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LIVE REPORT - 2/2 Stone Cold & Triple H Podcast: Complete "virtual-time" coverage of WWE Network live podcast - storyline decisions, Rumble booking, C.M. Punk, Chyna, more hot topics

Feb 2, 2015 - 11:30:57 PM


"Stone Cold" Steve Austin Live Podcast
Guest: Triple H
February 2, 2015
Episode #2 on WWE Network
Report by James Caldwell, PWTorch assistant editor

After Raw went off the air, WWE Network picked up with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin sitting down opposite Triple H. This is a different context than Vince McMahon being interviewed in Episode #1 since Hunter's character is deeply involved in storylines and McMahon was not a TV figure at the time.

The podcast opened with Austin introducing Hunter by his on-air title of "WWE COO." Hunter acted relaxed with the top buttons of his dress shirt unbuttoned. Hunter plugged the NXT Takeover special on the Network this month. Austin said he wants to get to NXT in a second, but first he wants to get to questions for Hunter. He said the audience was ticked off after the Royal Rumble.

Austin noted Roman Reigns won the Royal Rumble, but a large part of the audience wanted Daniel Bryan to get the title shot at WrestleMania. Austin said there's so much confusion with the audience when the story does not go their way. Hunter said it's tough. He said there is that different component of the Internet and internal workings, so the second they see someone getting the big push, they get upset.

Hunter went back in time when there were heel towns and white-meat babyfaces who would be dead in that town. He said times have changed, but that component of people accepting a storyline for what it is is gone. Because a large part of the audience buys into just the storyline, but another large part follows everything, all the time. He said that audience sees a certain thing that works and they don't like it. Hunter noted split audiences where Reigns gets booed out of the building some places, but other places, like this past weekend, there isn't a boo in the building.

Austin said Roman Reigns might not be ready for this spot and people feel he hasn't earned this spot, which brought resentment from the crowd, which put the heat on the writing staff. Hunter said the beauty of WWE is one man calls the shots, Vince McMahon. He said unlike places where there are booking committees, there is one person who takes all the suggestions, all the debates, and makes the decision. Is he perfect? No. Am I? No. Is the writing team? No. Hunter said they're trying to read where things are going, but McMahon has a pretty good track record.

Austin asked if tonight's Raw was McMahon having his finger on the pulse? Austin noted Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins had a heck of a match tonight. So, now there's a change going into Fast Lane. Is this Vince McMahon reacting to play another card? Hunter said the business has not changed. A smart promoter/booker/storywriter reacts to what happens live and real-time. And if they weren't buying it this night, they went in a different direction. Hunter said they can also start getting people thinking one direction, leading them one way, and then go a different way. Hunter referenced McMahon seeing the crowd reaction to Hulk Hogan in Minneapolis, then bringing him in when Verne Gagne wasn't doing as much with him.

Austin said he was listening to the crowd reacting to all of the top stars. He said it's supply & demand - people demanded Bryan and they were given Reigns, creating resentment. Hunter said it's a tough environment, then referenced John Cena. He said there *was* such a long period of time with him getting booed and cheered, but he sold merchandise. Hunter said it's tough to find that one person who appeals to every single person 8 to 80. He said there's an eight-year-old who wants something different than the 22-year-old with his buddies who wants something different than mom & pop and the grandparents. Hunter jokingly said the worst thing is making someone a babyface now.

Austin asked what kind of era this is. Hunter said Austin referenced kayfabe being dead, according to Austin, then brought up the "dirt sheets" being insider back in the day. Now, the business is not so insider anymore, he said. He said now there are major news publications giving people the inside and backstage story. He said you cannot hide everything now. Austin asked if people are more concerned with behind-the-scenes or what happens in-front-of-the-camera, though? Hunter said when they don't tell the story well or don't execute, a large part of the audience says, "C'mon now." But, Austin noted a lot of people just want to go along for the ride. Hunter said that's right. But, in a situation with the Rumble, if Bryan was eliminated early and Reigns won years ago, the crowd would just go along with Reigns being good and Bryan not as good. But, now people see it as WWE holding back Bryan and Reigns being "pushed too hard."

