AWA Tag Team Championship
Buddy Rose & Doug Somers (c) vs. The Midnight Rockers
[AWA @ Las Vegas – 08.30.86]
James Dixon: This was a relative rarity for WWE at the time: a match from another promotion on one of their official releases. After all those years pretending no other wrestling existed outside of the WWE bubble, suddenly they are changing their tune. Why? Mon-eh! Nothing is off limits for WWE if it will make them dollars, and some bright spark in the company realised old school fans would pay to see this match, given its relative rarity. It is not the first time it has been featured on a home video release though. It also showed up on AWA VHS tape Blood on the Sand. No, we will not be doing an AWA VHS guide book! Maybe a rarities book… One day. The Midnight Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty for those who are unclear that this is the same team who ended up in the WWF) had been feuding with Somers and Rose for a while. It was an epic rivalry, and this is probably the best match they ever had together. Those looking for refinement or technical wrestling won’t find any of it here. What you do get is a blood brawl between a great babyface team and a brilliant heel duo. Shawn sets the tone with an early bladejob, bleeding like a stuck pig while Somers and Rose tee off on him. It lasts a while, and the heels build heat so well that the crowd are jumping up and down in a frenzy when Jannetty makes the hot tag. Jannetty explodes into life, and when he gets cut off they are pissed. Jannetty gets a beating too, and he makes this a double juicer when he does a bladejob of his own. It’s more gruesome than Shawn’s, with Marty bleeding all over the ring, on Somers’ face, and on his own tights. It’s the old crimson mask. Somers bleeds too, because, why not? Jannetty keeps fighting, showing incredible fire, but he cannot escape his opponents’ corner. Buddy and Jannetty end up brawling on their knees, where Marty bites him and dives for the tag to Shawn. It breaks down into a pier-sixer, the ref takes a tumble, and everyone goes nuts on each other. Rose takes advantage of the lack of rules by dropping Marty onto a chair, and when another ref runs in he gets a battered too. It’s mayhem! That’s a DQ, and it takes a troupe of babyfaces to clear the champs away to prevent a post-match attack on the Rockers. There was probably one wrestling move in the entire match, but that didn’t matter. The crowd was electric, the brawling was great, the blood made it memorable. Superb fight.
Final Rating: ****
Tangent: In an interesting titbit: Somers actually sued WWE years later for using the bout on this compilation, claiming that he hadn’t received royalties for his appearance on the disc. Jesse Ventura had successfully sued Vince McMahon years earlier, successfully no less, for the same thing. It smacked of a desperate act from a former star who had fallen on hard times, though I do see his point. I bet Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels still receive cheques from WWE for their part. Not Rose though, who sadly died in 2009.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Razor Ramon (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
[WWF WrestleMania X – 03.20.94]
Lee Maughan: This is it. The match that changed everything. Wrestling as it was known was blown wide open, and wrestling as it would become was blueprinted right here. Okay, it didn’t change the fortunes of an entire promotion like Hulk Hogan winning the WWF Title for the first time or the New World Order debuting in WCW were able to do, but all those high risk stunt matches you saw in the 2000s? Here’s the genesis of all that. Edge & Christian, The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boyz destroying their bodies in those unforgettable TLC matches? Those were a direct result of Ramon vs. Michaels, with a dash of ECW sprinkled on top for good measure. Certainly an influential outing then, helped to its status as a long-standing classic by its placement on a WrestleMania card. It’s possible its esteem would be lowered had it only been included on a throwaway home video like the Michaels-Bret Hart ladder match from 1992. I must admit though, that I do belong to the school of thought that regards the SummerSlam ’95 rematch as being better than the original, largely on the grounds that it tells a better story, and has more drama. This match is more just a collection of outrageous bumps and stunts, every last one of them hit to immaculate perfection, none of which had ever been seen before, and it set the template for the spectacular car crash stunt show wrestling that was to come in the years that followed. Little wonder then that it took pretty much unanimous match of the year honours for 1994 from all who saw it, including respected publications such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated, PowerSlam, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and the Pro Wrestling Torch. A match you absolutely owe it to yourself to see then, and if you’re an avid Coliseum collector or DVD devotee, chances are sooner or later, you will.
