Although it may seem hard to believe, Paul Levesque has now been part of the WWE for 21 years. He’s grown from a newbie with a Connecticut blueblood gimmick, to a powerful veteran wrestler, to the current head of creative for the promotion. In addition to being Vince McMahon’s current right-hand man, Triple H is also lined up to be the boss’s eventual replacement, especially considering Levesque is McMahon’s real-life son-in-law. Along the way, Triple H has yielded his power to help numerous wrestlers, whether it’s by throwing his support behind someone in interviews, putting them over as a fellow competitor, or hand-picking or pushing them as an executive.
Of course, finding the next big wrestler isn’t an exact science and Levesque knows this as much as anyone. Wrestlers don’t catch on, they err, they stumble, and sometimes they fall flat on their faces. That isn’t to say all of the following wrestlers are failures though, especially since many are still young and some have experienced quite a bit of success already. It also isn’t an effort to blame Triple H, as many events were completely out of his control. Instead, this list is an evaluation of how certain decisions and wrestlers’ careers have fared under the guidance, support, and rule of Paul Levesque.
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15 Roman Reigns
With three World Heavyweight Championships, one Tag Team Championship, and the most eliminations in a Royal Rumble match (12 in 2014), it’s hard to call Roman Reigns a failure at anything from a competition standpoint. But from the outside looking in, it’s a different story. WWE, Vince McMahon, and Triple H (both as head of creative and a guy who has personally put Reigns over) all clearly want or have wanted him to be the next face of the franchise, but the fan and critical reception has been cold thus far for a number of reasons. Some say he’s still too new or undeserving, some have been generally turned off by WWE’s obvious and relentless love of the guy (save for his 30-day suspension earlier this year), and others say his personality just isn’t appealing enough - as either a likable face or a hated heel.
In the end, Reigns’ tenure thus far has amounted to a sort of reverse tug of war: WWE has pushed him hard, and the fans have pushed back with just as much force. Only time will tell at this point.
14 Randy Orton
After Triple H became the World Heavyweight Champion in 2002, he decided to put together a stable that would rival the legendary Four Horsemen and create a new WWE superstar. He, Ric Flair, Batista, and Randy Orton formed Evolution the next year, and Raw pushed them throughout 2003 and 2004. The 23-year-old Orton was the chosen one, and he was active and integral in helping Triple H retain his title belt. Thus began Orton’s reign as the “Legend Killer,” as he took down the likes of Shawn Michaels and Mick Foley on his way to building a seven-month reign as Intercontinental Champion and becoming the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history at SummerSlam 2004.
However, all of this came at the cost of turning on his stablemates in a lengthy feud, a sign that Levesque had abandoned his personal push of Orton (who was taking steroids at the time and was also reportedly difficult to deal with backstage) in favor of Batista, whose stock was on the rise with fans. However, it didn’t matter in the end, as neither Orton or Batista became the next big thing in the WWE.
Sheamus was signed to a WWE contract in mid-2007, spending two years in FCW before famously befriending Triple H in a gym in 2009 after the young Irish wrestler asked to work out with the star veteran. Before the year ended, Sheamus would win his first WWE Championship by defeating John Cena at TLC: Tables, Ladders, and Chairs. He later faced his buddy Triple H in a loss at WrestleMania XXVI and is still with the promotion today. However, despite Sheamus’ nine years under the WWE umbrella, he has yet to truly reach star status. He has achieved star pay and won a whole lot of matches (including a 14-match win streak and a World Heavyweight Champion run) but has failed to maintain popularity as either a heel or face. Triple H, for his part, has remained both supportive of Sheamus and involved with him in the ring, so this story isn’t over quite yet.
12 Jeff Hardy
Triple H has almost always been in Jeff Hardy’s corner, along for a ride that has had as many downs as it has ups. The two started around the same time in the early-90s, but Hardy didn’t get his big break until forming the Hardy Boyz a few years later and getting put over by Triple H for the Intercontinental title in 2001. In fact, it may have been Levesque who lobbied for Shawn Michaels to team up with Hardy in 2003. Unfortunately, Jeff had to step away shortly afterward due to erratic behavior, drug use, and exhaustion. When he returned to the promotion in 2006, Triple H was right there waiting and put him over again, enlisting him as part of the D-Generation X stable and a also a tag team partner. Hardy eventually won the World Heavyweight Championship in December 2008 after defeating both Edge and Triple H at Armageddon.
Soon after, injuries and personal issues caused Hardy to step away from the WWE, derailing his career yet again. Triple H had picked a solid wrestler this time around, but unfortunately the guy just couldn’t stay in the big ring. Hardy is currently with TNA.
