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[2009-04-05-WWE-Wrestlemania XXV] Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker

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Just had to watch it for the first time since it aired for a recent episode of the podcast.

 

I didn't really care for it the first time I saw it, but I actually kind of hated it this time around.

 

The match is just so... over-rehearsed that it looks silly when they're in their reversal of their 10th big move. It looks like a very, very choreographed dance as opposed to simulated fighting.

 

There's no real escalation in the match. It's, save a few token attempts at ringwork, excess from bell to bell.

 

The absolute worst big match traits of both men amped up to the nth degree.

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I actually don't remember if I'd ever watched this match prior to today. If I did it was in 2009 when I was in my second year of watching wrestling. (Re?)watching it wasn't a priority because I don't hold either man in high regard. For some reason I decided to do just that today. The first minute and a half were amazing-they actually made the size difference matter by having Michaels only get in control when Undertaker would miss a strike and then quickly run away. This resulted in some great moments like Taker countering Michaels' strike by grabbing his hand and then throwing him halfway across the ring in which Michaels took his usual corner bump but in a much more brutal and realistic way. That whole exchange was so well done. Then Michaels does a crotch chop and fakes an injury for three seconds and I instantly remember why he sucks. This is pretty much identical to Go Shiozaki vs Zeus except these guys were fifteen years older than them which makes the way they worked even more stupid. They did the workrate submission sequences you'd expect but outside of their flashiness there was no point to them. Michaels used a Crossface because GREAT WRESTLERS DO CROSSFACES. No wonder Cesaro and Harper got them. Undertaker's big dive was super ugly and derailed the match a lot. Michaels used a lot of Chops in the middle portion but he doesn't hit as hard as Go Shiozaki and really it wouldn't make any difference if he'd hit one of his shitty punches instead because that's just how WWE uses strikes. There was at least one WWE big match strike exchange™ and it's a good thing those aren't overused because they make me yearn for Goto vs Yujiro. Michaels' acting and facial expressions were horrible but perhaps fitting since WWE's target audience is 8 years old? The Tombstone DDT counter and the aforemention Suicide Dive came off like Cena doing indy moves he shouldn't be doing. Taker countering Michaels' Moonsault Plancha by pushing him aside looked amazing. Finishing stretch really showed how good WWE used to be in conning people. There was no way this was going to end with the Chokeslam, Last Ride or the first Superkick but everyone popped like crazy for them. It also reminded me of JR saying Undertaker "almost had him" with a Sidewalk Slam which is about as preposterous as a call can be. The finish was contrived. I'm not going to completely shit on this because I've seen enough Michaels/HHH matches to know how trully appaling WWE big match style can be but this wasn't very good. Definitely not as good as Go Shiozaki vs Zeus. I appreciate their insane desire to harm their body with insane bumps and there were parts, albeit small, that I liked. **3/4 sounds about right. Mostly it showcased how bad WWE has gotten at making matches feel special by diminishing everything. Their idea of a great match includes big spots and finisher kick-outs so if they ruin both what's left? They've always been more about smoke and mirrors than actually good wrestling and just lucked into good/great workers.

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Nowhere near as good as I remember it, but still has some great moments and both guys have the crowd eating out of their hands. They manage to create some real drama from the failed suicide dive spots and when 'Taker swats away a Michaels' moonsault, although that could just be because both men looked like they were actually hurt rather than working the crowd. Or they might of worked me all along, who knows? Yeah, the finisher reversals and kick-outs do hurt the match a good deal, but the finishing stretch and the fatigued strike exchange helps this match feel like an epic; albeit a flawed one.

★★★¾

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So as it turns out this isn't spiteful so much as a response to the "self conscious epics" thread. One thing I want to do is dispel the notion that these guys are just kicking out of finishers for no reason other than pops and snowflakes. That there isn't a story involved in the same way that there is for, say, Misawa-Kobashi epics. I think that's completely insane, because the story informs literally everything Undertaker does between Wrestlemanias 25 and 28. And if you don't buy into the story, if you're not invested, that's fair enough, I can't make you. But it is absolutely there if you want to see it. These Streak matches, including this one, are the furthest thing from mindless kicking I can possibly think of.

