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(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker – WrestleMania XXVI (Streak vs. Career), by Alex Podgorski

This is the greatest rematch in WWE history. It features two of the company’s biggest icons facing off at WrestleMania for the second straight year. Their first encounter was epic, and was just a straight singles match. For their second encounter, they upped the ante in the biggest way possible. The Undertaker’s mythical Streak versus Michaels’ in-ring career.

Today we look back at this fantastic WrestleMania main-event from WrestleMania XXVI.

As a reminder, I am reviewing 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.

The story

The gist here is that Shawn Michaels is utterly consumed with the idea of beating the Undertaker. Ever since he lost at WrestleMania XXV, it has been clawing at him, clouding his mind. That became obvious when he challenged ‘Taker for a re-match after winning the Slammy for Match of the Year. And between that day and ‘Mania itself, Michaels thought of nothing else but beating the Deadman.

But when the Undertaker refused his challenge saying he had nothing to prove, Michaels tried to find another way. He entered the Royal Rumble hoping to challenge for ‘Taker’s World Heavyweight Championship, but was eliminated instead. Then the downward spiral continued as he and partner Triple H lost their tag titles and Michaels cost ‘Taker the title at Elimination Chamber 2010.

Furious, ‘Taker accepted Michaels’ challenge, but only if Michaels would put his career on the line. And Michaels, never one to avoid making rash decisions, made a rash decision and accepted. And so the stage was set for a rematch of mythic proportions.

Something extra

Before the match begins, they show a hype video for the match. This is usually the one area in which WWE’s production department excels better than any other company. But this video in particular is especially awesome. The song is called “Running Up That Hill” by Placebo in case you’re wondering.

This is hands down the best hype video in WWE, no, wrestling history. It captures the essence of the rivalry and shows you why you should care about this match in five minutes.

The match

This match originally took place on March 28th, 2010. It was originally rated 4.75-stars by the Wrestling Observer, and was voted Match of the Year by the WON, WWE and Pro Wrestling Illustrated. In other words, it’s widely considered to be a very good match. Meanwhile, TJRWrestling’s John Canton rated it ***** in his review in 2010 and wrote about the match in detail in his WrestleMania Greatest Matches list here.

They have an icy staredown and Michaels does Undertaker’s throat slash. The bell rings and Undertaker charges the corner. Michaels ducks and fires away with chops. Undertaker tries to fire back but Michaels uses the speed advantage to dodge his attacks. Taker gains control by reversing an Irish whip and smashes Michaels into the corner. He lands Snake Eyes, a big boot and a big clothesline early. Taker lands Old School despite Michaels’ resistance, but seems to land awkwardly on one leg. He hobbles about a bit as he teases the chokeslam but Michaels escapes. Lifting Michaels causes ‘Taker some leg pain and so he hobbles some more.

Sensing an opportunity, Michaels targets that leg with kicks right away. Undertaker punches Michaels away and goes for the Tombstone, but Shawn reverses and tries to lock in a standing crossface but fails. Taker tries a chokeslam again but Michaels escapes. So Undertaker starts working the arm but Michaels ducks and goes for the Superkick but ‘Taker avoids it. Loud applause from the audience as these two legends have a standoff.

Michaels goes for a double leg but Taker dodges, so he starts kicking ‘Taker’s leg a lot more. ‘Taker tries to fire back with jabs, but Michaels still kicks the leg. Undertaker somehow musters enough strength to clothesline Michaels out of the ring. ‘Taker charges for the over-the-rope suicide dive, but Michaels rushes in and tackles his leg. Great counter.

Undertaker avoids a Figure-4 and smashes Michaels spine-first into the steel ringpost. That’s gotta hurt. And despite all the pain in his legs, Taker still musters the strength to land the apron leg drop. Good thing he used the good leg.

Taker gets back into the ring, but Michaels cuts him off and applies the Figure-4. He’s forced to sit up to avoid getting pinned, but that just puts more pressure on his legs. Then, he musters even more strength to reverse the Figure-4 on Michaels. They both get up slowly and slug it out, until Michaels lands a flying forearm smash. But as soon as he kips up, he walks right into a massive chokeslam from Undertaker that gets the first two-count of the match.

Taker goes for the Tombstone, but Michaels reverses. Ankle Lock. Shades of Taker/Angle from 2006. Michaels grapevines the leg. Taker can’t go to his back because he could get pinned. Taker boots Michaels with his free leg to escape, but Shawn clotheslines Taker – and himself – out of the ring.

