Triple H is, in so many ways, the father of NXT. He brings in talent, he mentors them, he guides their future, and he is instrumental in deciding when they’re ready to fly the coop and make their way up to the main roster. His leadership has seen a number of rookies blossom into not only talented professional wrestlers but compelling characters to boot. More recently, he’s shifted the direction of the company, too, toward recruiting top talent from the U.S. independent scene and from abroad to reinvent themselves on the stage of NXT. In so doing, they contribute to the growth of newer stars by giving them a greater range of experienced performers to work with. In addition, NXT is a low stakes training ground for wrestlers from other backgrounds to acclimate to all of the nuances of the NXT style.
Triple H’s efforts have generally been well received by management, talent, and fans alike. Just the same, for all of the talents he’s championed and guided to success in recent years, there are those moments when his proteges have embarrassed him. In some cases, it’s been a matter of not rising to the challenges of the main roster. More notably, though, there are those times when stars under The Game’s tutelage have been caught in compromising positions. Whether it’s an old photograph of a performer doing something absurd before coming to WWE, or a more current image of them doing something wildly out of character or inappropriate, there exist a number of photos that Triple H would rather the world never see. We’ve got fifteen of them here.
15 Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt is one of the truest, purest NXT success stories. While you can argue that some guys who made it on the indies first benefited NXT more than NXT benefited them, Wyatt is a prime example of why NXT happened in the first place. As Husky Harris, he was a forgettable talent who probably only got a shot because he was a third-generation wrestler whose father worked backstage. In NXT, the man worked closely with Triple H and Dusty Rhodes to cultivate a new character.
Bray Wyatt is fundamentally different from anyone else on the contemporary WWE landscape. He got that way because he had time to figure out his character, and to do so in constant consultation with Triple H to ensure his gimmick would work with what management wanted to see.
For as successful as Wyatt has been, one of his limitations—particularly in the eyes of old school wrestling personalities—is that he doesn’t protect his character closely enough. The photo above is just one of many out there in the world of Wyatt mugging for the camera with fans, with his family, completely divorced from his cryptic gimmick. He’s posted pictures like this to his social media and there’s an argument that these images keep the audience from really buying into the character.
There’s no question that WWE took Paige seriously. The company slung shot her to the top of the women’s division in NXT. There’s a very real argument that it was the success of her matches with Emma—both in terms of audience reception and quality of performance—that led WWE to go all in on the generation of female prospects to follow.
For all of her successes, which included a lengthy run atop the main roster women’s division, Paige is now largely on the outs with WWE management. A lot of that has to do with her relationship with Alberto Del Rio, who ran afoul of Triple H and others in power in his most recent WWE run, and who has made no bones about taking shots at Helmsley and the company on social media afterward. The fact that Paige is still under WWE contract, and visibly with Del Rio for a lot of his rants, has to eat at Triple H, and will likely be a reason for Paige not to appear in a WWE ring again, or at least not in a serious role.
13 Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn is one of those indie talents who became one of the best in-ring performers in the world long before he set foot in a WWE ring. While Triple H can appreciate Zayn’s talent and work ethic, each honed on the independent scene, The Game nonetheless has to gag when he sees pictures like the one above.
Maybe one could argue it’s a testament to NXT’s success that it booked Zayn more seriously, but the specter remains of Zayn’s El Generico gimmick and just how goofy he looked in that mask, especially out of context. For as far as Zayn has come as one of the most popular upper mid card acts on the main roster today, photos like this one speak to a past that just Triple H would just as soon have us all forget about.
Rusev is, in many ways, a throwback, playing an evil heel foreigner gimmick. The aura of that character gets chipped away at, however, every time something in real life runs counter to that gimmick. Rusev and his real life wife Lana purportedly got into hot water when they announced their engagement while in the midst of a high profile feud against each other on TV. That move led to WWE largely scrapping a Dolph Ziggler and Lana versus Rusev and Summer Rae storyline. Photos like this don’t help matters.
While WWE Superstars are people to and have a right to seek out entertainment, going to a hockey game in a super cute matching jersey with your wife isn’t exactly the image WWE wants to project for a heel foreigner who’s mostly portrayed as a monster.
11 Samoa Joe
While WWE would ideally want for you to believe that the beast known as Samoa Joe arose from the ether, the sad reality is that he was a colleague who helped mentor young rookie John Cena over 15 years ago. Moreover, Joe had a long, very successful career in smaller promotions in the interceding years.
Triple H probably isn’t wild about fans seeing pictures of young Joe in various stages of finding his identity, but it adds insult to injury to find a photo like this one, in which he appears quite chummy with CM Punk. Punk and Joe came up together in a sense, and while Joe kept grinding it out in TNA, ROH, and smaller companies, Punk made the leap to WWE a decade sooner. Rather than stick it out leave gracefully, there’s a fair argument Punk burned more bridges on his way out of WWE than any main eventer before him. While Joe is still a fresh talent, it would serve him best for folks in power to forget that CM Punk is his friend.
10 Kevin Owens
It’s little secret that Kevin Owens grew up as a wrestling fan and that he worked the independent scene for quite some time before making it to WWE. All of that’s fair enough and nothing to be embarrassed about. But photos like this one have to make Triple H cringe.
Owens has cultivated an identity as a badass who only cares about, much less respects himself. A picture like this of him as a young man, marking out like crazy for an idol (and not even an idol who worked for WWE!) is completely antithetical to the character Owens plays. While WWE did demonstrate an ability to play off of images like this, like incorporating a photo of teenaged Owens imitating Chris Jericho into their recent feud, it’s not a great look for a guy we’re supposed to appreciate as a stone cold villain.
9 Sasha Banks
At first blush, this one might seem like an odd choice because it’s a relatively recent photo actually taken at a live WWE PPV. Triple H’s beef against this photo has less to do with the general content than the specific moment it captures.
Hunter was reportedly instrumental in campaigning for Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair to get the main event spot at the 2016 Hell in a Cell PPV—the first women’s PPV main event of all time, not to mention the first time women were entrusted with the barbaric Cell gimmick. The match itself was a perfectly respectable one—if not an all time classic, it nonetheless held its own with most men’s Cell matches.
The problem came in the finish in which Flair tried to throw Banks through a table and the table would not break after repeated attempts. Sometimes this happens—tables don’t break or collapse in awkward ways. Just the same, this was supposed to be a huge moment for how unusual it was for women to work this kind of spot, and it was supposed to set up the finish to the match. The table not breaking was not only anticlimactic but seemed to speak to Banks not hitting it hard enough or, frankly, not being heavy enough to break it. While women’s wrestling, in so many ways, reached peak with this rivalry and this very match, the table spot captured in this photos took away from what should have been a crowning moment.
There’s no question Bayley has emerged as one of the most colorful, unique female characters on the WWE landscape. She’s not only a very talented wrestler who honed her craft in NXT, but her feel-good, optimist gimmick and look distinguish her from other female talents.
WWE generally doesn’t like to acknowledge independent wrestling, attaching a stigma to talents working an unpolished style in bingo halls and other makeshift venues for crowds of a few hundred fans or fewer. This photo captures all of the pieces of Bayley’s past Triple H would just as soon have us forget about—that she was an independent wrestler with a relatively generic look, who sold for other independent wrestlers, while crawling across the floor of a high school gymnasium.
7 Apollo Crews
Not so different from Bayley’s picture above, this one all the more overtly captures Apollo Crews working in what is clearly a school gym opposite unimposing competition. To make the photo even less palatable to Triple H, though, you might notice that Crews doesn’t look so different from this photo as he does today.
Crews’s appearance only emphasizes that he’s not far removed from this picture—that rather than a larger than life star, he’s someone you really might have seen at your local indie as recently as a couple years ago. Moreover, it undermines the idea that Triple H and NXT were instrumental in molding him. On the contrary, he was a talent with all the tools he made it to NXT and was very quickly promoted to the main roster. Maybe he didn’t really need Triple H’s help? Maybe Triple H wouldn’t be too happy about that.
6 Shinsuke Nakamura
This might seem like a strange photo for this list because it’s not only recent, but the picture actually captures Triple H with the man in question. I picked this one for the awkward moment to directly precede it. In this, Shinsuke Nakamura’s send off from NXT, the locker room cleared out to celebrate their former champion and Hunter posed with the “Too Sweet” hand gesture, clearly aiming for Nakamura to do the same out of solidarity and brotherhood as one of Triple H’s boys. Whether Nakamura didn’t understand the cue or rejected it, he did not reciprocate.
