In Defense Of… The McMahon-Helmsley Era
A version of this article originally appeared on 411mania.com and was updated for the book IN DEFENSE OF… EXONERATING PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING’S MOST HATED. Learn more at https://www.jpprag.com
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum rap. Some writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!
Some dame walked into my office and said…
First off, the following people (in no particular order) have already asked me to defend Triple H in one form or another:
Rob Dow, Ben Albright, Max Smith, Tim Hamilton, MATTHEW Roberts, Ori Zeiger, John Dee, Rick Cobos, James “JT” Thomlison (I know, I couldn’t believe it when I was checking through my archives), and about a million other people in passing.
The thing is, I find Triple H too broad of a topic, and asked these guys to pare it down. I got a lot of ideas, but there’s one that I’ve liked since day one.
Thus Ted Lach peeked my interest when he said:
I’m pretty sure the McMahon-Helmsley era would be very interesting.
That was followed up by Mark Radulich who added:
How about the McMahon-Helmsley era as being good for wrestling and not just an exercise in masturbation for both aforementioned people?
And Manu Bumb also chimed in with:
Actually, I kinda liked the McMahon-Helmsley era.
And that, my friends, is good enough for me!
As time had gone on, Triple H and Stephanie have become the iconoclastic figures of everything that has ever gone wrong in the modern era of professional wrestling. Whether this is true or not is actually irrelevant to this case. Due to limits of human memory and the compression of time, some would have you believe that Triple H and Stephanie McMahon were always evil control freaks who screwed each other, the WWF/E fans, and the on-the-rise stars. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The McMahon-Helmsley era truly marked the beginning of each of their collective rises. What we consider played out today was fresh and exciting then. What we see as yet another Triple H moment was something unique for the time. We overlook the accomplishments of the McMahon-Helmsley era because the accomplishments have been repeated with not as much success ad nauseam. Just because it has become played out today, does not mean it was not enjoyable at the time.
Not only that, but the McMahon-Helmsley era was about more than the two namesakes. There were a whole plethora of events and people that also existed and expanded, and these should not be forgotten.
So with that we begin a journey of rediscovery into the McMahon-Helmsley era.
How did this all begin?
On March 29, 1998 at WrestleMania 14, Triple H had defeated Owen Hart to retain the European Championship while fellow Degeneration X member Shawn Michaels lost the WWF Championship to Steve Austin. Michaels would not return to the ring for years, instead going into retirement to heal his back. Triple H then took control of Degeneration X the next night on RAW and recruited the New Age Outlaws and the returning X-Pac. Through the rest of 1998 and into 1999, Triple H continued his feuds with Owen Hart, D-Lo Brown (he lost the European Championship to him), the Rock (eventually winning the IC Championship from him), Jeff Jarrett, and Kane. On March 28, 1999 at WrestleMania 15, Triple H and Chyna turned on Degeneration X and joined the Corporation.
This began Triple H’s rise to the top of the card. He became involved in three-way feuds involving Austin, the Undertaker, Mankind, and the Rock. Finally on RAW on August 23, 1999, Triple H defeated Mankind to win his first WWF Championship. This reign would be short lived as he lost the title to Vince McMahon on SmackDown! on September 16, 1999. Vince McMahon would forfeit the title and then try to screw Triple H over by making him win 3 out of 5 matches in one night. And not just any matches, but insane matches like an Inferno match with Kane. So Triple H did it, winning three out of five, wrestling FIVE TIMES in one night (that’s just a lot of work!). This got him in the six-pack challenge where he won the championship on September 26, 1999. This reign would be short, too, as the Big Show (a last minute replacement to the run-over Steve Austin) defeated Triple H and the Rock in a three-way match for the title at Survivor Series on November 14, 1999.
Meanwhile, back in April 1999, the Undertaker had begun to stalk Stephanie McMahon. After much harassment and kidnapping, Vince McMahon actually turned to Steve Austin to save his daughter. This, though, turned out to be a giant swerve as Vince was revealed to be the “Higher Power” that the Undertaker was working for. In retaliation, Stephanie and Linda sold their stock to Steve Austin so that he could face-down Vince McMahon on a financial front as well.
As time went on, Stephanie and her father were able to patch things up (or so it would seem), and Stephanie started to date Test. Although this did not sit well with her brother Shane, the relationship would go on. In September 1999, the two were engaged to be married, but the October 11, 1999 wedding had to be postponed as Stephanie was suffering from post-concussion syndrome. She recovered and a new date was set: November 29, 1999. RAW.
