Reviews

TJR WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 23

It was the main event of WrestleMania 23 from 2007. It featured the dominant WWE Champion John Cena against one of the greatest of all time that was so talented he was nicknamed “Mr. WrestleMania” – the great Shawn Michaels.

In addition to the WrestleMania 23 match between Cena and Michaels, I’m including their 2007 WWE Match of the Year from Raw (April 23) as well.

Who: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 23

When: April 1, 2007

Where: Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan

The Build

The main event of WrestleMania 22 saw John Cena beat Triple H clean in the middle of the ring to retain his title. One year later at WrestleMania 23, there was a plan in place to do that match again, but it didn’t happen. The reason it didn’t happen is because Triple H tore his quad a few months before WrestleMania (his second torn quad injury), so WWE went with an alternative plan.

At the 2007 Royal Rumble, Shawn Michaels battled fellow veteran wrestler The Undertaker in a memorable final two sequence. Michaels ended up finishing second in that match. Even though he finished second in the Royal Rumble, Michaels got to main event WrestleMania by becoming the number one contender for John Cena’s WWE Title. Michaels earned his right for a title shot by beating Edge and Randy Orton in a triple threat match on the February 5, 2007 edition of Raw.

At the PPV event before WrestleMania, which was No Way Out in February 2007, Michaels nailed Cena with a surprising superkick. It wasn’t a heel turn by Michaels. It was more about sending a message that Michaels could knock him out at any time.

They were also the Tag Team Champions going into this match because the tag titles didn’t matter a whole lot in 2007.

What I Thought Back Then

It was one of those matchups where it was really all about putting on the best match possible rather than something with a big storyline. The lack of strong heels was obvious on both Raw and Smackdown since Smackdown’s World Title match at WrestleMania 23 was also face vs. face with Batista defending the gold against The Undertaker.

Why Michaels and not somebody else? They really didn’t have anybody else that could fit in that spot against Cena. He was the best choice. It was about giving Cena the best match possible.

Regarding the outcome of the match, I didn’t think Michaels had any shot of winning. I don’t think many people “smart fans” did even though the poll that was shown before the match had 40% of the fans thinking Michaels would win. Cena was 29 years old at the time, Michaels was 41 and the smart thing to do would be to put the younger guy over even though he was already the champion.

The good thing about this match is it felt fresh. They were both faces on the Raw brand, so they didn’t have a lot of matches together. I was excited about it because I’m a huge Michaels fan that felt that he was the best performer in WWE at this point and he always delivered on the big stage.

Here’s my full review of the match plus the analysis, which was written in 2012.

WWE Championship: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 23

The video package started up for the main event. Ross pointed out that Cena had been the WWE Champion for 20 of the previous 24 months while Michaels was looking to win the title one more time.

Michaels entered to a big pop. He used the Degeneration X music because in 2006 he and Triple H reunited the DX group. Hunter tore his quad in January, so he was out for this WrestleMania. For John Cena’s entrance, they filmed a Ford Mustang driving along an empty road and it parked right in front of Ford Field. It drove into the arena. It drove through some glass that had the WrestleMania 23 logo. It parked. Then John Cena emerged from the car with the WWE Title. He entered to a good ovation. It was a bit cheesy, but in the Motor City it made sense especially because Cena is a car aficionado.

Prior to the match beginning, a fan jumped the barricade and tried to get into the ring. He was taken out by security. Michaels sat on the top rope to wave “goodbye” to the fan. This is edited out of the WWE Network version (and likely the DVD) of the show.

