Hardtime: Is Shawn Michaels Really The Greatest In Ring Performer In WrestleMania History?

Hardtime: Is Shawn Michaels Really The Greatest In Ring Performer In WrestleMania History?

Each month in the Columns section of LOP Forums, we hold a competition to determine who was the best of the previous month, crowning the Columnist of the Month. The winner earns the right to present you, the Lords of Pain main page audience, with an example of their work.

March’s winner, RIPBossman won the first of his five Columnist of The Month titles back in 2005 and returned to the LOP Forums last year where he has been tearing it up with his series Hardtime. Ripper is never afraid of articulating a controversial opinion on well worn wrestling tales and does an expert job backing his alternative takes up with evidence. This column really turned some heads down in the forum discussing if Shawn Michaels really was the greatest in ring performer in Wrestlemania history. If you enjoy this you can read more of RIPBossman’s work right here.

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In a promo during the build up to his WrestleMania 21 dream match against Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels famously gave himself the nickname “Mr. WrestleMania” for his many spectacular performances on the grandest strage of them all. This self proclaimed title lead to many internet fans debating over who the real Mr. WrestleMania was and what criteria should be used to determine it. If certain fans thought the critreria should be whoever had the most main events (the last match of the event) combined with the most star power, then most of those fans thought it should be Hulk Hogan. If certain fans thought it should be based on a win/loss record at the event, then all of those fans thought it should be The Undertaker, who had a legendary 21 match winning streak.

And if certain fans thought it should be based on match quality at WrestleMania, then almost all of those fans agreed with Shawn Michaels that he in fact was Mr. WrestleMania by a wide margin. In this column I’m not going to debate which criteria should be used to determine who should hold that title. What I am going to say is that if the title is crowned upon someone for match quality at WrestleMania, then Shawn Michaels does not run away with it. In fact, there is someone who is very close behnd him in that regard, who may have even surpassed him. Don’t laugh, it’s actually a lot closer than you might think.

First, let me establish what I think the type of matches are that should count toward this moniker. The in ring work needs to be at a high level. There doesn’t need to be any technical wrestling or innovative high flying moves. There can be great matches with any style of wrestling. It doesn’t matter what type of wrestling is involved, the match just needs to be exciting and performed at a high level. But also, the match needs to have been at least somewhat important at the time. You can be the best in ring worker in the world, if fans don’t care about you then it doesn’t matter how good your matches are. There’s a reason Dean Malenko was never World Champion. I feel any match that counts towards this needs to have been a major selling point of the event.

First, let’s look at Shawn’s WrestleMania resume. I’m throwing out his tag matches with The Rockers, because they did not have important storylines and weren’t really memorable. Then there were his WM 8 match against Tito Santana. That match wasn’t important and most people forget it ever happened. His WM 9 match with Tatanka was sort of important, as it was for the Intercontinental Title. It was a good match, but nothing spectacular and no one points to it as reason why Shawn should be considered Mr. WrestleMania.

And then starting with WrestleMania 10, almost all of Shawn’s WrestleMania matches were classics with important, memorable storylines. At WM 10 he tore down the house in the first ladder match with Razor Ramon, with the famous storyline of there being two Intercontinental Champions. At WM 11 he carried Diesel to a very good match for the WWE Championship, challenging his former friend. At WM 12 he had what some consider the best WrestleMania match of all time in the Iron Man Match against Bret Hart, as Shawn chased his boyhood dream. WM 14 was an exception, as dropped the title to Steve Austin when his back was injured and he shouldn’t have been wrestling. It was still an ok match, though. After sitting out 4 straight WM’s, he returned with a classic against Chris Jericho, who was insanely jealous of his success. WM 20 saw Shawn as part of a Triple Threat against Benoit and Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship, and many consider it the best triple threat match of all time. At WM 21, Shawn lived up to the hype of the dream match when he wrestled Kurt Angle. WM 22 saw a change of pace from a traditional Shawn Michaels match when he fought Vince McMahon, but there was masterful storytelling involved and Jim Ross even said it was Vince McMahon’s best match. The next year at WM 23 Shawn carried a still green John Cena to an exciting match. WM 24 saw brilliant storytelling as Shawn carried a 59 year old Ric Flair to an emotional retirement match.

That’s 9 great matches at WrestleMania that were memorable and had important storylines. And no, I’m not forgetting his classic WM matches against Undertaker. They don’t count in this argument because the person that I’m saying is challenging Shawn for the Mr. WrestleMania moniker based on match quality is Undertaker. And those matches with Shawn obviously don’t count in Undertaker’s favor, either.

