101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die
The Ones That Didn’t Make It
Mick Foley vs. Big Show vs. The Rock vs. Triple H
Four Corners Elimination Match
April 2nd, 2000
First things first; as someone who has seen 'Plan evolve from a vaguely interesting, casual writer to the behemoth of a wrestling historian he has now become, I am proud to write this column for him. When he announced his intention to count down 101 of the most must-see WWE matches of all time, I, along with many of our contemporaries, laughed off his claim. At the time, he was about as consistent as I am. 'Plan, congratulations on what is an incredible achievement, to complete what has been an incredible series. I look forward to re-reading each one at some point, as I have enjoyed listening to you and Maverick discuss each one in further detail each week on The Right Side of the Pond (every Friday from 9pm GMT/4pm EST on LOP Radio).
So, when 'Plan asked me to write one of The Ones That Didn't Make It, of course I wanted to. It was really a question of if I'd get it done in time, or if I'd even come through at all. I assume that's why he asked me over three months ago, and I'm still one of the last to submit. Hopefully, I can do this justice.
There are few matches concocted to whet the appetite of the casual fan that come close to the concept of this particular match. It marked the apparent culmination of two major feuds that had dominated the previous couple of months of WWF programming, and their culmination marked the resumption of another that would carry all the way through until the return of Stone Cold Steve Austin. It carries all the hallmarks that made the Attitude Era the Attitude Era, from its larger than life characters, to brutal exo-ring spots to the ridiculously overbooked segments and matches that had an awful lot of shouting, but not much to say for the most part. WWE threw all of its eggs in one basket with this match; a look at the rest of the card doesn't scream 'buy this PPV', apart from the ahead-of-its-time triangle ladder match that this WrestleMania is perhaps most remembered for.
How times have changed.
While its Attitude-Era-in-a-nutshell presentation is part of the reason I consider it to be must-see, it is not the main one. There is another, which I'll come to. The main reason, however, is that it takes me back to a time when I didn't know about backstage politics, fan influence and booking trends. I didn't know, and I didn't care, and it meant my enjoyment of the match that took place was unfettered by what I expected to happen.
Without that burden, this match indulged me. I was watching the four biggest stars on the roster battle it out for the biggest prize the sport had to offer. If that wasn't enough, each was battling on behalf of a McMahon for effective control of the company. My favourite was The Rock, who had Vince McMahon, the owner and surely the most fearsome McMahon in his corner. How could he lose?
The build-up to the match is typical of the cross-arcing storylines that occurred frequently at the time. The winner of the 2000 Royal Rumble had been highly controversial, as The Rock was adjudged to have won, despite his feet seeming to touch the ground at the same time as the Big Show as he eliminated him. They went on to have a number one contender's match at No Way Out, which Big Show won after The Rock was screwed by Shane McMahon. Their feud was overshadowed by the rivalry taking place between Triple H, the WWF Champion, and Cactus Jack, who was forced to retire after losing his championship match at No Way Out in Hell in a Cell. It was a genuine star-making performance by Foley, who got Triple H to a level of acceptance as a top-level talent he had never experienced, just in time for the biggest pay-per-view performance of his career; the main event at WrestleMania. Throw in the storied histories of The Rock and Triple H, not to mention The Rock and Mick Foley, and we had a mouth-watering clash that, on paper, was entirely unpredictable to my 14 year old mind.
There is a real big fight feel to the match as the participants are introduced; the accompanying McMahons creating a visual metaphor of their own, one standing on each side of the ring at ringside as the match begins. They all seem uneasy in their own way. In the ring, Triple H looks menacingly confident. The Rock, pacing the ring, dominating it, spoiling for a fight, his eyes on Triple H, the champion, and his belt. Show and Foley, even at this stage, feel like background characters, and as the match begins, Triple H points to Rock and Big Show, encouraging them to start on Foley in a characteristically cerebral act of self-preservation - a hallmark of Triple H as a heel.
Foley's having none of it, and the veteran sniffs out The Game's tactic straight away and attacks him head on. Rock and Show go at it too, as the rivalries that carried us into the match naturally resume from the off. With a pair in each corner, Foley is able to work over Helmsley uninterrupted, safe in the knowledge that Rock and Show are knocking seven bells out of each other elsewhere.
