Game Over: Retirement of Triple H and Legacy of “The Game”

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You will have no doubt seen the big pro-wrestling news to hit the internet yesterday. “The Game”, Triple H, has officially announced his retirement from professional wrestling at the age of 52 – the multi-time world champion now able to rest and review his legacy in a business which has been entwined with his life for almost 30 years. In an emotional, exclusive interview with ESPN First Take‘s Stephen A. Smith, Triple H, real name Paul Levesque, said:

“As far as in-ring, which I get a lot, I’m done… I will never wrestle again. First of all, I have a defibrillator in my chest, which, probably not a good idea for me to get zapped on live TV.”

You may recall that, midway through 2021, it became big news that “The Game” had undergone emergency heart surgery, with the announced reason for the surgery being genetic heart failure – with rumors of a particularly bad COVID-19 battle being immediately quashed. Since then, Triple H has kept a relatively low profile, not making a single WWE televised appearance. Additionally, his beloved brand and project – NXT – which he had ran for the past decade was reverted to a Vince McMahon-controlled developmental brand more akin to an FCW than a black and gold NXT. Many felt that this was the gradual undoing of Triple H’s legacy because of a perceived, growing bitterness between McMahon and Levesque over the latter’s “loss” in the “Wednesday Night Wars” between NXT and AEW Dynamite. This raises the question: is Triple H’s legacy under threat?

Triple H and His Legacy

Triple H WWE
Photo: WWE

With the news coming that Triple H will never again wrestle a match, what is his legacy in professional wrestling? He is a 14-time world champion which, quite easily, places the Triple H character into the upper echelon of named greats within both the WWE and the larger pro-wrestling industry. The Attitude Era of the late 1990s was quite possibly the hottest period in professional wrestling history and whereas Triple H was not the face of that era (that distinction goes to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and, to a slightly lesser extent, The Rock), he was certainly one of the bigger names of that generation – as well as one of the longest-lasting. Though he missed the entirety of the underwhelming “Invasion Era”, he would become the WWE’s top heel performer throughout the Ruthless Aggression era and what is often dubbed the “Triple H Reign of Terror” – when, on Raw, Triple H was forever involved in the World Heavyweight Championship picture and seemingly (and wrongly) defeating all babyfaces in his path, from Booker T, to Scott Steiner, to Goldberg.

It is victories over performers such as the aforementioned three, and later “PG Era” victories over the likes of CM Punk and Dean Ambrose, which have helped form Triple H’s reputation as a selfish, political player who was in the business to further only his own stardom. His real-life marriage to the “Billion Dollar Princess” and one-time heiress to the company, Stephanie McMahon, did not help with shaking off this reputation. However, the rise of the “black and gold” NXT from 2012 to its eventual deconstruction in 2021 did achieve some success in softening the Machiavellian image. It was here where Triple H played a large role in ushering in the next generation of WWE superstars, with the likes of Seth Rollins, Big E, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Finn Bálor each going on to become main roster mainstays. Additionally, women’s wrestling finally gained the spotlight it so desperately needed (and rightfully deserved) in what was arguably the most progressive decade in North American pro wrestling history for women’s wrestling. For superstars like Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Paige and more, there is no disputing that Triple H played a crucial role in their careers, whether big or small. However, Triple H’s NXT can also be seen by many as something which had a catastrophic, almost apocalyptic effect on both the American and British independent scenes – with the latter, especially, being butchered in a consolidation and centralization of power in the UK through the medium of what has become known as NXT UK.

Conclusion

Photo: WWE

No matter if you see Triple H as the political mastermind (who eventually got outplayed) or the NXT father figure who played his role in the indiefication of the WWE and its matches, there is no denying that not many have had quite so strong of an impact on the industry. For better or worse, Triple H’s mind will be remembered as one of the sharpest in pro wrestling history. As a professional wrestler, the Triple H character will be remembered as the conniving, manipulative heel of the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression Eras – with a handful of Triple H matches, potentially, standing the test of time. Though it might be game over for Triple H in the ring, it is not game over for his legacy. If you would like to read a lengthy insight into Triple H’s in-ring career, feel free to check out our 2020 article Game Ongoing: Twenty-Five Years of Triple H.

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