By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels
Streak vs Career Match
The fact that Shawn Michaels managed to return from the severity of the back injury he suffered at the hands of the Undertaker (via the edge of a casket) in 1998 was nothing short of a miracle. To then continue for another eight years, with a more focused nature and generous approach to his opponents seeing some of the best matches of his career, was beyond the predictions of even the canniest of wrestling analysts. However, there always has to be a time to realise when your moment has come and to step away from the limelight.
Having come the closest of anyone to halting the Undertaker’s streak the previous year, the rematch felt somewhat justifiable, even if it did smack of an inability to elevate new talents into a position where they could feasibly defeat the Deadman. With the added stipulation that Michaels would retire if he lost, the tension was ramped up even higher. Were we going to see the end of the Streak or the end of an iconic career at the pay per view where he had often stolen the show?
The fight was on as soon as both men stood face to face and Michaels utilised ‘Taker’s thumb across the throat taunt. Visibly annoyed by this insolence, the Undertaker flew out of the blocks, smashing Michaels with snake eyes, a big boot and Old School. The last move seemed to aggravate Taker’s knee, an area that Michaels began to target in an attempt to halt Undertaker’s impressive opening. A half-hearted Sweet Chin Music attempt served to highlight that Michaels was potentially dangerous from anywhere; the Deadman was quick to move out of the way.
An apron legdrop appeared to injure the Undertaker more than Michaels, which the Heartbreak Kid capitalised on with a figure four leglock – more as a weardown hold than a genuine submission attempt. Just as it felt the momentum was shifting, a flying forearm followed by a HBK nip-up saw him jump straight into the arms of a chokeslam for the first two count of the contest. The leg was an area of weakness that was always there to be targeted, with Michaels manoeuvring his way out of a tombstone attempt and slapping on an ankle lock. Two unceremonious boots to the face rather forced HBK to break the hold.
It was always going to be a case of how far each man was willing to push themselves to get the victory with the stakes this high. An attempted springboard splash to the outside by Michaels was a high-risk move too far, the Undertaker catching him and planting him with a tombstone on the ringside floor! Knocking over officials to get to Michaels, the Undertaker would throw him into the ring, but the wasted time gave Michaels enough time to regroup and kick out at two.
As became the norm in Undertaker Wrestlemania matches, this was never going to be the last finisher used before the contest was over. An attempted Last Ride from Taker would be reversed nto a face buster for two, with a cradle out of the Hell’s Gate getting Michaels another two count. Each man would then trade a Sweet Chin Music and a Last Ride for nearfalls, neither man ready to give up his prized possession just yet.
With potentially minutes of his career left, Michaels put it all on the line with a moonsault through the announce table after a Sweet Chin Music, with another Sweet Chin Music in ring to seemingly end the Streak…only for the Undertaker to kick out at two. The fans in attendance bought that finish, though not nearly as much as the following Tombstone with visible shock at Michael’s ability to kick out. He didn’t last much longer. Out on his feet, Michaels would once again taunt Taker before smacking him hard across the face. Not messing around anymore, the Undertaker would drill Michaels with a jumping Tombstone to get the three count and end Michael’s illustrious career.
Though the cynical could complain about the finisher spam nature of the final stretch, but it helped to sell the importance of both the Streak to the Undertaker and a career in wrestling to Michaels. Arguably, Michaels’ decision (so far) to stay retired has allowed this memory to retain its perfect pristineness in a way that other emotional retirements haven’t necessarily retained. He went out on his shield; the way every good wrestler should do.