11 Damien Sandow
Following Damien Sandow’s release from his original WWE contract in 2007, he signed again in 2010 and made some waves down in Florida Championship Wrestling. This grabbed the attention of Triple H, who guided the up-and-coming wrestler that, like himself, had also studied under Killer Kowalski. Soon after, Sandow got the call up to WWE’s main roster and adopted a character similar to Triple H’s original Hunter Hearst Helmsley gimmick from the mid-’90s. The persona registered well with audiences and Sandow won a Money in the Bank challenge, but went on a 1-12 run on SmackDown and Raw at this time and lost his eventual cash-in match for the World Heavyweight Championship. Sandow’s character became more generic after this loss and his career never fully recovered.
Despite some flashes of his potential in the following years, Sandow couldn’t climb out of the lower tier and was released in 2016 to the dismay of many who knew the wrestler could and should have accomplished much more.
10 Curtis Axel
Given the fact that Michael McGillicutty (real name: Joseph Curtis Hennig) was the son of legendary wrestler “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig and grandson of Larry “The Axe” Hennig, it made a lot of sense when the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported in 2012 that Triple H was trying to push him with a new gimmick. He was dubbed Curtis Axel and paired with manager Paul Heyman, with Levesque as his first opponent. Of course Triple H put the new guy over (albeit by referee stoppage due to a concussion) and Axel went on a tear after this. He beat Cena twice, he bested Chris Jericho, and he even won two matches in a single night (one of which was against Triple H again). But then, after an Intercontinental Championship reign that lasted 155 days, the push suddenly stopped.
Axel started piling up losses and basically fell to jobber status while promoting the #AxelMania joke-of-a-hashtag. Now a heel and part of “The Social Outcasts” stable with Heath Slater, Adam Rose, and Bo Dallas, Axel barely wins matches anymore. Despite possessing a lot of potential, he was drafted last in the 2016 WWE Draft on July 19, and the title “Mr. Irrelevant” couldn’t be more fitting.
9 Drew McIntyre
Although signed by WWE in 2006, Drew McIntyre (real name Drew Galloway) didn’t rise above jobber status until Vince McMahon called him a “future World Champion” in the ring in 2009. For a while, McIntyre was McMahon’s “chosen one,” putting together an undefeated streak which was extended thanks to Vince pulling some strings (as part of the storyline) and messing with the matches. However, it was also Triple H who was pushing McIntyre in the promotion, seeing a lot of himself in the young wrestler. Despite McIntyre losing his special status with McMahon in 2010 and bouncing around the WWE, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported in 2012 that Levesque was still high on him and thought McIntyre’s new gimmick had serious long-term potential. However, the Scottish wrestler ended up being a jobber yet again as part of the 3MB stable and was eventually released from his WWE contract on June 12, 2014.
8 Shelton Benjamin
After joining WWE’s SmackDown brand as a heel on January 2, 2003, Shelton Benjamin began making quite the name for himself as an athletic in-ring performer, nabbing a victory against the likes of Los Guerreros for the WWE Tag Team Championship and successfully defending the title in a Triple Threat match against Los Guerreros, Chris Benoit, and Rhyno. Despite suffering a legitimate knee injury, Benjamin still wrestled at WrestleMania XX and earned the support of Triple H, who lobbied for him to be drafted into Raw as part of the 2004 WWE Draft.
In his first match, Benjamin almost immediately executed a face turn when Triple H cleanly put him over (in the main event of the night) and Shelton was allowed two additional victories against his new mentor. However, Benjamin lacked the personality to make a bigger run and floundered at this point, winning some key matches but never retaining the title for long, eventually becoming a lower card jobber and novelty act. Triple H soon lost interest and Benjamin was released on April 22, 2010.
7 Chris Hero
It’s hard to speculate whether or not Triple H personally pushed Chris Hero during his two years with the WWE, especially since he never made it past NXT. Still, Hero was signed after Levesque took over as head of creative and he fits HHH’s style of signing guys who aren’t enormous, so he can’t escape all the blame. Triple H birthed him, raised him, and ultimately destroyed him - and for good reason. Don’t get us wrong, Hero was a stud back on the independent circuit and was a well known commodity in Combat Wrestling Zone, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and Ring of Honor - but after being given a legitimate shot in NXT and then being chronically reluctant to put in the necessary gym time, Hero (then using the name Kassius Ohno) had to be cut. Again, it’s not certain how much time Triple H spent with the kid, but he was nevertheless one of the absolute worst signings under Levesque’s tenure.
6 His Handlebar Mustache
I’d like to start by pointing out I’m a big fan of facial hair and also the fact that Triple H can definitely rock a beard, but oh man, what was with that handlebar mustache in the mid-2000s? It probably would have looked halfway decent if he just grew it straight down, fu manchu-style, but instead it was even longer and flared out away from his mouth for some reason. And then he eventually connected it to a thin beard/long sideburn combo? I can’t imagine he actually thought that looked good. The worst part was that he happened to have this ‘stache during WrestleMania 22, when he wore the Conan the Barbarian-esque getup. He was obviously trying to look like a badass, but instead the mustache just sabotaged the whole thing and made him look like if the Village People decided to add a barbarian warrior king member. Stick to the beard, bro.
