Intro by Mazza: ‘Sup, Lords of Pain. Well I am finally ready to round out my little series of Triple H/Bret Hart columns. When I first wrote about The Hitman’s interview I really didn’t think I’d still be on the subject now, but here we are. After my narrow victory over Plan in the Smarks Court case of The Hitman vs The Game, I decided to write a Ranking the Talent on my ten favourite Bret matches (>>>here<<<). I was then going to do the same for Triple H but ‘Plan stepped up wanting to do it. He has posted this in the Columns Forum but I think I need to post it here to bring some closure to the saga! There are definitely some interesting choices, and I hope you enjoy the read.
Just Business: The Game's Greatest Hits
Feb 20, 2013 - 5:20:00 AM
Just Business: The Game’s Greatest Hits
Ok peeps, so, as some of you may have seen, Mazza and I recently engaged in a hotly debated topic regarding who the better wrestler was – Hart or H. Sadly, H won the public vote, albeit only with a minor margin given the huge amount of votes the column received. While Mazza’s arguments were largely unsubstantiated by actual evidence – you know, because he was wrong and everything – I nevertheless must honourably and justly concede defeat on this occasion.
Much to the credit of my antithesis though, the guy actually pumped out a strong look at the matches he considers to rank among Bret’s best efforts. There were some inexcusable omissions, but given this sort of thing rests only ever on opinion, I guess that’s to be expected. In response, however, given how pained he must have been to be positive about Bret for as long as he was, I felt it was only right I do likewise for The Game. I have maintained throughout that the guy is a damn good wrestler, positing only that there’s always someone better, so when it came to whittling down his best bouts to only ten favourites I was faced with a number of difficulties.
The first is the simple fact that his career has been a long, active and prominent one. That translates as a lot of matches and, given the majority of his years in the WWE have been spent as a central star of whatever card he’s on, that means a lot of those matches are notable simply for being top heavy – that is, close to or in the main event. That equates to more time, more promotion, more room to work well, bigger name power and all the other benefits that come with being a client of the ‘E propaganda machine.
Because of these difficulties, I decided to cross out a couple of obviously immediate contenders in the interest of bringing to the fore matches that may not otherwise be considered. Mazza is passionate in his opinions; I’m passionate with my history and so I felt a need to define “greatest matches” as both personal favourites and encounters that meant something to The Game’s career as well. Don’t, because of that, expect to see his ‘Mania 28 match with Undertaker on the list. Nor should you expect something like his 3 Stages of Hell Match with Austin, which led to nothing much in the bigger picture for him given he beat the Wrestlemania title challenger clean a month before the big event and didn’t even get a chance at displacing him. Hopefully, that may make things a little more interesting.
So enough chitter-chatter. I’d list some honourable mentions but frankly, and it pains me to say this, there’d probably be too many to be worth it, so I’ll just stick with the top ten and the reasons why.
…I know; me, writing a list of important matches? How original.
10. vs. Kevin Nash @ TLC ‘11
Alright, so we’re not off to the most auspicious of starts, are we? But hear me out. I get that this is a match that serves simply to remind most of the fact that Triple H seemed overly happy to start stealing all the heat CM Punk had garnered following his influential angle of the summer, but this a piece about The Game’s greatest in-ring encounters. In terms of quality, this may not rank critically as high as an Austin or Rock match, or even a Cena or Orton match for that matter, but I for one was pleasantly surprised by their encounter. Kevin Nash was never the easiest guy to carry to a decent bout in his prime. In fact, said feat was usually met by only Hart or Michaels. For Trips to manage it when both men are well past their primes is impressive. More to the point, despite the gimmick of climbing a ladder to get a hammer being a redundant one, it was a creative slant on the ladder match and one that led to an edition of the stipulation that read much more like a New Gen classic than it did a modern day spotfest, with the psychology largely centring on Nash’s leg. As a result, I picked it as my tenth of ten. Trips got a good match out of Nash, one lasting close to twenty minutes, and at the same time showed that there was still a place for old school psychology in one of the most popular gimmicks going. Begrudgingly, I must admit, despite his longevity, Trips retains an ability to get a good match out of anyone. Nash is a very high bar to meet, after all….
