(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels – RAW, April 23rd, 2007
Several regular TJRWrestling readers have sent this match to me. I’ve been told it’s one of the best WWE matches in years and it’s a match that really made some people into longtime John Cena fans.
Now, John Cena has long been a polarizing figure in wrestling; long before Roman Reigns took his first step into a wrestling ring there were legions of people so adamantly anti-Cena that they were willing to buy WWE merchandise displaying their distaste towards him (probably unaware that their money lined his pockets). Cena was considered an ‘entertainer’ and not a ‘wrestler’; and yet, he made some people making that argument second-guess themselves with this match.
But was it really as good as his fans have said? Read on to find out.
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.
Michaels failed to beat Cena at WrestleMania 23 but that didn’t deter him from trying again. He tried again a few times on house shows but never didn’t get another title shot. What he did manage, however, was to earn another singles match against Cena, which was more important to him at the time.
After their WrestleMania match ended, rumors emerged that Michaels was angry with Cena over how their match went. Michaels felt that Cena didn’t sell properly for him, which is why Michaels refused a post-match handshake with Cena at WM23.
After ‘Mania, two more people were added to the title picture: Edge and Randy Orton. They started getting involved in Cena’s business, until a Fatal-4-Way match was announced for Backlash.
But six days before that PPV, John Cena would have to face Shawn Michaels one-on-one one more time. He already won the match once on the biggest stage of them all, but could he do it again?
This match originally took place on April 23rd, 2007. It was rated ****1/4 by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and was voted Match of the Year for 2007 by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
After a tense stalemate, Michaels catches Cena’s arm and works it over until Cena grapples out. Yes, you read that right. They lock-up again and Michaels goes from a headlock into a rear hammerlock but Cena grapples out again. Michaels works over Cena’s arm some more and gets a one-count but Cena counters with a drop toehold causing Michaels to scramble to avoid the STF. Michaels headlocks Cena again and once more Cena does a drop toehold into an STF attempt but Michaels gets to the ropes, frustrated as Cena starts getting in his head with “that close” taunts.
Cena powers out of a rear waistlock and brings Michaels down for another STF attempt but Michaels is too quick for him. They get up close and person and trash-talk each other until Michaels slaps Cena, to which Cena responds with a big right hand.
We come back from commercial and nothing appears to have happened other than the crowd has woken up a lot more. Cena takes Michaels to the mat via headlock and wrenches it tight, and refuses to let go even as Michaels tries shooting him off the ropes. Cena gets a two-count off a headlock takedown but after some time Michaels fights up and escapes the headlock, only for Cena to land a running shoulderblock. Cena applies another tight headlock but Michaels fights up again. Michaels tries a hiptoss but Cena counters with a short-range clothesline for a two-count. Again Cena goes for the headlock but on the next Irish whip Michaels knocks Cena down with a back elbow.
Michaels takes control with some corner chops but then Cena blocks a corner whip and hits a big rebound clothesline for another two-count. Cena goes back to the headlock for a bit and then hits multiple shoulderblocks as Michaels starts fighting back. Michaels ducks down and goes for Sweet Chin Music but Cena holds onto the ropes to avoid it. Michaels rushes Cena but Cena dumps him to the floor, leading to another commercial break.
We come back and Cena, unsurprisingly, has Michaels in a headlock. Michaels gets Cena in a corner to break it and hits a strike combo followed by a snapmare into a face stomp. Cena starts punching back each time Michaels chops him, and then he counters a flying crossbody attempt with a bearhug into a front slam for a two-count. a hard corner whip followed by a Fisherman suplex gets Cena yet another two-count, followed by another close call off a Throwback facebuster. After a punch/chop exchange, Cena reverses an Irish whip and hits a big back body drop for, of course, a two-count. Cena goes for a vertical suplex. Michaels counters into a swinging neckbreaker and then wins the next strike exchange. Cena reverses another Irish whjip but this time Michaels connects with a flying forearm smash.
