From The Top 02.24.03: The History/No Way Out Review
Posted by Ross Williams on 02.24.2003
After last week’s very positive look at who I think should be the future of the WWE, here’s a look at someone who I absolutely think should not.
Just in case you’re only interested in my take on No Way Out, scroll to the bottom – you should probably do this if you like Triple H as well... get your wallets out, I’m going to be laying some bets.
Before I get going, please allow me to sincerely thank all of those who responded to my article last week – I have not yet had the chance to respond only due to the insane volume of feedback I had, but each and every one were read and greatly appreciated. I like to write back to anyone who takes the time to write to me but sometimes the clock doesn’t have enough hours!
My extremely positive take on who the WWE could have pushed instead of the somewhat-uninspiring Lesnar was met with over 99% approval – I only had one detractor, this being the chap whose e-mail I had printed in the article. Since then, this individual has written to me once more under the title of “you’re a big loser” and, upon my response suggesting that he may like to communicate with me in a more constructive manner, we’ve actually made some headway and the chap is actually putting cogent arguments toward me – certainly a good step forward.
The majority of responses were “you should be booking for WWE” – thanks, but no thanks. Not now, when I’ve got my own company to run! There were, however, one or two interesting things to note:
- Of all the stars I suggested for the push, the person to create the biggest split of opinions was Kane. A lot of people LOVED it and a lot of people HATED it. There were very few in the middle. I guess he’s the wrestling equivalent of Marmite (I don’t think you Americans are going to get that one!).
- Of all the stars I suggested for the push, the two people that the readers were most with me on were Kurt Angle and Booker T.
- The majority of you loved the idea of an Edge heel turn. Shame it’s going to have to wait now, I just hope they do something useful with him upon his return. Hey, how about we have him sing Karma Chameleon to the ‘Taker?
- A heck of a surprise for me, a large percentage of you agree with me that Christian is seriously under-utilised! I expected a deluge of “are you mad?” emails, but I got nothing but respect for giving props to the Chris-meister.
- I *nearly* put a disclaimer at the end of the column saying “this list is only a basis for starting ideas, not an exhaustive grouping” since I had left out a couple of people who I felt could be used near the top, if not totally in the main event scene. The two people I had in mind mainly were Rob Van Dam and Chris Benoit. I wish I had written that disclaimer since the amount of email I got saying “great stuff, but what about RVD and Benoit??” was not unimpressive. I got a few “what about Eddie?” emails too, but thankfully no “What about Hunter” efforts.
And this leads me to my subject this week – Paul Levesque, known to us as Triple H. I propose to break this down into three sections, each with two subsections: the past, the present and the future, each looking at the man in front of the camera AND behind the curtain. I’m going to deal with the past this week, and the present and future next week.
*****THE PAST - ONSCREEN*****
Triple H joined the WWF in 1995 portraying a “Greenwich snob” – basically put, it was a cheap American rip-off of the Lord Steven Regal character in WCW. Hunter had the arrogance down pat, but the character didn’t really get over. Following feuds with Bob “Sparkplug” Holly, Duke “The Dumpster” Droese and Henry O “my God NO!!!” Godwinn, Hunter was stuck with little to do. A mashing by the Ultimate Warrior at WMXII didn’t help much. In 1996, Hunter was bringing beautifully dressed women to the ring with him for each match. By the end of 1996, Mr. Perfect was usually interrupting matches and leaving for the locker room with said beauties in tow. This all culminated in Perfect and Hunter suckering Marc Mero into a bait-and-switch wherein Hunter became the IC Champion. Perfect left the WWF soon afterward and Hunter went on to an incredibly dull title reign, terminated in February 1997 by the then-incredibly dull Rocky Maivia. Hunter won King of the Ring that year and contested a decent feud with Mick Foley (as Dude Love/Cactus Jack/Mankind) albeit one that didn’t click too well with the audience. Then it happened...
