Once again, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's podcast became a portal to WWE's inner workings, as the Hall of Famer interviewed Triple H following Monday's Raw.
The second WWE Network-exclusive edition of The Steve Austin Show emphasized just how different McMahon and Triple H are and how varied their take on the sports entertainment industry is. McMahon came off as out of touch in his interview a few months back, digging his feet stubbornly into the sand where he stands.
Triple H, meanwhile, came off as a man with a clear idea of how to navigate the rocky terrain that is today's wrestling audience. He is bound by politics and still very much a soldier for McMahon, but his thoughts on the business point to a bright horizon.
Austin covered a variety of topics with the chief operating officer including his relationship with CM Punk, Brock Lesnar's contract and NXT. Just like when he spoke with McMahon live on the WWE Network, Austin's chat with Triple H was a must-watch.
It left fans with answers, questions and glimpses of what's ahead.
Triple H Understands Today's Audience, Where the Business Stands
As The Texas Rattlesnake noted, we are in an era where kayfabe is dead. That creates a much different dynamic than the grapplers and bookers of the past faced. Triple H's understanding and acceptance of that fact is comforting.
He said matter-of-factly of operating in a time where kayfabe is essentially non-existent, "It's tough."
Triple H didn't talk as if the fans had to adjust what WWE was doing, but rather that the company has to adjust for today's fan. He said that many of today's fans know how the business works and sees a lot of what the company does coming.
This wasn't the condemnation of the often-criticized Internet Wrestling Community you'd expect. It felt more like a nod to those folks, a statement that audiences today are more knowledgeable and that WWE has to take that into account.
In his mind, WWE can't just trot any old character and expect fans to accept it. The company has to weave in reality; it "can't deny behind the scenes anymore."
He and Austin spoke about how wrestlers must believe what they are saying and who they are portraying. That includes not just reading off scripts but taking more initiative in creating a persona.
Triple H turned to Undertaker as an example. He said that Mark Callous didn't play that character, he became it.
The Game Pays Attention to the IWC
As we have seen in how his persona with The Authority plays off what the fans rant about on the Internet, Triple H is listening to the rumblings out there. His interview with Austin made that even clearer.
He knows and hears what critics have to say about him and WWE as a whole.
Triple H referenced people dismissing his accomplishments as WWE champ as just a product of his marriage into the McMahon family. At first, it bothered him, he said. How could it not?
Eventually, though, it was something he came to ignore. "I got past that," he told Austin.
The Game also took a shot at himself. When Austin complimented the DVD covering Triple H's career, he mentioned the two hour-plus running time. Triple H joked that it was as long as one of his promos.
His speeches being too long-winded is certainly a critique that fans have had of his run as the tyrant-in-resident onscreen. Clearly, the criticism hasn't forced him to change that approach, but he's hearing what fans have to say, and that's noteworthy.
A big concern many have with McMahon is that he isn't in tune with the audience anymore. On the other hand, Triple H appears to have his finger on the proverbial pulse of the fanbase.
That doesn't mean, though, that he is going to give in to every whim.
Triple H talked about how often fans grumble about a wrestler who works hard deserving more or a chance at the top. He rejected that notion, saying that everyone works hard in the company that deserving it is not part of the equation. Being able to sell tickets and merchandise is more important.
As he put it, "Nice guy got nothing to do with it."
Chyna in the Hall of Fame?
Chyna isn't headed to the Hall of Fame anytime soon. The political nature of that institution will get in her way.
Austin asked Triple H about her possible induction. Triple H said that she absolutely deserves it, calling her a pioneer and a "paradigm-shifter."
However, he said that it was a complicated situation and a difficult choice. He implied that her adult film career was keeping her out. The Game wondered aloud what would happen if an eight-year-old kid searched for her on the Internet.
That's a reasonable reason to hesitate, but it's an example of hypocrisy. If negative or controversial Google results were enough to keep one from entering the Hall, then Mike Tyson, a man convicted of rape, shouldn't be in.
