Monday, May 7, 2007

Benoit, Triple H, HBK Triple Threat

Since I borrowed Sam's Wrestlemania 20 package over the weekend I made sure to watch every piece of material on all three discs, including the Triple Threat main event match - three times (I was dying my hair, a 5 hour + process). This match is a classic example of how to build a rather complicated match, with 3 exceptionally talented veterans putting every ounce of skill and experience into the storyline of the match, taking their time to give the crowd and audience at home their money's worth.

While the King tries to play up that Benoit and Michaels would double-team the champion first and the leave it to themselves, this 'plan' goes out the window from the get go. We eventually get into a pattern of a spot here and there that will knock one wrestler out for a minute so that the other two can trade some blows and moves. There are several attempts by each guy to set up their finishing hold (eg the Crippler Crossface) early on in the match, supposedly to end the bout early, but of course they wouldn't finish up that early. This being Wrestlemania, Michaels bust out a moonsault to the outside, something that I don't ever recall seeing him perform.

later Benoit unleashes several of his classic 'Hat Tricks', three-in-a-row suplexes that probably aren't doing his neck any favors (I still get a big kick out of them), followed soon by a superplex off the turnbuckle by HHH. By this point the crowd is still relatively tame, but still rapt, then suddenly Hunter attempts a pedigree on Benoit which he then reverses into the Crossface, but it is broken. Another hat trick by Benoit to Michaels, who expertly plays them up with his facial experessions. Another common spot in big pay per view matches is the opponent sometimes attempting his opponent's finisher or trademark move on him, such as Michaels attempting a series of suplexes on Benoit, but failing. When successful this move supposedly hurts the moral of his opponent and is part of the taunting 'psychology' of the ring.

Soon we have some Sweet Chin Music, and then soon enough we have Michaels wearing a Crimson Mask very quickly after bouncing off the turnbuckle (now if the pad had been removed from the turnbuckle, i would believe that amount of blood, but it wasn't, so the bleeding seems very unbelieveable). Benoit soon get Michaels in the Crossface, and Michaels is about to tap, but Hunter grabs his hand as it comes down, preventing his title from changing hands (clever!), as under the Triple Threat stipulations the champion doesn't even have to be pinned to lose his title.

Not that long after, Hunter begins prepping the Spanish announce tables for ... something, and soon he and Michaels jointly suplex Benoit through one table, and earn a "Holy Shit" chant from the MSG crowd. This metamorphosizing of heel and face roles throughout the match is classic of Triple Threat or other 3+ member matches, where some characters, who normally are enemies may work together for a little while to eliminate an opponent, and then in the next moment they are battling each other again. In the dynamics of this match, there is no clear heel or face, and an entire autonomous storyline that is rather unrelated to the overarching plot can be contained within this one match.

Now Michaels is covered in his own blood, and Benoit is out of action, so that Michaels and HHH are supposedly left to finish the match, with the audience roaring, but just as a pin is attempted after a Pedigree Benoit breaks it up (duh). Benoit powers back against HHH and locks him in the Sharpshooter, as the crowd goes ballistic - here benoit is clearly the underdog face, who has never won the championship. Michaels breaks it up with some more Sweet Chin Music, but Benoit throws him over the top, turning into HHH, who attempts another Pedigree, which Benoit again reverses into the Crippler Crossface. Hunter fights it, but the Rapid Wolverine is relentless, and the champion taps out, and the Garden erupts, and Benoit tearfully accepts his first WWE HeavyWeight title. Soon after, Eddie Guerrero (the Smackdown Champion) comes to the ring and embraces his longtime (real life) friend in the middle of the ring and raises his hand, a clear moment where plotlines are thrown to the winds for such a personally meaningful moment, and I'm pretty sure the WWE offices didn't mind, as they replayed that moment over and over later on.

