Arnold Furious: Of the three of the scribes in this office, I think I’m arguably Triple H’s biggest fan. In that I don’t completely hate him and at one point, admittedly not for very long, he was my favourite WWF wrestler. Pretty much just for 2000 and early 2001 until he tore his quad. This is a tape that covers that particular era, so we’re all good. Host is Triple H. He calls this a highlights package of some of his best matches so we can see why he is “that damn good”. The first bout is from Armageddon. It is a terrible pile of shit and not the best match to demonstrate Hunter’s ability in the ring.
No Holds Barred
Triple H vs. Vince McMahon
The stipulations are as follows: if Vince wins, Hunter’s marriage to Stephanie is annulled. If Hunter wins he gets a title shot and the marriage continues. Interesting to note this match takes place after Vince had been “banned from WWF TV forever” about six months ago. He’s actually had a WWF Title run since then. Only in wrestling. I remember being shocked by Steph’s post match heel turn as she’d been utterly useless as a babyface, but she took to the role like a duck to water. It’s just a pity Hunter and Vince decide to have a dick measuring competition first, as they go 30-minutes. Vince isn’t a wrestler and doesn’t have any spots. Hunter, with all due respect, has never been adept at carrying people of lesser ability. It’s a recipe of disaster and the match is a humongous waste of PPV time. Seeing as Vince can’t wrestle at all they fill the match with brawling. Unlike when Austin-McMahon headlined a PPV it’s not filled with moments to excite. The difference with that match was, as a heel, Vince was getting his comeuppance. With this match it’s just brawling for the sake of it. Yes, it is a personal feud, but Hunter as the wrestler should dominate, and he does but why, unlike the showboating Austin, does he not go for the finish quickly? He doesn’t want to punish Vince, he just wants to win so he can go back to what really matters; the WWF Title. The match is dying a death so Mankind wheels out a shopping trolley full of weapons for Vince. His “use these bad boys” assertion makes me chuckle. Hunter at least inserts psychological common sense by washing his eyes out about 10 minutes after a powder shot from the chairman of the board. As if to say “I was only losing because I couldn’t see”. Mick’s hardcore weapons make the match marginally more interesting but it still drags something fierce. It boggles the mind that the WWF won the wrestling war with PPV main events like this. It goes to show just how awful WCW was at the same time.
The set for Armageddon features several military vehicles. Hunter gets creative with the props and uses a machine gun to knock Vince down. Vince manages the same with a flap from a helicopter. The weird thing about all the garbage shots is the lack of selling. Various objects are bounced off Hunter’s head, then off Vince’s head, rinse, repeat. When that gets boring Hunter just flat out disappears. As in we head to the parking lot and he’s nowhere to be seen. This is the month after the hit and run on Steve Austin and Hunter tries a similar trick on Vince, but McMahon hops over a rail to survive a badly lit, badly shot attack. A replay shows how close Vince came to serious injury. After that they resort to the same deal; bouncing heads off objects over and over again. To mix things up they add in a silly bump with both guys climbing a tower by the entranceway before Vince falls off onto a safety landing mat. Vince blades from the bump, which makes little sense. The match contains shit for the sake of it. It needs blood so Vince just bleeds. Hunter stops off to cut a promo in front of Steph before grabbing Sledgie, his trusted sledgehammer. Vince kicks him in the balls, steals the hammer and Steph leaps in the ring to demand her own vengeance. Hunter takes the hammer off her and wears Vince out with it for the pin. At least they never lost the crowd, apart from me, so it stays out of negative snowflakes, but it’s a chore to sit through and I don’t recommend it.
Final Rating: ½*
Back to the studio and Hunter mumbles through another segue before calling the upcoming match with Cactus Jack one of the best matches of his career. This is a fine choice for the tape as the energy levels and emotion are superb. Foley does an amazing job of covering for his lack of conditioning and a lot of that is on Hunter and how good he was at the time.
