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By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Triple H © vs Hulk Hogan
WWE World Heavyweight Title Match
What started out as a nostalgia trip and a chance to utilise one of the biggest WCW stables in the WWE quickly turned into something a hell of a lot more once Vince McMahon saw the reaction Hulk Hogan received at Wrestlemania X-8. Sure, the man was standing across the ring from the Rock, but when half the crowd (or even more) are clearly on your side when you are supposed to be the heel, it would be churlish to suggest it was all about The Great One.
Ditching the black and white of the NWO and heading back to the classic red and yellow, Hogan would leave Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and ‘Hollywood’ behind as he would be awarded a shot at Triple H’s World Heavyweight Title at Backlash. This was a belt that Hogan had last held over nine years previously, losing it to Yokozuna at King of the Ring before his departure for WCW.
Somewhat of an amalgam of old and new Hogan, he would enter the ring to ‘Vodoo Child’ by Jimi Hendrix and keep the black stubble that he had cultivated during his time as a top heel in WCW. The fans were electric for his entrance as the chance to see a star like Hogan wrestle, even at his age, still held a certain magic for many members of the audience.
With Hogan limited in terms of what he could do in the ring, a lot of the match was going to rely on the cult of personality and ‘storytelling’ to make it worth watching. Triple H would get in Hogan’s face early and insist that he doesn’t lose focus on who is standing right in front of him whilst soaking in the adulation of the fans. An early test of strength and battle over a top wristlock, whilst simple, allowed the crowd to get fired up as two wrestlers resembling the muscular aesthetic battled to see who was the strongest.
Hogan managed to overcome an initial flurry from Triple H to land ten punches in the corner before dumping the champion to the outside. A ringpost shot and suplex aren’t enough to soften HHH up, who managed to reverse an attempted smash into the steel steps and hit back with one of his own. Triple H would make his own mistake by attempting to go for the Pedigree way too early; a slingshot by Hogan was followed by a roll-up for the first nearfall. A swinging neckbreaker, not often a move in Hogan’s arsenal, saw a second nearfall before Triple H decided to target the heavily braced left leg of the challenger with a chop block, halting any momentum Hogan had.
Hogan’s knee would be introduced to the ring post and the apron as the methodical destruction of the joint continued. Triple H would drop several elbows to the inside of the knee as he sought to disrupt the vertical base of Hogan, making it more and more difficult to hit the legdrop effectively. After Hogan kicked off a figure four leglock attempt, Triple H dropped three elbows rapidly to the knee, frustrated about his inability to further damage the leg. Several punches to the head would halt the resistance of Hogan as the champion finally slapped on the figure four, utilising the ropes for additional leverage behind the referee’s back.
The inevitable reversal of the hold forced HHH to break the figure four, but he sought to press the advantage with a sleeperhold. From here, we saw classic Hogan; twice the arm dropped, the third time, the arm hung in mid-air as Hogan channelled the crowd’s energy for his comeback. A back suplex left both men down, but as they got back to their feet, Hogan blasted away at Triple H with punches, finally taking the fight to the champion.
The final five minutes brings the horse and pony show to be expected in a match between the two. A pinfall off of a Hogan legdrop is disrupted by Chris Jericho, who is promptly dumped out of the ring by Triple H. A missed second legdrop would allow the champion to hit the Pedigree, only for the Undertaker to come down and hit the referee. A chairshot to the champion left Hogan in a position to hit another legdrop, though not before he would brawl with the Undertaker and send him packing.
Whether it was right to give Hogan one more nostalgia run as champion (the reign only lasting until the next PPV), you can’t argue with the pop the three count receives when the crowd in attendance witnessed Hogan beating Triple H for the WWE World Heavyweight Title. For many, it felt as if the prodigal son had truly returned…and kicked Triple H’s ass in the process.