All wrestling fans have a feud that lured them in during their childhood years and got them hooked on professional. Whether it was Hogan vs. Piper, Hogan vs. Andre, Hogan vs. Savage, Hogan vs. Warrior, Flair vs. Steamboat, Flair vs. Hogan, or countless other feuds, there’s always that one feud that just captivated our imaginations and got us hooked.
While I became a wrestling fan in the early 90s at a young age, my memories focus largely around the year 2000 and during that time there was a heated feud between superstars Triple H and the Rock over the WWF World Championship. Their issues had been going on for years prior, but I was hooked on the Rock chasing after the WWF World Championship, but I’ll get into that later on.
There’s a long history between Triple H and the Rock with both men switching heel and face roles and their characters evolving over time. These two rose up the ranks together and became household names over the course of a few years and provided several memories.
Triple H was the first of the two to arrive in the World Wrestling Federation playing the role of a rich, snobby man from Connecticut. Hunter made his debut on April 30th on an episode of Wrestling Challenge. For the first year of his career, Helmsley dominated his feuds winning pay per view matches against Bob Holly at SummerSlam, Fatu at In Your House #4, and against Henry Godwin at In Your House #5 in an infamous hog pen match. Helmsley started the first part of ’96 winning a feud with Duke Droese.
Helmsley kept an undefeated streak for nearly a year until he lost to WWF World Champion Bret Hart on an episode of RAW. Helmsley’s career would take a downturn after a convincing loss to the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania XII. Helmsley didn’t help his cause when he was involved in the Curtain Call on May 19th, 1996. Helmsley was punished and cost him the King of the Ring tournament, which he was scheduled to win.
The punishment lasted for nearly six months until Helmsley won the WWF Intercontinental Championship defeating Marc Mero on an episode of RAW in October ’96.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley having the WWF Intercontinental Championship was a sign of a career resurgence and there wasn’t anyone on the roster that Helmsley hadn’t defeated. That was until Survivor Series on November 17th, 1996 when Rocky Maivia made his WWF debut on an opposing Survivor Series team to combat Helmsley’s team. Rocky would be the lone survivor in the match.
Rocky Maivia is the son of Rocky Johnson, who had a successful career in the WWF where he won the WWF World Tag Team Championships with Tony Atlas. Maivia was presented as a clean cut baby face and it wouldn’t take long for him to receive a championship match.
February 13th, 1997 in Lowell, MA, Rocky Maivia won his first WWF Intercontinental Championship when he pinned Helmsley with an inside cradle. Maivia’s reign lasted until April 28th, where he lost to Owen Hart. Helmsley would remain in the mid card scene feuding with Goldust.
Rocky and Helmsley wouldn’t have much interaction following the match. Rocky would turn heel in the summer of ’97 joining the Nation of Domination and started to display a cocky attitude often referring to himself in the third person. He would soon be simply known as “The Rock”. Helmsley would transform from the snobby rich guy into a degenerate with Shawn Michaels forming Degeneration X. With both men acting as heels, they wouldn’t interact until 1998.
By the summer of ’98, Helmsley was part of the baby face stable Degeneration X while Rocky was the leader of the Nation and one of the most despised acts in the WWF. On the July 6th, 1998 edition of RAW, DX did a memorable segment where they dressed up as the Nation and mocked the entire group. Six days before their showdown at Fully Loaded, Rocky cost HHH a match where HHH lost the WWF European Championship to D’Lo Brown on RAW.
Their first pay per view match took place on July 26th at Fully Loaded and it was a best two out of three falls match. Both men got a pin fall during the match, but there wasn’t a winner since they reached the 30-minute time limit. Thus, it resulted in a draw but it setup for a star making match the following month at SummerSlam.
August 30th, 1998 at Madison Square Garden, Hunter Hearst Helmsley and the Rock provided a fantastic ladder match that elevated both men from upper mid card guys with potential to two guys who were catapulted into the main event and future WWF World Champion material. Helmsley won the WWF Intercontinental Championship after 26-minutes of action. It was the blowoff of their feud, for the time being.
The Rock would be the first of the two to win the WWF World Championship, when he won a tournament at Survivor Series in November. Rock did so in a controversial fashion when he turned on the fans and joined with Vince McMahon to defeat Mankind in the finals and effectively formed the Corporation. Meanwhile, Triple H continued to float around in the mid card scene to end ’98 after the memorable title match at SummerSlam.
Rocky would battle Mankind in a series of brutal title defenses in ’99 before losing the championship to Steve Austin at WrestleMania XV. Triple H was a face until he returned to the heel side after helping Shane McMahon retain the WWF European Championship at WrestleMania and cost his friend, X-Pac, the match. Rock would challenge Austin at Backlash, but would lose there as well and it would be just a matter of time before he embraced the positive crowd reactions he was receiving at the time.
On the May 2nd, 1999 edition of RAW, Rock turned face when he fought the Corporate Ministry alongside Steve Austin. During the brawl, Triple H tossed Rock off the ramp and it caused Rock to suffer a broken arm. Two weeks later, Triple H locked Rock in a casket and destroyed it with several sledgehammer strikes. They would do battle at Over the Edge ’99, with Rock getting a disqualification victory.
