The Game Magazine interview- 2002
Credit to Triple H Unleashed for this interview.

Over the past three years, it's become evident that Triple H has few peers in terms of pure excellence in the world of sports-entertainment. Yet, through all the glory (headlining pay-per-view, winning multiple World Wrestling Federation Championships) as well as the misfortune (the devastating quadriceps injury he suffered this past May), he's managed to maintain the refreshing candor that makes him one of the most interesting interviews in the business. We asked Triple H his thoughts and views on many topics: his injury and comeback, his place in the Federation and in the history of sports-entertainment, and how he is perceived among fans and critics. Sometimes blunt, often funny and always insightful, Triple H opened up and revealed a clear view of the man behind "The Game."

WWF: You were in the middle of the best run of your career when your quad ruptured. Not that there's ever a good time for a thing like that, but could there have been a worse time for you to get injured?

Triple H: There's never a good time for that to happen. When would be a good time? You don't want it to happen before you get a good run, you don't want it to happen after or during-there's no good time. Was I right in the middle of something major? Sure. But then again, I've been pushing myself and my body extremely hard for quite a few years. The guys in the WWF-or in any sport-are like sports cars. The engine is designed for performance; you can push the red line on the engine, but only for so long. I'd been red-lining for a long time. I guess it was just a matter of time before something made me stop for a while, and I guess that was it.

WWF: Has this changed your outlook on things, like raising doubts about yourself that hadn't been there before, or making you savor what you now have even more?

Triple H: I think it's made me savor what I have, it won't necessarily raise doubts. Will I be concerned about my left leg when I first get back in there? Of course-I'd be an idiot not to be. But I have one gear in the ring, and that's 100%. I don't have a 50% gear. Either I'm going to go or I'm not, and either it's going to hold or it won't. I don't really have a whole lot of control over that. All I can do is train as hard as I can, and make my leg as healthy as possible and come back. Whether it holds is not up to me. Does it change my outlook? I think it makes me more appreciative of what I have. It gives me a fresh perspective. Sometimes you get so wrapped up in things that you forget to step back and smell the roses. This certainly has given me a wake-up call. Luckily, it's something that I can come back from and will have to opportunity to do so.

WWF: It took you a long time to prove yourself as one of the elite performers in the business. Do you feel the same challenge now in coming back? Is this going back to square one in some aspects?

Triple H: It's certainly not square one. Once you make a name for yourself in this industry, you have that name. But it's square one in terms of proving to the world that I can be what I once was. People have expectations of what your performance will be and what you can do in the ring. You start over after an injury. It's not different than when Austin came back from his neck surgery. The spotlight's on you, and when you're under a microscope, everybody's looking for any sign or weakness that can be used to cut you down. That's just the reality of it. I will become at least what I was, if not better than before, simply because I won't have it any other way. If anything, this has made me re-focus my efforts. It's like the old cliché about when you get the silver spoon struck down your throat and you start choking on it. I think that's where I was. This allows me to re-focus all my energy and re-evaluate how badly I want and need to be in that position. It's made me work that much harder. I'm not sitting on my ass waiting for my comeback to happen. I'm making it happen. I will be the best again, because I won't have it any other way.

WWF: Your comeback is still weeks away at the time of this interview. As you've rehabbed, have you played it through in your mind? How much are you looking forward to hearing your music hit and stepping through that curtain again?

Triple H: I can't wait. Being in the World Wrestling Federation and getting that rush from the crowd-when you're a performance athlete, you live for the rush. It's like being an entertainer-you live to perform. That's what we are in the WWF: performers. We live to perform. To not have that for a long time is like being a junkie without his high. That's your high-the crown and that rush. You hear your music, the crowd, and you go through the match and do your thing, that's your high. There's no greater feeling in the world. When that's taken away from you , you're starving to get it back. You get hungrier by the day to get it back.

WWF: It's been over two years since you first won the WWF title and had the official elevation to elite status. How would you describe that ride; the last couple of years before the injury? Is it the culmination of everything you've done before, in the last nine or ten years?

Triple H: I always felt that I had the ability and the talent that if given the opportunity, I could run with it and be on top, that I could carry the ball. There's a lot of great boxers in the world who are never given title fights. You have to be given that opportunity. You have to be put in that spot. To be put in that spot, to work as hard as you can and be given that spot is what it's all about.