If you only look at Undertaker’s great WrestleMania matches, then this is very close. His first great WM match was against Triple H at WM 17 in a wild brawl where most of the action took place in the crowd. At WM 18 he carried an aging Ric Flair to one of the best matches of his second run in WWE, where the build up saw Taker attacking his best friend Arn Anderson and his son David Flair. At WM 21 the Legend Killer Randy Orton unsuccessfuly tried to break the streak in a very good match. WM 23 saw Undertaker challenge for and win the World Heavyweight Championship against Batista in a great match that was arguably the best of the night. This was one of the best matches of Batista’s career and his best match at a WM.

At WM 24 Taker again won the WHC and again had a fantastic match against Edge. At WM 27 fans were on the edge of their seats as Undertaker and Triple H told a masterful story where for a second, it seemed like the streak was going to be broken. Their Hell In A Cell match the next year was very dramatic and again told a great story, with fans questioning if a super kick (Michaels was guest referee) into a pedigree would be enough to end the streak. The following year Taker again stole the show with a very exciting match, this time against CM Punk, who had stolen his urn and was mocking the recently deceased Paul Bearer. Skip head to WM 32 and Taker had an entertaining Hell In A Cell match against the dare devil Shane McMahon. This was Shane’s first match as a credible wrestler and many did not like how Shane could be competitive with Taker, but a lot of people found it entertaining. And most recently at WM 36 Undertaker had a dramatic “Bone Yard Match” against AJ Styles in what was the first match in WM history to be produced in a cinematic way. Many fans thought the cinematic production of this was absolutely incredible.

That’s 10 great, memorable WrestleMania matches in Taker’s favor as opposed to Shawn’s 9. And Undertaker’s match against Shane is a debateable inclusion, so when you just look at the number of show stealing matches each had at WM, they’re pretty much neck and neck.

However, while this is close, I have to give the edge to Shawn Michaels based on his consistency on the big stage. Almost every time Shawn was booked in an important match for WrestleMania with an important storyline, he put on a spectacular show. There were several times at WrestleMania where Undertaker had an important match and he delivered either a bad or only average match. I’m throwing out the Snuka match and the handicap match against Big Show and A-Train, because those were not important matches. You can’t really blame him for having a bad match with Giant Gonzalez, who had hardly any in ring skill, but it was still bad, as was his HIAC match against Big Boss Man and his WM 13 match against Sid. His matches against King Kong Bundy, Diesel, and the first time with Kane were ok for two big men, but were nothing special. His second WM match with Kane was underwhelming. The night Brock broke the streak everyone was in disbeleif, but they had a dud of a match due to Taker suffering a concussion early on. His match against Jake Roberts was a squash, so nothing to write home about. The match against Bray Wyatt was good, but not great and not memorable. The WM 33 main event against Roman Reigns was nothing special.

The only times Shawn failed to deliver a great match at WM when he had an important storyline was at WM 9 against Tatanka and WM 14 against Austin. The Tatanka match was still good, just not great. And as I said before about the match with Austin, his back was in terrible shape. He hadn’t wrestled a match since the Royal Rumble when he injured it, and would stay out of action for a few years afterwards. And the match was still respectable. After he got back surgery and fully recovered, he started having magnificent matches at WM again. A much higher percentage of Shawn’s important WM matches were great as opposed to Undertaker’s.

And another good way to compare them is to directly compare their WM matches with mutual opponents. I don’t count Triple H as a mutual opoponent because Shawn never had a singles match with him there. But when you look at their matches against Diesel and Ric Flair, I’d say both of Shawn’s matches are better.

You might argue that Shawn usually had better in ring wrestlers to work with at WrestleMania, which gave him a big advantage. That’s very true. But still, when Shawn had an unskilled opponent, like Diesel or Vince McMahon, he could carry them to a great match.

However, if a dvd were made for each wrestler, and it only included their best WM matches, based on those two videos alone you’d have a very tough time determining who the true Mr. WrestleMania was based on match quality.

Again, the point of this column is not to say the title of Mr. WrestleMania should be determined based on match quality at the event. I’m not arguing in favor of any criteria to determine who should get that crown. The point of this column is that if you, the reader, want to determine the true Mr. WrestleMania based on important matches at the event with high in ring quality, then I think Shawn Michaels is the right answer. However, you can make a very strong argument that Undertaker is right behind him, and it’s actually a lot closer than you first think.

 

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