Click here to watch
9. vs. 29 Others @ Royal Rumble ‘06
This may not be Triple H’s most memorable Royal Rumble, but to me it was perhaps the single time when I felt another wrestler had, through their performance being so far beyond those of all other 29 individuals involved, deserved to win the thing without being given the rub. 2006 is an oddity of a Rumble to watch, thanks to both the bizarre characters involved and the incredibly unlikely winner, but The Game gives us an impressively gutsy performance. While eventual winner Rey spends the majority of the sixty minutes on his arse – in fact, watching the replays will show you the same clips of him at the beginning and end because he does nothing for the rest of the match – Trips constantly gets himself in the thick of action and provides a number of highlights to boot. The fact he’s eliminated twenty-eighth, instead of twenty-ninth, was a refreshingly humble move for him as well. Oh, then there’s the small fact he makes it all seem so effortless. I really felt Triple H winning that year made the most sense, especially given he would eventually close out with Cena at Wrestlemania anyway, and his generous performance, in contrast with Rey’s lazy and self-entitled outing, is the primary factor that puts me off re-watching this otherwise quite fun Rumble more often than I do.
Click here to watch
8. vs. Ric Flair @ Taboo Tuesday ‘05
I recently bought The History of the Intercontinental Championship DVD. I was delighted to see my second favourite Steel Cage bout of all time on it. In 2005, Triple H and Ric Flair made the final endgame of Evolution into a surprisingly entertaining and incredibly bloody affair. While their Last Man Standing match a month later would be the final pay-off, it is this Cage match that really is the most memorable facet of the feud. I felt, even at such a late stage in his career, Flair had a wonderful chemistry with The Game between the ropes and, coupled with The Game’s love for wrestling tradition, the result was a Cage bout that was slower than usual. It takes its time, focusses largely on the traditional method of victory – escape – and managed to be gruesomely bloody without becoming needlessly violent. Its pace is spot on, its psychology is effective and both men play their roles to absolute perfection. Add the nostalgic angle on top of all that, throw in the Intercontinental title as a post-script, and what resulted was magic. Flair’s final match will go down as his most fondly remembered performance of his 21st Century career epilogue, but it is with Triple H that he was last relevant. It was through The Game and his generous, respectful performances that Flair felt like a main event company star again. Lest we forget, there was no need for Trips to get beaten by a sixty year old man, but he did it with enthusiasm and verve. Say what you like about the man, but he most certainly admires his heritage and never was it more obvious than in this defeat.
Click here to watch
7. vs. Batista, Randy Orton, Edge, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit @ New Year’s Revolution ‘05
Triple H has gotten a lot of shit in the past for his needless number of World title reigns, including the turn of the year in ‘04/’05, where he inexplicably was stripped of the World title only to go on and regain it in his next ppv match anyway. You know, because that makes sense. To be frank though, while other title wins of his do bother me a little, the end result that we got in this instance was worth all the nonsense. Benoit was coming off the year of his career, Edge was heating up as a future prospect, Jericho had become Old Reliable and Orton and Batista were stepping into the spotlight at long last. We got a little closer towards the break-up of Evolution with a wonderfully worked finish, Shawn Michaels served as Special Referee and there was blood and brutality all round. Batista himself received perfect booking but it was Triple H, entering third, that came away with the finest of any of his title wins. To me, this is very close to a five star rating and certainly the best edition of the Chamber we’ve ever witnessed. And in a list of greatest hits, how could I not include what I consider to be The Game’s finest World title victory? This was one of those rare occasions where the WWE got absolutely everything right. Yep, even with Triple H going over a heap of talent that, certainly in four of five cases, many would argue were superior to him in one regard or another. The fact it was the true start of one of the best booked ‘Mania feuds in recent memory is just the icing on the cake.
