Triple H and Stone Cold had an epic feud between late 2000 and early 2001, which actually started in late 1999. At Survivor Series 1999, a triple threat match was scheduled between The Rock, Stone Cold and HHH for the WWE Championship. However, Stone Cold was the victim of a hit and run incident during the show (to excuse him for neck surgery). When he returned in mid-2000, Stone Cold wanted to know who was behind the hit and run. Eventually, it was revealed that HHH had employed Rikishi to run Stone Cold over. Convoluted? Yes! HHH had only just turned babyface before the revelations, so quickly turned back heel to face off with Stone Cold. At their grudge match at Survivor Series 2000, Stone Cold used a crane to drop a car holding HHH about 40 feet to the ground…Ridiculous? Yes! But their epic feud concluded in this epic Three Stages of Hell Match at No Way Out 2001…
It’s a gruelling match, both for the competitors and the viewer. The first match was a straightforward one. The second match was a streetfight. And the final match was a cage match. It’s a rarity that a 2/3 falls match ever ends after the second ‘match,’ and it was obvious here that the cage stipulation wouldn’t be wasted. However, most 2/3 fall matches feel like three separate matches squashed into one. Stone Cold and HHH endured ten to fifteen minutes in each match! You’ve got to applaud the effort they put into the match, especially Stone Cold, who up to that point was still playing it safe after his surgery. Here, however, he throws caution to the ring, taking big bumps on his neck. Indeed, the matches revolve around HHH targeting the weak neck of Stone Cold.
The three act match has a good beginning, a fantastic middle, but an overlong end. The first act is a slow build, with HHH focusing on Austin’s neck and Austin focusing on HHH arm (which is forgotten about during the streetfight!). However, it heats up towards the end, and the match becomes something special during the streetfight. Unfortunately, they become over-reliant on chairs, a barbwire bat and a sledgehammer, and thus the ending of the streetfight becomes a bit of a drag. The sluggishness carries on into the cage match, which whilst still a good encounter, becomes a chore to watch as it reaches its conclusion.
I’m always torn about the overall quality of this Three Stages Of Hell match, ever since watching it live. It’s brutal, bloody and hardcore. There are enough weapons, blood and brawling to keep you entertained throughout the match, but it peaks midway through and degrades slowly from that point on. As J.R. comments at the end, it is a ‘marathon of brutality.’ And you feel like you have been through a marathon after watching it! It’s a little like their feud: very good in parts, but too long-winded and ridiculous to be a classic. Both HHH and Stone Cold put in a fantastic effort, and it’s hard to fault them on any one particular thing. Maybe a straight streetfight, or a Last Man Standing match, would have sufficed. You’ll be entertained, no doubt! But you’ll feel the duration and look at your watch, from time to time. Also, don’t forget to check out the outstanding main event, pitting The Rock vs Kurt Angle, for a relatively short but very sweet match!
VERDICT: 7/10. A very good but gruelling match, that exhausts the viewer as much as the competitors. Definitely worth a watch, but it’s length makes some sequences feel very drawn out.
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(Click here for my review of #69 Roddy Piper vs Greg Valentine (Dog Collar Match, Starrcade 1983))