Triple H (c) vs. Cactus Jack
Interesting they don’t bill Cactus as being from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Plenty of “Foley is God” signs out there. To this point I felt Mick’s best match in the business was his classic with Shawn Michaels at Mind Games, despite the lack of finish. That’s about to change. The only beef I have with this match is that it should have gone on last, after the Rumble. Foley was so broken down by 2000 that it’s a minor miracle he can move around with the athleticism that he does. I guess he knew he had two matches left so he could leave it all in the ring. This match is all about progression and building. They start out on the floor brawling and Cactus takes a shot with the ring bell, which was enough to put Mankind down. But Cactus Jack isn’t Mankind. Not anymore. He’s gained a mythical power that lifts him above that. Hunter grabs a chair so Cactus demands a shot with it and Hunter delivers. Mick goes down like a sack of spuds but he gets back up! They don’t do much wrestling, they don’t need to, but Jack uses swinging neckbreakers and backdrops on the floor, as if to pay homage to wrestling in an unusual setting. They insert a crowd brawl but it’s merely to get to a New York style alleyway part of the entrance. This leads to Hunter taking a suplex on a pallet. Much to his horror he discovers a piece of wood stabbed him in the leg during that spot. Lots of blood from that and it’s right in the calf. For all the flak we’ve given Hunter, he sure knew how to man up and work with pain. In order to push the envelope Cactus grabs his 2×4 wrapped in barbed wire, which gets a massive pop. As per usual for Mick, bringing a weapon into a match backfires, as Hunter nut shots him and uses the 2×4. The WWF had seen nothing this violent beforehand. Double arm DDT but, in a rare moment of weird selling, Cactus stays down for too long before pinning. Hunter rolls his shoulder while the ref is hiding the 2×4 so they can switch to a fake weapon. “Where’s the bat?” screams Cactus at Earl Hebner. Jack lays out Hugo Savinovich for not giving him the bat from under the Spanish announce table. Hunter then takes a 2×4 shot right in the noggin. Hunter kicks out and the fans are already biting on the near falls. Also Hunter is bleeding like a stuck pig from the head and the leg. He’s having to earn this title in blood, sweat and tears.
Like his hero Ric Flair, Hunter’s blond hair is turning a shade of red as Cactus beats at his bloody head. It’s a crimson mask! Cactus, remembering his last win over Hunter, goes for a piledriver on the announce table to replicate that famous MSG win from RAW in 1997. Hunter feels it coming and backdrops out, breaking the table before the main event. Hunter sets for the Pedigree and unfortunately does it in line with the buckles, rather telegraphing the reversal. Hunter then face bumps onto the barbed wire… for 2. Hunter has juiced so much that the fans buy everything as a near fall now. Cactus Clothesline sets up Jack to take a hip toss onto the ring steps. Cactus follows that with yet another knees-first bump into the ring steps, which makes you wonder if he was planning on even walking after this match, let alone wrestling a main event the following month. Hunter, always the cerebral assassin takes out Cactus’ leg. This allows him to handcuff Jack. People get depressed at the sight of Mick Foley getting cuffed as it brings back memories of the Rock’s brutalisation of him at Royal Rumble ‘99. It also ends the fans hope that Cactus can win the title. Hunter goes after the ring steps but Cactus manages to drop toehold him, in a superb piece of defensive wrestling. Hunter then wears him out with a chair, which creates a great visual as part of the chair breaks off and flies towards the crowd. As Jack starts begging Hunter to hit him properly, the Rock runs out and chair shots Hunter so the cops can unlock Cactus’ cuffs. Now it’s a fair fight again and Jack’s first call of business is to hit that piledriver on a table. The Spanish table does not oblige and stays in one piece. Because it’s not falls count anywhere Cactus has to take it back into the ring and on the way picks up a massive bag of thumbtacks. Stephanie McMahon can’t take it anymore and runs out to appeal to Jack’s sense of fair play. Hunter takes the opening and backdrops Cactus into the tacks. Great sell from Stephanie on that. PEDIGREE! ONE-TWO-THR… NOOO! KICKOUT! This was outstanding business as the Pedigree was death and nobody ever kicked out of it. Hunter’s one-legged complaint to the ref is brilliant, but as soon as Cactus is up a second Pedigree on the thumbtacks gets the job done. A brutal ballet that had a ridiculous escalation of violence for the WWF. Hunter’s selling and bleeding made the match and the match made him.
