The Date: 2 April 2000
The Venue: Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim; Anaheim, California
The Commentary: Jim “J.R.” Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler
The Referee: Earl Hebner
The Stakes: Fatal-four-way elimination match for the WWF Championship
On March 31st, 1985, Vince McMahon changed the face of the wrestling landscape forever by bringing together the biggest names in wrestling (alongside a number of celebrity guests) for the very first WrestleMania, a pay-per-view extravaganza that became the hottest event of the calendar year for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and what better way to celebrate than by looking back at one of the event’s most historic matches. By the late-nineties, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) was clawing back to prominence after being beaten in the weekly ratings by World Championship Wrestling’s (WCW) Monday Nitro for nearly two years. Amidst the adolescent antics of D-Generation X and the violent rivalry between the Undertaker and Kane, fans were caught up in the rivalry between the loud-mouthed, anti-authority “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and WWF Chairman Vince McMahon. Unfortunately, Austin was written off television using a hit-and-run angle so that he could get much-needed neck surgery, and the main event scene of the WWF came to be dominated by Triple H. Triple H became an extremely powerful figure, both on- and offscreen, after marrying McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie, and throwing his weight around as WWF Champion, crushing those with either his political power, his trusty sledgehammer, or his buddies in D-X. After Cactus Jack failed to unseat Triple H, costing the man behind the persona, Mick Foley, his career in the process, the people’s last chance laid, fittingly, in the People’s Champion himself, the Rock. However, the Rock’s path to the WrestleMania main event was disputed by the Big Show following a botched finish to the Royal Rumble; the Rock’s attempts to regain his championship match were further thwarted when the Big Show aligned himself with Vince’s son, Shane, so Vince returned to the Rock’s corner to get a measure of payback against his children. Although Chris Jericho was initially scheduled to be added to the WrestleMania main event, Linda McMahon entered the fray and announced that she would accompanying Mick Foley to the ring at the Showcase of the Immortals and the sage was set for a fatal-four-way with a member of the McMahon family in every corner!
I should say that, while many fans and critics out there don’t think too much to this match (or this WrestleMania, there’s a very good reason that I’m choosing to review it; this was the very first WrestleMania I ever watched, and I had just started really getting into wrestling just prior to the Royal Rumble, so I was all about Mick Foley, Triple H’s dominating run as champion, and the intrigue surrounding these larger-than-life competitors. As such, considering the emotional ending to their Hell in a Cell bout at No Way Out, I was fully onboard with J. R.’s call that Foley was the “sentimental pick” for this match and had absolutely no qualms about seeing him added to the contest so close to his “retirement” because it just added a lot more emotional stakes to the match after seeing him push Triple H to the limit as Cactus Jack and knowing it could very well be his last shot at reclaiming the WWF Championship. Arguably, if there’s anyone that people didn’t seem too interested in seeing in this match, it’s the Big Show; the mammoth Paul Wight had already switched alignments a handful of times by this point, and been the WWF Champion himself and, despite the allure of his size and strength, just wasn’t as beloved, hated, or revered as the other three competitors so he kind of stands out a little bit. Once the Rock comes out, it’s pretty clear who the crowd is really behind; despite being accompanied by the hated Vince McMahon, the Rock was firmly entrenched as the most popular star on the roster at this point and the people had been begging to see him dethrone Triple H ever since he won the Royal Rumble. And then, of course, there’s the champion himself; Triple H’s big run at the top wasn’t quite as self-serving as his later reign of terror, but he had gone out of his way to make sure that he was the most hated man in the WWF at that point; from throwing his weight around, stacking the deck at every turn, to firing and the retiring Mick Foley, Triple H had every advantage at his disposal, to say nothing of being physically capable of going toe-to-toe with any man, especially each of his opponents in this match.
