(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: The Undertaker vs. Triple H (End of an Era) – WWE WrestleMania 28
The Undertaker and Triple H. The Last Outlaw and The Game. They were the last men still standing from the Attitude Era. They had great matches together in the past, but wanted to end their feud in the biggest way possible. And that’s exactly what they did in this famous match. Today we look back at the match that stole the show at WrestleMania XXVIII. And not only that, it won numerous accolades as the 2012 Match of the Year from both WWE and Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
Today we look back at this legendary encounter to see if it really was as good as everyone said it was. It’s time for us to revisit the Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Triple H, which was dubbed ‘End of an Era’.
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.
This match came about as the culmination of a four-year storyline. Ever since WrestleMania XXV in 2009, The Undertaker has been having legendary WrestleMania matches with fellow veterans. In 2009 and 2010, he had amazing matches with Shawn Michaels, with the latter being HBK’s last singles match. A year later, Undertaker faced Triple H in a match so brutal, Undertaker didn’t leave the arena by his own power.
From there, two stories emerged. On one hand, The Undertaker became consumed with the notion that he didn’t beat Triple H decisively. He hated the fact that he had to be helped out of the arena. For the first time in…possibly ever…the Undertaker’s supernatural aura was tarnished. He was no longer larger than life. He could no longer ignore the fact that time was catching up with him. The world finally saw that the Undertaker was, in fact, mortal, and he suffered wounds and experienced pain and exhaustion like any normal (human) pro wrestler. He wanted to avenge this and beat Triple H once again, but at first Triple H said no.
In doing so, the second story element came in: Shawn Michaels. HBK, now retired, tried to convince Triple H to accept the offer, but Triple H continued to refuse, spouting some nonsense about brands, futures and cashing in. In other words, typical corporatist garbage. Then The Undertaker decided to make it personal by claiming that HBK was and is better than HHH. And that single barb was enough to enrage Triple H into accepting. But with that acceptance came caveats. The match had to be decided in Hell in a Cell (a stipulation made famous by The Undertaker but in which Triple H had more victories), and Shawn Michaels had to be the special guest referee.
Naturally, The Undertaker accepted these conditions but warned that Michaels had to keep the match ‘pure’ and not make emotional or rash decisions (Shawn Michaels acting impulsively? Perish the thought!).
Thus the stage was set for the final encounter between two of the last remaining wrestlers from the Attitude Era (hence the billing ‘End of an Era’). So going into the match, the Undertaker had something of a disadvantage. Yes, HIAC was his match specialty. But Triple H had won more of them and there was no telling where Michaels’ loyalties lay. Would he call the match down the middle, or would he be compelled to act in some other interest instead?
This match originally took place on April 1st, 2012. It was rated 4.75-stars out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. TJRWrestling’s own John Canton was at this match and rated it five stars when he reviewed it.
A punch exchange starts things off. Undertaker hammers away on HHH and gives Michaels a quick death glance. ‘Taker whips HHH into a corner but runs into a boot. That allows HHH to return the favor with punches of his own. More punches from ‘Taker now as he tosses HHH out of the ring. ‘Taker lands more punches and chases HHH, but Hunter escapes him long enough to fight back and smash his head into the cell wall. HHH tries to whip Undertaker into the cell, but ‘Taker reverses and then back body drops HHH hard. Undertaker lands more punches as the 78,000+ in attendance chant the Undertaker’s name.
The ringside brawling continues as Shawn Michaels tries to get both men to return to the ring. But instead of listening, Undertaker shoves HBK aside, which gets a notable crowd reaction. As Undertaker continues to smash HHH into things, Michael Cole makes an interesting comment (for once): Triple H has never lost a match in which Shawn Michaels was special guest referee. Let’s see if that changes here.
Undertaker maintains control by smashing Triple H into the steel ringsteps. HHH counters an Irish whip with a forearm, then blocks Undertaker’s own counter with a facebuster. Only it has no effect as Undertaker immediately clotheslines Triple H down. He follows this with some shoulder blocks and then lands Old School to a huge reaction. ‘Taker throws HHH out of the ring again as the fans chant his name. He uses the steel steps as a weapon and then lands his patented apron leg drop. He gets back into the ring, only to walk into a surprise DDT from Triple H. then Triple H gets the steps. And with evil intent, he goes for a Pedigree on the steps. Wait, no, Undertaker counters into a back body drop. Triple H goes flying.
Undertaker tries to maintain control, but as he charges he walks into a huge spinebuster onto the steel steps. HHH crawls over…but Undertaker counters into the Hell’s Gate submission hold. That’s how Undertaker won the year prior. But HHH has a counter. He musters some incredible strength and slams Undertaker down powerbomb-style, breaking the hold. Triple H goes for the first pin of the match, but Undertaker kicks out at two.
HHH grabs some chairs and smashes Undertaker hard in the spine. He places the steep stairs in the corner then whips Undertaker into them, and then follows with more chairshots. And more. and more, and more, and more. Commentator Jerry Lawlor notes that this seems a bit excessive, and then referee HBK tries to tell HHH to cut it out. But HHH is too focused to care and shoves HBK aside as he continues his onslaught.
Michaels tosses the chair aside and he has a brief argument with HHH. HBK: “it doesn’t have to be like this. Just cover him.” Michaels goes to Undertaker to try and convince him to end the match but Undertaker refuses. Seeing Undertaker shaking his head, Triple H pushes HBK aside (with more force than necessary) and smashes Undertaker with the chair some more. HHH continues to yell at Michaels to end the match, but Undertaker remains defiant when HBK asks him again if he wants to end the match. As the Undertaker slowly gets to his feet (and as HHH yells at him to stay down) the crowd starts cheering wildly for the Undertaker. Triple H cuts him off with more chairshots and pins, but Undertaker kicks out at 2.5.
The dramatic angle continues with Shawn Michaels caught in the middle. On one side, Triple H keeps yelling for him to end the match, while the Undertaker barely musters enough strength to tell him not to stop it. And when Michaels allows the match to continue, Triple H busts out the sledgehammer, which causes the fans to erupt in more cheers. Because they’re a bunch of bloodthirsty barbarians.
Shawn continues to try to allow the Undertaker to let him ring the bell, but the Undertaker has too much heart and pride. But HHH has no compassion and smashes Undertaker with that sledgehammer. Referee HBK counts one, two, and thr—NO. Undertaker kicks out at 2.9. What a great nearfall.
Triple H quickly pushes HBK aside and teases smashing Undertaker in the head with the sledgehammer. He raises it over his head…but Shawn grabs it to cut him off and throws it out of the ring. Again HHH asks Shawn to end it. He looks like he’s going to have the match called off. He keeps checking on Undertaker, but he does so one time too many and gets caught in Hell’s Gate. The referee’s getting choked out. But HHH takes advantage. Sledgehammer shot to Undertaker. HHH goes for another one but Undertaker answers with a low blow. Hell’s Gate on Triple H. HHH grabs the sledgehammer. He tries to muster enough strength to fight back. But he can’t. He’s fading. He slumps over. The crowd’s going nuts, cheering wildly. All three men are down.
Another referee comes down and unlocks the cell door. Chokeslam from Undertaker. Triple H kicks out at 2.8. Undertaker gets angry and chokeslams the referee. Undertaker goes for a Tombstone, but HHH blocks it. Sweet Chin Music from (referee) Shawn Michaels. Pedigree from Triple H right after. Crazy combo! Triple H goes for the pin. The Streak’s over. ONE! TWO! THRE—NO!!! Undertaker kicks out! Undertaker survives! The match is still on! 78,000 people roared in unison! Shawn Michaels can’t believe what just happened!
Triple H grabs the sledgehammer, but Shawn cuts him off, so HHH tosses him out of the ring. He turns back to the Undertaker, who sits up zombie-style. Second wind from the Undertaker. He hits all his comeback moves, followed by a Tombstone Piledriver. Referee HBK gets back in and counts. One, two, thr, no, once again someone kicks out at the last possible moment.
Both men get to their knees and trade punches as the fans go ‘yay/boo’ for Undertaker/Triple H. both get to their feet and this exchange continues, with the fans getting even louder. Pedigree by Triple H. Undertaker kicks out at 2.9 yet again.
Both men get up slowly, each grabbing a different weapon. Undertaker gets up first holding a steel chair and steps on the sledgehammer, preventing HHH from using it. Undertaker gets revenge for earlier with brutal chairshots of his own to Tripe H. he pins, but Triple H kicks out once more. Triple H gets up slowly clasping the sledgehammer, but he can barely make it to his feet. Out of desperation, Triple H charges with the sledgehammer but Undertaker blocks it and takes his weapon. But Triple H remains defiant as well, shoving Undertaker and then does the DX crotch chop. Naturally, this angers Undertaker, and he smashes Triple H in the head with his own weapon. Undertaker signals the end. One more Tombstone Piledriver. One, two, three! The Undertaker has won! The Streak has reached 20-0!
