James Dixon: I am a huge fan of heavy metal. However, I am absolutely convinced that WWE’s decision to replace the iconic entrance music of its biggest stars with nu-metal covers harmed their reactions on live shows. Steve Austin swapping his classic theme for a naff Disturbed version killed his entrance pop dead in 2000. Triple H had the same treatment, with his entrance music butchered by Drowning Pool. I bring it up, because the disc opens with Hunter on stage with the band, and him roaring, “It’s time to play the game,” before ripping off his shirt. Y’know, when wrestlers do things like that in the ring it is fine, but when they do them away from wrestling, it comes across as really weird.
The talking heads are out in force immediately to put Trips over. “He can take a broom and make it look good,” reckons Edge, which is the exact verbiage people once used about Hunter’s idol Ric Flair. I doubt that is a coincidence. Within seconds WWE’s resident talking head, Steve Lombardi, a man who has it written into his contract that he must appear on every profile disc released so that he can offer his expertise, calls him, “A total professional.” With insight like that, you cannot blame WWE for using him on every single thing they put out. Thankfully, Hunter has some folk on hand with a tad more credibility to put him over. One of whom is The Undertaker, who says that if he were to ever start his own promotion then Triple H would be the first name on his list of hires. Oh man, I would love to see Taker run head to head with Vince McMahon. Mick Foley thinks Hunter is the kind of guy who always wants to steal the show, while Steve Austin believes the key to his success is that he is himself. Austin also says he has a ton of respect for Hunter based on watching him work… as Terra Ryzing! Apparently, Austin saw something in him even back then. Everyone claims that now, just like they do about Austin, but I don’t buy it. William Regal tells the story of how he told Hunter to leave WCW and take an offer from the WWF, because it would mean he was working every night, which Regal felt would be beneficial to him. Either that or he didn’t like the fact that Hunter had started doing a blue blood gimmick and was stepping on his turf.
“There was an incident at Madison Square Garden that a lot of people don’t know about,” reckons Austin. Maybe when they shot this the industry wasn’t as open about its past behind the scenes shenanigans as it is nowadays, but even in 2002 everybody knew about the Curtain Call, which is of course what he is referring to. They don’t go into much detail here, just vague allusions that something happened, and that Hunter took the brunt of the punishment like a hero. “They compromised our business in our largest market,” say Taker, before adding that he was impressed because Hunter took the heat. The truth is, he had no choice. Vince was over a barrel and needed to show his authority, but with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall gone, and Shawn Michaels his champion, Hunter was left holding the bag.
Hunter talks about the origins of his nickname “The Game”, which came from a quasi shoot interview with Jim Ross in 1999. We get some clips of the interview, in which Trips complains about being held back because of the MSG incident, then reacts angrily to a question and growls, “I am the fucking game, JR”. That catchphrase sure got shortened in a hurry! Mick Foley also uses MSG to explain Triple H’s character motivation, offering the theory that he was feeding off his real-life anger about the fallout from the incident, using it to effectively play heel. It’s nonsense. Hunter’s “punishment” was losing to a few main eventers on TV for a couple of months, then winning the Intercontinental Championship immediately after his time in the doghouse was up. Half of the guys on the roster would have killed to be punished in such a manner.
We basically skip everything pre-1999, because most of it pre-D-Generation X was horrible, and DX has already had a tape release. We fast forward instead to Armageddon in 1999, skipping Hunter’s first WWF Championship win entirely. What follows is a barrage of music videos, the same ones used to hype pay-per-views, or that aired on Saturday morning wrap-up shows to explain the progression of key feuds. One of the pieces shows the Stephanie McMahon heel turn on her father and the dawning of the McMahon-Helmsley Era, a dark time for RAW because of the writers’ lack of creativity. Their theory on what the pair would do in power was to have them book a never ending series of handicap matches, which became overplayed real quick. In one form or another, the McMahon-Helmsley Era would exist for another fifteen years and counting. That all segues into another music video, this one about the Cactus Jack feud that helped make Hunter a star.
