In the same way that Vince McMahon ultimately decides who appears on RAW and SmackDown, his son-in-law makes the big calls on match outcomes, title holders and all the important details with regards to NXT.
Prior to his association with the black and gold brand, Triple H also attended WWE production meetings during his time as a talent throughout the 2000s, which meant he sometimes gave his opinion on WWE’s up-and-coming Superstars as they came through the ranks.
WWE fans have heard plenty of stories about Triple H “burying” Superstars over the years, but it is rare for the man himself to confirm that he did not have a high opinion of one of his colleagues at the start of their WWE careers.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at three Superstars who Triple H expected to fail in certain roles, as well as three he tipped to succeed.
#6 Triple H expected CM Punk to fail
The summer of 2011 saw CM Punk cut his infamous ‘Pipebomb’ promo at the top of the WWE RAW stage. One standout moment came when he discussed WWE’s ownership and the possibility of Triple H (aka Vince McMahon’s “doofus son-in-law”) running the company one day.
The “doofus” comment led to an on-screen rivalry with Triple H, culminating in “The King of Kings” defeating Punk at Night of Champions 2011, but the two men also had their fair share of differences behind the scenes.
One year after that storyline, WWE released a documentary about Punk’s career – CM Punk: Best in the World – which included insight from Triple H about the decision to suddenly strip him of the World Heavyweight Championship at Unforgiven 2008.
Triple H implied that he expected Punk to fail as World Heavyweight Champion and he did not believe he belonged in the position at that time, which is why his title reign came to such an abrupt end.
“I think it was kind of like the Championship was trying to make him, and I don’t think it works that way. I think it’s the opposite. I think it’s the guys who are the most successful, the guys that have the long-term value in that role, are the guys that are there. Not because of that Championship; they get that Championship because they’re there.”
In 2019, Jim Ross – WWE’s former Head of Talent Relations – revealed on his Grilling JR podcast that Triple H initially did not believe Punk had what it took to succeed in WWE. The NXT founder thought the up-and-coming Superstar had a “big butt” and it looked “too soft”.
"Hunter! It's all about the workout s***, man. Or how he looked in an eight-by-ten. He's not gonna look the same because he's not the same, and all you do is put out androids that look alike, then what the hell do ya got?" [H/T Wrestling Inc.]
Triple H has since confirmed that he would be open to having Punk back in WWE, but only if the deal is right for everyone involved.
#5 Triple H tipped Keith Lee to succeed
Triple H often gives his out-of-character opinions on some of his WWE NXT Superstars after TakeOver events.
In June 2020, the 14-time WWE World Champion had extremely high praise for Keith Lee following his North American Championship match against Johnny Gargano at TakeOver: In Your House.
"He's just the kind of guy that you wanna work hard for, and you wanna deliver for him. Man, I love working with him. You say, 'Keith Lee, World Champion' – and you ask me what my opinion is? I say, 'Hell yeah!'" [H/T Metro]
It is debatable whether the NXT Championship should be considered a WWE World Championship, but it is surely no coincidence that Lee went on to win the NXT Championship from Adam Cole just one month after Triple H made these comments.
Triple H also referred to Lee as a “moment-making machine” and said he is the “ultimate pro” whenever they work together behind the scenes.
As of the time of writing, Lee has only been involved in two main-roster matches (Survivor Series 2019 and Royal Rumble 2020), but that will surely change in the near future if Triple H’s praise is anything to go by.
#4 Triple H expected Mark Jindrak to fail
Triple H formed the Evolution faction with Batista, Randy Orton, and Ric Flair in 2003, but there was a brief time where it looked as though a different WWE Superstar could join the group instead of Batista.
Speaking on WWE Network series ‘Ruthless Aggression’, Triple H recalled that Batista tore his triceps in March 2003, ruling him out of action for the next seven months.
Due to the severity of the injury, Vince McMahon wanted to try out Mark Jindrak as a member of the group, meaning Batista could potentially lose his spot in Evolution on a permanent basis.
Triple H did not think Jindrak fit as part of the faction and he made it clear to McMahon that he expected the former WCW star to fail in the role.
“So Jindrak shows up [to an Evolution promo shoot] and says, ‘I've got my black suit,’ and I'm like, ‘Why'd they tell him to bring a black suit? I don't want him in the group. Ric and I have already decided that he doesn't fit and we don't want him in the group.’”
In the end, Jindrak did not get added to Evolution and Triple H was able to welcome Batista back into the group when he had recovered from his injury.
Triple H also told a story about refusing to share a car ever again with Jindrak after he acted in an immature way during a two-hour car journey.
#3 Triple H tipped Pete Dunne to succeed
It has been clear from the beginning of WWE’s United Kingdom association that Triple H sees Pete Dunne as a star of the future.
In storyline, the first episode of the two-night tournament to crown the inaugural WWE United Kingdom Champion ended with Dunne attacking his quarter-final opponent, Sam Gradwell, right in front of William Regal.
As you can see above, this led to a brief interaction backstage with Triple H, who smirked and simply said, “Make a name for yourself.”
While this was almost certainly a scripted moment, Triple H does not get involved in on-screen segments with just anybody. He must have seen something in Dunne at that stage to have considered him worthy of sharing the screen with him.
In 2018, Triple H even mentioned “The Bruiserweight” when he was asked to name somebody who could become WWE’s first British World Heavyweight Champion.
"If I had to pick one guy it would be Pete and I hate to pick one guy because sometimes that's the worst thing you can do to someone, but there's a lot of talent out there who I feel could be the next one to go to the main roster and make an impact." [H/T Sky Sports]
As we will discuss later in this article, the honor of becoming the first British World Champion in WWE actually went to Drew McIntyre.
#2 Triple H expected John Cena to fail
Triple H’s heated promo with CM Punk before WWE Night of Champions 2011 involved an interesting comment from the NXT founder about John Cena.
Granted, this was a promo segment between two WWE characters on RAW, as opposed to an out-of-character interview, but it certainly seemed that both Triple H and CM Punk were telling real-life stories during their back-and-forth war of words.
At one stage, Triple H tried to educate Punk on what he had to do to get to the next level in WWE. Using Cena as an example, “The Game” explained how he came from nothing and gradually won over the WWE Universe to cement his status as the top Superstar in the industry.
Triple H also revealed that he initially thought Cena did not have anything to offer WWE.
“Sometimes I look at a guy and I say, ‘Yeah, that guy to me looks great. I think he’s probably going to be the biggest thing in the business.’ Turns out to be nothing. Other times I look at a guy and say, ‘You know what, I don’t think he’s got anything to offer this business.’ And then that guy turns out to be John Cena, the biggest star in the business.”
You can check out Triple H’s comments from the 04:50 mark of the video above.
#1 Triple H tipped Drew McIntyre to succeed
While Vince McMahon was the person who dubbed Drew McIntyre “The Chosen One” during his first spell with WWE, the Scot revealed in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel in January 2019 that it was Triple H who showed belief in him ahead of his 2017 return to the company.
“Triple H convinced me it was time to come home. I’m proud of the different man I became during my time away. I came back as the grown-up version of myself.”
McIntyre won the NXT Championship within four months of debuting on Triple H’s NXT brand in April 2017. He then went on to rejoin WWE’s main roster in April 2018, which prompted him to set his sights on becoming the first WWE World Heavyweight Champion from Britain.
“Now all I need to do is become the first British Heavyweight Champion. I’m not shy to say that’s the goal. If it isn’t, why are you even here?”
Three years after joining Triple H’s NXT and two years after returning to the main roster, McIntyre’s ambitious goal came to fruition when he defeated Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 36 to win the WWE Championship.