Final Rating: *****
Bret Hart (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
[WWF WrestleMania XII – 03.31.96]
Arnold Furious: Shawn gets the ridiculously over-the-top entrance and ziplines into the ring (well, crowd) from the top of the building. Very cool. When I first saw this match I considered it to be my favourite, which it was until I saw Mitsuharu Misawa–Toshiaki Kawada from two years earlier about two years later. Basically, it’s my two favourite wrestlers going head-to-head (both matches). Looking back there’s a lot of Misawa-Kawada about the feud, in that they’ve been largely respectful until Shawn started gunning for Bret’s titles and Shawn, like Kawada, always comes up short against the champ.
I’ve always loved the psychology of this match. The early going sees a well prepared and rested Shawn deliberately picking up counters, thus provoking Bret into changing his game. The best example of this is Shawn hitting a few takedowns and Bret seeing a third one coming and adjusting to a headlock. It’s beautiful wrestling and the kind of thing they weren’t doing back in the Hart Foundation–Rockers matches. With the headlock applied, Shawn is forced into finding a way out and discovers it ain’t that easy. However, he’s inventive so gets a head scissors, but Bret slips out, back to the headlock and as Shawn goes for the head scissors Bret leans forwards to avoid it. Brilliant. When you go sixty-minutes, you’d better put some psychology in there or it’ll get slow. Shawn opts for an armbar for his time killing strategy and the crowd is restless. Although this all sets up a spot where Shawn escapes a headlock, after working the arm, into an armbar. He’s weakened the arm that was applying the headlock therefore allowing him to escape it easier. Even a rest hold can lead to something that makes sense and that makes it easier to accept. Jerry Lawler is somewhat surprised that Bret takes a cheap shot by refusing the clean break, but that’s how important this title is to him. The King then stops off to insult flippy-floppy Mexican wrestling as having no effect other than to frustrate and annoy. Shawn’s flipping includes the skinning the cat move though, and for some reason Bret takes his eye off Shawn and gets caught in an armbar again. The difference between this and previous time-killing holds is that Shawn is after a submission, positioning himself between Bret and the ropes and cranking away. Bret responds by going right after the Sharpshooter when he escapes, just to let Shawn know who’s the boss with submissions. Also, he remembered the skinning of the cat and therefore lariats Shawn over the top to make sure he’s over. When Bret follows out, Shawn miscues and superkicks the timekeeper, which wakes up a certain section of the crowd. If they’d conducted this match on how many officials they could knock out, Shawn would be up one fall. Also, who is going to keep the time now? I’m surprised that didn’t factor into the finish. When you think about it, that would be a fine way to screw with the ending if they wanted to go that route.
I dig that they both remember what their go-to hold is with Bret headlocking and Shawn armbaring. With twenty-minutes gone they’ve really only traded on the mat, so Bret opens up with a few elbows and Shawn, remembering his focus, runs Bret shoulder-first into the post. Shoulderbreaker and a hammerlock slam follow and that focus has Shawn in control. This causes Bret to lose focus and try to strike to defend and he’s caught in another armbar. Bret, clearly pissed off that Shawn is bossing the technical stuff, stomps on his face. Shawn responds with high risk in the corner and misses, almost as if Bret baited him with the stomp, fully expecting Shawn to do something stupid.