WWF: Along with everyone from Stone Cold Steve Austin to The Rock, you've really benefitted from the evolution of the business from gimmicks and cartoon guys to what it is now in it's current form. What role do you think you played in that evolution?

Triple H: I was one of the last guys in the business-not the last, but one of the last-to come in with a gimmick. You couldn't be a regular guy. You have to be a firefighter, a cop or something; you couldn't be a wrestler. So I did that. Along the way, a lot of us were saying that the business had changed because of this. We were telling Vince [McMahon] that things needed to be more serious. I remember having a conversation with Vince, in which I said, "We market the show too much towards kids." Kids will watch no matter what. Every kid in America knows who Michael Jordan is. He doesn't wear clown pants. He's not a guy that dresses up like a cop or anything else. He's just the best basketball player on the planet. What we do is very exciting. I don't think we give people enough credit for watching, admiring and enjoying what we do on it's own merits. We had a lot of discussions where everyone felt [the gimmicks] needed to go. Vince felt they needed to go. And that was the start of the "WWF Attitude." Some people look back on the attitude thing and say that Stone Cold Steve Austin was the inception of "WWF Attitude." That's partly true; he was there when it happened. But DX was also the inception of that attitude. I changed my character to the reality base of where we were, and started being cutting-edge, young and hip. And Austin turned from the Ringmaster to Stone Cold. And that all happened at the same time the restraints were taken off us a little bit. And obviously, that's what the business needed.

WWF: In a way, it was almost back to what it was in the old days, because the guys then were just wrestlers. Buddy Rogers didn't have a gimmick; he was just Buddy Rogers. And aside from guys like Gorgeous George, most of them had no gimmick.

Triple H: I agree. And I also believe that it changed in the sense that guys became more serious. With all due respect to to everybody from that time period-from the Hogan era to what followed after-you didn't have to be very good at the craft or art of wrestling to be at the top of your game. Guys like the Ultimate Warrior-and he couldn't lace a boot-are bottom guys now as far as in-ring ability. But they had a character and charisma, and that's what everything was based on then. Now it's based a lot more on in-ring performance. Fans are smarter. They don't just want to see hype; they don't just want to see a guy out there yelling and screaming. They want to see the hype; they want to see all the yelling; they want to see all that stuff. But when it comes down to it, they really want to see a kick-ass match. Fans want to see two guys going at it who'll take them on an incredible ride. I think that's what we do now. We have some of the greatest workers in this business all in one place right now. All doing the same thing-striving to have the greatest matches they can.

WWF: Is it a generational thing? The guys you and I both grew up watching in the late '70's, like the Magnificent Muraco, Greg Valentine, guys like that, weren't cartoons, they weren't gimmicks, they just put on amazing matches.

Triple H: There was a point when the professional wrestling camp took off in the '80's. I think it's explosive popularity was due to people who weren't necessarily fans of wrestling; it was just a fad and something to watch. I think a lot of people got turned on by that initially, but they were held by the matches. For example, if you grew up then and watched WrestleMania III, you were held by a match like Steamboat vs. Savage or Snuka vs. Muraco. Those are things you remember in the long run, not Hogan ripping off his t-shirt. You watched because it was fun, but in the long run you really appreciated the great matches more. I know that during that time, I was never a Hogan fan. I don't mean any disrespect to him-I have a lot of respect for what he did-however, as a kid and a fan, I saw Hogan as a poseur. He wasn't really a wrestler, he was a guy they put at the top of the company because he sold t-shirts. You knew what he was gonna do before he did it. And I never wanted to be like that.

WWF: You often hear how the guys today are more serious. The locker room is filled with guys who are dedicated to this sport. They single you out as someone who just lives, eats, and breathes everything about this business. It's your entire being. How long can you sustain that?

Triple H: I don't know. I know I work very hard at what I do, but it's only hard work if you don't enjoy it. Right now, to me, this is fun. Even the behind-the-scenes stuff and things that other people don't want to do, I enjoy doing. It's fun to me. It's like a hobby that I get to do every day. I get to go out there and perform. But I also get to mentally create and be a part of that, too. There's just something about it that's fun. Will I burn out on that? I don't know. I look at [former Federation Superstars] Pat Patterson and Jack Lanza, who are agents for us now. I think they're as happy as we are. They live vicariously through us. Guys like Lanza, Patterson, and Jerry Briscoe are still as excited about the business today as they were 20 years ago when they were wrestling. There's just something about this business that if it's really burned into you, you don't lose your passion for it.

