BY RAJ NATION
If you’re familiar at all with Poor Scholars then you’re aware that we have some wrestling fans on the staff. In this week’s edition of the the Poor Scholars WWE Retro Vid of the Week, Poor Scholars’ Raj Nation breaks down a classic match between Shawn Michaels and Undertaker from Wrestlemania 25.
With Wrestlemania less than two weeks away, it’s only right that WWE Retro Video of the Week reflects on a Wrestlemania moment. Not just any Wrestlemania moment, perhaps the best Wrestlemania moment: Undertaker vs. HBK I.
(Yes, I’m fully aware that this now makes three ‘Retro Video’ columns that have, in one way or another, involved Undertaker. It’s Wrestlemania season, and he has another Streak match to live up to, so it’s only appropriate.)
The first iteration of ‘Taker versus Shawn Michaels is, in my opinion, the single greatest one-on-one match in WWE history. There are typically three key ingredients in determining the success of a match: A captivating storyline, an electric crowd, and wrestlers who not only work well in the ring together, but also know how to perform.
Let’s face it; no one is a better performer than Shawn Michaels, especially when it comes to The Showcase of the Immortals. Pair him with The Phenom, who needs no introduction (although his introduction is incredible), and you have something special. It was Mr. Wrestlemania against a legacy of winning at Wrestlemania. It was, in my estimation, an example of the elusive ‘perfect match’.
The storyline behind why this match happened was actually a little pointless. HBK came out on an episode of RAW and declared that the one thing he hasn’t accomplished in his career is facing Undertaker at Wrestlemania. So on that basis alone, he got his match with the Deadman. The “why is this match happening” question didn’t have too compelling of an answer on paper, but because these two know how to perform it became the most compelling story of Wrestlemania 25.
The saga that played out on RAW over the next two months was creative genius. They pitted it as a battle of good versus evil, lightness versus darkness, the angel versus the devil. On one episode, Michaels did his own rendition of Undertaker’s entrance with white druids, white smoke, and a white trenchcoat (if only Undertaker mocked Michaels’ “Sexy Boy” entrance in return…now THAT would have been epic). On the RAW before Wrestlemania, Michaels held a funeral for Undertaker’s undefeated streak, and if you’re keeping score at home, that’s Undertaker’s original entrance music — the one featured on the old Funeral Parlor segments — that he used. When the lights went out and Undertaker appeared, conventional wisdom said Michaels was hiding in the casket. Much to everyone’s surprise, Michaels popped out from underneath the casket and Superkicked ‘Taker.
The head games that HBK played, the numerous failed Chokeslam attempts, and the overall back-and-forth that made a very frustrated Undertaker in turn created the perfect storm at Wrestlemania 25.
The 70,000+ fans in Dallas lived and died with every move. There were kickouts and counters, more kickouts and more counters. At one point, it seemed like Michaels would win by countout but Undertaker managed to roll back into the ring at 9 ½ seconds. This came after he performed his signature dive over the top rope but landed on his head while colliding with the cameraman. Amidst the flying elbow drops, tombstones, Sweet Chin Musics, and chokeslams, the epic entrances where Michaels descended ‘from heaven’ and Undertaker emerged ‘from hell’, and Jim Ross exclaiming, “OH MY GOD! The resilience and the will of Shawn Michaels is UNBELIEVABLE!….I just had an out of body experience!…GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY the match continues,” everyone in attendance and watching on TV knew they were witness to something special. In the end, it was Undertaker catching Michaels in a mid-air moonsault and converting it into a tombstone to win the match.
Wrestling fans know that “The Streak” is one of those things that WWE protects and plans to preserve every year. The challenge then becomes making it believable that Undertaker will actually lose. With the knowledge that Undertaker wouldn’t lose in the back of everyone’s mind, him and Shawn Michaels composed an in-ring symphony of performance and 100% sold the idea that Michaels could win the match. I remember watching with some of the other Poor Scholars staff and when it was over all I could say was, “Wow.” I can only imagine when Michaels and Undertaker went backstage that they pumped their fists and said, “We just nailed that.”
It was the perfect match.