Slam Wrestling interview (3/01)
Triple H on the collapse of WCW and ECW
By JOHN POWELL -- SLAM! Wrestling

Even before it was announced yesterday that the World Wrestling Federation had purchased its long-time rival World Championship Wrestling, Hunter-Hearst Helmsley (Triple H) had plenty to say about why the WWF is still going strong and it's competitors have tanked.

In a media conference call to promote WrestleMania 17 next weekend, Helmsley blamed WCW's demise on their lack of respect for the pro wrestling industry.

"As far as WCW goes, I think they lost their passion for the business. I think as a company most of their people were 'corporate people' working for Turner that were pushed down to the 'wrestling thing' and I think many of them were just nine-to-fivers that would go....Ah, I don't want to do this wrestling crap. I'd rather be doing some other thing in the company but I got stuck down here doing this," said Helmsley assessing the situation that led to the WWF's takeover of WCW.

But it is not just the "suits" who Helmsley holds responsible. He points the finger at some of WCW's veteran talent who he claims did as little as they could get away because they were guaranteed a sizable pay cheque from the company no matter what kind of effort they gave. According to Triple H, that's what set the prosperous WWF apart from a continually floundering WCW.

"We (the WWF) care about putting out a great product. We care to entertain you better than anybody else and we care to make sure that every aspect of our show is as good as we can do it," he said. "Yeah, we make mistakes. Yeah, sometimes a storyline is not where it should be but we work to change it and we are always striving to give the best product that we can because everybody in our company from the lowest guy on the totem pole to the top guy on the totem pole -- which is Vince McMahon -- everybody shares that passion about our business and that's why we are Number One. That's why we will continue to be successful as other people fall."

The one legendary performer Triple H holds in high esteem for preserving through all of WCW's woes is "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Helmsley admits that Flair isn't what he used to be in the ring. That being said, Helmsley views Flair as still incredibly fun to watch and an asset to any company he works for. He gives him full credit for remaining enthusiastic and professional.

"When I would watch their (WCW's) show sometimes over the last year one of the only things that I would find mildly entertaining was when Flair would come out because I knew he was going to cut a good promo that would make me laugh or something," Triple H said. "When I would watch him wrestle and I would think...God, that's just not the Ric Flair the way I want to remember him...but I tell you what, I would still go out there and watch his matches because he would show me more passion in the ten minutes he would wrestle than anybody else on that show. I cannot help but respect that. Ric Flair in this day and age still loves this business, still has a passion for this business, and still wants to do it badly. I have all the respect in the world for that as opposed to guys who are in their prime and basically are just going...Well, hell. I got my money. I am going to go sit home. Why should I bust my ass? I make the same money."

Turning his thoughts to ECW's downfall, Helmsley commended their struggle and effort to be successful even though they were the obvious underdogs. He viewed them as a "good training ground" and a "benefit" to the industry when they were at the top of their game. Unlike WCW, it wasn't laziness or an uncaring attitude that toppled ECW. It was simply some "bad business decisions" that paved the road to ruin.

"I look at what he (Paul Heyman) did with some of the talent, and that's not to belittle anyone there, sometimes he didn't have the most talent to work with but he made the best of it and that's genius to be able to do that," Helmsley said of ECW owner Paul Heyman.

Having virtually abandoned ECW as a wrestling promotion for the time being, Paul Heyman has joined the World Wrestling Federation as a colour commentator and a behind-the-scenes booker. Triple H is glad to have him aboard. The creativity and devotion he brings to the job is inspiring others and shaking up what critics have termed as a bland WWF product heading into their biggest show: WrestleMania.

"As far as him (Heyman) being here, he's great. He thinks outside the box which is tremendous. I think he has been and will continue to be a huge help in this company and the biggest thing that I like is Paul is so passionate about the business and I think that's why guys worked for him for so long when they weren't making money," remarked an excited Helmsley. "Paul is such a passionate guy that when you talk to him about wrestling you just cannot help but have that same feeling he does. He just gets you hyped up about the business and you just want to go out there and perform."

Of the talent Heyman brought along with him Helmsley sees good things in the future for Justin Credible and Rhino.

"It is hard to say but I think Justin Credible is going to do very well. I think that Rhino is going to do very well also. He's a good guy. He'll be a player over time. There's a lot of talent out there it is just getting it in at the right time and doing the right things with them."

Though he is slated to duke it out in what promises to be a grueling match at WrestleMania with The Undertaker, that wasn't the WWF's original plan for Hunter Hearst-Helmsley. Bookers initially thought about having The Game work an angle with someone outside of the wrestling industry like an actor or major sports star. Most wrestlers would have found such a proposal hard to accept as the potential for an embarrassing performance is great. Not Triple H. He jumped at the chance to prove himself capable of carrying such a match.