WWF: You grew up watching wrestling on TV and in person when your dad took you to the Boston Garden. You've said that Ric Flair has had a big influence on you. Who are some of the other guys who have influenced you? Even then, did you find yourself gravitating towards the heels?

Triple H: I always enjoyed the heels better, especially in those days, because I believed that the heels are the guys who make a match interesting. I'd watch a heel-a good heel-work with a baby face. The next week or the next month they'd be working programs with different people. That heel would probably have a great match with another baby face, but that baby face, depending on the guy he's working with, might not necessarily have a great match. It became evident to me that a lot of times, the heels were the guys to watch because they were the guys who had great matches with everybody. My admiration for Flair is for his character and promos. He was just priceless. Much of my admiration for him stems from his ability to have great matches with everyone-from Bruiser Brody to Dusty Rhodes to Harley Race to Kerry Von Erich. Flair had great matches with everybody. Guys like that, I watched. I admired Arn Anderson, Magnificent Muraco, Tully Blanchard, Cowboy Bob Orton, Greg Valentine, and different guys. I enjoyed Jake Roberts, especially when he was a heel. And I think I enjoyed the seriousness of the business during that time. I think that seriousness is what pulled at people. There's always going to be matches that aren't as serious, and those are important to the card. The intense matches are the ones you always remember, but they can't all be that way.

WWF: You can't have a two-hour card with all intense stuff.

Triple H: You've got to lighten it up in spots and fill things around it. But the big money is in the seriousness. People want to see two guys go out there, have an incredible match, and rip each other apart.

WWF: That really describes your work. How you rose through the ranks because you've done the lighter stuff and the theatrical stuff, but when you got down to it, it was all serious and intense.

Triple H: I look back and there's definite sections within my character. When I was the aristocrat, I had good matches that a lot of people wouldn't necessarily think of as good matches. Of course, I grew over the years. I had good matches with Mick Foley, as Mankind. Then when Chyna came in and DX was formed, it was a chance for me to come out of the aristocrat character and be myself. When we reformed DX with X-Pac and the New Age Outlaws, it was what we needed in the business at the time-a bunch of smart-asses. We needed that; somebody pushing the envelope. And that's what we did. We attacked WCW and did some radical things. And we were very good at it. We drew a lot of money with it.

WWF: The skits were incredible.

Triple H: Yeah, but what I really always wanted to do was be the worker. I had a blast doing it and wouldn't change any of it. But when the time came for me to make the move, and the opportunity arose, I grabbed it. I knew that I wanted to do with it, that I had the ability to do it. I think a lot of people questioned my ability. It wasn't a slam-dunk; there were a lot of questions on whether I could carry the ball. Even after I got it, there were a lot of questions: "He's not the guy. He's not this. He's not that." I had to prove everybody wrong. One of the hardest things to do is change people's mind, and that's what I had to do. I had to go out there every night and be at the top of my game, because I had to change everybody's mind about what I was and what I could do. Some of the things I'd done in my career set me up for that question. I'd made mistakes and been in positions where it looked like I was a lackey, but those were things that drew me to where I was at the time.

WWF: But you had to be that way, in order to eventually be the World Wrestling Federation Champion.

Triple H: Not only that, but when I look back on it, I'm glad everything happened the way it did. If they had given me the opportunity two years earlier, then I probably wouldn't have been ready. I probably would have dropped the ball. They can't give it to you too fast, because if you fail, it's harder to recover. I look back to guys like Tommy Rich. The NWA made Tommy Rich a world champion, and that was it. They gave him the world, and he couldn't handle it. So, I look at my career and that everything happened for a reason. I wouldn't change a minute of it.

WWF: In the past you've said that when you were hanging with guys like Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and those guys, you were a self-described "bunch of jerks." You had to make a transition to be where you are now.

