That bodybuilder Dave Palumbo was a nutritionist for Paul “Triple H” Levesque—the wrestler-turned-WWE exec who only performs occasionally now—has never been a secret. They talk about their work together all the time, whether it’s Palumbo interviewing Triple H and his wife Stephanie McMahon, the two tweeting at each other, the Levesques sending Palumbo baby gifts, or Palumbo appearing alongside the wrestler in a Muscle & Fitness shoot conducted at the WWF office’s gym. His conviction for selling fake human growth hormone is not a secret, either, nor is just how pro-steroid he is, to the point of selling a testing kit to help customers make sure “your gear is real.” On top of all that, “Palumboism” is a common term in bodybuilding circles for the distended “roid gut” that is caused by excessive use of human growth hormone.
As weird as it was how obvious and public everyone involved was making the connection, there was plausible deniability. After all, Palumbo say he has clients in the natural bodybuilding world and other areas where being drug-free is paramount. That veil was lifted on Monday when independent wrestler Matt Riviera released his new interview with Palumbo. At approximately 29 minute mark, Riviera talks about how great Triple H has looked at the last few WrestleManias and then proceeds to carefully grill Palumbo about what exactly he had his client taking:
Riviera: “What supplements did you have Triple H on? Can you elaborate on the sup—[crosstalk]—come on, Dave, the supplements.”
Palumbo: “Well, first of all, wrestlers can’t take drugs—beyond hormone replacement—because they get drug tested. It’s a very, very, uh, strict drug testing policy there, it’s not like…”
Riviera: “I know that’s the case with the active wrestlers, but I assumed it would be different for an office guy.”
Palumbo: “Nah, no. You’re getting on that stage, okay, to wrestle, you have to—you’re going to be tested. [This is not true.] But the good thing about wrestling is it’s not a professional sport per se, more entertainment, they are allowed to take hormone replacement. So they can go to HRT places, they can get testosterone, you know, 100 milligrams a week, whatever they prescribe nowadays, umm, they can get hCG, they can do, you know, hGH if they want. Those are acceptable, you know, and a lot of the wrestlers do do it, y’know, it’s not for me to say who’s using what, but they’re very minimal doses.”
Riviera: “So Triple H, for him to achieve that physique, he was not on large doses of anabolic steroids?”
Palumbo: “No, they—No! They can’t do it. Believe me, I’m sure he would love to do it, but they can’t do it. So, once again, that’s why diet and supplementation become so important, is how you train. The truth of the matter is you have muscles in your body, and you eat right, and you supplement right, and train right, and get enough rest, you can grow muscles. You gotta remember, these guys are not that big. They look big, bigger than life, on TV, because that’s just the way—it’s an illusion. In person, they’re toned, and they have a nice physique, but they’re not, these are not like 300 pound bodybuilders we’re talking about here, guys.”
Later, Riviera asked Palumbo what he thinks about hGH, especially those who think that it’s worthless. “Well, it’s worthless if it’s fake, yeah,” he replied. Riviera, who was aware of Palumbo’s history, could only muster a “Gotcha” in reaction to that one.
When reached by Deadspin, Riviera said that overall, he was not surprised by Palumbo’s candor. “Palumbo is known in the fitness world to be very upfront and to the point in discussing anabolic steroids and the like,” he said. “In his mind, I believe, he doesn’t view the usage of anabolic steroids and the like as a big deal. It’s a common part of the bodybuilding world in which Palumbo is considered a foremost authority on.” What he didn’t expect was what Palumbo said about drug stacks specific to WWE talent: “I’m surprised Triple H’s nutritionist would do so, yes.”
