The year 2000 has often been described as the greatest twelve-month period in the history of WWE, and for good reason. Vince McMahon was at his creative zenith and delivered nothing short of the most pulsating TV ever witnessed….
Simply uttering the name Vince Russo will garner a heated response from many. For my money he is one of the greatest minds this business has ever seen. Without him, there would never have been an Attitude Era. No Attitude Era, means WCW would’ve wiped the floor with WWE and ultimately put them out of business.
With how shoddy WCW was run, without completion, they would’ve been done not long after either. So, in theory, the man often described as killing professional wrestling actually saved it.
Having said all that, Russo had left WWE in late 1999 to try his hand at WCW which failed for a number of reasons. Taking his place as head of creative in Vince McMahon’s kingdom was a talented writer by the name of Chris Krenski, who revolutionised the art of storytelling in the world of wrestling. He would design storyboards to craft the perfect tale, which helped propel WWE to stratospheric heights in the year 2000.
His biggest success was the McMahon-Helmsley saga which intertwined with various rivalries and culminated with a high-stakes match between Kurt Angle and Triple H on PPV. Sadly, Krenski wouldn’t get his wish of having Stephanie McMahon turn on Hunter to side with Angle and complete the story in a logical way because The Game deemed it unrealistic that any woman would leave him for Kurt.
Mick Foley was looking to retire from in-ring competition all the way back two decades ago, and the opponent he chose to end his illustrious career was the reigning WWE Champion Triple H. The Game was a main event player, but he needed that rivalry and match to solidify himself as the man in WWE. He got both of those in the form of Cactus Jack at the Royal Rumble in arguably the greatest and most brutal Street Fight in company history.
The WWE Network has recently done a feature on this bout, and it is well worth the watch. This isn’t just your run of the mill hardcore mess where blood and gore is the order of the game, and nothing else matters. This had a story. Everything they did meant something and they had the rabid Madison Square Garden fans in the palm of their hands throughout.
If anyone had any doubts about Triple H’s credentials as the new leader in WWE, they were all washed away with this gutsy showing. Foley, meanwhile, showed everyone why he is the most beloved superstar WWE has ever had, willing to put his body through literally anything to entertain the paying customers. This match was spectacular and went up and beyond everyone’s expectations. Obviously, The Game won, securing the pinfall following a vicious Pedigree onto thousands of thumbtacks. However, it was Triple H who was stretchered out of the arena that night, which begged for a rematch.
That rematch came at No Way Out the following month. This time with Mick Foley’s career on the line and contested in the match that Foley will forever be remembered for – Hell In A Cell. While this encounter was brutal and memorable, it simply could not hold a candle to the sheer magnificence of one month previous in the Garden. Both men entered the demonic structure with one thing on their mind – to let the world know who the hell they were.
This bout included tons of blood, table bumps, high spots and even a two by four wrapped in barbed wire set on fire. But all of that paled in comparison to when Foley was backdropped through the roof of the cell, and right through the ring. It was reminiscent of his epic fall at King Of The Ring 1998, but this one was planned. Triple H finished off Foley with a Pedigree, to end The Hardcore Legend’s career once and for all….. or rather until WrestleMania the following month.
Mick Foley and retirements have a funny history together. He’s retired almost as many times as his idol Terry Funk, but we can blame this one on Vince McMahon, who persuaded Foley to come back for one more match to headline WrestleMania, a spot McMahon felt Foley’s years of dedication to the craft merited. Thus, the main event of WrestleMania saw Triple H defend the WWE Championship against Mick Foley, The Big Show and The Rock in a Four-Way Elimination Match with a McMahon in every corner.
It should’ve been a straight-up one-on-one encounter between Triple H and The Rock. Foley should’ve stayed retired, and Big Show shouldn’t have been anywhere near the main event of the biggest show of the year. The entire WrestleMania card was odd and disappointing. How WWE, in their most creatively fulfilling year in history, managed to mess up WrestleMania is anyone’s guess, but mess up they did. It was a lacklustre event with only the efforts of Edge & Christian, The Hardys and The Dudleys in a Triangle Ladder Match even getting close to WrestleMania worthy.
The main event itself was just an excuse to further promote the ongoing McMahon family saga, which had already run its course by this point. Foley looked a shadow of the guy that tore up back-to-back PPVs with Triple H, while Big Show unsurprisingly looked out of his depth. It came down to The Game and The Rock, but by that point, people had lost interest. Things got worse when Vince McMahon turned on Rocky to side with Triple H, and aid him to victory, making The King Of Kings the first heel to successfully retain the WWE Championship in the main event of WrestleMania.
With Steve Austin out of the picture, WWE desperately needed a new babyface hero, and they wisely chose The Rock. Now, it’s hard for anyone to replicate the success of Stone Cold, who was the biggest draw in wrestling, but Rocky gave it his all and helped catapult WWE into the mainstream with his cool catchphrases, Hollywood look and electrifying performances in the ring. Which is why it was all the more baffling as to why WWE didn’t pull the trigger on Rock becoming champion in the main event of their biggest show.
