While The Rock and Triple H may have grown friendly over time, their bond was initially born out of real-life resentment and envy. Here is the story of their memorable, bitter feud.
"That’s why this company is in the d*** shape it’s in, because of bulls*** like this!"
– Hulk Hogan
The Rock and Triple H Feud Was WWE’s Shining Hour
In July 2000, World Championship Wrestling was crumbling fast. With big stars on massive, unaffordable contracts and marquee names proclaiming certain booking decisions ("That don’t work for me, brother!"), Ted Turner’s once-unstoppable promotion was a shell of what it was just two years before.
Things were much different in the World Wrestling Federation.
The main event scene was jam-packed with household names and mainstream figures. The tag team division was going through its golden age. Ratings were enormous. Even the undercard stars were greeted with a massive crowd reception every week.
But it hadn’t been smooth sailing to get here. In fact, the purple patch the WWF was going through was built on years of struggle, hardship, lawsuits, and tragedy.
Though it was apparent WCW was rapidly declining in viewership and overall quality, the Monday Night War was very much still ongoing. To help get the WWF over the line to surefire victory, they looked to two of its newest and brightest emerging stars.
Triple H’s stock had been on the up since 1999. After severing ties with the uber-popular DX stable, the real-life Paul Levesque realized there was a gap in the market for a dominant and vicious heel.
Knowing he could never break through Vince McMahon’s glass ceiling as a face (or good guy), Triple H began transitioning to the other side of the coin.
"I don’t need to be in DX anymore, this is about me. This is about my goals!"
– Triple H on WWF Sunday Night Heat, July 25th, 1999
Watch the Promo that Launched the Career of Triple H:
Though main-event matches, multiple WWF Championship reigns, and an effective program with Mick Foley helped propel Triple H into the spotlight, he needed a top adversary to really propel himself into the WWF’s stratosphere.
Not only did this rival need to be over with the fans, but he also needed the chops to carry a top-level program for several months. Luckily, this babyface lay waiting.
It’s tough to comprehend just how popular The Rock was by late 1999. A far cry from the bland babyface he debuted as three years earlier, Dwayne Johnson’s shtick as a trash-talking comedian jock had become mainstream, and he was one of the biggest up-and-coming stars on cable TV.
Young, dynamic, and highly marketable, he seemed poised to take the crown as wrestling’s next major star — and he was the perfect foil for Triple H.
Problems Between The Rock and The Kliq Backstage
The Rock and Triple H knew each other well.
At the beginning of 1997, with Triple H’s Kliq counterparts Scott Hall and Kevin Nash now gone, The Rock and Triple H found themselves on equal ground, battling to make a name for themselves in the mid-card.
This is where some legitimate animosity between the two began.
Allegedly, Shawn Michaels and Triple H did not like The Rock and looked at him as a threat to Triple H’s rising status in the company after The Rock defeated him for the Intercontinental Championship in February 1997.
They even tried to convince Vince McMahon to have Bret Hart take the IC belt off The Rock. However, according to Hart in his recommended autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, he refused.
The Excellence of Execution saw great things in The Rock and stood by his side as Triple H and Shawn Michaels tried to bury him.
As a result of this growing tension, The Rock wouldn’t work with Michaels at the time. However, The Rock’s distaste for HBK dated much earlier than this.
While The Rock was a teenager growing up in Hawaii, Shawn Michaels came to the territory to work. According to The Rock’s father, Rocky Johnson, Michaels said something unfavorable about The Rock’s promoter grandmother, Lia Maivia, and for years, it bothered him.
Much later, during an on-air segment, Michaels landed a stiff superkick flush on The Rock’s jaw. When Rock spoke up about this backstage, Michaels shot back, "If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be in the business!"
This resulted in The Rock pushing Michaels down to the floor, though they were separated before things could escalate further.
According to Rocky Johnson, "He almost killed the Heart Break Kid!"
In April 1997, two months later, The Rock lost the IC title to Bret’s brother, Owen Hart, suffering a bad knee injury in the process. This would keep The Rock out of the ring until August.
When he reappeared on television, he came back as a bad guy, joining the Nation of Domination.
Both The Rock and Triple H were now the crown jewels of their respective stables – The NOD and D-Generation X.
Unfortunately for The Rock, however, the hijinks of The Kliq continued during this time period.
In a 2015 interview on Chris Jericho’s Talk Is Jericho podcast, Mark Henry shared a story about somebody s***ing in The Rock’s food and trying to trick him into eating it.
"It was different back then," Henry explained. "People putting crap in people’s food boxes. Real s***. [It happened] to Dwayne. I saw it happen and people were like, ‘Shh, don’t tell! Come on, the rib is on him.’ No, you crazy? You’re putting s*** in somebody’s food! Ask [The Rock] about it. He’ll tell you."
Henry would hint that it was The Kliq behind the ‘rib.’
"I had to keep [The Rock] from getting killed," Henry added, "because he was going to get jumped. You know, it was cliquish back then. You had The Kliq, the BSK, the whole Puerto Rican crew, everybody was geared up. And when you mess with one, you mess with all!"
Origins of The Rock and Triple H Feud
In time, The Rock’s star began to rise in the WWF, and his path with Triple H would begin to cross a lot more.
The pair famously met in a superb ladder match at SummerSlam 1998, and they had on and off wars throughout 1999 — most notably in a strap match at Fully Loaded 1999.
Triple H would win his first WWF title the night after SummerSlam 1999.
