Over the years, and especially in the last few, a lot of the WrestleMania buzz has been about The Undertaker. But his opponent this year in Atlanta is no slouch; Triple H has had more than his fair of big matches and main events at Manias past. And though his 7-7 record may not be as illustrious as that of the Deadman, given who he is, HHH has to be considered as a viable threat to “The Streak.”
To say that Triple H’s Wrestlemania debut was inauspicious is being incredibly generous. Simply put, he was completely squashed, losing to a returning Ultimate Warrior in nearly less time than it took to say “The American Blueblood, Hunter Hearst Helmsley,” which is what his character was going by at the time. Record: 0-1. (WM 12)
The following year, Helmsley defeated Goldust. This feud was notable in that it introduced the world to Helmsley’s bodyguard, and eventual off-screen girlfriend, Chyna. While this match was by no means a classic, it did portend for greater things to come in Helmsley’s future. Record: 1-1. (WM 13)
In 1998, WWE had entered the Attitude Era, and Wrestlemania XIV was a major milestone on the company’s path to victory over WCW. Helmsley, now known as Triple H, was one of the major players at this time as one third of D-Generation X along with Shawn Michaels and Chyna. His opponent on this night was Owen Hart, who was looking for revenge on behalf of his brother Bret (after a little-known event called the Montreal Screwjob). Thanks to Chyna’s interference, HHH was able to get the dirty win. This was the first major step towards greatness for HHH, which continued the next night when he became the leader of the new and improved D-X. Record: 2-1. (WM 14)
The next year saw some convoluted and unwieldy storylines, including the whole Corporation saga. At WrestleMania XV, HHH lost to Kane in a forgettable match that was most notable for Pete Rose getting piledriven before the match. Record: 2-2. (WM 15)
In late 1999 and early 2000, Triple H’s stock rose significantly, becoming one of the company’s cornerstones, in no small part due to a lengthy feud with Mick Foley. The two of them were key players in the primary storyline at the time, which was the saga of the McMahon family. At WM2000, HHH won a Fatal Four Way match over Foley, The Rock and The Big Show. This match suffered greatly from the antics of the McMahons, one of whom was in the corner of each of the participants, but the win definitely cemented HHH at the top of the wrestling ladder. Record: 3-2. (WM 16)
The 17th edition of Wrestlemania is widely considered to be one of, if not the best ever. HHH’s career was as hot as ever, and he had beaten pretty much everyone that he faced. That is, until, he squared off against The Undertaker. Taker dominated their first Mania encounter, highlighted by him throwing HHH off a high scaffold. (Don’t look for WWE announcers to refer to this match much, if ever, in promoting this year’s Mania rematch.) Record: 3-3. (WM 17)
Over the next two years, HHH was frequently criticized by fans for using his backstage influence (his real-life relationship with Stephanie McMahon) to protect his top spot. At WM X-8 and WM XIX, that seemed to happen to Chris Jericho and Booker T, respectively.
His match against Jericho at Toronto’s SkyDome was good, but unfortunately followed the epic encounter between The Rock and Hulk Hogan, and is largely forgotten about. The build-up saw Jericho play the lackey to Stephanie which led to some embarrassing moments, like when he had to walk Stephanie’s dog. His loss to Trips lost him some credibility, in addition to the championship. Record: 4-3. (WM 18)
His dispatching of Booker T the following year was even more frustrating. At this time, Booker was one of the most popular wrestlers on the roster. In the weeks leading up to the show, HHH buried Booker T, dismissing his accomplishments in WCW, and cutting what some construed as a racist promo against the African-American challenger. The match was solid, if unspectacular, and saw HHH retain his title and retain his stranglehold on the title. Record: 5-3. (WM 19)
Perhaps in response to that kind of criticism, the next three years saw the Cerebral Assassin drop three straight.
At WMXX, he lost a Triple Threat match to Chris Benoit, in a match that also featured Shawn Michaels. This was a stellar match that ended with Trips tapping out to the Crippler Crossface in the centre of the ring. The iconic image of a teary-eyed Benoit, holding his newly-won belt in a shower of confetti, is an iconic Mania image and was a great moment to behold. Record: 5-4. (WM 20)
The next year saw HHH pass the proverbial torch to his former Evolution stablemate Batista. The match was a decent affair, but what made it better was that it was the logical (and popular) end result to what had been an excellent storyline build. Record: 5-5. (WM 21)
At WrestleMania 22, HHH lost to John Cena. Most remembered for the elaborate entrances of the combatants, the match was all right, but couldn’t be considered as a classic by any means, though the loud, rowdy crowd, split in its support of the two warriors, helped. The match did, however, represent a changing of the guard, as Cena would soon become one of the most popular wrestlers ever. Record: 5-6. (WM 22)
After a year away due to injury, HHH lost yet another Triple Threat match at WrestleMania 24. This time, Randy Orton was the beneficiary. After HHH hit John Cena with a Pedigree, Orton capitalized, kicking HHH out of the ring, and pinning the prone Cena for the win. The match was all right, if not a bit routine — no wonder, since it seemed that for the entire year leading up to it, that these same three men had main-evented most, if not all, of the big shows for the year leading up to this match. Record: 5-7. (WM 24)
In the next two years, HHH regained his momentum, with a couple of big wins.
At WrestleMania 25, he gained his revenge over the man who had beaten him the year prior, Randy Orton. The build-up to this one saw Randy attack Stephanie McMahon (now acknowledged as HHH’s real-life wife), her father Vince and brother Shane, HHH’s in-laws. Despite the emotional backstory which suggested that the two would engage in a bloody, violent encounter, the two instead engaged in a fairly standard match that the crowd, exhausted by an earlier Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels match, watched rather tepidly. Record: 6-7. (WM 25)
Last year, newcomer Sheamus was HHH’s victim. After a tremendously successful rookie year, a win by Sheamus would have catapulted him to the very top of the food chain with a lot of credibility. That didn’t happen, though, and HHH won rather anti-climatically. Sheamus did ultimately take HHH out for an extended period, on the next night’s Monday Night Raw. Kind of begs the question, though — if he was going to take out HHH with an injury, wouldn’t it have been more meaningful to do it at Mania? Record: 7-7. (WM 26)
While the odds are that his record will drop to below .500 at this year’s Mania, one never can tell. With age and injury creeping up on both he and Taker, it may very well be HHH’s last chance to do something significant and take that one major step towards being regarded as a legend in the sport. Might he be tempted to use his backstage influence to pull a power play to end The Streak? Or will he “die trying” and, to steal a phrase, “Rest in Peace”? Either way, as the saying goes, the world will be watching.