(Disclaimer: the author of this piece detailing Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit vs Triple H and Steve Austin is in no way a supporter of Benoit or his actions. This match is not only one of the greatest matches in Monday Night Raw history, but one of the greatest endings in the show’s history as well, and therefore has more than earned its place on the list.)
2001 was a time of great change for professional wrestling. The World Wrestling Federation was nearing the end of one of its most popular and profitable runs on television. Its main competitor World Championship Wrestling, along with smaller promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling, had folded into bankruptcy and dissolved, leaving most of the most well-known and talented wrestlers of that era and many others as free agents without any major companies to go to, eventually leading to the birth of many so-called “super indies” such as Ring of Honor, IWA Mid-South, and CHIKARA. Within WWF especially, the ripples of change rolled into waves that would change the way the company was viewed forever, leaving lasting effects on the whole business that we still feel today.
One such change was the incredibly controversial heel turn of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the most popular wrestler of the last four years and possibly of all time, at WrestleMania X-Seven. On this night, he aligned himself with longtime rival Vince McMahon (as Jim Ross put it in one of best calls of his career, “shaking hands with the devil himself”) to defeat The Rock in the main event for the WWF Championship. Many have speculated, and there is certainly a degree of truth and symbolism to it, that this marked the true ending of the last great boom period in professional wrestling history. The biggest babyface in wrestling history had turned his back on the fans. Nobody in their right mind would want to boo Steve Austin, leaving most the fans feeling disillusioned and cheated. This led to a mass exodus of casual wrestling fans that never truly came back to the product.
The Formation of The Two-Man Power Trip
While all this may be true, the company pulled the trigger and did the deed and there was certainly no going back after that. Steve Austin was a heel, and now it was time for the company to lay in the proverbial bed that they made for themselves. All this considered, Steve Austin excelled in the role of heel and quickly aligned himself with the villainous Triple H, who not even two months ago was beating Austin at Vince McMahon’s request, leading to a heated exchange between the father and son-in-law on the Raw after WrestleMania.
When HHH asked McMahon why he aligned with a man he was so recently trying to defeat, the Chairman simply told Hunter that the reason was simple; Austin won his match at WrestleMania, but HHH did not, losing to The Undertaker in the first and most forgotten of their three Mania matches. During the main event later in the night, a WrestleMania rematch between The Rock and Steve Austin inside of a steel cage, HHH came down to a raucous crowd reaction, seemingly about to attack Austin align himself with The Rock. When he stepped in the cage though, he turned on to The Rock and helped a bloodied Austin and an apoplectic McMahon beat down “The People’s Champion” from there. The trio took great satisfaction in doing so. Thus, as the first Raw after WrestleMania X-Seven went off the air, The Two-Man Power Trip was formed.
In the month following the team’s formation, they quickly dominated the entire roster in both singles and tag team competition. They already had the WWF Championship, and Triple H would capture the Intercontinental Championship before they stole the Tag Team Championship from The Brothers of Destruction, Kane and The Undertaker, at Backlash. The duo held almost all the gold in the company and had destroyed many of the most popular babyfaces at the time. The Rock, The Brothers of Destruction; even Team Xtreme wasn’t excluded from their ruthlessness, including Lita who was Pedigreed and beaten down with a steel chair.
Symmetry in Unlikely Challengers: Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit
At the May pay-per-view, Judgment Day, the impromptu team of Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit won a tag team turmoil match, outlasting six other teams to earn a shot at the WWF Tag Team Championship on Raw. This team, much like The Two-Man Power Trip, was an incredibly unlikely pair at the time seeing as how they were feuding just earlier that year over the Intercontinental Title, even having one of the best ladder matches of all time at the Royal Rumble of that year. The two had both suffered at the hands of then WWF Commissioner William Regal, however, and were able to find a common enemy in him that could bring them together.
Considering how talented and athletic the two were, it’s no surprise Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit quickly became incredibly popular together as an act. They could have matches ranging from good to great against almost any team on the roster. Their formation also served as an inverted mirror image of the formation of The Tw0-Man Power Trip; two rivals who found common ground via an enemy, only in their case the enemy was a man in a position of power who was abusing said power. This made their motivations far more justifiable than HHH or Austin, who instead aligned themselves with a man in power. The night after Judgment Day, where HHH lost the Intercontinental title to Kane in a Chain Match and Steve Austin retained his WWF title against The Undertaker, Jericho and Benoit interrupted the Power Trip during a promo in the opening of Raw. Jericho called Austin a sellout before storming the ring with Benoit to clear HHH and Austin from the ring. This set up their WWF Tag Team Championship match later in the main event.
Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit vs The Two-Man Power Trip
Steve Austin comes out first, which is interesting considering he’s not only one of the Tag Team Champions but is also WWF’s world champion. Triple H is out next with his wife, Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, by his side, looking thoroughly put out by the lack of single’s gold around his waist after losing his Intercontinental title just a night prior. Out next are Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit in that order, who both keep their entrances short and simple. Both men come out to heroes’ welcomes from the San Jose audience, which manages to not only be hot for the entire match but become more excited the longer the match would progress.
