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#29 Triple H
Certainly one of the most controversial wrestlers who is going to be on this list, Triple H has had one of the most eclectic careers in wrestling history, one that has seen him endure equal amounts of praise and criticism from fans. Triple H was probably the hardest wrestler to rank on this list, as a good case can be made to rank him either much higher or much lower than where he ranks here.
There are a lot of valid criticisms for Triple H. He was a political player behind the scenes, who consistently secured important positions within the company, eventually marrying into the McMahon family and is now poised to control the wrestling universe. He probably had a couple too many world title reigns and he maybe won a few big matches that he probably should have lost and pushed himself as a top name a bit too long. With that being said, there is no denying the impact Triple H has had in the industry and his ability as a performer to draw money for an extended period of time. Like him or not, Triple H has secured an indomitable position within wrestling history.
Triple H was born Paul Levesque and grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire, a town near the Massachuetss/New Hampshire border. As a teenager Levesque became a competitive bodybuilder, eventually winning the title of Teenage Mr. New Hampshire in 1988. Interested in pro wrestling from an early age, Triple H enrolled in Killer Kowalski's wrestling school in 1992 and began to tour the east coast under the name "Terra Ryzing".
Triple H received his first big break in the industry when he signed with World Championship Wrestling in 1994. He eventually changed his name to Jean-Paul Levesque, and began to work a snooty heel gimmick where he spoke with a French accent. Eventually he formed a tag team with Lord Steven Regal before leaving WCW in 1995, citing a lack of upward mobility in the company.
Vince McMahon, who at the time was struggling to build new stars after having many talents defect to WCW, signed Triple H to a contract in 1995 and Triple H was given a new gimmick, that as the "Connecticut Blueblood" Hunter Hearst Helmsley, a wealthy aristocrat who looked down upon the working class fans who populated WWF arenas. Legend has it that the gimmick was developed because McMahon himself had recently purchased a home and moved into a wealthy neighborhood in Greenwich, Connecticut, where his neighbors looked down upon him for making his living through professional wrestling. As a reference to these neighbors, the Helmsley character was born.
Triple H made his WWF debut appearing in different vignettes where he gave helpful hints to fans about such things as fine dining etiquette. He defeated Bob Holly at SummerSlam 1995 before moving onto a feud with Henry O. Goodwin, who was working the gimmick of a hog farmer, leading to a Hog Pen Match at an In Your House event which Helmsley won. Helmsley would stay in the mid-card, wrestling a strange match against a returning Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania XII and engaging in a feud with Marc Mero.
It was during this period when Triple H began to make one of many political maneuvers towards the top of the card. Triple H had befriended Diesel, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, who along with Sean Waltman composed the infamous "Kliq" of top wrestlers in the company. With the exception of Bret Hart and The Undertaker, The Kliq composed most of the top workers in the WWF and the idea was that through politics The Kliq would develop a tight control over the main event spots in the company by insisting on working with each other and nobody else. For those who were not in The Kliq, it was seen as an underhanded move to cut certain wrestlers out of the picture and lower the ceiling for rising talent.
In May of 1996, Razor and Diesel had been lured away from the WWF by WCW, and during their final show at Madison Square Garden, Triple H, Michaels and Waltman all celebrated in the ring, in the now infamous "Curtain Call" incident where the wrestlers broke character. The incident would prove to be a pivotal point for Triple H and wrestling as a whole, as McMahon, who was livid at the blatant disrespect for kayfabe, looked to punish someone. He had no more authority over Diesel and Razor, and Waltman was soon off to WCW as well. He couldn't bury Michaels because Shawn was the WWF World Heavyweight Champion at the time and McMahon and desperately needed top names with Diesel and Razor gone. Because of that, Triple H bore the brunt of McMahon's rage and his role in the company was reduced. He was scheduled to win the 1996 King of the Ring Tournament, but that result was changed so that Steve Austin would win the tournament, which ended up being the launching point for one of the biggest box office runs in wrestling history.
Eventually Triple H recovered from the incident and would defeat Mero for the Intercontinental Championship in October of 1996. Triple H would onto the title until February where he lost it to Rocky Maivia, another young talent who was destined for great things. Helmsley would then go onto a feud with Goldust at WrestleMania 13, which would be notable for the debut of Helmsley's new bodyguard, a former female bodybuilder who went by the name Chyna.
Triple H continued to climb up the card, winning the 1997 King of the Ring by defeating Mankind in the finals of the tournament. In August of 1997, Triple H's career went from being promising midcarder to potential world champion when he, along with Chyna, Michaels and Rick Rude formed D-Generation X. Built out of the ashes of The Kliq, DX became a revolutionary group for the WWF, engaging in controversial promos and vignettes that pushed the boundaries of what could be tolerated on television. While still technically heels, their lewd and vulgar behavior began to get over with live audiences and DX became anti-heroes and began to feud with the Hart Foundation, culminating in the Montreal Screwjob that saw Michaels defeat Hart for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship in controversial fashion.