Back to Triple H. Despite now being a two-time WWF Champion, he really was not established at the top of the card. Despite being the head of Degeneration X and a major player in the Corporation (before it became the Corporate Ministry), he had not found his spot. No doubt the WWF was behind him and thought he had what it took, but he had yet to find a groove all his own. He needed a moment to set him apart, he needed a moment to make the fans truly care… or truly hate him. They were becoming indifferent to his childish antics as much as they had become indifferent to his snob act. There had to be something he could do to set himself apart from the pack and solidify his place in the main event.
Back to Stephanie. The fans had really got into her budding relationship with Test. She was beloved by the audience and they were ready to see the little girl married. Stephanie was still so fresh to the scene, and every day was learning something new about her. She had already solidified herself with the audience by choosing Steve Austin over her father, and stayed that way by even getting in the ring (teaming with Test against Jeff Jarrett and Debra). This innocent girl could do no wrong.
And then the day came when their paths would intertwine forever. On the November 29, 1999 edition of RAW, Stephanie and Test were in the ring about to commit their vows when, suddenly, over the Titan-tron Triple H displayed a video that would change the direction of the then WWF. To get back at Vince for everything he had done, Triple H drugged Stephanie McMahon the night before RAW and had taken her to a drive-through chapel where the two were wed. Test was devastated, Vince was furious, and Stephanie was heartbroken.
Or so it would seem.
At Armageddon on December 12, 1999 Triple H defeated the enraged Vince McMahon in a Street Fight when Stephanie turned on him and sent him packing.
Thus, the McMahon-Helmsley Era was born!!!
Well, if you want to be technical, it did not begin until December 20, 1999 when Triple H and Stephanie actually announced it as the beginning of the McMahon-Helmsley era, but the idea was already there.
You see, Stephanie had never forgotten that her father had used her in his feud with Steve Austin, and that he had almost sacrificed her to the Deadman. That could not go without revenge. She had liked Test well enough, but it turns out that she was far less virginal than others surmised when they first started dating. But it was Triple H, daring to oppose her father, that gave her the idea for the ultimate revenge. And then she had found that she was in love with the man (in the storyline world) and everything seemed to come together perfectly.
Vince decided to take a leave of absence, and without Linda or Shane around, that left Stephanie in charge. Well, Stephanie and her new husband: Triple H.
Why Triple H?
The question is: why was Triple H given this opportunity?
A lot of pundits will say Triple H got to run wild because he was with Stephanie McMahon.
Time for a history check, kids! From Valleyboy’s recap of Triple H on Off the Record in March 2002:
Michael jokes that he must be into extreme sports to start dating Vince [McMahon’s] daughter. HHH laughs and agrees. Michael asks how it started and what Vince thought of it. Triple H says that it started right around the same time that they had started working together in the marriage program. He says that when you work with someone that you find you have a lot in common with and has as strong a passion for the business as they both do, you can’t really control who you fall for. He and Michael then make a crack about how Steph has two huge passions for the business right [in front] of her.
You see, it was the program between the two that created the relationship, not the other way around. Although Triple H was on a major push, that push was decided well before he became involved with Stephanie in real life in any way. The whole concept for the McMahon-Helmsley era and the first major programs (including Triple H winning the WWF Championship for the third time), were decided well before that relationship got under way.
But even if it did make a difference, it was not like Triple H was the booker for the WWE. Although on TV they were in control, it was just a storyline. There was only one man making the decisions there. From the same interview on Off the Record:
They then discuss what Vince thought of it and how he told Vince. Hunter says that it really wasn’t something that surprised Vince because he would see the way they acted around [each other] at work and kind of looked like he was wondering what was going on. He says that they try to act as professional backstage as possible and try to just keep civil. Michael mentions the potential conflict of interest and asks if Hunter is worried about what the other wrestlers think about their relationship. Triple H answers that at first he was very nervous about it and it was actually Vince who was the one to convince him otherwise. He also talked to a lot of the guys about it and, in particular, the Undertaker because he is one of the real locker room leaders and Taker said that whatever happens, [no one] can question how hard you have worked to make it where you are…
You see, Triple H was actually worried about the other guys and did not want to make it look like he was sleeping his way to the top. If he had had his way, the whole relationship would have remained as downplayed as possible. That, of course, was going to be impossible with Chyna lurking around. From the same interview:
Michael brings up his past relationship with Chyna and shows a clip of Joanie Laurer on OTR from a couple months ago in which she says that she doesn’t blame Stephanie for stealing Hunter, but blames Hunter for leaving her. Hunter says that she’s right and if she needs to blame him to move on then he is fine with that. He points out though that they were on a downswing in their relationship before the issue of Stephanie ever happened. He adds that when you are in this business and with someone 24 hours a day, that it can [wear] on your relationship, especially when you are looking for different things and [no one] ever forced any decisions on her that she made.
