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Full interview with Triple H from the Flex Magazine
By Colin Vassallo
Jun 2, 2002 - 8:17:00 AM
At 6'4" and 260 pounds, Triple H is a WWF superstar who has parlayed his muscles into a lucrative career. Born Pail Levesque, triple H (his ring name, which stands for Hunter Hearst Helmsley) has not only added a mess of consonants to his name, but this former skinny kid has ceated a physique and persona that's larger than lif. In this FLEX exclusive, he talks about his early days, the injury that nearly ended his career and how bodybuilding contests could be spiced up. He also debated the "Coleman or Cutler?" Olympia controversy, lays out his training routine and reveals why, above all, he is a true bodybuilder at heart
FLEX MAG: Where and when were you born?
TRIPLE H: I was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, on July 27, 1969. My real name is Paul Levesque. Besides my mom and dad, I have a sister, Lynn, who's four years older than me. She's now married and has a family of her own. We're a close family.
FLEX MAG: What sort of physical activities did you participate in as a youngster?
TRIPLE H: I was always tall and thin for my age, but I played a lot of basketball and baseball. I never played football. From whenever I can remember, I was a huge wrestling fan. The power and physiques of these guys always impressed me.
FLEX MAG: From th get-go, was it your ambition to be a pro wrestler?
TRIPLE H: Not at that point. It didn't seem realistic or attainable - like I might as well have said I was going to be a trapeze artist. It wasn't until I got into bodybuilding that the dream of being a wrestler seemed to be a possibility.
FLEX MAG: How did you get interested in bodybuilding?
TRIPLE H: At about 14, I was aware of bodybuilding. I knew all about Arnold Schwarzenegger, but didn't know much about what working out entailed. Then a gym, Muscles in Motion, opened in toen and a friend of mine, who was older than me, took me along to check it out. We went in and there were these monsters and I thought 'Go, this is the coolest thing I've ever seen'.
FLEX MAG: Can you remember your first workout?
TRIPLE H: Absolutely! The first time I picked up weights, it felt so natural. I just fell in love with bodybuilding from the start. I loved challenging myself to a hard workout. After the workout, I was exhausted and couldn't move, and after a few weeks, I noticed improvements in my body.
FLEX MAG: What sort of build did you have when you started bodybuilding?
TRIPLE H: At 14, I was probably close to 6' and weighed 135 pounds. I was rail thin. But I started to make progress. I became a real gym rat, eventually working at the gym and by the time I graduated high school in 1987, I was 200 pounds at 6'3'. I entered maybe six bodybuilding contests,; my best result was winning the Teenage Mr. New Hampshire at age 19. I was 210 pounds for that show. At the time, I was training with Kevin McGaunn, who went on to turn pro after he won the light-heavyweight division at the 1990 USA. In fact, we used to co-manage Gold's Gym in Nashua.
FLEX MAG: How did you make the move to wrestling?
TRIPLE H: Around the time I won the Teenage Mr. New Hampshire, I met Ted Arcidi )former world powerlifting champion and first man to bench press 700 pounds) who was coming to the end of a short WWF career. Meeting Ted sort of made the wrestling world real to me. It was like here's a guy that got into wrestling because of his build and power, made a bunch of money and then invested it in a supplement business. After meeting Ted, I started to seriously think about trying to become a pro wrestler. Eventually, in 1992, I enrolled at Killer Kowalski's famous wrestling school in Malden, Massachusetts.
FLEX MAG: The WWF guys have to be tremendous athletes to pull off th emoves they do in the ring - were you a quick learner at the school?
TRIPLE H: The first day I went to the school, a girlfriend dropped me off. When she picked me up that night, she asked me how it went. I said, "Honest to God, it was the most natural thing I've ever done in my life". It was like I'm supposed to do this. I just felt totally comfortable in the ring. It was similar to the first time I picked up a weight - I knew what to do instinctively.
FLEX MAG: Killer Kowalski has a fearsome reputation. How did you get along with him?