Hunter noted they changed things along the way going to WM30 with Daniel Bryan. He said it's "working the work of the reality." Austin then brought up tonight's Raw trying to quell resentment toward Reigns, especially spearing the heels to help Daniel Bryan. Hunter said that's trying to make the adjustment on the fly. He said he hears people say that Reigns isn't ready. But, he doesn't think anyone is ever ready for that. "You think you know what that spot is, and then it's a totally different world when you get to that show the first time and it's all on you," Hunter said. He said if a show doesn't draw, it's on you. If it's great, it's on you.

Hunter said he feels bad - well, not feel bad - once everyone sees that someone is going a certain way, everyone gets in your ear telling you which way to go. Hunter said it's about trusting your gut, but because you haven't been doing this long, it's hard to trust and then you start getting mixed up. Okay, that didn't work. Now they're turning on me. What now? Austin said when you're thinking, you're stinking.

Austin went back to King of the Ring 1996, where Hunter thought he was ready. But, he wasn't. Looking back now, Hunter can see objectively that Austin was ready for that spot, but he was not. Hunter said he would have failed and dropped the ball in 1996. But, when he got the ball later, he was a lot more ready. He knew that he had developed much more of the skill to take that.

Hunter said WWE is the book that never ends, so there is always a new chapter. Even when they get to WrestleMania and there is the Daniel Bryan Moment, there is no off-season, so you go to Raw the next day. And the story continues on. They did not foresee Daniel Bryan getting injured, so they just kept dealing with it real-time and moving the pieces.

Austin said he was on the Network researching Hunter. And they knew each other going back to 1992. Austin brought up Hunter falling in love with the business at five-years-old, then marrying Stephanie McMahon. He asked what Hunter's exit strategy from the business was before he ever met Stephanie. Hunter said if nothing happened with Stephanie - then paused to discuss people criticizing him having what he had or has "because of Steph," that he didn't earn his spot. Hunter said Undertaker told him once that he shouldn't care what others say or think. He said if he never met Steph, he would probably still be behind-the-scenes doing this work, perhaps not in the same spot, but doing similar work.

Hunter said once he got into the business and the back-side of it, he fell in love with the Creative and was fascinated by the process. The Making of It. Hunter said Vince probably saw it in him long before Stephanie, and he gave him Hunter the chance to explore it. Hunter said he would sit down at production meetings, then have to work out McMahon's zany booking ideas with Pat Patterson. He said that process of trying to sort through the ideas was awesome to him. But, now for him, the jazz of him going down to Florida with the NXT kids and that system gives him a thrill. Hunter said often-times he does not go to McMahon to ask for things because he wants to be able to prove to himself that he can make it happen on his own and not ask for help.

Austin asked Hunter if he's in for life. Hunter said he doesn't have to do it, but he loves it. Hunter said McMahon always does the "I never worked a day in my life" line, but Vince is a work-a-holic. Hunter said Vince loves this so much that it's not work, though. Hunter said he'll be down at NXT and forget to eat because he's so into the process.

Austin read a Twitter question on whether it's more beneficial to go to wrestling school, then the Performance Center, or go to the independents first. Hunter said it depends on the person. He said sometimes a guy has been in the independents doing "that" and it's harder to knock the "bad habits" out of him, than to teach a kid how to do it from scratch. Hunter said some indie guys come in and are a sponge, while others come in and say this is what I do. Hunter said football is football, but "I'm the Patriots, and you run my playbook." Hunter noted Japan has a different style, and he's not going to debate which style is best. But, they think they know what their fans like, so this is the playbook. Hunter said the most successful company in the world is WWE.