Hunter was joined on screen with Shawn Michaels in the first D-Generation X. Still not getting over unless he had Shawn alongside him, Hunter plodded along with the European Belt usually around his waist, contesting adequate matches and usually just revelling in getting any form of rub from Michaels (homosexual subtext completely intended). One night after WrestleMania XIV, Triple H declared himself leader of D-X and recruited X-Pac (giving us all reason to hate him forever) and the New Age Outlaws. He began acting like a complete jackass to everyone. The crowd lapped it up. Contesting a heated feud with the Rock-led Nation of Domination throughout the Summer, Hunter was over at long last. Injuries and issues kept him from growth for the next six months, but 1999 was a different matter.
Turning heel at WrestleMania XV and allying himself with Vince McMahon’s corporation, Triple H was moved up the card, away from the D-X midcard patrol. By the Summer, his frame was carrying far more than a suspicious extra 30lbs of pure muscle mass – he was sporting the WWF World Title – a title that he would trade back and forth with The Rock through much of 2000 in a superb feud, one which directly followed another superb feud, probably the best of Hunter’s career, with Mick Foley. Hunter was on fire. The first ever heel to leave WrestleMania with the World Championship, he was capable of great matches in the ring, he’d got his act together with his once-awful interviews and he had become a genuinely compelling character.
In early 2001, it looked like management were priming Triple H for a face turn and top line run with the title over the Summer at the expense of new top heel, Steve Austin.
Then one of Hunter’s Quadriceps muscles tore.
Out for around 8 months, management hyped Triple Hs return so extensively that he was a lock to win the World Title at WrestleMania XVIII – and he did. It should have been the perfect comeback for an exceptionally good wrestler. The problem was that he wasn’t an exceptionally good wrestler anymore. Ring rust is one thing, but Triple H was now finding it hard to get a good match out of highly capable opponents. His interviews were long and meandering. After losing the World Title as quickly as he had won it, he engaged in a pointless feud with Shawn Michaels, losing to him at SummerSlam. Soon thereafter, Triple H was awarded the “World Title” on RAW. There was little explanation given to this. From here, he defended this strap against Rob Van Dam and Kane, the latter of whom he defeated to unify the IC title and World Titles. Playing hot-potato with the belt during November and December, HBK got a quick title run in before Hunter got his belt back. Since then, Triple H has been involved in the worst match of the last decade (see Rumble, Royal (2003) vs Steiner, Scott) and formed a heel stable, the Evilution (apparently).
*****THE PAST – OFFSCREEN*****
“Can I carry your bags, Sir?”
I think that’s how it went… back in 1995, the WWF had a cancer in the locker room who called themselves the Kliq – namely Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Sean Waltman. They held a huge amount of sway over storylines and the onscreen product, going as far as to go on strike during a publicity appearance until Vince McMahon personally flew out to visit them and re-book an angle to their liking. Hunter carried Hall and Nash’s bags for them. This is how he gained access to the executive washroom, so to speak. In the Summer of 96, with Nash and Hall leaving, and with Waltman laid low with yet another neck injury, Michaels cut a very unpopular figure in the locker room. Triple H was still there for him though and it was only a matter of time before promotional figurehead HBK was “suggesting” that Triple H get more airtime. The result? His first IC title win despite not being slightly over. After a year, this wasn’t working, so Tripper *presumably* broached the idea to Shawn that they hook up on-screen. With everything to gain and nothing to lose, Triple H was in a win-win situation and when Michaels’ back decided to lose its smile, Triple H took the ball and ran with it. Granted, at this point, he’d done nothing too dodgy backstage, he’d played his friends to his advantage and let them parlay for him, but this isn’t remiss – it’s just smart. He’d not done them over, he’d just let them help him.
Whilst very popular as the head of D-X, by September, Hunter was, at best, the number three face in the company behind The Rock (who was still meant to be a heel at this point!) and Steve Austin. As we’ve all learned since, being anything less than Number One isn’t Hunter’s thing. So, highly desirous of a top spot, Tripper went about the metamorphosis into a fully-fledged top liner. His absence from TV via injury for much of late 1998 gave him a chance to work out like a demon and take his vitamin supplements (come on, guys, you know full well that you don’t inflate *that* much without LOTS of vitamins, if you dig me). By the time he returned to action, he had *the look*. By the Summer, he’d begun to sport a beard and shunned his two tone full length tights for a pair of trunks, something favoured in the main event. As The Rock turned fully-fledged face, with the Steve Austin roller-coaster slowing down due to nagging injuries and with no real competition at the top of the pile, Triple H was not only the clear choice for top heel, he was clearly the only choice (before you write in and say “what about the Undertaker?”, the answer is “NO”).
