TRIPLE H : BURRIER OF THINGSWHAAAAAT?!?
(THE ONE WHERE CM PUNK DRESSED LIKE A GANGSTER AND MANAGED TO BE ONLY THE THIRD STUPIDEST LOOKING MAN THAT NIGHT)
The year was 2005. John Cena was the newly-crowned WWE champion and had successfully retained his championship in an I-Quit match against the former champ, JBL. It was a contest (at the May SmackDown-only event, Judgment Day) far superior to the one they had at WrestleMania 21. On that night, a little over one million buyers watched JBL and Cena have a mediocre-at-best match, in front of a heatless crowd, cut short by the Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels classic. Two months later, a little over 200,000 people saw JBL verbally submit to Cena in a star-making match.
But you only get one first impression on the big stage.
Fast forward two weeks and John Cena was drafted onto Monday Night Raw. Soon after Batista moved to SmackDown and the paradigm of the two shows would remain unchanged for half a decade.
Cena came to Raw with, let's say, 90% of the crowd behind him. His announcement as Raw's top acquisition was met with thunderous applause by the crowd. It wasn't long, however, before his once-fresh character started wearing thin on a large segment of the crowd (mostly the older, more jaded fans). The Cena character wasn't nearly as insufferable as it would be during the dark days of late-2010/early-2011, but it had also shown little evolution since he largely stopped rapping his way to the ring.
I understand the sharp edges of a gimmick tend to get smoothed off as a guy moves from mid-card to main event, but usually there is some measure of character growth to go along with it. Notice how Rock's voice (and sideburns) became more natural over the course of 1999 or how Hunter Hearst Helmsly stopped looking like an oversized jockey and started looking like an actual pro wrestler between 1997-1998.
Cena, however, didn't evolve. He stripped away the "Dr. of Thuganomics" look but had yet to find his niche as the next Superman (with matching fruity pebbles wardrobe). Instead he was just this "guy who brawls and does a fisherman suplex and hits a fireman carry to win matches".
Still, he had a lot of popularity and seemed to be ,the first potentially mainstream star since The Rock. He entered into a summer program with Chris Jericho and the two had a great match at SummerSlam.
Then he went and got Jericho fired.
Of course no logical smart fan would ever blame Cena for Jericho leaving the company a day after SummerSlam 2005, but there was this feeling amongst some of the older fans who grew up wishing Jericho would have gotten a better main event run: "Why can't he be the champ?" Soon after, Cena faced another darling of the older fans, Kurt Angle, and though Angle was never fired, the feeling of "our guy vs. their guy" only intensified. People wanted to see Angle be more than a transitional champion; they wanted him to beat Cena and have his own big run with the top title. Instead Cena beat him clean in the middle of the Survivor Series ring.
Ordinarily, these kinds of wins would solidify the new champion as the next "top guy." It certainly was doing that, but a lot of the fans were too stubborn to accept it. He was plowing through too many Attitude Era poster boys, despite their being heels, for fans to get behind him. If you want to know where "Let's go Cena/Cena sucks" came from (spoiler: it officially debuted at WrestleMania 22), it came from older fans frustrated at seeing him dominate Christian (June), Jericho (August), Angle (November) and Edge (January) in a 1-2-3-4 punch.
Cena walked out of Royal Rumble 2006 with the title. He had beaten Edge -- who beat Cena for his first title, popped a 5 rating on Raw and looked more than credible as a heel main eventer -- after only three weeks as champion. In so doing, he solidified his place as the anti-fan favorite. He wasn't an anti-hero, like Stone Cold Steve Austin, who acted like a heel with his viciousness but was beloved by fans; he was an anti-babyface, working like a good guy, booked like a good guy, but quickly becoming actively hated by a large segment of the fan base.
And then there's Triple H.
What a wonderful role he had in making this main event so memorable. After dominating Raw from the time Austin and Rock skipped off, he had held on to the Monday Night Championship with a vice grip, only relinquishing it for short bursts to men like Shawn Michaels or Goldberg or Chris [name redacted]. Time after time the one constant on Monday night was either "Triple H is the champ" or "Triple H is about to regain the championship."
He put over Batista and the "The Animal" shuffled off to the Blue Show. "The Game" likewise left Raw for a hiatus (he had been a machine in the wake of Austin and Rock leaving, not even taking time off while injured). This left Raw to the hands of John Cena and the aforementioned "FU Attitude Era" run. Triple H returned in late 2005 and by January of the next year he set his sights on the championship. He won a tournament (!) to crown the number one contender and entered into a five week feud with Cena.