Finn Balor joined the party and did make the hand symbol, to somewhat redeem the moment. Unfortunately, besides being awkward, the moment also may have represented Vince McMahon’s biggest reservation about wrestlers coming in without a strong foundation of English language speaking skills. McMahon reportedly worries they may not fully understand instructions or know how to connect with an American audience. Nakamura is the kind of talent Triple H backed, regardless of what his father in law said, and this wasn’t a great moment in that interest.
5 Becky Lynch
Before Becky Lynch became the rough and tumble Irish Lass Kicker who rose out of the NXT ranks to become a top star on the main roster, she had a lengthy career with smaller promotions and abroad. This included some work with companies like SLAMmin Ladies that peddle videos and photos of female wrestlers for, well, male entertainment.
This photo captures Lynch in one such shoot. While this was not truly pornographic work, it does represent a form of modeling that some would argue edges in that direction, definitely playing up the sex appeal of the women who work under that umbrella. WWE hasn’t always been above smut itself, but the company nonetheless doesn’t want anything to do with that image now given today’s PG climate.
Neville made a huge splash in NXT, reigning as the top champion for a period of months and putting on more than his share of great matches. It took a little time for his act to translate to the main roster, but it turned out that when he turned heel and became a fixture of the Cruiserweight division, it was a perfect match. He’s lent a sense of stability and credibility to the division as its longest reigning champ to date.
Now that Neville has settled into the gruff “King of the Cruiserweights” gimmick, wears a beard, and carries himself with great gravitas, it’s hard to look back at him in his much younger days as a fresh-faced kid who looked excited that a fan would ask to have their picture taken with him. This photo does not embody the image WWE has helped him cultivate in recent times and isn’t one they’d want out to fans at large.
3 Finn Balor
When Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson arrived as a tag team in WWE just a little over a year ago, WWE teased their past, including briefly aligning them with AJ Styles as “The Club.” Finn Balor was no less a part of The Bullet Club stable in Japan and alluded to his friends coming to join him on social media before their debut. WWE did even capture all four men in a brief, throwaway backstage segment to wink to smart fans.
For all of the winks and teases, WWE fans—even NXT fans—only know Balor as a face and for the time being that’s an image they seem insistent on protecting, with the possibility that Balor could become the face for Raw, especially if Roman Reigns or Seth Rollins were to get sidelined. It’s an inconvenient truth that Balor, as Prince Devitt, was a high profile heel with the Bullet Club. It’s even less convenient that pictures like this capture him pantomiming execution by gunshot to the head—not exactly the PG image WWE would favor from a hero these days.
2 Charlotte Flair
WWE introduced the Charlotte Flair character as Ric Flair’s daughter, and the family connection lent her instant name recognition and credibility with long time fans. As time has moved on, though, and particularly after a recent face turn, WWE has seemed invested in Charlotte making it on her own as a major star who doesn’t need her father’s influence to help her.
Not only does the photo above remind fans of the father-daughter connection, but it also includes Reid Flair who was a wrestler and at one point looked like a sure fire future WWE star, before he died unexpectedly of a drug overdose. Though WWE did once mention him to garner sympathy for Charlotte in her first main roster run as a face, Reid’s death nonetheless remains a bit of a black eye for the wrestling business. It’s made all the worse for the poor reception that referencing him for heat got in November 2015.
1 Seth Rollins
Long before the infamous Paige video and photo leak, Seth Rollins had his own minor scandal. Some of the details were never resolved, but whether he was hacked, made a mistake, or even had a lapse in judgment, Rollins tweeted a nude picture of his girlfriend. Based on the way WWE had it’s social media set up, the photo was fed directly to the WWE main website for a brief time. As if that gaffe weren’t bad enough, Rollins was engaged to another woman at the time, who responded by tweeting out a nude picture of Rollins himself that went viral.
There were rumors Rollins would be punished severely for the whole situation, but WWE seemed to let bygones be bygones—Rollins would end up winning his first world title at WrestleMania just two months later. Just the same, the photo scandal was a big black eye for one of Triple H’s most prized proteges—the very first NXT champion—and you can assume The Game would prefer no one see the pictures again.
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