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On This Day in Pro Wrestling History... 14 Years Ago, Royal Rumble 2000 Delivered Huge and Made Triple H a Star
By Mr. Tito
Jan 23, 2014 - 9:27:49 PM
ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... 14 years ago to this day, the WWE held arguably its best all around Royal Rumble show on January 23rd, 2000. From top to bottom, this show sticks out due to the strong undercard matches, many newer talents being showcased on a big stage, and for Triple H proving that he belongs in the Main Event. On top of that, you had the 30 man Royal Rumble match which is almost guaranteed to be entertaining each and every year.
During late 1999, the WWE had some turbulence after a strong business year. WWE kept pushing Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon as much as they could and the WWE made absurd business from the Rock vs. Steve Austin feud through Wrestlemania 15 and shortly thereafter. However, a few things changed... Vince Russo, the head writer of the WWE for much of the late 1990's, decided to bolt to competitor World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Feeling burned out from the new Smackdown show introduced and possibly underappreciated for the success of the WWE, Russo saw an opportunity to join WCW and strike gold again. Meanwhile, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's neck injury, as sustained at SummerSlam 1997, was getting worse and worse insomuch that Austin finally had to have surgery. WWE had Rikishi hit Austin with a vehicle to put him out of action.
WWE was left without its head writer and its top star. What was the WWE to do?
For the head writer, the WWE promoted a man by the name of Chris Kreski. Who was Chris Kreski you ask? He was a former Mtv writer who worked on writing material for Beavis & Butthead, Remote Control, Celebrity Death Match, and their Music Video/Movie Awards. He also wrote for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and helped the likes of William Shatner write several top selling books, along with others (according to Wikipedia on all of these TV/book credits). What Kreski mostly wrote was comedy but the above shows were funny and successful. It takes serious talent to make comedy shows successful and he has multiple instances where he succeeded. Thus, the WWE acquired a trained professional in writing television when the WWE hired Kreski and then promoted him to head writer instead of Russo.
Where Kreski differed from Russo was on structure, specifically. Russo's style was always writing material on the fly and was good at creating short-term shock value on television. As the WWE wanted to go more on the adult themed soap opera like storyline, Russo's style worked well. However, his style was highly disorganized, too... Just go back and see how many bizarre and unfinished plot twists that the Austin vs. McMahon feud had. "Higher Power", anyone? There were so many Intercontinental Title changes during 1999... After the Rock feud was over, you could see Russo's style was running out of steam. There was only so many ways that Vince could attempt to screw Austin and also for Austin to get revenge on his boss. The storyline was wearing thin... Furthermore, the introduction of WWE Smackdown, an additional 2 hour show, just exposed how Russo's style was wearing thin. Change was probably needed anyway.
Kreski's approach involved using actual storyboarding that you would see in preparation of a serious television show or a motion picture. Many wrestlers and backstage officials mocked Kreski's storyboarding, but many of the storylines during 2000 were tight and conclusive. The whole McMahon/Helmsley storyline could have been a complete trainwreck but it had many logical twists and turns that never allowed it to become stale. Kreski's McMahon/Helmsley storyline was helped very much by a willing and motivated Triple H during 2000.
Royal Rumble 2000 was the moment that Triple H announced to the world that he was a legitimate WWE main eventer to be taken very seriously. Before that show, you weren't sure... Triple H was mostly a midcarder before 1999. He started off as the blueblood snob and eventually paired up with real life friend Shawn Michaels to form Degeneration X. Even when Shawn Michaels left the WWE and Triple H became DX's leader, he remained in the midcard. However, Triple H signed a new WWE deal during early 1999 and WWE had big plans for Triple H during 1999. It all started at Wrestlemania 15 when Triple H turned heel and joined the Corporation and soon thereafter, Triple H was sporting new tights and had a more gritty look about him. Gone was the free flowing hair, robes, or DX shirts... Here was greasy hair, taped up fists, and a pissed off look about him.
But it wasn't sticking with fans during 1999... WWE tried hard to get him over as a heel but the fans had no attachment to him. Then, a brilliant storyline occurred... HHH was feuding with Vince McMahon at the time (who didn't during 1999?), but in order to put one over on Vince, he had to ruin Stephanie McMahon's storyline wedding to the late Test (Andrew Martin). Triple H had Stephanie drugged and HHH married her at a drive-in wedding chapel which was revealed during the Test/Stephanie wedding. Suddenly, Triple H had a white hot wrestling storyline to get the fans' attention. However, as much as the WWE appears to be a soap opera, at the end of the day, wrestlers must wrestle... In order to draw well on Pay Per Views as the top guy, he had to deliver in big matches. Triple H's first HUGE match was at Royal Rumble 2000.
Mick Foley was an outspoken opponent of the McMahon/Helmsley management who ran things in Vince's absence. The conflict between Triple H and Foley set up a "Street Fight" match at Royal Rumble 2000 which saw the return of Cactus Jack, Mick Foley's violent persona to take on Triple H. The deck seemed stacked against Triple H but the Game stepped up his game. Most give full credit to Mick Foley for "carrying Triple H" to a great match. That's BS... If you watch the match, Triple H is equally taking bumps and punishment during the match. What made Triple H vs. Cactus Jack the "Match of the Year" for 2000 by many publications was due to both wrestlers equally contributing to the match and equally taking the bumps and violent shots from brawling. Triple H's body of work for 2000 validates that he just wasn't "carried" during this match. While Foley is always a great opponent and punching bag, it takes 2 to tango and Foley's best matches in the WWE were against superior opponents (Austin, Rock, Michaels, and Triple H). This great match put everybody on notice about Triple H as he had the look, the storyline, and now the great in-ring ability that he'd carry until mid-2001 when he destroyed his quad muscle.
