Richmond Times interview (2001)

Credit: The Richmond Times Coveh: How do you feel about the current direction of your character?

HHH: This is the most comfortable I've ever felt in the business, and I think it shows in my work in the ring. The funny thing is, I'm doing what I've always wanted to do now as opposed to what somebody else was telling me to do or saying that this might be the best thing for you to do. Now, I am kind of just following my instincts and doing what I think is right. And it seems to be working.

Coveh: You've had an incredible run, and you are definitely the best heel in wrestling. Is there someone you patterned yourself after?

HHH: I always felt that [Ric] Flair was, at his time, the best there was because he had the ability to work with anybody. And I'd like to think that I have that ability through hard work and just studying.

I've had matches that I can consider to be very good with a lot of different guys from Rikishi, Cactus Jack, [Chris] Jericho, to Rock, to Taka. . . . I've had matches that I thought were very good with Big Show, I've had matches that weren't televised with Undertaker that I felt were great; with Kane; with a large variety of opponents, making me very versatile in the ring, and I feel like that's part of my success.

As far as patterning myself after somebody: Really, no, because the business changes so fast. The hardest thing in our business to do right now is to stay a certain thing and to stay a heel. One of the proudest things of what I've done over the last couple of years since turning heel is that I am most proud of my ability to stay over as a heel without turning babyface.

I'm very conscious of that. When I first turned heel, it was funny because I would hear things all the time [like] 'Well, this guy said your interviews are bland.' . . . It was all for a reason. I can do all the other stuff, I can do the catch phrases and do all that stuff like I did with [D-Generation X].

The challenge for me is to continually make people hate me and be the most hated guy in the business because I felt like there was a big void in that area. I felt like anytime anybody got decent heat the fans would immediately turn them babyface because the big thing among the wrestlers now was to be the bad guy but be the really cool guy, which makes you popular. . . . That was something I really wanted to try to avoid for as long as I could. I have input into what I do as a character, but yet it's still not my company.

When it comes right down to it and how long I can stay heel, I think I have got a lot of time left because I still feel like I've got a lot of things in my back pocket that will [anger people] to no end. And I think I can still do that effectively. Now, whether or not that's the direction we'll go, time will tell.

Coveh: In the recent skits with Stephanie, where you are professing your love to your wife and protecting your marriage, you are coming off as the sympathetic figure.

HHH: You see on one hand that works to my advantage. You can look at that in two ways. You can either look at it and go: "Oh, he's a sensitive guy." Or you can look at that and go "What a [wimp, kissing up] to his wife because he's got heat on him." . . . I think it's an interesting character for me right now because in the position I'm in -- I did the deal with Jericho and felt like it elevated Jericho a lot, but he probably needs to work with some other guys too -- I'm kind of in a little bit of a void with an opponent, so this is an interesting scenario for me, and I'm enjoying that part of it.

Coveh: I mentioned Stephanie earlier, you guys have incredible chemistry.

HHH: I think she's an incredibly talented performer. . . . I feel like she got a very similar rap to what I got when she was a babyface and she was Vince's milquetoast daughter. Everybody said, "Ahh, she's horrible, she's so milquetoast. Ahh, it's just so not believable." I thought it was great because to me she was so prim, pure and wholesome, it just made you sick. I thought it was great.

And when we turned, boom, she just showed what she could do. Her character turned completely, and she just went with it. And I, from a performance standpoint, think she's incredible. She's got a great head for the business. Just like her dad.

Coveh: This year, you have taken your game to another level. What has been the key to your improvement?

HHH: Guys look at it when you come to the WWF, like you're there. But it's still a learning process. When I got into [the WWF], I had been in this business a very short period of time. I spent a year in WCW, before that I spent a very short time wrestling independently. I made it very, very quickly in this business.

When I came to the WWF I came in with a good amount of push behind me, I made friends -- I wouldn't change a thing I did, I wouldn't change any of it because I learned from everything I did and everything made me where I am today -- but at that same time, some of that held me back.

But to be honest, I don't feel like I could have handled what was coming my way at that point of time. I wasn't ready. I thought I was, but looking back on it, I wasn't. I am, to this day, it's very flattering to me when people say, "Oh you're the best heel in the business," or "You're arguably the best worker there is right now" . . . I still feel very much like a novice. . . . I still feel very much like I am learning.

I constantly watch my matches back and criticize the [heck] out of myself. I constantly watch the other matches. The whole "Game" thing started out kind of as a shoot in a way . . . Vince used to say all the time that I was the ultimate student of the game because I wanted so much to know every aspect of this business. One time when I was cutting a promo, I actually said, "You talk about the students of the game, I am the Game." And it stemmed from that. I spend as much time when I am on my off days thinking about this business as I do when I am at work. . . . I think that also at the same time, people used to say to me before, my work was. . . . I used to be very methodical, very calculated. I heard it said I lulled the fans into not caring about my matches. I am not a big believer in high spots. As much as I appreciate what the Hardy Boys do, not to single anybody out, but performers like that. I am a bigger fan of story.

