The Game vs. The Deadman: A WrestleMania retrospective.

Even if WWE won’t acknowledge their true 1st WrestleMania match, the fact is that Triple H and The Undertaker have had two encounters at “The Grandest Stage of Them All”. Both were well above average matches, but they told two completely different stories. The better of the two was their second meeting just last year because it “told” a better story and better utilized in ring psychology rather than the  straight brawl the 1st match told. Let’s take a look at both matches in better detail.

The Setting: WrestleMania X-7 from The Reliant Astrodome in Houston, TX (April 1, 2001).

The back story to this match was Triple H had defeated everyone in his travels. There were no challenges left for him, and during a fit of bravado on an edition of Smackdown, said there was no one left for him to beat. Undertaker (in his BikerTaker mode) took exception to this, and told Triple H that he “would make him famous”. I’m not sure, but I believe this was the first time that Undertaker used this particular line. Weeks of one up manship soon followed, culminating to Triple H filing a restraining order on the Undertaker on behalf of his then storyline wife, Stephanie McMahon. Well, Undertaker went to his brother Kane to take Stephanie hostage and force WWF figurehead William Regal to make a match at Wrestlemania.

It was the co-main event on probably the best WrestleMania card in history. Triple H made his entrance with the band Motorhead playing him out to his theme, “The Game”. I forgot through the passage of time just how bad lead singer, Lemmy, was as he either mumbled, repeated the same verse, or just made up words to his own song. It was pretty bad. Undertaker made his “American Bad Ass” entrance complete with the motorcycle. I’ll admit it, I kind of miss that version of the Taker.

Mike Choida was the referee in charge, and the match starts on the outside. They break a table on the outside within seconds of the match starting. Jim Ross and Paul Heyman were on commentary, and Ross makes it a point that Undertaker is 8-0 in his WrestleMania matches to this point. This could also be the 1st time that WWE started making reference to the streak. Early on, Taker no sells Triple H’s high knee to take control. After going back and forth for bit, Taker takes control and teases “Old School”, but is denied when Trips pulls him off the ropes. They brawl for a bit, Taker gains the upper hand, but is quickly stopped with a facebuster. HHH goes to the floor to retrieve his trusty sledgehammer. He telegraphs a shot, but Choida grabs the hammer from his hands. Trips isn’t too pleased with these turn of events.

Triple H grabs Taker and goes for a Pedigree. Taker reverses it, and slingshots HHH into the corner where Choida happened to be. Taker then hits a chokeslam, Choida counts a 2. Apparently, this was too slow for Taker as he attacks Choida and lays him out for the next 10 or so minutes in the longest recorded ref bump in wrestling history. The fight spills to the floor at this point. It breaks down into a fight that somehow reaches the sound guys and their platform. Trips nails several nasty looking chair shots in the cramped confines. He goes for one more, and Taker reverses it into a chokeslam off the platform and onto perhaps the softest padding I’ve ever seen for what was supposed to be a heavy hitting spot. It doesn’t help matters when Taker lands an elbowdrop within full sight of the camera.

The guys brawl their way back to the ring. Taker spots the hammer, goes for it, and stalks Triple H with hammer in hand. HHH nails a low blow to turn the tide. Now, he grabs the hammer, but Taker counters the assault with a big boot to the face. With both guys still reeling from the match, HHH goes for a Tombstone that Taker counters into a Tombstone of his own. He hits the piledriver, but Choida is still selling the earlier attack by Taker (it was literally about 10 minutes Choida was down). Choida finally wakes up and counts a 2. Taker sets up the “Last Ride”, but Triple H grabbed the hammer as he was being hoisted up to counter the move. Triple H gets a 2. After the kickout, Taker goes to the corner to recover and Trips soon follows. He ascends to the second rope and starts landing some blows. Undertaker picks him up, gets him in the “Last Ride” position, nails the move, and gets the three count. Taker gets the win and is 9-0 at WrestleMania.

Analysis: It was a very good brawl. I don’t think they were concerned as much with telling a story as they were with selling a physical brawl. It stands out as one of the best straight up brawls and as one of the best grudge matches in WrestleMania history. Looking back now, however, the fact Undertaker won by hitting one finisher seems a bit anti-climatic. At the time, it felt right. Now, after his battles with Michaels and HHH, it felt like a bit of a let down.

Bottom Line: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Excellent brawl.

The Rematch

The Setting: WrestleMania XXVII from The GeorgiaDome from Atlanta, GA (April 3, 2011)

Very similar to their last meeting, the backstory here was Triple H has destroyed everyone in his path, and the only thing that mattered to him was beating The Undertaker and ending the streak. Way to put over the rest of the roster, Trips. This is one of my main issues with Triple H whenever he returns. He always put himself on such a lofty pedestal and looks down at everyone else. Sure, he’s paid his dues, and was easily the top performer in WWE in 2000, but he just has this way of burying the rest of the roster that it annoys me.

Triple H had a pre-introduction where he was dressed in his “King of Kings” garb surrounded by warriors holding shields. The lights go out, come back on, and he does his usual entrance. Undertaker comes out to his music very slowly. It just builds the tension, and they do it well. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are your announce team. The incomparable Scott Armstrong is your referee. After a brief staredown, the bell rings and the match starts.

