Vince McMahon revolutionized the wrestling business. When he bought WWE from his father, he changed the way the company operated, both creatively and from a business perspective. McMahon’s movement toward national expansion, not to mention pushing loud, cartoonish characters over serious grapplers were controversial calls at the time. Just the same, there’s little question that he put down the foundation for the global juggernaut that WWE has become.
In 2017, WWE seems on the cusp of another transition of a similar scope. McMahon isn’t getting any younger, and the next generation looks primed to take his place in calling the shots for the world’s largest wrestling promotion. Sure, his kids, Stephanie and Shane, will be power brokers, but since marrying into the family, Triple H also looks like he’s in prime position to run the show. This includes heading up the NXT brand, working with talent relations, and clearly having creative input over WWE’s product over the last decade.
By all accounts, Triple H and McMahon get along both personally and professionally. Just the same, rumors have swirled around a number of angles and incidents for which the two didn’t see eye to eye. Whether it was a matter of booking a big show, or deciding who to push and how, the two have butted heads. As a pair of strong-willed men who both know the business, they each had their points. It may surprise you to see whose opinion won out in different cases.
This column looks back at 15 high-profile instances when Vince McMahon and Triple H strongly disagreed.
15. Brock Lesnar’s Opponent at WrestleMania 31
A lot of fans assumed that WrestleMania 31 would be Roman Reigns’s coronation. It made sense that the biggest show of the year would pay off months of storylines built around making him a main event level star. What better way to seal the deal than having him beat the monster no one else could compete with—Brock Lesnar.
According to a variety of reports, though, Vince McMahon had second thoughts about the match up, and backed The Rock as Lesnar’s opponent instead. This difference in opinion seemed to represent McMahon and Triple H’s different ideologies. McMahon was geared toward creating the biggest match up possible. Triple H reportedly backed Reigns in a step toward building for the future.
In the end, Reigns did get the match, though another twist was in the works when Seth Rollins joined the match midway through and walked out with the title.
14. Re-Signing Alberto Del Rio
After a strong start with WWE that included winning the Royal Rumble, a Money in the Bank briefcase, and multiple world titles, Alberto Del Rio left WWE under the haze of controversy. Rumors suggest he was involved in a racially charged incident in which he physically confronted a backstage employee who used an ethnic slur.
Outside of WWE, Del Rio was successful working for Lucha Underground and a variety of indies. Then, all of a sudden, he made an unexpected return. From most reports, it was McMahon’s decision to court the Mexican star back into the fold, while Triple H expressed reluctance.
Del Rio got another big push upon his return, with a clean win over John Cena. Del Rio didn’t have much direction in the aftermath, though, and wound up leaving again in well under a year. His second departure was reportedly a result of Del Rio being dissatisfied with the way he was booked. The booking, meanwhile, was generally attributed to Triple H, who didn’t trust Del Rio with more than his mid-card spot. He thought Del Rio partied too much and was a bad influence on the rest of the roster behind the scenes.
13. Putting Triple H and Stephanie’s Wedding on PPV
In 2006, WWE released a documentary about The Chairman called McMahon. There was a great deal of discussion about McMahon’s eagerness to have his family involved in WWE’s on-screen product, not to mention his interest in offering the fans a look at whatever they might like to see (and ideally make a buck in the process).
This discussion culminated in Vince’s suggestion that WWE air the real-life wedding between Triple H and Stephanie live on PPV. He suggested that the guest list would be enormous enough to justify the event happening in an arena. And if the event were to happen in arena, why not broadcast it?
Triple H, as well as Stephanie and Linda laughed about the suggestion, but it was clear all three were adamantly opposed. They got their way. Triple H and Stephanie had a more traditional wedding, with only their invited guests looking on.
12. Handling Titus O’Neil
Last February, Daniel Bryan delivered an emotional farewell on an episode of RAW. While fans remember this closing segment fondly, an incident immediately afterward risked overshadowing the proceedings. In an awkward moment, many fans noticed Titus O’Neil physically engage Vince McMahon on the entrance ramp.
Shortly thereafter, WWE.com reported that O’Neil had been suspended. Slowly, more details seeped out. Allegedly, McMahon was used to roughhousing with performers, but felt O’Neil crossed a line in this particular instance, and particularly for doing so on TV.
Later on, word broke that McMahon wanted to go so far as to release O’Neil, and Triple H stuck up for the lower card talent. The compromise was for O’Neil to face a two-month suspension, that included missing a big payday at WrestleMania, but he did keep his job and was ultimately back on WWE TV.
11. Triple H’s Connecticut Blue Blood Gimmick
In WCW Triple H played a rich Frenchman—a haphazard gimmick that he wasn’t particularly well equipped to pull off. Given that the character made up his entire track record, though, Vince McMahon plugged him into a similar spot when he signed with WWE.