"When that talk came up they asked me if I would be interested and I was like...Yeah. I'd love the challenge. That's like working with the proverbial broom-stick, right? So, I love that challenge. If you can go out there and rock and roll the crowd with someone who doesn't even know what they are doing, how much better could that be?," said Triple H during a WrestleMania media conference call.

Helmsley's willingness to take on any task presented to him can be traced to his childhood admiration of wrestling icon, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. At an early age Helmsley was impressed by Flair's adaptability in the wrestling ring. From the powerhouse Road Warriors to Arn Anderson and other technical virtuosos, Flair more than held his own in any environment and made whoever he was working with look good in the process. That valuable lesson wasn't lost on Triple H.

"That was always my goal in this business. To be in that vein. To be the guy who could go out there and street fight with Cactus Jack. To be the guy who could go out there and go an hour with The Rock, to wrestle in matches with Benoit, to have fine matches -- and not necessarily on my part because I am a ground soldier -- with the high-fliers like a Jericho or guys like that. I love to be able to have that versatility and it is more fun for me because I love the challenge of being able to work with all these different guys," he said.

As it turns out, the "outsider" plan was scuttled and Triple H was scripted into a feud with The Undertaker, a man who claims that Triple H may have defeated some of the WWF top superstars but he never beat him in the ring. The ongoing battle of wills came to a bloody climax on last week's Smackdown! broadcast when Triple H assaulted The Undertaker with a sledgehammer to soften him up before their clash at WrestleMania.

Hampered by chronic hip and knee problems due to his time in the mat wars, there are those who think that The Undertaker's best years are behind him and that his role should now be to elevate the mid-card wrestlers to main event status. Don't count Triple H as being one of those people. Coming to his defence, Triple H said Mark Callaway (The Undertaker) is still a hard-working performer who has the skills and experience to headline any card. He has seen a remarkable change in Callaway since his return to full-time duty and that even though his new biker gimmick has been met with mixed reviews, he thinks it will grow on fans over time. Triple H is approaching their WrestleMania match as a way of solidifying them both as serious challengers to whomever walks out of the Houston Astrodome with the WWF World Heavyweight Title.

"I want to put The Undertaker where The Undertaker should be and I want to put Triple H where I feel Triple H should be and that's at the top. The Undertaker should be at the top," said Helmsley firmly. "Mark Callaway is one of the hardest working men and one of the smartest working men in this business and he should be in that position. I think his intensity has increased just through this angle with me over the last few weeks and I think that when we go to WrestleMania I greatly intend to go out there and shock a lot of people and have a lot of people go...'Damn! Undertaker and Triple H. They really put on a hell of a performance!'...and maybe it would be something they weren't expecting. I am hoping we can give that to them."

As the pre-WrestleMania hype began months ago, many thought that it was a given that Triple H would be in the main event making it a triple threat bout. Whenever that idea was brought up to Helmsley, he says he respectfully declined the opportunity. His decision was based partly on how last year's jumbled WrestleMania main event played out and partly on the respect he has for The Rock and Steve Austin. Looking back, Triple H wishes that he and The Rock had gone one-on-one at WrestleMania 16 but the decision wasn't in his hands. After giving it some thought, the WWF bookers determined that the timing just wasn't right.

Comfortable and confident with his position on the year's WrestleMania card, Helmsley confesses that in the back of his mind he still wishes he was in the main event. Triple H chalks that up to human nature and his desire to be the best. The fact that his main event wish will be unfulfilled this time around hasn't softened Helmsley's resolve at all as the clock ticks down to Sunday's show.

"I am going to WrestleMania with all intents and purposes of having the best match on that show and stealing it. Anybody who is NOT going to WrestleMania with the intent of stealing the show...I can't believe they work for the WWF," said a determined Triple H who characterizes himself as "just a big kid who gets to live his dream every day".

In this day and age, WrestleMania is not what it once was. Under self-imposed pressure to put out two flagship wrestling shows each week and a pay-per-view every month, the WWF doesn't have the lead-up time nor the energy to build up WrestleMania as they once did. Consequently, WrestleMania has lost some of its luster. While wrestling fans and media types debate the significance of WrestleMania in the "sports entertainment" era, Triple H maintains that nothing has changed in WWF locker room. It is treated as it always has been, a special stage for everyone to perform at their highest level.

"This is where it all goes down and if you don't think we're all jazzed about it, you're nuts. We are going to go to Houston and there's going to be 65,000 people in the arena and we are going to do this huge pay-per-view event. It is the Super Bowl to us and whether the hype feels the same to the fans or not, I just think to us it still does. To us, it is still this incredible event," he said.

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