Let’s admit it: most of the time we’re secretly rooting for the bad guy to win.
Wouldn’t it be cool if The Joker somehow beat Batman and blew up these ferries in The Dark Knight?
How awesome of a twist would it be if The Avengers just couldn’t take down Thanos at all?
Wouldn’t it be great if Forrest Gump died of AIDs and Jenny had the ultimate victory? Okay, maybe not that last one.
But seriously – the reasons why The Empire Strikes Back and Avengers: Infinity War are so popular are because in the end, the heels are usually the more compelling character.
It’s why Roman Reigns gets booed out of stadiums and John Cena has a special “John Cena suuuuuucks” verse to his theme song. They don’t have the freedom to be as compelling as a Kevin Owens, a Miz, or a Bray Wyatt.
However, when it does all come together, and the babyface is able to have the ultimate triumph, there is no story better.
This past Wrestlemania 35 is a classic example of how not to do that.
Happy For The Sake of Happy is Boring
WWE just gave you all what you wanted, as I’ve outlined previously. Where’s the fun in that?
Kofi beat Daniel Bryan, but of course he did. What else would happen? Daniel Bryan didn’t even get a chance to settle into his amazing hemp belt routine, and Kofi won the title that you all chose him to have.
Seth Rollins beat Brock Lesnar. He kicked him in the balls and curb stomped him 3 times. Did this tie back to anything in the past? Nope. Did Brock’s character pay for past crimes? Not really. Not like Brock had to kick anybody in the balls to win any previous titles and it came back to bite him. Seth just won the belt. Big whoop.
Becky Lynch beat Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair in a complete fucking mess. Let’s just throw out the window the crime to humanity of the messed up finish that the ref ruined. Even if that finish went off without a hitch – excuse me, you’re doing a fluke roll-up pin in the main event of Wrestlemania?
Are you high?
This is Wrestlemania, motherfucker. This is the final episode of the season. This is where the plot gets wrapped up. As much as I’ve voiced my disdain for Becky Lynch, that should’ve ended with her putting Charlotte Flair through a table, then having the epic square-off with Ronda Rousey. This of course leading to Becky tapping out Ronda clean as can be in the middle of the ring.
No idea who booked that garbage, but again, no comeuppance. No satisfying conclusion.
As we trekked into the pouring rain of the Metlife Stadium parking lot, getting soaked from a monsoon as the promised trains from shitty NJ Transit did not arrive, it was the perfect metaphor for our promised happiness which also eluded us.
The Set-Up To BackLash 2000
The best part of WWE is that you truly have no idea what to expect. A Wrestlemania may end up being an awful chore, and a throwaway PPV like Stomping Grounds might end up being a fun little delight.
Backlash, even back in 2000, was a B-level PPV. The expectations were in the basement. Thankfully, that meant that there was nowhere to go but up.
Triple H was still in his “My Time/McMahon-Helmsley Era” phase of his career, which was my personal favorite.
Somehow, for about 3/4th of a year this new heel took the WWE by storm, turning into a monster main eventer from his modest beginnings as a throwaway mid-carder/Shawn Michaels lackey.
Triple H won the WWE Championship a few times. In a ridiculous plan that could only happen in wrestling, he concocted an unnecessarily complicated scheme in which he wooed Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of Vince, had her pretend that she was drugged and kidnapped by Triple H, and then was married to him (despite being passed out) before her current marriage went through to Test.
Only after waiting until he was ready to be beaten to a pulp by Vince at Armageddon of 1999, does Stephanie take the (now famous) sledgehammer from Vince and allow it to be “stolen” by Triple H who then attempts to murder her very own father.
They then hug in the ring in one of the most underrated turns of all-time.
Now, Triple H has the WWE title, and he has the greatest prize in the industry, Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley. God, that fucking hyphenated fake name is pure gold.
After this, Triple H then beats the ever-living fuck out of Cactus Jack in Madison Square Garden at the Royal Rumble, and then actually retires poor Mick Foley by destroying him in his very own Hell in a Cell.
As all of this is going on, in part due to the absense of Stone Cold Steve Austin via injury, The Rock has absolutely skyrocketed to the top of WWE. Nobody before, or since, could hold a crowd in the palm of his hand as The Rock could.
