas. He believe that no one knows everything, and the day you stop learning is the day you will cease to thrive in the business.

"Even the guy who made it all, Vince McMahon, listens and watches other people," Hunter remarks. "I can watch guys doing a dark match, guys who maybe have had only 20 matches, and I learn from what they are doing. Learning from someone doesn't necessarily mean you see someone doing something right. You can see someone do something wrong and learn just as well."

As a result, Hunter has become an integral part of the off-camera activities of the Federation. He takes part in television production meetings, often talks to the writers, and often serves as a conduit between Superstars and the writers. He enjoys thinking of ideas that will work either for himself or others, and he's not shy about voicing his opinion. Of course, he understands that not of his ideas will fly: "Believe me, if they think my ideas suck, they don't use them."

Years ago, it would have been unthinkable to have a sports-entertainer involved in the business the way Hunter is. In the past, there was a perception- if not a reality- that it was the boys against the office. "Today this is no longer true," Hunter says. "We're all in the same business, and we're all working for the same thing." According to Hunter, today's Superstars understand this, and his involvement in the behind-the-scenes activities has been beneficial for the entire Federation.

"I think at one point when I first started to get close to the behind-the-scenes stuff, there was a fear that I was going to have a ton of heat with the other guys. But I honestly believe that I don't have heat with most of the guys. I believe that's because they understand that I'm just trying to help everybody. I'm not in there saying, 'to hell with that guy, give me the push.' I'm trying to think up good ideas for everybody. If I think of a good idea for Jericho, I push it. Also, sometimes some of the guys might have an idea, and if they don't have a good relationship with [the writers], or they feel funny talking to the writers, a lot of them ask me to tell the writers. So they can use me in that way, and I think that's a good thing."

Hunter's open relationship with Vince McMahon has also proved beneficial to the Federation, and after spending a few moments with "the Game," it becomes apparent how much Hunter respects his boss.

"I know I'm going to sound like I'm kissing my boss's ass, but I really think that Vince is a genius. How can he not be? Look where he's taken this business. He's made it larger than life, he's made it into a billion-dollar industry, and now he's gone to the point where he's taken over his competition. He's won the war. Beyond that, he's a good person. He's interested in having quality human beings working for him and being involved in his product. He's extremely passionate about what we do.

"Sometimes people say negative things about him, but I believe it's because you are a businessman, sometimes you have to make tough decisions," Hunter continues. "It's not personal, it's business. Trust me, I don't envy his job because it's so difficult. But as far as working with him, you can't think of a greater honor than to sit next to probably the smartest guy in the world about this business and pick his brain about things all day."

It's been Hunter's ability in the ring and in front of the camera that has really distinguished him in the past two years. One of the hardest things to accomplish these days is to remain a heel for an extended period of time. Heels do a lot of ass-kicking and trash-talking, two activities that tend to endear Superstars to fans these days. Instead of generating hatred, heels often earn the respect of today's fans and become fan favorites whether they want to or not.

Hunter, through his smarts, has been able to avoid this pitfall. For the past two years, he has been able to keep fans hating him, a fact in which he takes a lot of pride.

"It's very hard to keep fans from liking you, and that's something that I've worked very hard at. In the last two years, I've been one of the few guys who's been able to do that. I've had a long, long run just being hated by the fans. It hasn't been by accident. I want it that way. I'm very in tune to when fans start cheering at things, and I'm very cautious with my promos in terms of what I say and how I say it so I won't be cheered. I'm very cautious. I think about everything I do; I don't do anything just because."

Other accomplishments that Hunter takes pride in include his ability to take part in long-running feuds, and his ability to work in any type of match and have he and his opponent come out better for it. Observers of this business claimed that the days of long-term feuds were over, but Hunter has proved them wrong with his conflicts with The Rock, Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho. These same observers also claimed that today's fans would never enjoy a 60-minute match, but Hunter and The Rock proved them wrong with their epic Iron Man match at Judgment Day in May 2000.

Also, his well-documented relationship with Stephanie has provided hours of entertainment for Federation fans and enhanced his status as a great communicator. Their neverending scheme to control the Federation has been a high point of Federation programming, and if one didn't know better, one would think they were two veteran performers who had worked together for years.

"I think that when you get two people who are very good at what they do, things work out pretty well. There are certain people in this business who you just have good chemistry with, and Stephanie and I have that chemistry. It's no different than an opponent who you always have great matches with because there is great chemistry. There's good chemistry between us as far as everything we do on television. It's easy for us to play off each other, and it worked out well."

Life as a heel isn't always easy. Sometimes fans forget that Hunter is a Federation Superstar, and that in real life he is a much different person than the despicable heel he plays when the cameras are on. People often confront him, and others have a negative attitude toward him. At times, this bothers him, but he's wise enough to know that these negative perceptions have come about because he has been so effective in the ring and in front of the camera. Still, being a heel can have its advantages.

"It's a horrible thing when you have people in your face or you've got people who believe you're what they see on television," he says. "But there are other times when you don't really want to be bothered and just want to be a regular person. It makes it a whole lot easier to tell someone to get lost when they think you're an ass anyway. Trust me, I love the fans, but we're all people, and I put my pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else. Sometimes you just need some time for yourself. In my position, sometimes they expect me to turn them down, so it can be helpful."

Despite being mentally drained at times, Hunter couldn't be happier. After all, he's living out his childhood dream of being a World Wrestling Federation Superstar.

"This is going to sound corny, but I get to wake up everyday and live my dream. Being in this business is what I wanted to do. There are days when I need to get away for a little bit, but it's very rare. For the most

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