 

The transition to finisher kicking in this match may seem sudden and incongruous, but it really isn't if you think about it. It had been building for years. At WMXX Taker came back as the Deadman and dispatched Kane, and since then they began building The Streak from a cute little stat to something different, something important. It became its own selling point, "I want to beat The Streak" vs "I want to keep The Streak". Thus, the stakes were raised for Undertaker's Mania matches and his opponents lifted accordingly. Taker had to kick out of an RKO (a highly protected move) and Bob Orton's cast at WM21. He faced a monster heel in Henry at WM22 and was kind of lucky that he found himself in his own specialty match. Batista threw all kinds of shit at him, and Taker had to survive the spear, a huge table bump and kicked out of the Batista Bomb to win. Edge prepared for WM24 like it was the biggest match of his life - he had counters for ALL of Taker's moves, had Vickie and his goons doing run ins, there were ref bumps, cracking Taker's skull with the camera, Charles Robinson Sprinting, and two spears. Taker survived an unbelievable amount of bullshit AND wrestling skill from Edge to win here. Every year his challenger is more and more determined to be "the one", and comes up with more and more stuff that Taker has to endure in order to keep The Streak intact. And slowly but surely, The Streak had become the most prestigious and sought-after championship in WWE.

 

And so we come to Shawn Michaels.

 

Shawn Michaels is the Showstoppa, the Main Event, the Icon, the GOAT. Again, if you think that is all bullshit in reality I'm happy for you, but that's the story they're telling on TV, so play along. Being the GWE is Shawn's gimmick at this point, as is being Mr Wrestlemania, so combining those forces and aiming them squarely at Taker means that this is the biggest (kayfabe) threat to The Streak yet. That is how we got here folks, and that is how things have escalated enough to the point where kicking out of something even bigger than before was inevitable.

 

Shawn is super ready for this match. He did all the big casket shenanigans in the build, they have an epic WWE video package, and he makes the big entrance coming down from heaven, dressed in all white. The light to Taker's darkness. His face is all business as Taker comes out and we get it on.

 

And the first thing he does is chop the Undertaker.

 

Shawn can't help himself, he's the Showstoppa and he's going to Shawn it up no matter what, and that includes throwing his ridiculous chops at the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. It's hubris, and he's incapable of doing anything else. What I liked it how they were sold, both by J.R. saying they're "more annoying than anything in the early going" (yes I can quote verbatim from this match) and by Taker, who absorbed most of them about as you'd expect but then OUCH, he'd get one really nasty one that actually stung and he'd sell it, giving a point to them after all.

 

Another thing Shawn can't help is being an utter dick, and that peeks through in key moments as well - early on he tries the ol' "fake a knee injury" spot that kicked off a nine month feud with Jericho the year prior. Here Taker doesn't even entertain the notion, but it works to give Shawn a momentary advantage. The other time we see Dick Shawn is later on when Taker kills himself on the big dive and Shawn forces the referee to start counting him out.

 

The final trademark Shawnism of the first half of the match is in the sheer amount of insane back bumps this guy takes. He spends a lot of the early going bumping around like a lunatic for Taker, and they're mostly in the form of big bombs to Shawn's back - press slams, side slams, the snake eyes-big boot combo - and Shawn EATS them like a champ. This is actually a period of the match where a lot of body parts get worked over momentarily - Shawn's back, then his arm to set up Old School, and then Taker's leg to set up the figure four - but nobody gets a real advantage (Taker visibly tests his knee afterwards and soon gets it working again) so clearly the time has come to step things up.

