It’s an understatement to say that Vince McMahon and Triple H, arguably the two most powerful men in all professional wrestling, came to their roles in different ways. McMahon was born into the business. His father was a prominent promoter and gave his son opportunities backstage and as a commentator, before McMahon was ready to buy the company for himself and begin his national expansion that turned the business on its head. On the flip side, Triple H grew up a wrestling fan, but had to work his way into wrestling, getting his big break with WCW, before accepting less money in favor of better career prospects to head to WWE. Once there, he not only rose through the ranks as a performer, but built political alliances with the powerful Kliq, including Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Sean Waltman. From there, he’d wind up in a relationship with Stephanie McMahon, the boss’s daughter, which led to them getting married and Triple H finding himself in the role of Executive Vice President.
Now that these two wrestling titans are largely working side by side, and the prevailing belief is that Triple H will take over for McMahon, at least from a creative perspective, it’s interesting to assess their philosophical differences. Particularly since taking over NXT and Talent Relations, Triple H has demonstrated a real interest in celebrating top stars from abroad and from the indies. This is in direct contrast to McMahon’s historical prioritization of big guys with great physiques, and a model of focusing on home-grown talent to ensure a consistency of style, and fitting the WWE culture.
The two haven’t always agreed on talent, and it’s clear to see that they still think differently. There are some talents great enough, however, that the two can both see money at the same time. This article looks at eight Triple H signings that McMahon hated, and seven the two of them agreed on.
15 Vince Hated: Kevin Owens
For a long time, you had to assume Kevin Steen (as he was known pre-WWE) would never be a WWE guy. While he got over in smaller promotions and was clearly a talented wrestler, the guy’s portly but not super heavyweight build was the antithesis of McMahon’s paradigm for the ideal WWE Superstar. However, after the success of guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, and then Sami Zayn thriving on NXT, Triple H got Owens his shot.
Clearly, Owens has won over his detractors, McMahon chief among them. After getting top billing in NXT, and a solid enough upper mid-card push on the main roster, in fall 2016, he was handed the Universal Championship and with it the opportunity to largely carry his brand for nearly half of a year. Just as WWE seemed to cool on the guy, he’s now in a hot feud with Shane McMahon that included getting a now-rare opportunity to get physical with Vince, all confirming the company’s faith in him as a talent.
14 Agreed On: Bray Wyatt
As a general rule of thumb, Vince McMahon is a fan of wrestlers with a great look first, then a great character, then—as a distant third—performers with great wrestling skill. For his part, Triple H’s priorities fall in the reverse order. Maybe it’s the fact that he was a legacy as a third-generation wrestling star. Maybe it was his killer character work. Maybe it was his impressive athleticism for a man his size. Regardless, Bray Wyatt wound up checking all of the boxes to sign with WWE, and really kicked things into high gear when he, Dusty Rhodes, and Triple H cultivated his swamp cult leader persona.
While we can debate how successful Wyatt has truly been as a main event property, there’s little question WWE sees big things in him. He’s racked up more PPV main event spots than most talents of his generation, and even got to carry the WWE Championship into a WrestleMania. While Wyatt has had his rough spots, like his particularly bad feud with Randy Orton and never winning a match at WrestleMania, he remains one of WWE’s most talked about and most consistently featured new stars of the last five years.
13 Vince Hated: Bobby Roode
Vince McMahon purportedly doesn’t think much of TNA (or GFW, or Impact Wrestling, or whatever the promotion may be calling itself this week. He’s go on record to call their product tawdry, and it was rumored on more than one occasion that he explicitly wasn’t interested in any of the company’s talent. Bobby Roode had to be a part of that dismissal, given that he’s one of the promotion’s homegrown talents with the most longevity, besides arriving as its champion and top star at one point in time.
Triple H was reportedly a big fan of Roode, and it’s understandable to see why given Roode’s old school technically based style that is largely reflective of Triple H’s aesthetic. It seems Triple H was right in the long run, too, as Roode became one of the most over acts in NXT and subsequently earned a promotion to the SmackDown roster.
12 Agreed On: Braun Strowman
While Triple H and Vince McMahon each have their natural inclinations, here and there there’s a talent who so undeniably fits the mold for WWE stardom that there’s no debate about signing him. Braun Strowman was monstrously big, sure, but he was insanely strong and ripped after coming from the world of competitive power lifting.
So both men would have been happy to take a chance on Strowman—fair enough. Strowman has delivered nicely on these men’s faith by demonstrating a fine work ethic and ability to improve. He went from looking like he might be a relatively generic super heavyweight to becoming a fairly polished worker. Moreover, in the age of hypercritical fans overly concerned with work rate, Strowman has done the unlikely in getting himself incredibly over as an old school monster heel.
