You can grab for Vince's 'Brass Ring' all you like but the truth of the matter is that you better be in his good books while you're doing it. Speaking of books, it's often said the most interesting wrestling book of all time will be Vince McMahon's autobiography, and if he ever gets around to writing it we'll find out the special attribute he uses to decide who he gets behind and who he merely tolerates on his television shows.
The other central influence in WWE's environment is Triple H. Since coming to his own power in WWE and joining the McMahon family, he has created his own fiefdom of influence, predominantly defined by NXT and it's graduates. Between himself and William Regal, they've scouted world-class independent wrestlers and standout athletes the world over, and that has delivered its own share of current WWE main roster talents. The thing is, Triple H's favorites are not necessarily Vince's, and some of Vince's pet projects don't mesh with Triple H's ideals. We've seen many NXT stars move up to the main roster and see their pushes go by the wayside as they basically have to prove themselves all over again to a new set of eyes, Vince's.
It's not necessarily an 'either/or' scenario with some WWE talent, but you can tell where the Vince-approved line ends and the Triple H-approved talent begins. The final call always comes from The Chairman and until the cold day comes where he relinquishes the reigns, Triple H and his favorites must endure his mercurial moods.
He looks like money, he sounds like money, and Vince McMahon has clearly decided that he wants that money. Lio Rush is undoubtedly electric in the ring as we've seen on 205 Live (seriously, watch it), but it's his loudmouth antics that got Vince's attention. Word around the campfire is that someone got Vince a Youtube clip of the 23-Year-Old Piece Of Gold slinging verbiage and that's what got him pulling double duty in and out of the ring.
More than just being given a chance, Vince is on a direct link to him each time Lashley is in the ring, feeding him lines while he backs up The Dominator. All in all, there's no bad news for Lio because Vince likes what he's hearing.
She was special down in Full Sail but now that she's been on Raw and SmackDown there's a distinct lack of that attribute for the Empress Of Tomorrow. When Triple H kept her down in NXT he described her as the lynchpin of his plans but on SmackDown these days you're lucky to see her doing anything at all, let alone kicking ass and being a world-beater.
Evidently, Vince doesn't see her promo skills as up to snuff for someone he wants to promote a Women's Division around. You could cynically say most of the same things about Shinsuke Nakamura (and we will) and Vince's lack of faith in him as well, but suffice to say, Asuka works much closer with Triple H than Vince.
Someone who was floundering in NXT, with the crowds there not getting into anything he was doing before Vince plucked him from obscurity. Suddenly he arrived on Raw (Suddenly here meaning he meandered through the background of it for a few weeks before an official introduction) and by any metric, he's been knocking it out of the park ever since.
Between being given marquee segments weekly to incite and now entice fans and being consistently protected so that he never looks out of place battling the upper echelons of the Raw roster, Elias is walking tall. His recent defection to the babyface side of the roster will tell if his act has the legs to make him Vince's next megastar.
They developed a personal relationship during her teases with wrestling previously, and now they work together consistently ensuring her mainstream appeal meshes with WWE's weekly shows. Not only Ronda though, her entire Four Horsewomen cadre from MMA are in various stages between NXT and training in the WWE Performance Center. Now while Vince no doubt looks in closely on whatever his crossover mainstream star is doing there's little doubt that the relationship with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon drove Rousey to fully adopt her new career in WWE. She's WWE's most valuable commodity in many ways, and Triple H is wise to maintain close ties.
From a brief moment as a Rosebud in NXT to Raw's perennial monster, Braun Strowman has come a long way in a short time, and that's clearly because Vince likes looking up at people. Vince has always had a soft spot for giants whether they can move or not, cough-Khali-cough, and he knows he's struck gold with the self-proclaimed 'MeatCastle', Braun Strowman.
Not only is the big man decently agile and incredibly powerful, but he's also got charisma for days and has shown ring chemistry with most people not named Brock Lesnar. He seems eternally one step beneath achieving that elusive Universal Title reign, but besides that, Vince picked a winner.
