Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Unfairly Unforgiven: Historical Perspective and Triple H in the Fall of 2000

Did we play The Game wrong too early?
Photo Credit: WWE.com
I remember vividly the build-up to SummerSlam 2000. Kurt Angle had won King of the Ring a few months prior and was staking his claim to the WWF Championship. Despite only being in the company for 8 months, he had gotten himself so over that he implicitly demanded to be counted among the big boys of the company, then The Rock, Triple H, Undertaker and Kane. He was given a big story being the third man in the Trips/Stephanie McMahon relationship. The Internet hordes, myself included among them, screamed for Angle to come out of the feud as the new top dog in the WWF, with Triple H cuckolded and the boss' daughter having a new, Olympic beau.

When that didn't happen at SummerSlam nor at Unforgiven, boy, was the reaction screaming bloody murder. It didn't matter that Angle would win the WWF Championship at No Mercy, the damage was done in that The Rock had to do what Triple H didn't do... put Angle over. At the time, many among us accused Triple H of being a political machinist, someone who was paranoid about his spot and thus screwed Angle out of elevation. In retrospect though, was that fair?

To begin to examine that is to look at the context. The most important part of this background information has nothing to do with the players or the storyline in question, but with the people criticizing it. Internet fans by and large seem to be a fickle bunch. Stereotypically, they're always looking for the next big thing, and if/when that person breaks through, the backlash almost immediately begins. As someone who used to get caught up in that frenzy a lot more than I do now (and I'm not going to sit here and say that I don't lose perspective every once in awhile), it seems a little shortsighted. Yes, pro wrestling companies need to be proactive in building new stars, but when you have a guy who just hit the main event, when is it that he has to start making new wrestlers stars, and how often does he need to do it?

That brings us to "Public Enemy #1", Triple H.

By the time SummerSlam had rolled around, it was a year or so since his official elevation so to speak. However, you could argue that he really wasn't cemented as a main eventer until the Royal Rumble and No Way Out, when he and Mick Foley (as Cactus Jack) tore the house down in two consecutive title matches, the latter being a Hell in a Cell. There's no doubt that he was entrenched as a main eventer by SummerSlam, but at the same time, he really was only cemented for eight months as a top guy. For Trips to start hearing the catcalls that he was a diabolical scoundrel after less than a year of really coming into his own as a main eventer in retrospect, when guys like Steve Austin and the Undertaker, just to name two, had years on top before the bloom came off their rose and they were called upon to put people over (and even then, you could argue that Austin never really did that anyway) in order to let them join the main event pantheon, seemed really premature.

I think the perfect example here is Bret Hart. While he went into WrestleMania IX as the WWF Champion, I think we can all agree he really wasn't "made" until a year later, when he finally felled the sumo warrior Yokozuna and got his first real (and one could argue only) WrestleMania moment. He was on top really for two years, I'd say, before he was called to the carpet to put over Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII. In that time of course, he didn't win every match, but at the same time, the people he put over in high profile matches at the time - Bob Backlund and Jerry Lawler - were established in their own ways. I'm sure if the Internet were around as prominently in 1995 as it is today, there'd have been people moaning that Hart didn't put over Jean-Pierre Lafitte or his brother Owen.

However, when he put Michaels over at WrestleMania XII, it ostensibly made him. The same could be said for his role in playing the foil for Steve Austin the next year. Even though Hart won that "I Quit" match, Austin came out of it looking like a million bucks, and Hart changed roles in order to further enhance the budding star of the man who'd become Stone Cold.

Of course, knowing what know now, it did take Triple H a lot longer to put someone not on his level over in a meaningful way (Chris Benoit at WrestleMania XX and then Batista the next year). And yeah, Trips did weasel his way out of putting over a lot of guys who could have used the bump, from Kane all the way up to Goldberg (whom you could argue didn't need the bump to be considered a main eventer, but at the same time, the iron was hot at SummerSlam in 2003). But that's where the question comes in... how long should a guy be continually put over before he starts returning the favor?

Whether you think it should have been Kane at the end of that horrible Katie Vick angle, Rob Van Dam, Booker T after the horrible racism angle or anyone else in the stretch between his comeback in 2002 until WM XX, can we all agree that maybe our angry mob was unjustified in 2000?

Then again, the reason why I rejected Triple H, at least at first, wasn't because of any political machinations. Seriously, I didn't really become "aware" of the backstage stuff until around early 2000, and by that time, I was already sick of Triple H. When he turned heel, he turned boring to me. The 20 minute promos to start RAW grated on me. He didn't have good matches with anyone not named The Rock, Undertaker or Mick Foley. So yeah, the political stuff was a great cover for the wholly subjective reasoning that we just didn't like the guy.

So, we now flash back to SummerSlam 2000, which for me is when the Triple H backlash kicked into high gear, ESPECIALLY since his relationship with Stephanie was being reported as more real than they were letting on on screen. Especially given that Angle at the time was a rookie himself, would you really blame WWF for putting a commodity they were trying to build at the time at risk for the benefit of a guy who wasn't even a year into his tenure on the main roster? Looking back at it, I'm not really sure I can.

If anything, I'd blame the braintrust in 2000 for booking the wrong angle. Yes, the love triangle was a good build, but they didn't pay it off correctly for various reasons. They would have been better served focusing Angle directly on The Rock, especially since the endgame was going to be Angle upending Rocky for the title anyway. Then, maybe you have Triple H continue his feud with Undertaker or Kane. Maybe he tangles with Rikishi or some other act that didn't have a whole lot of upward mobility. I don't know.

But what I do know is that a lot of the rage directed at Triple H at that time period might not have been justified. Granted, I'm still not happy at the way he refused to share the spotlight in 2002-04, and maybe he spent too much time as a Hulk Hogan when he was meant to be a Bret Hart all along. However, maybe we all got off on the wrong foot when it came to judging him outside the confines of whether we liked him or not.

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