Monday, February 26, 2018

Top Ten Things: Shawn Michaels WrestleMania Matches

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  And welcome to yet another episode of my barely coherent ramblings about the phenomenon known as WrestleMania.  Today I'm talking about the ten greatest 'Mania appearances by my all-time favorite wrestler, The Heartbreak Kid himself, Shawn Michaels.

Several years ago people started referring to Shawn Michaels as "Mr. WrestleMania," and one doesn't need to look very hard to see why.  In terms of consistently delivering show stealing performances on the WWE's biggest stage, Shawn has no equal.  From 1994-1998, and again from 2003-2010, Michaels' WrestleMania match was generally considered either the best or second-best match on the show, and during those same years his 'Mania match won Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Match of the Year a staggering NINE times (plus he had two non-WrestleMania winners).

Look, I don't need to prattle on about what an incredible pro wrestler Michaels was, so let's just get to the list.  Here now are my ten picks for Shawn's greatest WrestleMania matches.

10. Diesel vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania XI

What should have been main event of 'Mania 11 was also the only worthy match on the card, as former friends Diesel and Shawn Michaels battled for the WWF Title.  Diesel's abrupt main event push was the WWF's attempt to recreate the success of Hulk Hogan.  Sadly Kevin Nash had nowhere near the overwhelming fan support Hogan did, and the Hartford crowd actually ended up cheering the breathtaking athletic abilities of Shawn Michaels, despite his being the heel.  Even in losing the match, Shawn positioned himself as the next main event babyface and the most popular guy in the company.

9. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania 23

Originally slated to be a Cena-Triple H rematch from WM22, this bout was the substitute after Hunter suffered another quad tear.  And as it turned out this match vastly outperformed its predecessor; John Cena and HBK delivered a fantastic main event for the WWE Title that cemented Cena as the face of the company.  Shawn made him look incredibly strong and helped him rise above the "You can't wrestle" chants he had so long inspired.  For me this was the match where Cena turned the corner to become an accomplished worker who could consistently perform in a big match situation.  The 55-minute RAW rematch got much more attention at the time, but I prefer this bout.

8. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair - WrestleMania XXIV

Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair was one of the most emotional matches I've ever seen.  Michaels obviously deserves a lot of the credit for making this match great, as he bumped around like crazy, per usual.  But Flair's storytelling was also off the charts and he emoted wonderfully, making the audience really care about his career-ending journey.  The final seconds of the match when Flair tearfully begged Shawn to hit the superkick, followed by the sorrow on Shawn's face, made for one of the most memorable of all 'Mania moments.  I given Flair's age at this point I had low expectations going into this, but two of the all-time greats stole the show with this memorable bit of storytelling.

7. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania XII

The centerpiece of 'Mania 12 was a true mat wrestling showcase between the two biggest WWF stars (and coincidentally best workers) of the era, who squared off in the first televised WWF Iron Man match.  For a full 60 minutes these two put on a wrestling extravaganza that displayed every facet of their respective games.  And like an evenly-contested hockey playoff game, the final score was 0-0 when time expired, prompting WWF President Gorilla Monsoon to order a sudden death overtime, in which Michaels finally captured the WWF Title after two additional minutes.  This Iron Man match was definitely not for everyone, but few WrestleMania main events have felt quite so epic.

6. Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania 25

In 2009 WWE's product was stagnant as ever, with the same five or so guys having been featured at the top of the card for a good three or four years straight.  WrestleMania 25's lineup featured all the usual faces in prime spots and very few young stars, and I was frankly burned out on the Cenas, Ortons, Triple Hs, and Edges of the world.  I honestly didn't get caught up in the build for this match either - two 45-year-olds reigniting a few from eleven years earlier?  No thanks, man.  Of course I was wholly incorrect, as these two legends wove together an absolute 30-minute masterpiece, showing us all how it's done.  A prototypical WWE "main event," this match featured loads of reversals, finisher kickouts, and some crazy outside-the-ring dives (one of which looked like it killed Taker dead).  This match ended up being one for the ages.

5. Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania XXVI

For the second straight year the match that overshadowed the rest of the WrestleMania card was The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels.  The angle leading to this match was brilliant, with Shawn wanting redemption for 'Mania 25 and Taker refusing to oblige.  Shawn then banked on winning the Royal Rumble so he could challenge then-World Champion Taker at WrestleMania, only to come up short that January.  Instead Shawn crashed Taker's Elimination Chamber Title defense, costing Taker the belt and drawing the wrath of The Dead Man.  Taker accepted Shawn's challenge on the condition that Shawn would retire if he lost, and the greatest WrestleMania rematch of all-time was signed.  In another case of my underestimating both men, I figured they could never top the 'Mania 25 match and therefore was less than enthused about the idea (again).  Once again I was proven wrong, as Taker-HBK II in my opinion (yes, I know I'm in the minority) surpassed their previous encounter in a streamlined, drama- and action-packed 24-minute opus that echoed not only Taker-HBK I, but Flair-HBK from 2008.  Shawn's defiant throat-slash gesture at the end of the match followed by Taker's enraged Tombstone rebuttal was an all-time classic moment.

4. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho - WrestleMania XIX

If Angle-Lesnar was the best match of 'Mania 19, Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho was #1A.  In a classic student vs. teacher-type bout, Shawn proved himself just as good as before he walked away from the ring in 1998, and Jericho proved himself just as good as Michaels (no small feat by any stretch).  This was a dazzling mix of aerial wrestling, mat technique, and plain ol' drama.  Personally I think Jericho should've won, but his kick to Shawn's junk after the match was a great exclamation point on a fantastic bout that really began the rebirth of Shawn's incredible career.  It was at this point that he realized he could still do this on a somewhat full-time basis, and the second half of his career arguably outshined the first.

3. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania X

The Ladder Match - Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon for the undisputed Intercontinental Title.  An entire subgenre of professional wrestling was born during these 19 minutes.  Shawn and Razor began with an excellently worked traditional match, and at about the halfway point took stunt wrestling to a whole new place.  The spots here may seem tame to us now, but at the time this match was the goddamnedest thing I had ever seen.  Between Shawn's top-of-the-ladder splash, Razor suplexing Shawn off the top, Shawn jumping on the ladder and riding it down across Razor's body, HBK and Razor (and apparently Bret Hart as well) created the prototype for the Ladder Match, and basically every such match since owes it a debt.  In terms of defining the Spotfest, this might be the most important single match of the 1990s.

2. Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle - WrestleMania 21

WrestleMania 21 was all about building the next class of WWE headliners, as Dave Batista and John Cena were positioned to shine.  But for diehard wrestling fans like me the main event of this PPV was the interbrand challenge between Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle.  Despite never having wrestled each other before, these two put on a breathtaking 25-minute classic that ranks high on the all-time 'Mania list.  Shawn played the charismatic daredevil as usual, while Angle was the grizzled mat technician.  In dramatic fashion Angle forced a rare Shawn Michaels tapout with the anklelock, kicking off easily the best feud of 2005.

1. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit - WrestleMania XX

Probably my favorite wrestling match of all time.  Certainly my favorite WrestleMania match.  This was the first Triple Threat main event in WrestleMania history, and it's an example of a perfectly worked match, where all three guys executed their roles flawlessly.  There was brutal, hard-hitting action, high spots, drama, submission wrestling, and two sick-looking bladejobs.  Somehow these three took the usual triple threat format (one guy takes a powder while the other two fight) and made it feel fresh, organic, and unpredictable.  The match was full of false endings, as one man would have another on the cusp of defeat only for the third to appear out of nowhere to break up the pin/submission.  The climactic final moments built to one of the most suspenseful tapouts in history, as the crowd favorite Benoit finally made Triple H submit in the center of the ring to become the World Champion.  In spite of Benoit's final days, this match still resonates as an in-ring master class from all three participants.

That's all I got for this installment - thanks for reading, comment below, and don't forget to join us on Facebook and Google+....

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