Triple H Talks to Us About His Career and Legacy Ahead of 25-Year Celebration on SmackDown

This week's Friday Night SmackDown will hold a special celebration to honor Triple H's 25-year career with the company.

Paul "Triple H" Levesque has done it all since debuting with the WWF—now WWE—in 1995. He's won multiple world titles, participated in some of the biggest matches in company history and was one of the faces of the "Attitude Era," the period in time that saw the company reach its peak in popularity.

While Levesque has gone by many names in the ring, "The Game," "The Cerebral Assassin," he's taken on a more business title as WWE's Executive Vice President of Global Talent Strategy & Development. He's also the head of the fan-favorite NXT brand, which has grown from a WWE Network-exclusive show to live television on the USA Network.

It's been a long road for Levesque and Newsweek caught up with the 14-time world champion to speak about his career and his legacy.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

triple h jacket raw

So we're getting a 25-year celebration of your career. What can we expect from this Friday?

I have zero idea to be honest. This has been totally separate from me. It's a funny thing. It was mentioned to me like, "yay it's your 25th anniversary." I really didn't think that much about it after that.

Two weeks ago, or a little less than that, as we were coming out of the WrestleMania shows someone mentioned to me that on the 24th [of April] we need you for SmackDown. I was like, "I'm not scheduled to be there. I'm not working that event." It was just a note about the 25th and I wasn't planning to be there. And they were like we need you to go, it's your 25th anniversary show. And that was the first time it was brought up to me that we were doing a special show for me. I literally told them that I'm not there and that night the first ad for it was on and I was like, "I guess I'm there now."

I totally forgot about it to be honest I don't know what's going to happen. So your guess is as good as mine.

We're getting closer to the Money in the Bank pay-per-view, and commentary brings up hope you've never been a part of that match yourself in your career. Is it something you've wished you were a part of at some point in your career?

I have no desire to climb a high ladder and get pushed off of it. There are certain guys that are built for ladders and guys who are and I'm not one of them. My ladder matches have normally involved me whacking someone with it or getting whacked with it a lot. So climbing and falling off of it is not my forte.

When the MITB ladder matches started to come around, it was built around an additional match at WrestleMania. I've really just had these other storylines going on where I was never sort of involved in the MITB matches themselves. I've had ladder matches and been involved with a lot of them.

It's never anything that I regret because you've never seen me do a moonsault for a reason.

Your career has spanned a few eras in the WWE with various incarnations of your character. Is there an era that you miss or had the most fun in?

They were all fun. That's part of the excitement of the longevity and lasting in the business is being able to evolve and change and morph. Some of the performers who've been able to have longevity is because they've been able to morph into different things and change over time and re-create themselves sorta speak. And there are some that don't because they don't need to. I enjoyed all those aspects of my career.

Clearly the blue blood character got me noticed and in the door. The first run with DX was ground-breaking and changing a business and the forefront of a culture change in some ways. I still have people telling me how much trouble they got in crotch-chopping and saying "Suck it" when they were kids.

And then you go to the various points in time of the career all through that and the changes that took place from when i came back from my injury to Evolution and even what we tried to do with creating characters using real life, my relationship and the authority characters and different things. They've all been fun and a great ride in trying to manipulate crowd reactions positively and negatively. That's the challenge of the business and it's fun, you want them to react and that's the goal. They've all been a blast for that reason.

You brought up your injury and coming back from it. Was there a point during that time that you thought you wouldn't be able to wrestle again?

When I first tore my quad [in 2001] it was really bad. There was a point [Dr. James Andrews] told me that no one in an impact sport has been able to come back from this kind of quad tear before. You can, but it's going to take a lot of work and it's going to be difficult. And I said I was going to be first because I'm not not going to do this anymore. I never left Birmingham, Alabama. I lived out of the Embassy Suite hotel I rehabbed twice a day every day plus trained. I did that seven days a week and they opened the rehab facility on the weekend and sent someone in there just to rehab me. When I was close to coming back, WWE was nice enough to ship a ring down there and I would get in the ring for like an hour every day after rehab and training. I just did the same routine every day for nine months and I wasn't going to do it any other way. I'm a big believer that you can work your way through just about anything.

A few years ago you transitioned to more of a backstage role, how was that for you?

At first it's a little difficult when I went from being on the road full time to the office. Luckily I was still going to television tapings a couple days a week so that was the saving grace of it. But when you go from an existence that's sort of a nomad and you're on the road almost every day living out of a suitcase it becomes what you do. And you may think to yourself that you want some time off and then you're home for a few days and you're going stir crazy because you haven't sat in one location for that long. It's tough to get used to.

At first I went to the office and after two days I was ready to get out because it felt like a month. And it transitioned over time and it took time to get used to that. It's a different language and communication process. Vince [McMahon] used to say all the time that you have to know your audience. So your audience is speaking in front of business people. You have to speak to business people and in a way that I wasn't necessarily used to. It wasn't like I was talking in the arena with the guys talking about the business.