Halfway and the crowd is starting to buy into it and the wrestlers are starting to consider near falls. Shawn gets a powerslam and Bret retorts with a piledriver and the crowd is shocked at the kickout. It’s a wee bit disappointing they don’t sell for longer on the big spots considering how much they sell on everything else because of fatigue. A minor quibble. Shawn is still fast enough to go after the chin music so Bret bails and Shawn heads up top for the plancha instead. They went to a long shot and it looked awesome. Much like in past matches, Bret rolls through Shawn’s high crossbody and again the crowd is surprised at the kick out. Shawn comes firing back with the fisherman suplex for two. The false finishes are really being bought into because of the Ironman stipulation, so the crowd are kinda expecting a fall and are then shocked at the lack of one. Having popped the crowd a bit they work in one of their big spots as Shawn takes a backdrop over the turnbuckle. Stunning bump from HBK. The crowd fully expects him to lose the first fall on count out and even get a little sympathy going. Lawler covers the conundrum of whether you go for the pin because he’s hurt or the count out because he might not get back in. Do you wait and hope or take advantage now?
Bret starts working the back and it’s all working towards either a pin or the Sharpshooter. He’s giving himself two possible outs and slowing Shawn down, thus limiting his aerial game. Shawn takes another fantastic bump to the floor and wipes out Jose Lothario in the process. Twice. You have to think they inserted those spots for Jose to get to bump something. Shawn attempts fisticuffs, which he loses hilariously. That’s exactly how Syracuse went down. Shawn takes another bump to the floor (losing count now) and Bret considers this his best opening; tope! Because Bret opts for a count out the crowd audibly turns on him a bit, which I’m sure was intentional. Shawn beats the count so Bret lays him out with a German suplex for two. Bret, frustrated, starts using Shawn as a punching bag. You could argue Shawn was attempting the Rope-A-Dope but at fifty-minutes into a match you suspect he’s just tired.
Bret chinlocks his way into the final ten-minutes, suggesting he’s aiming to put this one in the cooler. Nobody said pre-match what would happen if the scores were level after sixty-minutes so Bret probably figured he just needed to stop Shawn from winning. He’s not completely done with the punishment though and hits a superplex (his second of the match). Shawn blocks the Sharpshooter otherwise he was finished there and then. Bret fudges the figure four and slaps on a half crab instead. Bret is slow to release the hold, aiming to break down Shawn’s back some more. As Bret hops up top I notice him looking at the scoreboard (which is something he’d mention in future interviews). Shawn manages his flying forearm and the camera misses his fifty-seventh minute nip up. Nice work, fellas. Haven’t you ever seen a Shawn Michaels match? Savage Elbow gets two and that’s also how many minutes are left. Shawn breaks out a Doctorbomb to set up the moonsault press for two. Diving rana gets two and Shawn is throwing everything at this thing in an attempt to bag the title. With a minute left the crowd senses Shawn is about to hit something big, but in fact he gets himself caught in the Sharpshooter with thirty-seconds left. Shawn refuses to submit, but with the time limit expired, Bret Hart retains the title.
However, nobody likes draws. Especially not in the main event of WrestleMania, so Gorilla Monsoon tells us we MUST have a winner. Although Bret has already left, and is so disgruntled at the decision that he eventually turned heel on everyone and finished his WWF career hating America. Shawn spends the announcement delay selling, allowing Bret to carry on where he left off. Shawn slips over Bret in the corner though and hits the Superkick. However he’s exhausted and can’t capitalise. Both men stagger up at roughly the same time and Shawn hits another Superkick for his first WWF Title. I’m not going full boat on this viewing because of all the little mistakes that I never noticed before. Still love the psychology of the first half of the match and applaud the energy scattered throughout the second half. Bret kick-starts the war between the two by walking out without shaking hands and generally looking pissed off. In Shawn’s solo shoot interview he actually complained about that, but on the WWE Greatest Rivalries DVD he said it was part of the ongoing angle. Regardless, this was a great achievement for both men.