Final Rating: *****
Back to the studio and Hunter calls Chris Jericho “a constant thorn in the side of me” and implies that when Jericho got his real shot at ‘the Game’, he came up short, before putting him over as tough. He also puts the match over as great, which it is. He’s already 2/3.
Last Man Standing
Triple H vs. Chris Jericho
The opening shine sees Jericho beat the crap out of HHH and if there’s one thing Hunter did well in 2000 it was getting other people over. It almost pains me to watch Hunter in 2000 because he was such a tremendous talent and yet he deliberately stopped being it. Jericho has an out as Hunter injured his ribs with a sledgehammer prior to the PPV and HHH works that area. Like a bastard. There’s a bit where Hunter rams his shoulder into Jericho’s ribs in the corner relentlessly. It shows both his cardio and his aggression. He’s a beast. Jericho takes such a beating on the ribs that you feel he’s done, which is a huge turnaround from the opening shine. Jericho gets a series of hope spots culminating in the Lionsault, which gets knees into the injured ribs. Because Jericho can’t catch his breath he can’t stand. Hunter goes to finish with the Main Event Sleeper, eager to capitalise on the situation he’s created. Jericho does a great job of selling how close he is to being finished with his rubber legs and his begging Hunter to kick his ass, if he can. Jericho manages a weak crotch chop and a Pedigree! As Jericho starts to stir Hunter bails for a chair, pissed off that Chris won’t stay down. He even chair shots the ribs, continuing his unrelenting focus. The escalating violence was a trademark of Hunter’s best matches. Hunter figures a Pedigree on a chair will do it, but Jericho goes low to save himself. Jericho comes back with a chair shot and Hunter bleeds a gusher off that. It’s hideous, a massive cut with loads of juice from it. Now it’s a total reversal as Hunter has the weakness and Jericho, like a shark, smells the blood. The match had previously worked on a “periods of dominance” strategy. They switch to a back-and-forth, which creates an exciting conclusion as the match is wide open. They duel with monitor shots but both survive the 10 count. Pedigree is countered into the Walls of Jericho and Hunter taps out, but that’s not in the rules. Jericho just wants to cripple Hunter’s legs so he can’t stand. Hunter gets into the ropes then realises there’s no DQ so the ref can’t break it. Steph realises that means she can interfere and jumps in there, only for Jericho to slap her in the Walls of Jericho and Hunter has to save. Hunter pulls out the sledgehammer but misses and he gets catapulted into the post. Jericho gets in one of those sledgehammer punches to set up a table spot. Hunter goes low to block it and back suplexes Jericho through the announce table. Jericho’s defence for losing is that his head hits the floor after the table. Hunter gets up, just, and Jericho stays down. Hunter wins. Great match. Another classic from Hunter’s 2000 run.
Final Rating: ****½
Back to the studio and Hunter, showing an increasing lack of charisma, recaps the issues with Kurt Angle at SummerSlam 2000 and how proud he was of how the match turned out.