An NXT success story through and through, Bayley is the quintessential example of someone who peaked in developmental under Triple H's careful eye. Now on Raw, she can't seem to escape her 'buddy' relationship with Sasha Banks, and Vince clearly doesn't see the appeal we all did from the world's best hugger.
Bayley's hopeful, idealistic persona was capitalized on by Triple H so well that even today Bayley still has residual goodwill with some fans, but it's going to take something of a miracle or complete overhaul for her to get on Vince's radar. For now, Triple H remains her best advocate.
He loved him the first time around to the point he made him the wrestling focal point of his feud with a fellow billionaire, and little seems to have changed. Now that Bobby has a decent heel persona under his belt from Impact Wrestling, Vince brought back his powerhouse favorite for another tilt at WWE success. He's even gotten 'the big man' a mouthpiece in the aforementioned Lio Rush in hopes of getting Bobby good and hated for when the time comes to unleash him at the top. Lashley's only downside Vince has to be wary of is his age, as despite not looking it, he's 42, but besides that, he's one good run away from Vince's perfect wrestler.
Vince proved that he loves him some Jason Jordan when he put him in the angle with... Angle, but Triple H knew all along that the true talent of the Gable/Jordan duo was this suplex-happy goofball right here. While JJ languished in NXT obscurity, Gable came along as his tag partner and injected him with vicarious personality and limitless goofy charm. Gable still has that aspect today, his team with Bobby Roode seeming destined for misfortune when Gable's happy-go-lucky pluckiness pushes Roode over the deep end. Nevertheless, Triple H knows what Gable brings to the table (Catchphrase?) and he'll advocate for the former Olympian next time an opening presents itself.
We all like AJ Styles too, but Vince came around on the former Impact and IWGP Heavyweight Champion quick enough that we all got to enjoy it. Stemming from his initial thunderous introduction and subsequent blisteringly good series of matches with Roman Reigns and John Cena, AJ Styles has basically been the top dog on SmackDown since the brand split.
He's rarely been without a championship or in the hunt for one, Vince clearly relies on him as he proved when he got AJ Styles to fly in for an emergency match with Finn Balor on a Raw branded PPV, and he had AJ give Shane McMahon his best ever WrestleMania match. The evidence is everywhere.
Like Asuka, Shinsuke Nakamura came to SmackDown and instead of being allowed to display his uncanny charisma and ability to bring the house down, he's been marginalized into irrelevance. In NXT Triple H had him blowing the roof off from the first day in his debut blockbuster against Sami Zayn, then as NXT Champion. On SmackDown, he lost a World Championship feud to Jinder Mahal and then AJ Styles, and has been an almost invisible United States Champion since those devastating losses. His good showing against Seth Rollins at Survivor Series notwithstanding, we could be seeing the end of Nakamura in WWE and that's all on Vince.
Big money, few dates, constant Championships around his waist and he doesn't even really have to talk anymore if he doesn't want to. Vince has cut Brock Lesnar such a sweet deal that anyone arguing he's not one of Vince's favorite ever acquisitions is kidding themselves. Brock's UFC stint and legitimate blockbuster drawing power has Vince enthralled with The Beast Incarnate and Mayor of Suplex City. Nobody is given his level of constant gravitas and Lesnar makes that role work by being legitimately scary to the point of genuinely fearing he'll kill someone with a wayward German Suplex one day.
Triple H stole Bobby Roode straight from Impact Wrestling main events and when you compare the two, you can see why. For years people commented on the similarities between them and evidently, Triple H agreed, essentially turning Bobby Roode into a clone of himself through NXT where he became a self-aggrandizing champion.
The likeness between them and their obvious connection in NXT belies the experience Roode has had on Raw under the 'McMahon microscope', where he lost all his personality in place of over-utilizing his 'Glorious' catchphrase. Clearly floundering and with little time left to do so, Roode probably wishes he was back in NXT.
