On Friday, WWE is celebrating the 25 year career of Triple H in the WWE Universe on SmackDown on FOX, from his beginning in 1995 as Hunter Hearst-Helmsley to his ultimate rise to “The Game” Triple H. But he hasn’t always been the Connecticut Blue Blood, the leather-clad leader of D-Generation X, or the sledgehammer wielding Cerebral Assassin.
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Paul Michael Levesque was a lifelong wrestling fan as a child and teenager, who started bodybuilding at the age of 14 to acquire the physique needed to enter the world of pro wrestling. By the time he’d graduated high school in 1987, he was competing in tournaments, winning the 1988 Mr. Teenage New Hampshire at 19 years old. During his workouts for bodybuilding, he met WWF Superstar Ted Arcidi, who put him in touch with WWE Hall of Famer Walter “Killer” Kowalski, who ran a wrestling school.
In 1992, he joined Kowalski’s school and began working and training on the fundamentals of the sport, where he was joined by such classmates as future WWE Superstars Chyna and Perry Saturn, as well as ECW’s John Kronus. That same year, he began working for Kowalski’s International Wrestling Federation (IWF) in Reading, Massachusetts under the name Terra Ryzing. His quest for gold began early, winning the IWF Heavyweight Championship that July.
“When I first met Triple H, he certainly to me had all the looks, and certainly the attitude of someone who would be a star in the wrestling industry,” said John Rodeo, who managed Triple H in the IWF, said in an interview on his website in 2001. “He had a positive attitude, that was willing to listen, and was able to quickly pick up things verbally or physically. So I always had a very strong feeling that he would go far in the industry, as to would he go quite this far I am not sure. In 1994, Lanny Poffo was doing some independent shows around the area, and he had said to Triple H that he would be the next Hulk Hogan. He really is not that far off the market at all. He is one of the people that I would have to say is the standout, and on the mic gives his generation.”
As Terra Ryzing, he would compete with IWF until 1994, as well as several other smaller East Coast promotions, before he was approached to join Ted Turner‘s World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1994. “Hunter was solid,” former WCW executive Eric Bischoff remembered on a 2019 episode of 83 Weeks. “Mechanically in the ring, as a performer in the ring, he was very solid, even at a very early age, that was clear to us all. But he didn’t have like this huge personality, not like a Bill Goldberg, when the minute you saw him come out, the fans immediately reacted to him. He wasn’t that type of a character. He was a good, solid worker, that’s the best way I could put it.” On February 12, 1994, he debuted on WCW Saturday Night, as Terra Ryzing, defeating Keith Cole.
As Terra Ryzing in WCW, he would go on a modest win streak, culminating in a challenge to Larry Zybszko for the WCW World Television title on July 3, 1994’s episode of WCW Worldwide. But despite earning his first championship match in WCW, the character just wasn’t working in TurnerLand.
Two weeks later, when he next appeared on WCW television, he had been completely repackaged as a French aristocrat named Jean-Paul Lévesque. He would briefly feud with Alex Wright, resulting in a match at WCW Starrcade ’94, and would be also briefly be paired alongside his future mentor, Lord Steven Regal. In early 1995, he would begin to feud with Johnny B. Badd (later Marc Mero in WWF) over the WCW World Television title, but it was relegated to WCW house shows. His last televised match with WCW was against “The Natural” Dustin Rhodes on WCW on January 28, 1995. With his one-year deal with WCW now up, Levesque made the decision not to re-sign with the company. After WWE owner Vince McMahon saw the tape of his Starrcade match against Wright, McMahon offered Levesque a contract with the WWF, leading to him debuting with them that May on WWF Superstars as Hunter Hearst-Helmsley, a character similar to his Jean-Paul Lévesque character in WCW but without the French heritage.
Despite offering more money, Eric Bischoff didn’t fight hard to keep Levesque in WCW, but it wasn’t to do with skill level. It was purely geographical. “When Paul Levesque came to my attention, and everyone was excited about bringing him in, they saw a lot of potential in Paul, but he lived in the northeast,” Bischoff recounted on a November 2019 episode of 83 Weeks. “And he came in right at that period of time when we were really trying to micromanage our talent travel budget. And the biggest issue I had with him was that he didn’t live in Atlanta. I think, there was an acronym that I used to describe Paul, I think I even said it to him once, he was geographically undesirable, a GUD. And I heard him reference that a couple of years ago, making fun of me for putting him in that category. But again, at the time, we just couldn’t afford to fly people in from the west coast or fly even people from Minneapolis, we were just trying to get everyone to move and reside within the Atlanta market so we could cut down on our travel expenses.”
Finally, the man who would become Triple H was where he wanted to be – the WWF – and his career began to form and shape the conquerer and future 14x World Champion in the WWE that “The Game” ultimately became.
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