Show is the first to seize control of the match, having worn down The Rock in the corner, he nails an unsuspecting Foley and Triple H with a double clothesline. He then proceeds to demonstrate a legitimately scary amount of strength; having thrown all three around the ring a little, he hoists The Rock 9 feet in the air to deliver a gorilla press slam, before doing the same to Triple H. An important step in establishing Show as the real physical threat in the match, given that few would believe he would have a chance of knocking off the two men he tossed around like pillows. Incidentally, this is a booking trick that Show has failed to employ all too often in matches throughout his career, which is perhaps one of the reasons he is not viewed as fondly as the other three men in this match.
The sensible match construction continues; after individual attempts to peg the World's Largest Athlete back fail, the three other men in the match drop their rivalries with each other for a moment to focus on eliminating The Big Show. Triple H attempts to direct traffic before dropping the facade, blindsiding Foley, which leads to some space opening up in the match. Foley, naturally, brings the first weapon into the match, while Shane McMahon is the first to provide outside interference to try and swing some momentum back in his client's favour by pulling on the leg of The Rock. As he does so, Foley swings for the fences and delivers a spine-shattering chair shot to Show, allowing Rock to nail him with the Rock Bottom and eliminate The Big Show 7 minutes into the match.
There follows a very effective piece of storytelling immediately after Show's elimination. All three men are back in the ring, and Lawler on commentary suggests that the odds do not look good for Triple H all of a sudden. Helmsley plays the chicken-shit heel well here, firstly trying to reason with his arch-nemesis Foley that they should join forces to eliminate The Rock, who is obviously Triple H's biggest threat. When Foley smirks and shakes his head, Triple H tries to do the same with Rock in a desperate act of self-preservation. Rock toes the line of the heel/face dynamic that became a feature of his run, as he nods his acquiescence and turns toward Foley. As Triple H moves in on Foley, Rock blindsides Triple H in a move that was obvious to everyone bar Triple H, to a momentous pop.
Triple H's attempt to divide the former tag partners only serves to unite them, in another storytelling twist that stacks the odds against the heel. More logical progression; their united front ends when Rock inadvertently totals Foley with the ring bell. Foley gets his own back minutes later when Rock sets up for The People's Elbow, apparently oblivious to Foley's assertion that the ring bell shot was deliberate. Rock gets stuck with Mr Socko, to rapturous reaction. Helmsley levels things up with a double low blow, another characteristic move by the Cerebral Assassin.
There are also nods throughout the match to the reason why we're here, notably with the interactions between Triple H and Mick Foley. From the barbed 2x4, which was so prominent in their previous match, to Triple H breaking up The Rock's pin attempt on Foley because he had promised to be the one to end Foley's career. This is another important prop in the telling of this particular story. Foley's eventual capitulation, which begins after Foley misjudges an elbow drop to the announcer's table on The Rock and ends with a Pedigree onto a steel chair, is Triple H's dastardly deed of the match. He fulfils his promise and ends the career of a genuine fan favourite at WrestleMania. The match stops momentarily, while in kayfabe it allows The Rock some time to emerge from the wreckage of the Spanish announce table, this minute also permits the mood of the arena to distil and settle on the ring, which by now has established The Rock as the firm fan favourite to vanquish Triple H, not just for The Rock's fans, but for Foley's too.
Foley exacts his revenge immediately, perhaps in the knowledge he won't get another opportunity, and certainly won't get a better opportunity without the repercussions that come with assaulting such an influential member of the company, by clocking Triple H with his patented barbed 2x4. It levels the playing field for The Rock, too, giving the crowd renewed hope that this villain will get his comeuppance tonight.
And so begins the singles match that, to be honest, this match should probably have always been. The Rock vs. Triple H. The two biggest stars in the company not named Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Honestly, this part of the match is nothing truly spectacular. It features every signature trope of Attitude you can think of; fighting through the crowd, chair shots, ring step collisions, false finishes and McMahon interference. It is a match within a match, set up by the action before it that has allowed the crowd to ignore the fact it is nothing particularly special. Of course, it is good; Rock and Triple H had chemistry in the ring, but this is not their best match. In many ways, this is the least must-see part of the match.