He and The Rock also had a showdown on the first-ever episode of Smackdown and continued to meet occasionally.
After Stone Cold Steve Austin was ruled out with a severe neck injury, the WWF needed new stars to fill his enormous shoes — and they needed them quickly.
Despite its noticeable decline, WCW was still popular enough for the WWF to be concerned about. As far as the WWF was concerned, one more major signing or step up in quality could topple them from their pedestal. Needless to say, the WWF needed quick results and a seamless transition to life without Austin.
The Rivalry Peaks
The 2000 Royal Rumble couldn’t have been won by anyone else. Despite the deep talent pool that the WWF had at the time, The Rock was head and shoulders above every other member in the locker room. Going back and listening to the ovation as his music hits during this period will show just that (see below).
Triple H had won his third WWF Championship by ending the Big Show’s disappointing reign a few weeks before on Raw’s January 2nd, 2000 edition.
To further solidify himself as a rigid, battle-hardened heel, he entered a memorable (and gruesome) program with hardcore legend Mick Foley – defeating him at the Royal Rumble and then "ending his career" at No Way Out.
The stage was set for a massive WrestleMania main event. The Rock, who had never won the WWF Championship as a face, would face the dastardly Triple H one-on-one in front of a sold-out, raucous Anaheim Crowd. In tradition, the babyface would win the gold and send the fans home happy.
Except, it didn’t pan out that way at all.
Whether it was overthinking on Vince McMahon’s part or merely the hysteria of the WWF’s popularity going to the creative team’s heads, the Federation inexplicably booked a complicated four-way match, including the Big Show and the returning Mick Foley.
The match was compounded further by the silly "McMahon in every corner" angle that took the onus off the wrestlers and on the McMahon family drama.
In true Attitude Era fashion, a swerve ending saw Vince McMahon turn on his protégé, allowing Triple H to become the first heel world champion to retain the title at WrestleMania.
"If you feel like I owe you [the fans] some kind of explanation – frankly, I’m not inclined."
– Vince McMahon on his actions against The Rock at WrestleMania 2000
The night after WrestleMania 2000 saw a typically raucous crowd hungry for one man: The Rock.
It had become apparent that he was now the biggest star in the industry and the man who was primed to take the WWF to new, even greater heights than they had seen with Austin in the years prior.
Of course, a rematch was set up between him and Triple H, for the title, at Backlash.
Backlash 2000 was the show WrestleMania should have been. Learning from their mistake three weeks earlier, The Rock finally defeated Triple H to begin his first-ever babyface run with the WWF title.
By now, the Rock/Triple H feud was in full swing – and was getting massive ratings to boot.
The Rock’s entertaining promos and the criminal actions of the McMahon/Helmsley Faction made for highly engaging television. The WWF became more mainstream than it had ever been by mid-2000 — a vast improvement over the tacky, stagnant, and childish content the Federation was producing even four years earlier.
The feel-good factor of The Rock’s reign only lasted three weeks, however, as Triple H regained the belt in controversial fashion at Judgement Day.
The hot-potato booking didn’t end there.
At June’s King of the Ring show, The Rock regained the title by pinning Vince McMahon in a convoluted 6-man tag match.
As Triple H became entangled in a feud with rookie Kurt Angle, The Rock’s championship reign seemed to play second fiddle throughout the late summer of 2000.
A famous triple threat match at SummerSlam saw The Rock retain (and Kurt Angle receive a nasty concussion).
Rocky’s 119-day reign came to an end at No Mercy. Although he and Triple H crossed paths in the 6-man Hell in a Cell at Armageddon, their feud had effectively ended after SummerSlam.
It seemed improbable that the WWF could have maintained their hot-streak after Steve Austin’s injury, but the company defied the odds and, somehow, topped what they had done in 1998 and 1999. In fact, 2000 was, at the time, the WWF’s most profitable year. It was also one of their best in terms of in-ring quality and storytelling.
While the previous two years focused more on storytelling than wrestling, 2000 found the perfect equilibrium between compelling television and spellbinding athleticism.
The WWF didn’t miss a beat in Austin’s absence, and they even surpassed the soaring heights that they had seen with him. Of course, this is down to quality booking and a supremely talented roster, but let’s not forget Triple H and The Rock’s feud’s impact.
It pushed Dwayne Johnson into the mainstream of pop culture, where he has remained ever since. It solidified Triple H as a monster heel and superb in-ring worker — a status he would keep for years to come.
Looking back on his feud with his long-time foe, Triple H, The Rock shared in an Instagram post, "Long before becoming the businessman I am today, I cut my teeth and made my bones in another kind of business. The business of throwing around 300lb men for a living or getting my a** kicked, my bell rung, and concussed through tables."
The Rock continued, "This nightly hardcore nature forced me to become savvy. [It] Forced me to always listen. Ears open, mouth shut. Always taking care of my number #1 boss, the audience. The people."
With real-life animosity long behind them, The Rock finished off his reflection by saying, "My violent friend Triple H (legitimately we’re very good friends today) went on to become one of the GOATs and Executive Vice President of Global Talent Strategy and Development for the WWE."
Two decades on, the legendary feud between The Rock and Triple remains one of the WWF’s brightest moments. How good did we have it back then?
These stories may also interest you:
- The Rock and Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8 – The Real Story
- The Rock and The Hurricane Create the Unexpected in 2003
- Shawn Michaels and Triple H – A Feud In (and Out) of the Ring
- Triple H | 4 Injuries That Almost Ended His Career (and Life)