Click here to watch
6. vs. The Rock @ Backlash ‘00
I often say Triple H is good at everything but the best at nothing. His 2000 is the most frequently posited counter-argument to that and it’s very difficult to come back on it. Truly, Triple H had a wonderful year, becoming the top heel of the industry and so reviled by the fan base I remember, as a lowly ten year old at the time, that the world felt like it would end if he walked out of Backlash still the WWF champion. He played his role to perfection, proving why he deserved to be the first heel the company could truly revolve around. With the McMahons on his side, the only referee not intimidated by him long gone from the company and the Rattlesnake not in the building, Trips had a strong advantage over his perfect foil and challenger The Rock. The sheer entertainment value of the title bouts between Rocky and The Game was phenomenal and the two, even from their Intercontinental days, were perfect nemeses of one another. It was skill against bravado, a thinker against a bull. This may not be the best quality match Trips has ever wrestled, but it has one of the hottest crowds, one of the best set-ups and, as further tribute to how effortless Trips makes it for you to love to hate him, one of the single most satisfying pay-offs for any World title feud…ever. Perhaps my nostalgic memories lead me to remembering it through rose tinted specs, but there’s a reason I bought that event on DVD for my collection and a reason why it’s on this list. It’s fucking awesome! A fitting end to one of the most well put together pieces of villainy I can remember in the WWE.
Click here to watch
5. vs. Ric Flair on Monday Night Raw, 19/05/03
While Mazza included two bouts between Bret and Perfect, I felt a need to include two between The Cerebral Assassin and The Nature Boy. But while I know that my esteemed colleague chose to include only pay-per-view encounters, I for one felt a more inclusive approach was necessary if we’re truly going to look at Triple H’s finest encounters. My previous H/Flair choice was picked for its old school tone and the incredible amount of gore involved, but this was the match that was designed to literally be about nothing more than nostalgia. It was a tribute more than an actual feud, but it would become one of the finest two hours of Raw booking in the long history of the show. Trips was told by then Co-GM Austin he must wrestle a former World Champ only twenty four hours removed from Judgement Day. Trips thought he won out by picking his Evolution team mate and manager, The Nature Boy, with intent on him laying down and giving the champ a night off. Unfortunately, courtesy of some encouraging words from Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair dialled it up to ten, gave the promo of his life in front of his opponent, went out there and, with some help from Triple H, tore the roof off. This was an incredible match for such a short amount of television time and while an argument could be made that it’s much more a Flair match than a Triple H match, the fact the World Champion came out, as he would two years later, making a past-it old timer appear credible, even in victory, is a tribute to his skill and his talent. Put it this way - I can’t think of anyone else outside of Shawn Michaels that could have possibly pulled this special little television title match off half as well as Trips was able to. It makes one long for the idea of a match having happened between these legends when both were in their prime.
Click here to watch
4. vs. Chris Jericho on Raw Is War, 17/04/00
In what serves as something of the opposite to the previous choice of Ric Flair in 2003, we get another spectacular masterpiece of one night booking in this example too. While #5 goes to show Trips could make an old-timer appear credible, this goes to show he could just as effectively make an up and comer credible by utilising a similar method. Jericho often states this was his first great match in the WWE and it’s one of those examples where everything just clicked into place beautifully. In some ways, it could be seen as a bit of a precursor in tone to what we’d get at Backlash that year. It is perhaps only because of how over Triple H had become as the top heel of the company that Jericho got so over by pulling off the surprise win. Sure, there was a bit of a fast count involved, but with the slightly screwy finish aside, it’s very rare we get a television match being anywhere near this calibre and achieving the same results as effectively as Jericho and The Game were able to do. 2000 was a great year for Trips, but the first quarter was simply spectacular. I guess this goes to show how on form the guy really was – he was pulling off memorable bouts on weekly television as well as on pay-per-view. Always gracious in defeat, Triple H would then go on to get the decision reversed later in the night, simply re-enforcing his heat and making Jericho into even more of a sympathetic babyface. The guy was just on a whole other level.
