This is another one of those wrestling contests that just screams ‘dream match’. It took place almost twenty years ago yet it’s still remembered fondly by most fans, especially those that mainly watch WWE. Some have even said that it stole the show on what is widely considered among the best WrestleManias ever. And now we’re looking back to see if the two wrestlers involved really did put on a classic for the ages.
It’s time to revisit the singles match between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho from WrestleMania XIX.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
In the second half of 2002, Michaels returned to the ring after a four-year absence. He had been all but retired due to injuries, but he came back anyway. At first it was for only one match, but things went so well for him that this return became an entire second leg to his whole career. And, depending on whom you ask, this second run was better than his first. This second run included a short stint as World Heavyweight Champion that only lasted a month. After losing that title so soon, Michaels found himself being mocked and called ‘washed up’ by Jericho. Jericho, who had idolized Michaels and said that Michaels was the one who inspired him to become a wrestler in the first place, went further and threatened to attack Michaels.
But Michaels was one step ahead of Jericho and hit him first with Sweet Chin Music. Jericho got revenge soon afterwards when he eliminated Michaels from the 2003 Royal Rumble match. But Michaels returned soon afterwards despite being eliminated and got Jericho eliminated as well. That in turn setup this big dream match. Two of the best in-ring workers in WWE at the time and to many fans two of the best in-ring performers of all time. But which of them would come out on top on the biggest stage of them all? Would it be the younger, fresher and hungrier rising star Jericho? Or would Michaels pull out another mesmerizing performance and shock the world by winning yet again?
This match originally took place on March 30th, 2003 at WrestleMania XIX. It was rated ****1/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and ****1/2 by TJR’s John Canton. Let’s see how well it holds up almost two decades later.
This is Michaels’ first WrestleMania since 1998. The crowd is overwhelmingly behind Michaels as the match begins. After some quick chain grappling sequences, Michaels poses in the corner, completely unthreatened by Jericho. Michaels does some more technical wrestling and then counters a hiptoss from Jericho into one of his own. More quick reversals and then a stalemate. Michaels takes Jericho to the mat again and this time Michaels blocks the headscissor counter and gets some quick one-count pins. Jericho does the Flair counter into some quick pins of his own but Michaels maintains the grounded headlock. Jericho fights to his feet, elbows out, and shoulder tackles Michaels down. They crisscross until Jericho anticipates a leapfrog, stops early, and bitchslaps Michael’s in the face. Michaels answers with a hard right hand and then throws Jericho to the floor. He teases a plancha to the floor but Jericho avoids it, thinking Michaels landed badly. But Michaels slides back into the ring and hits a running baseball slide dropkick. Then Michaels throws Jericho into the ring and hits a top-rope crossbody. Wait, no, Jericho counters the cover and pins. One, two, Michaels kicks out.
Jericho hits first with a hard right hand and a spinkick. He hits a variety of strikes and then sends Michaels into the corner hard. He chokes Michaels in one corner and then sends him into another corner for a bulldog. But Michaels blocks and Jericho goes into the corner. Michaels capitalizes with a Figure-4 leglock. Jericho rolls over to reverse the hold on Michaels but Michaels unhooks the hold and lands a knee breaker. He tries another Figure-4 but Jericho kicks him into a turnbuckle. Michaels ducks a clothesline but Jericho sends him into the ropes. Michaels skins the cat and headscissors Jericho to the floor. Plancha by Michaels connects. Michaels hits some punches and goes for a dropkick at ringside but Jericho counters. Walls of Jericho submission hold. Jericho lets go and trash-talks the referee in the ring and then smashes Michaels’ back into the steel ringpost. Jericho gloats and gets a mixed reaction from the crowd.
Michaels makes it to the apron but Jericho hits a triangle dropkick to send him back down. Back in the ring, Jericho lands a back suplex and then taunts Michaels by saying, “I’m better than you”. He follows with a heaving vertical suplex and pins for a two-count. Jericho pulls Michaels’ hair for a chinlock and then lands a pendulum backbreaker for another two-count. He applies another chinlock but Michaels fights out, only for Jericho to rake his eyes. Jericho goes for a back body drop but Michaels counters into a huge DDT. Jericho gets up first and despite some punches from Michaels, he lands a flying forearm and kips up just like Michaels does. Then he poses like Michaels but Michaels kips up as well. Michaels hits his own flying forearm/kip-up combo, followed by a Manhattan drop. He follows with a clothesline, a back body drop and a boot to fight out of a corner. Michaels follows with a successful quebrada out of a corner for a two-count. Jericho reverses an Irish whip but Michaels counters into a sunset flip. Jericho kicks out and lands a jackknife cover. Michaels counters into another sunset flip pin for another two-count. Counter. Kick-out. Counter. Walls of Jericho blocked. Jericho elbows out of a German suplex. Michaels counters and goes for his own but ends up eating a northern lights suplex. One, two, Michaels kicks out. Jericho tries a bridging pin but only manages two. Michaels lifts him up and into a backslide attempt. Jericho fights out and hits a clothesline, followed by a bulldog. Then Jericho lands the lionsault but cannot capitalize right away. He covers but Michaels kicks out at 2.5. Then Michaels kicks out again.
Jericho goes for a back body drop but Michaels counters with a kick. He goes for a Frankensteiner but Jericho counters into the Walls. Michaels struggles but makes it to the ropes for a break. Jericho tries reapplying the hold. Michaels counters with a cradle for a two-count. Jericho gets up first and hits a double underhook backbreaker followed by a diving reverse elbow. Then Jericho decides to do some more mockery. He starts tuning up the band…and then connects with Sweet Chin Music. Jericho covers Michaels. One…two…thr – Michaels kicks out. The crowd goes nuts at Michaels kicking out.