11 Vince Hated: Sami Zayn
Look back at El Generico, and you have a smaller worker with a high flying and overly technical style—many of the factors that Vince McMahon by and large hates in independent talent, and sees as signs that a guy might struggle on his roster. By contrast, he was so talented that Triple H couldn’t wait to get his hands on him, and mold his talents to fit WWE.
Take off the mask and give him an opportunity to work his magic, and Sami Zayn has grown into one of WWE’s best faces. Looking at the brunt of his NXT and main roster work, Zayn has, with little question, given guys like Kevin Owens and Shinsuke Nakamura their very best matches in WWE. It’s unfortunate that Zayn tends to fall behind guys like the former members of The Shield, Finn Balor, John Cena, Randy Orton, AJ Styles, and Nakamura to leave him largely lost in the mid-card shuffle, and pushed into obscurity when part timers come rolling in around WrestleMania season. Were some bigger stars to get injured, though, or were creative to decide to give Zayn one big push, there’s every reason to believe he could thrive now at or around the top of the company.
10 Agreed On: Big Cass
Size isn’t everything, but as the old adage goes, it also can’t be taught. Take a guy approaching seven feet tall, and you have someone genetically gifted with something potentially special for his wrestling career, and thus worth taking a chance on.
WWE signing Big Cass shouldn’t have been a big surprise given his size, and the company immediately set him up for success by pairing him with Enzo Amore as a tag team partner. Enzo might not have been capable of carrying Cass in the ring (we’ll get to that), but who did have the gift for gab to get the big guy some extra attention and sizzle while he grew into his own skill set. Cass was just starting his singles push, and his opportunity to sink or swim on his own when he went down to injury. We should see over the next year or so if Triple H and Vince’s shared faith will be rewarded.
9 Vince Hated: Enzo Amore
Rumors swirl all around Enzo Amore, centered on the idea that he’s the most hated guy in the locker room. It’s his mouth which has gotten him into trouble, which is ironic because it’s also his mouth that brought him to the dance in WWE. Indeed, on a WWE network special about NXT, Triple H explicitly talked about Enzo and how he went out on a limb not just signing, but keeping the unathletic goofball who tended to get on everyone’s nerves. In Enzo, he saw a guy who could legitimately rile people up and create interest based on his silver tongue, and thus a talent with potential to get over in unique ways.
Was Vince McMahon among the people who questioned Triple H, on why he wanted to keep around this kid with the big mouth? We don’t know for sure, but given Enzo’s small stature and the way his in ring game hasn’t really come along, it’s reasonable to think he wasn’t and may still not be a big fan of him.
8 Agreed On: Jinder Mahal
After an inauspicious original run with WWE, Jinder Mahal got motivated. He worked the indies and, perhaps most importantly, transformed his physique into bodybuilder shape. The work ethic and the new look each appealed to Triple H and Vince McMahon, earning him another shot with WWE after the company re-split into separate Raw and Smackdown brands.
While the fans are still split on Mahal, and there’s a lot of conjecture about WWE pushing him hard to appeal to business partners and the budding audience in India, there’s little question that, for whatever combination of reasons, Vince and Triple H are high on the guy. He went from mostly a lower mid-card guy with little direction to WWE Champion and new main event mainstay on Smackdown.
7 Vince Hated: Shinsuke Nakamura
One of the points Vince and Triple H disagree on is the value of looking abroad, and particularly at non-English speaking talents. No, Shinsuke Nakamura can’t cut a very good promo in English. Just the same, he’s got a magnetic personality and electric style in the ring that got him super over in the ring in Japan. While we can argue that Nakamura hasn’t fully lived up to expectations in WWE—particularly in his main roster run—he has gotten reasonably over.
Vince doesn’t really have a track record of successfully booking Japanese performers as anything but evil foreigner, or the occasional comic relief act. Nakamura seems to the be the exception as he’s at least getting main event opportunities. It has yet to be seen if Triple H’s support will help push Nakamura all way to a WWE Championship, though, or if he may have already peaked in terms of his kayfabe success within WWE.
6 Agreed On: Finn Balor
While there are those stars who have trouble crossing over from abroad to a US based audience, there are also those whose international efforts confirm their ability to get over wherever they go. Such was the case for Finn Balor, the Irish star who got over huge in Japan before WWE was all too eager to scoop him up.
Balor was treated like a big deal from the get-go in NXT and spent most of his tenure their either in pursuit of or reigning as champion. It was little surprise when he got the call up to the main roster, though there was some surprise when he got to defeat Roman Reigns and then Seth Rollins en route to being crowned the first Universal Champion. Unfortunately, his crowning moment came with a mid-match injury, and it remains unclear how far WWE is willing to go with him since. Still, for a talent WWE placed this much confidence in, there’s reason to believe we haven’t seen the best of him in a WWE ring yet.