Chyna and Triple H were over. He was not trading up; he was just moving on. It was just happenstance that it was Stephanie and he who fell in love with. They do have a great passion and history with the business, and care a great deal about the WWE.
But one thing has nothing to do with the other. Like we went through, Triple H and Stephanie became involved after the angle started. He and Chyna were on the outs and he and Stephanie were just heating up. Triple H wanted to keep it downplayed, but Chyna was making a fuss. Worried about what to do, it was actually Vince McMahon who said that they should be open about it. After all, he was the final decision maker and he would decide what was right for the show, program, and company. Triple H even went so far as to solicit advice from the Undertaker, and that made the decision easier.
So yes, Triple H and Stephanie had a real-life relationship, but that relationship did not dictate the direction of McMahon-Helmsley era, as we will discuss more in-depth later.
How was it, then, that Stephanie became involved in this whole storyline? Some would have you believe she just enjoys writing herself into storylines and TV. This, of course, is ridiculously impossible.
Why impossible? Because Stephanie was not on the creative team at that time! It would not be until a year later that she would join the creative team on the SmackDown! side. As a matter of fact, Stephanie had worked her way up in the WWE. From RAW Magazine in December 1999:
[Stephanie McMahon said, “]I started off as a receptionist. At that time reception handled all fan calls, as well all company calls; there was no fan services department. I opened all the fan mail as well as controlled the stamps and everything else internal. Everything went through the receptionist. I was a receptionist for about two years.”
Stephanie then went on to intern in various departments- Human Resources, Marketing and Pay-Per-View, Media Relations, the television studio as a production assistant, New Media, and this year with the president and CEO- her mother, Linda McMahon.
“That’s when I became full-time,” Stephanie continues. “I spent three months in my mother’s office and it was the most incredible three months. It’s a tremendous opportunity to be able to sit in every meeting and every phone call that the CEO has, for three months. Then I spent six months with my father, who is the chairman. I miss [working with] him very, very much.”
Today, Stephanie is an account executive in the New York sales office and still learning the business.
And that’s where she was when she made her debut as either staying around Linda in the ring or becoming the eye of affection for the Undertaker. Even with her storyline with Test, she was not a part of the booking committee in any way. These decisions would still be a while off.
And then what happened?
Now that we understand the main players and their role in this, we can begin to follow their journey.
Like noted above, Triple H would quickly go on to win the WWF Championship against the Big Show on the January 3, 2000 edition of RAW. This time, though, the fans were firmly against him. He had cemented his place as a hated heel, but had yet to cement his spot on the top. That would come after a series of matches with Mick Foley, where he retired Foley in their Hell in a Cell match on February 27, 2000 at No Way Out.
The McMahons came back to get involved with WrestleMania 16, but their stay would be short lived after Triple H managed to retain his title in the four-corners main event. His reign over the title and the storyline company would continue, though he lost twice to the Rock along the way. While the Rock had the title, Triple H would then go on to feud with Chris Jericho. Strangely, this actually began to segue into the “rocky” period. From Slam! Sports:
[P]roblems began between he and Stephanie, as Stephanie caught Hunter in a compromising position with Trish Stratus and Hunter becoming jealous of Kurt Angle’s affection towards Stephanie. At SummerSlam 2000, Angle and Triple H battled the Rock for the WWE title but Angle cost Hunter the title, and the Rock again retained the belt. The love triangle between Stephanie, Hunter and Angle continued until, after a match against Chris Benoit, Helmsley blamed Stephanie for the loss and Stephanie announced that she would be managing Kurt Angle. Helmsley would however rescue Stephanie from an attack from the Rock.
Meanwhile, a few months earlier in March 2000, Stephanie had defeated Jacqueline for WWF Women’s Championship and began a feud with Lita over said title. Stephanie somehow managed to hold on to the title until the RAW before SummerSlam 2000 when she lost the title to her erstwhile contender.
After SummerSlam, she and Triple H were still a bit contentious as Triple H and Kurt Angle continued to feud, with Stephanie in both men’s corners. The two would get back on the same page as Triple H fought Chris Benoit in October.
On the other side of the fence, Steve Austin had returned from injury (or being run over) and was also feuding with Kurt Angle and Rikishi. On November 6, 2000 Austin was fighting those two when Triple H ran down… seemingly to save Austin. But no! He hit him with a sledgehammer instead and began their long feud while Kurt Angle continued on with the WWF Championship. This would go on until No Way Out on February 25, 2001 when Triple H defeated Austin in a best of three series matches.
