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When a guy has not one but two Motorhead songs written about him, calling him a badass is such an understatement it’s almost insulting. Triple H, aka Paul Michael Levesque, cemented his status as a pro wrestling legend long ago, having played a major part in the WWE’s infamous Attitude Era—when his battles with anti-hero characters like “The Rock” and outrageous antics such as flipping the bird drew record TV ratings. But with 13 world-title reigns under his belt, Triple H is now spending more time in the board room than the locker room as one of the WWE’s top executives. That said, “The Game” still laces up his boots for the occasional pay-per-view event, and, at age 46, is the strongest, healthiest, and most agile he’s ever been. As Lemmy Kilmister said, “Bow down to the king…”
M&F: How did you transition from performer to one of the top creative forces in the WWE?
Triple H: In some way, I’ve been doing it behind the scenes for years. Vince [McMahon, WWE Chairman] used to say to me, “When are you going to stop playing around and come do some real work?” Once I had kids and was looking to be home more and getting a little older, I saw it was time to make that transition. Vince sort of baited me in, saying “Why don’t you come in to the office once or twice a week on your off days?” And the next thing I know it’s, “I need you take over this department and I need you to come off the road full time.” Vince likes to call me [to wrestle] in case of emergency. I’m a character they can pull in here and there. But honestly, the less I do it at this point the better. Even wrestling once or twice a year is hard and you have to prepare for it just like if I were Floyd Mayweather preparing for a boxing match. It’s a commitment, and trying to do that with a full-time job and a wife and kids is very time-consuming.
So you enjoy the behind-the-scenes work now more than the wrestling?
Well, being at WrestleMania in front of 75,000 people is…there’s nothing more exciting than that. But while that’s exciting in one sense, it’s just as exciting and fulfilling to me to help The Wyatts or The Shield or Big E Langston and guide them up. To help them backstage and then see them get to that level is amazing. [My wife] Steph likes to say she loves seeing me work with the younger guys. She says I’m like a proud father teaching his kids. When they come back through the curtain, I’m so excited for them. Nowadays, there’s nothing more exciting to me than having a kickass Raw, or seeing a guy break through to the crowd. Even seeing Daniel Bryan achieve success, even though it’s contrary to our story line [laughs], is awesome.
I oversee everything that has to do with our product and our talent. When we talk about talent, it’s finding [potential superstars] and getting them into our system. I was behind the concept and creation of our Performance Center in Florida. That’s where we house our NXT television program. And I deal with all the issues and problems the superstars might have in their careers, and making sure those careers are healthy and successful, professionally and personally.
With live events, I’m working on how to give our fans a better experience every time they go see us. We make sure that experience is something they’ll never forget. I want everyone to leave and go, “that was awesome.” Even if the bad guy wins [laughs]. And creative is part of that process. I don’t control who does what and when on a daily basis—Vince is still the final filter on that. But what the creative teams do and how they’re structured and the different ideas and how they get to Vince goes through me.
Which superstars have you helped to ascend?
In the past few years, the Performance Center has helped to put out stars like Big E Langston and [Antonio] Cesaro. The Shield, The Wyatts. They all came through that Performance Center. Some had experience and some had none. There were some people we just plucked out of an application process. We’ve established relationships with the NFL, World’s Strongest Man, and European rugby leagues. We’re global in our search for talent and it’s an ongoing process. The Performance Center allows up to a hundred people to be training together at one time to come up and become the next generation of WWE superstars. That’s guaranteeing our success 10 years down the line.
How exactly did the Performance Center come to be?
WWE has had a development system for a long time but I felt we needed to do more. So from concept to development, the Performance Center was mine. And it was something that Vince, when I pitched him on it, said was phenomenal. I helped design it, and worked with the architects. I went to NFL and NHL training centers and saw what the best teams in the world had. I thought, “If I was a 20-year-old kid today, what would I need to succeed?” And I put it all in that building. That includes strength and conditioning, rings for [the superstars] to work in, to promo rooms where they can work on their verbal skills. We train everything from referees to announce teams there. That’s the platform for the next generation of superstars.
Let’s talk about the strength and conditioning. Your own training has changed considerably under the guidance of Joe Defranco, a renowned strength coach.