Michaels wanted a handshake early, Cena said no because Michaels had superkicked him on Raw and he didn’t trust Michaels. The early story was Michaels using his speed to avoid Cena’s power. Eventually, Cena was able to slow him down with a clothesline. Michaels came back with an Austin like Thesz Press and then he gave Cena a hip toss over the top rope onto the floor below. Michaels hit an enziguiri out on the floor. Michaels hit the springboard moonsault off the middle rope onto Cena, which sent them both into the table. The table did not break. Great spot. In the ring, Cena went for a kick, Michaels blocked it and punched the left knee of Cena. Michaels attacked the leg and rammed the kneecap right into the post. Michaels continued to attack the left knee of Cena for the next several minutes. When Cena tried to strike, Michaels avoided it and went after the knee some more. The crowd wasn’t too into the match at this point although it was okay because you could tell they were building up to something. Cena finally connected on a right hand to the face, but HBK came back with a corner charge into the stomach. They exchanged blows, which Cena won thanks to a punch to the head. Michaels charged into the corner and Cena moved, so HBK crashed headfirst into the ring post. Michaels came up bleeding. Cena hit a clothesline. Then he ran on top of him with punches to the head. This was the point of the match where Cena stopped selling the knee. Not sure why. Cena hit his moves of doom with the shoulderblocks and the side-spinning suplex. He shook his knee a few times, so I guess that was enough for him to be healed. He should have kept selling it some more. Cena hit the Five Knuckle Shuffle. Michaels avoided the FU (later known as Attitude Adjustment). They had an exchange of counter movies, then Michaels went for the superkick, Cena ducked and ref Mike Chioda took the kick right on the chin. That sent Chioda to the floor. That was really well done.

Cena went for the FU. Michaels countered it into a DDT. JR called it a brilliant counter. That was right. Both guys were down. Michaels felt the blood on his head, so he went outside the ring and took off the top half of the steel steps. He dragged Cena out to the floor. Michaels gave Cena a piledriver on the steel steps. People weren’t doing piledrivers anymore, so the move meant that much more. Michaels rolled Cena back in. Ref Jack Doan came sprinting down the aisle. Michaels covered for the one…two…no. Very good nearfall. Michaels hit a flying forearm to the face as JR busted out a “vintage Shawn Michaels” for the move. Michaels kipped up. Michaels went to the top rope and hit the Flying Elbow to the chest of Cena. Michaels went for the superkick. Cena was able to hit a clothesline out of nowhere. Great selling job by Michaels on that one. They did another slugfest. Cena went for a FU, but Michaels was able to counter with a rollup for two. Great nearfall there too. I forgot to mention that Cena was bleeding on the top of the head. They ran the ropes, Michaels went for a leap frog, Cena caught him and gave him the FU right in the middle of the ring. Cena was too hurt to cover right away. He crawled over and covered for a count of two. Crowd cheered. Cena put Michaels on the top rope and he wanted to give Michaels the FU off the top rope. Michaels knocked him off. Michaels hit a cross body, Cena caught him and went for the FU again. Michaels landed on his feet, went for superkick, Cena ducked, grabbed his foot for the STFU and Michaels kicked away multiple times. He turned it into a rollup for two. That was a really good sequence there. Back to their feet, Michaels missed with an enziguiri, which led to Cena putting him in the STFU. Michaels made it to the ropes. The crowd cheered. They weren’t really anti-Cena, but they liked Michaels too. The ref told Cena to break the hold when he reaches the ropes. That allowed Michaels to get to his feet and he connected with the Sweet Chin Music. Michaels was slow in covering. He made it over for the one…two…no! Cena got his shoulder up. Each man kicked out of the finishing move of the other guy. Both guys struggled to get to their feet. Cena went for the FU. Michaels countered. Cena tripped him up and put him in the STFU. Michaels was in the hold for about 30 seconds. He was right in the middle of the ring. Michaels tapped out at 28:22.

Winner by submission: John Cena

Post match, Michaels was selling the pain. Cena had a look of satisfaction on his face and he also had a lot of emotion on his face, dedicating the win to his father John Cena Sr. After celebrating in the ring, Cena went up to Michaels in the aisle. Cena wanted a handshake. Michaels refused it.

Analysis: ****1/4 I think everybody expected Cena to retain the title because he was the current and future star while Michaels was there to give him a great match. I didn’t expect Michaels to win. He was about having great matches. Not necessarily winning them. Still, the HBK fan in me would have loved to see him win the WWE Title one more time in the WrestleMania event. It was a different kind of long match for Cena because it was more about technical wrestling. Cena’s strength was brawling. When the pace picked up they really delivered a main event worthy performance with a lot of back and forth drama ensuing. I liked the way they built to the finishers with Michaels hitting the superkick only for Cena to kick out because Shawn was too slow on the cover. This came after Shawn kicked out of the FU, so it made it even. The last 7 minutes of the match were especially great. It’s interesting to note that Cena beat both DX guys in back to back years with the STFU, which really established that move as a deadly finisher.

