It was a familiar refrain, somewhere around 2016 or 2017, when the Black N’ Gold version of NXT was arguably at its zenith, and arguably the best wrestling going on the planet at that moment. Any fan would watch yet another banger of an NXT Takeover and think, “Man, when Hunter (Triple H) takes over creative from Vince, that’s when things will be aces.”
Or, as we’ve done much more recently, fans would watch yet another confounding and lazy Raw or PPV (they were still PPVs back then) from WWE and think, “Man, when HHH takes over creative from Vince, that’s when things will be aces.”
Well, here we are.
That thought, that lament back then was always said half in jest, mostly because no one ever suspected that Vince would ever die, and his death would be the only thing that would remove his hands from the controls of the programs on our TVs. Never did we think that Vince could be stupid enough, could be arrogant enough, to use company money to pay off women he’d allegedly had affairs with within the company instead of his own (let’s be honest, we all thought he was completely capable of these alleged inappropriate relationships, just never knew it would come to light). But he was, and on Monday HHH took over WWE creative, filling out everyone’s five or six-year-old fantasies.
Can HHH save WWE creative? It depends on how much he, and the board above him and the TV execs alongside him, think it needs saving. There’s little question among most fans (you’ll never get through to the truly Vince-pilled, who almost certainly live in the same circle as the Elon-pilled and drink some awfully funny water) that the WWE product has been stale, sleepy, and predictable for ages now. The same matches, the same endings (rarely a clean finish), the same people, the same feeling. And yet the TV deals are signed and bountiful, the deal with Peacock doesn’t even require PPV buys anymore, and the ratings don’t really show that high level of fatigue from viewers. They certainly could be better, but they could be way worse.
On the one hand, with the product being that bad and viewership and subscriptions to Peacock being where they at least need to be, one could suggest that HHH has nothing to lose by goosing creative. If WWE is always going to have an acceptable floor, then they should be able to try anything. Of course, that’s not really how the world, especially the corporate world, works.
The difference between what Trips found at Full Sail University and what he’ll find running Smackdown and Raw is the rude awakening most copywriters get when moving to a big agency. There are a lot of people in suits who don’t know what they’re talking about that get to tell you what to do. While NBC or USA or Fox haven’t always been thrilled with the stationary but acceptable numbers WWE does for their networks, any big change is still going to cause their assholes to pucker up tighter than a snare drum, in the parlance of our times. They’ll still want Roman Reigns, they’ll still want Becky Lynch, Charlotte, and probably Brock on occasion when he can be enticed off his Manitoba farm with a Brinks truck tied to a string. HHH didn’t have these issues when he basically had full autonomy to run NXT as he saw it because, quite frankly, Vince wasn’t even paying attention to it.
To counter all that though, how could Hunter do any worse? There is some debate in circles about how good of a booker HHH really was with NXT. He had unfettered access to the indies, there was no AEW to compete with the hottest talent not under the New York banner back then. They could gobble up just about anyone they liked with the promise of a regular paycheck — the only place offering such a thing, at least on these shores. HHH can’t just add a Finn Balor, a Samoa Joe, a Shinsuke Nakamura, Ricochet, Adam Cole, Andrade, or Malakai Black (née Aleister Black) like he did then. There are other places for them now.
Those who aren’t totally sold on HHH’s abilities to run a company also like to point out that NXT definitely fizzled when moved to USA Network, and when put up against AEW at first, got completely flattened. By that point though, McMahon and his meaty-pawed minions had gotten their mitts onto it, and it wasn’t the NXT that HHH had built on WWE Network. But, it is awfully different to run five hours of live TV per week, and a monthly PLE, than it is to do a pre-taped, weekly one-hour program as NXT was. Certainly, HHH has some things to prove.
But to just say that he merely profited off indie and Japanese stars (or stars made in Japan) is to not be totally fair either. The four horsewomen, who created an entirely new women’s division on WWE and altered women’s wrestling forever, were pure products of HHH’s NXT (you can bet he has already put in a call to Sasha Banks to sound out any possible return). Alexa Bliss and Liv Morgan can claim to be as well.
Even if HHH’s NXT was partially, or mostly, built on the backs of wrestlers who had made their name elsewhere, he was smart enough to get out of their way and let them be themselves on NXT. That’s a fuckton more than we can say for the McMahons and Pritchards of the world on the main roster, and why there was this disconnect for wrestlers who were so prominent on NXT and found themselves chained to catering on the main roster. Certainly, HHH can smooth that out and get more of these on TV more regularly without having to change who they are all that much. Even just that would be a massive improvement.
While HHH is still the ultimate company guy when it comes to WWE, what we safely know about him is he watches, or at least is aware, of other wrestling. McMahon certainly never was. That doesn’t mean Raw or Smackdown is ever going to look like Dynamite, but HHH won’t shun those who bring that element or others that don’t fit into the tight little box of wrestling that McMahon demanded. There will simply have to be more variety with HHH having a sense of all the things fans are watching, not just the WWE product.
And hey, he can’t book himself into matches anymore, right?
The fear is that the restrictions on any WWE booking, unique to WWE, such as dealing with TV execs and a board and whatever else are just too big of obstacles to get anywhere near what old NXT was. We don’t know because no one’s ever tried it. Obviously, HHH isn’t going to come in and immediately shit on what his father-in-law was building, there’s SummerSlam on Saturday after all (though Roman wasn’t afraid to take a shot). It’ll be slow, but the mere hope for change is enough for fans that have been miserable in this desert of WWE staleness for so long.