After a quick loss to the Undertaker at WrestleMania X7 on April 1, 2001, Triple H changed his mind about Austin. The following night he attacked the Rock to save Austin, and the two joined with Vince McMahon as the Power Trip. Although Vince was back in the picture, he had not taken away the full power of the McMahon-Helmsley Era. Still, the era was waning as it seemed that Vince and Austin were becoming the team while Triple H and Stephanie were relegated in their duties and powers (on screen).
With Austin winning the WWF Championship, Triple H was forced to go for another prize. He defeated Chris Jericho for the Intercontinental Championship on the April 5, 2001 edition of SmackDown!. This was followed by a quick drop and regain to/from Jeff Hardy, a Tag Team title win with Austin over Kane and the Undertaker, a loss of the IC title to Kane, and a loss of the Tag Team titles to Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit.
And that last match would really be that: the last. It was on May 21, 2001, and Triple H suffered a major tear to his quadriceps that would put him out of action for eight months.
Thus, the McMahon-Helmsley Era ended in a silent scream. When he returned, the WWF had already gone through the InVasion and was in a new direction. It would be just a couple of months until they became the WWE, and a few months later the Brand Extension would begin. Although still married in the storylines, Triple H did not immediately appear with the disposed Stephanie. In February 2002, Stephanie faked a pregnancy to keep Triple H, but when the truth was uncovered, Triple H announced that he wanted a divorce.
Although this is the date for the end of the McMahon-Helmsley marriage, it is not the date for the end of the McMahon-Hemlsey Era. The Era ran from the week after Stephanie turned on her father until Triple H was forced out with his quad injury.
The McMahon-Helmsley Era: December 20, 1999 to May 21, 2001.
Remember those dates, because it will be important for everything that follows. We must remember what REALLY happened during the McMahon-Helmsley Era, and what has been erroneously attached to it.
The Short-Term Gainers
There were quite a few people who had some short-term growth because of the McMahon-Helmsley Era that they would not have had otherwise. Though not always successful later, these people, events, and objects did have a moment of spotlight because of the Era.
Test — Test was fairly new to the scene and had not done much. He had been backup and he had squashed some jobbers, but he had not found a character or direction. When he started to date Stephanie, people began to take to him, and his short feud with Triple H following the wedding pushed him up the card. Yes, he did not become a main eventer and was slightly lost after the angle, but for a new guy he was involved in a very high profile moment that solidified his place for years. He would fumble around for a while, joining T&A and going on to some tag team success after a feud with the Dudleyz. And after the Era, he was heavily involved in the InVasion, joining his good friend Shane McMahon in the Alliance and winning Tag Team and Intercontinental gold (as well as winning the immunity battle royal). None of those would have been possible without his initial exposure during the beginning of the McMahon-Helmsley Era. If he had not been involved, then he would have just been your average big man searching for a gimmick.
Jeff Hardy — Edge/Christian and Matt/Jeff Hardy had done a lot to establish themselves just before the beginning of the Era. Fighting each other, the teams had gotten themselves over on pure athleticism and daredevil attitude. Going through the Era, the teams along with Dudleyz, Cheese Head, T&A, Hollys, and others danced with the tag team titles. But as with all teams, eventually there was a need to change direction and a heading of separate ways. And who would be the first to really benefit from that individual push? None other than Jeff Hardy. Jeff would have some success in the hardcore division (who didn’t?), but really established himself as a single’s competitor when he defeated Triple H for the Intercontinental Championship on April 12, 2001. Right near the end of the Era, but still in there to show what was beginning for Jeff. The Undertaker would later also provide this rub in a series of matches with Hardy (none that he won), but the foundation for that eventual push happened right in the Era we are discussing. Although Hardy would later leave the WWE and no-show TNA events, these cannot be attributed to what we first saw from him during the McMahon-Helmsley Era.
Mick Foley — You are probably saying to yourself, how can Mick Foley be considered a short-term gain of the McMahon-Helmsley Era? From James Walsh’s recap of Mick Foley on the Wrestling Epicenter’s Interactive Interview:
Chuck asks why some veterans have such a problem putting young talent over. “Man, I don’t know. I think some of it is insecurity. There’s the old school feeling that you don’t lose matches on TV. I knew I wasn’t the greatest wrestler in the world but I strongly felt I had a good enough character to come back from losses,” says Mick. Mick says for a lot of guys, it’s not wanting to put people over. It’s just not knowing how to do it without making themselves look bad due to the talent.