Ric Flair didn't do anything special, but he was the best storyteller there was and he was over for 20 years because of it. And I feel like that is the way to go. It's not about who can jump the farthest because the Hardy Boys right now, they are 21 years old, Shawn Michaels had some kid at his school, who signed a developmental contract with this company, that at 19 can do everything the Hardy Boys can do and then some. And there's always that next level of danger in that stuff. . . .

Our business is telling stories, and that's what I feel like I do in the ring. There's nothing that I do in the ring "because." Everything I do has a point, has a reason, has a purpose because I am trying to tell a story. When I get done, I want to know that I took people on a roller-coaster ride, and I controlled every aspect of that ride for them. It's not a free fall, it's not a crash landing. It's a controlled ride that's more exciting than anything else.

Coveh: The matches you had with Mick Foley, was it special for you to be wrestling him in his final matches?

HHH: Oh, yeah, I mean I told Mick that. As corny as it sounds in our business, Mick and I have shed a couple of tears together over the specialness of what we did. For him to be able to go out as Cactus Jack and for me to be his last two big matches, it was special. . . . The Hell in the Cell match with Undertaker was an incredible match, but it was really just two big bumps.

From story line-wise and from what we did in the weeks leading up to, to make Cactus Jack Cactus Jack and going into the Rumble and going into Hell in the Cell, we created a brand new character out of nothing and made a fever pitch to see it. And to be honest, I was a little bit worried about going into the Rumble the week before that we'd built up such an incredible aura around this match that we couldn't live up to it. Once we started that day, we both had these incredible ideas in our head and once we started laying that stuff out, we knew we were going to be on to something special when it was done.

To me, it was one of my proudest matches ever. . . . I consider Mick to be one of the greatest performers in our business of all time. And he's got a great mind for our business and has done so much for our business that for me to be in a position with him in his last couple of times and to be the biggest matches of his career, it's an honor for me. It really is.

Coveh: You've also had a lot of big matches with The Rock. What has made this feud so special?

HHH: The funny thing with me and Rock, the feud has actually lasted since the day Rock got here. When Rock came in, I was just getting out of the hot seat from my Madison Square Garden incident, so I was just kind of coming about on my own a little bit. . . .

Rock and I have laughed about it so many times together . . . like out of nowhere I dropped the IC belt to him the night Shawn Michaels gave up the WWF title, and it's been there ever since. We've fought with him as a babyface as Rocky Maivia and me as a heel as the snob and then him as a heel and me as a babyface with DX. And then we've done that whole big war with the Nation vs. DX. And then it was me and him for the IC belt. We've done strap matches, ladder matches, 2-out-of-3 falls, falls count anywhere, submission matches, I Quit matches, cage matches. You name it we've done it. We really have.

It's a funny thing that I feel as many times as we go I feel like it's almost stronger every time we get in the ring. . . . . Rock and I have this chemistry, sometimes we don't do anything for five minutes, we just stare at each other from across the ring and the people go crazy. It's great to be in that position. I kind of almost feel like we are the Flair-Steamboat of this generation. We have that magic. No matter what, now Rock and I can move away from each other and at any point in time they can throw it back together, and we will do huge business.

Coveh: What kind of relationship do you guys have? The possibility of friction has to exist with you guys being Nos. 1 and 2 in wrestling.

HHH: Sure, there's a competitiveness. Hey, if you're in this company and you don't want to be the best, you're in the wrong place, man. The one thing about the WWF, opposed to WCW, being great is rewarded here. It's not just who was able to sign the biggest money contract. Stepping up to that level of being a great performer is rewarded. And you want to be the best.

And Rock has a strong desire to be the best, and so do I. And I feel like respectively, we both are. In all honesty, he's the best babyface. I am the best heel. There's always going to be a competitiveness between me and Rock. I'm sure he would have to admit when we go to watching the pay-per-views and I'm wrestling Jericho and he's wrestling Benoit, I'm sure he wants to steal the show as much as I do. And that's great. I admire that in him, and he admires that in me, I'm sure. . . .

Rock and I aren't best of friends. Someone asked me a while ago, they did a thing on Dwayne Johnson, and they tried to ask me, "What's the real Dwayne Johnson like." I don't know. . . . I know Rock. I know the Dwayne Johnson I see at work every day. I've never been to Rock's house. . . . We don't go out together, we don't hang out together, we don't party together, we don't do anything together. . . . We're not enemies, we're not friends. We work together, and we have a lot of respect for each other.

Coveh: One match we haven't discussed was Judgment Day. Were you concerned going into the 60-minute match people wouldn't accept it?

HHH: When they first told me the concept of 60 minutes, I was a little concerned that the people don't have the attention span to watch for 60 minutes anymore. It's funny that feeling lasted for a very short period of time because I immediately came to the realization that "Well, you know what, if you are as good as you say you are or think you are, it's up to you to make them pay attention for 60 minutes, and if you can't do that: Shut up." Because then all the old-timers who say you can't go 60 minutes anymore are right.

