The Rock and Triple H have careers that are indelibly linked. Their respective rises to the top of wrestling paralleled one another and they faced each other every step of the way. One thing that was evident throughout their years of feuding was that Triple H and The Rock didn’t particularly care for one another behind the scenes. Their rivalry fueled by competitiveness — and possibly jealousy — created dynamic and tense moments in the ring and out. So let’s break down the stages of their feuds and how they sometimes got realer than wrestling.
The Early Years – Rocky Maivia vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
Before there was Triple H, there was Hunter Hearst Helmsley — a faux-Brit/French hybrid with an accent that betrayed any known nationality. Hunter was a typical pompous rich character whose personality was ripe for heel heat. Rocky Maivia, on the other hand, was the company’s Golden Boy. He was a college football athlete with a strong Samoan heritage. He was 6-foot-6 and could land a perfect dropkick. He was in line to be the big star. But there was one problem: He was lame as sh*t. Rocky wore a dumb haircut and his happy-go-lucky attitude only alienated fans who were turning to edgier wrestlers like Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Undeterred, Vince McMahon still wanted to push his star. And in February 1997 The Rock defeated Triple H for the Intercontinental Championship to a chorus of boos. Even early on, Rock and Triple H’s backstage problems were starting to surface — and it had little to do with The Rock himself. Bret Hart had taken a liking to the young, athletic Rock and in his biography mentioned that as a result Triple H and Shawn Michaels were resistant. Rocky Maivia was now caught in the crossfire of a Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels feud. Just because Hart backed Rocky, Hunter and Michaels were set on putting his run to the side. According to Hart, Michaels and Hunter wanted Hart to beat Rocky for the Intercontinental title to curtail Rock’s push and take Hart out of the World Title picture that Michaels was occupying.
A year later, Michaels would retire, with his relationship with The Rock never getting on the same page until more than a decade later. In the meantime, Rock and Hunter would have to work out their professional relationship in and out of the ring.
Nation of Domination vs. D-Generation X
With Shawn Michaels gone and Rock/Triple H fighting for mid-card dominance, there wasn’t any room for either wrestler to try to use political power to gain leverage. So they had to focus on a competitive rivalry, which is why the DX/NOD was probably the best The Rock/Triple H feud ever got. There were so many iconic moments in The Rock and Austin’s Intercontinental championship feud to push the Attitude Era to greatness beyond just Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Naturally people remember the D-Generation-X promo where they hit the ring in blackface to mimic the members of the Nation of Domination. It’s clear that this was an idea by McMahon and Russo that was intended to entertain and not undercut the Nation. We’ve never heard Rock’s opinion of the skit or if it generated any actual behind-the-scenes disdain. He might have just seen it all as just part of the business. If he had any feelings toward the skit, it was never communicated in public. For a lot of people, that was a seminal Attitude Era moment.
The Rock and Triple H’s feud peaked at SummerSlam 1998 when they met in a Ladder Match for the Intercontinental title. At this point, all they had as leverage for the top spot was in-ring performance. Their competitiveness and desire to one-up the other person led to a dynamic feud and match at SummerSlam. The match itself was far different from the HBK/Razor matches because it was pure physical violence and no-nonsense brutality. I love the match because you can feel the two guy wrestling like they were trying to make themselves stars in one night.
This was The Rock and Triple H at their most pure, and it was unforgettable.
The World Title Fight
Triple H, by his own admission, saw himself as the top heel in the Attitude Era. He knew that nobody would overtake Stone Cold Steve Austin so he wanted to be the heel who would go on to face the Rattlesnake at all the WrestleManias. Those plans changed at Survivor Series 1998 when The Rock turned heel, joined Vince McMahon’s corporation and suddenly became the top bad guy in the WWF — with a collision course set for Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XV. This is where the Triple H/Rock animosity truly seemed to really unfold. It started with Shawn Michaels (again: remember this is pre-Jesus Shawn) still holding a grudge against Rock and trying to get his guy Triple H to the top. The prevailing rumor is that Michaels went to Vince McMahon to get Rock pulled out of the WrestleMania XV main event against Austin to be replaced by Triple H. This was obviously a ludicrous idea that the WWF never went with, but it set the stage for the professional jealousy Hunter would feel for his rival going forward.
Triple H and The Rock would stay out of each other’s way for the better part of the next year as Rock would be busy feuding with Austin and turning babyface. Triple H would leave DX and go solo. When Austin went out with a neck injury in late 1999, it left an opening for the company’s top spot.
Bruce Pritchard — producer for the WWF during the height of the Attitude Era — spoke to Ric Flair on a recent episode of the Wooo! Nation podcast to discuss just how real it got:
Clearly the two guys would go at it on the mic, creating memorable promos but the backstage politics were starting to get real chippy. The Rock and Triple H had the big main-event feud heading into WrestleMania 2000. For some reason, the match turned into a Fatal Four-Way with Mick Foley and The Big Show added to the mix. At this time, word of Triple H and Stephanie’s off-screen romance was making news, leading people to speculate as to just how much influence The Game was having on the on-screen storylines. He’d just beaten and retired Mick Foley cleanly for months. The main event to ‘Mania 2000 ended with Triple H beating The Rock thanks to a McMahon double-cross. This would mark the first time a heel won a WrestleMania main event and the second of three WrestleMania losses The Rock would take in a row.