Though Triple H was the heel, there was something bubbling with the live crowds leading up to WrestleMania 22. Triple H, who hadn't been a true babyface since dropping the WWF Championship to Hulk Hogan in 2002 was getting cheered. Cena, the babyface a jaded smark might assume was on his way to a Triple-Burial, was getting more and more boos. As I said, this was slowly becoming a thing during feuds with Jericho and Angle, but this was the Heel of Heels!
On any other night, in front of any other crowd, John Cena could have expected at least 50% of the crowd on his side. But this was WrestleMania, and they were in the heartof smarkville: Chicago, Illinois.
The main event began -- and let's not even get into Conan vs. Al Capone introductions...the jokes, they write themselves -- with the now customary "boxing" style announcement of the champion and challenger. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but is this the first instance of this being done? It's one of my favorite little touches they do and I wish they'd do them for all kinds of title matches.
As Triple H was introduced, there was this ROAR of approval from the crowd. Triple H just gives this...smirk. It's so subtle you'd think it was a break of character, but no. Triple H is way too much of a pro. That was intentional. The smarks were sick of Cena and wanted anyone to beat him, even if it was the guy they had complained about for four years. So why the smirk? Maybe because Triple H loves sticking it to the smarks? What better way to do that than tap in the middle of the ring to John Cena?
Look, if you weren't a fan back then you can't appreciate what a big deal this was. A lot of fans were looking at "the John Cena experiment" as having been a failure. He had a hot start but the crowd had turned against him. The assumption among many fans was "they'll take the title off him, turn him heel, and start over." Who better than Triple H to right the wrong?
The expression of the faces of the fans was priceless. The ladies loved it (there was not "and kids" yet), the men looked genuinly shocked. I'm sure a Cena win was not impossible to fathom, but to see Cena tap Triple H out was unfathomable.
Yet there it was.
I'm ignoring the rest of the match, aren't I? It was a very good heavyweight match and, honestly, I think this may be the best match between these two. They didn't have very many 1-on-1 contests, but this is my favorite. I especially liked the teases to the match throughout the night; they really built it up like a clash of the titans (the ring intro theatrics I guess played into that), and though I am in the camp that says they should have had Edge vs. Cena main event with Cena getting the win and the title back here, I understand their reasoning for going with Triple H vs. Cena. The match certainly lived up to the build.
Overall, I think the build, the background, the match, and especially the finish, add up to make this a top notch WrestleMania main event. Even though he had been the champion for most of the past year, THIS was the real passing of the torch to John Cena. THIS was his real coming out party. I suppose you can argue he had been slowly building to this point, with the gauntlet he ran through in the second half of 2005, but Triple H was the final boss needed to be overcome in order for fans to realize Cena was the guy (like it or not).
Sound off, Cagesiders. Judging by your comments I think a lot of you expected this main event to show up earlier on the countdown. But I'm a sucker for those "clash of the titans" main events that have a hot crowd behind it. This main event had that in spades.
Let us know your thoughts on this main event in the comments below.
Tomorrow's main event was a masterpiece that had a lot of things working against it, but managed to be a classic, nonetheless. See you then!
- Ranking Mania main events #9: Steve Austin vs. The Rock
- Ranking Mania main events #10: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart
- Ranking Mania main events #11: John Cena vs. The Rock
- Ranking Mania main events #12: Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena
- Ranking Mania main events #13: Undertaker vs. Edge
- Ranking Mania main events #14: Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels
- Ranking Mania main events #15: Batista vs. Triple H
- Ranking Mania main events #16: Mick Foley vs. The Rock vs. Triple H vs. Big Show
- Ranking Mania main events #17: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna II
- Ranking Mania main events #18: John Cena vs. The Rock II
- Ranking Mania main events #19: Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase
- Ranking Mania main events #20: Hogan & Mr. T vs. Piper & Orndorff
- Ranking Mania main events #21: Triple H vs. Chris Jericho
- Ranking Mania main events #22: Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy
- Ranking Mania main events #23: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
- Ranking Mania main events #24: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice
- Ranking Mania main events #25: John Cena vs. The Miz
- Ranking Mania main events #26: Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid
- Ranking Mania main events #27: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
- Ranking Mania main events #28: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna
- Ranking Mania main events #29: Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow