As WWE rolled into WrestleMania in 2002, Triple H found himself in a new position: The underdog. After a blistering run as part of the Two Man Power Trip with Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Game was suddenly sidelined with a career-threatening leg injury that kept him out of action for nine months. Returning in January of 2002, the Game was determined to regain the top spot he’d been forced to relinquish, However, a lot of things had changed in the near year that Triple H had been gone, both in the WWE, and in his own life.
In these years, Triple H would find himself first battling the person who knew him better than he knew himself, his wife, Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, and her new ally, Chris Jericho, for the title. Then, under the tutelage of Ric Flair, would fight to remain The Man in WWE.
An Ugly Split: Chris Jericho – WrestleMania X-8
The road to WrestleMania X-8 had many twists and turns for the Game. After a triumphant return to WWE, at Madison Square Garden no less, Triple H found himself battling to return to the top, and some of the opponents came from unexpected quarters. The most unexpected was his own wife. In Triple H’s absence, as owner of ECW, Stephanie had gotten a taste of having power of her own, outside of being Vince McMahon’s daughter, or Triple H’s wife and she’d liked it. However, the demise of the Alliance left Stephanie more dependent on Triple H than before, and the strain of that was beginning to show. Desperate to keep her husband, Stephanie claimed she was pregnant and wanted to renew their vows. All seemed well, until Linda McMahon sent Triple H footage that showed that Stephanie was faking the pregnancy. Enraged, Triple H destroyed the wedding set and demanded a divorce.
You remember that old line about scorned women? Yeah, that was Stephanie McMahon, who was able to get back in her father’s good graces and embarked on a campaign to destroy Triple H, first by trying to get him out of the Undisputed Championship match, then by allying herself with her long-time foe, Chris Jericho. The stage was set for a VERY personal Undisputed Championship Match.
Triple H is out first, sung to the ring by Drowning Pool, I think. I’m not sure why Motorhead wasn’t doing it, but either way, Triple H’s tradition of being sung to the ring at WrestleMania is here. The Game looks focused, which, considering that his opponent has Stephanie in his corner, is probably a very good idea. JR mentions that Triple H’s repaired quadricep was ‘hanging by a thread’, which seems a little extreme, but we’ll go with it.
Jericho and Stephanie are out next, and stranger bedfellows you could not find anywhere. This partnership never really made sense to me, given how much animosity there was between Jericho and Stephanie, but I think the story was that they were just using each other to get back at Triple H.
The kind of ‘eh’ storyline involving Stephanie, whom I have always been a big fan of, just not this storyline, this was a really good match. Triple H and Jericho have good chemistry, and both are masterful storytellers.
One of the highlights was the confrontation between Triple H and Stephanie. I don’t remember if they were dating in RL at this point, or if this was during the time that Vince insisted they break up, but it was clear that, despite having to be enemies on camera, they were still very fond of each other and tried to not really hurt each other when they collided, which was very funny to watch.
As interesting a story as it would be for Jericho to go over and keep Triple H as the underdog for awhile, the end of this match was never in doubt.
The Winner: Triple H by pinfall after a Pedigree to Chris Jericho.
Comments: I really liked this match, I do wonder what would’ve happened if Jericho had won, but then, Jericho wouldn’t lose the title to Hulk Hogan, like Triple H would in about a month.
To Stay the Man: Booker T – WrestleMania XIX
As WWE headed into WrestleMania XIX, Triple H had reason to feel himself unstoppable. After some legal tomfoolery had allowed Stephanie McMahon to sign Brock Lesnar, and the WWE Undisputed Championship, to SmackDown exclusively, Triple H had been handed the World Heavyweight Championship, at one time THE most coveted championship in Professional Wrestling. He’d also come under the guidance of Ric Flair, and under the Nature Boy’s expert guidance, had used every means possible to hang on to the Big Gold Belt.
However, Booker T, who had once held that belt five times, had won the opportunity to make himself a six time champion, which culminated in a racially tinged storyline about who was really worthy to be World Heavyweight Champion: The white guy from Connecticut who had never taken a drink in his life, despite hanging out with people with known substance abuse issues, or the African-American man from Houston, Texas who had a rap sheet, but had turned his life around and was only the second African American to hold the World Heavyweight Championship.
Triple H and Ric Flair are out first, which is odd since Triple H was champion and the champion should come out last. Booker T is out second and we hear JR talk about how hard Booker T had it growing up.
This was a really good match, I hated the storyline of using Booker T’s criminal history as a reason for why he was suddenly not worthy to be Word Heavyweight Champion when he’d held the title five times, and was the last WCW World Heavyweight Champion before the company was bought by WWE. I just don’t get what the point was.
Another thing I didn’t like was Booker T not winning, even if he didn’t win the title. After they brought up his past and made him out to be a big underdog, the fact that Triple H won by pinfall just makes the match feel flat. Even a DQ win for Booker would’ve at least given him something. It was just odd booking that didn’t really do much for either man, in my opinion. I don’t think Booker T was buried, but I just think the way he was booked wasn’t really logical.
The Winner: Triple H by pinfall after hitting the Pedigree.
Comment: The match was good, but didn’t do much for either man. Also, this being one of several matches back to back that went twenty minutes or more was a DRAG.