Triple H had now secured a role on the booking committee, and along with Michaels, they continued to accumulate power behind the scenes. After defeating Owen Hart at WrestleMania XIV, Triple H was forced to re-adjust his plans when it turned out that Michaels was going to have to retire following his main event match with Steve Austin. Following Michaels retirement, Triple H became the alpha dog in DX, bringing in the New Age Outlaws for added muscle. No longer in Michaels shadow, Triple H became one of the biggest stars in WWF and DX eventually became full-fledged babyfaces. The high water mark for DX came when they feuded with The Nation of Domination, including a ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship with The Rock at SummerSlam.
After being sidelined with a new injury, Triple H resumed his feud with The Rock, who had since joined Vince McMahon's Corporation stable and won the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Triple H would challenge unsuccessfully for the championship and feud with various members of The Corporation, losing to Kane at WrestleMania XV. Later that night, Triple H joined The Corporation when he betrayed Waltman and cost him his match with Shane McMahon, thus bringing an end to DX.
Triple H's gimmick began to change, as he shifted from being a crude loudmouth to being a manipulative tyrant, otherwise known as "The Game". As a member of The Corporation he batted Austin for the world title, eventually taking part in a triple threat match at SummerSlam 1999 which saw Mankind defeat both Triple H and Austin for the championship. The next night on RAW, Triple H defeated Mankind for his first world title win.
It should be noted that at this point in time, the perception of Triple H is very murky. Looking back on it, some fans lament that Triple H only got to the top of the mountain by being a political manipulators behind the scenes. While Triple H being a member of the booking committee and having friends in high places certainly aided his rise to the top, there is little doubt that he deserved his position within the company. Triple H had developed into a good in-ring performer that understood pacing and storytelling, he was an excellent talker and had strong charisma. It is undeniable that Triple H was an extremely talented performer who held a rightful spot at the top of the card during the most successful financial period in its history.
Triple H's first title run, like many in the chaotic Attitude Era, was short lived as he dropped it to Vince McMahon of all people in September, before regaining a few weeks later. He would drop the title again to The Big Show, before winning it back in January of 2000. At the same time, Triple H began to take part in a storyline where he married Vince's daughter Stephanie and the two became a power couple in the company, a storyline that would blend into reality in a couple years.
The first few months of the new millennium were very good to Triple H, as he defended the title in two violent matches against Mick Foley. The first was a brutal street fight at the Royal Rumble and the second a Hell in a Cell match at No Way Out. Triple H was victorious in both outings and many fans suggest that those two matches really helped establish Triple H as a true top name in the company to rival The Rock and Austin. Triple H would end up pinning The Rock in the main event of WrestleMania 2000 to retain the title again. Triple H would swap the title a couple of times with The Rock before starting a feud with Kurt Angle over a love triangle between Triple H, Stephanie and Angle. Triple H would defeat Angle and begin a feud with a returning Steve Austin which carried into 2001 and saw Triple H defeat Austin in a 3 Stages of Hell match.
After losing to The Undertaker at WrestleMania X-Seven, Triple H teamed up with the newly heel Steve Austin and the two formed a tag team. However, their tenure was cut short when Triple H tore his quadriceps muscle and was sidelined for eight months. He returned as a big babyface in January of 2002 and would go onto win the Royal Rumble and then the Undisputed WWF Championship at WrestleMania X-8 when he defeated Chris Jericho. Again, Triple H's title reign would be short lived as he dropped the title at the next PPV to Hulk Hogan.
In the summer of 2002, Michaels returned to the WWF and looked to reunite with his long last friend Triple H. However, Triple H turned heel on Michaels and destroyed Michaels, turning heel and announcing that he didn't need Michaels and that he "used Michaels to get to the top just like Michaels used him to stay at the top." The feud was arguably the best of both men's career, with Michaels coming out of retirement to defeat Triple H at SummerSlam 2002 in a Street Fight in one of the best babyface performances of the decade.
In September, the now renamed WWE decided to abandon the Undisputed Championship idea and introduced a second title to the RAW brand. While Brock Lesnar remained the WWE champion, Triple H was randomly awarded the new World Heavyweight Championship and was now considered on-par with the WWE Champion. The move was viewed as very controversial since traditionally new titles are won via a tournament to declare a new champion. Even more controversial was the following storyline over the title that saw Triple H declare that his opponent Kane, had performed necrophilia on a former girlfriend who died in a car accident. The Katie Vick angle would go down in infamy as one of the worst storyline ideas in history.
After doing a quick title switch with Michaels, Triple H began to form a new alliance called Evolution. The group, which featured Triple H, Ric Flair, Batista and Randy Orton, in the sense the past, present and future of professional wrestling, would dominate RAW for the next couple years. Triple H defeated Booker T at WrestleMania XIX before dropping the title to Goldberg. After chasing Goldberg for months, he defeated him at Armageddon before dropping the title to Chris Benoit at WrestleMania XX.