Up until this point, Hunter had played his cards extremely cleverly. He exploited every chance he got – Michaels was downed with injury, I’d put money on Triple H having something to do with the suggestion that he stepped in to head up D-X. Sensing a lack of top heels, I’d put further money on Triple H pushing for his own heel turn and, thus, promotion up the card. Heck, there’s nothing wrong with ANY of this, he’s simply being a very savvy businessman. This is the same sort of behaviour that made me Managing Director of a recruitment sales company at the age of 24.
At some point during mid to late 1999, it is widely acknowledged that Hunter began to cheat on Joanie Laurer (the creature known as Chyna) with Stephanie McMahon.
It is also widely acknowledged that, by this point, Hunter had “Vince’s ear”. This is a very important thing – it means that Vince is keen to hear your input on things and is tantamount to having a promotion.
A combination of nepotism (ish), potential and desperation led to Hunter’s continued rise and prevalence onscreen. The nepotism was through association with Stephanie, who evidently holds sway backstage and would, arguably, have had something to do with the push of herself and Hunter together on-screen as the top storyline in the federation. The potential was that Hunter was beginning to get the hang of this interview lark and was also pretty decent in the ring. He looked like the real deal. The desperation was that few others did. Following Steve Austin’s withdrawal from the WWF due to his neck surgery, the only other bona fide star they had for the top of the card was The Rock. Triple H was the only person who had a hope in hell of carrying WrestleMania against him, so they put all their eggs in his basket.
Somewhere over the next 6 months, things went wrong – but not for Hunter. Dominating all television shows, Hunter became *the man* in the WWF. All storylines seemed to revolve around him. D-X reformed around him and crumbled as soon as he was gone. The McMahon-Helmsley era was the main event. 2000 was a bumper year for wrestling and it was, in large, due to Hunter. The Mick Foley feud was brilliant. The Rock feud was brilliant. The Kurt Angle teased feud was brilliant. It was all brilliant.
Somewhere along the way, Hunter captured Vince’s ear like no other. Mick Foley was on his way out, but was persuaded to work a final programme with Triple H and put the new headliner over as a hard nut to crack. Was it Hunter’s idea? Well, I couldn’t possibly guarantee it, but I think we can probably hazard a decent guess that he was something to do with the proposition. It is generally accepted that Hunter was in Vince’s ear when the decision for The Rock NOT to leave WrestleMania XVI as the World Champion was made. Unquestionably, with the view being the Rocky is more than happy to lay down when called upon makes him look like a pushover backstage. Tripper likely felt that he could get away with it, sell the idea to Rocky and Vince as it being “unpredictable” and would only make Hunter look stronger so that Rocky would look stronger when he beat Tripper at Backlash.
When Hunter dropped the strap to Rocky at Backlash, I’d put yet more of my hard-earned on his having a swift word with Vince and suggesting that hotshotting the strap back to Tripper at Judgement Day via some form of screwjob would only build heat for the rematch at yet another PPV confrontation, King of the Ring, where Triple H would again lose the belt to The Rock.
You have to understand that, back in these days, they only really had The Rock and Triple H at the top of the card. Austin was out, The Undertaker was only just on his way back, Foley was retired and Kurt wasn’t quite ready yet (see Lesnar, Brock). As such, they HAD to stretch The Rock vs Triple H out as far as they could – and stretch it they did, getting 5 PPV main events out of it in the space of 6 months.
Oh, by the way, did I mention that Triple H lost the World Title to the Rock at King of the Ring by virtue of Vince McMahon being pinned? That’s right, Tripper didn’t take the three count. Vince did. Due to some form of wacky stipulation, Rock won the World Title without pinning the Champ. Obviously Tripper was using the “keep me valuable” card again. Heck, at this point, he was right – they HAD to keep him valuable since he was their only top liner. Triple H was doing the smart businessman thing again – doing everything he could to keep his stock onscreen as high as possible so that the business could prosper. Prosper it did.