The next month, we got the WrestleMania main event we should have gotten when Rock and Triple H wrestled for the world title at Backlash in a classic. This was probably the best match they had as main-eventers and the blueprint for a hot, main event Attitude Era match. Their competitiveness again led to them raising the bar to push each other to greatness.
The Rock was the champ and also starting his push to Hollywood stardom, which is where some of the company heat started to come his way. He and Triple H were headed to Judgement Day and an Iron Man match. The problem was the fact that Rock had spent some of the lead-up to the match filming The Mummy 2 and the match was booked without his input — and depending on who you ask, that may have been part of Triple H’s plan to undermine Rock’s in-ring work. According to old PWTorch newsletters on the match, Hunter booked the whole bout causing Rock to second-guess a lot of the decisions. The length of the match also led to Rock being exposed for not being nearly as good of a ring general as Triple H as he called some audibles and had to have some moves explained to him beforehand. Even with the drama — and the botched ending — they still put on the second-best Iron Man match in WWE history. The match and the events surrounding it, though, pointed to the fundamental difference between the two men: Triple H as the obsessive wrestling guy and The Rock as someone whose eyes were on larger success.
For what it’s worth — Shawn Michaels was the guest referee and still in his pre-Jesus stage. So he buried the match and said that he could have done a match like that with ease. Despite the fact his match with Bret a few year earlier was nowhere as good.
Triple H would beat The Rock for the title at Judgement Day. Rock would win the belt back the next month by … pinning Vince McMahon. The move protected Triple H, who’d hold a significant advantage in win-loss records against The Rock throughout their rivalry. With the exception of a few matches here and there, this was the end of the Rock/Triple H in-ring rivalry but their back-and-forth would be far from over.
Hollywood Rock vs. Wrestling’s Most Powerful Wrestler
The Rock would stopped wrestling full-time in 2001, heading for Hollywood. A move that worked out pretty well for him, I think. But the rivalry with Triple H still wouldn’t die. A lot of people point at Triple H for being jealous of The Rock’s success, especially in light of how much Hunter struggled to break into Hollywood. Triple H lobbied…hard…to be cast as Conan in a major movie. He even created a masturbatory Conan-based WrestleMania entrance when he was passed over for the role. When Triple H failed to make it, the story of his exclusion from Hollywood changed. The narrative became “I decided to stay” and Rock “decided to leave,” which may not be as true as “Rock was chosen over me.”
Triple H’s retelling of the story of Rock going to Hollywood is hilarious (from his WWE doc Thy Kingdom Come):
“I remember Vince coming up to me and Rock and saying…'[I want to] try to put you two in a couple of movies.’ I remember Rock being really excited and then Rock leaving and me saying ‘Can I talk to you for a second?’…I really didn’t have any interest in it at the time.”
He went on to talk about turning down a three-picture deal and everything because of his passion for wrestling. The narrative paints Triple H as the purist who would never leave and sets Rock as the glory hound who ran away from the company that made him. That narrative really came in to play at the 2008 Hall Of Fame when The Rock returned to induct his father and grandfather. The Hall of Fame ceremony would broadcast on the USA Network in truncated form as the live show was happening. So the editing team would be cutting a show for the network as the live event was taking place. The task would put them in a crunch every year, but this year was even harder because The Rock essentially ate up a whole hour of time. He inducted two men but also cut promos and roasted wrestlers beforehand. As a result, Ric Flair’s speech got cut short. Later that night, while inducting Flair, Hunter took a dig at The Rock by asking if he should call Rock fans “Dwayne fans now.”
The story hit the net the next day that Rocky was aloof and dismissive of other wrestlers while backstage and that he came off as “Hollywood.” If you want to defend The Rock, you can say that it was clear he was short on time because he had to fly back out to Vegas immediately after his speech to film a movie and that giving the WWE an hour of free time was giving back. If you think Rocky is a dick, then you can just chalk this under him being a diva. Regardless of where you reside, there’s been a prevailing notion that Triple H was more than happy to push the rest of the wrestlers to see Rock as an outsider who abandoned them and was more than happy with the narrative coming out of that Hall of Fame.
When The Rock and John Cena feuded in 2012, Cena was happy to take the “Rock left us” narrative to new heights. He went off-script, calling Rock out on having notes on his wrist and filming crappy movies instead of wrestling. Basically echoing all of Triple H’s earlier complaints about working with Rocky. It seemed like Hunter (and, by extension, Vince) was happy to have a mouthpiece to bury the guy who went to Hollywood and disappeared.
The Current State Of The Feud
Triple H seems to be a new guy these days. In 2016 he seems more content being the ambassador who rebuilds bridges the WWE seemed to have burned down before. He and The Rock seemed headed to some sort of match at WrestleMania 32 before Hollywood schedules and insurance interfered. The above video of their backstage promo, though, seemed to indicate that they were more than happy to work together on the same page as it showed more chemistry and cohesion than they’ve had, maybe ever. But who’s to say how long that would last if they had to put a whole program together.
With WrestleMania in a couple of weeks and Rock’s cousin facing Triple H as the main event, it’s possible the two legends will come face-to-face one last time. If so, it would be the culmination of a 20-year feud that is as passionate and real as anything wrestling has ever seen.
This is an updated version of a post that originally ran on March 21, 2016.