Mr McMahon beckons to the stage. The Rock lays flat on the canvas, as the figure of WWF Champion Triple H looms large over him. At McMahon’s behest, “The Stooges” pairing of Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco jog smugly down the aisle. They’re wearing referee shirts. There’s no way this ends well for The Rock. Where is he?
This wasn’t supposed to happen, The Rock was supposed to have back up but he’s still not here. Vince McMahon’s bogus officials are putting the boots to “The Great One”. They’re holding him up as a ritual sacrifice so Triple H can lay into him with right hands. The fans are chanting, begging for him. McMahon topples The Rock with a chair, the chants fall silent. Maybe he isn’t coming. Triple H lifts the limp body of his opponent up, in the familiar stance of the Pedigree. The sound of glass breaking…
With WWE WrestleMania Backlash coming up this weekend, now feels like the perfect time to remember perhaps the pinnacle of the pay-per-view’s lineage. Even before the algorithm-friendly prefix was added, Backlash has routinely been the place where post-WrestleMania scores were settled. The 2000 edition was no different. Triple H had emerged from that year’s event as the first heel to leave the “Showcase Of The Immortals” with the WWF Championship. Mr McMahon turned heel on The Rock, handing “The Game” a victory in a Fatal Four Way that also featured Big Show and Mick Foley. The Rock’s chance at redemption would come in a one-on-one match against Triple H at Backlash.
While the Wrestlemania four-way was sold on the idea of “A McMahon In Every Corner”, three members of wrestling’s first family had since mobilised behind the champion. Vince and Shane joined with Stephanie to buttress the rampant reign of the McMahon-Helmsley Era. The one dissident within the family ranks, Vince’s wife Linda, would offer The Rock a lifeline just when the odds looked too great to overcome.
On the same iconic 17th April Raw as Chris Jericho’s phantom WWF title win, Linda announced that Stone Cold Steve Austin would be in The Rock’s corner for his clash with the Cerebral Assassin. “The Rattlesnake” had not been seen on-screen since Survivor Series the previous November. With the Texan’s well-documented neck issues requiring surgery, he was written off television when he was run down by a mystery driver in the arena parking lot. Cut down in the absolute prime of his Attitude Era majesty, fans were desperate for Austin to return, as reflected by the rapturous reception to Linda McMahon’s announcement.
Stone Cold would pay SmackDown a visit in the build-up, memorably destroying the DX bus backstage. He was keen to point out that he was on neither The Rock nor Triple H’s side, and was out only for himself, which cast a slight doubt on his intentions at the pay-per-view. On the night, the uncertainty around Austin grew when commentator Jim Ross explained the former WWF Champion was having “travel issues”, and had not yet arrived as the main event was set to begin. Mr McMahon came out and cut one of the typically brilliant promos that were his hallmark in the late 90s.
He disingenuously expressed regret that Austin could not appear and reminded fans that the event programme had a “Card Subject To Change” message printed inside. Shane McMahon was in situ as guest referee, Vince was joined at ringside by his daughter Stephanie. The odds could not have been more weighted against the interests of the “Brahma Bull.”
Triple H established early control of the match, wearing the challenger down with suplexes, chinlocks, as well as liberal interference from Mr McMahon. The future Hollywood A-lister would periodically battle back, a flurry of rights here, a clothesline there. But inevitably he would get struck down again by nefarious means by his opponent’s entourage. The crowd would be brought to it’s feet when Rock hit a desperation DDT and covered “The Game”. The younger McMahon refused to count the fall and was knocked down for his troubles. The action would spill out to the announce tables, in classic Attitude Era main event fashion. The superstars brawled on top of the fabled Spanish announce desk, with Rock gaining the advantage and lining up a Rock Bottom. When Shane tried to intervene, “The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment” so it as a two-for-one opportunity and simply stacked him on top of Triple H before hitting the move. With the guest referee waylaid, and Triple H vulnerable, the elder McMahon’s intervention would bring us to the scene described in our opening. Then the glass broke.
The pandemonium that greets Stone Cold Steve Austin’s music hitting has almost no comparison in professional wrestling history. A Road Warrior pop multiplied by ten. A truly deafening reaction from the 19,000 strong crowd at Washington’s MCI Center. When their hero storms out, it never lets up. Austin’s every motion is met with the crowd redoubling their efforts to bring the roof off the arena. Triple H runs down the aisle and is blasted with a steel chair. Patterson and Briscoe are met with the same treatment, before Austin finally reaches the ring. The stage where he has showcased his talents in front of bigger weekly television audiences than any wrestler before him.
Austin steps through the ropes for the first time in six months and brains Shane with the chair. Vince fares no better, as steel meets skull. Triple H tries to initiate round two, and leaves the same way he came courtesy of Steve Austin’s steel equaliser. Austin turns around and leaves, only stopping to nod to Linda McMahon as she walks down the aisle with referee Earl Hebner in tow. In under two minutes, Stone Cold Steve Austin has made you remember who the hell he is. In under two minutes, Stone Cold Steve Austin has made history. And that’s the bottom line.
The Rock would keep the crowd at fever pitch with a spinebuster and a People’s Elbow, before Hebner made the three count and confirmed the new champion. After the cold reception to WrestleMania 2000’s main event, Backlash had delivered the perfect marquee attraction for fans to savour.
The event would kick off the final 12 months of the beloved Attitude Era. The Rock, Triple H and Austin would all clash again multiple times over the ensuing year, as wrestling rode a wave of peak popularity it has never returned to since. Austin would give up on the company in 2002, before returning shortly before his body gave up on him in 2003. The Rock was on the cusp of his film debut, the first step on a road that would take him to the top of the box office charts. Triple H enjoyed a legendary ring career, while life would imitate art when he married Stephanie McMahon, and took his place as a WWE management fixture with his own brand, NXT. While WrestleMania 17 the following year is seen as the symbolic end of the Attitude Era, Backlash 2000 was a wonderful example of the stars aligning to provide one of the era’s enduring moments.