We hit a slight snag in late 2000 when Triple H and Stephanie apparently nixed the idea of Steph leaving Tripper for Kurt, something the IWC had been salivating over, and the Kurt Angle/Triple H feud was closed seemingly just after it began. We were all left feeling a smidge empty after that, I can tell you. Still, Hunter went off into his feud with the returning Steve Austin as Kurt Angle won the World Title from the Rock, and suddenly, we had two heels and two faces at the top of the card. Everything looked good and it looked like we were going to get a little variance.
The Royal Rumble saw Kurt Angle retain the World Title against Triple H. However, during the match, Triple H spent a substantial amount of time shrugging off Angle’s offence. He wasn’t pinned clean – he was only subdued after a ref bump and a sneak attack by Steve Austin. In short, he made Angle look like a pussy.
At the end of this match, it was clear who the top heel was. It was made even clearer the next month at the incredibly good No Way Out 2001, when Tripper went over Steve Austin in a Three Stages of Hell match. It was a pretty shocking decision to the IWC – I’ve got to say that I called it, because it made decent booking sense for later in the year. With Austin winning the World Title at WMXVII and turning heel in the process, he’d need a challenger to make the Summer interesting whilst the Rock was off shooting the Scorpion King. By virtue of his No Way Out win, Tripper had a good reason to make that challenge. I’d continue slapping money on the table that says that Triple H had a lot to do with the booking of this all. After a year of being a key player for McMahon, Vince was purported to be on very good terms with Hunter. Usually, what Hunter wanted, Hunter got. Hey, why not?! He was incredibly over and an incredibly good worker. Sure, we’ll let him get away with little blips like the Angle bashing. After all, he made Foley look hard as nails. He went toe to toe with the Rock and they made each other look great. Likewise for Austin. It was a bit of a mystery as to why he didn’t do the same for Angle. Hell, we moved toward WrestleMania and Tripper made the Undertaker look like a million bucks, going down via pinfall in the semi-final. The explanation to the strange Angle behaviour was forthcoming.
Snap! There goes the Quad.
“Hey Vince, if you show them what I’m going through with the op and the rehab, we’ll be able to get some serious mileage out of this – I’ll be able to come back as a face and massive sympathetic favourite!”
“Good idea, Hunter!”
I’m not saying that this conversation actually happened, but I’d wager a bob or two that it did.
Upon his return to action, Triple H elicited a huge response from the MSG faithful and then mashed his old mate Kurt into the ground. At the Royal Rumble, Triple H rather handily won the Rumble match, last eliminating his best friend Kurt. At No Way Out, Kurt won the number one contendership from Triple H via screwjob. The next night on RAW, Triple H won it back clean, no screwjob. Angle looked like a pussy again.
The build up to WrestleMania came and went. The match was Hunter vs Jericho. The storyline was Hunter vs Steph. Oh yes – and the extra in the storyline – their dog, Lucy. Jericho was the fourth member of the equation and stayed this way. At WrestleMania, Hunter put the exclamation mark on Jericho’s poor Undisputed Title reign by treating him like a jobber, not selling for anything and dispatching him in less than 15 minutes with a single pedigree. Bye-bye, Chris, see you in the mid-card!
A problem came in that the match wasn’t very good. Over the next few months, nothing Triple H was involved in (which was a lot) was very good. People started bitching backstage that Triple H never put anyone over. In response, he layed down for Hulk Hogan and gave him the World Strap, no questions asked, a mere month after he won it. He turned heel 2 months later, battering his old mate, Shawn Michaels, who he then jobbed to at SummerSlam. Having jobbed to a bunch of people, Hunter got a World Belt given to him and rebuilt his heat by beating Rob Van Dam and Kane.
Did I say “beat”? How about butchered? We’re back to the Angle treatment. Don’t even get me started on his mini-feud with Booker T, which ended up with Booker looking like a bellhop, waiting around until Michaels showed up to progress the HBK vs Triple H (with 4 guys in the background) match at Survivor Series, where Hunter did “the right thing” and did the job again for Shawn.
