(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack - Street Fight at WWE Royal Rumble 2000

(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack - Street Fight at WWE Royal Rumble 2000

Triple H is one of the most polarizing wrestlers in modern times. Some people think he’s a genuine superstar. Others think he’s an average-at-best competitor that only achieved his success due to politics and marrying the right person. Some people love him for being an amazing villain during his prime and for all he has done with NXT. And others loathe him for ruining some wrestlers’ careers and always being ‘the guy that worked with the top stars instead of being the top star’. Whatever your opinion of the man is, he has had some classics in his career. And today we revisit what many call his magnum opus, the best match of his career, the one that changed him from being a doubtful upper midcarder to a certified main-eventer.

It’s the famous Street Fight between Triple H and Cactus Jack from the 2000 Royal Rumble event, which was an awesome pay-per-view.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

Leading up to this match, Triple H & Stephanie McMahon were on an absolute power trip (this was 1999/2000, just wait until what came later on). At one point, these two egomaniacs fired Mick Foley from WWE. After this, he said in an interview, “I just think that it’s damn pretentious of Triple H and Stephanie to just…finish a career, because they personally get off on playing with peoples’ lives, playing with their dreams and their emotions, and in this case with their families.” Even though it was a serious promo, I couldn’t stop laughing simply because the promo was just drenched in irony.

Anyway, so Foley got fired, until The Rock demanded he be reinstated; otherwise he and the entire roster would revolt against the McMahon-Helmsley duo. They conceded and reinstated him, but Triple H made sure to look strong all the same by beating the hell out of Foley. In response, Foley (as Mankind) came out and announced that Mankind wasn’t ready to face Triple H in a street fight for the WWF Championship. But he knew someone that was ready: CACTUS JACK!

And as Cactus appeared, the look on Triple H’s face was priceless. He sold that announcement like he was headed to the electric chair. He was terrified because Cactus was a man that knew violence better than anyone else, and now Triple H was sentenced to fight him in Cactus’s specialty stipulation, the Street Fight.

That brought genuine excitement to the fans. Not only did they want to see Triple H get what he deserved, but they also wanted to see Cactus tear him apart in creative and violent ways. Oh, and there was also the possibility that Cactus could reclaim the WWE Championship, but that seemed like a secondary goal behind Cactus beating the ever-loving hell out of WWE’s resident jackass.

The match

This match originally took place on January 23rd, 2000 at the Royal Rumble PPV. It was originally rated ****1/2 stars by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. When TJRWrestling’s John Canton reviewed it in his Royal Rumble 2000 review, he went five stars for the match. Now, over twenty years later, let’s see how well it holds up.

This is for the WWF/E Championship. Cactus begins by trash-talking HHH and Hunter looks a bit nervous. They begin by trading punches and tossing each other in the corner. Cactus lands a flurry of quick jabs and the crowd cheers in approval. Triple H escapes the ring but Cactus follows him and drops him with a neckbreaker on the ringside mats. Triple H tries to get back in but Cactus cuts him off with a guillotine leg drop. He follows this by smashing Triple H’s head into the steel steps and then into the ring bell, the latter of which makes a very loud noise. Cue the typical ‘rung his bell jokes’.

Foley backs off for a moment, which allows Triple H to hit him with the ring bell. HHH gets back into the ring and taunts Cactus to come in. they trash talk each other and Cactus dares Triple H to hit him. And Triple H is happy to oblige, and smashes Jack’s face in with the chair. Damn that looked brutal.

Triple H goes to remove a turnbuckle pad but Cactus gets up pretty damn fast for a guy who just touched a steel chair with the wrong end of his body. He clotheslines HHH down and lands a leg drop onto the chair onto HHH’s head. Sweet revenge. Cactus pins but gets a two-count.

Cactus drops Triple H with more punches, forcing him to flee the ring again. As Cactus gives chase, Jim Ross calls Triple H ‘’maybe the greatest technical WWF Champion we’ve ever had’ (laughs in Canadian). Triple H tries to mount a comeback and charges, but Cactus counters and back bodydrops HHH over the barricade. Now they’re brawling among the fans. They brawl towards the entrance area and Cactus sets up some wooden pallets. And with evil intention, Cactus suplexes Triple H directly onto those wooden platforms. Also, for anyone wondering, those wooden platforms are more or less what’s under the ring canvas. These guys slam each other onto wood each and every night. Can’t really get any more brutal than that.

Cactus smashes a garbage can over Triple H’s head and then smashes Triple H headfirst into the metal entrance barrier. This goes on for a bit until Triple H regains control by back suplexing Cactus onto the steel garbage can. He uses this time to take a breather and to inspect his left calf, which is pouring blood. Apparently he cut it on that suplex onto the stacks of wood. But he keeps going because he’s one tough bastard.