In recounting the Thy Kingdom Come documentary, Triple H discussed his discomfort with the character. McMahon was a fan of it, thinking it was a good source of heat, because it was the persona of people McMahon would hate as a kid. Triple H claimed he couldn’t identify with it, but also acknowledged he needed to pay his dues. His work as The Connecticut Blue Blood was a stepping stone toward a more natural role that he would step into a short time later. Sure enough, WWE on the whole would move into the Attitude Era a short while later, and the transformation of Triple H’s gimmick fit that shift perfectly.
10. How To Handle Stephanie McMahon’s Pregnancy On Screen
When Stephanie McMahon was pregnant for the first time, with her husband Triple H’s child, her father’s creative wheels started turning. According to multiple sources, Vince pitched the idea of keeping his daughter on screen, and creating a storyline around figuring out the father’s identity. Vince’s top idea? Himself. Then when that idea was rejected for being too gross, he suggested Stephanie’s brother Shane without blinking an eye.
Stephanie was not on board with these ideas, and in the McMahon documentary cited it as a prime example of her dad’s thinking going way over the top. Triple H wasn’t any happier about the scheming and sounded relieved that marrying into the family didn’t mean having to go along with an idea that was offensive to him (let alone to the fans!). Stephanie wound up being off TV for most of the pregnancy, and Vince would tinker with the incest angle between Paul Burchill and Katie Lea Burchill, but never leaned fully into the idea.
9. The Curtain Call
In 1996, Diesel and Razor Ramon left WWE for WCW. In so doing, they broke up one of wrestling’s most famous backstage crews, The Kliq, made up of them, Shawn Michaels, and, of course, Triple H. On Nash and Hall’s final night in WWE, four of the group members came together (Sean Waltman was already in WCW). They eschewed their face-heel kayfabe alignments, and came to the ring to salute the fans. The incident became known as the Curtain Call.
Accounts vary as to who knew—much less agreed to—what prior to the Curtain Call, with Michaels and Triple H claiming they cleared it with Vince. Whether it was a misunderstanding, or a matter of Vince feeling the heat from other wrestlers and backstage figures, the incident did not go over well. Vince gave the guys a stern talking to, and wound up punishing Triple H. You see, at the time, Michaels was the reigning world champ and was untouchable, while Diesel and Ramon were on their way out of the company. Triple H carried the weight, losing a King of the Ring push and jobbing left and right in the aftermath.
8. Finn Balor and The Club
First, WWE signed Finn Balor. In the months to follow, rumors swirled that they’d raided New Japan and acquired the services of AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows, too. Throw in Finn Balor tweeting a photo of himself holding open the door for his old Bullet Club running buddies and speculation was strong that one of New Japan’s most famous heel stables would reunite for the WWE audience.
None of the parties involved have said anything official. Word is that Vince McMahon supported bringing at least Balor, Anderson, and Gallows to the main roster in the build to WrestleMania 32, though. The thinking is that the new faction might add some fresh star power to the proceedings and give WWE some extra buzz. Triple H insisted on staying the course for the big show, though, and seeing through the plans for his NXT run.
Triple H seems to have gotten his way for the most part on this one. Anderson and Gallows would debut shortly after WrestleMania and align with Styles not long after that. Balor wouldn’t surface on the main roster until the draft that summer, and didn’t meaningfully interact with the other Bullet Club guys.
7. Bringing Back War Games
In various WWE documentaries, Triple H has frequently positioned himself as a traditionalist and particularly a fan of old school NWA Mid-Atlantic booking. It’s no secret he looks up to Ric Flair and admires his heyday as a young world champion.
And Triple H has spoken on occasion about War Games. While WWE has poached a handful of WCW’s ideas over the years, War Games may be the former competitor’s most widely popular institution that WWE has not touched. The double-cage, traditionally eight-man match has been rumored for years now in WWE, and seems to have inspired the Elimination Chamber concept. WWE further tipped its hat to the match with a DVD set in 2013.
While rumor has it that Triple H has advocated for having a War Games match, with speculation really heating up when The Shield hit its stride, nothing has come of it. The prevailing theory is that McMahon isn’t a fan. Maybe this relates to his aversion to big team matches—in line with him commenting multiple times that traditional Survivor Series matches aren’t a draw. Maybe it’s a matter of not wanting pay any more tribute to WCW. Maybe it’s simply a logistical concern, because two rings require a different arena set up and the cage to encompass both rings would probably require an expensive new structure.
6. Jim Ross As An Announcer
Vince McMahon has a well-documented love-hate relationship with Jim Ross. Ross was the clear-cut voice of the product during the wildly popular Attitude Era. Just the same, McMahon has never seemed fully on board with Good Ol’ JR’s southern accent or the way his face looks after a bout of Bell’s Palsy. Indeed, McMahon has let the announcer go or shifted his on-air responsibilities multiple times, usually with an eye toward getting him out of the spotlight.