You see, when it comes to Foley, the greatest thing he can do is put over another talent. It was still the very beginning of the McMahon-Helmsley Era, and despite the fact that Triple H was on his third WWF Championship he was not solidified into the top of the card. No, it would be Mick Foley who would make that happen.
Also, Mick Foley got into the main event of WrestleMania shortly after his retirement match. It was always Foley’s dream to be in the main event of WrestleMania, and he only got to accomplish that during the Era.
The Women’s Championship — Of course, it was not just people who got a boost from the Era, but also certain inanimate objects. Although some detest the fact that Stephanie won the Women’s Championship, and that she rarely defended it, it is hard to argue that the title was not brought into more prominence. The title had fallen into disarray and was won by “T&A” champions like the Kat and ring announcer Harvey Whippleman (a MAN!!) in a gravy bowl match. One could hardly understand the value of the title. But the feud Stephanie and Lita had over the title in the Spring and Summer of 2000 brought it into new light. So much so that the two main evented RAW for the Championship on August 21, 2000. From Ryan Watcher’s report on 411mania (then 411wrestling):
Stephanie McMahon vs. Lita, Women’s Title — Special Ref: The Rock
A woman’s match is the main event. This is a first[.] Is a real wrestler going to hold the women’s title for the first time since Wendi Richter? We’ll see… Steph comes out with Angle and Triple, who are glaring at each other. BTW, Lita is alone. Triple H goes to yell at Lita, and The Rock’s music hits. Slow start, until Lita hits a hurricanrana for a 2 count. Rock’s not looking, so H clocks Lita. The Hardys come out to stand in Lita’s corner. Steph takes control and hits DDT after what Lawler calls “an [O]lympic monkey-flip”. Steph slaps and kicks. Head scissor takedown by Lita. Modified second rope bulldog from Lita. Lita goes for the moonsault, but Angle pushes her off. [The] Hardys brawl outside with Angle and Triple H (and getting killed). Angle [attempts] to hand Steph her belt while Rock is distracted, but Rock sees him and pull[s] him in. Triple H comes in and attacks Rock, but Rock fights back. Angle goes to hit Rock with the women’s title but Rock ducks and Angle hits Triple H. Rock Bottom on Angle. Spinebuster on Steph. Lita goes up and hits a moonsault on Steph, and the Rock counts three. They celebrate and the show goes off the air.
Winner, and NEW WOMENS CHAMPION, Lita!
The two also wrestled in several mixed tag matches in main events of RAW and SmackDown!. The Women’s Championship, as Ryan said, had never been in a main event before. That was the direction the title took for a good long while.
Still, the championship’s and these peoples’ gains were nothing in comparison to some of the other people who grew out of the Era.
The Long-Term Gainers
Aside from those who gained in the short run, there were a slew of others whose true path to glory began and grew exponentially during their time in the McMahon-Helmsley Era.
Lita — Now that we’ve talked about the prominence of the Women’s Championship, there is one woman who got an incredible push that put her into the spotlight, and that woman is Lita. After spending late 1999 and early 2000 with Essa Rios, Lita left her light-heavyweight friend to join up with the Hardy Boyz to form Team Extreme. The trio would go on to great success, but Lita really moved up the ranks. From follower of a jobber to be considered the establisher of the modern women’s era in the WWE in less than a year is quite an accomplishment. And she has never left that high position, although only winning the Women’s Championship one more time and having been seriously injured three times.
Chris Jericho — Chris Jericho had arrived in the WWF about four months before the beginning of the McMahon-Helmsley Era. After a confrontation with the Rock, Jericho floated around before feuding with Chyna over the Intercontinental Championship (winning it on the eve of the Era on December 12, 1999). Jericho’s real rise, though, would begin in his feuds with Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, establishing him as a star to be reckoned with. This came to a head when Jericho defeated Triple H for the WWF Championship on April 17, 2000 (only to have the decision reversed later in the night).
Just wanted to let you know that Vince is not the one that overturned that decision, it was Helmsley after bullying Hebner into admitting to a fast count.
From going to fighting with Chyna to being a world title contender… all thanks to the McMahon-Helmsley Era.
Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and the Radicalz — On January 25, 2000 Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero jumped from WCW to the WWF. While Saturn and Malenko went on to moderate success (including Malenko winning the Light Heavyweight Championship), it would be Benoit and Guerrero who would see the most prizes. Though the two would be future world champions, their stage was set during the McMahon-Helmsley Era. As a matter of fact, it was in the Spring of 2000 that Eddie Guerrero began to go with Chyna and developed his Latino Heat persona that would make him famous. On the same end, Chris Benoit fought the Rock for the WWF Championship, and then later got into a three-way feud that added Steve Austin to the mix. All of these developments and more happened during the McMahon-Helmsley Era.