 

The first big moment of the match is Taker's first attempt at a chokeslam, which gets countered into the crossface, which they work for a long time before Taker Takers Up and hits a sidewalk slam to get out (another BIG back bump for Shawn). Shawn throws the flying forearm and lays there forever, and you think to yourself "It's too early for him to be playing dead" but then he Kips Up and sells his motherfucking back. He's hurt. Maybe it was the kip up that did it and his hubris did him in...maybe it was all those big bumps he'd taken in this match and he wasn't playing dead for fun after all, he was buying time...maybe it was a lifetime of bumps and a bad back and he broke the camel's back, but whatever it was, he was hurting. He had this look on his face like...this is a weird analogy to spin off into, but I remember hearing Adam Gilchrist, who was an Australian cricketer, say that one day he was playing and he missed this one catch, a pretty regulation catch he'd taken a million times, and even though he was otherwise playing just fine, in that one moment he realised that he was getting old and he was not long for the world. He retired soon after. For me that was Shawn's moment, for 20+ years he was able to take punishment and still do the Kip Up and Shawn Up and be fine, but here it just...hurt. He was getting old, and he was not long for the world, and you can see why he retired a year later. But that's another kettle of beans and I digress.

 

The next sequence is wicked cool: Taker goozles Shawn for the second time, Shawn escapes and goes for the superkick, Taker ducks out of the way so fast he TAKES A BUMP, Shawn grabs the legs but Taker immediately transitions into the gogoplata and Shawn frantically makes the ropes. It's worth noting that this was the first time EVER that anyone had escaped Hell's Gate, even by using the ropes, and not passed out or tapped to it. Escalation. Things are heating up and once again Taker's opponent is rising to the occasion and going above and beyond the call.

 

And once again it takes more and more of a toll on Taker. They spill outside and sure Taker swats Shawn's moonsault attempt away like a badass, but he then collapses to the floor and sits there in a kind of despair that we don't ever see out of the Undertaker. He knows full well that this thing is getting harder and harder to defend every year. So he Sits Up back in the ring, but then he needs the help of the ropes to get to his feet. He goes for his one big risk-taker - the leap over the ropes - and he fucking SPIKES ON HIS HEAD TO DEATH. Holy fucking shit. It's one of those times where a real life unfortunate botch happens to play into the story perfectly, because not only is Taker facing tougher and tougher challenges, he's also getting older each year and getting closer to facing his own mortality, and you can see that creeping in with every moment of this segment. He usually nails the dive. This time, he ate it, right at a moment where he REALLY needed to pull it off. Shawn for his troubles saves what could be a match-killing moment by reacting to it so well and making such a production of the count, so that when Taker comes in at 9.99 the crowd audibly pops for the nearfall of Taker losing The Streak via countout. But this match must continue, and clearly we're entering another level.

 

BAM Chokeslam! BAM Superkick! BAM Last Ride! The bombs are starting to drop, but even now they're still made to work for everything. Nobody ever walks right into anything, there's always counters and positioning and a struggle before it is finally hit. And once again Shawn is taking NUTSO bumps for this shit. He didn't just kick out of the Last Ride, he kicked out of the BIGGEST LAST RIDE OF ALL TIME. He was fucking airborne. But he's hanging in there, through the sheer determination to Be Shawn Michaels and to Beat The Streak, so Taker goes the extra mile. He climbs the ropes and attempts a flying elbow drop. He's resorting to MOVE STEALING. Taker hasn't stolen anyone's move since he was stuck in finisher spamfests with Kurt Angle as a biker. He's the fucking Deadman, he has a million bombs up his sleeve, why would he ever need to steal the move of some mortal peasant? Because he's fucking DESPERATE, that's why. He's been driven to an unprecedented level of desperation, and unsurprisingly, he misses. You start to get the sense that even flat on his back, Shawn is winning some kind of mental battle and has the momentum, which continues when he skins the cat but HE'S CAUGHT! TOMBSTONE! LIGHTS O-HE. KICKED. OUT.

