Steve Austin was the nucleus of WWF’s renaissance in the late 1990’s. He was the face, and middle fingers, of the company, and propelled them to, to quote a current WWE Tag Team, slightly altered, “Billions and Billions of dollars….” Austin was the catalyst, but on the undercard, his two greatest foils were being groomed.
Triple H was nothing. He started out as Connecticut blueblood Hunter Hearst Helmsley in the WWF in 1995. His most distinguishing characteristic in the ring was his seemingly limitless supply of moves involving his knee. As of early 1996, after losing to the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 12 in seconds, his career was heading nowhere.
After WrestleMania XV in 1999 (the worst, and, by gawd, I mean worst Wrestlemania ever), HHH was thrust from a familiar spot to a foreign one. You see, HHH had been the leader of the tremendously popular DX faction since March of 1998, when the TRUE pioneer of the group, Shawn Michaels, had been forced into retirement with a serious back injury.
To his credit, HHH rolled with the punches, as the newly formed DX, with HHH, the newly named X-Pac (the biggest acquisition of the Monday Night Wars…article on that coming later), and the New Age Outlaws, brought DX to new heights, or depths, depending on your view. What isn’t contested was their popularity, as they became, next to Austin, the most popular act on the card. This culminated with The Rock, at the time at the heights of his heelish powers, defending his Intercontinental Title, back when it actually was worth a damn, against HHH in a ladder match. And make no mistake folks, that match *made* both wrestlers. Rock became a bonafide superstar, THE guy the fans loved. HHH won the match, was over, but suffered a major knee injury in the process that kept him out of action for three months.
HHHe returned with about 25 pounds of added muscle, and went along as a face for a bit, aiding Mick Foley in winning his first WWF title (my favorite moment ever in wrestling, aired January 4, 1999), and feuding with Kane towards WrestleMania XV, where, as aforementioned, he turned heel.
THAT event, more than anything, has defined HHH’s career. Heel. Its what he did, and has done, better than most. So lets skip through the semantics, and get right to Austin-HHH.
Austin was supposed to be involved in a triple threat (three way dance to this ole ECW fan) with HHH and Rock at Survivor Series 1999. (That in of itself is a tragedy. We never got the blowoff of the three biggest draws of the greatest period in wrestling history. On PPV.) Austin’s neck was as stable as a drug addicts new found belief in Jesus at that point, so the man needed surgery, and a year off. The table was set for Austin and HHH, and, my Holy Moondancing Michael J, they delivered. It was just a magical time to be a WWF fan. HHH elevated his “Game” and was the master showman of that year. Tragically for HHH, so was Rock. The two carried WWF in 2000, and to record $$$. Listen, the point of wrestling is MONEY. Great matches, great feuds help. No doubt. Let me say this, and it may ruffle some feathers: HHH vs Rock was the GREATEST wrestling feud ever. Money. Benoit vs Jericho right behind it. HHH continued his mastery into 2001, and, with himself and Rock, Austin returned better than ever and elevated HIS game. But this match has never been shown on any WWE product, and its a shame, for I consider it not only HHH’s best match ever, but Austin’s as well.