Jericho hits some desperation corner strikes but when he sends Michaels into the opposite corner Michaels hits first with a rebound crossbody press and some punches. The two brawl and then Michaels teases the Walls but then catapults Jericho face-first into a turnbuckle. Michaels gets a roll-up but only gets two. Jericho ducks a punch and hits one of his own to Michaels’ lower back. Jericho goes for a super back suplex. Michaels counters with a crossbody press in midair. Michaels goes for a diving elbow drop but Jericho hits the ropes causing Michaels to crotch himself. Jericho feigns innocence and tries for a superplex but Michaels blocks and drops Jericho instead. Diving elbow drop connects.
The crowd erupts as Michaels starts tuning up the band. Sweet Chin Music misses. Jericho ducks it and locks in the Walls again. Michaels crawls to the ropes but this time Jericho pulls him back. But then Michaels tries again and reaches them for a break. Jericho argues with the ref and turns around into a Sweet Chin Music. Michaels damn near takes Jericho’s head off. But Michaels collapses before he can pin. He eventually covers Jericho but Jericho kicks out.
The two struggle to their feet until Michaels hits a corner punch. Jericho reverses a corner whip and Michaels hits it so hard he flips over. Jericho elbows Michaels’ lower back and goes for another back suplex. Michaels lands on his feet behind Jericho and lands a bridging clutch pin. One, two, three! Michaels gets the pin out of nowhere. Michaels pins Jericho!
Winner after 22:34: Shawn Michaels
Post-match, Michaels shows some class and offers a handshake to Jericho. Jericho decides to hug Michaels instead…and then kicks Michaels right in the groin. The crowd boos vociferously as Jericho leaves and Michaels sells that cheap-shot.
This match was great but nothing too exceptional. Both wrestlers lived up to the lofty expectation set on them. Jericho did great as the cocky heel while Michaels excelled as the veteran hero out to prove he didn’t have any ring rust. I don’t it’s some world-beating epic by any stretch, but it’s fine as a throwaway match to turn on randomly and lose yourself in the action for twenty minutes.
The main story was how Michaels kept using his veteran experience to kick out of everything Jericho threw at him. Michaels proved that he hadn’t lost a single step and in some ways was better than before. This irritated Jericho because it both proved that the wrestler he idolized was still as great as everyone thought and because none of his own moves were enough. So Jericho had to go low and steal page out of Michaels’ playbook. Jericho did a great job acting villainously by stealing Michaels’ signature taunts and moves. And once all those big moves were used, stolen, and kicked out of, the match really became anyone’s game. This wasn’t a war of attrition or an intense and physical affair. Instead, it was all about smarts. It was about which wrestler would make a mistake first.
Through careful wrestling, these two managed to actually make those near-falls into something meaningful and not just random covers added to a match to create false drama and pad its length. In the end, it was one such a cover – or in this case, a bridging roll-up, that won the match. Something nondescript and out of nowhere is what ended this match for Michaels. And it was done in a way that emphasized the surprise and unpredictable nature of Michaels’ clever wrestling. Because of the sudden finish, Jericho didn’t look bad in losing and Michaels got a clever win under his belt. It was a smart way to protect both guys while still having one wrestler get the three-count.
But like many revered WWE matches, this one could’ve been better as well. For all the great wrestling and smooth action, both Michaels and Jericho struggled with a few things here. Jericho failed to make more out of Michaels’ noted back problems. He targeted Michaels’ back a few times with some big moves but it became a non-issue by the end of the match. Neither wrestler really sold their exhaustion despite supposedly doing a lot of damage to one another. An early legwork segment led to absolutely nothing, which begs the question of why such things are done in a match in the first place.
Personally, I think the match would’ve been better if there was actually an escalation in brutality from Jericho. His whole reason for being in this match was thinking that he was better than Michaels and Michaels was washed up. And yet Jericho never really showed that supposed sense of superiority. Throughout the match, he came across as, at the most, Michaels’ equal. Not his better; his equal. As Michaels kept surviving whatever Jericho threw at him, he didn’t go as far as he could have. He didn’t apply a deeper Walls or even bust out the Liontamer variant to really stretch Michaels’ back. He got all wrapped up in being cocky instead of selling the idea to the audience that he was better than Michaels. And even though I mentioned the smart and clever wrestling above as a positive here, the match would’ve reached a higher level Jericho in particular swapped that cleverness for raw brutality. it would’ve helped the match in a major way by upping the tension and really getting the crowd to rally behind Michaels a lot more. If he was going to win here, then it would’ve been better to tell this story of the aggressive younger wrestler wanting to really hart the veteran instead of this story where the veteran was one step ahead and in control of the match, even if it might not’ve looked that way.
Final Rating: ****
This match is pretty solid but I think it’s a bit overrated. Michaels and Jericho had great chemistry here but the match was missing a few key elements to really bring it to that next level. As such, I don’t think this match lives up to its dream match billing, despite a great effort from both wrestlers.
If you really want to see a great Michaels/Jericho match, watch their World Heavyweight Title Ladder Match at No Mercy 2008. That match was way better than this one in every conceivable way, even if both wrestlers were older, slower, and more banged up. This match may have had more spectacle because it was at WrestleMania. And yet, this match wasn’t as good as the main event of the same show, proving that Shawn Michaels isn’t always the showstopper he claims to be.