Rock would defeat Triple H and WWF World Champion The Undertaker on an episode of RAW to earn a championship match at King of the Ring. However, Triple H would get involved and cost Rock the match by hitting Rock with a Pedigree. Following the King of the Ring, Rock would get is hands on Triple H inside a steel cage on the July 5th, 1999 edition of RAW, which Rock won by escaping the cage.
Leading into Fully Loaded, Triple H was voicing his displeasure with being held back often. He had an opportunity to get a title shot at the pay per view, but Steve Austin cost him that chance in a match against the Undertaker and Triple H would settle for a number one contenders match with the Rock which was contested in a strap match. With the help of Billy Gunn, Triple H prevailed and was promised a WWF World Championship match at SummerSlam, as a result.
After a lengthy and complicated series of events following the Fully Loaded pay per view, which will be addressed in a different article, Triple H challenged for the WWF World Championship in a triple threat match involving champion Steve Austin and Mankind as a second challenger. Jesse Ventura was the special referee for the bout. Mankind would walk out as the WWF World Champion, but the following night on RAW, Triple pinned Mankind and finally achieved his goal of being the WWF World Champion.
Three days later, WWF World Champion Triple H defended against the Rock on the debut edition of Smackdown, debut in the sense that it would be a weekly program. HHH retained the strap after Shawn Michaels nailed Rock with a super kick allowing HHH to retain his prized possession.
Over the course of the next seven months, Triple H lost and regained the WWF World Championship from the Big Show and in early 2000 HHH battled Cactus Jack in a brutal street fight at the Royal Rumble and a classic Hell in the Cell match at No Way Out, which effectively retired Cactus Jack, for the short-term, at least. Meanwhile, Rock won the Royal Rumble despite his feet hitting the floor first instead of Big Show and would lose to Big Show at No Way Out in a number one contenders match thanks to Shane McMahon. Have no fear, Rocky would be at WrestleMania, it just wouldn’t be a singles match with Triple H.
Leading into WrestleMania XVI, it was to be Triple H defending against Big Show, but who wants to see that main event, really? Rock challenged Big Show to another match on RAW where if he lost then he would leave the WWF, but if he won he’d get the spot at Mania. Of course, Rock would win the match. Show wouldn’t lost his spot thanks to Shane McMahon pulling some stroke. However, Linda McMahon returned to television and inserted the previously retired Mick Foley into the match as well. The main event at WrestleMania would have a McMahon family member in the corner of each man. WWF World Champion Triple H had Stephanie, Big Show with Shane, Mick Foley with Linda and The Rock had Vince.
As a ten year old kid, I was amped for WrestleMania XVI and the main event. I was pro-Rock and wanted him to win the WWF World Championship since I hated Triple H and Stephanie with great passion. I ordered the show for my birthday present but it was running late and I had to go to sleep for school the next day. So, at 6am, I woke up and fast forwarded the VHS I used to tape the show and sat in horror as Vince McMahon turned on the Rock and aligned himself with Triple H and Stephanie as Triple H retained the WWF World Championship. Shane McMahon would join them as well, while Linda remained outcasted from the new heel stable.
Since Rock got screwed over at WrestleMania, Linda McMahon made sure that it wouldn’t happen a second time. So, it was announced that at Backlash Rock would have backup in the form of Steve Austin to help him combat the new McMahon-Helmsley regime. Sure enough, after nearly 20-minutes of action, Rock pinned Triple H following the People’s Elbow.
The battles between Triple H and Rock would continue as they would square off in a 60-minute Iron Man match. The week prior to Judgment Day, Shawn Michaels revealed that he had been appointed the special referee for the match. Remember, back in August of ’99 on Smackdown, Michaels screwed over the Rock by helping his buddy retain the WWF World Championship. Would Michaels be fair and impartial for the big pay per view title match?
At Judgment Day, the Undertaker made his return and was dressed as a biker instead of the previously dead man gimmick. Taker made his return during the main event and interfered during the closing moments of the match, which Shawn Michaels saw and had to disqualify Rock since Taker attacked Triple H. The disqualification gave Triple H six falls while Rock had only five.
After the McMahon’s promised title shots to Rock, Undertaker and Kane they were left in a tough situation. Eventually, Linda McMahon made a match for the King of the Ring where the WWF World Champion Triple H would team with Vince McMahon and Shane McMahon in a six man tag match against Kane, the Undertaker and the Rock. The winner of the fall would be the WWF World Champion. Needless to say, Triple H was at a major disadvantage. Naturally, the disadvantage would cost HHH the championship as Rock pinned Vince in the match and regained the WWF World Championship.
At SummerSlam, WWF World Champion the Rock would defend against Triple H and Kurt Angle. The main issue was really between Angle and Triple H leading into the show with Rock being more of an afterthought. Angle would get hurt during the match and Rock retained the championship by pinning Triple H, to effectively close out their three year feud.
What are your memories of the feud between the Rock and Triple from ’97 to ’00?
Thanks for reading.