Trish Status — Lita was not the only woman to rise to prominence during the Era. Trish’s rise, though, was even quicker with a more lasting effect. On March 19, 2000, Trish premiered with the WWF. Shortly thereafter she was managing the team of Test and Albert (T&A) and being driven through tables. Though her promos were long and nonsensical at the beginning, Trish worked incredibly hard to better herself both on the mic and in the ring. But it would be later in the Era that Trish would find herself. Trish wound up teaming with Triple H and continually being caught in embarrassing positions, much to Stephanie’s chagrin. This led to their early feud (and helped push the Triple H/Kurt Angle story) and put Trish on the map to stardom. She would remain a pivotal player in the entire McMahon family saga, the InVasion, and into the top-notch Women’s Champion that she is today. And again, her roots began in the McMahon-Helmsley Era.
Kurt Angle — But there is no one, and I mean no one, who grew as much as Kurt Angle. Kurt premiered with the WWF on November 14, 1999, just one month before the beginning of the McMahon-Helmsley Era. Angle literally went from fighting Shawn Stasiak, to being choked out by Tazz, to winning his first title on February 10, 2000 (European Championship). Shortly thereafter he became the third “Eurocontinental” Champion. After losing the titles, Kurt went on to the aforementioned feud with Triple H due to his infatuation with Stephanie (she even went on to manage him for a while to make her husband jealous). The accolades would continue as Angle won the King of the Ring tournament in June 2000 and then defeated the Rock for the WWF Championship in October 2000. As a matter of fact, Kurt Angle had the longest single run as WWF Champion during the entire Era at 126 days, and had the third longest time with the title overall (at the time of this writing). Actually here are the standings:
That’s right, the Rock was the longest reigning champion of the McMahon-Helmsley Era, not Triple H. Look at it this way: Triple H accounted for less than 30% of the total championship time during the entire Era. Hardly makes him seem like the belt hog and really makes it seem like the Era was more about creating Kurt Angle after it established Triple H.
Kurt became an early champion and rose quickly through the WWF to what we know him as today, and we have the McMahon-Helmsley Era to thank for that.
What we saw for the first (though not last) time
Now that we know all of the people and some of the objects that grew out of the McMahon-Helmsley Era, we also need to look at what existed for the first time in the Era. Though some of these may be hackneyed today, let’s reflect back and remember when it was new.
First off, I would like to go back to an earlier point about the Women’s Championship. It was the first time we had ever seen the title in the main event, and that a women’s feud could be the top of the card. Despite the players, it made women’s wrestling into a serious event for the first time since Wendi Richter. I cannot stress what a breakthrough this was.
We also saw the first ever four corners match in the main event of WrestleMania. We had seen some tag team matches in the past, but never before such an all-out brawl for the championship. This multi-participant main event was a true rarity in the WWF at the time (though three-way dances became especially popular during the Era). Nowadays a typical RAW or SmackDown! could have this type of match, but it was something seldom used at the time which made it more special.
Also, we were able to get conversations like this from SmackDown! on January 6, 2000 (via the lastrider2k1):
Kurt Angle: Hey guys, you know, it’s so unfair that the Acolytes are getting a tag title shot at the Royal Rumble and not you, just like it’s unfair that when I go to the ring I get interrupted by the lights going out and the number 13 flashing on the screen.
Christian: Yeah, it’s like the everyone is jealous of young, attractive, athletic, charming, dynamic dudes like ourselves.
Edge: Yeah, but we are so totally used to it now, to be successful here, you’ve got to make a stand so people don’t forget that we are the future of wrestling.
Kurt Angle: You’re right, I mean I was out in the ring, letting the fans in Fort Lauderdale see a real American hero, ‘cos let‘s face it, I’m the only one they’re ever going to see. Then all of a sudden the lights go out and the number 13 flashes on the screen. If it’s someone trying to send me a message or scare me, well….. well…. it’s not going to work because dynamic dudes like ourselves don’t get scared, right guys!?
Edge: Oh, it’s too right Kurtster!
That was a classic moment every week, before it became taken over by writers in the back who determined every word.
During this period we had many re-introductions. One was the return of Mick Foley as a commissioner. Though he would have this and similar roles many times in the future (as would various other people), it was a fresher concept to try at the time. On the other end was Shawn Michaels making a special guest appearance as a referee. Nowadays, we are used to seeing Shawn every week. Back then, though, it was absolutely rare to see Shawn Michaels at all and only added to the hyped main events.
And back to the namesakes of this era; over time, the McMahon-Helmsley marriage morphed into the dysfunctional McMahon family. Today, many are tired of the McMahons fighting each other and loving each other, and a lot of the storylines have been redone. But at the time it was all new and unsullied, providing an interesting look at the first family of wrestling. Again, I cannot stress this enough: though played out nowadays, this was an innovative concept that drew in ratings and people to the arenas (more on this in a moment).
Yet these were things we saw for the first time. There were others less enjoyable and more played out moments to come in the future, but most did not actually happen during our time frame. Yet somehow, as we’ve stated, the McMahon-Helmsley Era has unreasonably taken the blame.
The things that did not happen
Now, remember, the McMahon-Helmsley Era ended on May 21, 2001. Because of the condensing of perceived time, events post-Era have been erroneously attributed to it, and most unfairly I might add. For the record, these events DID NOT (I repeat DID NOT) happen during the McMahon-Helmsley Era:
Stephanie buys ECW — In the Summer of 2001, Stephanie McMahon revealed that she was the one who bought ECW and merged it with Shane McMahon’s WCW to form the Alliance. This, coupled with the lack of talent and the fast-forward storytelling, led to a less than stellar InVasion. This, though, was the dawning of the new WWF/E, and not a part of the McMahon-Helmsley world.
Stephanie’s Baby — Some will have you believe the McMahon-Helmsley Era ended with Stephanie’s faked pregnancy and subsequent divorce. This, of course, would be impossible since it was post-InVasion (February 2002), and therefore could not have possibly been in the Era.
Chris Jericho vs. Triple H at WrestleMania — the buildup to this event took a turn for the worse when instead of focusing on the past history of the two, it became about Stephanie McMahon and her puppy that got run over. Jericho, the first and longest reigning Undisputed Champion, had a rather lackluster run topped by a loss to Triple H at WrestleMania for the title. These events happened in January through March 2002, after the end of the Era and InVasion.
Hulk Hogan winning the Undisputed Championship — Although I see nothing wrong with this, some pundits believed Hogan’s time had passed and that he should be nowhere near the title. His win and reign happened in April and May 2002.
Being given the title — On September 2, 2002 Triple H was awarded the World Heavyweight Championship on RAW after the Undisputed Championship came under dispute (we’ll get to this in a later chapter on the World Heavyweight Championship). Even though Triple H was just given a title, we cannot hold this against the Era since it happened so far after the fact!
Steph VS. Vince — Because the McMahon dysfunction really took shape during the Era, anything that has to do with it somehow gets tacked on. Vince and Stephanie McMahon fought at No Mercy on October 19, 2003 in a much-trampled angle. This was actually the culmination of the Zack Gowen story and Stephanie’s time as GM of SmackDown!. Not only was this after the Era, it was after the divorce! How this gets tacked on is a complete mystery.
All of these negatives (although that is a matter of opinion in some cases) have somehow gotten attached to the Era. Well they did not happen during that timeframe, and should not take away from all the true accomplishments.
And what are those accomplishments? Why money of course! Let’s take a look at some of the big ones.
First off, the average RAW rating for the ENTIRE McMahon-Helmsley Era was a 5.6. What has RAW been averaging on USA recently in 2005? A 3.9?
Let’s go a bit further. RAW broke the 7.0 ratings barrier on only five occasions. Three of those were during the Era: April 24, 2000; May 1, 2000; and May 22, 2000.
Let’s look at it from a different perspective: the historical kind! In January of 1999, the average RAW rating was a 5.58. A couple of weeks after the beginning of McMahon-Helmsley Era in January 2000 the average RAW rating was a 6.50. And just to make sure this wasn’t abnormal, the average rating for December 1999 was 5.93, November 1999 5.92, and October 1999 5.75. So in one month ratings jumped 10%! Not a bad day at the office at all.
But as we know, ratings only matter to advertisers and can fluctuate based on a number of small factors. When we want to see what people think directly, we head straight to the PPV buyrates!
For the entire McMahon-Helmsley Era, the average PPV buyrate was 1.37, well above our success range. Now, let’s break it down by month comparing 1999 to 2000:
As you can see, some months were up, some were down, but the ones that were up were up significantly, as was the entire year (it’s just happenstance that 2000 is also a 1.37 average). This made the WWE less dependent on some months for a lot of their revenue and allowed them to spread costs and profits over the entire year. That means that they were able to change their business cycle and invest money differently, giving more flexibility overall to the company.
And of course, there’s the biggest proof of all:
THE MCMAHON-HELMSLEY ERA KILLED WCW!!!