Thankfully, WWE redeemed themselves a month later with unquestionably the greatest Backlash event ever produced. The buyrate was very high too, with fans eagerly awaiting the return of Stone Cold Steve Austin. The main event saw The Rock defeat Triple H for the WWE Championship with help from a returning Rattlesnake, who ran roughshod over the McMahons before sharing a cold one with The People’s Champion. This should’ve been the scene for WrestleMania, but better late than never.
Despite the incredible ovation Austin got at Baçklash, it was evident he was not match-ready. He looked heavy and rusty, leaving many to wonder if he would ever return to the squared circle. If he did return, how long would he last? At 35 years of age, on the back of two serious neck surgeries, was there much left in the tank of the old Texas Rattlesnake? All those questions would be answered at the No Mercy event in October where he clashed with Rikishi, the man responsible for running him down at the Survivor Series. The less said about that reveal, the better.
Austin predictably ploughed his way through Rikishi, thus killing off the heel turn and rendering the switch completely pointless. There were few more over than Rikishi in this era, so it was mind-boggling for WWE to throw it all away. Having said that, their back-up plan was Billy Gunn, so thank our lucky stars for Rikishi. It was later revealed that Triple H was the mastermind behind the hit and run, of course, which set up several months of matches between himself and Austin. Stone Cold still looked one step behind until the early part of 2001 where he found his mojo again, and became the Austin of old, arguably having his best in-ring run of his entire career before subsequently retiring in 2003.
The Undertaker, the greatest creation Vince McMahon has ever devised. It is the best gimmick in the history of professional wrestling. Hearing more from the man himself on the critically acclaimed documentary series “The Last Ride” on the WWE Network simply makes you appreciate the man even more for the 30 years of sacrifice he has given to the industry. However, in 2000, Undertaker decided a change was necessary. Gone was the black hat, eerie music, and eyes rolling back into his head. In their place were bandanas, Motorcycles and Kid Rock. Yes, The Phenom had become the American Badass.
The new version of Undertaker made his presence felt at the climax of the truly sensational 60 minute Ironman match between Triple H and The Rock, which also had Shawn Michaels acting as the Special Guest Referee. With DX and the McMahons outnumbering Rocky, Undertaker rode down on his motorcycle to a rapturous ovation, cleaning house of everyone in the ring, and dropping The Game with a thunderous Chokeslam. Undertaker was wary of how fans would perceive such a change in character, but they embraced him with open arms. This version of Undertaker would remain for three years before returning back to the dark side until this past year, of course.
The King Of The Ring is one of WWE’s best ever staples, and is sadly missed to this day. For some reason, Vince McMahon despises tournaments. I’m not sure why, I’m also not sure why he dislikes sneezing, but I digress. Kurt Angle, in the midst of the hottest rookie year the company had seen (until a certain Brock Lesnar showed up two years later), won the accolade, pinning Rikishi in the finals. Kurt was the perfect choice to win as he needed the push to further his run up the card, and he was also goofy enough to wear the ridiculous garb and walk around calling himself “King Kurt”. This would propel him to the WWE Championship towards the end of the year.
Another reason many consider the year 2000 as the best WWE has ever produced is the resurgence of tag team wrestling which was seeing its first real boom period since the 80s. During that era, the likes of The Hart Foundation, British Bulldogs and The Rockers were tearing it up on a regular basis. Fast forward to 2000 and those teams were replaced by Edge & Christian, The Dudleys and The Hardys, who revolutionized the art of tag team wrestling. Their epic rivalry is historic, and their various show-stealing TLC encounters stand the test of time. It’s a shame McMahon doesn’t think too fondly of tandems these days because when you look at the roster, it is stacked to the brim and we could potentially see a new resurgence of the lost art.
In closing, I have to agree and say the year 2000 was WWE’s greatest masterpiece. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but 80% of it was so brilliant that it is still revered to this day. So why was it so successful and why can’t WWE replicate it today? It’s a good question, and it’s a tough one to answer because all of the ingredients are still there. In 2000, they had a tremendously gifted writer at the helm of creative, a star-studded roster brimming with talent, spectacular PPV events, stories crafted with care and longevity, and giving the fans what they wanted. It could easily be repeated today.
They have some of the finest writers in the world working for them. All they need to do is focus on 2 or 3 writers at a time and let them write programmes for the next 6-8 months. That way we get consistency because right now shows are being booked, not written. Paul Heyman and Bruce Prichard, as creative as they are, are not writers, and that’s telling in the ratings. No one cares what they’re putting out. As for the roster, I’d argue to say that today’s talent is better than what WWE had at their disposal in 2000, they’re just not utilised right. The shackles should be taken off, allow them to perform as they can, because right now everything is too similar and it’s killing the product.
2000 was the greatest year in WWE history, but the only thing stopping them from making the current product just as good, or even better, is laziness.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!