Few sports entertainment Superstars have had the longevity, in and out of the ring, that Paul “Triple H” Levesque has had. Whether you remember him best as the long-haired punk leader of Degeneration-X during WWE’s Attitude Era, the sledgehammer-wielding heel nicknamed “The Game”, or, most recently, the heavy-handed leader of The Authority faction that does most of his bullying in a suit and tie, Triple H has earned his place among the most important figures in sports entertainment history and pop culture at large.
This weekend, the 13-time world champion who is also WWE’s EVP of Talent, Live Events, and Creative will be inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio. Levesque spoke to us about what the honor means to both him and the business of sports entertainment, and what has made him the “king of kings” among WWE fans.
Aside from having charisma and a quick wit, what do you think makes WWE Superstars stand out from athletes in other sports?
Triple H: I think the well-roundedness. Charisma, quick wit, the ability to perform in front of tens of thousands but also one or two. Our athletes are very well rounded and some of the best in the world physically, and they also have to have the ability to improvise and do theater at the same time. It’s like playing football and doing Shakespeare at the same time. I think that’s a rare combination. It’s a broader skillset.
Also, with all these other sports, they want the athletes to be a cog in the wheel. With WWE, we want you to be larger than life. The bigger your brand is the bigger ours is.
More Superstars seem to be being inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame every year. The Hall already includes Mark Henry and Bruno Sammartino. Do you think this will help legitimize WWE and sports entertainment in the eyes of critics who still call it “fake” and say the performers aren’t athletes?
I do. And I never understood that about it being fake. When you see a guy who does something physically that 99% of the rest of the world sees and goes, “Oh my God that’s amazing!”, and you say “well, they’re not really athletes” … Oh really? To me the International Sports Hall of Fame is more than about being good at your sport or your profession but it’s about giving back. I think that WWE superstars are finally now getting their due for all the things we do for Make-A-Wish and Susan G. Komen, the military, anti-bullying, and all the other things we do. We’re candidates for the Hall for being more than just athletes. I think what the Hall of Fame is about, as far as the people I see going in there, is athletes great at their chosen sport but also people that did more with it than just reap the rewards.
Will the sledgehammer and the crown that you’ve made famous carrying to the ring over the years be inducted with you, or will they go in separately at a later date?
[Laughs] No, they get a separate induction down the line. Arnold [Schwarzenegger] is just in there as Arnold right now, but he’ll go in again as the Terminator later.
Seems only fair. The class of 2015 includes legendary boxer Evander Holyfield, bodybuilder Lenda Murray, and powerlifter Ed Coan. What do you think about this class and is there anything you’d like to ask these people when you meet them?
I’ve met Holyfield and Lenda Murray a few times over the years so I’ve already asked them all my fan questions. But it’s amazing to be in that group of talent. Just being involved in that is great. I think they’re even better people outside of their sport, which makes it all the more worthwhile.
Can you name something you’ve done in your career that helped sports entertainment transcend?
One of the cool things for me is growing up as a gym rat and then being on the cover of Flex and Muscle&Fitness and to be representing fitness and health. That was me transcending the WWE world. One of the things I love most about doing a signing is when somebody comes up to me and says they were inspired to lose 100 pounds, or says, “You’re why I went to the gym in the first place.” That means a lot to me. When you can alter someone’s life in a positive way, that’s huge.
That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to most about this Arnold [Sports Festival] weekend. I want to talk to Arnold about health and fitness and how can he and I and my wife work together to affect the world. I brought it up to him a while ago—when he was on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, everybody knew about it and was striving to do these physical challenges. I feel like that’s all been lost and no one is representing that anymore. As many people work out as ever, or maybe more so, but there’s not that front line where kids today are getting it and making working out fun.
If you had to pinpoint a favorite moment in your career what would it be?
I’ve had a long career. I had a series of matches with Mick Foley in 2000 which was a big turning point in my career. Then, coming back from my quad injury in 2001, a lot of people were saying my career was over. A few years ago I wrestled the Undertaker at Wrestlemania with Shawn Michaels as guest referee. That was sort of a symbol of the end of the Attitude Era and our generation. There’s a moment where the three of us are standing together that I’ll never forget.
Who would you nominate to be inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame next?
Maybe Hogan. There’s a whole generation of guys my age who said their prayers and took their vitamins and that’s where they heard it first. He was an amazing athlete who transcended. One of the most recognizable people on the planet.
You’re right. Fitness and nutrition weren’t really a part of the culture at large until Superstars like Hogan came around with the message to take vitamins and train. They had outrageous physiques, and that exposed a lot of people to the fitness lifestyle. WWE deserves credit for that.
I agree and that’s one of the things Arnold and I have talked about as well. Nowadays it’s not just about looking good. It’s not just bodybuilding, it’s Crossfit. It’s Paleo diets. It’s your health, it’s fitness, it’s being able to live life to the fullest and when you look at WWE superstars, they epitomize all of that. You look at a kid like [Superstar] Seth Rollins and think he looks amazing, but he can also do all these amazing physical things. It’s not just an image, it’s the performance that goes along with it. There’s really nobody else who embodies that like WWE superstars do. Football players are wearing uniforms and helmets. Baseball players, it’s sometimes marginal how fit they are [laughs].
See Triple H be inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame at the Arnold Sports Festival on Saturday, March 7. The Arnold runs from March 5 to March 8 in Columbus, Ohio. For more information, go to arnoldsportsfestival.com.