Still to this day you have to know your audience. It's a tough transition and I realized when I went from the ring to the office that I was starting back at ground zero. It was something I knew nothing about it and I had to approach it the same way I started my in-ring career and learn everything I could and use every avenue I could to learn and do the best you can and hopefully you succeed at it. I tried to make that transition and be the best business man that I can and time will tell.

With the transition to backstage the number of matches you have has drastically gone down. Has that transition made it easier or harder to get back in the ring when you have to?

It's interesting because it's much more difficult when you don't do this everyday. Harder than I can explain to somebody. When you're doing this everyday you're in the zone and it's like breathing, it's second nature. You don't think, reaction time is faster and everything clicks. When you don't do this, except for once or twice a year, it's really tough and it's probably mostly in your head. Mannerisms and the physicality you know what you're doing, but you second guess yourself. You're not relaxed, overthinking everything, get inside your own head asking if you can still do this.

When Undertaker and I were coming to that point in our careers when we wrestled I think at WrestleMania and he said it to me for the first time of having that doubt. And it was shocking to me that he said that. Dude, you're the Undertaker how can you doubt yourself? It was the same thing that I was feeling and getting in my own head. And I thought it was just me and my own insecurities and I realized he felt the same thing and having the same anxieties. It was really eye-opening to me. I never assumed that happened to other people, and he was The Undertaker. Why would he doubt himself ever? I think it's just something we all go through.

So doing this, there's never been anything harder for me in this business than trying to come back after those long absences, a year or whatever, and try to go to WrestleMania and perform especially with someone who is young and hungry and you don't want to ruin it and that's the hardest thing I've ever done in this business.

If you can go back and tell your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?

Enjoy the ride, it goes fast. It's a funny thing. [Killer] Kowalski told that to me.

When I walked out on stage the light would shine on me before I spit the water and walk out down the ramp. I would stand there looking at the ground and that stemmed from a conversation I had with Kowalski. Anytime you are going to the ring take a moment and stop before you walk out and reflect and think to yourself. Close your eyes and realize where you are and that will be important to you because you're going to do big things in this business.

At the time I didn't know, but he told me to stop before the curtain or after you come out. You're about to work Madison Square Garden, think about what you're doing. Let it sink in and appreciate it because those moments will go in the blink of an eye, and it's true. I do have those moments standing on that stage, walking down and realizing where I am. Like WrestleMania, or the WrestleMania where [Motorhead frontman] Lemmy was playing my song. Those are moments to me.

The day-to-day grind, going town to town even those small towns where you just feel like you want to get it over with and move on to the next one. Or you're just out there having fun and having a good time. Enjoy them because they don't last forever. The moments you have, you don't know what they'll mean.

We didn't think the Attitude Era was anything special in that moment. I think we did sort of, but we didn't really acknowledge it until people look at it the way they do now. You can look back and go, "oh my god." But we didn't know what was going on. We were a bunch of kids ready to be famous, then got famous and became this huge deal and got bigger than anyone expected and we were all competitive with each other. We're going crazy and doing it all, but it's just Tuesday. We were just going along and doing it. You look back now, and man, that was so special and what a crazy time. I just don't think you can understand it at that time, but I wish you could go back and just make yourself understand and cherish these days because it was a very cool time.

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Have any regrets?

I'm not big on it. To me the positives and the negatives all happen for a reason and they get you to where you're at today. You make mistakes and put them behind you and learn from what came from them. Some of the biggest learnings I ever had I learned way more out of the mistakes than my successes. Some of my successes happen and I'm not sure how they did, I just found myself there, but the mistakes you have to search and find out what happened there and why and figure it out. So I wouldn't change any of it. I couldn't be happier with where I am. I've had a hell of a career, a hell of a life and it's all been phenomenal. And even the bad parts I would keep them.

When people talk about your legacy, how do you think it'll be looked at and how do you want people to see it?

It's hard to say, especially when you look at 25 years. Ask me after 25 more and I'll tell you what I think my legacy should be, I guess. It's hard for me to say that. If I had to say anything it'll be that he was the greatest sports entertainer in the world and was passionate every day about not only being a part of it, but putting it out there to entertain people, and hopefully they were. Whether it was my matches, my career or now with NXT or the talent, or in general whatever being a part of WWE is today. I know people say a lot to put a smile on people's faces, it is what we do, so if people are entertained by what I've been a part of then that's my legacy.

How do you see the future of the WWE regarding the talent and everything involved?

I believe that the talent in the business has never been greater than it is right now and the passion for what they're doing has never been greater. I think the acceptance of what we do has never been greater. That's an exciting thing. The future for WWE is brighter than it's ever been. I truly believe that, and people are going to always want to be entertained. The stories we tell have been there since the beginning of time and they will continue to resonate. The people that grow up watching this and want to be a part of it like I did will want to carry that into the next generation. And it will become even bigger. It has every generation and it will continue to.

WWE Friday Night SmackDown airs every Friday at 8 p.m. EDT on FOX.