Final Rating: ****¾
No Holds Barred Match
Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Diesel
[WWF Good Friends… Better Enemies – 04.28.96]
Arnold Furious: Behold: Kevin Nash’s best match. Previously that was Survivor Series ’95, but this is better. There are many intangibles but the threatened potential renegade moment from Diesel leads the way. He throws his vest at Vince McMahon and makes it clear he doesn’t intend to play by the rules this evening. Shawn finally drops the stripper attitude and comes in deadly serious, which immediately makes him more credible as champion. His moves are designed to damage, not humiliate, win the match, not pop the crowd. Diesel overpowers so Shawn dips into his locker, dropkicks Diesel to the floor and follows with a moonsault. Shawn takes immediate advantage of the stip by pulling Hugo Savinovich’s boot off and smacking Diesel in the head with it. An absolutely frantic start to the match. Shawn starts taking huge bumps, like the Ric Flair bump into flying off the apron into the rail. The whole match has an atmosphere to it as Diesel keeps stopping off to badmouth the crowd or Jose Lothario or Vince McMahon. It’s not stalling, it’s his massive confidence at play. He hits Shawn with a big move and instead of covering and scoring a near fall he’s not interested in, he opts to get the character over instead. Diesel stops off to choke the ref out and steal his belt. He puts an enormous whuppin’ on Shawn and the crowd are loving this. He chokes Shawn out with the belt, because it’s No Holds Barred, as Vince bemoans the stipulation, but Diesel is just taking it to another level. Shawn gets hung off the ropes. Cause of death: autoerotic asphyxiation. Not content with hanging Shawn, by the neck, he adds in a chair shot while the ref is getting him loose. They run the “missed chair shot on the ropes” spot, when that was new (ish). Shawn tries for his own chair shot, only for Diesel to punch him in the balls. That’s the difference: Diesel doesn’t give a fuck. Not one single little fuck. Shawn is desperate to retain his new “Kliq” (fans), he doesn’t want to take advantage of the rules, so Diesel is forcing him into it. It’s like in Return of the Jedi: “Turn to the dark side or die!” They get some tremendous realism into the match where Diesel looks visibly angered every time Shawn tries to fight back or even stand up, with Shawn taking cracking bumps from every single punch. Next comes Diesel’s surprise for Vince: he teases a powerbomb on the floor, turns and powerbombs Shawn through the announce table. Holy fucking shit! No monitor moving, no stupid preparation, just a total swerve. Vince’s reaction is breathtaking. He’s totally stunned by the whole thing. It’s one of the best spots, ever in the WWF. Shawn won’t stay down though and sprays Diesel with a fire extinguisher, so he’s blind and Shawn can pick out his spots. Flying forearm, nip up and Vince finally manages to get his mic working again, so Shawn promptly drags a headset into the ring attached to a chair. He belts Diesel with it and Vince is yelling “cover him, Shawn, cover him”. He doesn’t know what Diesel might do, which makes for an amazing atmosphere. Tingles down my spine! Diesel still continues to boss the match. He boots Shawn in the face and calls for the finish, but Shawn punches his way out of the Jack-knife. Savage Elbow! Shawn warms up the band, but Diesel catches the Superkick and lariats the champ back down. We cut to the commentators and they’re just standing there with microphones in their hands because all their gear is destroyed. Diesel continues the destruction but stops off for another weapon. He spies Mad Dog Vachon and pulls his fake leg off! Shawn gets a receipt for the groin punch to save himself. Diesel takes the fake leg square between the eyes. Superkick! Shawn retains. His celebration, where he stands over Diesel punching the air, is priceless. You can’t buy emotion like that. This was the match that put Shawn over the top as the man. Beating Bret was one thing, as they were both technically good and you could see it going either way, but Diesel was a bigger challenge. Diesel had destroyed everyone in the WWF and only lost the title because of luck and his own compassion. Having Shawn go over the strongest personality in the company made him the champion. It made Shawn’s 1996 run work. The powerbomb spot takes the match to another level. Other Diesel matches are good, but this one I love. Even the people who doubted Shawn’s credentials were probably onboard after this showing.