Triple H: When I was with Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Shawn Michaels, and X-Pac, we were a clique. We were a bunch of jerks. The one thing that drew me to those guys was their passion for the business. People look back at those times and say, "Oh, they were jerks. They were destructive to the business." Kevin could be a big, grumpy bastard, and a lot of people didn't like him because of it. Shawn can be very moody, and you never knew where he was coming from. X-Pac had a different personality. Scott can be a negative person. But it was their passion for the business that drew me to them. So, all of a sudden this new guy is riding along with these top guys. We would go on a five-hour car ride; that was when we were doing 20 day tours. You would do a 20 day tour, go home for a couple of days, then go back out for another 15 days. That's what we did then. We would ride together for four or five hours in a car, and we'd talk business from the time the door closed until the time the door opened when we go to our destination. We'd come up with angles. We'd talk about matches and anything that had to do with business. That's what drew us all together. Kevin used to go to places and do a routine that he called "Big Grumpy." We'd literally pull up to a place and he'd get out of the car screaming. People would be scared to death of this big, 7-foot grumpy guy. And this was just people that worked with us. He thought it was funny. From a business standpoint, it wasn't funny. But that was the part we were jerks about. I didn't know better so I just sat back and laughed at those guys. It was funny. It bit me in the ass later, but for good reason. I learned a tremendous amount from being in that car. Some of the best stuff in this business will get done when you're just driving along in a car. You have a lot of time to hash out ideas.

WWF: So, much more stuff gets done then?

Triple H: Without a doubt. And that's when the business is fun. I learned a lot about business during those times. Sometimes you learn just as much about what not to do as about what to do. I learned a lot from Kevin, Scott, and Shawn and everybody else about what not to do.

WWF: And from your own mistakes as well?

Triple H: And from my own mistakes. I had to make some mistakes to learn; all the things I do today are the product of coming up through the environment in this business. And I wouldn't change any of that. People sometimes say, "I bet you wish you hadn't gone out and down that curtain call." Actually, I'm happy that I went out and did that curtain call. I feel like I changed the business. I changed some people's minds in the business. It taught me a valuable lesson and made me realize a lot of things. I was getting set to be given a big opportunity, and it was taken away from me. But, I wasn't ready. That year, at King of the Ring, "Austin 3:16 was said for the first time. That would never have happened for me then. I would never have gone out and said, "Hunter 3:16." So, everything happens for a reason.

WWF: Even though now you think you're at your pinnacle, do you think you're still learning?

Triple H: In this business, you never stop learning. By going to meetings or being involved, you learn. When I see the boys around someone like Jerry Briscoe, Pat Patterson, or Jack Lanza-guys with a wealth of knowledge-and not bother to listen to them, that bothers me. Or when Patterson offers to help someone with a match and they don't bother talking to him, nothing infuriates me more. Some guys look at it like, "Oh, he's an old guy. What does he know?" But what they don't realize is that he's forgotten more about the business than most guys will ever know. Those guys have been around the business forever, and the amount of information they have is invaluable. To think that guys turn that down is terrible. I go to meetings to help out with the production stuff and the like, but I'm also in there learning. I go there, sit and listen. After the meeting we all sit and talk about what we just heard. I'm picking their brains. Every Monday and Tuesday, I get to sit in a room with the smartest people in this business-Vince McMahon, Pat Patterson, Bruce Pritchard, Jack Lanza, Jerry Brisco, Sgt. Slaughter, Michael Hayes, Paul Heyman, Tom Prichard- and pick their brains. All those guys have incredible minds for this business and have a couple hundred years of knowledge between them. I think that in this business you constantly learn. Even Vince McMahon learns something about this business every day.

WWF: You said you don't read the dirt sheets and things like that.

Triple H: I just don't believe in them.

WWF: They've given you a bad rap. They say you are politicing yourself to get to this spot; that you've got Vince's ear.

Triple H: And they know this how?

WWF: Exactly.

Triple H: I mean, they know this because the friend of some guy's cousin's brother's uncle's sister's mother, told them that they heard it at a meeting. The thing in this business is that all those people are just fans. To make yourself look like an insider, it's much easier to criticize someone than put them over. If I'm talking to a bunch of people and say, "He does a hell of a job," that's really good. I'm putting him over. But if I say, "He does a bad job, and this is why...If I had his job, I'd do this and I'd do that." They'll look at me and say, "He's smart. He should have the job." But if these guys were all so smart, why aren't they booking companies?

WWF: And they don't want to sound like fans.

