Ten Years of Triple H- A Trip Down Memory Lane
As one of Triple H's biggest fans since he made his WWF debut on April 29, 1995, I was anticipating for months that date rolling around this year to mark Hunter's ten-year anniversary with the company. I'm so proud to have been watching him for the past ten years... and what a decade it's been for him. A decade of ups, downs, multiple character transformations, and an unparalleled work ethic.
I can remember watching his debut as a 10 year-old kid. I don't remember much of the match itself other than that he won; what I remember were my reactions to him during the match. Because of course I was still a mark back then and thought it was all real. So my first thought, when I saw this guy walking out in a tux with a snobbish look on his face, was something along the lines of, "Please." Then I laughed when he did that little aristocratic bow that became his signature while under this gimmick. But, for some reason or other, by the end of the match, I liked him. I felt strangely drawn to him.
Quite rapidly he became my favorite. I always took to the heels anyway, and his attitude amused me. I loved watching him spray perfume at guys like Henry Godwinn and Duke Droese. He was like a new version of Rick "The Model" Martel, another heel I used to love when I was younger.
Then came the Clique "Curtain Call", and Hunter's subsequently having to lose to everybody in the company from the over-the-hill, out of shape Jake Roberts, to Marc Mero, to Barry Windham. And during this time, he pretty much disappeared from pay-per-views too. But since I didn't know anything about the "inside" of the business, I had no clue why this was happening, and to me it just sucked to see him lose every single week. So at this point I started watching Nitro, and getting hooked on the nWo. But on the weekend WWF shows I still paid most of my attention to Hunter. When he won his first IC title in October of 1996, I was absolutely thrilled.
And then in early 1997, Chyna came along. And Hunter started wearing those garish robes and coming out to Beethoven's 9th Symphony. In June, he won the King of the Ring tournament- which I later learned was a year overdue- and started an awesome feud with Mankind. The two of them stole the show in a cage match at the 1997 Summerslam, though I was of course disappointed that Hunter lost.
Shortly after this, my favorite era in wrestling to date began. Around September, Hunter teamed up with Shawn Michaels- another one of my favorites at the time- to take on Mankind and the Undertaker. Cue me marking my 12 year-old ass off. I loved seeing them team together, it was like a dream come true. And then shortly after that, they formed DX, and now I was treated to my two favorites working together and raising hell every single week.
Hunter really started to come into his own during this time. Watching my old tapes from the DX era is always fun, not just for the entertainment value of the segments with him and Shawn, but because you can see Hunter become more comfortable on the mic and as himself every single week. Gradually the business casual clothes were replaced by jeans and a black leather jacket, the Greenwich Snob gimmick vanished, and Beethoven's 9th Symphony was shelved in favor of the DX theme by the Chris Warren band. Hunter's promos evolved from being awkward and clumsy (with Shawn quite obviously mouthing Hunter's lines along with Hunter during one of Hunter's first promos where Hunter was berating Vince for holding him back), to full of confidence, cockiness, and humor. He became more aggressive in the ring. And last but not least, he simply looked like he was genuinely having fun.
In the spring of 1998, Hunter went from being the second man in DX, to being its leader, when a back injury forced Shawn Michaels into a temporary retirement that would last until the summer of 2002. With the additions of Sean "X-Pac" Waltman, and the "New Age Outlaws" Billy Gunn and "Road Dogg" Jesse James, DX lived on with Hunter at the helm. No longer under another man's shadow, Hunter rose up into the role of one of the top babyfaces in the company, as DX feuded with the Nation of Domination, led by another rising young star who would remain Hunter's chief rival for years to come- the Rock. Hunter and the Rock met in a spectacular ladder match at the 1998 Summerslam, culminating with Hunter capturing Rock's Intercontinental Title. It seemed as though he would finally be in line for a main event push- but unfortunately, he was sidelined due to a knee injury that kept him out until October, while the Rock went on to win the WWF Title from Mick Foley.
Upon his return in October, Hunter continued to lead DX up until Wrestlemania XV, when he turned heel and betrayed the group, and ended up joining Vince McMahon's Team Corporate. This led to yet another drastic character change; Hunter completely reinvented himself into a killer heel that would in time become the top heel in the company. He dropped the full-length tights in favor of traditional wrestling tights, started coming out with his hair wet, grew a beard and mustache. He adopted the sledgehammer as his favorite weapon, employing it for the first time to bash up a casket inside which the Rock was trapped. His entrance theme changed from the upbeat DX theme to a harder metal screaming that it was "My Time" and to hell with "the games, the politics, the sissy-toughs". His promos changed from the humorous, innuendo-filled promos of his DX days, to angry, ranting heel promos that could sell a feud and tell a story. He chose to become a traditional heel that the fans would genuinely hate and pay to see lose, rather than a "cool heel" as the nWo and the Rock were, whose promos and antics were geared more towards getting laughs than real heel heat.
The Monday after the 1999 Summerslam, Hunter won his first World Championship, from Mankind. It's a moment I still enjoy watching, just for how genuinely taken aback by it he seems. The crowd that night wasn't even entirely booing him; there seemed to be a good deal of fans that night who were actually happy to see him accomplish his dream, who realized how much he actually deserved it.
Unfortunately, his first title reign was short-lived; he ended up dropping the belt to none other than Vince McMahon on an episode of Smackdown. And upon regaining it, lost it again to Big Show at the 1999 Survivor Series.
In late 1999, Hunter became "married", in the storyline at least, to Stephanie McMahon. Following her subsequent heel turn on Vince, what became known as the "McMahon-Helmsley Era" kicked off, just as the year 2000 was about to begin.