 

This whole moment was beautiful, from the crowd counting along "Three!" and then losing their shit when they realised, to Taker's FACE (we've all seen the GIF) to J.R. screaming "I just had an out of body experience!", which is a line so odd and absurd in the circumstances that it had to be a straight up shoot. J.R. was marking out bro! And once again the bar has been raised for a Streak match. This is Mr. Wrestlemania, the greatest alive. He's not going down without the most almighty of fights. It will take something special, something unprecedented. And that's exactly what we get in response, as Taker pulls down the straps. I could be wrong but I don't recall him ever doing this before. At this moment Taker needs the kind of power that only a wrestler pulling down his straps can give.

 

Shawn is so great from here wrestling on fumes, hitting that sloppy DDT, making the excruciating crawl to the top rope (why make all that effort to climb to the top? Because he's Shawn Michaels Dammit! What else is he possibly going to do?), wobbling dangerously when he's up there before nailing the elbow (HE nails it, it's his move!) and then not even being able to Kip Up anymore, but just making another painstaking crawl to his feet using the ropes. Undertaker is somehow in even worse shape and takes an age to get up, stumbling around the ring and almost falling out before turning around into a sad, final, definitive Sweet Chin Music.

 

KICK. OUT. MOTHER. FUCKER.

 

Oh sorry, I forgot to mention that TAKER IS A FUCKING BADASS ZOMBIE and will not be killed. The Streak emboldens Taker's opponents but it also strengthens Taker's resolve as well, lifting him up to inhuman feats of strength and willing him to withstand anything in its defense.

 

The cool thing about this next moment is that despite how pitiful each of them looked before the superkick, the kickout has reinvigorated them both and they FIRE UP. They lean on each other to stand themselves up, but not in a slow, overselling, overdramatic way, they're both clawing nastily at each other, pie-facing and jockeying for position before Shawn unleashes the most FURIOUS chop he has ever thrown in his entire life. They engage in this intense striking battle before Taker just levels him with a boot. And even so they KEEP fighting right until the bitter end, chopping and punching, positioning and reversing, countering and blocking, until Shawn tries once again to go to the top rope and take a risk, and once again it backfires as Taker catches him, BAM! TOMBSTONE NUMERO DUO, LIGHTS THE FUCK OUT. Goodnight nurse.

 

As expected, Shawn was up for the challenge and presented Taker with his biggest fight yet. He went to ridiculous levels to try to end The Streak, absorbing all kinds of punishment, taking all kinds of bombs, dishing out plenty of his own, and even resorting to asshole tactics like trying to get Taker counted out after he KILLED HIMSELF. The Streak has become this mythological idea, bigger than any other title or reward in WWE, and people are now apparently willing to near kill themselves to get it. Which in turn means Taker needs to actually kill them dead in order to keep it. And kill them he does. He took all kinds of shit in this match and at times looked wildly and uncharacteristically desperate, but in the end, he's the fucking Undertaker and he prevailed. He can't not prevail at Wrestlemania. It would be the end of Taker as we know him.

 

Yeah seriously, I don't know what the fuck match you assholes are watching but it can't be this one because this match is fucking glorious from beginning to end. Shawn is incredible in it, Taker is incredible in it. They keep it engaging from bell to bell, and build it and escalate it perfectly in keeping with the story of the match and the wider story of the Streak. All the big bombs make sense and they're always earned through the struggle. All of the big kickouts make sense and they're always timed perfectly. They sell bumps and damage, they sell big moves, they sell exhaustion, they sell desperation, they sell the emotional toll. I'm not really sure what else you could ask of them in terms of a vast, layered, epic main event match.

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I rewatched this today before reading what you wrote. I don't necessarily want to talk about the quality here (I'm not as high as you are, but I'm not low on it either, especially relative to what follows it. The flaws, I think are with Shawn as are many but all of the strengths). We have a better arena for that. I do think that I had different reads on certain parts of the narratives though, which I find interesting.

 

And the first thing he does is chop the Undertaker.