Triple H: Right. The biggest thing they hate is when we fool them all. If they buy into something, and then they find out it was work, they hate that, because we made them look bad. Shawn Michaels and I learned about the dirt sheets early in our careers. Before Shawn was World Wrestling Federation Champion, he was the greatest worker of all time, according to the dirt sheets. They wrote that he was unbelievable, that he should be the champion. Then when he won the title, they wrote Shawn Michaels sucks. He's a namby-pamby. He's a sell-out. He's a wuss. He's a soft champion. Now, a couple of years later, they're writing that Shawn's one of the best champions of all time. He's a great worker. He's one of the best ever. Pick a direction. It's the same thing with Mick Foley, as well as a lot of guys. In the long run, who cares? The thing that gets me about those guys is that several of them have become so interested and involved in criticizing the business, that they don't enjoy the business anymore.

WWF: No, as a whole, they're probably more interested in putting themselves over. "My site's the best because I'm the smartest."

Triple H: That's true. Most of those people probably get involved in the dirt sheet part of this because they were the biggest fans. So it's sad to me that at some point, they actually ruined something for themselves that they loved by making themselves part of it. And that's too bad.

WWF: It's gotta chap your ass a bit though, because when they say things like that, it demeans the hard work that got you to the top.

Triple H: Reading a dirt sheet is like there's one lone guy yelling, "You suck!" I've got 30,000 people a night who are paying to come and see what I do. The thing that kills me the most is that they think Vince McMahon is just this guy that the talent walks up to and says, "Hey, I'm doing this." And he replies, "Okay, great. Would you like to do anything else?...Okay, that'd be great." The man runs a billion dollar company. Yes, he's open to ideas and is very receptive to things. But the bottom line is: This is his company. He's the guy who's got to report to the shareholders. It's his show. Yes, there's no show without the talent, but it's his show, and he decides everything. And if he thinks it's wrong, believe me, he'll tell you, "No, I don't like that."

WWF: And then it's not getting done.

Triple H: Right. The sheets and the like don't bother me, because I know what I do. I know that half the time I'm in those meetings, yes, I'm involved in my stuff; it would be ridiculous for me not to be. But at the same time, I understand what I do for other people. You know, more than half of my time in there, I'm hashing out stuff for other people.

WWF: For you to do what you do so well on camera-the edgy, intense work-there's got to be an edge to you. You've got to have that edge.

Triple H: A lot of the things that I learned early on in this business were from my trainer [Walter] "Killer" Kowalski. And then when I went into WCW, I learned a lot from guys who worked there. One of the guys I learned the most from is Terry Taylor. When I wasn't working much for WCW, I used to go down to the Power Plant, which wasn't a big school then; it was just a ring set up. I used to go there every day, just to keep in ring shape and because I wanted to get better. Terry would also go, and he and I became friends. Every day, Terry would teach me the fine art of what we do. The small things. He told me, "At some point in this business, you will become angry because you will learn to hate. And it's not a bad thing." It's not, "You hate the business," or "You hate this," or "You hate that." But in life, you have to have things that bother you. When things bother you, when you learn how to hate things, you get an anger. Sometimes now I look back at times when things happened. A lot of shit went down after the curtain call and those things. Was I angry? You bet you ass I was. And that fire burned in me to make me better. Those are the things that I learned during that time. Would I change any of it? No, I learned from all of it. I was professional about it. And I did my business. Sometimes, I think that Terry just worded it wrong. Vince has said this to me before-you have to have life experiences to be able to put those emotions out to the public. So when guys do pre-tapes in the back, they're really driving off experience. Not that you can't act a certain way if you've never experienced it, but rage and anger, those emotions are better expressed when you can draw from your own life. I think that life's experiences make you better at that. And I think that's why it's hard for some of the younger guys. They don't yet have any experience to draw from to do that stuff. Once you get that experience...

WWF: That's when you actually feel it.

Triple H: Exactly. And I think that that is an important part of our business that a lot of people forget.

WWF: When you were in high school, you didn't play any team sports. You had no interest in them. You were into bodybuilding, which is more of a solo thing. But everyone here puts you over as the ultimate team player. What you guys really do is teamwork in a lot of ways. You've become the ultimate team player. How did that happen?

