Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, IYH: Badd Blood
Inducted by Andrew Ardizzi
Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker’s careers are so intricately intertwined at this point it’s nigh impossible to mention one without the other. Yet, despite being in the same company together for nearly seven years by the time they met at Badd Blood on Oct. 5, 1997, (following a No Contest at Ground Zero the month before), they had never truly faced each other.
Throughout the year Undertaker, Bret Hart and HBK had been orbiting each other, with Michaels expected to (reportedly) originally to defend against Hart at WrestleMania 13 before forfeiting the title a month after winning it back from Sid at Royal Rumble 1997. Hart would pick up his fourth title win, only to lose it the next night to Sid to set the stage for Undertaker and Sid at WrestleMania 13, and for Hart and Austin to have their iconic submission match. Hart and Taker would win respectively, and would later clash at Summer Slam that summer with HBK right in the middle of the encounter as special referee. And as the match wore on, he smashed Undertaker with a chair inadvertently to hand Hart his fifth WWE championship.
This may all sound like unrelated fluff, but it sets the tone for what’s to come. After the match HBK and Taker became embroiled in a months-long feud where Taker proclaimed that their paths never crossed in effect because he chose never to come after Michaels, but now that HBK had crossed that line he was ready to drag him straight to hell.
The end result of Michaels’ actions was the first ever Hell in a Cell match, and the gravity of what was to come was made clear the second Sgt. Slaughter padlocked the Cell door shut and trapped Michaels inside the gigantic steel cage with the Grim Reaper.
Considering this match happened in such close proximity to Undertaker and Mick Foley’s infamous HIAC the following year, HBK vs. Taker’s match is sometimes overshadowed by its sequel, but truthfully if you take away Foley’s fall and the cinematics and emotion that flowed forth following it, as a match it pales in comparison to Michaels and Taker considering what they accomplished in the match, the story they told and the futures they setup for each other for the coming months.
Taken at face value, this match was brutal, violent, and above all featured both men in their athletic primes before injuries ravaged them and took them out of the ring for lengthy periods of time. From pillar to post, I remember Taker assaulting HBK like he had the largest of axes to grind, with HBK standing his ground and defiantly fighting back only to be trounced once more – a hallmark of their line of feuds together. This match was a showcase of two of the most important wrestlers in the company’s history in a first-ever match that set the bar for future Hell in a Cell matches to surpass. If the credo was violence, Taker and HBK had that in spades this October night with the Reaper looking to exact revenge over the loss of his championship; stalking Michaels and punishing him at every turn.
For what the match represents – a no holds barred, no DQ callback to the original feud-ending purpose of steel cage matches – it satisfied the appetites of those who wanted to see Michaels beaten down and made to pay his toll into the next life for costing Taker the championship. And every bit of offence, HBK sold to perfection. And then, HBK got in just enough offence to make you believe he not only stood a fighting chance, but that he could win and in the context of wrestling storytelling, while high spots are important to solidify matches through hallmark moments, the intricacies in between complete the story. They make it matter.
That’s what makes it memorable.
Undertaker beat down Michaels, before HBK took control and turned the tables on him and that back and forth struggle between is what roped me in as a fan, because at the time we knew Taker as this near untouchable entity that had dominated so many, yet was struggling to keep his early momentum and aggression fueled by his title loss while Michaels absorbed the early punishment to take control and break down the Deadman. That’s when a match hits psychologically, which considering we’re talking about one of the most brutal matches in the WWF/E playbook, that systemically implies there’s more to this match than high spot brutality as it becomes simply a great match, with great wrestlers, telling a very personal, heated, violent story to satiate their own egos. It’s wrestling magic amid the brutality.
Since this match happened, from the time I bought the Badd Blood PPV on VHS and later got it again through some Shawn Michaels DVD collections, I’ve likely watched this match well over 100 times, and every time I do – including again very recently – I arrive at the conclusion that it’s one of the company’s great matches of the 1990s that deserves to be remembered and revered for what it brought to WWF’s table at the time as content, and furthermore how it did for the company what the WrestleMania 10 ladder match between HBK and Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) did. It gave the company another trademark match to showcase, and in this culmination of moments that left HBK bloodied and beaten, highlighted their now-literal blood feud and introduced the wrestling world to Kane, it set the bar high to begin with for this match type.
Over the years the company has staged many Hell in a Cell matches that have surpassed this one, but that’s to be expected as wrestlers become better, more innovative and create bigger, badder and better violent masterpieces of storytelling. Even more importantly, this particular bout far and away stands above the majority of HIAC matches the company has booked, showing that while it can no longer be considered the best, its benchmark status and the level of greatness they established has made it difficult for absolutely every HIAC match to surpass, leaving that distinction to matches special enough to breath that rarefied air. This is a strong testament to what Undertaker and Shawn Michaels accomplished that night nearly 25 years ago, it’s testament to them as workers and it cements them as two of the greatest of all time to grace a WWE ring.
Lords of Pain.net/Wrestling Headlines.com welcomes Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, IYH: Badd Blood into the Hall of Fame class of 2022.
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