In honor of the imminent arrival of WrestleMania in just a few short months, I find myself having a bit of a nostalgia kick. WrestleMania is, after all, one of the biggest events of the year for any fan of professional wrestling. Many of us have fond memories of WrestleMania’s past, myself included, especially with all of the history making moments that are etched in the annals of time. While, in my humble opinion, WrestleMania’s silver anniversary was largely forgettable, there is of course one match that blew the collective minds of every single person watching it. Before we discuss this spectacle, I have a quick question…What happens when you throw one of the greatest big stage performers in the ring with a man who has risen above having what was widely considered a dead end gimmick to become one of the most popular, beloved, and gifted performers of all time? The answer? WrestleMania 25 and it’s historic clash of Shawn Michaels versus The Undertaker.
The last time that The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels clashed, it ended with Shawn Michaels being both a winner and a loser. At the 1998 edition of WWE’s Royal Rumble event, Shawn Michaels defended what was then his coveted WWE Championship against The Undertaker in a Casket Match. While Michaels ended up victorious, he paid an incredible price in doing so. As most fans will recall, Michaels suffered a back injury that kept him out of the WWE for four years. This Casket Match was the match responsible for said injury. None of that, however, factored into this match-up. There was barely any mention of this until Jim Ross brought it up during the middle of the match. The atmosphere of this match and the electricity surrounding it had nothing to do at all with storytelling. It was a simple match: two of the best performers in the business going at it to see who was better.
Shawn Michaels plays to his strengths, as does The Undertaker. While Taker imposes his physical dominance on the smaller Michaels, HBK utilizes his agility and his in-ring prowess to catch The Undertaker off guard at any and every moment. One of the things that sets this match apart from a lot of Streak matches that Undertaker has had at ‘Mania is the fact that it truly and honestly felt like Shawn Michaels could have ended The Streak at any given moment. A good majority of The Streak matches are lopsided, with Undertaker looking like a wrecking machine, but the two he ended up having with Michaels, as well as the two he ended up having with Triple H really gave him room to shine even though he was not in the driver’s seat. In my opinion, this clash between Michaels and Undertaker is one of the most memorable matches in the history of WrestleMania. I’m not ready to call it a five-star match, because I believe that the follow-up at WrestleMania 26 in Phoenix blows this one out of the water in terms of pure storytelling and emotional investment. I can, however, say nothing but good things about the spectacle that Undertaker and Mr. WrestleMania put on at the silver anniversary. They did so good, in fact, that the crowd was absolutely killed by this match and had nothing left to give to the co-main events for the WWE and World Heavyweight Championship. It’s a shame that WWE decided to structure the card as they did, but that’s a minor detail.
If you’re like me and you want to relive the glory days of WrestleMania and of The Undertaker, you absolutely must see this match. I would go as far as to say that this match is one that any WWE fan should watch if they want to see how amazing the product can be at times. It delivers on an emotional level and as well as a technical level. Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker risked life, limb, and soul on this night to prove who the better man was. As we all know by this point, The Undertaker was able to one-up The Showstopper, setting up a historic clash at the next year’s WrestleMania, which I’ll be covering in my next “The Review Stands Alone”. For both Michaels and Taker, there was but one quote uttered by The Undertaker that can easily sum up this match:
“Sometimes it’s hell…trying to get to heaven”