Austin switched back to NXT. He said he loves the wrestling, promos, lighting, and the way it's shot. So, where did he come up with the template? Hunter said he writes for what he likes, but he also knows what the audience likes. He said the people who watch NXT on the Network skews to hardcore, young adult male fans. Hunter said he tries to script promos less and let the wrestlers find their own voice. He said he has the luxury of what they don't have here - a smaller microscope and less demand to succeed or fail. Hunter said it can be looser down there. Hunter said Full Sail's set-up is the same as WWE main roster, so it's the same system, just in a much smaller venue.

Austin asked what to call NXT - still a developmental territory? Yeah, the wrestlers are there to develop and make it to Raw or Smackdown. But, he thinks they've made it an alternative brand. He said he wants to take the show on the road in different places to learn the business more. Hunter brought up Finn Balor (formerly Fergal Devitt), then re-told the story from his recent conference call of Balor being a little overwhelmed with the process of looking to this camera and that camera. He said in Japan, they just told him to go down to the ring and do his job while the TV people did their job. Hunter framed WWE's way as better.

Austin asked Hunter about the Creative process in NXT. He said it's developmental for everyone. Hunter pointed to the production crew shooting this interview being old guys who aren't going to be around longer, so they need some younger guys in all aspects of the process. Hunter said there has to be a lot of input from the wrestlers so they believe who they are on-camera, not just "playing wrestler."

Austin went to another Twitter question. Who can be the next John Cena, Hulk Hogan, or Steve Austin? Hunter said he sees a lot of guys who have it. He said he doesn't want to sound like Vince hoping someone gets over, but he sees a lot of guys who have something and that X Factor. Hunter said you can't just be a promo guy, in-ring guy, or so-so promo guy. Austin said you can't just be a big guy. Hunter said you can't just be a flip-flop guy.

Hunter said there is only so far that you can lead a talent. He referenced Taker, which was Vince's concept and creation. Hunter said Mark (Calaway) took that character to a whole new level, whereas hundreds of other guys would have died a miserable death in that character. But, Mark became that character. So, when Vince talks about guys grabbing the brass ring, he's talking about guys taking the next step on their own after being led down the path.

Austin asked if the brass ring is being handed to Roman Reigns, or taken away from a Bryan or Dolph Ziggler. Hunter said he met Reigns when he first started in Developmental, and he busted his ass. No matter what the perception is, Reigns works hard. He said it's not about just working hard, though. Is it a part of it? Yes. Should the guy on top work harder than everyone else? Yes. Hunter said Cena can be criticized all day long, but he is the hardest working guy on the roster and could not be more dedicated. He said it's not just about who "deserves" it.

Austin brought up Chyna, and whether she will be in the Hall of Fame. Hunter said it's one of those questions about "deserving" to be in the Hall of Fame. Hunter said she does, but it's not just as easy as should someone be in there. Hunter said she shifted the business and transcended it for women. All the other stuff that happened happened, and he's not going to get into it. And, he has no beef on this side. But, it's difficult - long pause - and he has an eight-year-old kid. And the kid pulls up Chyna on the Internet and sees what she's doing now. He said that's a difficult choice, and he's not trying to judge her or come down morally. Hunter said the HOF is a funny thing in that it is not as simple as "this guy had a great career." There's legal, there's a guy they call and he says no, etc.

Hunter said he's been mending fences or burned bridges, like with Bruno Sammartino and Ultimate Warrior. Hunter said he never felt right about Bruno not being in the Hall of Fame, then went to Vince to ask about it. Vince gave it the okay, then he tried to start the conversation. In general, Hunter said it's history and falling outs and conspiracy theories. Plus, with Bruno, he did not agree with the direction of the business. He said he called Bruno cold and they just started having conversations. He said Bruno had to learn how to trust him. But, with Warrior, there was not a trust; they had a falling out. Hunter said they both said during the process that you live, learn, and grow. He was in a different place at WrestleMania 12 with Warrior 20+ years ago. He said he had a bad personal experience with the guy at the moment, but it was one of the coolest moments of his life. Hunter said his first Mania was with Warrior, which was awesome to him. But, they had a rough "then." Then, over the years, things are said and such. So, they had to get past that for themselves, Warrior & Vince, etc. He said Warrior was misunderstood, then he couldn't let things go. No follow-up on C.M. Punk. Wait for it.

