WWE announced today that Paul “Triple H” Levesque has been installed as the Executive Vice President of Talent Relations. Given that John Laurinaitis is ensnared in an ongoing investigation into his (and Vince McMahon’s) alleged use of company funds to buy the silence of employees with whom he’s alleged to have had affairs, as well as the obvious possibility of overtaxing Bruce Prichard, who had been given those responsibilities on an interim basis despite the potential for conflict due to his role as head of creative, it makes sense.
Though plenty can be made of the failings of NXT, he has to be credited as one of the architects of an entire generation of WWE, beginning with the closure of WWE’s FCW developmental territory and the retooling of the failed hybrid wrestling/competition show NXT project into an entirely in-house system, from signing to development to television to the main roster.
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For a long time, it was an engine that ran perfectly, a boutique brand that drew rave reviews, the only flaw of which is that Triple H could not control what happened to his talent when they were called up to the main roster. I mean, that and the drastic overreach into the American independents, the near-complete destruction of an emergent British/European scene, and several major incursions into Japan, signing away top stars just as promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling were crossing over into America, none of which was sustainable.
This was obvious from the start and eventually triggered a cascade failure of mass releases up and down the WWE roster during a period of global instability that, thank goodness for the crown, allowed WWE to reap record profits while utilizing their monopoly-derived non-compete clauses to prevent talent from seeking work in the few places that were still running during the first and second stages of the pandemic, which happened to coincide with his completely losing the handle on how to book his own show.
This is the gentleman who is now in charge of Talent Relations for WWE.
Rather than credit Triple H with any Machiavellian scheming — plundering is what empires do in their death throes, not when they’re expanding — I want to offer up the following wish to the universe:
Please, I Beg of You, Make Triple H Point at Wrestlers Again
Back in the good ol’ days of NXT, Triple H used to do this thing whenever someone won a title or had a banger on a TakeOver, where, in completely organic fashion, he would take the sweaty wrestler to the side, where a photographer just so happened to be. Faces forward, gaudy NXT strap gleaming, the photographer’s finger would start to come down and, in the instant before their finger depressing the shutter, Triple H would smirk and point at his new triumph as if to celebrate sparing another wrestler the grind of indie shows and overseas tours. You know the point.
Hey, that’s AEW star Adam Cole!
And there’s AEW Tag Team Champion Keith Lee!
Not being able to point to both slabs of tag team muscle in celebration of their Raw Tag Team Championship victory, Dax Harwood took the lead and pointed upward towards The Game while his fellow co-holder of the ROH, AAA, and IWGP Tag Team Championships Cash Wheeler pointed at the photographer as if to say “Woah, a photographer is here!”
In fairness to Triple H, he has pointed at a fair number of wrestlers who are cornerstones of the main roster. Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Bobby Lashley, Butch, Gunther, Ricochet, Drew McIntyre, Ciampa, Logan Paul — main eventers, important pieces of the puzzle that is a wrestling show, Logan Paul; the system failed hard enough that it underwent a spiritual and cosmetic change last year, but sometimes when the finger points, it is fated to work out at least pretty well for WWE.
But what about that handshake?
Sting’s barely finished filming his WWE 2K commercial and already looks like he’s ready to bail.
So, look, the role has changed since he last held it, and the world of professional wrestling is a lot different than when he was appointed EVP of Talent, Live Events & Creative, just after the establishment of the WWE Performance Center. WWE has deemphasized hiring wrestlers who have extensive experience in favor of programs like Next In Line, which recruits standout collegiate athletes in a more formal manner than when that kind of athlete was prized by Gerald Brisco and Jim Ross.
Even with these highly corporatized structures in place, I don’t think Triple H will all that good in this role. Again, he’s had his successes, but that success came at the cost of a uniquely fertile global wrestling scene. Effective talent curation is not simply a matter of signing everyone you can with an unlimited bankroll. Triple H’s biggest failure was not NXT’s collapse, but his inability to tailor NXT to the task of providing Raw and SmackDown with talent that fit the direction of those shows.
That goes back to the early days of the brand as a one hour, pre-taped show on the WWE Network, where wrestlers like Bull Dempsey and Solomon Crowe were clearly never going to make it. Triple H’s biggest success during that time — maybe ever, including what he accomplished as a wrestler — was unquestionably the women’s division.
In Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, and Bianca Belair, NXT produced talent that altered the course of the company from an in-ring and public relations perspective, as women’s wrestling took center stage shortly after the generation prior to them — AJ Lee, Paige, the Bella Twins, etc. — started to complain about unequal wages and merchandise revenue. #GiveDivasaChance became the Women’s Evolution, and soon thereafter virtually every woman on the indies with an ounce of buzz was under the NXT banner.
NXT’s evolution into a super indie that featured those women and the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, KENTA, Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, the Undisputed Elite, and others, made it impossible to see where NXT’s success was due to the bankroll behind it or because of Triple H’s judicious talent scouting.
The hit to miss ratio on the main roster would indicate the bankroll. An instance I would point to as proof of this was Triple H’s one-time emphasis on tag team wrestling despite the main roster’s longtime disregard for it. FTR (or The Revival, as they were known) being the exception — it is impossible for me to imagine Dax and Cash as anything but the most creatively successful tag team since the Midnight Express/Rock n’ Roll Express era (sorry Young Bucks) — insisting on tag team wrestling may have given NXT fans classics like The Revival vs. American Alpha, but any sane person with a dual role in creative and talent relations should have looked at the direction Raw and SmackDown were going and known that American Alpha were never going to make it. Same with the Authors of Pain. Frankly, it’s a wonder The Revival survived their time on the main roster, battered but intact.
The other path through the WWE system was to do what DIY, Gargano and Ciampa, did and just stay. But again, regardless of the timeslot on the USA Network, NXT is a developmental brand. That’s what it was when it was a game show, that’s what it was on the WWE Network, and that’s what it should have been on USA; a constantly rotating and evolving showcase of the future of World Wrestling Entertainment, not a pantry you can stash Adam Cole or Swerve Strickland in until they’re not wanted or their contracts expire.
Again, that’s a talent relations issue. That’s greed. And the cost of that greed is that Triple H inadvertently became AEW’s best talent scout, not only giving wrestlers valuable screen time, but often leaving them in situations where they left angry, frustrated, and desperate to prove that they weren’t his failed project. Take a look at some of those points and handshakes above. Malakai Black is unrecognizable. FTR are cut. Keith Lee has regained his confidence and has developed a dynamic with Swerve Strickland that’s incredibly fresh and has revitalized both wrestlers and the tag team division. Stokely Hathaway is hanging out with Jermaine Dupri.
The guy who wasted all of that is back in charge of Talent Relations, during one of the rockiest periods in company history. A show of strength would be nice. Grab the nearest champion, find a photographer. Smirk. Point. Flash. Everything is going to be alright.