The first time that The Undertaker and Triple H met inside of a WWE ring was at the 1995 Survivor Series. Coming off of a legitimate orbital fracture and sporting a ghoulish mask, Undertaker didn't get into the eight-man Survivor Series match until late in the contest -- but once he did, he tore through the opposing team in short order. After tombstone piledrivers for Jerry "The King" Lawler and Isaac Yankem (later to be his brother Kane), Undertaker made an immediate impression on the man known at that time as Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
He clutched the future Triple H by the throat, picked him up and over the ropes from the apron and chokeslammed him more than halfway across the ring to get a pinfall.
Thus began a rivalry with countless chapters that's now stretched to almost 23 years and more than 100 matches. On Saturday, in front of a Melbourne Cricket Ground stadium crowd at WWE's Super Show-Down, Triple H and The Undertaker go one-on-one for the final time.
The phrase "never say never" is a common one when referring to unlikely scenarios in the world of professional wrestling, and even this particular match between The Undertaker and Triple H would've seemed unlikely for the better part of the last six years. After their third one-on-one match at WrestleMania -- ominously dubbed "the end of an era" -- Undertaker, Triple H and Shawn Michaels carried each other up the ramp and seemingly into the sunset.
The Undertaker has had only 18 matches in the six-and-a-half years that have followed, almost all of them at major events. Triple H has wrestled 36 times, including a 14th WWE world title reign in 2016. Even though the paths of The Undertaker and Triple H haven't crossed since that "end of an era" match, with each of their careers carrying on to this point, it should come as little surprise that they're meeting again. Through multiple eras, dramatic character changes, major factions, alliances and battles, Triple H and The Undertaker were always seemingly destined to end up standing in front of one another.
No matter how much some fans might complain about four guys in their late 40s and early 50s getting the biggest moment in the lead-up to Super Show-Down, as Triple H, Undertaker, Michaels and Kane did to close out Raw this past Monday, that happened for a reason. WWE plays upon nostalgia whenever it sees that type of opportunity present itself, and the reaction inside of Seattle's Key Arena when The Undertaker and Kane delivered chokeslams and tombstone piledrivers to their old rivals speaks volumes.
One need only to take the briefest of looks back at their collective history to see what the excitement was all about. There was the first televised match between Triple H and The Undertaker, which quite literally took place inside of Penn Station in New York and ended when The Undertaker tombstoned Triple H on top of an escalator and let Triple H's lifeless body slide slowly down the stairs. They battled for almost every WWE title imaginable and briefly joined forces at various points in their careers, as they did as part of the "Corporate Ministry" supergroup.
Whether it took them days, weeks or even years to get back to fighting one another, it always seemed like an inevitability -- and every time The Undertaker and Triple H went to war, it felt like a big deal. From WrestleMania X7, when The Undertaker chokeslammed Triple H from a scaffolding, to one of their signature battles over the WWE Undisputed championship at King of the Ring 2002. Then there were the back-to-back WrestleMania matches, which have largely overshadowed much of what came before in their rivalry, because of the stakes and execution each time out.
In 2011, at WrestleMania XXVII, Triple H looked to do what Shawn Michaels couldn't in back-to-back efforts that eventually lost Michaels his WWE career, in a no-disqualification match against The Undertaker. In a no-holds-barred contest that carried on for almost 30 minutes, fans in attendance seemed convinced that Triple H could end Undertaker's heralded undefeated streak. It didn't happen, and so Triple H tried to stack everything in his favor the following year in the rematch. Despite the match happening in Hell in a Cell, despite Shawn Michaels as the special guest referee and despite a variety of weapons, Undertaker pulled off the impossible and put together one of the biggest performances of his career for the fourth straight year at WrestleMania.
Another one-on-one match would've been unthinkable at that moment, seemed even less likely after The Undertaker lost his undefeated streak to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 30 and essentially impossible once Undertaker laid down his gear in the middle of the ring following his match with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33.
But as is often the case in the world of WWE, it's best to remember "never say never." A couple of productive surgeries, the right venue, the right circumstances, and all of a sudden the stars align for one final high-profile showdown. With Michaels, more than eight years retired from in-ring action, and Kane, now the mayor of Knox County, Tennessee, in their respective allies' corners, the scenario seems preordained. And if rumors of Michaels coming out of his steadfast retirement for a tag-team match between these four men have any legs, the scenario becomes yet more ridiculous.
It's easy to be a cynical fan in the modern era of WWE. "Once in a lifetime" between The Rock and John Cena quickly becomes twice in a lifetime when dollar signs come into play. A heartfelt retirement for Ric Flair feels cheapened once he decides to get back into the ring with another company. On-screen hires and firings get dropped at the first change in creative direction without even the most cursory explanation, and rivalries and matches and characters are recycled and squeezed until there's no value left. If there's one certainty throughout the history of pro wrestling, it's that the end is never really the end and every certainty is malleable.
But when you look at this final one-on-one match between The Undertaker and Triple H in Melbourne, somehow that cynicism seems to melt away. They've earned one last ride into the sunset, even if there's a tag-team match to follow, and if the past is any indication, the rest of what looks like one of the most stacked cards of the year thus far better watch out for what these legends will do in the ring.
They may well steal the show one final time.