Final Rating: ****¾
Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Mankind
[WWF Mind Games – 09.22.96]
Arnold Furious: Mr. Perfect starts ignoring Vince McMahon’s unusually obtuse commentary as this starts. Mankind gets himself wheeled to ringside in a casket just to show how nuts he is. There are audible boos from the Philly fans who thought Mick Foley was a sell-out, but he’s having tremendous fun with this gimmick and it’d only get better. Who honestly thought Mick Foley and the WWF would be a good fit? These guys have inconceivable chemistry based on their incredible attempts to see to who can do the craziest bump, with Foley taking an early back bump onto concrete while Shawn covers him with the blue mat and jumps up and down on it. I’ve never seen that spot before. Or indeed since. Shawn hasn’t had many challengers who’ll take big bumps for him so he has a whale of a time. Shawn calls for an early superkick only for Mankind to bail and hug the urn. They run a great spot where Mankind isn’t in place for a moonsault block, mocking Shawn’s many tantrums during 1996, and Shawn follows up with a beating for Foley. It’s an opening for Mankind to block and he almost gets the Mandible Claw. I love that Shawn was willing to insert that spot to make light of his hissy fits; it showed he wasn’t a total asshole. They stiff each other a bit on the strikes, which makes a great match even better. Mankind tries to set up the Spanish announce table only for Shawn to dive over it, with Hugo Savinovich on his feet arguing with Foley. To follow up on that Shawn suplexes Mankind onto the ring steps, which was a sickening bump. It looked like a broken leg but Foley just hops back up. Shawn sees the knee as an opening and destroys it with an aggressive streak. Again, this shows where the WWF was headed. Even their blue-eyed babyface champ is being super-aggressive. The world is changing. The great thing about Foley is he can take sickening bumps on all of his body parts, so he takes vicious dragon whips, cranking submission holds and kicks to the joint. A dropkick at speed on the kneecap is insane. That’s a leg breaker. They start to wrestle out of it, with Shawn going for huge moves to finish and Mankind finding counters. When Shawn goes after the rana, Mankind drops him into the ropes with the hot shot. Mankind loses the feeling in his leg so he stabs it with a pencil to get the feeling back. Brilliant stuff. Another highlight of an awesome encounter. Mankind’s game plan involves sacrificing his own body so moves that would appear stupid from other people are acceptable from him. Like the running knee, with his bad knee, because Mankind does not give a fuck. Not one single fuck about his own well-being. The match is so badass that the MEN are chanting “HBK”. It’s a mirror Philadelphia of extreme badassery. Shawn uses his speed and starts to take big bumps to counter the big bumps from Mankind earlier. I love that the Spanish announce table is still sitting there, prepped for a future spot. Mankind takes face first bumps into the ring steps, which he must hate by now, and then the ring post, but he keeps on ticking. Shawn has a similar height to Foley so he can hit power spots like the powerslam. Mankind gets himself tied up in the ropes, drawing sympathy from the crowd and Shawn, but when Shawn goes to check on him Mankind hooks him in the Mandible Claw! What a spot! Shawn gets stuck in the Claw again on the floor, but Mankind gets dragged face-first into the rail. Shawn gets a chair in the way of the next Claw and chair shots the knee and the hand. So now Mankind can’t stand and he certainly can’t hook his finisher. Michaels going after the fingers reminds me that small joint locks are illegal in wrestling, but then, so is a chair shot. Shawn takes a big bump to the floor with Mankind following with his elbow off the apron. The level of effort here is head and shoulders above everything else on the card. It’s not even funny. It’s like a different world. Mick, not content with the elbow, hits a devastating swinging neckbreaker on the concrete. It’s just a vicious match. Glorious. Double-arm DDT, which is Mankind’s first time using that finish. Shawn kicks out. A piledriver also gets a near fall as they tease Mankind taking the belt. Before the match no-one believed that was possible, but they’ve made the Philly crowd believe. They tease a casket spot, to show it’s empty, only for Shawn to come firing back. Mankind dodges a second Savage Elbow only to get floored with a crossbody. The action just hasn’t stopped in this match. Not for a second. They head up top and Mankind attempts to kill Shawn with a superplex to the floor, but Shawn lands on top and they both go through the Spanish announce table. Another fantastic spot. Mankind tries for a chair off the top to follow up, but Shawn uses another chair set up in the ring to jump up top and superkick the chair into Mankind’s face. And what a finish that would have been, but Vader runs in for the DQ. Even with the non-finish this is easily one of the best matches of the entire decade. At least in the US. Outstanding. Mankind gets the Mandible Claw, but when he goes to throw Shawn into the casket The Undertaker pops out to shill In Your House: Buried Alive. The only bad thing about this match is it rendered all the WWF’s usual cheap finishes useless, as they worked around them. Plus the bar was raised so high here that it was practically impossible to do it again.