The action is slow and in some places sloppy - although after such a brutal and fast paced opening 20, both men should be legitimately tired at this point, so that can be forgiven. The long periods of inactivity following collisions with the steel steps and Triple H's meeting with the announce table are broken up, predictably, by a McMahon scuffle between Vince and Shane. After Shane forces Vince backstage after another chair shot to the head, he gets in the ring to avenge his client and level The Rock. Or Triple H. Or someone. He is foiled by first The Rock, who nails Triple H with the Rock Bottom to a huge pop. Vince returns, blood pouring from his forehead, to chase off Shane, before picking up a chair, lining up The Game before levelling The People's Champion. When it doesn't keep Rock down, he does it again, allowing Triple H to cover and leave as champion.
The celebration, perversely, doesn't involve the champion at all. There is no gloating - in fact, you'd only know Triple H had won because his theme music is playing. Triple H is cast to one side as the McMahon's reunite in the middle of the ring. Boos ring around the arena, and half-consumed drinks cups are thrown into the ring, as Vince embraces Stephanie. The feel-good end to WrestleMania that was so familiar was eerily absent, until The Rock turns from being helped to the back to see the betrayal going on before his very eyes. He is cheered back to the ring, where he takes out Shane and Vince with Rock Bottoms, before he sets his sights on Stephanie.
Is this the Attitude Era everyone wants back?
By the sound of the rabid crowd, baying for justice having seen one hero retired and another screwed over in the main event, all they want to see is The Rock exact a measure of physical revenge on Stephanie. After she slaps him in the face, he gives the crowd what they want - a Rock Bottom, followed by a People's Elbow to the Million Dollar Princess. To a rapturous pop, it should be added.
The final reason, and perhaps the one historic reason we will continue to come back to this match in terms of its importance in the grander scheme, is that it marked the very first time in Wrestlemania history that a heel walked in as WWF Champion, and then walked out as champion. Triple H was the first. That fact in itself perhaps isn't worthy of being the most important reason, because you'd argue that it was bound to happen eventually (indeed, Helmsley repeated the trick at Wrestlemania 18 at the expense of Chris Jericho, not to mention Stone Cold's shocking heel turn at the conclusion of Wrestlemania 17). But when you examine the psychology behind it; it was the move of a brash, ultra-confident organisation that wasn't afraid to push boundaries, and while the Attitude Era was borne out of desperation, a need to survive and make money, the times had changed. The mood has evolved from desperation to a sense of invincibility. Vince McMahon wasn't restricted by the fear of failure, because he felt that he was incapable of failure. Could you blame him, given the story of the previous three years?
While this match is often lost in the shuffle of great blockbuster Wrestlemania main events (Austin-Rock, Hogan-Rock, and so on) it perhaps more than any of them represents the direction of WWF at that time. A company prepared to gamble everything on one big-name match, and to even gamble the success of that match on the least likely pre-determined outcome. It worked, too; it set up a memorable title win for The Rock at Backlash, and the feud kept spinning on and on until Austin's grand return.
At the time, this match was must-see to me because it was the biggest match WWE could possibly put on at the time, and I had to see the result. I didn't care about the backstage crap, I didn't care about booking rules and trends, I didn't care that Mick Foley's body was about to give up or that Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker weren't around. This match represents my innocence as a wrestling fan, and while it isn't everyone's cup of tea as a technical classic, it contains all of the ideas that got me into wrestling way back when.
For all of the “Attitudeyness” that made so many of these matches feel so contrived on second viewing, at the heart of this match was sensible booking and good, subtle psychology from six men and a woman who have proven their worth again and again. And Linda McMahon. While the end was over the top, and while it probably should have just been The Rock vs. Triple H, I still enjoy the hell out of this match.
Technical classic? No. But it's still a classic to me.