You know when we get all nostalgic and look back on things? Like “Degeneration X was the greatest thing EVER!” or “Man, the crowd was SHOCKED OUT OF THEIR FUCKING WITS when Hogan turned to the NWO!”
There’s always hyperbole to it.
There’s no hyperbole with The Rock. The man was must-see TV. A better heel than any heel while being a face. If that makes sense.
He was somehow a fan favorite by being the greatest asshole you would ever meet, gloating about his millions (and millions!) of fans and throwing towels over interviewers’ heads to shut them up after bullying them over whether they ate “Poontang Pie” or “Strudel”.
The Rock, by any metric imaginable, should be the champion. He truly was The People’s Champion, already.
Yet instead…Triple H was the champion. Try as he might, nobody could get the belt away. Especially with Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley by his side.
Eventually, a match was set-up at Wrestlemania by the Meryl Streep of WWE herself, Linda McMahon. In order to make things fair, with Triple H having Stephanie with him, there would be a 4-way elimination match.
Triple H, with SMH in his corner.
The Rock, with none other than Vincent Kennedy McMahon in his.
The Big Show, with Shane-O-Mac watching his back. (and thanks to a legitimate botch in the Royal Rumble)
And Mick Foley, cashing in every last ounce of dignity he had after losing in his retirement match a fucking month ago, with Linda McMahon, the future Secretary of Small Business, there to cheer him on.
“A McMahon in every corner!” emblazened on the poster that Vince masturbated to nightly.
After all of this time of Triple H always getting his way and keeping the belt that rightfully should be around the waist of those better than him – it was finally leading to him losing it on the grandest stage, to the greatest competitor, The Rock.
Foley gets eliminated after humiliating himself and nearly breaking his fucking sternum on the announce table after an embarrassing botch.
Big Show gets eliminated because what the fuck was he even doing here.
And now Triple H must face the music. Triple H vs The Rock. The final two. Time for The Rock to finally win the belt that we all saw for him for the past year.
And just when Stephanie runs interference, here comes Vince McMahon to save the day and…hit The Rock with a chair.
Vince McMahon has turned.
Triple H with the pin. 1…2…3.
Triple H retains the WWE championship. As a HEEL. In the Wrestlemania main event.
Let me tell you something, you millenial mofos who came to the top of the mountain to talk to the old 35 year old wrestling fan – this just simply did not fucking happen. The heel does not win in the Wrestlemania main event.
No, I mean, literally.
We’ve had 15 of these fucking things. Ted Dibiase, Macho Man, Yokozuna, they all dutifully lost. As they should. Wrestlemania is the end of the story, and we all came to see the good guy win.
Not this time.
Triple H makes history and retains the title. And the next month was a masterstroke.
Triple H ends up in an impromptu match with a red-hot up-and-comer, Chris Jericho. After manipulating HHH into a match, there is a conflict with Trips and Earl Hebner, the referee. It gets to the point where Triple H puts his hand on the official, shoving him, and leading to Chris Jericho hitting the Lionsault as Hebner counts a fast 1-2-3.
In one of the loudest pops you’ll hear, Chris Jericho won the WWE title.
However…it pays to be banging the boss’ unbelievably hot daughter, and to have said father turn to your side as well. After demanding the ref come back out, Earl Hebner was bullied into overturning it, but his integrity as a WWE official who would never, ever allow shenanigans to take place was too strong. Earl refused.
So Triple H simply had poor Earl fired, and had the decision reversed. Once again, dastardly Triple H subverts the will of the people and keeps his beloved championship.
As this was happening, The Rock won a number one contender match for the title at the upcoming Backlash PPV. Unfortunately for him, Triple H has the McMahon family on his side, and his father-in-law installed Shane McMahon as the special guest referee.
There was just 1 problem: Linda McMahon was not a part of this evil heel faction, and was ashamed of what her family was doing to the company. To help The Rock out, she called in some back-up.
Stone Cold Steve Austin would be in The Rock’s corner.
But, bah gawd, whose side would Austin truly be on?! Now, he did destroy the Degeneration X bus on Smackdown, but…this is The Texas Rattlesnake. Who knows what he’ll do?!
