‘On This Day’ is a commemorative article series. It is dedicated to specific events, matches, and occurrences in wrestling history. We revisit those key moments and look back at how they went down and what they meant to the wrestling industry. Game Changer | The night Triple H returned to the WWE in 2002.
Since his debut in the World Wrestling Federation, Triple H has created a legacy unlike any other. From his beginnings as the Greenwich aristocrat Hunter Hearst Helmsley to the Leader of Degeneration X, Triple H has left a trail of beaten and broken opponents. Many times he would win the match before the bell even rang by mentally destroying his opponent. This led Jim Ross to label Triple H the Cerebral Assassin. By 2001 Triple H had been a multi-time WWF Champion, Intercontinental Champion, European Champion, and 1997 King of the Ring.
He was cheered by the fans for some of his career, but for most of it, The Game was the man fans loved to hate. Some of his past crimes included masterminding a hit and run attack on Stone Cold Steve Austin, marrying Stephanie McMahon against her will at a drive-thru chapel, and co-conspiring with the McMahon family to humiliate The Rock, Mick Foley, and The Big Show. In 2001 Triple H and Stone Cold Steve Austin formed an unlikely alliance and became the WWF tag team champions. Now known as the Two Man Power Trip, HHH and Austin owned all the titles in the WWF. Steve Austin was the WWF Champion and HHH was the Intercontinental Champion.
On May 21, 2001 edition of Monday Night Raw the Two Man Power trip defended the tag team titles against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. The team of Jericho and Benoit were red hot and ready to take the titles. During a pivotal moment in the match, Triple H went to save Stone Cold, but he planted his left foot awkwardly when he entered the ring. He stated that at that moment he felt his left quad roll up into his leg. Jericho and The Game rolled to the outside of the ring where noticeably limping, HHH started to take apart the announcer’s table. The Game preceded to set Y2J up for the pedigree on the table. At the last minute, Jericho reversed it into the Walls of Jericho finisher.
The Two Man Power Trip lost the tag titles that night, but that was the last thing on Triple H’s mind. He knew he was injured severely. Recently Chris Jericho invited Triple H on his Talk is Jericho Podcast to discuss that night. Jericho stated that he thought HHH was one of the toughest guys he was ever in the ring within any organization. Not only did he suffer a possible career-ending injury, he finished the match. Triple H said he remembers Jericho asking him if he was ok, and responding “absolutely not put the walls on me.” He also remembers after the match hobbling back up the steps already thinking about how long this injury would take to heal. The Game was a fighter and he was already thinking about his return.
Game Changer | The Road to Recovery
HHH was taken to world-renowned surgeon Dr James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama. The WWF showed footage of Stephanie McMahon crying as her husband was going into surgery. The surgery was a complete success, but the bad news was The Game would be on pause for 8 months plus. On television, HHH was the cerebral assassin and did several unspeakable things, but in real life, even the most anti-game fan could feel for Paul Levesque. Here was a man that could be facing the end of his career. Triple H was told he would have to go through months of intensive rehab. He moved to Birmingham and lived in a hotel.
Every day, HHH would go to rehab and go right back to the hotel. In his own words, HHH admitted he “lived like a hermit.” The Game was determined to return. His progress was so astounding and ahead of schedule that the WWF expected him back in December at the Vengence PPV. There were even posters with his likeness printed up. However, it is best to be safe than sorry, and his doctors advised against it. Finally, at the end of December 2001, it was announced that The Game would return on January 7, 2002, on Monday Night Raw.
Game Changer | Game On
On January 7, 2002, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Triple H made his return to the WWE. For weeks, the WWF played vignettes of him in the gym, with U2’s Beautiful Day playing in the background. HHH left as one of the most hated superstars in the history of the business, but this injury was a game-changer. He went from heel to hero. The Game confessed that being backstage, his mind started to play tricks with him. He was worried that the WWF fans would either boo him or not remember who he was at all. All those doubts were erased the minute his entrance music hit. The crowd at Madison Square Garden erupted.
The Game was back. He was bigger, badder, and more intimidating than ever. He stood in the middle of the ring, contemplating those 8 months of blood, sweat, and tears. This night wasn’t about being a wrestling superstar. It was about respect. This night was about a man returning to his passion. He grabbed the microphone and yelled,
“Just in case you’ve forgotten who I am. I am the Game, and you can bet your a$@ I’m back.”.
He also officially entered the 2002 Royal Rumble. The first superstar to take exception to Triple H was Kurt Angle. Kurt Angle grabbed the mic and tried to one-up the Game, announcing he would also be in the Royal Rumble. Unfortunately for the Olympic hero, he got pedigreed for his comments.
The Game Changer had resumed.
Triple H would go on to win the 2002 Royal Rumble by last eliminating Kurt Angle. He would also earn a WWF Undisputed Title shot at Wrestlemania 18 on March 17, 2002, against Chris Jericho. Along the way, he “divorced” Stephanie McMahon, thereby earning more of the fans’ trust. The Game did win the Undisputed WWF Championship at Wrestlemania 18. He also got some revenge on Stephanie by pedigreeing her in front of the sold-out crowd. We all know HHH went on to hold several World titles, create Evolution, and become the master creator at NXT. However, one cant forget the close call and triumphant return of the one and only HHH. This Game is Forever.