Triple H: How we turned ‘Monday Night Raw’ into a monster
Paul “Triple H” Levesque has sat under Vince McMahon’s learning tree long enough to understand the reason for the 25-year run of “Monday Night Raw.”
Levesque, the executive vice president of talent, live events and creative for WWE, said McMahon, the WWE chairman and CEO and his father-in-law, has told him to listen to your fan base, be able to adapt with the times and don’t be afraid to make changes to characters. Even if you are in love with a certain thing, don’t be afraid of going in a different direction. An ever-evolving roster makes some of that happen organically, as well.
“That’s the secret of the product,” Levesque said in a phone interview. “It’s always fresh. It forces you to change. It forces you to morph, to think outside the box and do new things and create new characters and constantly do things. That’s the secret sauce of all this.”
The company will celebrate Raw’s milestone on Jan. 22 on the USA Network with the show emanating from Barclays Center and Manhattan Center, which hosted the first “Raw” on Jan. 11, 1993.
It will also mark the return of The Undertaker to WWE programming for the first time since his loss to Roman Reigns at this past year’s WrestleMania. The match appeared to mark the end of the character’s legendary career. The Undertaker, whose real name is Mark Calaway, could now face John Cena at this year’s WrestleMania, according to reports.
Levesque wasn’t ready to completely close the casket on The Undertaker, a character hard to imagine “as human.”
“I understand why people can’t let go of it,” he said of the character. “It’s a hard thing to say that that would be the end. What he has left? I don’t know. We’ll have to ask him. That’s the beauty of WWE. Wait and see.”
While Levesque’s character has changed with the times and tone of “Raw,” from the blue-blood Hunter Hearst Helmsley to D-Generation X to The Game to The Authority, no one has been able to adapt psychologically like The Undertaker — who even became a biker for a while. Undertaker was in the main event of the first “Raw” against Damien Demento.
“You talk about longevity and the ability to change and morph all those things, he is a measuring stick of all of that,” Levesque said. “That’s why 25 years later they want to see him maybe more now than ever. As a performer he is the measuring stick in a lot of ways, and as a human being as a performer in what we do, as a locker room leader. I respect him more than anybody.”
The Undertaker is one of the many announced legends for the anniversary show that includes Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Kevin Nash and The Dudley Boyz, among others. Levesque joked it may be hard for him to get work done in between catching up with old friends, but he knows the company has an interesting balancing act that night. The show is also the go-home episode before the Royal Rumble that Sunday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
“It’s finding that kind of middle road to celebrate everything that’s happened in the past yet keep a little bit of focus on where we are today and in the future,” Levesque said. “That’s the challenge, but you break down the show, three hours, two locations, Manhattan Center, Barclays Center with the names and list or talent that has graced ‘Raw’ over the last 25 years going to be in attendance, it’s going to be epic.”
He singled out DX’s invasion of WCW’s Nitro as his favorite moment on “Raw” to be a part of and Mike Tyson’s encounter with Austin before WrestleMania XIV in 1998 as his favorite moment overall. To him, having two tough guys at the peak of their fame together for an event that felt so real was an example of how “Raw” lived up to its name.
“Austin was on this rocket ship of stardom that he was such a badass, I think people thought, ‘He might beat up Mike Tyson,’” Levesque said. “It just was a whole different level of anything. It wasn’t like Tyson was a Hollywood actor or an NBA player. He was a legit baddest man on the planet.”
Just like those moments gave off special vibes, Levesque senses a heightened excitement around the company heading into this celebration of “Raw’s” success and longevity.
“I remember watching that first one and thinking it was a game changer,” Levesque said. “The characters hadn’t morphed yet, but it was almost like that was the seeds of the Attitude Era. But as those characters changed, as society changed, what their desire to see changed, the show changed along with it and we [as characters] did as well.”