It would be Randy Orton, not Triple H who would dethrone Benoit, defeating him at SummerSlam 2004. Orton, who was getting babyface reactions, was then kicked out of Evolution and Triple H defeated him for the title at Unforgiven. This became one of the first marks against Triple H as a man that had the reputation for burying up and coming stars. Orton was seen as a solid, young babyface, something WWE was desperately in need of thanks to the recent departures of Austin, The Rock, Goldberg and Brock Lesnar. Instead, Triple H quickly dismantled him and continued on as the champion while Orton was forced to hit reset on his title aspirations.
One of the greatest things to happen to Triple H's career was that the stars of the Attitude Era had relatively short stays in the company. By 2004, Foley and Austin had retired, The Rock left for Hollywood, Lesnar and Goldberg both left the company under bad terms and all of a sudden, Triple H had only a few true competitors for the limelight. Instead of having to vie for world title runs and main event slots with other top names that could rival or even surpass his popularity, he now had a wide open main event scene which he would dominate for the next five years.
Evolution would eventually come to an end when Batista turned on Triple H and defeated him for the world title at WrestleMania 21 and failed to regain the championship in subsequent rematches. After taking time off to deal with injuries, Triple H returned in October of 2005 and feuded with Flair, eventually ending in a Last Man Standing match at Survivor Series which Triple H won. In the spring of 2006, Triple H once again found himself in the main event of WrestleMania, this time against the company's new ace, John Cena. Cena, would defeat Triple H and would continue to deny Triple H another title reign in later matches. Eventually, Triple H turned babyface and reformed DX, teaming up with Michaels in his feud against Vince McMahon. The feud would culminate in a 3-on-2 handicap Hell in a Cell match that saw DX defeat Vince and Shane McMahon and The Big Show.
DX would move onto feud with the team of Edge and Orton, Rated RKO, but that feud ended in January of 2007 when Triple H again tore a quadriceps muscle. After returning in August, Triple H defeated Randy Orton to win the WWE championship at No Mercy in October of 2007. Triple H then defeated Umaga at the same event, and then nearly beat Orton for a second time that night, losing a Last Man Standing match. It was the kind of superhuman booking that didn't seem necessary for an 11 time world champion, and it drew the ire of some fans who felt that the Triple H era was beginning to last a little too long.
Triple H would continue to dominate WWE as the decade came to a close, winning the WWE championship again in May of 2008 when he defeated Cena, Orton and John Bradshaw Layfield. After dropping the title to Edge, he won it again in February of 2009 when he won the title in an Elimination Chamber match. Triple H then began to feud with Orton over the title, as Orton had formed his own stable, Legacy, along with Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr. After defeating Orton in the main event of WrestleMania XXV before dropping it to Orton at Backlash. Triple H would then re-form DX again, teaming up with Michaels as they battled Legacy before winning the tag team championships from Jericho and The Big Show.
After DX fell apart again due to Michael's obsession with The Undertaker, Triple H ended up feuding with Sheamus, who he defeated at WrestleMania XXVI. Sheamus would defeat Triple H at Extreme Rules and would send Triple H onto the shelf for several months. He made his storyline return to the company in February of 2011, interrupting The Undertaker and setting up a match against The Undertaker at WrestleMania, which he lost. Triple H would then assume the role of Chief Operating Officer for WWE, eventually engaging in a feud with CM Punk. Triple H defeated Punk at Night of Champions in a controversial match that saw Triple H defeat a much younger opponent who was red-hot at the time.
Triple H would have a rematch against The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVIII, losing in a Hell in a Cell match that drew rave reviews. He would continue to wrestle sporadically, sticking to his storyline role of COO and engaging in a feud with Brock Lesnar that saw him defeat Lesnar at WrestleMania 29, but eventually lose the feud to Lesnar at Extreme Rules when Lesnar defeated him in a cage match. He would then engage in a series of feuds as the COO of the company, most notably against Daniel Bryan who he lost to at WrestleMania 30, and Roman Reigns who he lost to at WrestleMania 32.
As the wrestling world continues to evolve, Triple H remains one of the most polarizing figures in the industry. Few can claim a resume so full of title reigns and headlining big shows, but at the same time no wrestler with the exception of perhaps Hogan, has as much controversy surrounding the legitimacy of his success. As talented as Triple H is, the fact is that often times he was not the most over wrestler in the company and the wrong guy to hold the title, particularly late in his career. While he was a top name at the height of WWE's popularity, he was also the top name during WWE's gradual decline after Austin and The Rock left. You can make a case for Triple H to be in the Top 10, or off the list altogether, but there is no doubt he had a tremendous impact on the industry.
Next week, #28 will be revealed, a super-heavyweight who at one time was the highest paid wrestler in the world.
The Top 50 so far:
50.Ted DiBiase (click link for description of the qualifications of the list)
49. Superstar Billy Graham
47. El hijo del Santo
45. Bruiser Brody
43. Kurt Angle
42. Hiroshi Tanahashi
41. The Sheik
39. Perro Aguayo
38. Ricky Steamboat
37. Toshiaki Kawada
36. Jushin Thunder Liger
35. El Canek
33. Jack Brisco
32. Shinya Hashimoto
31. Roddy Piper
30. Genichiro Tenryu