 

Shawn can't help himself, he's the Showstoppa and he's going to Shawn it up no matter what, and that includes throwing his ridiculous chops at the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. It's hubris, and he's incapable of doing anything else. What I liked it how they were sold, both by J.R. saying they're "more annoying than anything in the early going" (yes I can quote verbatim from this match) and by Taker, who absorbed most of them about as you'd expect but then OUCH, he'd get one really nasty one that actually stung and he'd sell it, giving a point to them after all.

 

Another thing Shawn can't help is being an utter dick, and that peeks through in key moments as well - early on he tries the ol' "fake a knee injury" spot that kicked off a nine month feud with Jericho the year prior. Here Taker doesn't even entertain the notion, but it works to give Shawn a momentary advantage.

 

 

I think you're underselling Michaels' initial strategy, actually. He's being a dick. He's Shawning it up, but everything he does in this match is also to win. (Or at least almost everything). There's hubris, absolutely, but the hubris is in the build. The hubris was to get to this point, to get his shot at the streak. The early portion of the match is him trying to take any opportunity he can, to annoy Taker into making a mistake, to show him that he's not afraid, to enrage him. Shawn doesn't want him to make a mistake. He NEEDS him to. Those first chops look terrible (And so much of that is Taker's selling later on), because there is literally nothing Shawn can do (save for maybe a Superkick, which is teased early) to hurt Taker at moment zero. He has to chop at the tree, but more than that, he has to get Taker to make a mistake.

 

 

The first big moment of the match is Taker's first attempt at a chokeslam, which gets countered into the crossface, which they work for a long time before Taker Takers Up and hits a sidewalk slam to get out (another BIG back bump for Shawn). Shawn throws the flying forearm and lays there forever, and you think to yourself "It's too early for him to be playing dead" but then he Kips Up and sells his motherfucking back. He's hurt. Maybe it was the kip up that did it and his hubris did him in...maybe it was all those big bumps he'd taken in this match and he wasn't playing dead for fun after all, he was buying time...maybe it was a lifetime of bumps and a bad back and he broke the camel's back, but whatever it was, he was hurting. He had this look on his face like...this is a weird analogy to spin off into, but I remember hearing Adam Gilchrist, who was an Australian cricketer, say that one day he was playing and he missed this one catch, a pretty regulation catch he'd taken a million times, and even though he was otherwise playing just fine, in that one moment he realised that he was getting old and he was not long for the world. He retired soon after. For me that was Shawn's moment, for 20+ years he was able to take punishment and still do the Kip Up and Shawn Up and be fine, but here it just...hurt. He was getting old, and he was not long for the world, and you can see why he retired a year later. But that's another kettle of beans and I digress.

 

The next sequence is wicked cool: Taker goozles Shawn for the second time, Shawn escapes and goes for the superkick, Taker ducks out of the way so fast he TAKES A BUMP, Shawn grabs the legs but Taker immediately transitions into the gogoplata and Shawn frantically makes the ropes. It's worth noting that this was the first time EVER that anyone had escaped Hell's Gate, even by using the ropes, and not passed out or tapped to it. Escalation. Things are heating up and once again Taker's opponent is rising to the occasion and going above and beyond the call.

 

And once again it takes more and more of a toll on Taker. They spill outside and sure Taker swats Shawn's moonsault attempt away like a badass, but he then collapses to the floor and sits there in a kind of despair that we don't ever see out of the Undertaker. He knows full well that this thing is getting harder and harder to defend every year. So he Sits Up back in the ring, but then he needs the help of the ropes to get to his feet. He goes for his one big risk-taker - the leap over the ropes - and he fucking SPIKES ON HIS HEAD TO DEATH. Holy fucking shit. It's one of those times where a real life unfortunate botch happens to play into the story perfectly, because not only is Taker facing tougher and tougher challenges, he's also getting older each year and getting closer to facing his own mortality, and you can see that creeping in with every moment of this segment. He usually nails the dive. This time, he ate it, right at a moment where he REALLY needed to pull it off. Shawn for his troubles saves what could be a match-killing moment by reacting to it so well and making such a production of the count, so that when Taker comes in at 9.99 the crowd audibly pops for the nearfall of Taker losing The Streak via countout. But this match must continue, and clearly we're entering another level.