The match starts and Jericho and Austin circle the ring a few times, feigning a collar and elbow tie-up, but Austin immediately kicks Jericho in the gut as he goes to lock it up. After beating him down in the corner for a bit with kicks and stomps though, Austin gets caught with a big flying forearm from Jericho when he’s coming off the ropes and is immediately rolled up in a schoolboy pin when he gets back to his feet for a near fall. The pace of the match has been given to us immediately; it will be fast, it will be hard-hitting, it will be chaotic, and it will be violent. It’s a perfect example of the “Attitude Era” style of WWF main event when it’s done just right.
After more brawling and hard knife edge chops, both of which there are plenty of in this match, Jericho attempts an Irish Whip that Austin turns around and reverses. When “Y2J” rebounds off the ropes, Austin tries to use his momentum to throw him over the top rope on the opposite side of the ring, only for Jericho to land on his feet on the apron and hit a distracted Austin with a double ax handle as Benoit diverts the world champion’s attention. Eventually, Austin tags out to HHH when he fights his way out of wristlock, but HHH enters to find much of the same and gets punched back and forth like a ping-pong in the corner of the challengers. Jericho tags to Benoit and the two mug HHH in their corner some more. After beating HHH to the other corner, though, Benoit gets caught with a desperate but well-placed thumb to the eye from a The Game in the corner.
HHH immediately takes Benoit back to his corner to make the tag back to Austin. The two mug “The Rabid Wolverine” in the corner a bit before Austin attempts to play the chopping game with Benoit. This is, obviously, a bad idea, and backfires almost instantly as the chops do nothing but wake Benoit up even more, who hits the switch in the corner with Austin and chops him more, and harder. In another desperation move, “The Rattlesnake” quickly grabs a side headlock on Benoit but gets shot off the ropes, and answers with a body tackle that takes the smaller challenger to the floor. Benoit almost catches Austin off the ropes with a trip though, and immediately jumps to his feet to hit him with a knee to the gut, taking the fight right back to the champion. Now it’s been made abundantly clear; the challengers have the champions’ number and are matching them tit of tat.
Desperate Times Call for…
With the momentum firmly in his teams’ corner, Benoit continues to turn the aggression up more and more, meat and potato-ing Austin in the corner with hard punches, kicks, chops and snap suplexes, even nailing a big superplex from the top rope for a near fall that gets broken up by HHH. Jericho comes into the ring to stop him but just ends up making things worse for Benoit, who gets double-teamed in the corner while the ref is distracted with Y2J. Benoit is not to be overpowered, however, and vehemently fights his way out of the corner, outpunching both men by himself. It isn’t long before we again are watching Benoit beat Austin from corner to corner, so it’s also not surprising when we see the heels once again use an eye poke to get an advantage.
It doesn’t work as well for Austin as it did for his partner, though. This seems to anger Benoit more than anything; Benoit responds by taking Austin to the ground and locking in the Crippler Crossface. HHH goes to enter the ring, but Jericho is quicker to the punch, springboard dropkicking “The Game” off the apron and to the floor. Almost in a panic now, as he realizes how close he and Austin are to losing the belts, HHH rushes to his feet and sprints to the ringside commentary area and gets a steel folding chair while the referee is busy chastising Jericho for entering the ring when he wasn’t the legal man. HHH re-enters the ring and nails Benoit in the upper back and neck with the chair while the ref isn’t looking, turning the momentum in favor of his team, and doing major damage to Benoit in the process. He drags Austin over Benoit before shoving “Y2J” off the apron for a close near-fall that the crowd fully bought into as the finish of the match. When Benoit kicks out at 2 and 3 quarters, they explode in excitement. The Power Trip may be in control, but there’s still a chance for Benoit.
Shocked and frustrated that he can’t put him away, Austin just mounts for a ground and pound on Benoit, punching away at his head and neck. After beating on him for a while and snuffing out a comeback attempt, Austin throws Benoit to the outside where HHH sends him careening into the steel ring steps, separating the top half completely from the bottom. When he rolls him back into the ring, Austin goes for a nonchalant pin which Benoit easily kicks out of. It’s clear that Austin and HHH are in control and are already getting too comfortable for their own good. Benoit fights his out of the corner from a freshly tagged HHH, only to get caught with a big face-buster for a pair of near-falls. HHH makes the tag to Stone Cold, who double teams Benoit a bit before choking him across the middle ring rope and hitting the ropes with force to land a huge leg lariat, whiplashing Benoit on the ropes.
More Referee Chicanery
After putting a bit more beatdown on Benoit, Austin takes a cheap shot at Jericho on the apron, goading him into the ring so he can double team Benoit in the corner with HHH while the referee tries to eject “Y2J” to the apron. It works, allowing Austin and HHH to gain even more of an advantage. Things get a bit too far tough when HHH and Austin switch despite the referee never seeing them tag, which unfortunately will bring things down during the hot tag spot a bit later. Regardless, HHH keeps the heat on Benoit with big shoulders to the gut in the corner, using his larger size to his advantage. He keeps the offense directed on the abdomen when he locks in an abdominal stretch in the corner, which Steve gives an illegal boost by pulling back on HHH’s free arm while the referee isn’t looking.
