End of an era: WWE star Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque announces in-ring retirement

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 11:  WWE Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative Paul
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 11: WWE Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative Paul "Triple H" Levesque speaks at a WWE news conference at T-Mobile Arena on October 11, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was announced that WWE wrestler Braun Strowman will face heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury and WWE champion Brock Lesnar will take on former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez at the WWE's Crown Jewel event at Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 31. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Paul Levesque, better known as longtime WWE star Triple H, announced his retirement as an in-ring performer on Friday.

Levesque, 52, made his announcement during a conversation with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, pulling back the curtain and revealing the severity of health issues he suffered late last year.

“As far as in ring, which I get [asked about] a lot, I’m done,” Levesque said. “I would never wrestle again. First of all, I have a defibrillator in my chest so it’s probably not a good idea for me to have to get zapped on live TV.”

News of Levesque’s sudden health scare reverberated through the wrestling world last September. Very little was revealed at the time, with a WWE statement calling it a “cardiac event,” that Levesque had undergone a procedure and was expected to make a full recovery. Friday, the 14-time world champion dived into just how dicey the situation was.

Levesque explained that at the tail end of a 12-day road trip in the wake of WWE’s signature SummerSlam event, that he started to feel sick and was diagnosed with viral pneumonia. Levesque detailed how his wife, WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon, saw him coughing up blood and doctors soon discovered fluid in his lungs and around his heart.

As his condition deteriorated and his heart began to fail — due in part to a blockage in his left anterior descending artery, known as the “widow maker” — reality set in for the WWE executive.

“I was nosediving and sort of at the 1-yard line of where you don’t want to be for your family,” Levesque said. “It could have been go at any point in time.”

Levesque became emotional when recounting to Smith the mental toll his scare had on himself and his family.

“[Stephanie] was a rock, always is for me,” Levesque said. “Never wavered. We have three young girls, 15, 13 and 11. Suddenly I come home, I’m a little bit sick and their dad, who’s always strong, is suddenly in the hospital. I don’t know if they understood the consequences of it, but there’s moments in there, when they’re putting you out for stuff that you wonder ‘Is this it? Do you wake up from this?’ That’s tough to swallow. It makes you think differently about life. It doesn’t make you any less driven in the things that you, but it certainly makes you appreciate the things you have more, your friends, your family.”

Levesque debuted in WCW in 1994 and eventually jumped to Vince McMahon’s promotion in 1995, debuting as Hunter Hearst Helmsley — a snobby, almost colonial character. Levesque would work on WWE’s midcard until 1997, when he broke out by winning the “King of the Ring” tournament and forming one of the most popular stables in wrestling history in D-Generation X alongside Shawn Michaels and the late Chyna and Rick Rude.

Levesque utilized his popularity and success with DX to move up the card and become a mainstay in both the main event and championship pictures for the better part of two decades, adopting his “Triple H,” “The Game,” and “Cerebral Assassin” characters.

One of the best all-around performers in WWE over the past 25 years, Levesque has had memorable matches against The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Daniel Bryan, Sting, and Randy Orton, to name just a few.

During a four-year WrestleMania stretch, from 2011-2014, Levesque had two classic matches with The Undertaker and one against Daniel Bryan. The 2012 match against Undertaker was widely regarded as the end of an era as Levesque, Michaels and Undertaker seemingly closed the door on the beloved “Attitude Era.”

As Levesque continued to thrive in the ring, he also became a major player behind the scenes in WWE. Levesque is credited with the creation and development of NXT, a WWE developmental system-turned-promotion over the past decade.

Under Levesque’s guidance, NXT became one of the most talked about promotions in the wrestling industry, offering a place for newly signed talent to grow and was known for its rabid fanbase as well as its critically acclaimed TakeOver pay-per-view events. NXT helped bring talent like Roman Reigns, Big E, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch into the WWE fold and turn them into major stars in the process.

Although Levesque’s in-ring career has come to an end, he did say he will continue to work in his executive vice president capacity for WWE.

“My foot’s not off the gas,” Levesque said. “I suppose in some manner, I have to step back a little bit. I’m still in recovery and my endurance is not quite what it used to be before. Right now I am back and fully focused on recruiting and development of our talent for the future.”

Although retirement in wrestling can sometimes be a fickle or utilized in storyline, Levesque’s announcement truly closes the book on an era of WWE stars. Levesque’s final match came just over a year ago, against Randy Orton. Of the group of stars Levesque is most commonly associated with — Michaels, Undertaker, Mick Foley, Kane, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — he had been the most recently active and even had plans for a match at WrestleMania 38 next week in Dallas before the health issues ended that discussion.

“I was already in a place in my career, as far as in ring goes, where I was comfortable being done and being finished,” Levesque said. “If the right thing came along, and they wanted me to do it [I would have]. I had a conversation with Vince McMahon about doing something at WrestleMania this year in Dallas, which we had talked about and had plans for. Obviously, when this thing happened, it shut all of that down.”

Levesque’s immense impact both on screen and as an executive led to an outpouring of support on social media after his announcement.