TRIPLE H: I think I became Walter's (Killer's real name) pet project. I walked into Walter's school and I was 6'4" and 270 pounds, and when he saw I had a natural ability to pick up the moves straightaway, he took a real interest in me. One of the rirst things he showed us was how to do a flip over the top rope. I'd never even been in the ring before, and I'm watching all these guys fall on their heads, and I'm thinking 'Oh God, these guys are going to kill themselves'. Then Walter looks at me and says, "Get up there and do it". I'm thinking, 'No way can I do that'. But I went and did it perfectly. It just came naturally to me. I'm not saying that I'm the best athlete in our business, there are many more agile than me, but the wrestling basics came easily for me. After three weeks, Walter said to me, "Get a passport. I'm going to send you to a tournament in South America". I was just overwhelmed at how fast things were happening.
FLEX MAG: From there, how did you progress to the WWF?
TRIPLE H: I wrestled on what's callede the independent circuit for a year or so. Then, in the summer of '94, I joined the WCW. I knew at that point that I didn't have th experience to survive in the WWF - the big league. The WCW wanted me to sign a two-year contract, but I asked for one year only. I told them, "I will either be good enough in a year for you to offer me more money, or you will know I'm not good enough and I need to leave." In 1995, I knew I was good enough for the WWF and I called Vince McMahon, arranging a meeting and he signed me.
FLEX MAG: The life of a pro wrestler is very hectic. How did you fit your workouts into such a busy schedule?
TRIPLE H: WWF guys can wrestle 220 nights a year, so with the travel and the constant disruptions, it's tough. It's tough on your body, tough mentally, tough on relationships, especially if you have kids. Some guys do this for a year and then say "I can't take this" and get out. It took me a long time to adjust. As far as bodybuilding on the road, you have to be disciplined. When you live in one place, you can structure your training, your diet, your sleeping. On the road, it's very hard to organize all those things. I make sure I get to a gym four times a week. I just do it. For me, it doesn't matter how fancy a gym or it's equipment is, it's the effort you put into your workout. I've trained in a shack in Africa where I put cinder blocks on the end of a pulley to do pushdowns. I trained in a gym in India that was basically a whole in the wall that had a few sets of dumbells. I got great workouts in those gyms because I made it work. The hardest part for me as a natural ectomorph is eating enough to maintain my weight. Thank God for MRPs (meal replacement powders) because we can now drink a meal in a packet instead of trying to choke down nasty-tasting shakes like we used to do 10 years ago. As far as sleep goes, I like to get eight hours a night, but on an itinerary like the one I outlined for March, I average maybe five hours a night.
FLEX MAG: Tell me about the serious injury you sustained last year.
TRIPLE H: It was May 21 in San Jose. I was in a tag match partnering Stone Cold Steve Austin against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. I went to make a move against Chris Jericho and as I planted my left foot, there was a snap, and a pain like someone had run a hot welding iron up my leg. I felt the quad muscles roll up my thigh. What happened was that I had torn the intermedius completely off the tendon attachment. I wreslted for another four or five minutes.
FLEX MAG: You did what?
TRIPLE H: I kept on wrestling. Injuries are a part of our business, and you have a tendency to continue working through them. There've ben times when I've had to be carried to the top of the ramp before entering an arena. Pain is part of our game. So I wrestled to the end of the match with a torn quad.
FLEX MAG: How long were you out?
TRIPLE H: It took more than eight months to come back. I had an MRI done that night and the next morning I felw to Birmingham, Alabama, to see world-renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jim Andrews. He did the necessary surgery and then I was in rehab down there for eight months. A typical rehab day would start at nine in the morning and end at six in the evening. For the first few weeks, I was in a wheelchair, and the first time I went to the gym I got a Smith machine and struggled to bench 135 for 15 reps - I almost passed out. I felt so depressed. I thought my body had turned to scrap in two weeks. But I got over it and realized the fight back was going to take longer than I had originally thought. On January 7, 2002, I wrestled at Madison Square Garden and I was back.
FLEX MAG: How much did your knowledge of weight training help you in your rehab?