With no count-outs, time limits, or disqualifications in effect, and three former World Champions gunning for him, Triple H was at a distinct disadvantage here; not only did he not have to be pinned to lose the belt, he could also be eliminated from the contest entirely if he wasn’t careful, and the four wasted no time in pairing off for a slugfest that saw the Game renew his rivalry with Foley and the Rock and the Big Show go at it in the other corner. Hyped up on adrenaline and emotion, Foley was able to beat Triple H down in the corner and hit his running knee spot, but both men were soon floored by a double clothesline from the Big Show, who showcased his physical dominance in the early going by manhandling each of his opponents indiscriminately with headbutts, tosses, and huge Gorilla Press Slams. Foley’s attempt to choke out the Big Show left him crushed beneath the giant’s weight, and he easily shut down the Rock’s offense with a sidewalk slam, but surprisingly Foley saved the Game from falling victim to the big man’s patented Showstopper chokeslam with a kick to the nuts. Triple H, the Rock, and Mick Foley then got on the same page to pummel the Big Show and finally knock him down for a group stomping. It’s Foley who breaks up the alliance, attacking Triple H and sending himself and the Game to the outside with his Cactus Clothesline; while the Big Show overpowers the Rock on the inside, Foley attacks Triple H with a steel chair in front of the announcers, then wallops the big man across the spine in retaliation for Shane tripping the Rock. Stunned by the shot, the Big Show lumpers right into a Rock Bottom and is summarily eliminated from the match.
Triple H offers to join forces with each of his two opponents to take out the other, and ends up getting suckered in by the Rock as a result; the former WWF Tag Team Champions stomp the shit out of Triple H, smacking him back and forth between them and flooring him with a double clothesline before dumping him to the outside. Every time Triple H attempts to mount a comeback, the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection shut him down, but Triple H is wily enough to duck a shot from the Rock that sees Foley get blasted in the head with the ring bell! Triple H follows up by running the Rock into the steel ring steps to turn things around, dropping the Rock chest-first on the barricade, but he’s left cowering in ear with Foley pulls out his trusty barbed wire 2×4! Thanks to a kick to the dick, Triple H fells the former Hardcore Champion and then uses Foley’s own weapon against him; thankfully, the Rock interrupts before Foley can get too shredded, giving Mick the opportunity to hit the Double-Arm DDT and pull out Mister Socko for the Mandible Claw. The Rock then smashes the WWF Championship over Triple H’s face, but Foley interrupts the People’s Elbow by slapping the Mandible Claw on the Rock (which a vocal majority of the crowd are not happy about) and this dissension allows both men to fall victim to a double low blow form the Game. The Rock and Triple H make it to their feet first, and Vince surreptitiously slips a steel chair into the ring for the Rock to use, but nearly has a heart attack when Foley attacks the Rock and almost scores a pin fall off the Double-Arm DDT. Foley’s momentum is cut off, however, when he charges at the Rock with the chair and gets a face full of steel for his efforts, but Triple H breaks up the Rock’s pin attempt (which the announcers question and hastily try to explain as the Game wanting to personally eliminate Foley from the match).
Triple H then clotheslines the Rock down and he and Foley agree to team up to eliminate the Rock and then settle their score, which the crowd also isn’t happy about. Suddenly fending off two men at once, the Rock is pummelled by the unlikely duo’s attacks and double teams but refuses to let himself be pinned to the mat. Foley knocks the Rock to the outside, smashing the Brahma Bull in the face with the steel stairs and leaving him helpless as Triple H lays him across the Spanish announce table. Foley ascends the nearest turnbuckle and absolutely crashes and burns on a diving elbow drop, momentarily taking himself out of the match and leaving Triple H to quickly cover up by smashing the Rock through the table himself. With the Rock incapacitated at ringside, Triple H is infuriated when the injured Foley still manages to kick out of a Pedigree s he smashes the former King of the Death Match over the head with a steel chair and finally puts his dreams to rest with a devastating Pedigree to the chair. The crowd is a sea of boos at seeing their beloved hero eliminated, but applaud his efforts, continuously respectful of his tremendous effort and the sacrifices he made not just throughout his career, but also in this match. Before he leaves, though, Foley clocks Triple H in the head with the barbed wire 2×4, busting him open in the process and allowing the match to boils down to, arguably, the two men who should’ve had the main event to themselves all along: The Champion, Triple H, and the people’s last, best hope, the Rock. After kicking out of a pin fall attempt, Triple H gets decked by the Rock’s signature right hands, and then clotheslined to the outside after a brief miscommunication; the Rock forces Triple H up the aisleway for a brawl on the concrete and, naturally, out into the crowd and back over to the announce table. Triple H uses a steel chair to smack the ring steps into the Rock’s face and pin him to the floor, attacking the steps with the chair to increase the pressure, and then plans the Rock with a piledriver onto the other steel steps! Despite J. R.’s pleas to stop the match, and that such a spot probably should’ve been the finish, the Rock not only kicks out of a pin attempt but even fires up enough to go for a Rock Bottom! Triple H countered out of it but was toss over the top rope and back to the outside when the Rock countered the Pedigree!