There was a Royal Rumble match, too... The WWE was just beginning to collect and develop many new wrestlers on-screen and thus the Rumble appears a bit thin on WWE talent. The Radicalz (Benoit and Guerrero, specifically) had yet to debut and Chris Jericho/Kurt Angle were figuring out their roles in the WWE. The man of the hour for the Rumble, however, was the Rock. During the course of 1999, the Rock left the Corporation and was turned babyface by the fans. With Steve Austin injured, the Rock took the top babyface ball and ran with it. The Rumble was a great moment for the Rock and he appeared to outright win the Rumble by pulling the Big Show over the ropes while the Rock hung on. Tape later revealed that the Rock's feet hit and thus set-up the following Pay Per View and kept the Big Show in the main event scene for Wrestlemania 16's main event.
You know that your show is LOADED when Christian and Edge are wrestling singles matches on the Sunday Night Heat pre-game show. That's right, future World Champions and HUGE contributors to the year 2000 for WWE were not on the main show's card (though both were in the Rumble). The World Tag Titles and Intercontinental Titles were defended on the show with the Acolytes taking on the New Age Outlaws and Chris Jericho vs. Chyna vs. Hardcore Holly for Jericho to become the "undisputed" Intercontinental Title. How about that for Jericho? Jericho would later become the "undisputed" WWE Champion during late 2001. Those matches, with due respect to the wrestlers involved who would all have greater matches to come, weren't as remembered as two other impressive midcard bouts that got over HUGE in the heartland of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). Royal Rumble 2000, after all, was held at the Madison Square Garden in New York City.
ECW had a major talent exodus just as they finally obtained a Cable TV channel in "the National Network" or TNN (later Spike TV). Tazz and Dudley Boyz left ECW during late 1999 to join the WWE. The Dudleys joined the tag ranks immediately but many worried that their ECW style would bust as bad as Public Enemy's tenure in the WWE, also a former ECW specific tag team. But the Dudleys were talented and were quickly proving people wrong. The worked the WWE Tag Team style perfectly and were ready-made for the WWE by having a great gimmick and a perfect tag team finisher. WWE loves finishing moves and they one of the finest in the business. WWE needed a HEEL tag team badly, too, to oppose babyface teams in the Hardy Boyz and Edge/Christian who were each still young and needed great villains to push them to their limits. Dudleys vs. Hardy Boys was an excellent Tables match. The teams physically brawled throughout MSG and the fans were heavily into the match. Simultaneously, the match established the Dudleys as legitimate and further strengthened Matt and Jeff Hardy as big match guys following their Tag Team Ladders match with Edge/Christian at No Mercy 1999.
But ECW fans went absolutely bonkers over the first match on the night... Kurt Angle was a newcomer during late 1999 and was bragging out his early undefeated streak. Of course, Angle brags about it at the Rumble and calls on anyone to challenge him. Tazz's heartbeat music hits, which was freakin awesome by Jim Johnston, and the New York fans erupt when they see the Orange and Black "13" Titantron. It was Tazz with the trademark towel covering his head and wrestling in the same ECW gear. New York ECW fans were so pumped! Kurt Angle was no match for the "human suplex machine" and Tazz made Angle "choke out" with the Tazzmission submission hold. Fans went bonkers and the match fit the true definition of a "hot opener". Fans were hyped for the rest of the night.
Funny thing with the Tazz/Angle match... Tazz's career went no where but downhill after this match. Once Tazz started wrestling other WWE performers, who were all above 6'0" to his much shorter height, the WWE rethought his role in the company. Meanwhile, Kurt Angle claimed that he remained undefeated because Tazz used an illegal submission hold. This actually gave Angle great heat as a character by complaining and crying, as any great heel would, and he quickly climbed the WWE ladder during 2000 because of his great personality. Then, when the likes of Chris Benoit arrived and pushed Angle to the limits in the ring, Angle became a strong in-ring performer to complement his great personality. While 2000 started off poorly for Angle, he made the most of his Tazz loss and grew exponentially as a star in comparison to Tazz.
And finally... The late Mae Young won the "Miss Rumble" bikini contest when she shocked and disgusted everybody by removing her top straps and letting those boobies fly! Even though they were revealed to be fake breasts, they looked real enough to me... This outrageous moment just added to chaos of the night and seemed to fit perfectly with the flow of the show.
From here, the WWE would enjoy tremendous success during 2000 with Triple H as the top heel and the Rock as the top babyface along with a cast of newer wrestlers like Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, and Kurt Angle growing in the WWE and actually receiving several main event opportunities during 2000. This group of wrestlers, along with many younger and developmental wrestlers stepping their games up, created a thick roster of stars that could easily fill 4 hours of wrestling per week in RAW and Smackdown and create successful wrestling Pay Per Views worth buying during 2000. This show delivering HUGE helped get the ball rolling and the WWE made so much money that year.
All, mostly, without Steve Austin, the top star, and without its lead writer, Vince Russo. WWE didn't need them when the bench was deep enough to replace them and with others stepping up their games in their absence.
On this Day in Pro Wrestling History... The best all-around Royal Rumble Pay Per View happened!
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