When you think of the great 60-minute matches, we tend to associate them with the great work rate wrestlers of their day: Ric Flair-Ricky Steamboat, for example, or Kenny Omega-Kazuchika Okada. Two people, then you might not associate with going the 60-minute distance and putting on a great match into the bargain are The Rock and Triple H. But they did exactly that at WWE Judgement Day 2000.
That isn’t to be snobbish about either The Rock or Triple H, you understand. I’m a big fan of both and they were both great overall wrestlers; it’s just that they are not necessarily the people you think of from the period when it comes to high workrate wrestling. You’re more likely to bring to mind the likes of Eddie Guerrero, Jerry Lynn, Tajiri, Dean Malenko, Super Crazy, Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi than Dwayne and Paul. And yet, despite the odds being against them, and even the fans of the time having their doubts they can do it, Triple H and The Rock put together one of the best WWE Iron Man matches that the company has ever seen.
Having been feuding for at least three months or more prior to the match, with The Rock claiming the WWF World Heavyweight Championship from Triple H the previous month at Backlash, the match was built on the premise that Triple H wanted to prove who the better man was once and for all, and what better way to do that than in an Iron Man match? Triple H had never been shy of making people aware of his desire to be the modern Ric Flair (whether he achieved that is another matter), in hindsight, considering how many shennanigans would regularly occur in WWE main event matches of the time, it was quite a neat idea to link the idea of being the best back to what it says on the marquee: wrestling.
This being WWE, there was some extra drama built in to the match, with Shawn Michaels, Triple H’s close friend, being installed as the special guest referee. There was intrigue as to whether he would call it down the middle. With the doubts as to whether they could pull it off, and Michaels factor, it certainly piqued the curiosity of the fans. Thankfully, that curiousity would be well rewarded.
So, how did they do it? We know Triple H and The Rock weren’t going to rely on high workrate styles, so how did they put on such a great Iron Man match?
Well, if there’s one thing we can say about the pair, they knew how to tell a story in the ring. They used that to their advantage here, building the match in a series of peaks and troughs to vary the pace throughout. This worked as it brought the audience along on a journey, rather than just blasting them with an overload of moves or even just grinding out the pace like Michaels and Bret Hart did at WrestleMania XII. In turn, this variance of pace stopped the audience getting too comfortable and falling into boredom.
The pair also varied the type of action on display. While the match started in a slower gear, with some wear-down holds on display, we would see constant switches between action in the ring and vioence on the outside. As such, we got a mixture of strategic wrestling, such as The Rock attacking Triple H’s leg in the ring, a brawl in the aisle that saw Triple H thrown into the set and back suplexed on the floor, exchanges of high impact moves back in the ring, with a Triple H piledriver earning him a fall, a return to the floor and a hard chair shot to The Rock back in the ring which cut ‘The Great One’ open. The mix in action nicely matched the mix in pace and helped to keep the action fresh throughout and kept the fans invested by making sure the action wasn’t static.
Usually, if a finisher comes out of nowhere to earn a fall, it can feel a little unsatisfying, as if they didn’t know how to conclude the match. But with the Iron Man match here, this worked to their advantage. The pair would set up big rallies of punches and exchanges of moves in the hope and keeping the other down, so when The Rock nailed the Rock Bottom, or Triple H rolled Rock up, they felt like the natural climax of a sequence while still offering fans surprise by coming out of nowhere. The Rock nailing the Rock Bottom to earn the first fall, Triple H’s roll-up and Pile Driver out of nowhere, Rock’s DDT: they all made sense in the moment and gave the fans the feeling that a fall could literally occur at any moment, keeping them invested in the match.
As the match progressed, Triple H started to use his brain a little more when thinking of the falls, shoiwng everyone why he would be called the ‘Cerebral Assassin’. While up on falls, he hit The Rock with a chair to lose a fall by DQ. But out of that, because he ahd sufficiently hurt The Rock, he was able to pin him immediately after (with his feet on the ropes) and then put The Rock in a sleeper for to quickly earn another fall, putting him back in the lead. Lose one, gain two: that’s strategy, and I liked having it come into play here.
Of course, Shawn Michaels also came into play. Despite all expectation, Michaels called it right down the middle for the majority the match. In the latter parts, HBK noticed Triple H putting his feet on the ropes, so he kicked them off. Triple H didn’t like that. He also didn’t like being pulled off The Rock by his hair when he wouldn’t release the sleeper. So Triple H shoved him, Shawn shoved back and…The Rock got a second wind and threw Triple H over the top rope onto a camera man! It was a good tease, and it proved to be the dramatic spur that allowed The Rock to begin his comeback, which saw Triple H get crotched, slingshotted into the ring post outside and pedigreed onto the announce table, which didnt give much in a nasty moment.
The ending saw Vince, Stephanie and Shane walk out as Triple H, now a bloody mess, scraped himself up from the floor only to take a barrage of blows from an electrified Rock. With ‘The Brahma Bull’ only being one fall down, Vince and Shane jumped up on the apron, only for The Rock to knock them back down. You can imagine the crowd explosion when The Rock nailed The People’s Elbow and evened things up to 5 falls each!
Shane pulled Shawn out, so Shawn smacked him right int he kisser. Admittedly, this iw where things got a bit silly, but it wouldn’t be Attitude Era WWF without some overbooked shenanigans. As Shawn was knocked to the outside, and Shane, Triple H and DX beat The Rock down, an eerie video package ran over the video screen before The Undertaker launched his new biker persona by riding his hog down to the ring (in a pretty iconic moment, it must be said) and getting in the ring to beat the bad guys down, smacking Vince down, chokeslamming Shane, nearly chokeslamming Steph and tombstoning Triple H. Biker ‘Taker was pretty damn cool, it must be said.
While this was happening, the timer went. It should have been a draw. Except Shawn, playing by the rules, knew ‘Taker’s interference was cause for a DQ, and so he DQ’d The Rock, giving the match to Triple H six falls to five, making him the new WWF Champion. Admittedly, that does end the match on a bit of a downer, but by WWE standards, I can remember far messier main events during that era and it did make sense in terms of the feuds the company built from there.
Does the finish ultimately detract from what is a very enjoyable match? Absolutely not. The Rock and Triple H showed that, like wrestling itself, there is more than one way to do an Iron Man match, and do it well. This match should be held up as an example of how Sports Entertainment, if done right, can make all strands of different wrestling fans happy. Whether WWE will ever relearn this remains to be seen, but we’ll always have The Rock vs. Triple H in any case. There’s a reason so many people still celebrate their feud, after all.