 

Let's talk about two things here at the same time. The first is that the most natural emotion in the entire match is when Shawn comes off as old. There are two moments specifically. The first is when he's selling relatively early on, maybe around that first kip up, and he just looks like an old man. He's the one who just retired Ric the year before, and maybe he'd been through the Jericho feud but I think there was an element that Taker was the Monster and Michaels was the Monster Hunter, the Myth and the man at the peak of his power about to bring him down. It would be more clear the next year, but I do think it comes through the cracks here, like an ominous sunlight shining through, and it's the most real thing in the match, especially after the dive when it's clearly apparent that Michaels hubris WAS in the build. He understands what winning means. He needs to win, but he'll win at any cost, not caring if the fans think him a man for it or not, not caring if they boo him. All that matters is the win because the task is so monumental. I'm not sure there's ever quite been a cinematic moment in WWE history more so than Michaels praying for the countout, and it works, not in the way it was supposed to, i think, but because once again, that age shines through. He's an old man praying for a miracle. Looking back, the second Taker made it back in the ring, it was inevitable. Michaels just didn't have the weapons in his arsenal.

 

 

BAM Chokeslam! BAM Superkick! BAM Last Ride! The bombs are starting to drop, but even now they're still made to work for everything. Nobody ever walks right into anything, there's always counters and positioning and a struggle before it is finally hit. And once again Shawn is taking NUTSO bumps for this shit. He didn't just kick out of the Last Ride, he kicked out of the BIGGEST LAST RIDE OF ALL TIME. He was fucking airborne. But he's hanging in there, through the sheer determination to Be Shawn Michaels and to Beat The Streak, so Taker goes the extra mile. He climbs the ropes and attempts a flying elbow drop. He's resorting to MOVE STEALING. Taker hasn't stolen anyone's move since he was stuck in finisher spamfests with Kurt Angle as a biker. He's the fucking Deadman, he has a million bombs up his sleeve, why would he ever need to steal the move of some mortal peasant? Because he's fucking DESPERATE, that's why. He's been driven to an unprecedented level of desperation, and unsurprisingly, he misses. You start to get the sense that even flat on his back, Shawn is winning some kind of mental battle and has the momentum, which continues when he skins the cat but HE'S CAUGHT! TOMBSTONE! LIGHTS O-HE. KICKED. OUT.

 

See, I think you're wrong here. It's a valid reading, one that shapes the way you look at the match, but I think you're wrong. Taker isn't desperate. He's not deep enough to be desperate. Yes, he's bloodied, a wounded beast, first and foremost by the dive that he missed. But he's angry at the kick out after the Last Ride. He's faced Michaels. He knows him. They're contemporaries. And he's angry at Michaels' gall, that he contrived this situation, that he dared to, and then he dared, once again, to kick out. Taker knows he still has the tombstone. He went from chokeslam to Last Ride. Tombstone would be next. He's not desperate because he always has that. What he is, instead, is pissed off. The attempt at the elbow drop is not about desperation. It's about punishment. It's punitive. It's the poetic notion of punishing Michaels with what he's known for, to show him that Wrestlemania belonged to the Undertaker.

 

And maybe it, like the dive that came before it, were the mistakes that Michaels was goading Taker into earlier in the match, the ones that really gave him a fighting chance in the match.

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I think those are all really good points.

 

The thing about Shawn needing Undertaker to make a mistake is so true, it crossed my mind at one point but I forgot to add it to the narrative. But it is very true. I THINK, I could be wrong but I think it's actually a key talking point on commentary during Shawn/Taker II. So it's something that even WWE recognises in the matches at one point.

 

It's fascinating that you bring up inevitability as well, because that is something that becomes increasingly apparent as you go along these matches. I never thought about it too much for the first match, but you're right in that Shawn not getting the countout is a moment where that really shines through.

