We’re less than a week away from the Royal Rumble and that means there is a lot of history to look through in a short amount of time. The Royal Rumble has been around for more than thirty years now and there have been a lot of incredible Royal Rumble matches throughout that long history. There are some other great matches involved in the show’s history though and this week we are going to look at why one of those worked out so well a long time ago.
It was treadmill time again this week as I had a long walk ahead of me and needed something to watch. In light of the season I went with the 2000 Royal Rumble, but not just the Royal Rumble itself. This show was headlined by a double main event, with the Royal Rumble following a street fight between WWF Champion Triple H and Cactus Jack (one of Mick Foley’s many alter egos), which happened to be one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. This week we’re going to look at why that is the case.
First and foremost, this match had a heck of a backstory, as Triple H and Jack had had a near legendary falls count anywhere match in Madison Square Garden on the September 22, 1997 Monday Night Raw. Triple H had been tormenting Mankind so it was time to change things up a bit. That’s where Mick Foley gets to shine, because as he transformed from Mankind into Jack and it was time for violence. What followed was one of the best hardcore style matches that the company had ever seen and ended with Jack pile driving Triple H through a table on the stage.
Now flash forward a little over two years, with Mankind coming after the WWF Title that Triple H had stolen from him. A street fight had been announced for the Royal Rumble, but Triple H beat Mankind down all over again. One night on Smackdown, Mankind said that he wasn’t ready to face Triple H in a street fight….but he had a suitable replacement in mind instead. Triple H didn’t seem worried, but then Mankind took his mask off and said Triple H knew the guy. The flannel shirt was ripped open and the Wanted Dead Cactus Jack shirt came out, making Triple H’s jaw drop open.
This worked so well because of the history involved. Triple H was the cockiest wrestler in the world but he knew what he was facing and there was no way around it. At the Royal Rumble, he was going to be facing one of the most violent, bloodthirsty men in the history of wrestling and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. This entire match played into Jack’s favor, because not only had he beaten Triple H before, but he had done it in this kind of a match in this very arena in his own backyard. There were two questions: how much blood would be spilled and how could Triple H possibly survive?
The storytelling and psychology to this match was off the charts as Triple H had become much more of a street fighter in recent months but he still had a bit of a reputation as a finesse wrestler. He could mix it up, but this was a different story altogether. How was he supposed to get around this and keep the title that he had only won back less than a month before? Triple H was going to have to fight his way out of a heck of a corner….and dang if he didn’t knock it out of the park.
The match itself was one of the bloodiest, hardest hitting spectacles WWE has given us in a very long time as these two beat the daylights out of each other. There were thumbtacks, a lot of barbed wire, a 2×4, and a rather pesky table that didn’t want to break. The two of them beat on each other for about twenty seven minutes, with Triple H even handcuffing Jack in a call back to the previous year.
It took the Rock (who had cuffed Mankind the previous year in a perfect touch) interfering to let a police officer get Jack out and give the fans another reason to believe. Eventually it was a pair of Pedigrees (with an awesome pop when Jack kicked out of the first), including one onto the thumbtacks, to FINALLY put Jack away and retain Triple H’s title, giving Triple H reputation he lived off of for years.
As I re-watched this, I found it interesting that there are very few spots that you wouldn’t see done again (and again and again and again) in other hardcore matches in other companies. Even the tacks spot only felt so fresh as I’ve seen it done dozens of times elsewhere. This one felt different though and that was the case for a reason that you don’t see enough of these days: it felt like they had earned it.
The match itself is incredible and one of the most violent and savage things you will ever see in wrestling. It certainly isn’t the biggest brawl you’ll ever see, but that’s not where the real work came from. This match was so good because it had been set up so well. The initial Falls Count Anywhere match had taken place over two years before and Jack’s reputation had been set up all the way back in the early 1990s in Japan. Those gaps are what made it work so well.
As soon as you heard that Jack was going to be in a street fight, images began popping up in your head, but how many people knew what they were in for? WWE aired some clips of some of Jack’s deathmatches in Japan, but what was he going to be doing here? That’s where they had you. It wasn’t about checking off a list like kendo sticks, trashcan lids and maybe one fairly big spot. This was a way of making you want to see what he was going to do because it wasn’t something that had been seen in years. Jack was a surprise bonus who had only shown up a few weeks before. To use a cliché, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
You didn’t see this level of carnage in WWE at the time. Even the Hardcore Title was a lot of comedy violence (Al Snow’s bowling ball low blow would be coming soon enough) that mainly focused on hitting someone with a weapon to steal a title. Jack on the other hand was out for blood and if he won the WWF Title in the process, so be it. Triple H loved the title more than anything in the world and had to do what he had to do to retain it, even if he didn’t know how to go that far just yet.
That’s one of the things that makes a great match: you don’t know how things are going to go, even if it seems like it should be pretty clear. There was a very real chance that Jack was walking out of New York City with the title because how in the world was Triple H supposed to pull this off? That’s the kind of feeling you do not see very often and it made you want to watch the match just to see what happened. The build was set up perfectly and then they executed everything they were trying to do.
This match is revered and so much of it doesn’t even come from the match itself. It was all of the things built up around the match that made it work as well as it did (With a bonus touch for Stephanie McMahon wearing a Cactus Jack inspired choker, presumably because she thought Jack would choke. I have no idea if that was on purpose but if so, nice one.). The match has held up for twenty years because the effort was put in, and that is how you make a timeless classic. These two wanted to hurt each other and then they got the chance to, making it one of the best non-Royal Rumble Royal Rumble matches ever.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books.
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