Finally, at long last, the referee catches them redhanded, kicking them both in the hands to break the assist and allowing Benoit to hip toss himself free from the hold. Now he can finally mount some offense again and does when he comes off the ropes with the speed of Mercury to tackle HHH down to the ground. He goes to the well one too many times though and gets caught with a sleeper hold from “The Game” when going for another tackle. After almost being choked out, Benoit rallies the crowd behind him and elbows his way out of the hold, opening for a big belly-to-back suplex.
Both men on the ground, Benoit begins crawling to his partner, desperately in need of a tag out. HHH grabs his ankle when he gets to his corner, but Benoit nails a big enziguri, knocking both men back down again. He finally makes the much-needed tag to Jericho, but the referee doesn’t see it and refuses to let Jericho in the ring as the legal man. Unfortunately, this is where the match fails in logic a bit. There’s nothing wrong with a referee spot, but just minutes prior, we watched him allow HHH and Austin to do the same thing, making it one of the only real imperfections in the match. It does work to a degree, though, and the crowd goes ballistic, livid at referee Earl Hebner for missing the tag.
An Unfortunate Injury and a Perfect Ending
HHH sends Benoit to the outside so he and Austin can double team him more. Jericho, fed up with the rules and not about to see his tag team partner get mugged any longer, blows right past the referee and makes a beeline for the heels. It still ends up being a mistake, as the cunning heels find another way to use it to their advantage, and Austin sends Benoit back into the ring before sacrificing himself to Jericho, allowing HHH to hit a Pedigree on Benoit which should surely be the end. Unfortunately for the Power Trip, their evil ways would be their undoing, and the referee would be too busy outside the ring with Austin and Jericho outside the ring to count the pin. After dealing with Austin on the outside, Jericho goes to the top rope and hits a big missile dropkick to HHH, the crowd erupting at this point. (“The building is shaking!”- Paul Heyman)
Finally, Benoit tags out to Jericho as HHH tags out to Austin. Jericho hits the ring a house of fire, knocking Austin back to the ground each time he gets back to his feet. HHH attempts to stop him but “Y2J” sends him right back out of the ring, before countering a Lou Thesz Press from Austin into a Walls of Jericho. HHH gets back in the ring and breaks the hold, knocking Jericho out of the ring and famously tearing his own quadricep in the process. Benoit follows up on his partner’s hard work and nails the battered WWF Champion with his trademark Diving Headbutt; again, the referee is dealing with the commotion on the outside and is not present to count the pin. Benoit yells at him for this, distracting himself long enough for Austin to hit a Stone Cold Stunner and pin him, seemingly killing any hope the challengers had left of winning the titles. Earl Hebner counts to two, but as his hand comes down to slap the mat a third time, he is yanked HARD by Chris Jericho by the leg, pulling him out of the ring and to the floor in a final act of desperation from the challengers.
Seeing how weakened his partner is, “Y2J” enters the ring and goes for a big Lionsault on Austin, but is met with braced knees to the chest. Austin gets to his feet and goes for the Stunner, but Jericho shoots him off into the ropes and catches him with a big elbow. Jericho attempts another Lionsault, this time a successful one that lands right on the champion’s face. He goes for the pin but HHH, sledgehammer in hand and torn quad and all, enters the ring to nail him with the weapon. Jericho gets out of the way, allowing HHH to hit his own partner in the chest with the sledge instead. Benoit immediately uses what little energy he has left to tackle HHH to the ground and out of the ring. Jericho pins Austin, the ref counts to 3, and the crowd, the commentators, and anyone watching at home explodes as the underdog challengers become the victorious new champions to close out the show, triumphing over the top heel team in the company in doing so.
Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit vs Triple H and Steve Austin – In Conclusion
There is a lot to be said about Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit vs Triple H and Steve Austin and the elements surrounding and inhabiting it. The match itself is a master class in wrestling storytelling, both in buildup and execution. It has easily one of the greatest WWE/F audiences for a match one will find in any time period of the company, let alone Monday Night Raw itself. The commentary is superb between Jim Ross and Paul Heyman, who have excellent chemistry with each other, despite never once detracting from a match. They had a way of bickering that didn’t make either seem weak nor does it feel contrived in any way
Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit vs Triple H and Steve Austin also marks the end of the prime of HHH’s in-ring career, as he never could work at quite the same speed he used to after his first quad tear near the end of the match. Still, he toughed it through and finished the match, a duty that is as admirable as it is ill-advised. All in all, this is absolutely one of the best matches in the show’s history and is well-known for being one of the best endings to a WWE/F television show in the promotion’s history. At less than 20 minutes, it is more than worth the viewer’s time.
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