Hello and welcome back to this series of articles. Today we look at what happens when a guy wearing chainmail and sunglasses attempts to be taken seriously.
WWE has had some awful feuds in its history. It would be a brave man who would attempt to chart them all in a list to see which was the absolute rock bottom. However, if one was to put as the criteria disappointed expectations, lack of hype, poor build and terrible matches then Triple H vs Scott Steiner in 2003 would be firmly ensconced on the table. It may come as a shock though but this article after making several cheap comments about the feud will actually try to prove that some good came out of the debacle.
But first we need to go back to where it all began.
The beginning of 2002 saw the return of the Game, Triple H to action after a long stint on the sidelines for a ripped quadricep. The injury not only robbed the WWE of one of its biggest stars, it also wreaked merry hell with the Two Man Power Trip angle that the WWE had run in 2001.
It would take a long amount of rehabilitative therapy, but eventually Hunter would return to win the Royal Rumble and challenge Chris Jericho for the Undisputed Championship at Wrestlemania 18- beating Y2J in a match that most in the crowd seemed to remember for being after Hogan/Rock.
Only to lose it next month to Hulk Hogan.
Triple H moved on to feud with Shawn Michaels, who had come out of retirement and it looked like he was out of the title picture for a while. After all, Brock Lesnar was enjoying blistering feuds with the Rock and the Undertaker.
Then the brand split occured.
Suddenly, the Undisputed Championship was no longer. Brock was the WWE Champion- exclusive to Smackdown and Raw needed a World Champion of its own. So did they hold a tournament to ascertain the most worthy? A big PPV Championship Scramble? A 6 man Ladder Match?
Nah, they thought they'd just give it to Triple H.
Triple H would have a tight rein on the World Heavyweight Championship for the rest of the year and- despite a month long reign by HBK as well as an appalling feud with Kane (which may be addressed in a later article), the Game looked like the dominant force on Raw with Ric Flair in tow.
So late December 2002 the Game had an appreciation ceremony (why is it that heel champions can't see that crowds don't like them?). With a fawning Ric Flair looking on, Triple H claimed that there was nobody who was on his level in the locker room.
Cue the siren.
Steiner then came out and said (or more accurately, screamed semi-coherently) that there was a title match clause in his contract that he was going to cash in at the Royal Rumble.
Most feuds at this stage would attempt to have a lot of back and forth between the two competitors- with some clever heeling by the bad guy champion and some earnest talk from the babyface challenger as to why he was worthy of the belt.
However, it is obvious that the WWE did not entirely trust Scott Steiner with the mic in his hand and so what was used instead was a bunch of macho contests- including arm wrestling, posing and push ups.
But this posed its own problem. If you look at Triple H throughout most of his career he has been muscular, but he has hardly been Brock Lesnar. Steiner on the other hand was a genetic monster- with huge muscles that seemed to be able to crack walnuts. However Triple H since his return had obviously spent much of rehab building up muscle mass.
He looked massive- way over his ideal wrestling weight and still was in early 2003. Yet still less muscular than Steiner.
The feud culminated in a match at the Royal Rumble. With Steiner not really up to main event level fitness yet and Triple H's extra muscle putting real handicaps on his mobility...well, they weren't great.
No, that's putting it mildly. They sucked.
Firstly, the psychology of the match seemed to be wrong at times, with Steiner seeming to heel it up- particularly at the start when he was in control.
Secondly, the match was slow. Painfully slow. This wasn't because of any overuse of rest holds (in fact the match had barely any) but there was barely any relentless offence either. Whenever someone was on the ground, unless there was a pinfall attempt, neither superstar attempted to keep them down with stomps or ground and pound. It was just throw, wait for the opponent to get up and repeat.
Thirdly the match is not exactly replete with a dazzling array of moves. Steiner seems to just do belly to belly suplexes, knife edge chops and clubs to the back. There is one botch that is so bad and so dangerous that even JR cannot say anymore than "uh oh".
Finally, even though the match goes for only 18 mins, it still seems about 5 mins too long- with both wrestlers seeming to be pacing themselves in order to fill up the time.
One would think that the WWE would think better than to have another match between these two then. Think again! While the match at No Way Out had more variety of wrestling moves, it also somehow managed to seem more stop-start, with the other members of Evolution continuously butting their heads in. The damage to Big Poppa Pump's WWE tenure was severe. Steiner would never reach such dizzying heights in WWE again- being restricted to mainly 10 min or less matches. The Royal Rumble match on the other hand would always be remembered as one of the Game's most infamous moments.
This angle, however, would signal the demise of these sorts of feuds in the WWE. While they occasionally still crop up when the Great Khali or Umaga are seen in Championship feuds, usually the WWE are willing to have their feuds for their world title rely on promos that are a little more substaintial than an arm wrestling contest or a pose-off.
This feud also and its poor reaction also made the WWE rethink its philosophy on what makes good wrestling. Steiner's look may have been compelling but when he was in the ropes crickets were often heard. Likewise Triple H after this angle began to drop the weight that was affecting him during the Steiner feud in order to get his mobility back. Just over a year later the two wrestlers who walked out with the titles were not monsters of muscle, but rather Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero- smaller, more mobile wrestlers who could have better matches with a bigger variety of opponents.
The Steiner/HHH feud therefore smacked some sense into the WWE. Nobody wanted to see a Mr Universe segment on their wrestling program- they wanted to see a wrestling show. Muscles were one thing, but if you could not capture the public imagination, then there was no place for you as a main eventer.
That concludes article 4 of this series chaps! Next time we see what happens when a guy's Wrestlemania moment literally falls on top of him. See you then!