Tongue Magazine (Summer 2003)
SMACKED DOWN: Wrestling Champ Triple H is Hard, Hurtin' & Horny
By Dario Tremblay
Credit: Triple H Unleashed

Today's pro wrestlers are crippling themselves trying to look like they're crippling each other. Fans and detractors alike often fail to consider just how brutal a toll the hyper-aggressive quest to put on great matches takes on wrestlers.

Eight World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) stars, franchise Stone Cold Steve Austin among them, have undergone spinal fusion surgery in the last three years. Their vertebrae have been welded together with bone grafts to cement their necks in order to protect their spines. Kurt Angle, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist well on his way to becoming the greatest pro wrestler of the new millennium, is now reported to be facing similar neck surgery with its minimum of a yearlong recovery.

The plague of neck injuries have passed over "Raw" World Champion Triple H, but the last two years have put him on a roller coaster of severe pain and rushed healing nonetheless. His left quadricep rips clean off the bone; eight months are lost after surgical repair. He wrestles with a broken kneecap; a quarter-sized chunk of bone falls off and calcifies over ("I basically wrestled with a broken leg at Wrestlemania last year"). Bone chips freeze his elbow into a fixed position; more dues yet paid under the scalpel. A partially crushed windpipe; a baseball-sized hematoma (blood clot) in his right thigh; another hematoma in the bad left thigh...would it be safer to work as a human crash test dummy?

"There's no second string or fill-in guy in our business," he explains. "If I don't wrestle, I'm not on the show, so it's like, 'God we really need you to tape that thing up and go,' People think the ring's a big cushion, which it's not; you get beat up every night, trust me." Triple H mulls over the coming weekend festivities on a Saturday afternoon commute. "After I get my ass kicked tonight (in Reading), we're gonna drive back to Philadelphia. We're gonna get up at dawn to fly to Buffalo and then drive to Rochester to wrestle a two o'clock show and then rush back to the airport to get another flight back to Long Island to do TV all day Monday." WWE wrestlers work 200-250 dates a year like that, and there's no off season in wrestling. "We're the rock band that never stops touring. I see these rock bands in documentaries and they'll say, 'We toured for six straight months and the band was so tired and we hated each other and we all wanted to break up.' I think, 'F--k you.' We tour for six months, and we're just gettin' rollin'. Lemme whack you with a chair every night at the end of your show and we'll see how you feel about it."

Not that Triple H hasn't been influenced by rock showmanship. "Growing up, I was always in awe of things that looked big and scary," like wrestlers, bodybuilders and the platform heel-perched KISS. He loved "the theatrics of a heavy metal performance and what that meant to people. I was always in awe of the singer or guitarist who had the persona onstage that drew you in, and I could get a feel for what people reacted to." Triple H's vision touched the very pinnacle of the headbanger's hall o' fame while tweaking his ring entrance music years later. Frustrated by the inhouse first take, he said, "I want it to sound very hard, like Motorhead." "Why don't we just get Motorhead to do it?" came the reply. Motorhead's pulverizing version of "The Game" remains the greatest of all original ring entrance themes in wrestling.

When they tour overseas, WWE wrestlers receive adulation and female attention rivaling any pop stars. "We're like the Beatles. They don't see us very often, and they just go nuts. In places like Germany, guys would have records of who could get the most chicks, and repeat business didn't count." Triple H is currently engaged to Stephanie McMahon, on-screen "Smackdown" executive, off-screen head writer and full-time daughter of WWE owners Vince and Linda McMahon. Before Stephanie, he had a long relationship with Chyna, the first female wrestler to win a major U.S. men's title. Before that, he was "big time livin' the life." "Like Gene Simmons, I don't do recreational drugs. My vice was women on the road. I hung out with some of the worst partiers in the business, and while they'd be gettin' trashed, I'd be pickin' up broads."

A characteristic tale from a tour date in Hamburg when he was unattached: "I'm going to up to sleep and a very attractive girl gets on the elevator the same time I do. As I get out on my floor, she blocks me and proceeds to slowly undress in the middle of the hallway. It's quite enticing and the kicker of the whole deal is that she pulls about a half a foot of golf ball-sized ben-wa balls out of herself right there in the hallway."

Triple H's style is an engaging mix of old school wrestling and the millenial performance art that wrestling has become. Between the ropes he works a conservative, methodical style that emphasises traditional moves. His knee-drops and suplexes are models of grace and beauty, recalling '70s and '80s greats like Ric Flair and Harley Race. He disdains the voguish passion for high spots (aerial moves) and x-treme bumps (rough landings) that don't tell a story in the ring. On the other hand, Triple H has been at the center of so many of WWE's adult-oriented and reality-driven story lines and vignettes, he was practically synonymous with the 1997-2002 Attitude Era and continues to take centerstage when "Raw" pushes the envelope. He brings a naturalistic acting style to some of WWE's most patently outrageous material, which would fall flat in the hands of a more exaggerated performer. He rarely yells on the mic, relying upon sarcasm and innuendo to psych out his adversary with insulting mind games.

Sometimes his performance can be too convincing for the squeamish, as in last year's Katie Vick angle. The story went like this: Triple H dug up police records indicating that masked behemoth Kane was the driver in a fatal car crash that killed Kane's old flame. He went on to accuse Kane of ravishing her body at the accident scene. He illustrated Kane's alleged penchant for necrophilia by screening video footage of a guy in a Kane mask (clearly Triple H) simulating sex in a casket with a mannequin wearing a cheerleader's outfit.

"I wanted it be plainly humorous, like a D-X skit (Degeneration X was a wildly popular stable of wrestlers Triple H led after co-founder Shawn Michaels temporarily left the business)," Triple H insists. "Vince (McMahon) wanted it to be this dark, distrubing thing where the heat (the audience reaction) came from thinking, 'This f--ker is sick,' instead of, 'He's making fun of a character I like.' We pitched him and pitched him, but he's the boss and when he said, 'No, I want it this way' that's what you do. Some people thought it was horrible and some people thought it was funny. My own father watched it and when my mother heard about it at work the next day, she goes, 'Did you see your son in something kind of odd last night?' He said 'No,' and after she explained the whole thing he went, 'Oh, I thought that was Kane!' You don't know how many people come up to me and say, 'You remember when Kane was bangin' the girl in the coffin?'"

The devastating ouchies and boo-boos of wrestling continue to mount. That night in Reading, half of Triple H's new heel gang Evolution are severely injured. Hours before he had sung the praises of Evolution comrades Randy Orton and Dave Batista. "My whole point of doing Evolution is to get guys over. Randy Orton and Dave Batista are my projects. I see unlimited potential in both of them and want to make them stars. I'm gonna make those two kids stars or die trying." Batista's triceps were torn and Orton's foot was crushed during the same calamitous match. Neither is likely to return to the ring for many months.

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