Final Rating: *****
Hell in a Cell
Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker
[WWF Badd Blood – 10.05.97]
James Dixon: The fans in St. Louis hate Shawn Michaels, and they fully expect Undertaker to eat him alive here. Michaels had recently gone full-on heel with the formation of D-Generation X alongside Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Chyna and Rick Rude, so he could be as obnoxious on screen as he was in real life at the time, without having to worry about getting cheered. For the first five or ten minutes solid, the crowd gets exactly what they want, with Undertaker methodically and deliberately (though not slowly) picking him apart with immense focus. Michaels demonstrates some of the selling abilities that have resulted in him being regarded as one of the greatest performers of all time, as he flings himself all over the ring and then on the outside. Shawn takes some meaty bumps considering how early into the match it is, including a number of shots into the cage and a couple of thudding ones on the outside.
The feeling of this being something special becomes more palpable as we get deeper into the contest, and further intensifies when they start upping the ante with the bumps. It is not all one way traffic anymore, with Michaels desperately turning to the ring steps, which he smashes over Taker’s back, before drilling him with a piledriver on the stairs. Michaels’ only hope against Taker is to use weaponry, and he adds a chair to his arsenal next, cracking Taker over the back with it. It is the only way he can realistically compete with the ‘Dead Man’ and it is a wonderfully told story. A couple of charges from Shawn end badly, the first seeing him eat a boot and the second results in him being backdropped over the ropes and into an unfortunate cameraman. Michaels plays off the perception (and reality) that he sometimes loses his cool in matches, and in a nod to the internet he beats the shit out of the cameraman in a similar fashion to when he stomped Vader and told him to “move” at SummerSlam ’96. The cameraman needs medical attention so the door is opened, just as Michaels hits Sweet Chin Music and Taker sits right back up in a brilliantly timed spot. Clearly thinking “screw this”, Shawn bails out of the door, but Taker follows and slingshots Shawn into the cage, busting him wide open. This is Shawn’s famous mid-air bladejob, which may be the finest I have ever seen. It takes some balls to do it while flying through the air, that’s for sure. Shawn juices a gusher and the intensity grows as Taker sends him into the cage some more.
Desperate, Shawn goes low and seeks solace on top of the cage. Shawn was known for making poor choices, and this is another one of them. Taker follows him up and bounces him around some more, as the cage buckles under their collective weight. Shawn bleeds onto the camera from on top of the cage as the gore factor increases, and then he takes the bump of the match as Taker stamps on his hands while he is dangling off the side of the Cell, which sends Shawn crashing through the announce table. “Incoming!” yelps Lawler as he takes the bump, in a much replayed call. When Lawler puts over spots in a match, he is a much better announcer than when he is excitedly squealing “puppies” or making schoolyard level jokes. Michaels is a beaten and bloody mess as Taker throws him into the French announce desk, and he looks like he has had front row seats to a massacre. Taker has this wrapped up, even more so when he returns to the ring and delivers a Super Chokeslam and belts Shawn with a vicious chair shot to the head, in retribution for Michaels costing him the WWF Championship at SummerSlam in the exact same way.
Taker signals for the Tombstone, but the lights go out and the creepy strains of Kane‘s music hit, and he marches down the aisle and rips off the door of the Cell. The crowd react big for the first appearance of Taker’s storyline younger sibling, and go nuts when he takes out the referee and hits the Tombstone on his “brother”. With his last bit of energy in the world, Michaels drapes a hand over Taker and the ref revives to count the three and end one of the all-time great matches in WWF history. Without question it is the best WWF cage match of all time, including all future Hell in a Cell matches and definitely the blue bar cage affairs. For me, this is how a cage match should be; two guys who hate each other beating the hell out of one another, with plenty of blood and violence along the way. Taker absolutely played his part, but the match belongs to Shawn Michaels, who put on an unmatchable display of bumping, selling and timing. If ever any proof was needed that he is the greatest in-ring performer of all time, this was it.