The Rock (c) vs. Kurt Angle vs. Triple H
Before we get underway, and before the Rock is even out here, Hunter and Angle brawl all over the place to get over the hatred between them regarding Steph. See, Kurt was in the Helmsleys’ business and had “carnal intentions” towards Steph, which royally pissed off Hunter and practically turned him face for a while in 2000. His assault on Angle leads to a Pedigree through the Spanish announce table and the table gives way mid-move, thus dumping Kurt face first on the surface. As JR points out “his eyes are glazed over” as Kurt is just staring off into space and can’t do anything. With Angle out of the game, Rock and Hunter have to improvise a match, which isn’t hard for them seeing as they’ve worked a bunch of times since 1996 and they’re both considered top guys in the company. The only real issue is throwing the whole match out of the window, thanks to Kurt’s head injury, and coming up with something new on the fly. That’s probably why Hunter likes it enough to feature it on this tape as winging a match is a lot harder when you need to call everything in the ring. Angle gets stretchered out, unable to do anything and there is a suggestion that it’s a work as Hunter goes after the stretcher to get another lick in. I don’t know what Hunter was thinking seeing as Kurt genuinely had a concussion, but my guess is he wanted it to feel like a legitimate match. To make a real injury look like a worked one, which is the opposite of what they usually go for. The idea being that they incorporate a real injury into the worked match. Hunter actually dealt with the whole situation supremely well from the point of impact and Angle’s recovery as he holds Angle down when Kurt tries to get back up. Steph comes out and they improvise a goofy missed belt shot, which presumably was supposed to be an Angle spot. Hunter decides he doesn’t want to do any more of those spots and sends Steph to the back, which makes sense after her miscue and also because improvisation isn’t her strong point. Hunter grabs the sledgehammer as there’s no DQ, not that there’s ever DQ’s in a three-way as you can’t DQ one guy and then carry on. He hits Rock in the ribs, not the head, and uses the spot to build rather than a false finish. It’s a combination of things as Hunter needs to reinforce his heel status as the stuff with Angle was turning him face and he wants to wear Rock down and beat him his way. Hunter is looking very muscular by the way. He’s carrying none of the weight around that’d plague his later career and he looks incredible. You can see his quad muscles straining as he walks around the ring and you can see why it snapped like a guitar string. Considering the lack of structure this turns out to be a decent match, which is testament to Hunter’s leadership and Rock’s raw ability. It’s also the answer to a frequently asked wrestling question; what would happen if something went wrong in a big match? Well, they’d improvise and carry on wrestling. The show must go on!
Steph drags Kurt back out and he looks goofy but not as out of it as beforehand. Angle trips Rock to set up the Pedigree and also manages to pull Hunter off the cover. Concussed Kurt even gets a near fall off Hunter’s hard work. Angle manages to get himself enough together to come up with a belly-to-belly and they try to return to the match. Rock is very careful while setting Angle up for a DDT, but Kurt’s composure has returned. Hunter prevents a pin after a Rock Bottom, with excellent timing all around. Steph gets to do some more plunder improvisation by throwing the sledgehammer in, but Angle grabs it and Hunter accidentally punches Steph out. That was a much better spot. Angle nails Hunter with the sledgehammer but Rock spit-punches him out of the ring and hits the People’s Elbow on Triple H to retain. They did one hell of a job to get a match together after the early injury to Angle, but it does make you wonder how great the match could have been if everything played out as it was supposed to. I remember slightly disliking this at the time, but in retrospect it’s a commendable effort. If there’s ever been a match to get over Hunter’s ability to lead in the ring it’d be this one.
Final Rating: ***
Back in the studio Hunter gives a seriously neutral shill for his Three Stages of Hell match with Steve Austin at No Way Out . He calls it the highlight of the Austin rivalry and “one of the craziest matches you’ll ever see”.
Three Stages of Hell
Steve Austin vs. Triple H
First Fall: As Hunter puts it this is “straight up”. Hunter, the cerebral assassin, goes after Austin’s surgically repaired neck. When Austin comes firing back Hunter takes the permanently injured knee instead. Showing Austin’s weakness right from the off immediately casts doubt over what seemed like an obvious Austin victory. The way Hunter dissects those body parts, which are already injured, serves to make him the favourite. It also allows them to slow the pace, which is smart because it’s not a short match. Hunter then hooks a figure four putting doubt in Austin’s mind because it’s 2 out of 3 falls. Will Austin give up to save his knee and instead come back in the last two falls? Eventually he manages to turn it over, thus reversing the pressure (what a load of bollocks that is) before waffling Hunter with his knee brace-covered leg. Hunter just about avoids the Stunner and counters into a neckbreaker, even inserting a deliberate switch in position to not confuse the fans by thinking the Stunner hit. Hunter tries for something off the top, which is somewhat out of character and drops right into the Stunner. 1-0 Austin. Which, if anything, is the only major flaw in this match. The face shouldn’t really take the first fall in 2 out of 3 falls. It should always be about his fight to overcome the odds but I guess they wanted to throw some realism in there.