The two brawl at ringside and through the crowd a bit more, an exchange that sees the Rock slam Triple H to the padded floor with a spinebuster and then smash Triple H through the remaining announce table with a beautiful suplex! When Triple H trips the Rock into the ring steps with a drop-toe hold, Vince attacks the Game and ends up being smashed in the head by a television monitor courtesy of his son. The two McMahons brawl at ringside and Vince gets busted open from a chair shot to take the focus off the ring and give the competitors a chance to catch their breath; this results in the Rock exploding with a series of punches and scoring a near-fall off a DDT and that cool twirling powerslam he used to do around this time. Triple H turns things around with Foley’s 2×4, but the Rock is able to slingshot the Game into Triple H and then plant the champion with a Rock Bottom. Unfortunately, the Rock is too fatigued to capitalise, but is saved from Shane’s chair shot by a returning Vince, who slaps his son around to thunderous applause. Vince grabs the chair and prepares to hit Triple H, but psyche! The WWF Chairman stuns the crowd, and Stephanie, and smashes the chair over the Rock’s head instead! When the Rock kicks out of the pin fall, Vince is infuriated and hits the People’s Champion again, harder this time, and Triple H finally snags the three count, becoming the first heel to ever successfully defend the WWF Championship at WrestleMania. The Rock is left a quivering, beaten mess, the crowd is so pissed off that they’re throwing trash in the ring, and Vince embraces Stephanie and Shane to birth a new alliance in the WWF. Angered at the betrayal, the Rock hits the ring and plants all three McMahons with Rock Bottoms and then hits the People’s Elbow on Stephanie to placate the crowd somewhat.
Naturally, the Rock wasn’t finished with Triple H following the end of this match; over the next few weeks, the People’s Champion was continuously on the backfoot as the combined forces of the McMahons and D-X conspired to beat him down at every opportunity. Although the Rock was able to earn a one-on-one shot at Triple H at Backlash, the McMahons stacked the deck against him by naming Shane as the special guest referee and Vince’s stooge, Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, in supporting roles. This led to Linda announcing that Steve Austin would be in the Rock’s corner at the event; although the Texas Rattlesnake wouldn’t show up until literally the very last minute during the match, his appearance not only helped the Rock to defeat Triple for the WWF Championship but also result in one of the most lauded and financially successfully pay-per-views of the year. The Rock’s issues with Triple H and the McMahons continued for a few months, with Triple H regaining the belt thanks to the return of the Undertaker, and the Rock continued to be pestered by Shane even as he faced new challengers like Chris Benoit.
The Big Show slid down the card after this and was reduced to a impersonator gimmick before being taken off TV completely so he could lose weight; he would make a dramatic return at the 2001 Royal Rumble, languish in the Hardcore division for a while, before finally getting renewed push to the top when he was paired up against rookie Brock Lesnar. Triple H saw out the rest of 2000 feuding with Kurt Angle and the Undertaker, before a horrific injury saw his power team with Austin disrupted. He returned to the ring to main event WrestleMania X-8 and remained in the main event picture scene for years thanks to his time in Evolution and feuds with Shawn Michaels and John Cena and transitioning into an authority figure. As for Mick Foley, he was soon back on TV as a beloved authority figure and mainly acted as a comedic figurehead or special guest referee. Foley returned to the ring in 2004 to team up with the Rock against Randy Orton, Ric Flair, and Batista of Evolution; Foley’s in-ring return was specifically to help sell Orton’s “Legend Killer” gimmick but he had a number of notable matches in the years after this against the likes of Edge, Ric Flair, and Terry Funk and Tommy Dreamer in WWE, and against such names as Scott Steiner, Sting, and Kevin Nash during his time with Total Nonstop Action (TNA).
Did you enjoy the main event of WrestleMania 2000? What did you think to the a McMahon being in every corner? Who was your pick to win this match at the time? What did you think to Mick Foley returning to the ring so soon after his retirement? Would you have liked to see Chris Jericho in this match? Did you agree with the finish? How are you celebrating WrestleMania’s anniversary this year and what’s your favourite WrestleMania moment? Drop your thoughts below by signing up or leave a comment on my social media to let me know what you think about WrestleMania 2000 and check back for more wrestling content throughout the year.