The Showstopper. The Headliner. The Main Event. The Icon. The Heartbreak Kid. Of all of the nicknames bestowed upon now retired World Wrestling Entertainment performer Shawn Michaels, perhaps the most fitting is Mr. WrestleMania. Michaels did not always have his hand raised on pro wrestling’s biggest stage – far from it, actually – but the one thing you knew was that you were going to be in for one incredible show whenever HBK took to the ring at a WrestleMania. When Michaels didn’t steal the show, he and his opponent routinely lived up to the hype that preceded his match.
The WWE Hall-of-Fame career of Michaels is split in two parts: His first solo run in the company, and his comeback from a serious injury that kicked off in 2002. As great as Michaels was during his first stint as the Heartbreak Kid and then as the founder of legendary group D-Generation-X, it was during his return to the active WWE roster when Michaels had the majority of his best singles matches. Each of those encounters included performers who are either currently in or will eventually be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and his last two WrestleMania matches have been called the best of Michaels’ career.
Perhaps the most impressive feat of Michaels’ WrestleMania career is that his final appearance as an active performer to date (never say never in pro wrestling regarding one final HBK retirement match) was rated to be a five-star battle by fans and respected analysts. Any list of the best overall WrestleMania matches of all time would have to be filled with Michaels for it to have any credibility whatsoever. Nobody delivered at those pay-per-view events as did HBK, and it will be sometime before another wrestler comes close to matching Michaels’ WrestleMania resume if that day ever comes in the first place.
10. Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart: WrestleMania XII
History does not look fondly on this encounter, largely because the in-person crowd sat still for much of the Iron Man match. Michaels and Hart put on a contest that deserves more love than it often receives from reviewers, as the two were asked to tell a story that involved neither man getting all that close to earning a fall for nearly 60 straight minutes. This was a passing-of-a-torch moment that also put some fuel onto the fire that was a real-life feud involving these two all-time greats, and Michaels won his first ever World Wrestling Federation Championship in an overtime period. Nobody, at the time, could see what was to come from those two.
9. Shawn Michaels vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin: WrestleMania XIV
This night signaled the beginning of one era and the end of another, although those of us watching at home had little idea that Michaels was on the verge of going away “for good” after the match. HBK suffered a serious back injury during the Royal Rumble pay-per-view months prior to WrestleMania, and he worked through the pain to help catapult Austin to the status of the biggest draw in the history of North American professional wrestling. Go back and watch that match knowing the agony Michaels was in, and it is difficult to not wince every time he takes a back bump.
8. Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena: WrestleMania XXIII
Michaels twice got the best out of Cena in 2007; once at a Raw event that happened later on in the year, and at WrestleMania XXIII. There were several points during the match when it appeared as if Michaels was going to get another big WrestleMania win, most notably when Cena failed to hit his Attitude Adjustment finisher multiple times and when HBK hit a piledriver on Cena onto the surface of the steel steps placed outside of the ring. It was Michaels putting Cena over in the end, as HBK tapped out to the STFU, not the first time that Michaels would submit in a match that was an instant classic.
7. Shawn Michaels vs. Mr. McMahon: WrestleMania XXII
Michaels put both himself and McMahon through beatings at WrestleMania XXII, taking some hard bumps from the Spirit Squad and also selling for the Chairman of the Board. Two spots from this match stick out: Michaels doing the famous DX crotch-chop and hinting at the reunion that was to come, and Michaels flying off of a massive ladder and crashing into Mr. McMahon, the latter having had a garbage can placed on his head and then placed on a table before being elbow-dropped by Michaels. Remember that Michaels was sidelined only five years before he soared through the air at WrestleMania XXII.
6. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho: WrestleMania XIX
Michaels and Jericho were not in the main event of WrestleMania XIX, but the two stole the show with a wrestling clinic that remains one of Jericho’s finest moments in WWE. Far and away the best match on the card, the two battled back and forth in an encounter that had few low points. Both managed to hit Sweet Chin Music superkicks, and Michaels found himself in the Walls of Jericho submission late in the contest. That was not to be the finish, however, as HBK countered a suplex attempt into a roll-up for the pinfall. A rare Michaels WrestleMania win, Michaels wrestled like a man who never left the business on that 2003 evening.
5. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon: WrestleMania X
That this historic Ladder Match sits at fifth on the list is a testament to the greatness of the WrestleMania legacy left by Michaels. Michaels and Ramon battled in a match that was years ahead of its time, fighting over the Intercontinental Title (titles, technically, since two belts were hung suspended over the ring) that had been stripped from Michaels. Both men took painful bumps off of ladders, one involving Michaels being pushed from the top and down onto the ropes. That fall resulted in HBK getting tangled up in the ropes, and Ramon took advantage and climbed his way to the championship waiting for him.
4. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair: WrestleMania XXIV
“I’m sorry. I love you.” With those five words and one Sweet Chin Music, Michaels ended the active WWE career of the Nature Boy and arguably the greatest North American professional wrestler to ever live. Michaels did all that he could with a well-past-his-prime Flair, and the veteran, to his credit, held his own in what will be his final ever WrestleMania match. While it is a shame that age catches up with all athletes and that such legendary figures have to retire, it was only fitting that Flair would bow out from the active WWE roster at WrestleMania by losing to Mr. WrestleMania.
3. Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker: WrestleMania XXVI
The rematch was never fully going to live up to the first encounter involving these two, or at least that was the thought when the WWE first aired this phenomenal promo for the match involving Michaels and Undertaker. It turns out that lightning can strike twice in the same place. Michaels was as good at what is, as of the posting of this piece, his last ever WrestleMania match and his final WWE match as he was on any night featured in this piece, and he gave an unintentional nod to Ric Flair by being put into retirement because of a loss that occurred at the company’s biggest show of the year.
2. Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker: WrestleMania XXV
The truth of the matter is that you could easily flip No. 2 and No. 3 and not get much an argument from any knowledgeable fan. An easy choice for Match of the Year by multiple publications, the WrestleMania XXV match gets the nod above the rematch simply because, unlike when it was known that Michaels was eying retirement, there were multiple moments during this contest when it appeared as if Michaels was going to legitimately end the undefeated WrestleMania streak of the Undertaker. That, of course, did not happen, as Michaels suffered a pinfall defeat in what is regarded by some to be the greatest WrestleMania match of all time.
1. Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle: WrestleMania XXI
You can have any other match from any other WrestleMania. I’ll take this one every day of the week. Michaels and Angle put together a masterpiece at WrestleMania XXI, a match that had five-star wrestling and five-star storytelling. Angle tapped Michaels out via the ankle lock in yet another example of HBK being in a WrestleMania match that stole the show. In total, I count no fewer than four WrestleMania matches involving Michaels that are, upon re-watching, worthy of five-star ratings, and that is being super-critical. Reliving these moments any way you can each spring is a tremendous way to remember the man who earned the honor of being called Mr. WrestleMania.
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