Second Fall: Street Fight. The street fight stipulation REALLY suits both guys as Austin loves brawling and Hunter has his best matches in a no DQ environment. Austin wears Hunter out with a chair, which gets a massive ovation. Austin gave Hunter a hellacious shoeing there. Austin pulls out a barbed wire 2×4, which Mick Foley must have left lying around, but it backfires and Austin blades off it. Hunter gets caught calling spots on camera again. Maybe it’s just his deep, manly register but it’s amazing how many times he gets caught, compared to everyone else. Austin bleeds a gusher so Hunter lines up a Pedigree only to get backdropped through the Spanish announce table in another hellacious spot. Lawler getting freaked as Hunter passes him in the air makes for a wonderful visual. Maybe he’s just freaked out about having to follow this as his match is next. Hunter goes back to his original tactic and hits a neckbreaker on a chair. In an even better spot Hunter counters a headlock into a back suplex on the same chair and they nail it. Hunter goes after his Scott Hall-esque “finisher by the ropes” spot and gets backdropped to the floor. On the floor Hunter gets whacked in the face with a chair and that allows him an opportunity to bleed too. Austin adds in the ring steps to make sure but he needn’t have… there’s blood everywhere because both guys are bleeding absolute gushers. Hunter grabs his trusty sledgehammer and Austin goes for the Stunner, but Hunter pushes him off, hits him with the hammer and finishes fall two with the Pedigree. Outstanding second fall. The crowd jeer the finish but they’re getting a third fall!
Third Fall: Down comes the cage to the ominous “cage lowering music”. The cage leaves no space around the ring but all the weapons were left in there including the barbed wire 2×4. They both use that, which causes more blood and more vicious plunder shots. The match starts to slow down at this juncture as both men are fatigued and the crowd is burned out after the second fall too. After a few minutes of whaling on each other Hunter goes to climb out with JR pointing out you can’t win by escape, only pinfall. The slower pace of the third fall puts over how tiring the match has been. Stunner is countered into the Pedigree, but Austin shoots his shoulder up at 2 ½ with the fans going nuts at the prospect of Hunter going over. Hunter adds in a chair shot and simply tosses the chair to one side. It reminds me of the match with Cactus Jack, where he got a bit dispirited at not winning with a Pedigree and felt all melancholy about the violence for a moment. Austin gets a sloppy Stunner after countering another Pedigree but this time Hunter kicks out. Very weird bump. Hunter grabs the sledgehammer and Austin the 2×4 and they hit at the same time, but it’s Hunter who lands on top for the pin. The match is a brutal ballet (I know, I know, I’ve already used that one once) and I like it slightly more than James. It’s not quite full boat because of the third fall where they tried to force spots to mean a lot. Also, as a traditionalist, I think Hunter should have gone over in the first fall but hey, these are minor quibbles and it’s a very, very good match, but it’s often somewhat forgotten because Austin and Rock went and had a barnburner at WrestleMania the next month.
Final Rating: ****¾
Back in the studio Hunter talks about tearing his quad in May and missing 8 months. He points out he wouldn’t take no for an answer and “made my triumphant return”. Video Control gives us footage of Hunter’s return on RAW in January 2002. The respect Triple H gained from finishing the match when he tore his quad turned him into a legend while he was away. He gets a loud and sustained pop, one of the biggest of his career. “I am the Game and you can bet your ass I’m back” gets an enormous pop. Back in the studio Hunter, in his silly worked voice, points out he won the Rumble and went to WrestleMania to once again become champion.
