When Triple H captured his first WWE Championship 20 years Friday on Raw, it's safe to say no one expected the greatness he would achieve.
Before becoming the household name he is today, Triple H had an impressive first four years in WWE. His first WrestleMania match was against The Ultimate Warrior in 1996, and the following year, he won the King of the Ring tournament.
The King of Kings spent time in the Intercontinental Championship picture and as the leader of D-Generation X before finally working his way up to WWE Championship contention in the summer of 1999. He defeated Mankind one night removed from SummerSlam that August to clinch the prestigious prize for the first time.
The match in which he originally won the WWE Championship was far from an instant classic, but by that point, Triple H had already competed in a handful of quality contests. His series of matches with Mankind in 1997 solidified him as a star, while his outing against The Rock at SummerSlam 1998 will be forever remembered by fans as an all-time great ladder matchup.
Triple H wrestled a significantly different style early on in his career and seemed to jell with virtually everyone he stepped into the squared circle with. He focused a lot less on brawling and much more on being a methodical technician.
It was fairly evident in his matches back then, especially when the story was just right and he was working with the perfect opponent. Even with so many exceptional wrestlers entering the company in 2000, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Triple H was WWE's most valuable performer that year.
After successfully retaining the WWE Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 2000, Triple H went on to wage war with everyone from The Rock and Kurt Angle to Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. Not only were all of their encounters excellent, but he also helped to elevate every one of them regardless of whether he won.
His epic feuds with Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker in the first few months of 2001 featured some of his best in-ring work ever. His hot streak unfortunately came to end once he suffered a quadriceps injury that sidelined him for eight months.
Upon his return to the ring, he wasn't the same competitor he was before. The next three years of his career as the top heel on Raw, which consisted of him having boring matches as world heavyweight champion, is unfortunately the period fans point to when arguing he's overrated.
Truth be told, Triple H's reign of terror as world heavyweight champion didn't do Raw or its roster any favors. Heavily hyped pay-per-view matches with Scott Steiner, Goldberg and Rob Van Dam fell well below expectations, not to mention that he held on to the title longer than he should have.
But even during that dull period of his career, he produced his fair share of unexpected gems, including a tremendous Triple Threat at WrestleMania XX with Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit. Lest we forget the wonderful chemistry he had with The Heartbreak Kid that led to many memorable matches between them.
As Triple H's time in the spotlight came to a close in 2005, he put over the up-and-coming Batista three times on pay-per-view, and all of their encounters delivered—especially inside Hell in a Cell. Again, those matchups seem to be left out of the conversation whenever fans call into question his in-ring credentials.
His resume over the past decade and a half hasn't been devoid of remarkable matches. After he and Undertaker exceeded expectations with their back-to-back bouts at WrestleManias XXVII and XXVIII, Triple H made magic with Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX and cemented Bryan's status as a main event player.
Say what you will about his outings against CM Punk, Brock Lesnar, Sting and Roman Reigns not living up to the hype, but those are the minority when looking at overall impact he's had on WWE as a wrestler. He will never be compared to his buddy Shawn Michaels in terms of his talent between the ropes, but he is an icon in his own right.
From becoming a 14-time world champion to winning the Royal Rumble twice, Triple H's long list of accomplishments speaks for itself, and the many unforgettable matches he's had are just another part of his incredible legacy.
Anyone who dares to claim that Triple H is overrated in any sense (specifically in the ring) hasn't been paying attention to the incredible career he's carved out for himself since 1995. Although his matchups aren't what they once were with retirement drawing near, he has managed to stand the test of time and hang with the cream of the crop, even today.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.