Triple H: When I said that I didn't like to play team sports because of the "team", there's a lot of things that I didn't like about them. I wanted to do things that benefited me. Bodybuilding benefited me, and it felt good to me. I enjoyed doing it. When you play a team sport, you can be great individually, but you can only be as good as the team is. Then there can be people on your team who let you down because they're not as serious as you, or they don't work as hard. I think that when you look at the other side of that, it's a matter of not being selfish and not saying, "Well, this is for me. And I don't care what happens to you." I understand how this business works. I can't have matches by myself. That's what kills me about the dirt sheets. Why would I hold down anyone? Because if I can make money with someone-and I mean this about everybody-if a certain guy is the most over guy there is, and I work with him, then we're gonna have great matches. We're both gonna make a ton of money from it. So, why would I want to hold him down? That's what I never understood. In the old days, there was a lot of backstabbing between this guy and that guy. But why? Why would you do that? I want everybody in our company to be as over as possible. Then it's up to me to be as good as I can be, to stay in the position I'm in, and to stay at the top of my game. If not, what's the point? If everybody's on top, if everybody is over, and everybody is a star, you've got unlimited numbers of people to work with and draw money with. If you're willing to work harder than all those people to be the best, then certainly you're gonna work with all of them. It's an opportunity for you to have great matches with innumerable people. And that's what it's all about. I don't see why anybody would do anything different.

WWF: After your friends left for WCW, you were still here and you were in the doghouse. You were always rumored to be right behind them. Did you ever consider it?

Triple H: It's funny, because I heard that all the time back then. And I think people thought that, just because I was in the doghouse, I was gonna get sick of this. People said, "You know, they're killing him off on TV." I went from being at WrestleMania, being undefeated and getting this huge push, to getting squashed by Jake Roberts and having a snake stuck down my pants. It was killing me. And they gave me every continual punishment they could. Having been in WCW, I know the people that worked there, from a management standpoint. I know the confusion. I knew the lack of focus. I know the lack of direction in that company. And I knew what the WWF had. When I had my meeting with Vince about the whole thing happening, and what was gonna happen after that, Vince told me, "You're just gonna have to learn to eat shit and like the taste for a while." And I said, "Fine." The one thing I asked him was, "Is this over? Because as long as I can be told that there is a light at the end of this tunnel, then I'm fine. I will take everything you give me and smile through it. I will be the best employee you've got, if I can be. But I have to be allowed to do my job to the best of my ability, no matter what I'm doing. And that doesn't mean I have to win. But I've got to try to have great matches with these guys, even if I'm getting beat up or whatever. I also have to know that at the end of this, there's still opportunity for me. That once you get done punishing me, once you get done with all that, that I still have the opportunity. I'm not a dead issue. I'll still have the opportunity to get good enough, and here's that ball again." And he said, "Yeah, it's over today. It's done. You still have to take your punishment, but the crime and all the other stuff is over. This is your sentence now. You do your time, and it's over." And that was fine with me. I never wanted to leave. I never said, "Oh, I should just make the jump over there, and go be in the nWo with those guys." It wasn't an issue for me. When I came to the WWF from WCW, this became my home.

WWF: With the stuff that's happened in the past year or so, do you ever think, "Geez, if I had gone down there, I might be one of the guys on the outside, looking in. I hope I get picked up. I hope I'm one of the contracts they find?"

Triple H: Yeah. Sometimes you think to yourself, it's funny the business decisions that you make. I'm sure there's a lot of guys-like Kevin and those guys, even with the misery in WCW over the last few years-who don't regret leaving this company. They made a lot of money down there. Kevin might not regret leaving. But at the same time, I often wonder what would have happened if he stayed? Would he have made five times the money and been happy all the time? You never know. So it's hard to say. I look back, and I'm thankful for the decisions I made in the business. I'm thankful for the decision I made at the time because it was a very difficult decision when I left WCW. This company, the business wasn't phenomenal at that time. In the WWF, I was gonna work a whole lot more. Business wasn't good then in the WWF, and I was gonna get guaranteed money in WCW. I had been at WCW for a year, and for the first time they were actually gonna do something with me.

WWF: You were going to win the tag team title with William Regal.

Triple H: Regal and I were gonna become the tag team champs. And Sherri Martel (Sensational Sherri) was going to leave Harlem Heat and help us win the titles. For the first time, somebody was going do something with me. It was guaranteed money. But I left there to come here because Vince said, "I'll give you an opportunity." A lot of people would have done that. When I was leaving there, a lot of people-not everybody, but a lot of people-were saying, "You're going to do what? You're gonna go work for Vince? With no guarantee or anything? Period."

