Is there a point where the overwhelming hatred for someone's backstage actions colors the view of their in-ring work to such an extent they become underrated and under-appreciated? In the case of Triple H, I believe we have crossed that rubicon.
The prime example of this phenomena comes from Bret Hart. "The Hitman" has infamously stated his belief that Triple H didn't have a great match to his name and wasn't amongst the 1,000 greatest wrestlers of all time. Hart has as good a reason as anyone to hate Triple H, but even the most ardent Triple H haters would disagree with his sentiments. That wasn't the case, however, as in the wake of his comments, a sizeable chunk of the fan base came out in support of Hart's comments that Triple H was never a great wrestler.
The notion that "The Game" was never a great wrestler is, to be frank, insane. Let me be clear, though: I am not saying that Triple H belongs amongst the greatest of the greats. His body of work, however, does warrant consideration to put him the second tier just underneath the very best ever. I am also not saying that there aren't stages of his career in which the criticism of Triple H is unwarranted (such as the Booker T feud).
The major crux of the arguments against Triple H seem to revolve around this notion that he could not bring it in the ring. Was he ever the most talented worker on the roster? No, but from 1999 until his quad tear in 2001, it is not a stretch to say that his output was as good, if not better, than anyone's else during that same period. I feel there is even a case to be made that it was one of the 10 greatest stretches in WWE history and a run that helped transition WWE away from the post-injury Steve Austin style of brawling that, while done well by Austin, was poorly imitated throughout the card.
Looking at his career, a wide variety of people had some of their best matches with the "Cerebral Assassin". If you were to create a master list that recorded the best five matches of each wrestler's career, Triple H's name would pop up plenty of times on plenty of lists, including for wrestler's like The Rock, Chris Jericho, Jeff Hardy, Chris Benoit, Batista, and Undertaker.
At what point does the number of great matches on his resume cross the threshold into greatness?
Beyond his capability in the ring is his character work. Triple H simply understands the psychology it takes to be a truly great heel and he continues to demonstrate that understanding to this day in his role as an authority figure. When you go back and watch his work as the Connecticut Blueblood, the little things he does right turn an outright terrible concept for a gimmick and make it watchable. It's the little things that Triple H gets right that helped create such a fantastic heel throughout his various incarnations in later years as the "Cerebral Assassin" and one part of Evolution.
Maybe in a couple of years this will all have been for naught as the collective history starts to look more kindly on Triple H's legacy. Maybe it will turn out to be more controversial as the polarization of Triple H becomes more entrenched. To me at least, it will be interesting to see how the outcome of WrestleMania XXX and his overall work behind the scenes in the coming years will affect his lasting legacy.
What are your thoughts, Cagesiders? Who else do you think fits the moniker of underrated and under-appreciated?