Final Rating: *****
Unsanctioned Street Fight
Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H
[WWE SummerSlam 2002 – 08.25.02]
James Dixon: After over four years of waiting, Shawn Michaels makes his long-awaited return to the ring. He hasn’t wrestled in WWE since WrestleMania XIV at the dawn of WWE’s return to international prominence with the Attitude Era. It’ a shame that his comeback came during a period where WWE had gone off the boil and was starting to struggle. Michaels is a strange one, because despite being perhaps the best wrestler of the modern era, if not ever, he managed to miss out on all of the business’s boom periods. His first run as a singles guy came in the post-Hogan WWF, when the company first started to go down the tubes. He is not to blame of course, but it is an interesting point to note. When this match was announced, many suspected that it was a one and done for Shawn, and that he was only coming back for one last match so he could go out on his terms working with his best friend. Thankfully that turned out to not be true, and he actually worked for another eight years until 2010, making this run almost as long as his first one, remarkably enough. It also wound up being the best work of his career, surpassing even his great matches from the mid-nineties when he was the best wrestler in North America.
The gimmick of the match is that it is “unsanctioned” by WWE, which I would take more seriously if there wasn’t a WWE-produced video package, not to mention the fact they are allowed to do the match in a WWE ring on a WWE pay-per-view. I strongly suspect the “unsanctioned” nature of the match – meaning it doesn’t go in the quote unquote official record books – was simply a contrived way of Hunter avoiding a loss. If it was not sanctioned, it didn’t happen, and thus he wouldn’t really lose. The opening strains of Shawn’s music prompt an enormous roar from the sold out crowd. Shawn is wearing jeans, a white vest, and cowboy boots, selling the street fight nature of the match. Hunter doesn’t go in for that, and simply works in his usual attire. Shawn goes right after Hunter with punches, then immediately assuages all fears that he isn’t the same Shawn Michaels as before by hitting a slingshot crossbody to the outside. Shawn brings weapons into play early when he finds a trash can under the ring, but Hunter cuts him off before he gets chance to use it by dropping him onto the guardrail. Michaels again shows some of his old agility by skinning the cat, following up with a clothesline and a double axe handle, then sets for Sweet Chin Music early. Too early, it turns out, because Hunter ducks and hits a backbreaker. Shawn sells it beautifully. Hunter follows with another, and Shawn is writhing around in pain. He still sells better than anyone.
Hunter continues to focus on the back with hard postings, and every bump resonates with the crowd. Every time Hunter goes for that back, Michaels screams in pain, and you believe it. Hunter brings a chair into the ring and the back is again the target. Michaels’ face is contorted in pain, but he still manages to kick out. Michaels fires up, but only for a moment. JR sells the drama perfectly, reacting with relief every time he sees Shawn move his arms and legs, because he is concerned about Trips paralysing him. A DDT onto the chair busts Shawn open, increasing the tension further. Hunter gets nasty when he starts whipping Shawn across the back with the belt from his jeans, then he wraps the belt around his hand and works over the wound on Shawn’s head. Trips leaves Shawn to sell and catch his wind while he searches for weapons under the ring, where he finds his trusty sledgehammer. Michaels has managed to clamber to his feet and desperately punches at Hunter, knocking the hammer out of his hand. It’s going well until he gets cut off and sent into the buckles again. Hunter goes to an abdominal stretch and uses the ropes for leverage, which Earl Hebner disapproves of. He drags him off, and the two have their usual barney, with Earl yelling in his face that he is sick of Hunter’s behaviour. That’s nice and all, but this is a street fight, and an unsanctioned one no less, and as JR pointed out earlier, Earl’s only job is to count the three or call a submission.