WWF Unified World Championship
Chris Jericho (c) vs. Triple H
I think this match about sums up why Hunter’s face turn failed. When he returned the fans were jazzed about it and thrilled to have him back, but two months later a large chunk of the audience has mentally checked out. That’s how little they now care, having already been treated to one of the great pieces of sportz entertainment earlier in the night with Rock vs. Hogan. Unlike that match, this one is a foregone conclusion with Jericho being treated as an afterthought to the Hunter-Steph storyline. Hunter tries to bring a storyline with him, as his leg is heavily taped, and he sells it hard from the opening. At least that brings some cohesion to the action, even if the fans don’t give a crap about it. The camera constantly lingers on Hooty McBoob at ringside and her enormous cleavage. Steph is completely uncoordinated and an attempt at raking Hunter’s eyes results in her falling over like a chump. As if it wasn’t immediately obvious what the real match was; Hunter drags Steph into the ring and looks for a Pedigree only for Jericho to save. Jericho is so unimportant to the booking, he might as well have been replaced by a cardboard cut-out. But hey, he’s headlined WrestleMania! Jericho continues to work the leg while Steph gets in cheap shots. It’s not a bad match, but for the main event of WrestleMania it’s a massive underachiever. I don’t remember the match at all back in 2002 as I’d been drinking rather heavily during the undercard and myself and the people I was watching with were still talking about Rock-Hogan. In fact, I think another friends of mine may have called me up during this match to discuss said contest, as it was so important. That feeling is evident on tape too as the fans start aimlessly chanting “Hogan” at one point. That about sums up WrestleMania X-8. Not that either guy wanted to go on last, citing that the fans wouldn’t be into it. I think if they’d gone on third last, this match might have gone over a lot differently and be remembered with greater fondness. But the crowd is dead and the match doesn’t do enough to get them involved. If you have to follow Hogan vs. Rock you’d better have a big match and the limb work doesn’t really cut it. Maybe if it was a focus of part of the match it’d be okay but Hunter is so into selling it, the leg takes over. They do work in an announce table spot for the first half-decent pop of the match, where Hunter signals for the Pedigree but is predictably backdropped through the other table. Hunter kicks out of the Lionsault, not that Y2J had used that as a finish for his entire WWF run. They run a flubbed bulldog counter, which leads directly into a Pedigree, countered into the Walls of Jericho. Hunter passes out from the pain, which doesn’t make a jot of sense considering he carried on working with a torn quad. Eventually Hunter gets into the ropes and there’s no reaction at all from the crowd. Steph jumps in the ring hoping for a DQ, which would prevent Hunter winning the title, but the Tripper hits her with a crowd-pleasing Pedigree, showing from a reaction stand-point what the fans actually wanted to see. Hunter turns into a chair shot and the kick out gets popped as the match is finally getting some traction. They work in a nice counters sequence before Jericho falls to the Pedigree and Hunter takes the title off him. Honestly, you could clip this down to the final quarter of the match and lose nothing of consequence. From a storyline perspective it makes sense to finish here as Hunter won the title, but the match is decidedly mediocre.
Final Rating: **¼
Summary: I could have lived without Hunter’s in-character links in the studio. Rather the tape would have benefitted from a little insight from ‘the Game’ on why he thought stuff was good and why he’d picked these matches to represent his time at the top of the industry. That said, there are several belters here. The Royal Rumble Street Fight is one of Hunter’s best matches, the Jericho Last Man Standing Match is another. I’m pleased to see Hunter-Austin from No Way Out 2001 on here too, as I thought I was going to miss out on that one. During the planning of the tape reviews I pointed out how great I thought it was, and luckily James came around to my way of thinking when he re-watched it. Considering this is a two hour tape, you’ve got three great matches on here over ****½, which is grounds for an easy thumbs up and the strongest recommendation. Even more so when you look at Triple H’s “definitive” DVD collection Thy Kingdom Come, which features none of these top matches.