Cactus regains control with some punches then lands a running to Triple H against the steel steps. He rolls HHH back into the ring and pulls out a foreign object. It’s a 2×4 wrapped in barbed wire! Shit just got real! The fans in Madison Square Garden erupt in cheers. He raises it over his head. he’s going to swing it. No, Triple H counters with a low blow. Now HE’s got the 2×4. Batter up! Triple H swings it right into Cactus’s stomach. Then another to the back. Then some more. Triple H goes for another hit….no, Cactus blocks it. Low blow with the 2×4. Double-arm DDT by Cactus. Both men are down. Cactus puts one arm over to cover Triple H. one, two, no, Triple H kicks out.

Cactus gets up first looking for the 2×4. Once he sees it ringside (referee Earl Hebner had removed it, much to the fans’ chagrin), the fans erupt in cheers again. Cactus grabs it and returns to the ring after decking one of the Spanish announcers that tried to hide it. What, does he have a death wish, keeping Cactus Jack away from his weapons? In the ring, Cactus goes to use the 2×4 but the ref tries to stop him. Triple H tries to take advantage, but Cactus dodges and Triple H knocks the referee down. Barbed wire shot to the head. Holy shit. Even if that was the lightest tap possible that looked brutal. But Cactus isn’t done. Running barbed wire drop to the face. Cactus goes for the pin. Another slow two-count for Triple H. and another barbed wire shot to the head. Triple H is now bleeding from two places. His face has become the proverbial crimson mask. But Foley STILL isn’t done. He pushes the barbed wire into HHH’s face, just because he can.

Still in control, Cactus punches Triple H’s head some more then smashes him into the announce table. Then he pulls off the top covering. He’s going for the piledriver. No, Triple H counters with a back body drop. The table collapses. Triple H gets up first and tosses Cactus into the ring. he hits some more punches then goes for the Pedigree. But Cactus counters. Slingshot. HHH goes head-first into the turnbuckle. Bulldog into the barbed wire. Cactus goes for another pin. One, two, thr—no, Triple H kicks out.  A Cactus clothesline sends both men out of the ring. Foley charges, but Triple H counters with a hiptoss. Foley goes legs-first into the steel steps. Good God that looked like a rough landing.

Sensing an opportunity, Triple H whips Cactus hard, sending him legs-first into those same steel steps. Damn, how can he walk after that?

Both men get into the ring slowly. HHH gets in first and clips Cactus’s knee as he tries to enter. Triple H grabs the barbed wire 2×4…and swings it hard onto Cactus. Right on the leg. And again. He drops the 2×4 and staggers out of the ring, towards announcer Howard Finkel. He pulls a tiny black bag from Finkel, the one he gave him earlier during his entrance. He opens that bag to reveal a set of handcuffs. Oh no, this is going to get even uglier.

Triple H handcuffs one wrist, but Cactus fights out before he can lock the second one.  Cactus uses the handcuffs as a weapon, but Triple wisely counters by kicking Cactus’s wounded leg. Now Cactus is fully handcuffed. He’s at Triple H’s mercy, and he isn’t going to get any.

With Cactus defenseless, Triple H starts hammering away with punches to Cactus’s head. he brings in the steel steps, and raises them over his head. Wait, Cactus counters, he drop-toeholds Triple H in the legs. Triple H falls forward and hits his own head on the steps. Great counter by Cactus. Cactus is fighting back. Even without the use of his arms, he’s fighting back. What a hero. He kicks Triple H down and throws his entire body weight into HHH’s groin. Then he bites Triple H in the face. Man, talk about clever offense here.

Cactus tries to maintain control but Triple H clotheslines him down. Steel chair to the gut then to the back. Triple H hit him so hard it broke the chair. Foley falls out of the ring and Triple H gives chase with another, intact steel chair. Another chair shot to the head. But Cactus gets to his knees…and dares Triple H to hit him again! My God, the balls on this guy. Triple H keeps talking trash to Cactus. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a surprise. It’s The Rock! The Rock appears and smashes his own steel chair into Triple H’s head. Both guys are down. Then, another surprise. A police officer grabs a key and un-cuffs Cactus. Cactus has his arms now. Triple H is totally screwed.

They brawl their way back to the ring and Cactus slams Triple H onto the Spanish announce table. Piledriver! A massive piledriver onto the table. Which doesn’t break. What a horrible landing for Triple H.

Cactus tosses Triple H back into the ring and pulls out a bag. Oh, dear God, no. We all know what’s coming. THUMBTACKS! Oh shit, one of these men is about to become a human pin cushion. And here comes Stephanie, who’s worried about her husband’s well-being. Meanwhile, Cactus starts hammering away on Triple H, who’s inching ever closer to that bed of thumbtacks. Then Cactus raises his arm. He charges. NO, Triple H counters! Back Body Drop!  Cactus falls onto the thumbtacks! Holy Shit! But Cactus is right back up. Goddamn, this man must know no pain. Pedigree by Triple H. the match is over. The referee counts one, two, thr—NO, Cactus kicks out. The crowd goes nuts! The ones that aren’t cheering wildly are chanting ‘FOLEY’! But Triple H isn’t done. A second Pedigree. Onto the thumbtacks. Cactus goes face-first into the thumbtacks. One, two, three! There’s the match. Cactus Jack has thumbtacks sticking out of his face!