Michaels begins his comeback with Manhattan drops and a scoop slam but he also hurts his back in the process. Undeterred, Michaels ascends the turnbuckle and hits his diving elbow drop. Then he tunes up the band and goes for Sweet Chin Music. Cena goes for a clothesline at the same time. Michaels ducks and gets a backslide for two. Cena ducks a clothesline and goes for his flying shoulderblock that starts his superstar comeback sequence but Michaels ducks it, sending Cena to the floor. Michaels goes after him with a plancha…but Cena catches him. Cena goes to toss Michaels into the ringsteps. Michaels escapes and shoves Cena into them instead.
After another commercial break we come back to Michaels working over Cena’s left shoulder, which was driven into the ringsteps earlier. He tosses Cena shoulder-first into a ringpost and then jerks Cena’s left arm over the top rope. Michaels hits an armbreaker and then applies an armlock. Cena tries countering by pulling Michaels’ hair but Michaels traps that arm as well. he rolls Cena into a pinning predicament but only gets a pair of two-counts. Still in control, Michaels drops a knee across Cena’s shoulder but Cena musters enough strength to counter with a scoop slam. He goes for an elbow drop but Michaels dodges. Cena counters yet another Irish whip but Michaels kicks him to block another back body drop. Cena suddenly powers up with right-arm clotheslines and left-arm shoulderblocks. Cena lands the five-knuckle shuffle and goes for the AA. Michaels escapes once and goes for SCM. Cena ducks and connects with the AA. One, two, Michaels kicks out.
After anohter commercial break (during which Cena worked over Michaels’ back, according to JR on commentary) Cena tosses Michaels to the floor. Cena smashes Michaels spine-first into the ringpost but only gets a two-count. Cena follows with a vertical suplex for still yet another two-count so Cena applies a bearhug. Michaels escapes with forearms and chops but then Cena counters a corner whip and Michaels hits the corner so hard he falls back to ringside. Cena tosses Michaels back into the ring and hits a diving guillotine leg drop. One, two, Michaels kicks out. Cena tries an avalanche AA but Michaels counters into a powerbomb out of the corner. Michaels gets up first but Cena hits a drop toehold. Michaels kicks him off to avoid the STF and charges at Cena, knocking him off the apron and into the announce table in the process. Michaels breaks the referee’s ring-out count and goes for a piledriver on the steep steps but Cena powers out, causing Michaels to hit the ringside mas back-first.
We come back from another commercial break as Cena and Michaels brawl over the commentary table. Cena tosses Michaels into the ring and locks in the STF. Michaels reaches out to the ropes and after a long struggle makes it to them, forcing a break. Cena waits for Michaels to get up and manages to block an SCM. Then Cena goes for another AA but Michaels escapes and lands his superkick. Both men collapse. Michaels crawls over for a cover. One, two, and – Cena grabs the bottom rope.
After a long pause on the mat, Michaels chops Cena into a corner and goes for a corner whip. Cena reverses it and Michaels does his flip over sell. Cena goes for another AA. Michaels lands on his feet and hits another Sweet Chin Music. And this time he lands on top of Cena in a pinning position! The referee counts one…two…and three! Michaels beats Cena!
Winner after 55:49 (official)/38:08 (WWE Network/YouTube version): Shawn Michaels
That was a fun, competitive match. I enjoyed the back-and-forth action and all the great counters. There was a neat story with Cena relying on power and Michaels relying on craftiness. They had great chemistry together. They wrestled seamlessly and complemented each other. it was definitely a much-needed change of pace from WWE’s usual product…though it’s still far from the best wrestling match put on that year.
This match was basically a test for Cena: he wanted to show the whole world he was indeed a world-class grappler and that his win over Michaels at WrestleMania wasn’t a fluke. To that end, he did much more than what most of us were used to at the time. He did actual chain grappling. He didn’t just power out; he came up with technical counters to maintain control. He wasn’t just a guy hitting moves robotically: the changes in control between himself and Michaels happened smoothly and organically. So for Cena to actually go out of his company-enforced comfort zone and grapple made this into a more exciting match. Seeing Cena prove he could do the one thing most people thought he couldn’t – wrestle – made this match much more interesting.