Well, that’s an exaggeration, but we cannot deny that the success of the McMahon-Helmsley Era in part led to the continual downfall of WCW and its eventual cancellation on the Turner Networks. At the time, the shared audience of the two organizations was around 2.0, and many of those people were swayed to watch more WWF programming due to the storylines, excitement, and originality of the McMahon-Helmsley Era.
No, the Era was a huge money generator and everyone, from wrestlers to grips, were able to feel the financial windfall of the times.
And what became of our wards?
As the Era came to an end and the WWF/E had crushed its competition and the industry moved on. Creative began to lose the edge it had during the Era and started to rehash the same angles with the same people. Triple H dominated a lot of television time, as did Stephanie McMahon, in what many consider a waste. That is a fight for another day, though.
What we do know is that business dropped. Ratings, buyrates, revenue, profit, audience size, live event attendance — all dropped considerably from the height of the McMahon-Helmsley Era to today in 2005.
But all of that is not BECAUSE of the Era, it is because of the rehashing of the Era’s successes. You favorite food tastes great on the first day. On the second day, it is all right. On the third day, it is kind of bland. On the fourth day, it makes you sick. Even if it was cooked the same way with the same ingredients to the same perfection, it will not matter. Too much of a good thing just isn’t good at all.
This is what happened after the Era. A lot was repeated and rehashed, but to diminishing results. The important thing is to remember that first day, when the food melted in your mouth, and not the last day, when you couldn’t eat one bite.
The slap heard round the world
Due to a lingering (and modern) hatred of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, many people have let their opinion of the McMahon-Helmsley Era be colored by lies and misunderstandings. Looking back, we can see that the Era was really a birth of so many great moments and careers in wrestling. Even Triple H and Stephanie themselves were truly birthed out of this Era, and for a time were the most interesting parts of the show. Neither had political control at the beginning, and there was no relationship to speak of. The conspiracy theories just don’t hold up.
Meanwhile, the Era may have gotten their names, but there were many more people, events, and objects that benefited. From the Women’s Championship to Latino Heat to Kurt Angle’s rise to the top — there was a growth all around the company. There were also some distinct moments of creativity and innovation, new for the time, though overused today.
And then there was everything that had nothing to do with the Era that gets attributed to it. From the Jericho-Stephanie-Dog fiasco to Stephanie and Triple H’s divorce to Stephanie and Vince fighting in the ring — all of these did not happen in the Era and should not be counted against it.
All that should count is the large amounts of ratings, buyrates, and money the Era generated. It was the height of popularity in the WWF, and helped the WWF to finally defeat WCW once and for all.
The McMahon-Helmsley Era is the definition of success in the WWF. How can we forget that?
The defense rests.
After the Trial
IN THE CASE OF THE IWC VS. THE MCMAHON-HELMSLEY ERA, THE MCMAHON-HELMSLEY ERA HAS BEEN ACCUSED AS BEING A GIANT EGO STROKE FOR ITS NAMESAKES THAT ONLY SUCCEEDED IN PUSHING TRIPLE H AND STEPHANIE DOWN OUR THROATS AND DID NOT HELP ANYONE ELSE BUT THEM.
With 73.2% of the vote, the McMahon-Helmsley Era was found:
So Mike Awesome leaving ECW is less guilty then the McMahon-Helmsley Era? I don’t know about that — and I wrote these cases!
Most of the responses were fairly standard this time, but I enjoyed this response in particular:
You’ve really outdone yourself this time JP. I HATED the era in question. I got sick of HHH/Stephanie so much, that’s it’s still hard to watch either one of them on television, but in the case of not helping anyone else the era is not guilty. Really well written article…
Aside from that, in the original version of the article I complained about the HTML coding I tried to do (poorly) in creating a table for first time. While I learned a lot more later, a regular reader certainly caught me:
So I decided to take a look at your HTML and see how you made it. Please [don’t] take this the wrong way… How much do you know about HTML? I’ve always assumed that people who post on the net have at least a basic understanding of the simple tags, such as <table>, but looking at your source, I appear to be wrong. I know I’m sounding like an ass right now, so I’ll stop.
I let Manu know:
Thank Manu, I really don’t know much in HTML beside the basic tags like <b></b> <i></i> <u></u> <center></center> and <font></font>. I really don’t need to know much because the site does most of it itself. I used to do a little work on webpages a few years ago, but I always used Frontpage so I really didn’t know anything then. It’s kind of like with databases. I know enough SQL to get by, but let Access do most of the work for me.
Here in 2020, I needed to know almost no HTML to put together my own website. Still, knowing a bit helped when I wanted to do a few special things, but in those cases there were websites and other tools that helped me out. Even Microsoft Word can convert to HTML if you need it to!