Triple H also mentioned Michael Hayes and The Freebirds in general as deserving of a Hall of Fame nod.
On Brock Lesnar's Future
Triple H didn't seem hopeful that WWE could convince Lesnar to stick around past WrestleMania, but he and the company haven't given up on the idea either.
When Austin asked about Lesnar's contract status, the COO said that WWE and The Beast Incarnate were "constantly talking." WWE is happy with its current arrangement with him and want to keep it up.
About whether that happens, Triple H said, "It all comes down to Brock." The biggest question moving forward is whether Lesnar wants to return to MMA. Triple H hinted at that when he asked, "Does he have unfinished business?"
On CM Punk
Among the shots Punk took at WWE in his now-famous podcast interview with Colt Cabana, he directed a good number of them at Triple H.
It's hard to tell how much Triple H was just being diplomatic or holding his tongue, but he didn't have many negative things to say about the departed star.
The Game said that he never had a beef with Punk. He chalked up some of Punk's issues with him to a lack of communication. He said of Punk, "He's a weird cat, hard to get to know."
There were times that he heard secondhand that Punk was angry about something, but when Triple H went to address it with him, Punk said that nothing was wrong. He also noted just how the storyline featuring the two of them and Kevin Nash went down.
In Triple H's words, that was all meant to help Punk. The Straight-Edged Superstar clearly disagrees on that front.
When asked about whether Punk will ever be back, Triple H gave the standard "never say never" answer and added that if the fans want it, then it can happen. How Triple H would interact with Punk behind the scenes remains to be seen, but he's at least putting on a civil front.
Insight into NXT Process
One could feel Triple H's passion for NXT and being part of the creative process through the screen. He talked about how he fell in love with that part of the business well before he married Stephanie McMahon.
NXT is his proving ground— his chance to show his father-in-law and boss what he can do.
Austin asked a fan's question about whether he prefers a guy to go straight to the WWE Performance Center or learn on the independent circuit first. Triple H said it depends on the guy, although with indy wrestlers sometimes it's harder to knock out bad habits.
When an indy star comes in, there's a process of adaptation for both performer and NXT.
Triple H said WWE wants prospects to "run our playbooks" to adapt to the WWE style. That being said, he is "not trying to change them wholesale." That's been clear with how NXT has presented Finn Balor and Kevin Owens.
Their NXT personas have looked a lot like the guys they played beforehand.
A refreshing note to come out of the conversation is that the NXT talents are not just molded by others. They play an active role in crafting who they become onscreen.
Triple H says the wrestlers are "massively part of the process."
He wants who they play to come from them. He asks them to work on promos and character stuff on their own, and he and the NXT staff will work to improve it. Triple H said he has a live feed in his office of the Performance Center where prospects can give him a look at anything new they might have.
It all sounds like a more fun and collaborative environment, one more conducive to creativity than the main roster.
Triple H's WWE Will Be Better Than Vince McMahon's WWE
As Bleacher Report's Dan Pecoraro points out, one of the biggest takeaways from Triple H's time in front of Austin is how promising WWE's future looks:
Whenever Triple H takes over the throne, things are going to change for the better. When Austin asked what he would change about Raw, he listed a number of items that address common gripes about the product.
Triple H said he'd like to see:
- Raw move back to two hours.
- The women get more ring time.
- Stories develop more slowly and over time.
- Promos become less scripted.
For many fans, that would address much of what bothers them most about WWE right now.
One can see a peek at WWE's future by watching the Triple H-run NXT. He certainly has addressed those items there.
Sasha Banks, Charlotte and company get a far greater amount of time to work with. The result has been better and more engaging matches.
Stories have gone the slow-burn route, resulting in great payoffs. Sami Zayn's road to redemption is a prime example of that.
NXT promos feel more like men and women spilling their guts than reading from a script. And the product as a whole is tauter and more consistent.
Expanding that success to the main roster where there is far more programming to fill, more eyes and more scrutiny is going to be a challenge. Triple H's track record so far suggests that success is coming his way regardless of the steepness of the climb.