And while Michaels did his usual top-level in-ring work, this match was all about Cena, despite Michaels doing more of the heavy lifting. Cena told a great story of trying to lock in the STF early to send a message and Michaels showed frustration like only he knew how. There was a sense that Cena was actually getting in Michaels’ head despite Michaels’ best efforts at preventing this from happening. Michaels frustration grew the longer the match went, but at the same time Cena’s iron will faltered as well. Cena gradually lost his power advantage as time went on, and once Michaels kicked out of the AA and survived the STF, he was out of options.
This is why I’m a proponent of the All Japan match finisher philosophy: have one or two “regular finishers” and at least one rarely-used super finisher saved for situations like this one. Cena seemed to think that way as he teased an AA from the top-rope but he never landed it because Michaels countered it first. That left this match with a sense of ambiguity: what if Cena hit that AAA? Would he have won then, especially after having damaged Michaels’ back so much? Or would Michaels have pulled off yet another miraculous comeback?
But despite these positives, the match did have flaws as well, aside from almost 20 minutes of action being cut due to commercials. A big problem with this match is that a lot of stuff that was given plenty of time didn’t end up mattering all that much. Michaels spent so much time working over Cena’s arms and there was no real result as Cena still hit clotheslines and shoulderblocks without showing any ill effects.
As for Cena, he spent so much time applying headlocks and squeezing Michaels’ head but it didn’t play into the closing stretch at all. It was as if Cena was showing off, doing different things than normal for their own sake instead of adopting a new strategy for such a dangerous opponent. Furthermore, Cena actually had a strong strategy during the first 5-10 minutes as he constantly tried to lock in the STF that won him their WrestleMania 23 main-event match. And yet for some reason he abandoned that plan completely, leaving the middle of the match to be kind of dull and lacking in major tension.
It’s disappointing to see Cena start the match with so much promise and then fail to follow through with the very things he teased and setup. He had a good game plan at first and started off so ambitiously, but by the 15-20-minute mark the match sort of drifted back into the generic WWE-style main-event style.
Maybe it’s because I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of top-tier matches that many fans consider their favorites, but when a match is this grand in scale it’s almost expected that one of the wrestlers go a little further to wear his opponent down. Michaels did a phenomenal job wearing Cena down to the point that he couldn’t avoid SCM anymore; that much is a given because, well, it’s Shawn Michaels. But Cena missed a golden opportunity to go further and deeper in trying to keep Michaels down.
He started off on the right track with the bearhug to target the ribs, so why not go a step further with something like the Boston crab? Why not do even more damage to Michaels’ back (which was already shown to be a weakness) and get the added bonus of taking out Michaels’ legs so that he’d have a harder time hitting the SCM out of nowhere, which was his biggest ace in the hole? Far be it for me to tell professional wrestlers what they should do in the ring, but when you’re tasked with putting on a MOTYC on the spot and you have Shawn Michaels as your opponent, the least you can do is match his in-ring technical skill with your own. Cena tried but his focus was in the wrong place.
All of this doesn’t necessarily harm the match in a major way; it was, despite its flaws and missing action, a very good match. But based on what was shown, I think that there are other matches out there from 2007 more deserving of the highest praise than this one.
Final Rating: ****1/4
This match was indeed very good for its time but I don’t see any all-time classic value in it. It was definitely one of John Cena’s best matches and another great outing from Shawn Michaels. But it’s hard to give a match top marks when, a) huge chunks of the whole thing are missing; and b) there were clear gaps in logic and storytelling that made one wrestler look like he was missing a huge opportunity to keep his challenger down.
It was another case of hot start, hot finish, and tepid middle. Even with a hot crowd and some solid action, the match just doesn’t match-up to genuine classics. It’s great by WWE standards, especially since WWE’s product during the latter 2000s was on a somewhat downward spiral. But when we take a wider look at what was around it, the flaws in this match become more apparent.
But at least the fans in attendance that day can say they saw something special. Hour-long matches on RAW are extremely rare. But perhaps the only thing rarer at the time was seeing John Cena lose clean in a competitive match without shenanigans. That alone gives this match a novelty factor that definitely makes it worth seeking out.
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.