Following the match, there were rumors of Michaels being angry at Cena because he didn’t sell the knee for long enough after Michaels worked it over so much. Apparently, he was mad about it backstage. The handshake at the end was supposed to happen, but Michaels refused it because of Cena’s poor job of selling the knee injury. I don’t think it mattered that much.

 

What They Said

Here are some thoughts from Michaels talking about Cena in a feature that aired on WWE Network about this match. Thanks to Cageside Seats for the transcript.

“It was a building block. I personally feel the foundation had been set at that point. Yeah, there’s some sort of right of passage with my match and John but that has more to do with I’m a guy that’s been here, in the eyes of the people, forever. But it’s still, again, as much as you want to put yourself over as some big deal, you’re still a building block.”

“We were, as a company, making a decision to make the guy the face, and everybody knew that, everybody that watched, everybody… Sometimes when that happens, especially in our line of work, it leads people to naturally rebel against you. And then they chant things like ‘You can’t wrestle’ and John obviously can. We’ve had guys in the past who couldn’t and they never chanted that. So that’s just something the folks do. John’s wise to not let that bother him.”

“I’ve been fortunate in that whatever approach it is I take, and I’ve never really been able to clearly define that other than saying I’m just trying to have the best match possible, I have somehow been able to accomplish the desired things for both myself and my opponent. Nine times out of 10, and I’d like to say 10 times out of 10 but I’m just a… better safe to hedge your bets… Nine times out of 10, everybody does come out of it better and I think that’s what happened in this match.”

“I’ve always not had a problem giving John a ton of credit. He’s a smart kid, he’s a hard worker. That’s always going to be his greatest quality to me, is that he’s an incredibly hard worker. We have a lot in common in that there are a lot of things both of us can’t do, I’ve just done a much better job covering it up over the last whatever it’s been now, 30 years. I am one of those guys that thinks John gets a raw deal, obviously. He’s earned whatever he’s got. Yeah, somebody has to, whatever, make the decision to pick you but I’ve seen a lot of guys get picked over the years, myself included, and not everybody’s done as well as John, so you’ve gotta be able to give him some credit for that.”

If you want more of Michaels’ comments on the match, check out the “Mr. WrestleMania Shawn Michaels” section on WWE Network about this match as well.

John Cena talked about Michaels during WWE’s Ruthless Aggression documentary series.

“I can’t put into context how easy it is to work with Shawn Michaels. His timing is better than perfect. He is confident in the things that he can do well, and he studies who he’s working with and showcases the things that they can do well. You can perform with him forever.”

“What was magical about that was: be humble enough to be led, never feel ashamed that you’re in the ring with a more experienced performer, and trust the process.”

 

What I Think Now

It was a long match and they worked at a very slow pace. Michaels working over the leg of Cena in the first part of the match was a veteran move that was done to slow down the bigger guy in Cena. I can also understand why Michaels had a problem with Cena not selling the left knee injury enough because there were a lot of times in the match where Cena was on offense where he wouldn’t sell anything. Cena sold it at other times, but not all the time. Selling a move shouldn’t be a sometimes thing. It’s part of the story and if you don’t sell it when you should you are hurting the quality of the match.

Michaels didn’t bleed that much in his career at this point. He did it more often when he was younger. He probably felt like they needed some “juice” to make the crowd more invested in what they were doing in the ring. One year later, WWE became a PG company and banned their talent from blading.

The spot with the piledriver on the steel steps leading to the second ref counting a nearfall was well done. It showed how close Michaels was to winning the match and helped put the match into another gear in terms of the excitement level.

The last ten minutes were outstanding with the majority of the crowd standing up for a lot of it. I liked that they went with a submission win for Cena instead of the FU (later known as the Attitude Adjustment). By having Cena win by submission, it really put him over as having earned it because he beat Michaels up so much he was forced to tap out. Plus, Cena made Triple H tap out in the main event of WrestleMania one year earlier, so it was a fitting way to end his second straight WrestleMania main event.

What Happened Next

Cena continued his run as the man in WWE over the next decade as he entered his 30s. As I noted at the start of the match review, Cena held the WWE Title for 20 out of 24 months going into this match, so that shows how much faith WWE had in him to “carry the ball” so to speak.