The Day of Reckoning
So now here we arrive at the main event of Backlash. After Triple H has gotten his way for nearly an entire year. And Vince McMahon gleefully takes the microphone and tells us that if we look closely at our programs, it says “Card Subject To Change” and that Stone Cold Steve Austin would not be here tonight. Nope. Definitely not. No chance of Stone Cold coming by. Just get that one out of your head.
So with Vince and Stephanie at ringside, and Shane-O-Mac as the Special Referee, The Rock finally gets his title shot.
“Cowboy” Notes As He Re-Watches The Entire Match
- The Rock cuts what is essentially a generic promo next to Michael Cole, who looks like an absolute pussy. But despite the standard “I don’t know where Austin is and I’ll beat whatever you throw at me” promo content, what’s unbelievable is the fucking energy in it. It’s really something that can’t be taught. Crowd is frothing at the mouth.
- Pre-“Here Comes the Money” Shane dancing down to the ring as the referee. “Yeah, he’s gonna be impartial. Impartial my ass.” — Jim Ross
- “My Time”. “The Game”. “King of Kings”. Is anybody better at consistently picking epic theme music than Triple H? By the way, the champion should never, ever, ever, ever, ever enter first.
- Stephanie McMahon’s sneer game is on point tonight.
- “SOME SAY VINCE MCMAHON IS THE DEVIL HIMSELF!!!” nothing like good ol’ JR to look at things in a rational, measured way.
- I’m going to keep beating this dead horse. I get that The Rock is no more. We now get Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is no longer The Rock and only pretending to be him. But I firmly believe we will never have another Rock again.
- JR: “Why don’t you just jump in front of the table and kiss Vince’s ass, King!” His total outrage this whole match is hysterical.
- Rock mouths “You son of a bitch” and HHH mouths “Fuck you, motherfucker” as we start. We need to bring this back while Vince is allowing middle fingers.
- Shane’s waaaaaaaay over-agressive “Let me back Rock out of the corner” is gold, as is Stephanie, as a heel puppy, learning her over-confident smile.
- Triple H and Shane stage a fight, and then outwardly hug, as Vince throws Rock into the steel post at the outside. The match is just so absurdly fucking stacked against Rock that you have to laugh. This is great stuff.
- I mean, why wouldn’t Shane just quickly pat the mat 3 times, but hey, this is why we love this sport.
- Lawler: “Look at Vince! He’s showing no favorites, he’s mad at Shane!” JR: “Because he wants him to count faster!” Hysterical.
- JR also does a wonderful job of making sure to put over HHH. “He’s good enough, he doesn’t need all this help. He’s good enough!”
- I know it probably would never happen for insurance purposes, but one last Rock vs HHH match to finally put the feud to rest 20 years later would be something “Cowboy” Bob would endorse. Make it happen, Saudi Prince.
- Double knockout spot, with Shane blatantly trying to wake up Triple H as he counts. Then Vince hits Rock in the face with the title as Rock gets up first. Shane’s super-obvious fast count gets 2. This is masterful.
- Rock barely does anything more than punches or clotheslines, and gets more of a reaction than Ricochet ever will. And I think Ricochet is great.
- Rock hits a DDT as Shane just folds his arms and blatantly refuses to count. Shakespeare wishes he could write shit like this.
- Absolutely gorgeous double Rock bottom to obliterate the table as Rock takes out Triple H and Shane at the same time, and then Vince and Stephanie give off Hall of Fame reactions to the carnage.
- Now with the advantage, but no referee, Vince runs in and just blatantly attacks The Rock. Rock gets low-blowed as he goes after Vince, and now the Pedigree.
- Still no ref.
- Vince calls for Patt Paterson and Brisco to come out as the new refs. So now we have Triple H vs Rock, with Stephanie in his corner, Vince in his corner, Shane as the referee, and Brisco & Patterson as the REPLACEMENT referees. And now the REPLACEMENT refs are just blatantly beating up The Rock. This is amazing, amazing stuff. Crowd is rabid.
- “THIS IS AN ASSAULT!!!!” screeches JR.
- Now Vince even calls for a chair and bashes Rock’s head in. Tough to watch in 2019.
- “NOW I WANT YOU TO COUNT TO 3, DO YOU UNDERSTAND???” says Vince The G.O.A.T. heel.
- And there it is.