I always wanted to have a 60-minute match. Shawn Michaels and I used to talk about it forever in the car when I was a heel and he was the babyface as champ. "Hey, let's go 60 minutes one night, let's do it." We talked about it; we just never had a program together. [Steve] Austin and I used to talk about it. Austin thought I was the one guy in the business he could go 60 with.

I don't know whether Rock ever felt like he wanted to do that or not. It was kind of sprung on Rock. The decision was made when he was in Morocco. . . . And [Rock] actually did tell me this. He was on the phone with his wife, he was half asleep, he was in Morocco doing this movie and his wife said something about the Iron Man match and he said: "What did you just say." She said, "Iron Man match." He said, "What the [heck] is that, 60 minutes?" She goes, "Yeah. I thought you knew." He was like "I didn't know anything about it." He got all wound up about it.

I was very proud of the match. I felt like for 60 minutes we never lost the people. I felt for 60 minutes we put on a performance that electrified the crowd and, like you said, made people look at the clock at 55 minutes and go "[Wow], there's only five minutes left." My one disappointment in the match was that at the end, we got botched on time.

And this is not an excuse, but I took a pedigree on the table and knocked myself out. Basically, I don't remember a whole lot about the end of the match. I remember vague spots. It's one of those things where you're down to that time you need two guys to be at their peak. Rock didn't know I was messed up, and I couldn't really tell them. And things took a little bit longer, there was a count there that took very long. Shawn knew I was hurt, so Shawn was lengthening the count, but it was eating up our time. . . .

We got it all in there and it all worked out fine, but it's like when you paint a picture and you got one brushstroke in there and that's all you see, "Ahh, that one spot right there just bothers me." Sixty-minute match but that finish . . . it wasn't perfect and the rest of the match to me was.

I regret that, but I am very proud of the match. All the promos I cut going into that were a shoot. It is the one match nobody wants to do. It's the one match nobody can do. . . . Both Rock and I went out there and gave it our all and showed the world in this day and age, two young guys can go out there, go 60 minutes and make everybody pay attention to all 60 of it and be just as excited for the end of that 60-minute match as they would for a 15-minute match.

Coveh: Counting the great match at Fully Loaded against Jericho, you've been in involved in four match-of-the-year candidates so far this year, what match would you pick as the best?

HHH: From an emotional standpoint, I would pick the Rumble. I felt in the Rumble match, to me the story was there start to finish. . . .

There was a lot of emotional content in that match, too, because Mick was winding down, and we knew where we were going. To have that match and to have Mick come back to me after watching it -- we watched it together the next day -- and tell me it was the greatest match he ever had meant a lot to me. So I would pick that match. From a fan standpoint, I don't know. I don't think anybody would pick the hour match because it was just different. . . . They all have a very special spot for me. . . .

To me, Hell in the Cell, I was proud of that match because after the other Hell in the Cell match with him and 'Taker, all people were expecting was Foley to take some ridiculous bump and kill himself. They were just waiting for it to happen. And the reason I was proud of that match is, we got through it, nobody got hurt, and I don't think we lost the fans for a second.

Coveh: You mentioned you have some input in your character, do you foresee yourself as a booker someday?

HHH: Booker's a strong one-man show there, but I have a very strong interest in the creative side, and not a lot of guys do. A lot of guys in our business, they are in on their performance and that's it. And that's cool. Some guys don't like that other side of the business. They just want to be there to perform and want to be told, "Here's your story line and this is what you want to do." . . .

I, on the other hand, I enjoy the other side of the business just as much. I like to go to creative meetings, and I have as much input a lot of times in other people's stuff. I probably have more input into other people's stuff as I do of my own. Sometimes I actually shy away from having input into my own things because I don't want people to feel like Hunter is pushing himself. . . . I wish they would write my things, and I'll tweak it. . . .

I love to go to the meetings and help lay out other guys' stuff or help the other boys lay out stuff. To me, that's just as much fun. So, I think when my time in that ring is done I will be like a Pat Patterson or Jack Lanza that lives vicariously through the boys, helping them lay their stuff out, watches those matches, feels everything and gets excited when they score. I love that side of the business. To me, this is the greatest business on this planet, and when I'm done in the ring I'd like to do the other side of it.

Coveh: Do you think we will ever see a reunion of the "Kliq" (Shawn Michaels, Helmsley, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and X-Pac)?

HHH: It's hard to say whether or not you will see the whole thing. Shawn's hurt, Kevin Nash is still viable as coming back, I guess. Scott Hall has so many personal issues to whether or not Scott's head is in the business. He's had problems [in WCW]. Scott can be difficult for management to work with, so whether or not he could ever come back and be effective or be welcomed back, I don't know.

Coveh: Do you think Nash and Hall would be welcomed back?

HHH: I don't know. . . . You know I've never asked that because I feel like I'm a little close on the subject so I don't feel like it should be my place. If those guys want to come back it should be somebody else's decision. I wish they wouldn't ask me. If they want to bring them back, I'd be very happy because they are my friends and if they wanted to do business. They are my friends, but I'm big on whatever would be best for business. . . . If it would be right, I'd welcome it with open arms and love to do it. If it's not, the "Kliq" never split up, we just don't work together anymore.

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