Michaels retired three years after this match. During that period, he came close to winning other titles in feuds with other guys, but he wasn’t able to get it done. Michaels’ last World Title win was at Survivor Series 2002, which was just a one month title reign.

They had an even better match later that month in England the April 23, 2007 edition of Raw. Michaels beat Cena in a non-title match that went about 56 minutes. (Keep scrolling down because I included my review of that match at the bottom of this review.)

I also recommend the Backlash 2007 main event as Cena battled Michaels, Edge and Orton in a four-way match for the WWE Title. Cena won to retain the title. It was outstanding. Another match that I’d rate at over four stars that involved these guys.

Final Thoughts

The match didn’t have the advantage of a strong storyline going into the show. The story that WWE tried to tell going into it was pretty basic, but it wasn’t the kind of thing that was really going to captivate viewers. It was about seeing if the younger champion could beat the veteran challenger that wanted to see if he could become a champion again.

I was never a Cena hater like some people. Matches like this are why. The fans that thought Cena was terrible in the ring forget about how he was able to go nearly 30 minutes with the best worker ever Shawn Michaels in a WrestleMania main event. It’s not like Michaels completely carried him. There are much worse wrestlers out there that wouldn’t have had a good match in the same situation. Cena deserves credit for being such a hard worker on his rise up the ranks in WWE. He could have gotten lazy, but he never did and it’s why he was so good for so long.

This isn’t their best match as I mentioned earlier, but it’s their only WrestleMania match and it holds up well.

 

BONUS REVIEW

Here’s a review of the classic Raw match from April 23, 2007 in London, England on Monday Night Raw with Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on commentary. This was not for Cena’s WWE Championship.

John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels

Michaels with a fireman’s carry takeover, Cena countered and then they got back up to their feet. They did something similar to that again to show they were starting at a slow pace. Michaels with an armbar on the left arm into a suplex and then Cena tripped up Michaels, but Shawn was able to get to the ropes. Cena with another drop toe hold to set up the STFU with Michaels getting to the ropes again and Cena told him he was “this close” to locking it in with the announcers pointing out that Michaels tapped out to that move at WrestleMania. When Cena tried it again, Michaels once again managed to get to the ropes. Michaels did a shot to the face, so Cena punched him and that led to a break. It’s on WWE Network with no commercials, but I will note when the commercials aired.

(Commercial)

The fans were loud as the match returned with Cena grabbing a headlock for a few minutes, then Cena ran the ropes, Cena hit a shoulder tackle and grabbed another headlock to ground Michaels. When Michaels broke free, he wanted a hiplock, but Cena stopped him with a clothesline and Cena grabbed another headlock. Michaels finally got some momentum going with a reverse elbow to the jaw. Michaels sent Cena into the turnbuckle followed by chops to the chest, then Cena hit a boot to the face and a running clothesline for two. Cena grabbed a side headlock again, but this time it wasn’t as long as Cena hit two shoulder tackles. Cena picked up Michaels, who got off the shoulders, went to the apron and bailed to the floor.

(Commercial)

Michaels got some offense going with elbow smashes to the head along with a stomp to the face. Michaels ran in the ropes with Cena hitting a front slam for a two count. Cena with a whip into the turnbuckle followed by the fisherman’s suplex for a two count. Cena hit a blockbuster neckbreaker for a two count with Cena shocked that it wasn’t enough to win even though he never won matches with that move. Cena hit a back body drop for another two count. Michaels countered a suplex into a snap neckbreaker with JR busting out his “quicker than a hiccup” phrase that he likes so much. After they exchanged strikes, Michaels bounced off the ropes and connected with a flying forearm to the head. Referee Mike Chioda counted them both down, Michaels kipped up at six and hit an atomic drop followed by a body slam with Shawn selling a lower back injury. Michaels went up top and he connected with the top rope elbow drop as the crowd came alive a bit more. Michaels set up for Sweet Chin Music, Cena got back up, Michaels with a backslide pin for two and Cena went off the ropes for a shoulder tackle, but then Cena missed, which led to Cena going out of the ring to the floor. Michaels went for a slingshot attack over the top to the floor, Cena caught him, but Michaels shoved Cena left shoulder first into the steel steps.