- The glass breaks, for legit one of the loudest pops I’ve ever heard, even if everyone in the arena just had to know it was coming.
- Triple H runs after Austin like a dumbass and gets a chairshot for his troubles.
- Chair to Patterson’s head.
- Chair to Brisco’s head.
- Chair to Shane’s head.
- Chair to Vince’s head as Austin drops down and talks shit mouth-to-mouth in that hilarious way he always does.
- One last chair to HHH for good measure.
- “AUSTIN!!! AUSTIN!!! AUSTIN!!!” ejaculates JR.
- Austin exits, as we now have the cherry on top.
- Austin walks right past Linda “Meryl Streep” McMahon who gives Austin her nod of approval, as she walks recently fired referee Earl Hebner to the ring.
- The last McMahon standing, Stephanie cuts in front of her, and gets shoved to the floor.
- Stephanie has one of the most hilarious fucking reactions ever as Lawler screams “SHE’S HURT!!!!” as I literally laugh out loud.
- Then, the next amazing pop. When HHH rises up with his chair and Rock gives him the spinebuster, the crowd knows this is finally it.
- Earl Hebner slides in the ring, 1…2…3. And justice has been served.
- Stephanie screams “NOOOOOO!” on the floor like Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith.
- The Rock poses as the crowd goes crazy, but we’re not done.
- The glass breaks one more time, and out comes Stone Cold to tow in the charred remains of the Degeneration X bus that he destroyed with a forklift a few days ago.
- Remember when Jon Jones won in UFC and then left the arena and came back in with Daniel Cormier’s bus that he destroyed at the weigh-ins?
- Stone Cold toasts the WWE title with The Rock and they share beers. A job well done. Good has vanquished evil.
Why Did It Work, And Will It Happen Again?
So a quick review – After dominating WWE in every conceivable way for nearly an entire year, multiple championships, the boss’ daughter as his wife, and the entire McMahon family at his disposal, Triple H actually becomes the first heel ever to win the title at Wrestlemania.
The Wrestlemania win is crucial. I believe that if they did all these Backlash shenanigans at Mania, it would be a little hollow. We know how Mania ends. The good guy always wins. That’s the law.
By having Triple H win yet again at Mania, over such a more deserving opponent, the audience was broken a bit. We’ve submitted to Triple H’s dominance. This is a heel run that will apparently never end.
Backlash doubled the stakes. More McMahons, even a McMahon as the fucking referee. Vince’s two stooges as the replacement referees. Literally 5 people beating the shit out of Rock…until it all comes together.
Triple H’s mistakes all caught up with him in one night.
He just had to bully poor Earl Hebner. He got this poor referee fired just for doing his job. And he stacked the deck so hard against The Rock this time, with Shane as referee, that he goaded Linda McMahon into unleashing Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Triple H has Austin beat the holy hell out of all 5 male participants in the match, with Linda taking out the last female domino to fall, and then Chekov’s Referee strolls down the aisle to count the pin on the man who tried to ruin his career just a month earlier.
Now that’s a fucking epic story.
Can it happen again?
I think we have 2 great candidates. The first is if, after losing clean not one but two PPVs in a row, Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans both win the Universal and Women’s titles, respectively, at Extreme Rules.
Then, the kicker, will be both retaining at Summerslam. See, timing is key. It must be long enough to have the crowd frothing at the mouth, and it must be done well enough to have the wait all be worth it. Seth and Becky holding up both titles and sharing a passionate kiss to end Survivor Series after multiple months of Baron and Lacey pompous tomfoolery could be amazing.
The better candidate, I believe, will be Shane McMahon. I don’t see this ending with Roman just beating Shane with an OO-AHHHHH special. I see Shane-O-Mac getting a wonderfully obnoxious run with the WWE title, booking himself into a very similar situation to Backlash 2000, and going down in Hindenberg-esque flames.
And when it happens, you’re going to be cheering Roman Reigns like you never have before.
It just so happens that Shane has a crew now (Drew McIntyre and The Revival) to play the roles of the henchmen who stack the deck and run interference, too.
And as for getting that memorable monster pop to help good overcome evil…I wouldn’t be surprised if a certain Roman cousin just might have you smell what he’s cookin’ to pay it forward for someone else.