WWE executive Paul Levesque aka Triple H says the wrestling promotion plans to produce localised content for India whilst discussing the challenges for Indian athletes to make their mark in the main roster of performers
One thing you cannot fault Paul Levesque with, is failing to do his homework; it is the same work ethic he applied during his heyday inside a wrestling ring.
Connecting from his home in Connecticut in the United States over Zoom for an early morning interaction on all things WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), Levesque pulls this one out of his hat: “Your cricket team pulled off an amazing comeback by winning the test series. It is as if WWE scripted it,” says the man who is now WWE’s executive vice president for Global Talent Strategy and Development.
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Known better as Hunter Hearst Helmsley (HHH) — or Triple H — for fans of professional wrestling, Levesque’s in-ring career has few parallels.
Now semi-retired, most of Levesque’s work happens behind the scenes; serving on the WWE board of directors, he is credited with overseeing most of the wrestling promotion’s talent acquisitions. He also produces one of WWE’s flagship programmes — NXT. But it is the upcoming standalone special WWE: Superstar Spectacle that we start discussing off the mark.
It is no secret that India is a major part of WWE’s expansion programme; the country occupies the first position in global YouTube and Facebook engagement for WWE content.
There is also high demand for the content produced weekly via WWE’s other flagship programmes — the weekly episodic shows Raw and Smackdown. “India has been a big fan base for us for years. We want to put on a show that is worthy of that passion and their love of WWE. We are looking to put on exactly what is in the name — a spectacle,” he says.
- A generation of wrestling fans who grew up watching the Attitude Era of wrestling have, at some point, imitated The Game’s entrance gimmick, more specifically the part where Triple H spits out a mouthful of water with great force whilst looking upwards. It mostly ends with the bathroom ceiling sporting ‘water art’ bearing an interesting pattern. Levesque has an interesting backstory to how he added the now trademark gimmick to his entrance act.
- “As my career was progressing, after I became WWE champion in the late 1990s, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder and a bit of an attitude. So when I was getting in the ring, there were a lot naysayers who said I would never make it to the [top] level. A lot of people were against me, they didn’t like what I did or how I got there. So you know, the water bottle… I would wet my hair and have the bottle with me as I stood up on the [ring] apron… I would put the water in my mouth and spit it out in defiance at the crowd while holding the championship. It always got a big reaction, and over time that morphed into sort of what you see now,” he says.
The pandemic affected WWE’s plans of taking more fresh Indian talents on board, Levesque adds. In 2019, the company held trials in India to select athletes whom they thought fit the company’s profile of a ‘Superstar’.
“As we started the process of immigration (for the selected athletes), getting everybody set and begin training, the pandemic hit and slowed things down,” says Levesque, remarking, “It is just a bump in the road as far as I am concerned.”
Going for the brass ring
Getting into the WWE is one thing, getting to the big leagues — appearing on Raw, Smackdown or becoming a main event talent — is another thing altogether. It is pertinent to note that Jinder Mahal — whose championship reign extended from May to November 2017 — is still the only Indian-origin performer to have held any title worthy of note in the company.
Ask Levesque when he thinks the next Indian-origin champion will emerge, and he cautions that “only the best of the best of the best” can shine through amongst the competition at the highest level in WWE. He reckons that Superstar Spectacle will be “a test” for the company’s Indian talents, and help the powers that be in WWE to decide “how they perform under the lights and with the pressure of their nation watching”.
“Do I believe they all have the potential [to be the best]? Absolutely. But when you have champions like Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns (the current WWE universal heavyweight champion), the competition is stiff and it is not easy to get there. To become a WWE champion is a true accomplishment,” he adds.
With its global expansion strategy ever-evolving, Levesque says that moving forward, WWE’s focus will be on creating localised content pertaining to the region. The answer is to a question about the possible creation of NXT: India along the lines of NXT: UK.
“The intent and desire is to come to India and recruit enough athletes. Certainly, there is a desire amongst Indian people for us to be on the ground as well. At some point, we would love to have a performance centre, or more than one centre, in India… have athletes train there and produce localised WWE content. When you see talents from your region succeed locally to get to the bigger stages, and to watch their careers develop… that is the goal. Because the only thing bigger than WWE in India is cricket. That’s something to be said,” Levesque says.
Never say never
Back in the States, however, WWE has continued to produce weekly programmes despite the pandemic and without a break in action.
Of course, there are no fans; the company migrated to a setup called the ThunderDome where fans can live stream the action (their reactions are caught in the screens set up where the audiences used to sit in arenas). The company is also battling the virus itself; a few talents have tested positive, including current WWE champion Drew McIntyre.
“Luckily for Drew, he was asymptomatic. Our medical staff has cleared him, and I couldn’t be more happy about that,” Levesque says.
Although his in-ring persona, Triple H, is now semi-retired, ‘The Game’ (his character’s nickname) made a surprise appearance to take on another veteran Randy Orton on Raw two weeks ago; the appearance was born out of a necessity due to Drew McIntyre’s unavailability.
Ask Triple H if there is a comeback on the cards and he laughs. “Never say never. Look, I am incredibly busy doing Superstar Spectacle, Royal Rumble and all those things behind the scenes; there is also NXT. It is a lot to do but if the opportunity arises, when somebody comes up to you and says — ‘Would you like to have the ultimate adrenaline rush? Would you like to stand in the ring one more time under those lights and relive it all in front of the fans?’ — how do you turn that down?” he says.
WWE Superstar Spectacle will premiere exclusively on Sony Ten 1, Sony Ten 3 and Sony MAX on January 26 at 8 pm, with commentary available in both English and Hindi.