Since then, Tripper has made Steiner look like a genuine threat (even if Steiner hasn’t managed to keep this illusion up himself).
Count that cash and throw it on the craps table, I’m staking the spondulicks on Tripper, as a perceived valuable commodity for the company, saying that he thinks that having one of their top stars (him) lose to a Van Dam or a Angle would not up the stock of the underling, only decrease the stock of the top star (him). As such, the top star (him) should get the win. However, he’ll happily bow down to any proven commodity, since it’s “good for business”. Hell, that’s the pitch I would have made to Vince. If I were a complete bastard who was only out for myself. Anyhow, back to the point…
For sure, it’s a bizarre story. In the space of a couple of years, Triple H has made The Rock, Stone Cold, Undertaker, Hogan, Shawn Michaels and Scott Steiner look like credible threats and he’s made Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam, Kane and Booker T look like no threat at all. Why is this?
Ironically, it’s because Angle, Jericho, Van Dam, Kane and Booker ARE the greatest threats behind-the-scenes and the others are not threatening at all.
The Rock was a bigger star than Triple H when they feuded. As such, Triple H was gaining heat and momentum due to the feud. There was no shame in jobbing to someone above him on the card. Likewise Steve Austin. Likewise The Undertaker. All three, established stars. All three, no threat to his position on the card. Win or lose, he was still assured of his top slot. Hunter had no problem putting Hogan over because Hulk is a legend and Hulk is only back for a quick run – thus posing no threat to Hunter’s spot on the card. Shawn Michaels can’t wrestle full time and, as such, poses no threat to Hunter’s spot on the card. Scott Steiner is one dodgy bump away from retirement and not long for this World Wrestling Entertainment lark. As such, Hunter’s not threatened by him. Long after all of these guys are long gone, Hunter will still be there. Or so he’d like to think – his ingestion of a mountain of vitamins may nix that plan.
When all of those guys are gone, who will Hunter have to share his spotlight with? Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Kurt Angle, Kane and Chris Jericho. However, since Triple H is a “bigger star” than them all, he’ll be the top guy. Overwhelmingly simple. The reason Tripper makes them all look pathetic is to ensure that the people who are not at the same level as him on the card don’t make it to the same level. If they’re below him, they stand no chance of knocking him off his perch. It’s pure politicking – he’s got to the top and he’ll be damned if he’ll let anyone have his seat.
The greatest tragedy is that there may be no seats left for anyone if his behaviour continues. Join me next week for a look at how Triple Hs behaviour is affecting the current product and will continue to affect it unless something is done about this tyrant.
*****NO WAY OUT*****
Here’s a quick recap and opinion on many of the matches… I must apologise for not having managed to catch the first two matches, but I would assume that Regal and Storm retained their tag straps against RVD and Kane, with no major incident, since nothing was mentioned for the rest of the show, and I know that Jericho beat Jeff Hardy, because Jeff wandered backstage into Matt’s presence, where Mr. Hardy Snr. advised his younger brother that he might win more often if he paid more attention to the rules of Mattitude. Boy’s got a point there, you’ve got to agree.
Matt Hardy p Billy Kidman via Twist of Fate from the second rope.
A moderate match that generated next to no crowd heat, there were a few decent exchanges of holds but nothing to really hook the audience into. However, the audience didn’t make it easy for the wrestlers to work, only reacting by shouting “two!!!!” whenever a two count was registered. It was funny for about 0.3 seconds. Either way, towards the end, Kidman fluffed the SSP, Hardy nailed a vicious looking Twist of Fate, but Kidman kicked out. Cue interference by Shannon and a Twist off the second rope and Matt Hardy is your new cruiserweight champ. He got a decent response to the win. However, the men in the ring didn’t get too well and it just goes to show that Hardy is most certainly not a cruiser. Heck, Kidman only just fits in these days. Bring back the European belt for Matt, that’s what I say.
The Undertaker s The Big Show via Triangle Hold proxy referee decision.
