During the WWE's biggest week of the year surrounding WrestleMania, Paul "Triple H" Levesque is one of the busiest and most in-demand people in the company. Among five live shows, dozens of community outreach events and media obligations, it's easy to wonder if Levesque will sleep during that stretch given his work as executive vice president of talent, live events and creative for WWE as well as his very hands-on role with NXT, which kicks off the week's festivities Friday night at Barclays Center.
When Levesque suffered a torn pectoral muscle during a tag-team match in Saudi Arabia in October, there was a silver lining in the weeks that followed. His workload would still be intense, but he wouldn't have to worry about preparing for a WrestleMania match on top of it all.
As he was working through his rehab, however, he had a couple of conversations with Vince McMahon that quickly put a lot more on his plate.
"I went from a month ago thinking, 'Oh, this is great -- I'm going to have an easy year this year, I just go watch the Hall of Fame and then I get to work behind the scenes at [Wrestle]Manias," Levesque told WWE. "It will be easy. Then, Vince tells me I'm in the Hall of Fame ... and then next thing [I know], I'm working at WrestleMania. So I got busy quick."
Levesque will go into the WWE Hall of Fame on Saturday as part of D-Generation X and then, on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, he'll face a returning Batista in a no-holds-barred rematch of their WrestleMania 21 clash.
So when did Levesque feel he was ready and comfortable enough to return to the ring for the match against Dave Bautista, a giant who has carved out a strong Hollywood career since leaving WWE?
"So I didn't feel that way -- Vince came to me and told me, 'I need you to be in WrestleMania this year,'" Levesque said, recalling a conversation from February. "And I was like, 'Really? Because I haven't been cleared to train yet even -- I don't know that I'm going to make that.' Batista and I had this conversation a while ago about trying to do this ... then I had to call him and go, 'Dude, I tore my pec and I don't know what's going to happen. I'll see.' To this day, I'm still ... I'm going to get in the ring next Sunday, and you and I will both find out at the same time whether my pec will hold on.
"I got cleared up to perform, and my training is good and I feel good. But until you get in there, lifting dumbbells and getting hit by Batista are two totally different things. So I'll see how it goes, but I feel good and I'm excited to get in there. And at this point in my career, I don't ever want to make it sound like it's not as big as it is, but at this point in my career, it's all gravy."
Though the match at this year's WrestleMania might have been in jeopardy until recently, Levesque has had unbelievable longevity on the WWE's biggest stage. Since his first such match at WrestleMania 12, he's missed only one WrestleMania (23, in 2007) along the way -- making Sunday's match his 23rd WrestleMania appearance. That's second to only The Undertaker, who has had 26.
"I can remember coming into the WWE and having a conversation with Taker early [on]," Levesque recalled. "And I think he had been here, the day that I had the conversation with him, like six years or something like that. I remember thinking, 'Oh, my God, can you imagine having a career length in the WWE that is six years -- or longer?' It was mind-boggling to me."
Levesque's active in-ring career has long since wound down from hundreds of appearances to a few key high-profile matches a year, but the work he's done in shaping the present and future in NXT is something he's come to treasure as much as anything he's done as a WWE superstar.
"Early in my tenure here I realized I love the behind-the-scenes of it almost as much as I love the in-ring [aspect] of it," Levesque said, "because my passion for it is now helping these other guys have that career and get to that next level. Watching them going to TakeOver, watching [Johnny] Gargano and Adam Cole have those moments. Sitting there and watching Seth Rollins [compete for the Universal title], who was in developmental when I was taking it over. Watching Charlotte [Flair] and Becky Lynch and Ronda [Rousey] tear it up in the main event, and just being a part of all that. Being able to help create it in some way, shape or form is awesome."