SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, May 5, 2000

Triple H keeps getting stronger

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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I've meant to write this column for about four months. I keep a list of prospective topics, and this one just kept getting bumped by more pressing matters. But this week, I'm away, and so I had to write a column which wouldn't be dated by the time it came to be posted. What better a topic that one which has survived for months, already, about a champion who despite the era in which he competes, has survived as WWF champion for equally long?

Hunter Hearst Helmsley has a storied past. He started in WCW as unworthy wrestler Terra Ryzing, and was stolen away by the WWF, where his aristocratic Hunter Hearst Helmsley character was stale at best. He was a part of the infamous Madison Square Garden incident with Clique buddies Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Shawn Michaels, and though he was held back because of it, would eventually benefit tremendously from a prolonged association with Michaels under the moniker Triple H in the heel stable group Degeneration-X.

But enough with the history lesson.

Triple H first won the WWF heavyweight title the day after everyone thought he would, from Mick Foley instead of Steve Austin, on the Raw following SummerSlam in 1999. He held the title, save for a slight derailing by Vince McMahon, until November's Survivor Series, where he lost it to The Big Show. Show's reign was so utterly useless, including numerous title fights with, of all people, Big Bossman, that by the time Triple H won it back in December, he was a sight for sore eyes.

The Big Show reign helped establish that Helmsley really is a good candidate for the title, at least in the context of the group of main event wrestlers the WWF possessed then.

Now, it's the end of April, and Triple H has been champ for five months, surviving a run against Mick Foley which included two pay-per-view title defenses, one of which saw Mick forcibly retired. He even survived Wrestlemania, beating out The Big Show and two top babyfaces in an event the heel has never, ever won.

All of a sudden, people are starting to like the idea of something they were vehemently against not so long ago -- a Rocky champion. Heck, some people seem to prefer the idea of anyone else as champ, up to and including a scraggly young upstart named Chris Jericho.

I, for one, applaud the decision to keep Triple H a stable champion.

Not just because the WWF is finally putting some value back into its belt, a belt that hasn't been the same since the see-saw of title changes between Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Undertaker, and later between Steve Austin and anyone. Finally, it has some stability, and the idea of holding the belt for a year isn't so foreign. When someone wins it from Triple H, the house will be blown down!

But that's not even it.

I think it's smart of the WWF to keep the belt away from The Rock -- it never helped Steve Austin one bit to be champion, and like Austin, Rocky Maivia relies on his status as a lone wolf who can do what he pleases, not relying on anyone, to get his character across. With the belt, he ceases to be the underdog, and that risks turning the fans' ire on him.

But that's not it either.

I don't know what goes on behind closed doors in the WWF. I don't know whether Triple H is Vince McMahon's right-hand man, and he's champion because he has the boss's ear. I don't know if he's earned his spot, because I don't know what else he's done that we haven't seen.

I do know that on paper, Triple H has done everything -- short of selling his body the way others have -- to get that title.

Triple H is a heel. He's a bad guy. He's not even a cool bad guy, like Razor Ramon. Or a butt-kicking bad guy, like Steve Austin was. No. He's a heel. He's a coward, he's good-guy hater, he's a fan-hater, and he's hated just as much, if not more.

Hunter Hearst Helmsley has the guts to portray himself in a manner that doesn't exactly endear himself to the fans. That's pretty rare in wrestling. Only a select few others -- Vince McMahon, maybe a guy like Steve Corino, and probably a handful of other guys.

He's not on the verge of becoming a face because he's such a dominating force, the way Rocky Maivia or Steve Austin did. Nonetheless, he's not a heel by default or by virtue of some terribly ugly feature (that nose aside) or of being completely useless on the mic. No, Triple H could perhaps make a strong face at this point, but I can't even imagine it. Because he's a true heel.

And today, that's saying something. So why not give him the belt? He deserves it.

More than that, by giving him the belt, unlike someone like The Rock, from whom that belt would detract, Triple H makes use of it. It makes him a target, it makes him the man. It makes him The Game -- the guy everyone has to go through to get the championship, but the guy no one seems to be able to.

In December, they rode a whole month's worth of shows off his and Stephanie McMahon's playing around with the Federation, then most of 2000 so far off his feud with Cactus Jack and Mick Foley (almost sounds like I'm talking about two different guys!). He's a more-than-capable centerpiece of a federation. Often I find myself asked, hypothetically, if I were to start a fed and I could pick any two or three or five guys, who would I take?

Sometimes I think of Chris Jericho, because he's funny, or Chris Benoit, because he could set a tone for wrestling for the whole organization. Sometimes I think of Randy Savage or Ric Flair, because they're legends. Sometimes, it's The Rock or Steve Austin, because you can't beat those guys for name recognition. But always, it's some of them, and Triple H. Because you can build a whole organization around him.

You can't build it around The Rock. He's great, but I haven't seen a whole lot of two-hour shows where he was the focal point, featured over and over again. Over-exposure to The Rock is not only repetitive, it's dangerous to his character. In small doses, it's bliss. Triple H gets stronger the more often we have to see him.

So I say leave the belt on him. Who cares who deserves it? It's fun watching Helmsley lug that thing around everywhere, not deserving it at all in character, hoping that someone -- even if for a second, a la Y2J -- will take it from him. When someone does, we'll hope Triple H doesn't get it back.

That seems far less interesting.

On a side-note, I wrote this column before Backlash, and theoretically, Triple H could have lost the title then. The odds seem against that happening, but it remains possible, especially with Austin in Rock's corner. If that's the case, then I still think it adds value to the title that it took The Rock so long to win it, and it's a form of pay-back from Wrestlemania.

I'll also be quite disappointed to hear that Triple H lost, but that's not the worse news I could possibly hear on the way back from the airport, as last week's trip in early May proved. So no biggie. I still believe what I wrote.

You'd think with me being far away from Canada that I wouldn't have a mailbag this week, but I actually had one of my assistants check my mail, print it out, and fly over to me just so I could read it and put it into the column before I finished it and passed it back to him to take over to the SLAM! offices. I'm that versatile.

Believe it or not, this letter was from two weeks ago, and mysteriously, it applies.

Mike Worden, writes:
"HHH is the #1 man in the WWF? I agree. But I seem to remember someone saying that they didn't buy HHH being the champion? I wonder who? Well I thought you might know. Do you remember the one who said that? Huh? Do you?"

Very subtle, Mike. Yes, I do remember who said that - I did.

And I meant what I said. At the time, I thought Triple H was a dismal champion, more of a default champ than anything else. Slowly but surely, they've built him into something more than credible.

I still disagree with the WWF's system of throwing a belt on the guy and only then justifying it, as they did with The Big Show. Sometimes it works, but sometimes ... well, The Big Show.

Hopefully, with a long title reign like this, whoever does unseat Triple H will do so with pomp and circumstance, and it'll be great.

I don't eat my words, I still stand by them. In this case, at least.

That's all for this week. I hope you enjoyed. Toss me some mail and have a great week!

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