Michaels lands on the apron and goes for an Asai moonsault, but Undertaker catches him in midair. Tombstone Piledriver at ringside! Both men are down. That looked brutal.

A ‘doctor’ comes to check on Michaels, but Taker throws him away and tosses Michaels into the ring. He pins, but only gets two. Undertaker goes for The Last Ride, but couldn’t land all of it. The leg is hurting him too much. Michaels goes for a pin but gets two. Great storytelling.

Michaels ascends the top turnbuckle and dives with the elbow, but Undertaker gets both knees up. Both men writhe in pain having hurt each other off that dive. Michaels stumbles towards ‘Taker, but walks into the Hell’s Gate…but Michaels counters. Jackknife pin. Taker kicks out at two. Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere! The referee counts one, two, thr—no, Undertaker kicks out at 2.8!

Michaels charges with another kick, but Taker grabs his leg. Last Ride. What elevation. He pins, but Michaels kicks out at 2.9. Another fantastic near-fall. The crowd has become unglued.

Frustrated, Undertaker tosses Michaels out of the ring and starts demolishing the announce table. Which he can do since there are no count-outs in this match. Undertaker goes for the Last Ride again, hoping to smash Michaels through the announce table. But Michaels reverses into another Sweet Chin Music! Undertaker lands on the announcer table. Then Michaels climbs the turnbuckle. Moonsault from the top through the table! Holy Shit, what an incredible move.

Michaels tosses Undertaker back in the ring. Another Sweet Chin Music. With authority. Michaels pins. The referee counts one, two, thr—no, Undertaker kicks out at 2.999! Amazing. Michaels goes for another one, but Taker reverses into a chokeslam. But he doesn’t pin right away. Instead, he goes for a Tombstone! The referee counts one, two, no, Michaels kicks out!

Undertaker does the throat slash, but stops midway through. He looks down at Michaels, who can barely make it to his feet. There’s a look of pity on ‘Taker’s face as he yells at Michaels to stay down. But Michaels remains defiant. He does the throat slash and bitchslaps ‘Taker.

With a furious look on his face, Undertaker hoists him up one more time. LEAPING SPIKE TOMBSTONE PILEDRIVER! The referee counts one, two, three! That’s it. Undertaker is 18-0 and Michaels’ career is over!

Winner after: 23:59: The Undertaker

Post-match, Undertaker lifts Michaels to his feet, calls him ‘one tough sonofabitch’ and they shake hands in a great display of sportsmanship. Then the crowd gives Michaels a standing ovation as he leaves the ring for the last time (lol, if only).

Review

I’m probably in the minority here, but I thought that this was actually better than their WrestleMania XXV encounter. And that isn’t just because this match didn’t feature a botched suicide dive that almost became literal. I thought the storytelling here was better given that Michaels had more urgency in his wrestling due to the stipulation. Granted, few people actually thought Michaels would win, but he went out of his way to convince you otherwise.

Michaels worked the leg in incredible ways, showing his wrestling smarts while weakening the Undertaker’s size and power advantage. Because of this, Undertaker couldn’t land some big moves or capitalize on others because his leg was in too much pain. That made Michaels’ kickouts more believable and exciting.

And Michaels even tried to play mind games with Undertaker and actually appeared to get under ‘Taker’s skin on a few occasions. He lured Undertaker into a trap with his opening throat slash mockery, and used Undertaker’s own momentum against him to gain the upper hand.

And the final moments were simply fantastic. Michaels ended his career in the exact same way as he began and when he reached his peaks: defiant. He refused to stay down no matter what Undertaker threw at him, so Undertaker had to end the match with the most authoritative Tombstone he’s ever delivered. Because nothing less than maximum force was enough to keep Michaels down.

Final Rating: *****

I think this match surpassed its predecessor in terms of storytelling and match flow. Michaels and Undertaker had phenomenal chemistry together and turned that into an outstanding wrestling match. And it ended with such a decisive finality that no one could possibly dispute that Undertaker was the better wrestler in this match.

WrestleManias have had a tendency to end with the wrong match. There have been many instances in which the best in-ring performance didn’t close the show, ruining the fans’ experience of what followed. These include: Bret-Austin, Bryan-Kofi, Undertaker-Batista, Undertaker-HHH III, Bret-Owen, and of course, Undertaker Michaels I. but not this time. With this show, WWE closed their biggest show of the year in the best way possible. This is, hands down, the best main event in WrestleMania history.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.