 

I like your read of the elbow too. I still like my own take better - I think because it plays into the overarching story of Taker's mortality that spans all the matches, I'm now going back and seeing the seeds planted even here - but it's certainly a valid one. And I agree about the tie in to it being a mistake that Shawn needed Taker to make. In a way it's like the big bomb throwing equivalent of letting a guy punch himself out and waiting for the wild haymaker that gives you your opening.

 

It's also worth noting that pretty much NONE of the big risks taken in this match succeed. Shawn's moonsault to the floor is swatted away. Taker dives and kills himself. Taker misses the elbow. (Shawn hits his but that's basically a regular move for him) And Shawn going for the moonsault again is what ultimately did him in. This match gives weight to the words because the high risk moves were exactly that - high risk, high reward, low percentage plays - and they crashed and burned over and over. BUT they were in such a high stakes game, and both guys are so great and not giving an inch that they still found it necessary to take those kinds of risks. To try to shoot the moon.

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Shawn's Elbow is part of his finishing sequence. That's something I struggle with when it comes to the match. Shawn just doesn't have the weapon in his arsenal to take Taker down. Yes, him flooring him with superkicks was part of the build but he never had to hold him down for three with them, certainly not at Wrestlemania. Shawn had never been able to pin Taker. On the other hand, Taker has the escalation of moves. Chokeslam -> Last Ride -> Tombstone. All Michaels had, really, was Superkick -> Kip up, Elbow, Superkick. But even then, that's just not ENOUGH escalation. That's, in part, why the countout moment is so important.

 

I had an issue with the caught cat skin/moonsault. I think one of those two was just a little too cute. Having one was okay. Having two was problematic. I think that's endemic of a bigger problem when it comes to matches like these (self aware epics or whatever). It's very hard to find the line and the natural inclination is always for complexity over simplicity. There are points where I think it works (the Choke - block, kick-block, chokeslam, and the sunset flip attempt on the Last Ride before Taker hits it), but when it doesn't work or when a simpler choice would improve upon it, it sticks out badly.

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I disagree on the first part, Sweet Chin Music was over enough as a knockout finisher that it gave Shawn a weapon to beat Taker with. Maybe not one, but the second superkick was a huge and believable nearfall. (I think that's a little hard to remember now knowing how much the kickouts escalated AFTER this point. But nobody ever kicked out of two superkicks in a match.)

 

As a total aside, that is what makes the Shawn vs Orton "Superkick is Banned" match so utterly fascinating. You watch the match and you just start thinking "Yeah...how on earth IS Shawn going to win without the kick?" And you get the feeling that Shawn himself is wondering the exact same thing as it goes along. And frankly he doesn't come up with an answer. He goes through his finishing routine and then...has nothing to finish with. He's really at a loss as to how to win a different way. And at the finish, he finds himself in front of Orton and instinctively goes to kick and has to stop himself, and that hesitation allows Orton to RKO him. (I feel like it could also be a "he can't help himself" tie in if I thought about it)

 

With Shawn's size and lack of real aggression, the superkick is his equalizer, the one silver bullet that can put anyone down at any time. And in the case of Taker the solution IS to just keep hitting it until it works. It's not the most poetic of escalations like Taker's bombs are, but Shawn just doesn't have that kind of moveset. The only other thing he can escalate with is high risk moves and jumping off things, but as we've covered, that tends to be a bad idea in this match. If his high risk moves had come off in this match, the outcome might have been different. We'll never know.

 

I don't think having the two was too cute. But I think that's just a personal preference thing. Also I think that they were different kinds of moments. The skin the cat thing was cuter and more of a surprise thing. The finish was a little more...inevitable, to use that word. They were both beyond spent and Shawn going up top for one last ill-fated risk was him kind of succumbing to his fate. When Taker caught him the first time it was like "Woah that's cool!" But the second time it was like "Yep, I see, this is the end."

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Rewatched this and it is better than I remember. The first half was pretty great with the power vs smarts dynamic with Shawn adding cool heelish touches and his desperation was great. The second half still doesn't do it for me but I get why people might like it. *** 1/2 but I still think their rematch and the 97 HIAC smoke this.