Winner and STILL WWF Champion after 26:48: Triple H

Review

I’m torn on this one. On one hand, it was one of the most brutal matches I have ever seen. It was peak Attitude Era with incredible violence and a great story. It was all about Foley/Cactus getting revenge on Triple H and Triple H really demonstrating his ‘cerebral assassin’ mindset. And Triple H showed that both by targeting Cactus’s leg following an opportune counter and by trying to beat Cactus at his own game.

It was an ugly brawl between a hardcore legend and a rising star looking to cement himself as WWE’s new top heel. Both guys dished out incredible punishment on each other and put their bodies through hell to show how tough they were. And even though HHH was inexperienced in this type of match, he did well here by matching Cactus’s viciousness with his own. They kept things simple by putting the focus on the weapons instead of actual wrestling, which was a double-edged sword here. While it made sense to just brawl violently because their feud was so intense and personal, the match actually got a bit boring at a few points because it was just random punching. Thankfully, they kept the audience fully engaged and created some awesome near-falls by being very creative and putting together some truly tense near-fall situations. That was especially true with the ending. Few people have ever kicked out of Triple H’s Pedigree so it was seen as an almost-perfect finisher. But when Cactus kicked out of the first one, it got a huge reaction because it gave the fans even more hope for Cactus. But all that came crashing down seconds later when HHH put Cactus down with a Pedigree onto the thumbtacks, which underscored just how far HHH had to go to keep Cactus down for the three-count.

Also, special consideration goes to Triple H for suffering a huge gash in his left leg following a suplex onto the wood. He was limping throughout the match and the camera zoomed on in his injury a few times. It looked nasty and deep. But HHH powered through it and continued the match. He looked like a tough bastard that could keep going despite suffering an unexpected injury. And this wouldn’t be the last time he finished a match despite being badly injured.

On the other hand, this match had some overbooked nonsense that just didn’t make sense. First, why did the referee take away Cactus’s barbed wire 2×4? He had no reason to do that given the stipulation. It was supposed to be a no-rules street fight, yet here the referee broke that to enforce his own morals onto the match. And all that accomplished was Foley punching an innocent bystander in one of the announcers and stretching the match out when he went to go pick it back up. This was like that nonsensical ‘this isn’t you’ crap from Seth Rollins vs. The Fiend at Hell in a Cell 2019, but more subtle. When the referee does something impartial like that, it doesn’t really help the match in any way.

Second, the interference was completely unnecessary. The Rock got a quick pop and then disappeared, and then a policeman uncuffed Cactus and disappeared. It just seemed like a cheap and easy cop-out (pun intended) solution to Cactus’s handcuff problem. While I appreciated the callback to Foley’s encounter with The Rock from the previous year’s Rumble match and Foley’s creative attempt to soldier on without the use of his arms, his escape by way of random policeman seemed out of place. If they went through all the trouble of putting that gimmick into the match for heat on HHH ad sympathy for Cactus, in my opinion they should’ve put just as much thought into a more creative solution that would’ve given Cactus more hope in his comeback.

I was also disappointed that Triple H attacking Cactus’s leg didn’t lead to anything. Cactus took some sick bumps to his leg and knee and Triple H attacked it a few more times as Cactus tried to re-enter the ring. But once he did, that weakness was completely forgotten. That was a shame. Triple H could’ve demonstrated more of his calculated deviousness by making it harder for Cactus to even stand up. And it would’ve been easy for him to do so because he had already shown he could use some leg submissions to weaken his opponents. Although I didn’t expect HHH to try and win by making Cactus tap out, it would’ve been nice to see HHH lock in a leglock to make Cactus squirm in pain, creating a moment of hope for the fans to really sink their teeth into. And it would’ve made sense in the match since Cactus had already taken a monumental beating and this would’ve only made Cactus losing even more likely.

Final Rating: ****1/2

As much as I liked the violence and brutality displayed here, I don’t think this match is a genuine wrestling classic. It was a great brawl and weapon display, and it told a great story. Both wrestlers earned praise for fighting through such pain and taking such high risks to put on such a match.

Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste, but I’m not usually a fan of weapons-focused matches. Sometimes they can be outstanding, such as with TLC II. But I don’t think this match really holds up as a historic epic worthy of being on the same level as genuine 5-star epics. Some stuff just didn’t make sense during the match and it bothered me too much for me to ignore. I know wrestling is kitsch and one shouldn’t expect it to be logical all the time. But a lot of matches I’ve reviewed so far in this series have shown how matches can be amazing when the wrestlers go out of their way to at least try to make stuff look realistic and be as commonsensical as possible.

All that being said, I still highly recommend watching this match at least once if you haven’t already. And if you have, you should watch it again because of how different it was and is compared to today’s WWE hardcore matches. These two wrestlers looked like they were genuinely trying to hurt each other and did a convincing job of making the action and impact look realistic. Nowadays, so much in WWE-style matches comes across as way more phony and overly-choreographed than how it was in the past with matches like this one. Which is ironic considering Triple H’s role in training and building up WWE’s stars of tomorrow.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.