Nearly single-handedly, Paul Heyman has resurrected the art of managing in the WWE landscape, allowing more and more experts to accompany their clients to the ring for guidance and strategy. Drake Maverick is the latest to take advantage of this new age, catapulted from his position as 205 Live GM to the side of the Authors Of Pain. Vince has got a strong inclination towards younger talent, actual and seeming, and Drake represents another fresh body who is capable on the mic and at being made a fool of, as evidenced by his comedic Survivor Series moment. Anyone willing to follow McMahon himself in willingly wetting his trousers on live TV is bound to have job security.
The Demon appears to be on the shelf for the most part and that was clearly the aspect of Finn Balor that intrigued Vince in the first place. Without it Finn has been a persistent but non-integral part of Monday Night Raw ever since, mainly being used to keep other acts busy that Vince has developing faith in, like Baron Corbin or Elias.
Triple H, on the other hand, knows how good the Bullet Club founder can be, having put him front and center in NXT. Fans could see in the behind the scenes moment where Finn whispered to Triple H about his separated shoulder, the confidence these two were working with together, and if Finn gets another major play it'll be with Triple H's backing.
For the longest time this wasn't true but recent developments (AKA Vince McMahon finding out what most fans already knew) have caused the Chairman to realize that he's got The Man on his women's roster. Fans have been staunchly behind Becky Lynch for the longest time but Vince has finally come around to their way of thinking as Becky knocked segment after segment out of the park. It doesn't matter if she's covered in a crimson mask, getting cheered when she's supposed to be booed, or simply being Straight Fire without relenting, she's taking WWE by storm and McMahon had to take notice and get fully on board.
Triple H's secret weapons for keeping the Raw Women's division ticking over, he's assembled a few women with massive upsides into a group that could stand the test of time. Between Ruby Riott's distinct look and character, and Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan's reliably improving presence, they're carving out a niche on Raw that Vince probably wouldn't have offered them without Triple H's word. Cynically, Vince might have yanked Liv Morgan out of the group and stuck her with Mandy Rose, but Triple H has wisely mixed levels of experience, character, and potential into an ironically cohesive group.
Vince called him The Chosen One back in the day and that appears to have been prophetic all these years later given Drew's evolution into a legitimate idealization of Vince McMahon's perfect wrestler. Only now just aging into his prime, looking nothing less than top tier, and having developed the character, presence, mic work and storytelling aspects to carry the load, Drew McIntyre is on the cusp of breaking out majorly and Vince must be salivating. Since returning Vince has accordingly protected McIntyre's image, letting him stand up to any and all comers, get the last word in plenty of exchanges, and essentially given him the ball to run with like few others even get a sniff of.
Triple H was among the WWE personal who scouted and accepted Gulak into the CWC and since then he's rewarded them tenfold with his unique charisma, intensity and willingness to play any role. From normal Cruiserweight, to the 'No Fly Zone' advocate, to the 'Better 205 Live' politicking, to the submissions specialist, he's the one constant evolving force since 205 Live's introduction, and Triple H knows it. He always finds time for Gulak to either entertain or enlighten fans, and he knows a capable safe worker who can have varied matches with most any opponent. Truly a hidden gem that Triple H unearthed to the greater WWE audience.
Think about this. Vince McMahon called up Apollo Crews out of NXT after he'd been there barely a few months and shown no particular benefit from the experience. Vince wants him on Raw bad enough to consistently find a place on television for him, first with Titus Worldwide, and now on his own picking up some momentum where other NXT graduates like No Way Jose have disappeared.
The only explanation is that Vince looks at Apollo and sees a future star. It's hard to argue given Crews' power, athleticism, and powerhouse look, and while Vince has mostly saddled him with the 'smiley do-gooder' placeholder, it's only a matter of time until Vince has him holding individual gold.
This one is half of a prediction as well. Between Batista's complaints earlier this year that Triple H wasn't keeping in touch with him and their interaction on SmackDown 1000, these two were working hand in hand to organize a WrestleMania program between the two of them. If that's true as it seems, and Batista's well documented creative issues with Vince over the years concerning blading, fines, and PG are valid, it stands to reason that the Marvel megastar confines his dealings as much as possible to his personal friend. While their 'Mania match may be off due to Triple H's pectoral tear, he remains the olive branch to Batista's involvement with the company.