Triple H's Heel Turn At WrestleMania 15 Was One Of The Smartest Moves Of His Career
Triple H’s journey to where he now is in the wrestling industry has been filled with pivotal moments. Upon arriving in WWE, he almost immediately asked to join the Kliq. Retiring Mick Foley at No Way Out 2000 gave him a higher level of credibility, something he badly needed at the time. Marrying Stephanie McMahon, regardless of his true motivations for doing so, ultimately allowed him to become a powerful executive behind the scenes in WWE. However, there is another moment in his career that was extremely pivotal yet is hardly ever talked about by wrestling fans. This overlooked moment was a risky, yet brilliant decision given the circumstances Triple H was in at the time. I am talking about Triple H’s heel turn at WrestleMania 15.
Going into Summer Slam 1998, Vince McMahon had plans to give Triple H a main event push following the event. However, during Triple H’s match with The Rock that night, Vince was so impressed with the positive reaction Rock received from the fans at Madison Square Garden that he decided to give the push to Rock instead. Shortly after Summer Slam Triple H was injured, and when he came back, he was still in the position he was in before Summer Slam, that being a strong upper midcarder. Going into WrestleMania 15, the roster was stacked with big stars, and Triple H was well behind a handful of wrestlers in terms of star power.
However, while the roster was stacked with main eventers, it was lopsided in terms of their face/heel alignment. Stone Cold Steve Austin was the number one face in the company and had all the momentum in the world at the time. In fact his popularity was rivaling Hulk Hogan’s from the eighties and was by far getting the biggest crowd reactions of anyone in the company. Fans popped loudly for almost anything he did, whether he wrestling Undertaker or doing some crazy shenanigan like driving a Zamboni to the ring. Mankind was the number two good guy in the company and was very popular in his own right. Much more popular than Triple H was. Mankind had made himself much more marketable since Summer Slam by employing comedy in his segments, and Vince McMahon rewarded him with two (even if brief) World Title runs.
The Rock was the number one heel at the time, acting as Vince McMahon’s top henchman in the Corporation. He was getting pretty big reactions himself, but because his character was just so entertaining a lot of fans were cheering him. Crowds had a blast yelling along with The Rock as he said his catch phrases. His character really did play to the fans, so a face turn for him seemed right around the corner (he turned a month later). Paul Wight had just signed with WWE earlier in the year and was a main eventer from his start. Because Paul was 7 feet tall, 500 lbs. and at the time was in good shape, Vince McMahon was very eager to sign him to a contract once he became available. He was renamed The Big Show, and because Vince always favored big wrestlers, it seemed inevitable Big Show was going to be getting a good amount of spotlight in the months to come. Big Show turned face at WrestleMania 15 by knocking out Vince McMahon. Kane was getting less spotlight than the Undertaker and the four wrestlers I just mentioned, but he still was seen as a main eventer, and certainly had more credibility than Triple H. Kane was technically a heel in the Corporation, but was showing signs that a face turn may be looming. The Rock had been talking down to him and the week before WrestleMania 15 Kane showed compassion for an injured Chyna (also in the Corporation). The Big Red Machine turned face at WrestleMania 15 when he was kicked out of the Corporation.
A month after WrestleMania Austin, Mankind, Rock, Big Show and Kane were all going to be good guys, and it would have been nearly impossible for Triple H to become the top face in the company or really to elevate himself as face whatsoever. But on the other side of things, Undertaker was going to be the lone top heel. While Undertaker was always suitable for a main event program here and there, he never really drew well unless he was working with a huge star, like Austin. If Triple H turned heel, all he had to do to become the top bad guy was to pass Undertaker, who was inevitably going to return to the upper mid card, as he always did. That was a reasonable goal for Triple H. In fact, out of the six main eventers I listed, the only ones he probably couldn't pass were Austin, Rock and Mankind. Luckily for Triple H, a month after WrestleMania those three would all be good guys.