WWF: And you were turning down the tag team titles!

Triple H: I turned down an angle with guaranteed money to go work for Vince, with no guarantee of anything, except for Vince's word that I'd be given an opportunity. That was a hard decision to make. I look back on it now, and thank God that I did. But it certainly wasn't a decision I took lightly at the time. A lot of thought went into it. But I saw the writing on the wall down there. I looked at it then and saw no room for expansion. Hogan and Flair...those guys were on top, and they weren't doing anything with anybody underneath. They were doing little things. All Hogan was doing was bringing in his cronies. Macho Man was there, as well as Beefcake-all those guys who had been something in the '80's. They weren't really looking to develop anybody young or anybody new. I felt like the top was all clogged up. And everybody had his camp. Flair had his guys. Hogan had his, and Macho had his gang. They all had their little cliques and groups. I didn't see a long-term future there. I thought that it was better to come down here. Vince was honest with me. He said, "You'll probably make more money here than you will there. But I'm not gonna guarantee you that. But you'll probably make more here." When I met with Eric Bischoff, he said, "You can't be serious about wanting to go work for Vince." He gave me a whole bunch of bullshit about Vince going out of business and stuff, but the one thing that he said was, "I can't believe you're going to turn down guaranteed money to be in a place where you will barely ever work. We're probably stopping house shows. You're gonna work one day a week, two at most, with guaranteed money." Then when I went to Vince, he said, "I'm not gonna guarantee you anything. I'll give you the opportunity. But I will guarantee you that you will be able to work every night. And you will get better." That's what made up my mind. That was the most important thing he said. With Vince, I had the opportunity to become good at what I did, to work every single night with different guys, and become good at what I did. Or with WCW, I had the ability to sit there, stagnate, and not do anything.

WWF: So it was the difference between a company being run by a wrestling guy and a company being run by a corporation?

Triple H: Yes. And I had thought to myself, "Well, if I was 40, that'd be very enticing. Boy, I get to stay home, collect money, work twice a week, and I don't get beat up. That's a pretty good deal." But at that point in my life, I didn't want to stay home. I wanted to be wrestling every night. I wanted to go out and get better, because in the long run, for my career, learning to work was gonna be the best thing I could do.

WWF: Ric Flair keeps coming up. He's an influence on you. You're a big fan of his. In '94 you go down there, walk into the locker room for the first time, and there's Flair. And you're working with him. What was that like for you?

Triple H: It was a very confusing time. My first experience with WCW was walking in the door and Dusty Rhodes answering it. And Dusty said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "I'm here for a dark match." He said, "Who told you to come here for a dark match?" I said, "Eric Bischoff." What I didn't know was that Bischoff hadn't yet taken Dusty's job, but he was going to in about a day. Dusty didn't know that yet. So, Bischoff's calling up people, getting them to come into work, and Dusty has no idea that Bischoff's doing this.

WWF: You ended up dropping a dime on Bischoff?

Triple H: In a way, yeah. I'm sure Dusty probably heard and knew. But it's just one of those things. And at the time Flair was booking, with Bischoff running it. I didn't talk much to Flair. I spoke with him a few times. And at the time, I even became somewhat decent friends with Arn Anderson. We would go out sometimes and Flair would go. He would barely speak to me. I was young and very respectful. I spoke when spoken to, and that was it. As opposed to now, most people probably wish I only speak when spoken to. I speak all the time now. I just run my mouth. But I didn't talk to Flair much then.

WWF: So, it wasn't like you were there saying, "Oooh, there he is."

Triple H: Well, I would have loved to work with him. I still would love to, at some point. To meet a lot of those guys at that time, when you're first coming into this business, it's meeting guys that you've watched and looked up to your whole life. Guys who you think are the best at what they do-and there they are. It was always a thrill.

WWF: Now we have young guys coming into the WWF, and you're one of the guys they look up to.

Triple H: That's the thing. I never, ever think of that. I worked with the Hardy Boyz one time, and after I worked with Jeff, he said, "I was just to fucking nervous." And I asked, "Why were you nervous?" And he said, "Oh, it was just working with you. I was so nervous." That just blew my mind. When he said that to me, I was like, "What are you nervous working with me for? I see you every day." What he was saying never dawned on me. Paul Heyman had previously had a conversation with Jeff and Matt about how nervous they were about working with me and Austin. That never dawned on me. It never even entered my mind for a second, that in those days, that they would feel that way. Or even look up to one of us in that way. It was a weird thing for me.

