Everyone knows about the series that these guys had at WrestleMania 27 and WrestleMania 28. I was lucky enough to be live for the Mania 27 match and the tombstone nearfall is one of the best live wrestling moments I have experienced. I am in the minority in not enjoying their Mania 28 match all that much because I didn’t have any belief that Triple H would win and I felt Shawn Michaels detracted from the match with his overselling as guest referee. This WM 17 match on this loaded card is not exactly unknown since Mania 17 is typically held up as one of the best PPVs of all time, but it does seem to have lost some of its reputation since the later series occurred.
First off the entrances here are pretty awesome. Some of the overproduced stuff WWE has done for their big Mania matches lately has been good (The Miz at WM 27) but most has been pretty terrible (Triple H as medieval warrior, John Cena driving a Mustang, etc). It was nice to see a regular Taker entrance and a special Motorhead one leading Triple H to the ring. Lemmy seemed to be on good behavior tonight as he managed to hit most of the words on the song.
Both of these guys come into this match in sort of a weird position. Not below the main event scene by any stretch of the imagination but also not really feeling like they had a big issue with anyone either. They were placed together for this match/feud seemingly as an elimination game from other guys feuding with each other. The match begins on the outside and puts over the brawling tone that will occur. The secondary Spanish announce table takes a bump when Triple H lands on it. They climb back in and Ross mentions that Taker is undefeated at WrestleMania. Big backdrop from Taker to Hunter gains him the advantage. Most of Taker’s secondary offense is utilized in this sequence and he tries to cap that off with Old School but Triple H pulls him off from the top rope.
Triple H starts out his attack focusing on the neck with two swinging neckbreakers and some elbows mixed in as well. He covers him and Taker is able to kick out. This gets Triple H pissed at Mike Chioda (namedropped by JR on commentary). Taker is able to recover and meets Triple H with a punch straight to the gut. I was ready to pan this match as not giving Triple H enough offense when he responds to Taker’s flurry by hitting a facebuster. Awesome. Ross and Heyman are doing a good job on commentary conveying Triple H’s strategy and talking about how foolish it is to brawl straight up with Taker. Triple H retrieves his sledgehammer and he has the same look I did the first time I watched Cinemax after midnight. Chioda takes away the sledgehammer and Hunter gets catapulted into him. Taker gives him a chokeslam for a really good near fall off of that move that shockingly it felt like a lot of the crowd bought could be the finish. Taker says screw this and kicks Chioda and gives him an elbow drop at the 15:30 mark on the Youtube video.
The match takes a turn here with a fight on the outside. Big back drop given to Triple H onto the concrete in a good looking spot. The brawling to the production area is better than most WWF brawls of this ilk because Taker is actually throwing some good punches and they are not just dragging each other around the arena. I can buy into the conceited way Triple H gets up to the upper level of the production contraption too as him trying to escape from Taker. Hunter gets the upper hand with some chair shots but then we get one of the two most famous spots in this match. Triple H has a chair raised but Taker clenches him around the throat and chokeslams him off the platform in, on first look, a great looking production shot. Of course JR loses his shit over this asking if Triple H had been chokeslammed “to hell or what.” We even get a holy shit from the fans playing along. This is completely ruined by three things. The shot of Triple H laying on his back in a not so far distance from the Undertaker. The replay from above showing the whole spot where you can see the foam that Triple H landed on, and Undertaker deciding to dive on top of him. If the camera could of just stayed on Taker the whole time and had Triple H wander towards the ring it all would have been for the better. I am all for wrestler safety and in this case the fans went with it as no one around the area chanted bullshit, but this just looked ridiculous especially with how serious they were playing it up with an EMT checking on Triple H. Remember how I talked about hating crowd brawling that just seemed like people dragging each other? Yeah, that is pretty much what we got here on the way back to the ring.
Taker stalks Triple H with the sledgehammer and Hunter shows some resourcefulness by kicking him in the balls. The teasing of the sledgehammer has been done well as the first blow with the weapon feels like it will be significant. We get a slugfest from each other to a pretty dead crowd. We then get a neat spot that I hadn’t noticed while watching this match before and plays into their later series. Triple H goes for a tombstone and JR says “wait a minute”, exactly like he does at WM 27. However, this time the roles are reversed and Taker is able to deliver the move. Undertaker covers but the referee is still down. The Youtube video is now at 25:30. 10 minutes of selling off an elbow drop? We then get by far the best spot of the match. Taker lifts Triple H up for the last ride, but Hunter grabbed the sledgehammer while being lifted and he bonks Taker right on top of the head. Chioda has recovered enough for him to get a long two count. Two things here with this spot. One, this has to be one of the better spots of the whole streak. I can only think of the Triple H Tombstone at WM 27, the sweet chin music from Shawn at WM 25, and the SCM into Pedigree combo from WM 28 as being equal. My second opinion will sound ludicrous in retrospect but I believe based on the confines of the match and story they were trying to tell, Triple H should have won this match with this spot. It is easy to look back and see that would have been a huge mistake but even with Ross casually mentioning it during this match, the streak is really something they lucked into. It would start to get more hype the next few years, but during this match it would have not been that big of a deal if Taker would have lost at this WM. The way they built up to the first sledgehammer shot and the beautiful way they crafted the spot should have been rewarded with Hunter showing his resourcefulness by obtaining the victory. The finish is entirely anticlimactic after this spot and Triple H pounds Taker in the corner with punches then gets hit with a Last Ride to give the win to The Undertaker.
This match is tough to judge. It had some clever built up spots, but that was offset by some disappointing follow up and odd production gaffes. There was too much good stuff going on for me to call this match bad but also too many flaws for me to call it great. I don’t think this taints the stigma that WM 17 is one of the best PPVs of all time because I would probably have this neck and neck with Vince and Shane as the 4th or 5th best match of the night. It just seems perplexing that Vince vs. Shane had by far more lackluster execution and yet felt more emotionally satisfying with the payoffs within this match. You can cheer Taker winning here, but he dominated most of this match and when Triple H’s master plan of using the sledgehammer didn’t even work, what is he supposed to do from that point?
Final Grade: ***