WRESTLEMANIA AXXESS EXCESS
(THE ONE WHERE TRIPLE H FINALLY GOT HIS BIG MANIA MOMENT)
The year was 1999.
Hold on let me pull it up on the WWE Network.
Full disclosure: This is the first of these articles that I have written since the launch of the WWE Network. I began writing the series on February 1 and as I type it is February 25. By the time you read this it will be many weeks from now. Greetings from the past!
Anyway, the year was 1999. Steve Austin's various health problems had finally caught up to him and with the stability of the company ensured, Vince finally allowed him to take a sabbatical to repair (as best as could be done) his injured neck.
Although you wouldn't know that if you (A) weren't an internet-reader, or (B) watched any WWF programming in the lead up to Survivor Series. The main event was scheduled to be Austin vs. Rock vs. Triple H in a triple threat match for Triple H's WWF Championship. These were the undisputed top three dogs in the company, and putting them in the ring together was sure to be a big money maker.
Which was probably why Vince never told the pay-per-view (PPV) buyers that the biggest of those top stars would not be competing.
Austin was run over by a mysterious (Triple H, obviously) car driver (Triple H, I mean who else) which launched a year-long mystery (Triple H did it, stupid, it's booking 101) with a typical unsatisfying payoff (Rikishi did it...because Triple H...told him to? I dunno). By the end of the night, Big Show was champion, Austin was off to rehab and the fate of the company rested on the shoulders of Rock and Triple H.
They more than carried the load. They increased every measure of revenue the company had. They took B-Show PPVs to buyrates never before (and never again) seen. They created a second house show boom with success not seen since the early Hulk Hogan era. Ratings were through the roof with nary a dip in the absence of Stone Cold.
Business was a-booming as WrestleMania 16 approached. The company had more than bounced back from near-defeat at the hands of WCW. They had launched themselves to incredible financial and creative success and had plucked away underutilized WCW talent and turned them into budding superstars.
The aforementioned Big Show had a spell as champion, Chris Jericho was getting over a post-debut slump and becoming a mid-card superstar, Chris Benwho was about to debut with fellow Radicalz and Kurt Angle was a rookie sensation. Things were looking good, and that's not even getting into the Tag Team division. Put simply: The company in early 2000 was LOADED from top to bottom. Everyone was over, everyone had a story, everyone had a feud.
Naturally, WrestleMania would be a dud.
Where to begin? Other than a "cat fight" there was not one traditional 1-on-1 match-up. The crowd was...okay, but the venue was too small for such an assortment of popular and talented performers (even if the card itself underutilized them).
The main event scene was hot, with Triple H doing Hall of Fame worthy work as the heel champion/authority figure (the only time the "Mr. McMahon"-type angle has been recreated without feeling contrived or derivative). A 1-on-1 match with The Rock (the unquestioned hottest babyface in the company) seemed inevitable after Rock's Royal Rumble win. The match-up was perfect: both guys were talented in the ring, oozed charisma, had years of backstory (feuding over the Intercontinental title, and as leaders of their own respective stables), and had basically carried the company since Survivor Series (if not before).
But this is the Attitude Era. Keeping it simple is passe.
The now-infamous "McMahon in every corner" story took over and though it made for fun TV (for the era), it really diminished what could have been a classic one-on-one feud. Instead it became Rock vs. Big Show (with Vince and Shane feuding on the side) sharing screen time with Triple H vs. Mick Foley (with Stephanie and Linda feuding on the side). It was convoluted, overbooked and often a storytelling mess.
Just like the main event.
To be honest, I have a soft spot for this match as this was the first WrestleMania I watched live. For what it was, it's not a bad match. The action is fine and really gets going once Big Show is eliminated (surprise surprise). The crowd was into it and, for all its faults, the presence of the McMahons really made the match rise from B-show main event to a spectacle worthy of WrestleMania. A 1-on-1 Rock vs. Triple H match would have been more traditional and a better match, but what we got was certainly memorable and at times a lot of fun to watch.
Then comes the finish.
I don't think Triple H had the stroke to suggest that he, the despised heel, should go over on the show where the good guy is supposed to triumph, but I'm sure he humbly agreed it was best for business.
And, to be honest, it was.
Based on the way they booked the road to WrestleMania, a Rock victory didn't make sense. He had barely feuded with Triple H since the Rumble (keeping busy with Big Show) so a win over him would have popped the crowd but not the buyrate. If anything, a Mick Foley win made the most sense (since a heel victory was heretofore unheard of). If you will remember, Linda McMahon declared that should Mick Foley win the title, he would retire the champ, at which point a tournament would have been set up, culminating in a championship match at Backlash. The very fact that they took the time to spell that out tells me a Foley win was at least in the cards. Instead, they went with the finish that was sure to pop the biggest buyrate...at the next PPV (and it did...though a promised appearance by Stone Cold probably helped too).
So Triple H going over was, at least here, what was best for business. He got the pin over Rock, after Vince turned on the People's Champ, leading to the go-home-happy moment of Rock giving Stephanie the People's Elbow. That was a great mark out moment (Steph was never hotter-or hotter-than in early-to-mid 2000) but it didn't erase the horrible feeling that you bought WrestleMania (for 30 dollars!) just to watch the bad guy win again.
Usually here is where I ask "what could have been done to save the main event" but really this event didn't need "saving." It wasn't a WrestleMania 9 fiasco or a WrestleMania 25 dud; it was at times a very fun Attitude Era closing match. Could it have been better? If you forget letting Mick Foley fulfill his dream of main-evening WrestleMania, and you kick Big Show to the curb in February, you could have built Rock vs Triple H into a HUGE main event worthy of the "Showcase of the Immortals". Backlash 2000 proves it.
Having said that, with the benefit of hindsight I wouldn't have changed it. I was glad Mick got his big WrestleMania moment. I was glad Stephanie got some comeuppance. And I was glad to see Triple H finally stand tall at the end of WrestleMania. It's such a rare thing to see, it's nice.
Sound off, Cagesiders. This is always a polarizing main event, so let us know if you think it should be lower or higher. What about Rock vs. Triple H instead of the Fatal Four-Way; should that have been the final bout? What if Chris Jericho had been in place of Big Show as Rumble runner up, February Rock foil and WrestleMania four-way-er? Would that have been a better main event?
I'll go ahead and answer "Yes" to that one. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Tomorrow's main event features the future number two babyface getting put over in the number one match. See you then!
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