Yeah. I had always trained like a bodybuilder, because what we do is about image. I was never big on warmups. Almost four years ago, I took some time off to make a couple movies and I had a bunch of injuries. My body was beat. The mileage of being on the road for so many years was taking its toll. It was a wakeup call to me. I researched what I needed to change and it was functional training, and the name that kept coming up was Joe DeFranco. He was in Jersey and I was in Connecticut. I called him up out of the blue and he came to my house and he said he was willing to come up here to train me. We’ve become very good friends and he changed my whole life. He took me from a guy who needed 15 minutes to get out of bed and walk straight to a guy with a 40-inch box jump. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, or at least in the same ballpark. I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been in my entire career. I thought, “I wish I’d known this 20 years ago.” So I said I want these young guys to have this from Day One at the Performance Center. So that’s the kind of training we do there.
What’s the training like, exactly?
It’s functional. It’s mobility, agility, and the looks part comes along with it. It makes you as bulletproof as you can be. The injuries are fewer and farther between now. My workouts change all the time. I’ll do the same thing for maybe three weeks and then switch. Joe will ask what my goal is for the next six months. So I’ll say I’d like to be more mobile or stronger, and we’ll work on that. For the last three years at WrestleMania, I had 300-lb guys to work with—the Undertaker, twice, and Brock Lesnar. Brock is freak strong. I knew I needed to be strong and big to be in there with him. So I did a lot of deadlifts and power-oriented moves so I could hang with Brock and pick him up and move him around. Same with ’Taker. This year, with Daniel Bryan, I knew my opponent was going to be smaller so my training was based more on function, speed, mobility, and conditioning. I was probably 20lbs lighter than I was the last three years but in completely different shape.
Is it any harder to stay motivated to be in great shape when your body isn’t on display as much?
I just love to train. My wife does too. So when we built our house we put a gym in. The motivation for me is not the problem, even if I only have to get in front of people in my underwear once a year. It’s part of my being. A lot of my success in life I credit to the day I walked in the gym and started training.
The kids get up at the crack of dawn to get ready for school; then I hit cardio for an hour and a half. Then I shower and go to work and I’m always late for my first meeting because of that. By the time I get home, I get the kids ready for bed just about the time that Joe is showing up to my house to train. We train till one in the morning and then I grab something to eat, grab a few hours sleep, and get up and do it again. Steph and I just did two workout videos designed for busy people. It’s a workout program you can do at home with a couple of dumbbells. It’s different from anything I’ve seen in the marketplace. We’ve had world-class athletes do these workouts with me—we filmed it—and they were dying. So I know they’re great workouts that people will get great results from. You’ll get lean, you’ll get in shape, but you’ll also feel better. It will be out in December.
Do you have any advice for other businessmen who want to stay in shape despite hectic schedules and travel?
I make sure I always have a bodyweight routine on hand, or bands, so I can do something in my hotel room. Even if you only do 15–20 minutes of intense exercise every day, your life changes dramatically. “The Rock” and I have always had a rivalry. And even though he’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world now, to this day, I’ll still look at his Twitter account and it says something like “4:30 a.m. in Bolivia filming a movie, about to hit cardio.” So when I have to motivate myself, I’ll think about that and say, “Fuckin’ Rock. If he can do it I can do it.” He motivates me. He’s not afraid of a hard day’s work. If being successful means I have to miss sleep, that’s what I’ll do. And that’s most people’s problem. Most people want to be successful, but they don’t want it more than they want to hang out or go and see the new Iron Man movie.
When I was in high school, I didn’t hang out with my friends. I hung out with the guys from my gym. My friends wanted to go to parties, and I didn’t because I was going to get up at 7 and do a heavy legs day. That’s just how I’ve always been. I hope that that drive never goes away.
What’s your favorite WrestleMania moment, either of all time or your own?
Of all time, I guess it’s that iconic moment at WrestleMania III with Hogan slamming Andre. It represents that time and the explosion of the business. For me, it would be WrestleMania 28 with me and Undertaker and Shawn Michaels as the referee. There was a moment I’ll never forget with the three of us standing at the top of the ramp—we were like the three guys of the Attitude Era left standing, after the Monday Night Wars and everything. Three guys who couldn’t be closer and have more respect for each other. I have a photo of that moment framed at my house.