The two battle briefly before winding up outside. They brawl, and Taker disassembles the Spanish announce table. HHH uses the distraction to drive Taker through the ColeMine that Michael Cole was using during this time period. Triple H retreats to the ring. Taker sits up old school and gets back in the ring. They exchange back and forth until Taker hits his vintage jumping clothesline to gain the upper hand. Just like X-7, Taker teases “Old School” but is pulled off the ropes by HHH.

The brawl continues on the outside. Trips throws him hard into the barrier. Triple H disassembles the regular announce table while Jim Ross freaks out because he was so close to the action. Trips drags Taker to the table and sets up a pedigree on top. Taker powers out and goes for a chokeslam. HHH powers out of that and tries for another Pedigree attempt. Taker reverses this into a backdrop and Trips goes crashing onto the floor. While Trips is selling the effects of the backdrop, Taker gets in the ring and does his Dive over the ropes onto Triple H. It is my opinion that he should really stop doing this move at this point because it’s just too dangerous, and it really isn’t needed anymore. Each year it looks like he’s going to break his neck when he tries it.

While Trips is selling the dive, Taker sets up the ringside steps. He slams HHH onto them. Taker goes for a Tombstone on the steps, but Trips slips out. They exchange fists. Taker drops down off the steps, and charges Triple H who is still standing on the steps. HHH uses Takers momentum and turns it into a sweet Spinebuster through the Spanish announce table. After an extended period of time, both guys get back into the ring where taker hits a surprise Chokeslam for the 1st pin attempt. HHH kicks out at 2.

Undertaker is trying to set up the Last Ride, but Trips drives him into the corner. Trips works over Taker in the corner. Taker lifts him up for the Last Ride again. HHH slips out, goes for a pedigree that Taker slips out from. He lifts Trips up for a Snake Eyes in the corner and attempted to follow that up with a running attack that Trips reversed into a Spinebuster for another pin attempt (Taker 1, Trips 1). After the kickout, Triple H goes outside to grab a chair. Triple H takes too long to set up a hit with the chair, and Taker counters the attack with a boot to the face. He hits Trips with the chair and waits. He goes for another shot, but Triple H dodges the attack and manages to hit the Pedigree for a pin attempt (Trips 2 Taker 1).

After the kickout, Taker slumps into the corner and Trips follows him and presses the attack. Taker again goes for the Last Ride, hits it successfully this time (which won him WrestleMania X-7), and goes for the pin (Taker 2 Trips 2). Taker sells frustration. He plays the crowd, and signals his throat slicing gesture. He hits a Tombstone for pin attempt (Taker 3 Trips 2). Taker again sells frustration. Taker sets up the chair, goes for another tombstone, but Trips fights his way out of it and nails a DDT on the chair instead. Both guys sell the effects of the match and slowly make their way to their feet. It’s great psychology.

Once back to their feet, Triple H hits a jumping Pedigree (it’s the best way to describe it) and goes for a pin attempt (Trips 3 Taker 3). It should be noted here that Scott Armstrong’s cadence during the counts is perfect for this match. It only adds to the tension. After the kick out, Triple H hits another Pedigree (his 3rd) for another pin attempt (Trips 4 Taker 3). Trips sells frustration and grabs the chair. He hits 9 chair shots to Taker’s back and yells for him to stay down. Armstrong joins in and asks if Undertaker can continue. Taker slowly gets to his feet fully selling how hard it was. Trips charges with the chair and hits a headshot to drop Taker again. Trips again tells Taker to stay down. While he’s yelling, Taker grabs him by the throat. Trips slaps him hand away, and waits for Taker to get back to his feet. Once he finally gets back up, he challenges Trips to come at him. Instead, Taker charges Trips, HHH ducks the attack, and hits a Tombstone for another 2 count (Trips 5 Taker 3). As an aside, the way that spot went and how Armstrong counted it, I really thought that the streak was over. It was well done by all involved.

Trips sells disbelief when Taker kicked out. Both of these guys are just so good in the psychology department. While Undertaker is still suffering from the Tombstone, Trips goes to the outside to get his trusty sledgehammer. He comes back to hit Taker with the hammer, but Taker springs up and locks the “Hell’s Gate” gogoplata. Trips drops the hammer, momentarily finds it again, and drops it as he starts to fade from the choke. He finally tapped out and brought an end to an excellent match.

Post match both guys sold injuries. I thought it was funny that Triple H was selling his arm when a gogoplata is actually a choke. Taker actually collapsed and had to be carted off.

Analysis: An absolutely great match from two master storytellers. Even the third man in the ring, Scott Armstrong, performed well in this match. It was an interesting match in that they after the initial flurry, they would hit a big move, and react. They continued this process until the climax was reached when Triple H hit the Tombstone. From that point forward, they were slowly concluding the match with the tension filled submission. The match easily saved the show as nearly every match underperformed. The drama these two created was something special. After reviewing this match again, I’m totally looking forward to their matchup this year.

Bottom Line: 5 out of 5 stars. It told a great story and goes down as one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history.

Looking back at these two matches was a lot of fun. The first one was a great brawl from the best WrestleMania in history. The second match was the best match on the card in a disappointing WrestleMania that under delivered. Before watching their match from last year, I was struggling with the idea of a third Mania match between the two. While I disagree with the setup (Taker not wanting to be remembered by being carted away), I believe these two will deliver another quality match. It’s only the second trilogy in WrestleMania history, and deservedly so. The Hell in a Cell match will easily be one of the better matches on the card.

WrestleMania X-7 final moments:

WrestleMania XXVII full match:

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