This is a classic match which demonstrates the buildup and dynamic of a multi-person match, where there are more variables to deal with, more styles to work with, plot lines to consider and adapt. Here there is always action going on with three athletes, keeping the pace lively while not overwhelming like some other 4 or more person matches. By allowing one wrestler to go out, have the other two go to blows and then change it up over the course of the match, there is enough time to catch one's breath and not get completely worn out, so that the match is longer, consistantly dynamic and high energy, making it a great special departure from the classic one on one matchup, especially when featuring three verterans of this caliber battling for the WWE Championship.


Sam Ford said...

This was the only triple threat main event in WWE history (they had a 4-way match at Wrestlemania in 2000, but it was not remembered as a classic), and I think you are right that they played it up quite well in making the match dramatic while also quite athletic. The match was about the story, but it also involved a very intense physical performance, greatly enhanced by the storytelling abilities of Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler.

I thought the match was one of the best examples of the WWE in-ring narrative style or what would be considered a pinnacle by modern standards of how to construct a match...

Luis Tenorio said...

I thought the point in the match where Triple H stops Michaels from tapping was classic and exemplifies the dynamics of the triple threat match. I never really enjoyed the triple threat match but when i saw this match a couple years ago it showed me that it could be a fast paced match that always has you on the edge of your seat. I liked the end because it legitimized Benoits victory. He made the champion tap. Now, it was the first time I saw a submission in a main event at Wrestlemania and found it was the only one. Then that changed when two years in a row John Cena made Triple and Shawn Michaels tap.
I wish we had seen the end but it would not make sense if we had not seen the Eddie vs Angle match. After winning the title, Benoit celebrated with Eddie and it was one of those moments that blended the kayfabe of wrestling with the real lives of wrestlers and for me was one of those moments that showed how big Wrestlemania is for the fans and for the wrestlers.

Sam Ford said...

Luis, you make an important point in the difference between how submission and how being pinned is read in the wrestling narrative. Being pinned is certainly not as risky to the credibility of a character as giving up is...

Ismael said...

Usually I'm not a fan of the triple threat match, but in this case three experienced performers put on quite a show. Each wrestler knew how to tell a story and keep the crowd involved. I would rarely notice that one wrestler would be taking an extended break outside the ring because I was so involved with the match. I didn't think that the match dragged on either because by the time you knew it wrestlers had traded places and a new fight took place. The triple threat adds an even greater level of uncertainty that regular matches, as we saw with Eddie's win, already contain.

I also thought that the video clips that were shown before each match added to the viewing experience. It made it seem like more was on the line than I had originally thought. It also pumped me up before the match because now I wanted to see how each wrestler would respond in the ring and settle those conflicts.

Sam Ford said...

In WWE's case, and they have been the masters of exploiting it, the recontextualized footage in the form of promotional packages cannot be understated as a key part of the show. It serves as a reminder for fans who have been watching as to what is on the line and some semblance of catch-up for fans who have never seen these characters before...Of course, the catch-up is limited, as there is no way to soak in the full trajectory of the feud from a two-minute package, but I think that these types of details is what WWE fans have come to expect from the product.

Also, structurally, these promos are put between matches to have time for the ring to be cleared, etc.

Omar said...

The triple threat meatch is truly an interesting dynamic. The action is always fast-paced and there's constantly something going on.

Like Luis, I must admit that at first glance, the idea of a three-way fight doesn't seem very appealing. Wrestling is about polarizing opponents as a way of making for a really dramatic event.
As involved and fast-paced as the triple threat event was, I couldn't take it as seriously. The Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle title match seemed more engaging. The shoot-like appearance of the fight from their "scientific" approach to the match to the play-by-play commentary, the event seemed like a really big deal.

The triple threat match was like the Royal Rumble in miniature. Should a match like that really involve a title on the line? It is really no wonder why this was only one of two multi-man matches in WWE history. Personally I would stick to the "mano a mano" kind of match.

Sam Ford said...

WWE does like to limit those sorts of three-way main events in Wrestlemania precisely because the one-on-one dynamic works so well, but perhaps they didn't feel completely confident with Benoit, so they had the Shawn/HHH rivalry carry over. I'm not sure, but I think the Angle/Guerrero comparison from that year makes for a striking contrast.