A few months after Steve Austin interviewed Vince McMahon on the WWE Network, HHH took his turn in the interview chair. As talented and smart as HHH is, he has not mastered the art of owning a conversation the way that McMahon has, so it sometimes felt like he was dancing around questions or talking in circles to avoid a direct answer. Even so, the interview was interesting, and there were several topics on which HHH provided some useful insight.
HHH acknowledged that kayfabe, if not completely dead, is on life support with so many fans in the know about what happens behind the scenes. He said that it is difficult to book a story that is a work of a real life business that is itself a work. Most fans have seen this duality for several years, but it was interesting to hear a WWE executive acknowledge how difficult it is to balance those competing interests.
I believe that the answer to that question is to go confidently in one of two directions. One option would be to commit to the face/heel dynamic and follow through on the old school principles of what makes someone a heel. That would mean more arrogance, more blatant cheating, and more disrespect by the top heels. The other possibility would be to go away from faces and heels altogether and let fans choose who they want to support. That model would mean booking more like UFC or other professional sports, where fans side with those who have the most charisma and the good/bad dynamic grows more organically. I think the former is more promising than the latter. Either way, I think WWE has to commit in one direction or the other in the long term.
As most fans already know, HHH spearheads WWE’s developmental territory and has found so much success that it has become its own brand. He pointed out that NXT can get away with things that WWE cannot do on its main roster. For instance, fans are more patient with errors from the wrestlers and even the production crew because they are in training.
More importantly, HHH reiterated that NXT is targeted toward a specific segment of the fan base- the die-hard adult fans who tend to subscribe to WWE Network and seek out programming beyond what is on TV. When NXT wrestlers go to the main roster, they have to be watered down to appeal to a much broader audience. WWE derives a great deal of revenue from people who do not read wrestling websites or listen to podcasts, so their tastes matter, too. When Scott and I write about how great NXT is, we are really saying that it appeals to our particular tastes. HHH knows all of this, and fans should be aware of it, as well.
- CM Punk
The part of the interview in which HHH sounded most nervous and evasive was when Austin asked him about Punk. HHH said that Punk is a poor communicator and he never understood why he was upset. Given the competing stories we have heard between Punk and HHH, I find this version of events hard to believe. Perhaps it is true that Punk’s default position is to clam up when frustrated, but it is not plausible that Punk imagined all of the incredibly detailed narrative he offered on Colt Cabana’s podcast. Moreover, as an executive, it is HHH’s job to get the most out of his top talent. If he was not able to find a way to communicate with Punk in a way that would allow him to make money for the company, then HHH failed.
- Vince McMahon
I was most surprised to hear how willingly HHH put the blame for storyline misfires at the feet of McMahon. He unequivocally said that he is one of many voices that McMahon considers when booking stories, but that McMahon make the final decisions on his own. This account does not reflect the conventional wisdom that HHH and McMahon share the booking responsibility. On this subject, I thought HHH’s version seemed more believable because he would not likely diminish his own role if it was not accurate. If McMahon remains this active in the overarching narrative as he gets older, it makes me wonder when the eventual transition will occur.
HHH listed three changes he would like to make to Raw in an ideal world, and they are all subjects that I hold near and dear to my heart. He said he would prefer a two-hour Raw, longer and slower builds for major programs, and a more serious women’s division. These subjects are all frequent themes on this site. While the shorter Raw is a financial question to be negotiated between WWE and USA Network that is unlikely to change, the other two are changes I hope to see steadily implemented as HHH gains more booking power.