Click here to watch
3. vs. Cactus Jack @ Royal Rumble ‘00
A bit of an obvious choice I guess, but there’s no way I could fail to include the match that turned Triple H into a credible top heel practically overnight. I have previously listed this match as one of two Attitude Era contenders for Meltzer five star status and the reasons why should be obvious. Foley, portraying his most intense character, is wrestling smack bang in the middle of what is pretty much a home arena in his own speciality in what would eventually become one of his final matches as a full time performer. Triple H doesn’t just keep up; in many ways, you could view his performance as the better of the two. He shows his grit, he shows his skill, his shows his malleability as a wrestler and, once again, he proves just how damn good he was at making you hate to love him. The fact he beats Cactus as clean as one can in a Street Fight really riles the viewer up; the fact he’s willing to still be given his comeuppance in a post-match beat down speaks volumes for how well he and his booking could work a live audience. It had been a toss-up for me between this and the Hell in a Cell that would come a month later, but ultimately I had to go for the one that gave me the fondest memories. I do believe this is the superior match, though that may be due to the limitations that inevitable comparisons will come with any Hell in a Cell, ones that may not necessarily be fair. And while I would argue that The Rock did this similar trick with Foley the year before with greater success, there’s no denying this should go down as perhaps the greatest Street Fight in WWE history. Even in the midst of the Attitude Era, it was an incredibly violent half an hour that seared its way into my memory and the memory of many others. I was lucky enough to be watching as it happened and, because of this match, it was a night I will never forget. Oh, and people often forget Triple H did it all with a puncture in his leg.
Click here to watch
2. vs. The Undertaker @ Wrestlemania XXVII
Controversial! The most hated match of the Tetralogy gets a place in the greatest hits! I know I’ll never convince many people as to the reasons why I believe this to actually be the strongest edition of that entire four match series, but I can say it’ll always be firmly placed as my favourite. Why? The level of psychology at play here, before they even make their way to the ring, is unfathomable. It’s brilliant. Content may be on the thin side and false finishes at their most excessive, but there’s no taking away how beautiful a continuation this was of an over-arching and on-going story and, furthermore, how amazingly it set up that final emotional End of an Era the following year. Much like the match with Jericho from earlier in the list, it’s hard to place anyone other than Triple H in this particular match. It’s hard to believe anyone could so convincingly have the Deadman reeling. The Undertaker is an absolute legend, no doubt about it, and putting aside any perceived qualities or flaws in the actual match itself, the fact he was made to look weaker here than perhaps he ever has done should speak volumes as to the level of respect Triple H himself carries. If ‘Taker is willing to put him over as far as he did in this instance, you have to think there’s a reason for it. While the Michaels bouts will top most people’s lists and while the Hell in a Cell will almost always overshadow this unfairly maligned instalment, ultimately I believe it was Triple H’s finest psychological performance of his career and, by a rather large margin, my favourite of his Wrestlemania matches. No way it didn’t make my list.
Click here to watch
1. vs. The Rock, Mick Foley and Big Show @ Wrestlemania XVI
But while the Undertaker match is my favourite, this, to me, will always remain the one match that defines Triple H’s career. It’s not one that immediately springs to mind but it’s one that is incredibly unique in WWE history and incredibly important to the career of The Game. It’s easy to forget, in memory, just how great a match this really is. It may be a little overbooked with the involvement of the McMahon soap opera angle, but that angle of course became inherent to the finish. It goes close to forty minutes, Show is eliminated early on, Foley gets an emotional send off and we get the first big time show down between the two other guys that would define the Era. But it’s the end that matters most. While Triple H puts in a fucking awesome performance, as does Rocky, the fact he would walk away from that night still the WWF Champion shows how firmly behind him the company were. No heel had ever accomplished the same feat – to enter and leave Wrestlemania as champion – and even though Orton of course achieved a similar feat in a triple threat at ‘Mania 24, Miz managed it at 27 and Jericho left 26 with the World title, the fact all three occurrences only happened when there was another title for a fan favourite to take home instead diminishes their effect greatly. This was when there was one main event. This was when there was one World title. This was when the biggest name in the company wasn’t even on the active roster. And when you would think the company would be at their most fearful at ‘Mania season, we found out they were at their most ballsy – the heel won the day. Rocky would close the night with a feel good moment, but the fact the live crowd were throwing trash at the ring – something I can’t recall having seen happened since Hulk Hogan joined the NwO in WCW – should tell you how much of a watershed moment this was. For me, the main event of Wrestlemania 2000 will forever remain Triple H’s Greatest Hit.