WWF: Now that you're on top, do you find that you have to work doubly hard not to become complacent? Do you ever think, "Okay, I've gotten here."

Triple H: I always try to be conscious of not doing things the same way. Because I don't want to become formula-oriented in my work. I don't want to do the same exact thing every match. You're gonna do the same things for the most part. I only have so many moves that I do routinely. I can do a lot of stuff, but I've only got a few signature moves. But it's not about the moves. It's about telling a story. I look at it this way: If I always strive to tell a good and different story, then hopefully my work will always be fresh. Because, it's not just about doing certain moves. It's about how, why and what reasons. That's telling a story. I hope that will take care of itself. I think it's very easy to become complacent in anything you do. But we have so many young guys, and so many guys coming up, that they keep you on your toes. You don't want to let them pass you. (laughs) So it's a challenge to keep yourself fresh and have good matches.

WWF: Is it possible to have a personal life in this business? How do you keep it separate?

Triple H: It's hard.

WWF: The attention level of the fans is so intense.

Triple H: Yeah, it's very hard. I once read that the definition of a celebrity is someone who strives their whole life to be recognized. And the second they are, they put their hat and glasses on, so nobody knows who they are anymore. It's a difficult thing. You have to have thick skin. People don't understand privacy issues. They don't understand that my house has a huge gate in front of it because kids drive through here at all hours of the night, trying to take a peek into the house. I've come to realize that I just have to be me, do my own thing. I try not to let people stop me from doing things. Although I still can't go to the mall or grocery store.

WWF: You probably can't go to the movies, either.

Triple H: Yeah, I can't go to the movies unless it's daytime. Things like that are difficult. But, you know, you deal with it straight up. I'm not bitching.

WWF: What is the single most important match, incident or angle that got you over, once and for all? What's the one that really did it for you?

Triple H: I'll say the Street Fight with Cactus Jack at Madison Square Garden. Although I was champion, I'd yet to have a massive angle as Champion. I had the stuff going on with The Rock a bit at one point, and I had an angle with Vince. But this one was purely about being champion. I think that at that point, I hadn't had a lot of hardcore matches or different styles of matches. And this was the first match that was completely different for me. I think a lot of people questioned my ability to have a Street Fight with a hardcore legend and hold my own.

WWF: It was his match is his town.

Triple H: Yes. His match, his town. And people were saying about me, "What's he gonna be able to do in this match? He's gonna be window-dressing. This is gonna expose him as not being at that level." It's kind of like being a boxer who wins the world title. His first couple of fights might be good, but then he finally fights a guy who everybody thinks is gonna kill him. And he knocks him out. And people go, holy shit! All of a sudden, he's the man. So that's why that was the match to me. Mick Foley and I just tore each other apart. And to this day, it's one of my favorite matches. And that's a testament to him, too. But I think it solidified me as being not just another wrestler, or a guy who holds a title. That match finally separated me from a lot of people.

WWF: That made you something special.

Triple H: Yeah, it really separated me. Then to follow that up back-to-back with the Hell in the Cell match with him, it was like I hit a grand slam. Then the next time, I hit a home run. And the next, I hit another home run. It just kept continuing.

WWF: That got you steamrolling?

Triple H: Oh, yes. Definitely.

WWF: The grind you go through has to wear you out after a while. When's the last time you had a vacation that wasn't related to being injured? And how do you keep this grind up?

Triple H: The last vacation I had was right before I came to this company. I lived in Atlanta and worked for WCW. It was the week I was going to start here. The landlady of a friend of mine owned a place in Panama City, Florida, and we were there. We just drove down, stayed for three days, just hung out at the beach and shit like that. That's the last vacation I had. So, that's got to be seven years ago.

WWF: How the hell do you keep that up? What do you do to relax? Do you relax?

Triple H: Yeah, it's amazing how fast your batteries recharge when you come home, for me anyway. When I come home for a few days, I relax, hang out, and try to be as relaxed as I can. I just go back out and do it. It's funny, you just get yourself in a mode of just doing it. And you just keep going.

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