2000 would be Hunter's year, hands down. Nobody in either the WWF or WCW came close to outshining him in 2000. Nobody in either company had the string of back-to-back incredible matches, on both PPVs and TV, that he did. He regained the World Title in January from Big Show, and held it for most of 2000. He stole the show at the 2000 Royal Rumble in a New York Street Fight with Cactus Jack; and then again at No Way Out in a Hell in a Cell, also against Cactus; at Wrestlemania XVI, he became the first heel champion to retain his World Title in the four-way main event; had a spectacular Iron Man Match with the Rock at Judgement Day, in a time when nobody thought a crowd could be entertained by an hour-long match anymore; had more great PPV main events with Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, proving to his internet critics (and even at this time, there were many) that he was much more than a brawler. Then again, if the Iron Man Match didn't prove that to them, they're obviously morons anyway. Anyway... when all was said and done in 2000, Hunter was declared Wrestler of the Year by many wrestling magazines and internet sites, including the then-WWF.com.
Hunter's 2001 started out well, with a great feud with Undertaker (culminating in a kick-ass match at Wrestlemania X-7, which many rated as the best on the card), followed soon after by Hunter teaming up with Steve Austin to capture his first tag titles. Then, in a freak accident during a tag match with Austin vs. Benoit and Jericho, Hunter tore his left quadriceps in the middle of the match- but continued to wrestle, even letting Jericho put him in the Walls of Jericho on the announce table, and was out of action for the rest of the year. But, in true Hunter fashion, he busted his ass every single day to come back, and made a triumphant return at Madison Square Garden on January 7, 2002. The crowd response to Hunter's long-awaited comeback was breathtaking; Hunter himself has even admitted in a couple interviews that it brought him to tears after he returned backstage.
In the summer of 2002, Hunter began feuding with Shawn Michaels- my favorite Hunter feud of all time. Two years later, the feud would still be going strong. It began with Shawn's return match, at Summerslam 2002, after 4 years of being out of the ring from his back injury- and the two of them, unsurprisingly, stole the show. At the 2002 Survivor Series, they would meet again in the first Elimination Chamber match; Hunter continued to wrestle even after that clumsy, drugged-up oaf RVD landed on his throat with a botched frogsplash and he quite obviously could barely breathe, and he dropped the World Title to Shawn in the end. Though perhaps not as good a match as it could've been if Hunter hadn't been injured, it once again showed his toughness and dedication; just as when he tore his quad, he wrestled through it, rather than taking an easy way out like he could've done.
Upon Kevin Nash's return from his own quad tear, in early 2003, he began feuding with Hunter. Which was something I was looking forward to greatly, because Kev is another one of my favorites. The feud was poorly booked, but that didn't prevent the two of them from pulling off an excellent (and brutal) Hell in a Cell match at Badd Blood 2003, one of my favorite HIAC's to date.
I'll skip going over the rest of Hunter's 2003, 'cause it involved him repeatedly losing to Goldbarf. I will mention, of course, that Hunter continued to wrestle through a severe groin tear from the summer of 2003 to the end of the year, to make that bald piece of trash look like a million bucks.
Oh wait, before we leave 2003. Hunter and Shawn closed out 2003 by having what I termed the Match of the Year on the December 29 Raw, ironically a week after WWE showed their "Best of Raw" special. This match was simply incredible, and one of the best of their entire feud, easily.
In October 2003, Hunter married Stephanie McMahon in real life. The net smarks don't like it, but they can go to hell.
2004 was the year of Evolution. This heel faction, put together in 2003 by Hunter and Ric Flair, and consisting of the two of them (representing the present and the past of the wrestling business) as well as Randy Orton and Batista (representing the future of the business), brought about yet another character change for Hunter. Gone were the jeans, the denim/leather jacket, replaced with business suits and shades (for all the members, not just Hunter). The group presented themselves as the elite of WWE. Hunter and Ric had formed the faction with the goal of building up two young stars to the main event level- and in this they succeeded, as both Randy Orton and Batista are currently main eventers, with Batista being with the current (as of this writing) World Champion on Raw. So much for Hunter holding back young talent, huh smarks?
2004 also continued the epic Hunter/Shawn saga. The two wrestled at the Royal Rumble, in three-ways with Chris Benoit at Wrestlemania XX and Backlash, and then again in what was to be the climax of the feud, a Hell in a Cell match at Badd Blood 2004. There's not even a star-rating high enough for this match; it was incredible. Hunter and Shawn, as always, busted their asses, for 45 minutes straight, and the match ended with them both bloody and exhausted. And then, just when the net smarks were starting to howl that the Hunter/Shawn feud was played out, the fans themselves voted to see yet another match between the two at the Taboo Tuesday PPV, and the two stole the show yet again.
Hunter recaptured the World Title from Randy Orton at Unforgiven in September 2004; the title was vacated in December by Vince McMahon, and Hunter regained it in an Elimination Chamber match at New Year's Revolution, on January 9, 2005. This made Hunter a ten-time World Champion- and how fitting, with 2005 being his tenth year in the company?
In another example of how "selfish" Hunter is, he cleanly dropped the World Title to Batista at Wrestlemania XXI- the second Wrestlemania in a row in which he's cleanly dropped the World Title- and, as of this writing, he's once again in the title hunt.
There you have it; a recap of Hunter's ten years in WWE. Ten years of blood, sweat, ups, downs, great feuds, spectacular matches, memorable moments, and unwavering dedication to the wrestling business. It's been said by many who know him, from Ric Flair to the Undertaker, that Hunter lives, eats, breathes, and sleeps wrestling- and a look back at his first decade in WWE shows just how true this statement is.
Here's to ten more years.