Austin switched topics to which group was more influential - DX or the NWO? Hunter said the NWO took it a different direction with the reality aspect. He said the NWO fell apart after putting so many guys in the faction, but it was hugely influential for a short period of time. Whereas, he feels that DX had longevity and changed wrestling more over time. At first, the NWO shifted the business.

If Hunter could go back in time and have a match with anyone, Hunter said Buddy Rogers. Why? Hunter said he was the first guy in the business who transcended it. He wasn't just a shooter or had a funny look. He just carried himself like a big deal. He could manipulate the crowd and had the larger-than-life persona, not just a wrestler. He didn't want to knock Lou Thesz, but Rogers was a larger-than-life character.

Austin said Hunter seems like a guy who is very composed and doesn't hold grudges. But, a lot of people want to know about C.M. Punk. Hunter said he remembered hearing things about Punk when he was first coming in, down in OVW. He said they didn't have time to watch other shows at the time, so he didn't know who he was, but he heard Punk was mad at him. Hunter said he's never had a beef with him, then when they got further in and they worked together, whether it was the pipebomb and Kevin Nash was brought in, they did it for the right reasons. They wanted to get Punk more over, but the decisions that were made were Vince's, and they were supposed to help him.

Hunter called Punk a weird cat. Not as a knock, but hard to understand and communicate with, sticking to the narrative of Punk being difficult to talk to. Hunter said Punk was livid, according to talent relations people, but he (Hunter) would approach him and Punk would say everything was fine. Hunter said if the fans want Punk back, and if they can get past all their stuff, they will have him back. But, if Punk couldn't get past his issues with the business and if he lost his passion, then he shouldn't be in WWE.

Next was word association.

Shawn Michaels - greatest in-ring performer.

Ric Flair - greatest all-around character.

Kevin Nash - very under-rated mind for the business. Hunter said it's just hard to get past his personality of liking or not liking someone.

Scott Hall - the guy he learned more from than anyone when he walked in the door, and under-rated as a performer. "Awesome psychologist."

Eddie Guerrero - awesome. "I miss him."

Goldberg - A guy that he credits for changing that intensity of the business. Hunter said that explosive intensity drew people in.

Brock Lesnar - Freak. He said he's never experienced anyone like him.

Paul Heyman - A fine line between crazy and genius.

Owen Hart - One of the nicest, funniest guys he knew. A tragic situation. Hunter said Owen was so good in the ring that he could purposely have the worst match ever.

Bret Hart - unbelievable technician. Maybe he takes himself too seriously. Austin defended Hart that he lived it 100 percent, just like Hunter said earlier.

Undertaker - respect.

Kane - under-rated and The Constant.

Pat Patterson - genius for the business. Hunter said Pat was the guy who had the smartest things ever to say.

Michael Hayes - so under-rated for his contributions to the business.

Austin then went to pro wrestling vs. sports entertainment. Hunter said he understands the distinction between the two and pro wrestler vs. WWE Superstar. Hunter said he loves pro wrestling, and that's what they do. Also, though, he said that is limiting. Anyone can play football, but hardly anyone makes it to the NFL. You can be a wrestler, etc., but making it to WWE makes you a "WWE Superstar." He said the "sports entertainer" part is trying to explain to the outside world what it is that they do.

Austin asked Hunter what Brock Lesnar's contract status is. Hunter said it comes down to what Lesnar wants to do. He said Lesnar might think he has unfinished business (in UFC), and they have a great working relationship right now keeping him special. Hunter said it comes down to whether Brock has unfinished business.

As for The Streak, should it have been broken or remained? "That's a debate," Hunter said before pausing. "I don't know." Hunter said he can see it as the Home Run Record that should never be broken and should last forever. And then there is a guy like Taker who will give it all back so that someone can benefit from it. Hunter said all the storyline stuff with Brock that led to WrestleMania was part of the plan. It didn't happen by accident, he claimed.

