Triple H vs Shawn Michaels‘ rivalry defined the WWE’s Ruthless Aggression era. No two wrestlers better personified the phrase ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’. Michaels would return from a lengthy hiatus, only for his best friend to turn on him, and attempt to end his career. Born out of pure jealousy, the rivalry spanned three years and witnessed some brutal moments.
Triple H turns on Shawn Michaels in 2002
Triple H returned in 2002 at Madison Square Garden. The pop he received was unlike any other. He won the Royal Rumble and beat Chris Jericho for the Undisputed Championship at WrestleMania X8. The Game lost the title to Hollywood Hulk Hogan soon after WrestleMania and had been drafted to Monday Night Raw, to battle for the World Heavyweight Championship.
He was reunited with HBK on Raw, but turned on him immediately to ignite the rivalry between the two. Michaels and Triple H would meet in an unsanctioned match at SummerSlam 2002. HBK’s first match in over four years was an absolute show-stealer. Both men put the other through absolute hell until Michaels won the match by a jackknife pin.
HBK beats his former friend for the World Championship
Post-match, Triple H assaulted Michaels with a sledgehammer and cost ‘The Showstopper’ a few months of his career. Triple H won the World Heavyweight Championship and looked to cement his place at the top of WWE. However, HBK returned from injury before Survivor Series and entered the Elimination Chamber match where the Game defended his title.
Triple H survived the brutal match by letting the fellow participants eliminate each other. HBK entered the fray and eliminated Chris Jericho, leaving just himself and Triple H. Michaels and Hunter would have an intense back-and-forth battle, with HBK kicking out of the Pedigree, before a Sweet Chin Music won him the World Championship.
Three stages of Hell for HBK and the Game
Triple H won back the World Championship from HBK in a hellacious three stages of hell match at Armageddon. The Game picked up the first fall via the Pedigree, and HBK won the second fall with a splash from the top of a steel cage through a table. HBK was thrown off a ladder onto a stack of four tables for Triple H to win back the World Championship.
HBK received another crack at the title at WrestleMania 20. In a triple threat match, also involving Chris Benoit, three of WWE’s most physical superstars went to war in a bloody, exhilarating battle. Benoit came out on top by submitting the Game with the Crippler Crossface. The three would face off again at Backlash, but Benoit’s hometown advantage helped him pick up a second win over the two.
Triple H emerges victorious in Hell in a Cell
Michaels and Triple H would end their rivalry the way most rivalries end- inside Hell in a Cell. Their cell match is the longest Hell in a Cell match in WWE history. It is also one of the most boring cell matches of all time. HBK and the Game plodded along into sudden bursts of speed and athleticism and the fans found the match too long. It took two Pedigrees to put down HBK, who received a standing ovation.
The rivalry between the two came to a sputtering halt. But the ending doesn’t negate the years of bad blood between the two. They reunited in 2006 to take on Vince McMahon and the Spirit Squad. It is a fabulous example of how a real-life friendship blossomed into a brilliant and violent rivalry on screen.