Triple H’s actual heel turn was beautifully orchestrated at WrestleMania. During his match with Kane, Chyna, who was previously Triple H’s manager and now a member of the Corporation, came down to ring side and began inadvertently helping Triple H. She then hit Kane in the back with a chair and it looked like Chyna had turned her back on the Corporation and was reuniting with Triple H in Degeneration X. However, later that night Triple H interfered in his stable mate X Pac’s match with Shane McMahon and cost X-Pac the match. It became clear: Chyna had not rejoined DX, but rather Triple H had joined Chyna in the Corporation. It was really some great writing.
Triple H began gearing himself up for becoming the top heel in the company. He gave himself a new look by wearing trunks instead of long pants. He put on a significant amount of muscle mass and started showing more aggression in his matches. Triple H just had a more aggressive demeanor altogether. He began using sledgehammers on his opponents, a weapon that we previously had never seen used in WWE before. And really, Triple H was just down right better at playing a heel than a face. However, while this did improve his overall value to the company, if he had remained a face there’s a serious question if he would have gotten elevated at all. Going into Summer Slam 99 Austin was still the top face, and his crowd reactions were greatly rivaled by The Rock’s, who was now a face too. Mankind was out injured and Big Show had turned heel, but with the huge crowd reactions Austin and Rock were getting, Triple H still would have had no chance at becoming the top good guy in the company.
By Summer Slam 99 Undertaker had returned to the mid card as he always did, and Big Show wasn’t getting the same level of crowd reaction that Triple H was getting. Overall Triple H really stepped up his “Game” and had passed Undertaker and Big Show. He still wasn’t big enough to pass Mankind, Rock or Austin, but he didn’t need to because they were faces.
When Triple H turned heel, Degeneration X became a meaningless stable, with Road Dogg, Billy Gunn and X-Pac being the only members. Before Triple H left, DX had a lot of momentum and was a big attraction for a mid-card stable. At the time of WrestleMania 15, there were already 2 big heel stables in WWE in the Corporation and The Ministry of Darkness (lead by Undertaker). The WWE did not need a third major heel stable, so the rest of DX turning heel with Triple H just wasn’t an option. It was a risk for Triple H to leave something as successful as DX behind, as they were selling a lot of merchandise and it really boosted his career to be the leader of a stable, but he needed to break away and turn heel in order to take his career to the next level. Becoming a bad guy and leaving DX was his best shot for becoming a main eventer, and it worked.
While I can explain why Triple H became the top heel, I can’t definitively explain why he was champion for several months following Summer Slam 99. Triple H’s heel work was phenomenal at the time, but Austin and Rock were still clearly bigger stars than him. Mankind probably was too. Maybe Vince McMahon was intent on establishing a fresh face in the main event scene? Maybe Vince just felt like it was the right time to have a heel champion? Maybe Vince was so impressed with Triple H that he had to give him some spotlight? Was Triple H playing politics? I should point out that at this point in time Shawn Michaels was not appearing much on television, X-Pac was just a midcarder, and Nash and Hall were in WCW, so being part of the Kliq probably wasn’t helping him much. His relationship with Stephanie McMahon had not yet started, so there was no favoritism from that.
In my opinion, I think Vince thought the main event scene needed a fresh heel. Undertaker got injured during this time period, and Triple H was clearly better than Big Show and the British Bulldog, who returned as a heel during this time period. Rock, Austin and probably Mankind were too over as faces to risk losing something special by turning any one of them heel. With a constant heel champion in Triple H, this lead to more exciting challengers for the title, as a face champion would have only allowed for Triple H, Big Show and Bulldog to be challengers, instead of Foley, Rock, Austin and later Big Show (he kept turning heel/face in a matter of months) as challengers for the heel champ. With the way Triple H had improved his look and overall performance, Vince probably thought he deserved that spot. Whatever the reason, even if there were other wrestlers more deserving of being champion, the quality of Triple H’s work was outstanding, and in my opinion, he did not look out of place holding the title.
Triple H turning heel at WrestleMania 15 was one of the smartest moves of his career. A month after that event there was going to be a serious lack of main event heels and Triple H capitalized on that void. Right man, right place, right time. It was a risk to leave DX behind, but it really was the best thing for Triple H’s career at the time. I have to wonder just how Triple H’s career would have played out had he remained a face after WrestleMania 15. But as it is, he made the decision that catapulted his career.
Last edited by AliFrazier100; 05-19-2019 at 02:42 AM.