Austin wrapped up with a discussion on the WWE show moving on to Colorado Springs for Smackdown tomorrow, then what he thought about the Seahawks's final play call on the 1-yardline in the Super Bowl. Hunter joked about how they messed up the finish by over-booking and over-thinking it. Austin got the wrap-up signal, but Hunter said he has some stroke around here. He asked who's in his ear. Kevin Dunn. Hunter said they can get five more minutes, even if he gets yelled at later.

Austin brought up WWE's promo issue, including 25-minute promos (which Hunter joked about happened tonight), and wrestlers feeling robotic on the mic. Asked if they don't trust the talent, Hunter said some guys want it scripted, some want bullet points, some want to put the material into their own words. Hunter said they have to be careful with live TV, sponsors, etc. He said it started a while ago scripting one guy, then everyone got scripted, and now everything is scripted. Hunter said he's trying to re-establish the process at NXT to get it back to where it used to be.

What would he change about Raw? Hunter said he wishes they had more time during the week. He cut himself off talking about wishing they had more time to map out Raw and said, actually, two hours. He said the third hour is "exponentially" difficult to write. He said changing back to two hours is a Vince call and financial call - meetings he tries to avoid. He said it just makes things harder to write. Hunter said he would like to take the time to develop stories longer. He said this day & age is hard, but he would like the longer burn to get that massive pay-off. He also said there is short-term attention span, but, as Austin said, some people want that slow burn. Hunter said it's a mixed bag.

Hunter said he would like to see the women get more time. He said he wants them to have better stories, but it's so difficult to fit everyone in.

Hunter said stay tuned on when he's back in the ring, without giving anything away. "It's coming, or I'm training twice a day for nothing," he joked. Hunter said he doesn't have aches and pains right now. He said he can do anything, play with his kids, etc. Austin shook hands with Hunter and got his music on the way out. Hunter said he hopes to do this again, but less about the business and more about how Austin used to potato him in the ring. Austin laughed and signed off. He joked about missing his countdown, then the show ended at 12:21 EST, going about an hour and 5 minutes.

OVERALL THOUGHTS: Attempt #2 to babyface the company. Admit to some mistakes, but not others, ride the fence a little, stay away from specifics and stick to generalities, attempt to humanize McMahon and Hunter as not bad people like outsiders think, and try to bond Hunter to a conflicted audience that views Hunter on one hand as the evil figure holding everyone down and in the other hand delivering an NXT show and having an appreciation for wrestling. It's all about presenting WWE in a different light by speaking the hardcore fans's language through a respected figure like Austin in a respected forum like Stone Cold's podcast. And, if WWE can soften the negativity toward Roman Reigns or John Cena, they'll take it.

As for the topic choices, they hit on the biggies that people are thinking about - Rumble booking, Reigns in a top spot, C.M. Punk, etc. And there were some openings to take an exit here and there on the obvious path they were on, such as talking about time off for wrestlers when Hunter noted they are year-round, or asking if the way WWE does things is really best, such as micro-managing ring entrances, but with only an hour to work with, it's apparent Austin wanted to keep things on-track. Also, the wrestler health topic did not come up, which Hunter is involved in being a board member for Sports Legacy Institute. This seemed more like a casual conversation about wrestling-related past, present, and future, but it would have been nice to see a health/off-season topic be discussed in such a public forum reaching a variety of WWE audience members.

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He has interviewed big-name players in person incluiding Vince McMahon (at WWE Headquarters), Dana White (in Las Vegas), Eric Bischoff (at the first Nitro at Mall of America), Brock Lesnar (after his first UFC win).

He hosted the weekly Pro Wrestling Focus radio show on KFAN in the early 1990s and hosted the Ultimate Insiders DVD series distributed in retail stories internationally in the mid-2000s including interviews filmed in Los Angeles with Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara and Matt & Jeff Hardy. He currently hosts the most listened to pro wrestling audio show in the world, (the PWTorch Livecast, top ranked in iTunes)


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