I saved this one till last for a very specific reason, one we will come to in time. First, allow me briefly to explain what it was that almost earned this match, so often derided as being a bit of a clusterfuck, a spot on my actual list. Shinobi has really already touched on it a little bit. What brought it to my attention was that it had a ballsy ending. To have a heel both enter and leave Wrestlemania as champion, and in the process retire and screw over massively popular babyface wrestlers too, was an incredible move by a company now infamous for playing it safe a little too often. Wrestlemania, when conceived, was a gamble, a throwing of the dice to see if it would work. In that sense, this match, a main event that breaks all the unspoken rules, is perhaps truest to that idea. It didn’t care about sending the crowd home happy, instead confident enough to give us the meagre consolation prize of a Rock Bottom to Steph. Nor did it care that this was a four way match involving eight different individuals. Attitude never shied away from over-booking things, but to take the sacred idea of the Wrestlemania main event and turn it into a match you’d be more likely to see headline one of the lesser shows of the year was, in itself, a brave move.
Luckily, it paid off and, for this fan, paid off in dividends.
Seeing a McMahon in every corner is probably a gross indulgence we should condemn, but truthfully it still seems sort of fun. The family melodrama that always followed them around may have been a distracting event whenever it went down, but I’ll be hard pressed to argue against the proposition that it was always an entertaining watch. Couple them up in pairs with every big active star in the company at the time and you’ve more than made up for the absence of the Rattlesnake, who was believed to be, apparently and by inference, utterly integral to the company’s success. It also adds a sense of simmering unpredictability. In short, the addition of the McMahons and the greater number of participants all create an atmosphere of this being an Event, complete with capital e.
It’s fitting that the action starts with the participants splitting off into their respective feuds, with Foley and Triple H going at it next to Show and Rocky on the other side of the ring. It’s also refreshing to see the opening consist of action from all four, rather than the modern day habit of immediately going for a one on one situation with interchangeable participants taking their respective breaks on the outside. Interestingly, at least in the dynamic between Show and Triple H – perhaps likewise later on with Rock and Foley – babyface and heel distinctions aren’t treated as scripture. Show doesn’t hesitate to assault The Game, and the seemingly guaranteed friendship between Foley and Rock eventually, thankfully and sensibly, disintegrates. Similarly, an unlikely alliance between The Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection and The Game occurs early on too.
However the true real strength with this one is its ergonomic awareness. The booking decisions, as touched on by Shinobi, are all perfectly judged. Show is eliminated fairly early on, meaning that while he is in there he can remain the centrepiece of the action by virtue of his imposing size while, because of an early elimination, he doesn’t restrict the creativity at play. That Foley goes second, but only after a prolonged triple threat, is equally sensible. Many felt, apparently like Shinobi, that this should have been between Rock and Triple H, but allowing Foley to have an extended run-time means that his farewell, though not as emotive as it would have been in a one on one scenario, is nevertheless allowed enough breathing room to still feel like the happening it should have been. That he is then utilised as a means to even the odds between the final two as we move into the grand finale means he gets a fitting sense of retribution to bow out on and, at the same time, play an important role in setting up our climactic collision.
It is fascinating to see the entire match be given a complete reset following eliminations. Once Show is gone, we get a three way stand-off and some psychological mind games being played by all involved. Once Foley is gone, we get the exhaustion of both Triple H and The Rock coming to the foreground. They importantly ensure the balance of power remains even every time the internal dynamic of the competition shifts, and what that leads to is perennial intrigue that demands your attention from beginning to end, as well as an avoidance of the usual pitfalls of the given format.
The theatrics of the era are out in force, not just through what the competitors do but how they do it; you get some instances of mild humour and the typical feel of melodramatic execution that hallmarked the period. What does that mean? In a single word: fun. That all four men are masters of their craft, particularly the final three, ensures it could have never been anything other.
Most impressively of all is that not one of the four men come away looking weak. Sure, Big Show goes out fairly early in a lengthy match, Mick Foley is outclassed by the man that had already beaten him in humiliating fashion twice, The Rock is unable to see the screwjob coming and Triple H spends most of his time playing the coward, but none of them look particularly ineffectual. Triple H gets chances to outsmart his enemies – ultimately resulting in Rock and Foley coming to blows – while Foley is allowed enough time to exhibit his characteristic durability. The Rock gets to portray his best characteristic – as Shinobi put, actively dominating the ring – generally playing a bad-ass babyface, and when Big Show is around he’s undeniably in command of proceedings.