TRIPLE H: It was crucial. When you're going through rehab like this, knowledge of the mind-muscle connection is invaluable. You know how the quad works, what it's supposed to feel like when you flex it. You know you have to get your head into that quad and make it flex. With a background in body building, you have the discipline, the mental drive to handle it. Someone with no bodybuilding background going through the same rehab might not be able to handle it. Another advantage bodybuilding gave me in soming to terms with this injury was in goal setting. In bodybuilsing, you set small, attainable goals. You don't start out with the goal of being Mr. Olympia; you have to win a local show first and go from there. The first day you go into the gym, you don't set a goal of benching 500, you set an attainablw goal of benching 100. then 135, then 175 and so on. I took that attainable goal setting into rehab. My first goal was to get out of the wheelchair and onto crutches. Then to use only one crutch, then no crutches, then to get the leg brace off. Then to be able to walk without limping. You set those little goals for yourself until you reach the ultimate goal, which for me was to get back in the ring and do what I do.
FLEX MAG: In the middle of your rehab, you attended the Mr. Olympia on October 27. What was that like?
TRIPLE H: Well, the year before (2000), I'd seen the Ms. and Fitness Olympias on Friday night. Then, Saturday afternoon I did the introduction for the prejudging of the Mr. Olympia, but had to fly to New York after the first round. This past year, I got to see the whole thing, so that was awesome. There I was, sitting two seats away from Joe Weider and seeing all these guys in the flesh. There's Ronnie Coleman standing in front of me with his lats just...hanging there. All the guys in the lineup are just like inbelievable; all that muscle and skin as thin as an onion's. I know many of the guys from my travels. When we come to LA., we stop off at Gold's in Venice to train, so I know Flex Wheeler, Chris Cormier, Craig Titus and Paul Dillett from there. I'm also close to Charles Glass, who I train with when I'm at Gold's and who helps me out with my diet.
FLEX MAG: What was it like watching the Olympia while sitting near Joe Weider?
TRIPLE H: Great. I'd met Joe several times and he's always cordial and friendly. What really impressed me about Joe was how he watched each routine intently, smiled and applauded and made comments about the guys. He has this vast empire but was really into it, just as any fan would be. From that aspect, he reminded me of Vince (McMahon, WWE Chairman). Even though Vince is the head of the WWF, he is at heart just a huge fan of wrestling. Just like Joe is a huge fan of bodybuilding.
FLEX MAG: Vince McMahon obviously works out.
TRIPLE H: He's 56, and he trains his ass off. There are only a few WWF guys I like training with and Vince is one of them. It's funny, when I told him about this Flex feature, I mentioned that you said you'd love to do a shoot with him. He said, "They don't want me". He doesn't believe me. I don't know if he would do it or not. He might not have the time.
FLEX MAG: Tell him we're serious. Does he ever talk about the WBF (the pro bodybuilding federation that McMahon launche in 1990 but disbanded in 1992)?
TRIPLE H: Sometimes. He loves bodybuilding and the WBF venture was a passion thing for him. In the long run, the WBF was good for pro bodybuilders becasue it set a new level for contracts.
FLEX MAG: Our complaint against contest bodybuilding is that it can be boring. As a WWF superstar, how would you pep it up?
TRIPLE H: There could be more theatrics added to the evening routines. Some competitors might say, "I've busted my balls for five months in the gym and the posing routine should still be judged on physique, not dance". But to me, too many guys come out and do the same poses to the same type of music. By the end of the show, people are falling asleep. Like at Mike Matarazzo. He might not be as competitive as the top guys, but he lights up a crowd. They love him because he looks like he enjoys being there and exudes personality. The crowd knows Mike will deliver a performance as opposed to some guys who just look miserable. I'm not saying you should do as Vince did and have guys jumping out of a hot tub full of girls, but I think special effects should be used more and everyone should individualize his routine.
FLEX MAG: Over the past year, there's been a lot of controversy and trash talk among the pros, with King Kamali leading this trend. What's your thought on that?
TRIPLE H: King Kamali created his own little niche by running his mouth off about a bunch of people. I'm sure a lot of gus hate him. But without his talk, Kamali wouldn't have had half the media coverage he's had. I'm sure he's more in demand for guest appearances because of it, so in essence he's smart. I think the stuff he and Craig Titus did has been good for the sport. At the Olympia, when those two were called out for a comparison, he could here the crowd gasp "Uh-oh, here we go". Kamali generated interest. On the other hand, some guys get their panties in a wad if someone talks shit about them. Tey should understand that this type of trash talking creates rivalries and interest in the sport.