Click here to watch
So, what did you think? It may not be my usual style of column, but it was intended only as a quick homage to the man I have been slating for the last few weeks. In the name of good sportsmanship, I felt a need to reciprocate in kind to Mazza and I hope, despite a number of high profile omissions, you can understand why I went for what I went for.
It’s also worth noting, on a personal level, that this column unexpectedly took an almost cathartic turn for me. Triple H is something of an oddity in pro wrestling history, mainly because of the circumstances he is in and his heavily hyped career; I always leaned more towards rejection of him than I did towards being a fan. My opinion on him as a performer has barely changed – I still do believe there will always be someone capable of doing anything he does better than he can. But that shouldn’t detract from the fact Triple H has had a massive career that’s practically overflowing with four to five star matches. He has always been a workhorse. He has always shown a love for the industry and a respect for his heritage. He has been one of the most over babyfaces of the WWE and one of its most reviled heels. We, as a community here on the internet, may often criticise him and vilify him but in writing this column I found for myself a new appreciation for his achievements and for his talent.
As a result, I wanted to sign off by giving a small token of appreciation for a man I’ve spent too long overlooking.
Thank you, Trips.
Outro by Mazza: So there we have it. Definitely an interesting take on the list by Plan as opposed to the “favourites” route that I would have taken. In fact, whilst I am here I shall give you a quick view of what I consider to be Hunter’s greatest ten matches (I will stick to my WWE PPV only stance I did for Bret too).
1. NWO 01 vs Austin (3 Stages of Hell)
2. Rumble 00 vs Foley (Street Fight)
3. Mania 29 vs Undertaker (Hell in a Cell)
4. SummerSlam 02 vs Michaels (Street Fight)
5. Judgment Day 00 vs Rock (Iron Man)
6. NWO 00 vs Foley (Hell in a Cell)
7. Vengeacnce 05 vs Batista (Hell in a Cell)
8. Fully Loaded 00 vs Jericho (Last Man Standing)
9. No Mercy 07 vs Orton (Last Man Standing)
10. Breaking Point 09 w/HBK vs Legacy (Submissions Count Anywhere)
I won’t go into too much detail here otherwise it would be another column in itself, but this is just a little overview. I guess it is only fair that I afford ‘Plan the same courtesy when it comes to Bret though, so here is his top ten for The Hitman.
1. Mania 13 vs Austin
2. Mania 12 vs HBK
3. Summerslam 2010 - the Nexus match
4. Rumble 95 vs Diesel
5. Mania 8 vs Piper
6. Raw vs 123 Kid
7. KotR 93 vs Perfect
8. Canadian Stampede
9. Mania III - it was a 6 man vs Bulldogs but can't remember the third parties
10. Rumble 88 - his performance in the Rumble match
So there you have it ladies and gents. Proof that Plan and I have differing views and more importantly, proof that both Bret and Hunter have a lot of great matches in their locker. I hope there has been something for you to enjoy across these last four columns. A big thanks once again to Plan for being part of this. I shall be back soon with a couple of columns that are almost ready to post. We have a new Smarks Court as well as another multiman concept which you may find interesting, so keep a lookout for those, but until then, Peace!