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December 15, 2002

Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels in a Three Stages of Hell Match for the World Heavyweight Championship

Years after D-Generation X went their separate ways -- and years before Shawn Michaels and Triple H reformed DX -- two former friends collided in an unprecedented Three Stages of Hell Match at Armageddon 2002.

To kick off this uniquely brutal triathlon, HBK and Triple H faced off in a Street Fight where they battered each other with a garbage can, steel chair and anything else they could get their hands on. Enduring the exchange of ringside artillery, the Cerebral Assassin blocked Michaels' attempt to land Sweet Chin Music and worked the knee of his opponent into a Figure Four Leglock.

Barely escaping the punishing hold, HBK took the battle up the entranceway where Triple H would ignite a barbed wire two-by-four. Michaels avoided a swing with the torched weapon from Triple H with a kick to The Game's midsection and then blasted Triple H with his own weapon. The fight returned to the ring where Michaels maintained the advantage until his weakened knee gave out, allowing Triple H to capitalize and land a Pedigree for the first fall.

With this pinfall, the second stage of Hell commenced with an unforgiving steel cage. Both men were already wounded, but they continued to paint the canvas red by tossing one another into the steel structure repeatedly. They fought toe-to-toe for several moments and then HBK landed a tumultuous flying elbow drop off the top rope. As Michaels regained the advantage, The Game's associate Ric Flair came to ringside despite being banned earlier in the match by the official. Flair not only set up two stacks of tables in the aisle, but also entered the cage itself for firsthand physical involvement.

Flair entered the ring with a chair and targeted Michaels who intercepted the blow and laid out the "Nature Boy" with Sweet Chin Music. Michaels then set up the Cerebral Assassin atop a table and propelled himself from the top of the cage through both the table and Triple H. With his opponent motionless and nearly broken in half, HBK covered The Game and scored the second fall.

WWE officials flooded the ring and assisted the damaged Flair to the locker room area and the two match combatants prepared for the final stage of their hellacious night: a Ladder Match. With the World Heavyweight Championship suspended above the ring, the champion wasted no time in continuing the assault on Triple H -- now, using the ladder itself.

Arguably the one Superstar known to have innovated sports-entertainment for his performances in Ladder Matches, the Showstopper suplexed his opponent on top of the ladder and prepared for a high-risk splash that proved to be unsuccessful. Michaels crashed and burned and The Game executed a dastardly Pedigree and scaled the ladder towards the gold.

Before Triple H could take possession of the title, Michaels managed to get to his feet and toss his nemesis off the ladder. He then sent the Cerebral Assassin to the outside with Sweet Chin Music and began his own ascent towards his championship.

Somehow, Triple H got back in the ring and charged towards the ladder Michaels was perched atop. The Game tipped the ladder and forced HBK over the top ropes through the tables set up by Flair earlier on the outside. As Michaels disappeared in the wreckage and wood shrapnel of the tables, Triple H made his way up the rungs to snare and reclaim the World Heavyweight Championship.

Triple H would go on to hold the championship for more than nine months, defending it against the likes of Kane, Rob Van Dam, Booker T and others in his longest reign to date. As time would tell, his path would cross with the Showstopper years later in a less adversarial role in the reunited D-Generation X.

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