Winner after 30:50: The Undertaker
This match polarized me and made it hard for me to really determine where it stands in relation to other wrestling classics. On one hand, it’s an absolute masterclass in emotional, nail-biting storytelling thanks to the crucial role Shawn Michaels played in the match. He played his role perfectly, selling the emotion of the match and the gravitas of his actions incredibly well. He was over the top, sure, but that played into the match very well.
And his superkick/pedigree double-team combo move with HHH was one of the best near-falls ever done. It was so convincing as a near-fall that it looked like the Streak really was going to end then and there. And when Undertaker kicked out, it sent people into a frenzy. It was amazing. Even the most jaded viewer that went into this knowing full well what the result was felt the credibility of that near-fall and the explosive reaction that accompanied it.
But that amazing moment was just…one amazing moment. It was a thirty-second-or-so segment in a match that went over thirty minutes. And to be honest, much of that thirty minutes was…well…nothing special.
The match opened with repetitive punches and head-butts, along with minimal actual use of the Cell. The cell was barely used as part of the match at all, and what little they did with it felt basic and didn’t really look like anything we hadn’t seen before in earlier, better cell matches. Given its minimal overall impact on the match, it felt like nothing more than a marketing ploy to get more people to buy tickets to the show.
From there the match moved into average territory. Both men played the hits, doing their biggest moves between long punching segments. It was every HHH match ever, with the same moves, logic and strategy: brawl, hit a big move, introduce weapons, and Pedigree. And Undertaker did much of the same, but seemed more comfortable using his own power instead of relying on weapons as much as Triple H. And considering the age of the three men involved, I had hopes they’d be a bit more creative in what they’d do in this match to make up for the fact that they couldn’t land as many big power moves or risky spots as they could’ve in the past. Unfortunately, that creativity yielded some…mixed….results.
For what was supposed to be their biggest match-up (and their third-ever WrestleMania encounter), they didn’t really bring out anything new or truly special beyond a spinebuster onto steel stairs and that aforementioned double-team combo move. There was little actual creative offense when ‘Taker and HHH fought on their own. That caused Michaels to become the crutch that was needed to push the story forward. And because of that, this felt less like a match and more like an extended melodramatic angle. And while that might be some people’s cup of tea, it wasn’t mine.
I think the match went a bit off the rails as soon as Triple H and Shawn Michaels started talking to each other. Once it became a question of ‘will Michaels stop the match?’ the momentum stopped. It became a waiting game, with Shawn playing the role of emotionally-torn judge stuck trying to decide between helping his friend and calling the match down the middle while trying to keep his pride under control.
In other words, the match became less about the combatants and more about the referee. And some of that didn’t even make sense. They spent so much time building up these tense moments of Shawn being conflicted, especially as Triple H yelled at him. Yet if HHH had beaten Undertaker up so badly that he needed Shawn to end it, then why didn’t Triple H just pin Undertaker instead? Those moments came off as a bit silly and made Triple H look stupid, especially compared to the Undertaker who, when he was in control, wasted much less time and remained focused on the task at hand.
Final Rating: ****
These three performers used a very minimalistic formula here and it showed. They approached the match with a less-is-more philosophy, which is why this match didn’t feature that much actual action. Short and explosive offensive sequences with heavy weapon use were juxtaposed by long rest segments and tons of melodrama. Of course, given the age of both wrestlers, something like that was to be expected.
I think this match is a bit overblown because it has a few great things going for it. Triple H and the Undertaker have great chemistry. Shawn Michaels has amazing chemistry with both of them. And few fans really wanted to see the Undertaker’s Streak be broken on his 20th appearance. Especially from a guy with as ‘mixed’ a reputation as Triple H. These three legends knew all of that, so they crafted a tale on making the Undertaker vulnerable without making him look weak. And the audience bought it during those tense moments when a fall was going to be decided.
But in the end, they went a bit overboard with the ‘morally conflicted referee’ story. All those long dramatic sequences padded the length of this match and left people not watching intently but waiting for something – anything – to happen.
I think they had the right general idea but missed the forest for the trees. Two or three amazing near-falls and explosive fan reactions doesn’t justify twice as many ‘dead’ segments and hammed up soap-opera-style theatrics that last much longer. All in all, this is a very good match (especially considering the age and physical conditions of the men in it) but in my opinion it’s not the legendary epic that many people have called it.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.