Mick Foley talks about the Royal Rumble 2000 match, saying that going in Hunter had a lot to prove as a main eventer. He thinks their program together was Hunter’s chance to show he could draw money without the help of The Rock or Austin. I disagree with this, because by 2000 we were long past the days of the champion drawing the house. It was the product as a whole.
We skip a few months to the Iron Man Match between Rock and Hunter at Judgment Day 2000, which Pat Patterson believes few others could have pulled off. Hunter himself admits there were sceptics who thought an hour match couldn’t hold attention in 2000, though he doesn’t outright name his father-in-law as one of them. I bet that is who he means though. It’s been about five minutes since someone lavished praise on Hunter, so Kurt Angle is inserted seemingly at random to note in character that, “Triple H is an amazing sports entertainer, the best I have ever known. But when it comes down to it, he is not a good person.”
We continue to skip all over the place with yet another music video, this one highlighting Hunter and Steph’s onscreen relationship falling apart. I get why these pieces exist, because they are well-made and always do a great job of putting over the angles, but there is no payoff on this release because all we get of the matches is the briefest of highlights. If anything at all. When they decide to show match footage, it is not always the best. Case in point, the botched Pedigree through the announce desk on Kurt Angle at SummerSlam 2000. Earl Hebner, referee for the bout, remembers realising the match was in trouble. Hunter remembers Earl’s role that night too, telling a story that he was getting so pissed off with the ref relaying the instructions he was receiving in his earpiece that he snapped, “Earl, fuck off! This is my match. If they don’t like it, fuck off.” Mick puts over Hunter for being a ring general and keeping the match together, but Hunter humbly credits Rock for being right there with him, and Kurt Angle for helping pull it off despite being a rookie with a concussion.
To WrestleMania X-Seven, which Hunter loved because he was played to the ring by Motorhead, his favourite band. Going back to the very start of the disc, a question springs to mind: why would you ever replace a legendary band like Motorhead with a one-trick five-minutes-of-fame act like Drowning Pool? That WrestleMania was special for Taker too, who used it as a way to answer his critics: “I think a lot of people wanted to write me off. I had a lot to prove… Well, actually, I don’t think I have anything to prove to anybody.” Taker says he liked the match (which was very good), and that any respect he didn’t already have for Hunter, he earned that night because of how easy he was to work with.
The next stop is May 2001, and the RAW main event pitting Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit against Steve Austin and Triple H for the tag titles. It was a classic match, one of the all-time greatest in RAW history, but it was also a horrible night for Hunter. It was the night he first tore his quad. Trips puts it down for having ran hard for years on end, which had mounted up and took a toll on his body. We see footage of what went down as Hunter talks us through it, explaining “It was like being hit in the knee with a hot bat”. It never occurred to him to stop the match, because that was always his mentality. You can see why Vince likes him so much. Jericho asked him if he wanted to forget the next spot, which was the Walls of Jericho on the announce desk, but Hunter told him to just do it anyway. “It was uncomfortable,” he says, which is an understatement. Having evidently not learned his lesson after being rollocked at SummerSlam, Earl pipes up that he wanted them to stop the match but Hunter wouldn’t. Earl needs to learn to butt out. When the trainer came down afterwards and Hunter diagnosed himself, the doc was amazed that he knew what he had done.
Trips says he refused surgery in San Jose because he wanted to see Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, WWE’s favourite surgeon. Doc scalds him for finishing the match, amazed that he could ever stand with the injury. Doc goes over the procedure, which he says will leave him out for around four months, but that knowing Hunter, it will be half of that. Steph looks on concerned, and even in real life she expresses sadness by pulling a big sad clown face. We see some of the surgery, which doc says was a difficult one because of the nature of the tear. It’s fairly gruesome stuff. In order to rehab, Hunter stayed at a hotel in Birmingham the whole time he was recovering, allowing him to visit the rehab centre every day from the second it opened until the moment it closed. Rehab guru Kevin Wilk says Hunter is the most motivated person he has ever worked with. The thing is though, if that is the case, and I am sure it is, then why did it take him eight months to recover rather than the four that Andrews suggested? Hunter later reveals that at the end of his rehabilitation, doc told him he had never actually seen anyone return to athletic competition following a quad tear.
