In every generation, there are feuds that define the era.
The ones that are looked back on as the reason for tuning in each week. So too are there feuds that fly under the radar but are often fundamentally better.
If you think back to the height of the Attitude Era then the chances are that you’re going to be picturing Austin going to war with The Rock and Vince McMahon, or Undertaker’s bitterly personal rivalry with Kane. What your mind may not conjure up is the memory of Triple H and Mick Foley’s long, at times savage, campaigns to destroy one another.
Much like Rock and Austin, Hunter and Foley feuded over the span of multiple separate storylines that drew upon one another to feel connected despite the gulfs of time between them. What ended in 2000 got its start in 1997.
Triple H had dug himself out of the hole he’d wandered into during the infamous Curtain Call, and found himself on track to win the King of the Ring Tournament, something he was scheduled to do a year earlier but had taken away as punishment. In the finals of the tournament, he took on Mankind.
Mankind was still being presented as a psychotic madman at this point and so the match was a snug affair. The two had chemistry right off the bat and in truth, it is one of the better KotR finals. Despite not having transitioned into being The Game just yet, HHH won with the help of his hired muscle, Chyna. The issue was not laid to rest there however. Mankind would challenge Trips the following evening, which led to a rematch at the much-lauded Canadian Stampede event.
It was a similarly violent brawl on that night too, though it would end in a double count-out before spilling out across the arena and into the street in the post-match continuance.
Finally, the feud would reach its climax at Summerslam as the pair faced off in a Steel Cage Match. It may not be a very well-remembered contest, but this was something special. Mankind could indulge his every barbaric whim, whilst Trips got another chance to show that he was just as tough as his hardcore opponent. Mankind won and transitioned into Dude Love in the wake of the match.
Surprisingly, they had one more match in this first leg of their story. Coming one month later on an episode of Raw it was a Falls Count Anywhere Match between Triple H and Cactus Jack, the latter’s first WWF appearance. This is a little better remembered than the previous matches and with good reason – it saw Jack piledrive HHH through a table in an explosive climax to a near flawlessly booked programme.
That was it between the tumultuous pair until mid-1999. In the meantime, Triple H had established himself as one of the top young stars in the company, a champion in waiting. Foley had captured the WWF Title twice but had also moved into a more comedic, less intense role as his body continued to break down from years of his reckless in-ring style.
These were not the same men as they had been when last they met. Add to that the presence of Stone Cold Steve Austin and you had for one hell of a World Title Match at that year’s Summerslam.
Whilst the smart money may have been on Triple H to go over the white-hot Rattlesnake, it was actually Mankind who left the biggest party of the summer with his third WWF Championship. He got to enjoy that for one glorious day as well before dropping the title to a dastardly Triple H the following night on Raw.
The feud could have ended with that, if truth be told. Triple H had ascended to the top of the mountain, taking out a beloved hero to do so. Foley had too reached the top and on his way back down he put over a bright young star. The story was perfect. Thank god they decided to keep going.
Through multi-man matches at Unforgiven and the beginning of the Mcmahon-Helmsley Era, the burning hatred between the two raged on.
Hunter used his new position of power to ‘fire’ Foley at the start of 2000 by forcing him into a Pink Slip on a Pole Match against The Rock. However, The Rock would lead a rebellion against the big beaked overlord which resulted in Foley being reinstated and getting a title shot at the Royal Rumble in a Street Fight.
It wasn’t the loveable but weathered Mankind that showed up to the fight though: it was Cactus Jack. The persona who, when last they met, spiked Hunter through a table. He was now gunning for his championship and his scalp.
A far cry from the toned-down matches that had become a staple of Mankind’s previous year, this was an unmitigated car crash and it was beautiful. The pair drew blood by the bucket load as they bludgeoned one another in pursuit of victory. Thumbtacks stuck wincingly from flesh, welts grew large, and fatigue set in as Triple H finally put his adversary to rest in perhaps the best match of both men’s careers. Even still it was Hunter who was stretchered away from the carnage, and Jack who continued his assault after the bell.
Due to the post-match attack, Triple H challenged Cactus to one more match, but this time the veteran would put his career on the line. Cactus agreed under one condition: he wanted Trips in a Hell in a Cell.
The cell has been home to some of the most chaotic contests in WWE/F history, a fair few of them featuring Foley and Hunter, but this was the best of them.
From the way both men fought you could feel how much it meant to them. There was so much on the line and it was evident with every punch, every big move, and in the desperation etched across their faces after every kick out. Undertaker versus Mankind is remembered most fondly for its one big spot, and rightfully so, but this match was bell to bell brilliance. In his last hoorah (for a whole month) Foley threw caution to the wind once more and became the daredevil of old. Triple H was despicable as he picked apart his opponent, intent on doing serious damage just because he could.
By the time it was all over, both men had left everything they had in that ring. Such was the story of their whole rivalry.
Sure, Foley may have reneged on his promise to retire, doing so as soon as the following pay per view, but that’s not what’s important. In their work together these men elevated one another to a whole new level. Triple H was boosted to the top in the eyes of the fans and management, whilst Foley ended his full-time career in a blaze of glory. It was wrestling at its finest.
Austin versus Rock may get all the accolades, but Triple H versus Mick Foley was the real hero of the Attitude Era.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @Impers0nalJesus. Thanks for reading!