 

One thing I will say is that I honestly think Shawn was legitimately great between 2002-2010, atleast during the bigger matches, and feel sometimes the criticisms against him can be overblown.

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I haven't watched this match for years - I kinda quit watching wrestling during 2009 for personal reasons at the time so I never bought the DVD or ever re-watched it and I remember loving it at the time. And I still love it, whilst it's not one of the greatest matches ever IMO, it's a match where I'm glad I re-watched it despite my fears that I would hate it. The start was a bit funny with HBK attacking the leg which was all fine but locked in an armbar which in reality would hurt his leg. Hell, in wrestling that would hurt his own leg. I was like WTF. HBK started to get a bit more heelish with some nasty chops which became a constant throughout the match, using the ref for the famous dive by Taker. Thought HBK's desperation traits were very well done. Now unfortunately, this match is known for many things (like the dive) but one thing it's most known for is the use of the kicks outs. Perhaps if it wasn't such a staple these days as well as the reputation making me expect it more, this would've been more enjoyable and more shocking too. What I did like was he crowd, the commentary and Taker's facial expressions afterwards, otherwise the actual kick outs went over my head. Now saying that, Taker constantly trying to end Michaels and visibly getting frustrated was awesome. Overall, this is a really good match and a real good performance by both. Loved that the chops by Michales were a great story device with them being basically the only thing that HBK could use to get the advantage and Taker hitting all his big moves with HBK being resilient but the match was sloppy as well and predictable in places. ****1/4

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The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels -WrestleMania XXV

I have always considered this Shawn Michaels' take on All Japan. Now when I made the same claim about Jushin Liger in 1997. It holds water. It is highly unlikely that 2009 Shawn Michaels cares about the Four Corners. I don't even know if he knows who the fuck Misawa is. So it is more happenstance that they do a King's Road match in 2009 but it is glorious all the same. To me this is the logical conclusion of Shawn's preferred style. King's Road is workrate meets epic storytelling which is what Shawn was always trying to achieve since 1994. I think the first half of this match including the two huge missed dives is just fucking aces. 

I love when tempo matters in wrestling. So many times it is body part psychology but tempo can be just as a powerful psychological tool. I love how it shifts and is unexpected. Who would have predicted in a million years that an uptempo style would favor the Undertaker? But they make it work. Also notice without much movement how much energy Taker expresses at the beginning of the match. So much pep in the step. It is infectious. He is so invested. It makes you invested. Energy is not just running around, it is good body language. Loved the Shawn cat and mouse game: the feigned superkick was so good. Once Taker got rolling, he was so explosive. Everything looked fucking great. Great missed Taker move to give Shawn the opening to attack the leg. It is funny but who would have predicted Undertaker to be the one to blow off leg selling to explosive rope running like he is Ultimo Dragon. Who would have predicted that Shawn would be trying to grind a win out using holds to contain Taker. This match reminds me of the 94 Misawa vs Doc with Misawa trying to contain the more explosive Doc and then land the Elbow. Same with Michaels but replace Elbow with Superkick. The Big spots in the middle come off huge. These are equivalent to huge apron spots in All Japan like a Nodowa off the Apron or a Tiger Driver off the apron.

My big issue with the match is that these huge spots don't feel like they have that much bearing on the match. Undertaker basically piledrove himself but doesn't feel like he is in a huge hole. I do think some of the finisher traders feels more like NOAH than All Japan if you catch my drift. That choke slam was massive. I think the Fighting Spirit sequence came off fucking great! Awesome selling and striking! I really dug and the final Tombstone rocked.

To me this flirted with ***** but the immediate aftermath of the two missed dives hurts it. If you JIP I Don't feel like they matter much but the Apron Spots were the climaxes of All Japan. I think after some finisher trading they do get back on track with a strong strike exchange and emphatic finish. I said AJ vs Daniels was the 2009 MOTY but that was based on memory, it is indeed this match. ****3/4

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