"My mentors had always told me that it didn’t matter if you won or lost, only that you put on a great match." - Shawn Michaels, Heartbreak & Triumph
WrestleMania XXV: A Phenom-enal Showstopper
High expectations often breed disappointment. It is a natural human tendency to idealize a concept and despise the actuality because it cannot possibly live up to the lofty fantasies dancing like sugar plum fairies in the best of dreams.
From the moment that World Wrestling Entertainment announced a WrestleMania event between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, the anticipation was off the charts. Early predictions guaranteed the match of the night, and projected the match of the year.
Shawn Michaels has set a precedent unmatched by any other star in wrestling history. Throughout each year, his creativity and excellent performances have earned unabashed praise and a reputation for being the best big match worker to ever step foot in a wrestling ring.
WrestleMania is where The Heartbreak Kid shines with an electrifying light.
The Undertaker has finally earned well deserved recognition in recent years as one of the premiere wrestlers in the world. His gimmick has always been untouchable and, in this decade, he has given his all in amazing matches.
WrestleMania is where The Deadman emphasizes his irreplaceable mystique.
Above all, WrestleMania is supposed to be about pageantry, excellent stories, and exceptional wrestling.
What was going to happen when these two genuine icons of professional wrestling clashed on the Grandest Stage of Them All?
The Phenom and The Showstopper surpassed all expectations and delivered one of, if not the, greatest matches in WrestleMania history.
Technical mastery intertwined with exceptional artistry as the phrase “instant classic” was redefined at the Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas on April 5, 2009.
One of the primary criteria in the analysis of an Undertaker match at WrestleMania is whether or not his opponent can persuade the audience that the Streak will come to an end. If his opponent cannot attain this objective, the match fails on a fundamental level.
In the hearts and minds of fans all over the world, it is clearly understood that the Streak will not end. That certainty must be set aside in order to properly evaluate the match.
Last year, Edge succeeded in manipulating the audience into believing that he just might eke out a win against the undefeated Phenom. Would the man known as Mr. WrestleMania be able to accomplish the same?
Listening to the responses of 72,744 fans at the Reliant Stadium to over 30 minutes of spectacular action, the answer is definitively in the affirmative.
The story began weeks prior to WrestleMania, as Shawn Michaels brought to an end the singles’ competition undefeated streak of Vladimir Kozlov.
Subsequent weeks, on both the flagship RAW and Friday Night Smackdown!, saw elaborate promos and interactions that suggested that the mind games typically played by The Undertaker were being used with ruthless efficiency against him. The line was firmly drawn in the sand.
The Undertaker may have been responsible for the four and half year forced absence of The Heartbreak Kid, but Michaels harbored no fear as he stood in the encompassing, abyssal night that is the playground of The Deadman.
While the entrance of The Undertaker is always a sight to behold, Michaels tends to enter the arena with buoyant energy. At WrestleMania XXV, the two men displayed a classic example of pageantry.
Michaels descended as if from the Heavens, attired in pristine white, before a curtain of stars allowed him to reveal the quintessential Heartbreak Kid entrance. In contrast, The Undertaker rose from the depths to strike fear in the heart of his opponent.
Yet, no sign of trepidation crossed the stoic features of The Showstopper.
Before the bell even rang to signal the start of the match, these two men spun the threads of the story that would be told throughout the match. And those threads were made of pure gold.
The opening moments of the match did not see a standard lock up. Instead, The Undertaker came out swinging and Michaels nimbly dodged out of the way, landing decisive knife edge chops. Michaels proclaimed with each evasion that he had his opponent’s number.
Both men displayed stunning technical acumen; a dance of offensive strikes, counters, and reversals.
Early in the match, Michaels displayed a continuity that seems sadly lacking in the world of wrestling today. Harkening back to his feud with Batista after the previous WrestleMania, the enterprising Heartbreak Kid appeared to injure his left knee, causing the referee to make an attempt to hold The Undertaker back.