It’s worth noting that Palumbo’s comment about part-time wrestlers and drug testing under WWE’s so-called Talent Wellness Program is incorrect, or at least incomplete. Last year, during the fallout from Brock Lesnar’s one-off UFC fight and failed drug test for the banned substance clomiphene, a WWE spokesperson told TMZ that “WWE’s talent wellness program does not apply to part-time performers such as Brock Lesnar.” There is no reason to believe that Triple H is treated any differently. As for his comments about what drugs can be taken, just going by the publicly available version of WWE’s “Substance Abuse and Drug Testing Policy,” last updated over four years ago, it would be hard to pinpoint exactly where the comments about use of specific drugs in WWE stand. On one hand, he says that therapeutic use exemptions for hormone replacement cover not just testosterone, which was somewhat well known, but also hCG and hGH. On the other, the policy says that “The non-medical use of Human Growth Hormone (hGH), Human Chorionic Gonadotropin ((hCG), Luetenizing Hormone (LH) and Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1) is prohibited.” If the use were intended for bodybuilding purposes, that would be a non-medical use.
When reached for comment about the Palumbo interview, WWE issued the following statement to Deadspin:
“WWE’s comprehensive Talent Wellness Policy, which is administered by an independent, third-party, clearly states hGH and hCG are among a long list of banned substances, however, due to certain medical conditions, there are a variety of therapeutic exemptions that account for approximately 7% of our contracted talent.”
WWE did not provide any comment addressing Palumbo’s claim that he is “sure” that Triple H “would love to do” large doses of anabolic steroids or the implication that the wrestler/executive was on lower, therapeutic doses of testosterone, hCG, and/or hGH. In the event of damage from past steroid use, testosterone and hCG are FDA-approved for the treatment of low natural testosterone production. hGH, though, is less likely to have a clinical application relevant to an otherwise healthy professional athlete, with the FDA-approved uses confined to treating dwarfism, wasting in AIDS patients, and so on.
Reached by telephone in an attempt to follow up on the Riviera interview, Palumbo did wish to clarify his position on a few points. When he said that “they can go to HRT places,” for instance, he was referring to the “WWE-accredited endocrinologists” that talent with hormonal issues can see, and didn’t intend it as a blanket statement or a reference to anti-aging clinics. As for the “I’m sure he would love to do it” answer to Riviera’s question about whether Triple H took large doses of steroids for WrestleMania? “Most athletes would love an added advantage, but since it’s not allowed, there’s no way Triple H would do them,” he said. “Period.”
“I don’t condone its use,” replied Triple H when asked about steroids in a 2002 interview. “But I understand its place. I don’t have a problem with people who take steroids. It’s a great medicine for people who need it, and it has a place in the world just like any other medication. If a doctor feels that’s what you need to improve your health or life and puts you on it, then that’s great. However, if you take it without a prescription, then it’s just a drug like any other drug, and you shouldn’t take it. It should only be given by a doctor.”
His trainer’s steroid advocacy, meanwhile, was an ongoing issue in the aftermath of the counterfeit hGH conviction when Palumbo’s lawyer requested an end to his travel restrictions so he could cover bodybuilding competitions abroad in his new job as “Editor and Chief [sic] of Muscular Development Magazine Online.” Prosecutors vehemently opposed the motion, citing several exhibits that showed Palumbo had not exhibited the “exceptionally good behavior” that case law said he needed to show to get his release terms changed.
“Thus far, rather than deterring criminal conduct, the defendant’s sentence instead has been used by Palumbo to enhance his credibility in the world of ‘chemically enhanced’ body builders [sic] and to create as many opportunities for personal profit as possible,” they wrote. This included things like magazine ads for t-shirts he sold that were emblazoned with a bodybuilder in handcuffs, selling a book titled Perfect Prison Physique, and his continued writings advocating steroid and hGH use. Federal prosecutors even went so far as to suggest that his writings about safe injection of bodybuilding drugs was encouraging needle re-use because his readers were unlikely to get prescriptions for the the drugs and thus a sufficient needle supply to go with it.
Everyone has been upfront about the Palumbo/Levesque family relationship. Despite—or perhaps because of—that, it’s generally undergone relatively little scrutiny. What Levesque gets up to is his business; one wonders, though, just how he would handle it if a nutritionist for some undercard schlub were so public about his enthusiasm for the merits of various drugs.