(Commercial)

The match returned with Cena selling the left shoulder/arm injury as Michaels drove Cena’s shoulder into the ring post. Michaels wrenched on the left arm of Cena. There was a body slam from Cena, but when he tried a lefty elbow, Michaels moved and Cena hurt his left arm again. Michaels with a kick to the left arm, but then Cena came back with two clotheslines and two shoulder blocks. Cena with the spinning slam, the “you can’t see me” taunt and the Five Knuckle shuffle fist drop. Michaels went for the superkick, Cena avoided it and Cena hit the FU for a two count. The fans popped big for that kickout by Michaels and the announcers were shocked by it.

(Commercial)

Cena dumped Michaels under the bottom rope to the floor. Cena picked up Michaels back first into the ring post, but the way it was shot you could clearly see that only Cena’s hand hit the ring post and that led to a two count in the ring. Cena hit a delayed vertical suplex for a two count. Cena slapped on a bearhug on the lower back of Michaels to wear down Shawn some more until Shawn sent Cena into the corner. Cena whipped Michaels into the ropes leading to Shawn doing an impressive drive over the top to the floor. Back in the ring, Cena went up top and hit a leg drop to the back of the head for a two count with the crowd reacting well to that as a nearfall. That’s always been an impressive move for Cena and it looked good when he hit it. Cena tried to set up Michaels on the top rope for a FU, but Michaels got out of it and Michaels hit a Powerbomb out of the corner. That was a cool spot that drew a big reaction from the crowd as both guys were down again. It was essentially a Powerbomb off the middle ropes. Cena with a drop toe hold, Michaels turned out of it and kicked Cena into the ropes. Cena to the apron, Michaels shoved him off and Cena bumped into the announce table at ringside. Michaels left the ring and he teased a piledriver on the bottom half of the steel steps like he did at WrestleMania, but this time Cena hit a back body drop on Michaels on the floor.

(Commercial)

The match returned with Cena tackling Michaels on the announce table and he was working over Michaels with punches while referee Mike Chioda tried to break it up. Back in the ring, Cena was finally able to fully lock in the STFU submission in the middle of the ring. Michaels was in the hold for about a minute when he finally made it to the bottom rope to break the hold. Michaels went for Sweet Chin Music, Cena blocked it, Cena put Michaels on his shoulders, but then Michaels hit the Sweet Chin Music superkick. Cena rolled over near the ropes, Michaels crawled over with an arm across the chest and Cena got his left arm on the bottom rope before the three count. Lawler: “What a damn match this is!” Yep. That was great as JR called it one of the greatest matches in the history of Raw. The fans popped huge for Cena getting his hand on the rope. You could tell it was coming, but it worked as a nearfall. Michaels worked over Cena with chops with both guys looking exhausted. Cena sent Michaels into the ropes, Michaels went upside down and then back to his feet, right into a FU attempt by Cena, but Michaels landed on his feet and Michaels hit Sweet Chin Music superkick and fell on top with his back on top of Cena for the pinfall win. JR said “Michaels wins” three times. The match time was 55:49 including the commercials. It went 38:08 on WWE Network without commercials.

Winner by pinfall: Shawn Michaels

Analysis: ****1/2 This match is outstanding and really is one of the best matches in Raw history. It was one of the best WWE matches of 2007 too. I think going nearly one hour on Raw is very impressive, but going that long also hurt it a bit because if you were to fast forward through the first 15 minutes then you might like it more. Cena kept going for pinfalls throughout the match, then he would get so mad when it was a nearfall and it told the story of how competitive Cena and Michaels were. The fans reacted to some of the kickouts in a big way like when Cena hit his first FU for only a two count. They didn’t leave the ring that much, but when they did it was part of the story to inflict more punishment on the other guy. I loved the finish with Michaels hitting the superkick while he was exhausted and landing on top of Cena for the pinfall win.

I wasn’t writing much in 2007, but if I was then that match might have been the WWE Johnny Award for best match. It was that good.

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That’s all for me. Check out the full list of my WWE PPV Review archive right here. Thanks for reading.

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John Canton

Email mrjohncanton@gmail.com

Twitter @johnreport