Over the years, WrestleMania has garnered a reputation as a spectacle that showcases the finest that WWE has to offer. Classics such as Rock/Austin, Steamboat/Savage, and more have graced our hearts, minds, and eyes. Often times, you’ll hear people say that they look forward to see a spectacle of technical wrestling, at Mania, which is true. This match, however? Not so much. For weeks on end leading into WrestleMania 17 at the Reliant Astrodome, Big Evil and The Game kept trading vicious personal attacks. One week, Undertaker would abduct and hold captive Hunter’s wife, and the next Hunter would strike back by destroying the prized motorcycle of The Deadman. For those looking for the abridged version: this was meant to be a brawl from the very start. It was clear that neither HHH or Taker would be content with a victory. The only thing that would make either man happy would be leaving their opponent a bloody mess in the middle of the ring.
At the climax of the Attitude Era, is there a better way to enter what would devolve into an all-out brawl than being played out by Motorhead? If you ask our lord and savior, Triple H, I think he would agree with my opinion: absolutely not. The Game gets the live rub from Motorhead, and Undertaker comes bolting down the entrance ramp on his bike to a thunderous ovation backed by the “dulcet” tones of Fred Durst and company. What’s supposed to be a wrestling match quickly starts off with furious and forceful lefts, rights, and shots to the tables on the outside as the two ring warriors clash, unleashing weeks of anger on each other. Undertaker has an early advantage, pounding the ever-living crap out of his adversary. The action evidently spills back into the ring, where Hunter is able to take control, as should be expected. Ever the ring general, you would expect him to be able to tilt the tide in his favor, but this is The Undertaker we’re talking about here. Eventually, things go better for Hunter as he’s able to turn the momentum into his liking, keeping Undertaker down with multiple pinfall attempts and shots. Frustration boils over, and we see Mike Chioda and Hunter argue with some physicality, giving Big Evil all the time he needs to recover and unleash a barrage upon HHH.
As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them, get the sledgehammer. Hunter grabs Old Faithful, but is disarmed by Chioda, who pays for his sins and is knocked down by Undertaker hurling The Game on a Pedigree attempt. Taker follows it up with a chokeslam, but only receives a two count for his troubles. Queue frustration on the part of Undertaker as he bludgeons Mike Chioda into next year’s WrestleMania. For those counting, that’s the second referee bump in this match in the span of about three minutes. I hope WWE had some good health insurance for these poor guys, especially Chioda, who gets rag dolled through the better part of this match. With Chioda out of commission, Paul Heyman (yes, he actually said this) says it just as well as anyone can: this is a good old fashioned slobberknocker.
Now, imagine, if you will, in a see of almost 70,000 people, what the worst thing that can happen to you is? You don’t need to wait too long to find out. Undertaker and Triple H make their way through the amalgamation of humanity that is the Astrodome crowd until they reach the high rises that house the sound equipment. Undertaker has had the physical advantage this entire time, pummeling Triple H and having his way with him with no consequences. This all changes as Triple H utilizes a steel chair, working on the legs of the near seven footer. Every man eventually pays for his sins, and so must Triple H once Undertaker regains his strength. Undertaker chokeslams Triple H off of the high rises, sending his adversary crashing what must have been a good ten feet down before he hit the concrete floor. As if things weren’t bad enough for his battered and bruised opponent, Undertaker follows this up with a thunderous elbow drop and decides to assault the EMTs attending to Hunter.
Thankfully, and mercifully for the sake of Hunter, the action returns to the ring. Mike Chioda is still a non-factor in this match, having been out a solid ten minutes now. Undertaker realizes this and sets his sights on the sledgehammer that Hunter attempted to involve earlier, and attempts to utilize it. The crafty HHH cries and snivels to try and hold off the sledgehammer wielding Deadman, but opts for a low blow instead to disarm his opponent. Having thrown everything except the kitchen sink at each other, the two opponents trade fisticuffs, trying to rally some momentum behind them with each and every trading blow. Triple H gets a tad too big for his britches and tries for a Tombstone, and immediately pays for his sins as Undertaker shows him how it’s done. The end is near, and Undertaker covers, but to no avail as Mike Chioda is still out of commission. Mike Chioda begins to stir following some “gentle encouragement” by The Undertaker, who prepares Triple H for his Last Ride, but takes a vicious and thundering shot off the head with a sledgehammer that gashes him immediately. Game over, right? Wrong. Undertaker kicks out at two. Undertaker is mounted in the corner by Triple H, who is like a shark in water sensing blood, hammering away at the gash, but falls victim to the Last Ride, scoring the victory in the first of what would be three WrestleMania match-ups between The Undertaker and Triple H.
This match is often overlooked on the WrestleMania 17 card, which is by all accounts probably the best WrestleMania thus far. WWE also makes little mention of this encounter, trying to make us forget this even happened, especially when they were building the two match ups at 27 and 28 between the two seasoned gladiators. One thing I have to mention about this match is that the pacing is impeccable. Normally, I would dock for referee bumps that aren’t necessary, but the absence of Mike Chioda aided the pacing of this. It was clear at any and all points during this match up that it wasn’t a wrestling match: it was a brawl to determine who the better badass was. In the end, the American Badass prevailed in his home state of Texas, and set us up with one of the more memorable, fun, and vicious matches that we’ve seen out of The Deadman on what is his showcase.