Earl’s intervention buys Michaels some time, but Hunter prevents his big elbow by shoving Hebner into the ropes and crotching Shawn. Hunter uses the chair to the back again, then sets it up in the middle and puts Shawn through it, back-first. The spot is helped by the visual of the chair breaking from the impact, though Shawn keeps kicking out. He just won’t give it up. The crowd are desperate for him to stay in this match and they start chanting his name. Triple H decides to finish him off with a Pedigree onto the chair, which Michaels is able to prevent with a low blow. Both men struggle to their feet, when Hunter grabs the chair and goes to smash Michaels in the face, only to get drilled with a superkick. That busts Hunter open, big time, which is pleasing because Shawn’s cut has completely dried up. Shawn nips up and sends the crowd into a frenzy, then starts unloading on Hunter, taking him out with a chair shot to the face. They end up on the floor, where Shawn gets retribution for the belt shots earlier by lashing Hunter across the back. The crowd want tables, but Shawn has a more creative weapon in mind: Hugo Savinovich’s shoe! He follows with a bulldog onto the steps, then finds a ladder under the ring. The crowd react with a mixture of concern and excitement, to which Shawn gives a wry smile. He uses the ladder as a weapon a couple of times, then slingshots Triple H into it. Back in the ring, that only gets a two count, so Shawn goes to bring the ladder into the ring. Hunter spots him and connects with a baseball slide to the ladder to stop him. Hunter is too fatigued to follow up, and gets hit with a superplex. Shawn, ever the master psychologist, turns mid air to avoid landing on his back.
They trade control for a few minutes, then Shawn gives the crowd what they want by bringing a table out from under the ring, which he sets up on the outside. After hitting Hunter with a fire extinguisher to send him onto the table, Shawn goes up top and hits a splash through it, which is a ridiculous thing for a man with a broken back to be doing. However, it makes sense, because it is so fitting for the Shawn Michaels character to do something like that. He is the showstopper after all. Shawn brings the ladder into the ring and begins to climb, stops off to tell the crowd he loves them, then hits his flying elbow off it. Shawn survives and tunes up the band, Hunter catches it and goes for the Pedigree, but Shawn double legs him and floats over into a pin for the victory. Everyone goes bonkers for that. Immediately, Hunter gets his heat back by smashing Michaels in the back with a sledgehammer, before groggily walking out.
The story was wonderful, the execution of it was practically flawless, and the feel-good factor of Shawn winning was genuinely emotional. It’s a shame that moment was taken away almost immediately by Hunter getting the last word in. Shawn might as well have not won. He wasn’t able to celebrate living the dream and pulling off the impossible for more than ten seconds. That aside though, this is an outstanding match, one of the best of the era, no question. Does it lose some of its lustre when watched back with the benefit of hindsight? Sure it does, but that goes for nearly any match. Wrestling is ultimately designed to be watched and enjoyed in the moment, and if viewed through those eyes it is an all-time classic. Is it perfect? Not quite, but it is pretty damn close.
Final Rating: *****
Summary: It’s a double thumbs up of course. Any release featuring seven matches where four of them are 5*, two of them are close, and the “worst” bout is 4*, cannot be anything but. If there are any complaints at all it is that seven matches are too few to do Shawn’s career justice, and that all of them except the AWA bout feature on other WWE releases. I would have preferred, say, the often forgotten Kliq tag match from Action Zone on DVD, and perhaps the lost Rockers-Harts tag match from SNME instead of the overly-long and entirely divisive Iron Man Match, though I see why it was included with it being Shawn’s first WWF Championship win. The truth is, you could argue for hours about what matches to include on a Shawn Michaels comp, and you still wouldn’t come up with a result to please everyone. Taken for what this is, if you have never seen these matches, it’s an absolutely must-see release. However, if you already own the majority of WWE’s pay-per-view library then there is really no reason to purchase this at all. For that reason, despite the incredible quality on display, it doesn’t quite get perfect marks.