Yep, as messy as it sounds. The tragic thing is that this match was actually pretty tasty for the opening 5 minutes, with some good brawling action. Sadly, it dragged on for far too long and they went with some near falls which are not advisable for big men to go for. After 10 minutes, I was begging for the end to come mercifully. It didn’t. After a few holds of the more sturdy variety, Heyman got involved and then A-Train did a run in, then ‘Taker hit a plancha (impressive, even if Train didn’t bother catching ‘Taker) and then Show hit a chokeslam, which somehow ended up in Undertaker snaring him in a very sloppy Triangle hold (although I like the continuity here – this is the same move that knocked Undertaker out last July) and the ref called for the bell. Show looked awful in an Andre outfit, his gut seems to have enlarged beyond all reason. On the other hand, Mark’s been hitting the gym! Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in such good shape and he was really on form for the first 5 minutes here. They both tried, bless them, with the Show even pulling out a spinebuster, but ultimately screwy booking and twice the length that was needed was the downfall of this one.
Brock Lesnar and Chris Benoit d Team Angle when Haas tapped to the Crossface.
Pretty much as anti-climactic as it sounds. No replacement for Edge after they’d pulled the predictable injury angle, Benoit and Angle had some truly magnificent exchanges, any segments involving Angle and Brock were bereft of the heat they need for main eventing at WrestleMania and, moreover, not particularly good. Benjamin and Haas were on moderate form, but Benoit was on fire, throwing German Suplexes like there was no tomorrow. The match suffered from no real storyline work and ended up in a mess like the previous bout, extremely overbooked. Angle took a shitty looking F-5 at the end, Benoit made Haas tap to the Crossface and got a big pop for his efforts but there was no real rhyme or reason to this one. They were pushing this as a big reason to buy the PPV – if I had had to pay for it, I would have felt cheated. I tried to look objectively at Brock here and he did get a reasonably tasty reaction upon his entrance, but it died from there and he looked absolutely flavourless in the ring, save for Charlie Haas’ overselling.
Triple H p Scott Steiner following a Pedigree.
Oh Lord, this was poor. Not as bad as the Rumble debacle, but the crowd were solidly behind Tripper here. They absolutely hated Steiner from the word go. I think it’s sad when the wrestlers can’t adapt mid-match to how the crowd are reacting. Steiner should absolutely not have been attempting to play the face when every single move from him would see a volley of jeers head his way. Feeble action throughout, I would be ashamed of myself if I were Steiner. The only worthwhile segment of the whole sorry episode was the three lengthy and booming chants of “you screwed Bret” directed at Earl Hebner.
Fat Steve p Eric Bischoff after about 25 stunners.
Well, it was three stunners to be exact… one thing can be said though – either Austin desperately needs to get some more capacious cut-off jeans or he needs to get on a treadmill and do some running – or both. Steve looked seriously flabby here and was totally blown up after just kicking Bisch around the ring for 5 minutes. The crowd was hot for him though, chanting Austin throughout the match. Let’s just hope that he gets in game shape for WrestleMania, eh? It was strange to see a man with a 6 pack AND a beer gut at the same time. Seriously, his shorts were clinging to his legs like a newborn Siamang Gibbon clings to its mother in the canopy layer.
The Rock p Hulk Hogan after screwjob, chairshot and Rock Bottom.
Yep, Vince stuck his nose in and had the lights turned out after Hogan’s legdrop. Rocky then smacked the shit out of Hogan with a chair, Rock bottomed him and the ref sprung into action quicker than you can say “Earl, do you swear on your kids?” and counted the three. The crowd were totally against Rocky here, which is a great shame since the man doesn’t need to come back anymore and deserves some serious respect for even bothering with the WWE now. Tragic irony being that this goes to prove that he’s actually not a sellout at all. Rock worked hard here, looking smooth in the ring. Hogan looked sluggish as always and the match was nothing really but nice to see Hogan get whipped by the same guy twice in a row. After Rocky had left, Vince got in the ring and posed a bit, tore his shirt off (a defaced Hogan T-shirt) and threw it in Hulk’s face.
A very predictable end to a very disappointing show. Note to WWE: must do better next time. They won’t, but it’s nice to hope.