When Batista left the WWE in 2010 (later citing he didn’t like the direction of the company), WWE.com moved his profile to the alumni section and it was uncertain if he’d ever return. However, when Triple H became the promotion’s head of talent, he reached out to his friend and former colleague in 2014 to talk a comeback. Batista returned as a face for the main event of that year’s Royal Rumble and won, much to the chagrin of the clearly pro-Daniel Bryan arena audience who was upset Bryan wasn’t included. Due to the abundance of boos in this and subsequent matches, Batista executed a heel turn (for the first time since 2009) and eventually (and unsurprisingly) battled and lost to Bryan at WrestleMania XXX.
In a last-ditch effort to stick around, Batista was teamed with his biggest supporter, Triple H, but lost and later quit after Helmsley denied to give him a shot at the title. In reality, Batista was once again exiting due to creative differences after a comeback that only last six months. In a radio interview, Batista later revealed that, at the time, he wanted to headline SummerSlam while also having the no. 1 movie in the world with Guardians of the Galaxy. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon allegedly didn’t think the film would be a hit.
4 Sin Cara
When Triple H first became WWE’s head of talent in 2011, the first signing he made was Sin Cara. However, it’s important to point out exactly which Sin Cara was signed, as the name actually refers to numerous wrestlers who competed under the lucha-style mask. On January 30, 2011, Mexican star Luis Urive (formerly Mistico) was added to the WWE roster and participated in his first match on March 25 and first televised match on April 11. Despite a huge media push to build up the anticipation, Urive fell flat in his young WWE career, botching moves and clearly unable to adapt to the promotion’s style. On top of that, only one day after the July 17 Money in the Bank ladder match, WWE announced that Urive would be suspended for 30 days due to a violation of its wellness program. An “imposter” Sin Cara (portrayed by Jorge Arias) took his place in the meantime, which culminated in bouts pinning the original against the imposter on October 2 and 16. Urive’s version won and stuck around the WWE for a couple years, never really gaining any traction. Urive was released in 2014 after he stated his desire to return to Mexican wrestling, but Arias has since resurrected the character in the WWE. In the end, it wasn’t that Sin Cara was a terrible character for Triple H to back, it’s just that he picked the wrong actor.
3 His Acting Career
Pet projects don’t have to be limited to wrestling, although in Triple H’s case, maybe they should be. After all, just because someone is a good professional wrestler, it doesn’t mean they can necessarily act on TV shows or in films. And although Triple H has been fine in roles where he simply played himself, he hasn’t fared so well in others. Levesque’s first film role was in 2004’s Blade: Trinity, which was both a box office and critical disappointment. Maybe he’d do better as a leading man? No dice; 2011’s The Chaperone and Inside Out were both even bigger failures. In fact, despite a budget of $30 million, the funniest part of The Chaperone was that it only managed to bring in an embarrassing $14,400 in theaters. Inside Out fared even worse, and was described by the New York Post as “nonsensical, thickly plotted gumbo.”
We can’t all be The Rock.
2 Kevin Nash
Although Kevin Nash debuted in the WWE a year before Triple H, the latter stayed in the promotion from that point on, while the former bounced back and forth between there, WCW, and TNA. When Nash returned to the WWE in 2011 as a 51-year-old on a five-year Legends contract, Triple H decided to team up with him. The angle started with Nash attacking CM Punk at SummerSlam under the orders of Triple H. However, after a match between Nash and Punk was set up, Triple H ended up facing the latter instead. An enraged Nash turned on his former boss and there was a whole lot of back-and-forth before the duo’s rivalry culminated in a disappointing Sledgehammer match at TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs - which Nash lost.
They eventually “made up” in 2013 and Nash became an honorary member of D-Generation X, while the rest of us were left scratching our heads and wondering what Triple H was thinking with this storyline.
Kevin Nash’s return in 2011 didn’t work out well for him or Triple H, but perhaps the latter would have more luck with one of the Divas - a group that he was constantly pushing to Vince McMahon. This was also the year that Levesque took Kia Stevens (a.k.a. Kharma) under his wing after she spent eight years bouncing around various promotions from Japan to TNA. When she eventually signed with WWE, Kharma began by attacking various Divas on SmackDown and Raw, setting her up for a match of her own. However, Kharma soon announced that she was pregnant and had to leave the company. She attempted a return at the 2012 Royal Rumble, but it would turn out to be her first and only match with the promotion.
Kharma returned to Japan, the independent circuit, and TNA after this stint, but she was recently released following a real-life physical altercation with Rebecca Hardy.
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