5 Vince Hated: Kassius Ohno
Today, Kassius Ohno is one of NXT’s top stars and, in terms of skill, there’s little question that the Knockout Artist is ready for the limelight of the main roster. It’s worth noting, however, that Triple H went out on a limb to sign him based on his less than stellar physique. Additionally, WWE actually let him go when he couldn’t sculpt his physique up to expectations, before re-signing him amidst a movement toward scooping up top indie talents.
But will Ohno ever make it to the main roster? There were rumors that he might get the call up post WrestleMania, or in the Superstar Shakeup this past year and that his imminent move may have accounted for him not getting prominent booking for NXT TakeOver events. Months go by, though, and the remains more or less in place as an excellent hand whose neither featured nor called up. Some of that may have to do with Vince McMahon still not biting on Ohno as a talent.
4 Agreed On: Drew McIntyre
WWE discovered Drew McIntyre during UK tryouts one year, and it’s clear the powers that be at WWE were high on the young talent. Vince McMahon went so far as to anoint him on air as a future world champion. Things unraveled or McIntyre, however, as a combination of lackluster creative, not connecting with the crowd, just OK performance sent him spiraling into the lower card before his release.
After McIntyre left WWE, he proved himself at a new level. Thriving in a variety of indie promotions as he capitalized on his WWE-bred star power and worked hard to make his in ring game and mannerisms evolve. After three years away, he was about as hot of a commodity as the indie scene had and thus ready to fit in perfectly with the NXT aesthetic. Take Vince’s interest in size and star power, combine it with Triple H’s investment in indie talent with great mechanics and you have a talent both could readily agree on.
3 Vince Hated: Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe was an indie star who went on to explode in TNA as an unstoppable monster. The trouble with Joe from a WWE perspective was that, while he worked like a monster, he wasn’t exactly monster-sized by WWE standards. On top of that, his ill-defined physique didn’t make him a fit for Joe’s prime when they Vince McMahon was invested in creating Randy Orton clones to fill his roster.
Joe was an important acquisition for NXT—a top shelf indie star who was immediately treated like a big deal, and even got to keep his indie name. All indications, however, were that he was a Triple H signee. Many hypothesized he was brought in specifically for the purpose of working NXT and helping to prepare up and coming talents, with no intentions of ever transitioning him to the main roster.
In the end, talent won out, and it would seem Joe won over even Vince himself as he not only got the call up to the main roster but event got featured in two back-to-back PPV main events challenging Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship, first one-on-one, then in a Fatal Fourway.
2 Agreed On: The Hardy Boyz
It has long been said that Vince McMahon will always do what’s right for business, and readily put aside personal differences in favor of making money. So, while he never had a real financial reason to bring back perpetual WWE mid-carder Jeff Jarrett, or short-run talent Nailz, it made sense to ultimately offer olive branches to a guy like The Ultimate Warrior for a Hall of Fame induction, or to make amends with Brock Lesnar who could clearly jump right back into the main event after eight years away.
While Jeff Hardy had his issues with substance abuse, and Matt Hardy had had his personal issues, the Hardys didn’t really burn bridges on their way out of WWE. Sure, their missteps later on, including Jeff hitting rock bottom when he reported to TNA’s Victory Road 2011 for the main event in no shape to work, and Matt releasing a series of ghost hunting videos that made people wonder about his mental state. However, when the two got their acts together, and when they positively caught fire as the hottest free agents in the world based on their Broken Universe antics, it’s no surprise that their creativity, talent, and name recognition would make Triple H and Vince alike all too eager to welcome the brothers back into the fold.
1 Vince Hated: AJ Styles
For the better part of a decade, when folks talked about the best talent to never make it to WWE, AJ Styles was one of the first names to come to any serious fan’s lips. The guy had worked for WCW in that company’s dying days, but was ostensibly still a rookie at that time and understandably didn’t get signed to WWE straightaway.
Styles was by and large the man in TNA for the better part of a decade. While the company would push him aside here and there—mostly in favor of talent imported from WWE—they more often than not circled back to him as a top star and championship contender. Styles had excellent runs with ROH and in New Japan as well, before making his way to WWE. Though he got a vote of confidence in getting to skip NXT and directly to the main roster, it’s rumored that not everyone—including Vince—was sold on him just yet. The powers that be were reportedly surprised at the big reaction Styles got when he debuted at the Royal Rumble, and Styles has claimed in interviews that some wanted to write off that pop as a fluke.
Styles would, in the end, win over his detractors, though, performing well in the early going, and thriving when he had opportunities to thrive opposite Roman Reigns and John Cena. Finally, he relieved Dean Ambrose of the WWE Championship to cement his place as the real deal and a bona fide star for WWE.
Reports have indicated Vince himself has said he regrets not signing Styles a lot sooner.
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