The Undertaker stepped around the referee, only to be caught by an agile Lou Thesz press. Michaels was not injured after all.
“I will do whatever it takes to win. If that meant sacrificing my body, I did it. If it meant throwing myself through a table, I did it. And yeah, if it meant taking a shortcut, I took it.” - Shawn Michaels to Batista on the 4/11/2008 edition of Smackdown
Michaels showed that sentiment again at WrestleMania XXV, first when he used the potential injury card and a bit later when he pleaded with the referee to count out the prone Deadman. When those tactics didn’t work, he reverted to his old stand-by – sacrificing his body.
Every trick in his impressive arsenal made an appearance in this match. From moves like the flying forearm and picture perfect diving elbow drop, to recently added favorites such as the Inverted Figure Four Leglock and the Arm Trap Crossface, Michaels flew around the ring, utilizing his agility and athleticism.
The story was not just about Michaels, however. It is widely known that The Undertaker is rarely caught in a submission maneuver. True to form, he fought tooth and nail against any attempt.
Sensing the onslaught of the Inverted Figure Four, The Undertaker did not succumb to the work on his legs. Rather, he continued to resist until Michaels was forced to evade the long reach of his arms and land a few extra stomps to the midsection before locking in the submission in the center of the ring.
As Michaels countered the Chokeslam attempt into a Crossface, The Undertaker turned his body so that he was on his side and not on his stomach. Michaels had a fight on his hands just to get the move into the proper position.
Don’t be fooled; both instances were quite deliberate. It fit the story being told expertly in the ring. It was a story of a determination to end the Streak from one man, and equal dedication to preserving his legacy from the other man.
Michaels kicked out of every signature move attributed to The Undertaker. Numerous Chokeslams, a Last Ride, and a Tombstone Piledriver were not enough for the three-count. In a startling development, he escaped the deadly Hell's Gate.
The seed of doubt was alive and well.
Exciting counters, reversals, and near-falls whipped the crowd into an electrifying frenzy. The pace of the match was perfect from start to finish.
It began with Michaels in control, quick and precise. The Undertaker caught his hand, slowing the tempo with deadly deliberation.
As the match strode boldly forward, the emotions conveyed were of frustration and desperation on the part of both participants.
There will never be a more perfect expression than incredulity of The Undertaker after Michaels kicked out of the Tombstone Piledriver, complete with crossed arms and the signature descent of the tongue.
There will never be a more perfect response to Sweet Chin Music failing to end the match, as Michaels stomped his foot against the canvas and kipped up, snarling his determination.
The rhythm of the match built to a sweet crescendo, cementing The Phenom and The Showstopper as the true maestros of the squared circle.
In watching the match a second and third time, something stood out to concretely prove that Michaels and The Undertaker had manipulated the crowd into believing that the Streak was going to come to an end.
When Michaels kicked out of the first Tombstone Piledriver, the fans behind the ring wore expressions of utter disbelief. As The Undertaker laid perfectly still after Sweet Chin Music found its mark, both times fans could be seen screaming “No!” as other members of the crowd stared dumbfounded at the scene on the canvas.
Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker succeeded in convincing the crowd that on one night, this night, The Streak was in true jeopardy.
Make no mistake. Such a beautiful match required two great performers, much like Savage versus Steamboat and Ric Flair versus Sting before it. This match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker had delicious anticipation and rich history in its build.
The result was nearly 31 minutes of breathtaking action, spectacular ring psychology, and an artful tapestry. It was a story woven in threads of gold, and it created a magical match, truly worthy of The Grandest Stage of Them All.
In the end, The Undertaker preserved his legacy as the Streak remained unbroken.
In the end, Shawn Michaels proved why “Mr. WrestleMania” is not simply a pretty moniker and is, indeed, an accurate representation of his career.
In the end, it is the fans that received a truly special gift.
Years later, decades in the future, this match will be the beacon, the standard by which the artistry of professional wrestling is judged.
The verdict? A Phenom-enal Showstopper by two of the greatest performers ever to grace a wrestling ring.