Hunter addresses the controversy surrounding the WWF using him on the advertising for Vengeance 2001, based on a conversation months earlier where he said he “might” be back in time. In typical WWF fashion they went ahead full-bore with the idea that he definitely would be back. When it got closer to the time, doc told him not to do it because there was still the risk of a tear. Trips admits he probably could have done a run in, but that, “It would have been a slow one.” Instead he made his return a month later at RAW from Madison Square Garden. I don’t fully believe his story about not being ready for Vengeance. Is it realistic to believe that his knee would have gone from nowhere near ready to being fully healed to the point he was able to get physical in only one month? Clearly, the WWF had simply realised there was nothing meaningful for him to do at Vengeance, or that Hunter specifically wanted to make his return at the Garden to ensure the most vocal response to his coming back. That’s fine if that is the case, but just admit it.
The reaction Hunter received for his big return took his breath away, and rightly so too. It’s one of the all-time great wrestling pops. Jim Ross says he has never heard an ovation like it. It is not a surprise that the fans were happy to see him. After half a year of being force-fed the bungled fiasco that was the Invasion, they were clamouring for a return to something resembling normality. Can you imagine what a different beast the Invasion would have been with Hunter around? Actually, hell, the Alliance probably would have been killed even worse. Hunter says he cried backstage afterwards because of the emotion of it all. To the Royal Rumble, where Hunter made his in-ring return in the titular match. Hunter reveals he felt under pressure, and anxious about his injury. Cue lots of highlight footage set to dramatic music, then Hunter’s entirely expected win.
Hunter’s hobby is bodybuilding, which is hardly a revelation. It’s funny to me that WWE use footage of the WBF in this piece. Less entertaining is watching Hunter lift weights. Hunter talks about going to Mr. Olympia and being in awe of everyone, despite being by far the most famous person there. He says inspiring kids to work out and change their life humbles him, “Because at the end of the day, I’m just a frigging wrestler.”
Back to the storyline world, and the breakdown of Hunter and Steph’s onscreen marriage. And so it goes that the main program going into WrestleMania X-8 was between Triple H and his wife, rather than Triple H and WWE Champion Chris Jericho. It was a galling storyline, one that further cemented my intense dislike for the McMahons as onscreen characters. Cue lots of bad acting, a horrible fake pregnancy angle, and a complete lack of focus on the WWE Championship. This is around the time that the Triple H character fell off a cliff for me. His comeback was brilliant, but the few months that followed were pretty ropey, and it only got worse. Somewhere along the way he seemed to lose that drive that had deservedly got him to the top, and he began to coast along in one horrible match after another. It could have been down to concern over his quad, but I don’t buy that because he could still have great matches when in there with the right opponent (someone he liked). When he was working with guys he clearly didn’t care for, he was horrible. It just so happens that most of them were ex-WCW performers. Curious, that.
Hunter talks about WrestleMania X8 and having to follow Hogan-Rock. He argues the case for his match going on last, saying the title match should always be the main event on the show. Interesting, given he says the polar opposite on another release, even claiming that he and Jericho argued with Vince that the match would die going on after Hulk Hogan and The Rock, and that it was McMahon who forced them to go on in that spot. Whichever he believes is largely irrelevant, the only thing we know for sure is that he is a liar. We get highlights of the crappy ‘Mania match, with dramatic music and quick-cut editing making it seem like a much better bout than it was.
“She is so hated that smart marks of our business hate her. Legitimately hate her. Think she is horrible, want her off the show, think she is a ratings killer. Yet, when she is on the show, ratings are good. People wanted her to see if she is gonna get hers. That’s not somebody people don’t want to see on TV, that’s a character that people hate. She is so good at that character, and they can’t stand her because she is good at what she does.” Okay, I don’t even have the energy to tackle this one. I will just say one thing: Stephanie McMahon – ECW owner.
“He has no ego in the ring, I don’t see any ego outside the ring” – the ever full of shit Steve Lombardi. Let’s end this thing there, shall we? Nothing can follow a statement like that.
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