The more you analyse the structure of this bout, the way its multiple story threads and participants were sewn together, the more you should find yourself admiring its brilliance. This is a brave match, one unafraid of showing its participants to be vulnerable and powerful, as well as confident in shaking up long-established status quos. It contravenes the obvious alliances, is unafraid to eviscerate fan sentimentality and, most importantly of all, and what makes it all so much fun, demands you take a side. Whether you want Show, Trips, Foley or Rock to succeed, most will find themselves determined to back one, and only one, of the four men involved. That’s what the match manipulates you into precisely because of its ergonomic and creative bravery.
I could go on more. It is very tempting to do so. I think, though, I’ve related the main positive of this one. It is just perfectly put together. Every happening in the match is logical, sensible and psychologically sound. Nothing feels stupid or inexplicable and the whole thing blends together seamlessly despite its structural telegraphs. It is subtle in its exploitation of the unique set-up at play, but at the same time paradoxically manages to slap you, as a fan, in the face by completely ignoring expected tropes. It really is quite brilliant; tragic, really, that it has gone down in history as one of the more forgettable ‘Mania main events, when I’d actually consider it to be one of the strongest and most competent. It just refuses to shout about it. If I were to include it, in retrospect, on the main list – indeed, it is very tempting to fit it in retroactively – it would be because of such ergonomic brilliance and perfectly pitched discourse. But it wasn’t on the list. It exists currently as an honourable mention; I saved it as the last honourable mention. Why is that?
It is because I agree entirely with Shinobi on one thing: it may not be a technical classic, but it’s still a classic to me. While I disagree on what the match should have been – I’ve always been of the mind that Cactus Jack defending against The Rock, with Trips and Show bolstering the undercard, would have been more enticing because of the sentimental history and proven quality of the work both Foley and Rock were capable of – what I do agree with him on is that this wrestling was our wrestling.
Let me expand on that briefly. Shinobi and I are separated only by one, maybe two years of age. As a result, we grew up with the Attitude Era as very young kids, the time when you form your strongest sentimental bonds with the product. That sentimentality can sometimes unduly affect your opinions of any given age in WWE’s history. To fans like us, we hold Attitude in high esteem if for no other reason than the fact it was when we really, truly broke into the company and understood how fun it all was. My memories of this match are very vivid indeed.
I was utterly livid that Triple H won, and by the time Backlash came about it felt like my life would end if The Rock didn’t win the title. I remember, very clearly and lucidly, thinking that The Rock simply had to win because if he didn’t there’d be no end to the nightmare of the McMahon-Helmsley Regime. Certainly, the swerve of Vince turning on The Rock came out of the blue for the ten year old ‘Plan. I can’t speak for Shinobi’s memories of the match, or the year for that fact, but I can say that I’m sure he comes from a similar place, and that closing line of his was very, very telling and highlights, to me, the most endearing trait of any wrestling fan.
I talk of ownership. I talk of every fan breaking into wrestling at a certain time and forming emotional bonds with certain stars that may or may not have been as good as memory tells us they were, but that were always that good to us. Wrestling innocence is something Shinobi mentioned as well. Indeed, the same goes for me in this instance, but you, whoever it is reading these words, will have your own wrestling innocence, will have broken into the business at a specific time and formed more powerful bonds with the wrestlers you watched as a kid, or in some cases as a freshly exposed adult. It is a simpler time, a more fun time, a time when wrestling was just wrestling. That’s what this column is all about.
So as I end this mini-series, this tangential aside, I leave you with a thought. We all have wrestling in common; it’s why we’re all here writing and reading about it. But what is individual to each of us is our childhood memories of it, be it literal childhood or the childhood of our fandom. This match was one of mine and, apparently, one of Shinobi’s too; this was our wrestling.
Which was yours?
So ends 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die: The Ones That Didn’t Make It. Over the course of the last ten columns, I have hopefully effectively explored ten varying facets of what makes up a wrestling fan. We all view it that little bit differently, but we all have one thing in common too. I think I know now the best way to describe professional wrestling, and I’ll share it with you in my very next column. You know now the ten matches that couldn’t quite make the cut, and you know the first hundred matches that did. There’s only one last thing to deal with.
What is number one?
101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die: #1 is coming…very soon.