On the flip side, Triple H seems to be a fan of Ross on play-by-play. He went so far as to specially request Ross call his WrestleMania match opposite The Undertaker in Hell in a Cell to give the match an extra dose of a big-time feel.
McMahon has clearly gotten the better of this disagreement on the whole as Ross was relegated to lower profile roles before he ultimately left WWE. Just the same, Triple H did get his wish at WrestleMania 28, when Ross subbed in at the commentary table for The Game’s big match.
5. Hideo Itami’s Name
When WWE signed KENTA, Triple H purportedly wanted the Japanese star to go by that name. The argument was that KENTA had name recognition for fans of the independent scene and Japanese wrestling. Sensible enough, given KENTA would start in NXT, and NXT is generally considered to be the WWE brand of choice for hardcore indie fans.
McMahon has long held his preference to own his stars’ names, though, and pushed for this case to be no exception. So, we ended up with Hideo Itami. While Triple H didn’t win out in this particular disagreement, he may have gotten a more important long-term victory. Despite KENTA becoming Itami, other incoming stars like AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, and Bobby Roode did get to keep their names in a tip of the hat to their careers pre-WWE.
4. The WrestleMania 32 Main Event
As WWE approached WrestleMania 32, rumor has it that Vince McMahon pushed for Brock Lesnar to be in the main event, because he still considered him to be the company’s biggest star (not to mention the highest paid guy). The trouble was that Lesnar was booked opposite Dean Ambrose, who was, at that point, not a full-fledged main event guy—least of all on a stage as big as ‘Mania. The other problem: Lesnar’s program didn’t involve the world title. That belt was on the line between Triple H and Roman Reigns.
Triple H has famously said that he wanted to give up the main event spot at WrestleMania X-8 when he knew The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan would outshine him. He hinted at similar feelings toward WrestleMania XXV when Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker stole the show, but he still had to follow it opposite Randy Orton. In this case, Triple H was reportedly firm in his opinion that the world title should get the main event, in a match to solidify Roman Reigns as WWE’s top player. While the success of that main event is debatable, Triple H did get his way and closed out WrestleMania one more time.
3. Triple H and Stephanie Pursuing A Relationship
In both the McMahon and Thy Kingdome Come documentaries produced by WWE, the topic of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon’s early courtship came up. The word from all parties involved is that Vince liked Triple H and was initially fine with the two dating. He changed his mind, however, thinking it was problematic for a top star to be romantically involved with the boss’s daughter. He told them to cool it on their relationship.
In the documentary, opinions diverge about whether Vince really meant what he said or was just testing the couple’s resolve and particularly how serious Triple H was. Regardless, Triple H did not heed his boss’s instructions and continued to be involved with Stephanie. The two got married in 2003, by which point they did have Vince’s blessing.
2. Cesaro’s Star Power
Cesaro has been a controversial figure in WWE since his debut in 2012. That’s not to say he’s been involved in any scandals or gotten himself into trouble. On the contrary, the issue is that Cesaro is clearly athletically gifted, skilled in the ring, and charismatic. So, lots of fans struggle to understand why on earth he hasn’t gotten a meaningful push beyond the mid-card.
Reportedly, there’s disagreement behind the scenes, too. A variety of sources have reported that Vince McMahon doesn’t think Cesaro can connect with the audience. On the flip side, Cesaro seems to have Triple H in his corner, backing him as a potential main eventer. This may explain Cesaro’s unsteady progress. For example, he started his WWE run with a strong U.S. Championship reign, and got a huge win at WrestleMania XXX’s inaugural Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. After each of these big wins, he promptly began putting over bigger stars, never making any meaningful, permanent headway for himself.
Cesaro’s latest push, teaming with Sheamus (another Triple H favorite) seems to be a compromise. Cesaro is getting more sustained exposure and a steady push based on this angle, maybe testing the waters to see if he could advance up the card.
1. Whether To Give CM Punk Another Chance
In 2014, CM Punk left WWE under ugly terms, aggressively burning bridges as he walked out during the build to WrestleMania XXX. As Punk discussed on the Art of Wrestling podcast, one of the final points of contention was that Punk was to face Triple H at ‘Mania as one of the main event matches. Punk called foul, sticking with the thought that there’s only one main event, and it’s the last match of the show. Both parties walked away offended.
After some time had passed, McMahon was reportedly open to bringing Punk back into the fold and floated the idea of contacting him. Reports went on to suggest Triple H was one of his staunchest opponents on this idea. This makes sense given Triple H’s general aversion to potential troublemakers, with the added fuel of what seems to be personal issues with Punk. Whether or not WWE ever did open its doors to Punk, Punk has made it clear he’s not interested in returning, so it seems like Triple H can rest easy on this particular issue.
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