FLEX MAG: What's your thought on the Ronnie Coleman versus Joe Cutler controversy at the lasy Olympia?
TRIPLE H: I don't envy the job of th judges, because you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. As far as Ronnie and Jay are concerned, I think it was real close. Nobody, apart from Ronnie, would have been pissed if Jay had won. Persoanlly, I would have given it to Ronnie because if you don't knock the champ out, you don't beat him. At the same time, people want to see the champ go down.
FLEX MAG: What do you thin of the debate concerning Ronnie coming from behimd in the evening show to beat Jay?
TRIPLE H: In FLEX, Jay said you shouldn't win or lose the Olympia on how you pose, because it is a physical contest. That's a fair point, but as it stands, the posing round is still part of the contest. In the evening, Ronnie presented himself as the champion fighting to hold onto his title. He was like"F--k, you ain't taking this away from me", while Jayy was much more subdued. If Jay had come out with an "OK, Im in th elead but noe I'm going for the jugular" type of attitude, he would have won. What also has to be remembered is that the judges are human beings with emotions. Ronnie brought emotion into it, Jay didn't. I don't think Jay will make that mistake again. Whether you think Ronnie should have won or not, the great thing about this last Olympia was that it wasn't a shoo-in for the champ; it was a fight to the finish. So the upcoming Olympia is one to too forward to because people want to see Ronnie and Jay go head to head again. They both have to be at their absolute best to win.
FLEX MAG: You're really into this sport, aren't you?
TRIPLE H: Oh, yeah. In my home gym, I have fill-size framed photos of all the Mr. Olympias. Stephanie (McMahon) - through Wayne DeMilia (IFBB pro division chairman) and Lisa Clark at the Wieder phot library - arranged them as a Christmas present.
FLEX MAG: What advice yould you give to young guys reading this who say, "I want to be the next Ttriple H"?
TRIPLE H: Get an education first. Then, if you have a dream, go after it and make it happen. You can't just dream. A lot of guys go to wrestling schools and sit and wait for someone to discover them. That don't work: You have to go out and convince the powers-that-be that their business cannot survive without you. We do the TV show, Tough Eough, on MTV, which has young guys trying to be wrestlers, and at then end of the show, one gets a contract. The first question I asked them all was "If you don't get the contract, what are you gonna do?" A lot of them said things like, "I'll get a job, go back to school" and such. The one answer I was looikng for was. "I'll try again. No matter what, I'm going to be in the WWF". You need that type of determination. Having said that, there are certain realities for any business. If you are 4'11", you are not going to play in the NBA. On the other hand, if you still think that you can - if you've got that much talent - then maybe you shouldn't let anybody tell you that you can't do it.
FLEX MAG: Have you set a tim elimit on how long you will continue to wrestle?
TRIPLE H: At 32, I think I have maybe another 5 years in me. If you had asked me 18 months ago, I would have probably said longer. One of the things my injury taught me was that this can all go down in a minute. So, I'm thinking 5 years. But I'm realistic. If the grind starts to get too much, if it takes longer to get up than fall down, then I need ot hang it up and move on. I won't retire from the business, though. Even now, I['m very involved in the production side of our industry, so when I stop wrestling, I want to be more involved behind the scenes. Pro wrestling is a life's passion for me.
FLEX MAG: One last question: How would you encapsulate what your other pasion - bodybuilding - mean to you?
TRIPLE H: For me, wrestling and bodybuilding are interrelated. The latter enabled me to build my career around the former. You know outsiders look at bodybuilding and see it as a sport that involves an hour a day, or it's something that people do so they can look in the mirror more often. It's so much more than that. It's a complete lifestyle. It brings so much into your life and changes everything about you - and not only the way you look. It improves your discipline and work ethic. And you learn to cultivate those habits and apply them to other areas of your life and become more productive because of it. By improving your physique, you become bigger and stronger, which makes you more confident, makes you a more outgoing and more wordly person. Bodybuilding is such a positive influence. If I were to say that bodybuilding is a huge factor in my life, and is responsible for who and where I am in life, that would be an understatement. The lessons I learned in the gym allowed me to accomplish my dreams. It's as simple as that.
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