Sunday, 28 March 2010

Wrestlemania XXVI Preview: Career vs. Streak Match

‘Ain’t no grave can hold my body down’

All good things must come to an end, or do they? Johnny Cash seems to suggest in his song otherwise. But is this song in this instances referring to Shawn Michaels’ career not ending at Wrestlemania XXVI or, is it suggesting that The Undertaker will never lose at Wrestlemania? Can you have too much of a good thing? Will darkness conquer light again? Will the career of Shawn Michaels be ended by The Undertaker or will The Undertaker’s 17-0 undefeated streak at Wrestlemania finally be ended by Mr. Wrestlemania, The Showstopper the Heart Break Kid Shawn Michaels?

These two future WWE Hall of Famers have had many epic encounters with each other during their careers. The first and some argue the best Hell in a Cell match at Badd Blood: In Your House 1997, in which Shawn Michaels defeated The Undertaker with an assist from Kane. To the Casket Match at the Royal Rumble 1998 in which HBK suffered a legitimate back injury that took him out of WWE as an in ring competitor until 2002. The same match in which Undertaker was buried in a casket which was later set on fire by Kane and Paul Bearer (there seems to be a pattern here between Taker losing and Kane being involved watch this space tonight.) From that point on the feud lay dormant until Royal Rumble 2007 when The Undertaker for the first time in his career won the Royal Rumble from the number 30 spot (the first time that to had ever happened) eliminating none other than Shawn Michaels last. During the build up to Wrestlemania the champion and contenders from RAW and Smackdown met in a tag team contest at No Way Out, The Undertaker and HBK locked horns in that match however the main twist was Batista and Undertakers feud rather than HBK and The Demon of Death Valley’s. Once again the two men allowed the differences to simmer on the back burner whilst other priorities were moved to the forefront. For HBK it was D-Generation X whereas for The Undertaker it was claiming the World Heavyweight Championship which he did 3 times.

Two years later at Royal Rumble 2009 these men’s paths would cross and this time it would spark a chain of events that would bring us to today, tonight and perhaps the biggest match in Wrestlemania history. ‘Sometimes it is Hell getting to Heaven!’ one simple line, one simple phrase, which led to what may considered the greatest match in WWE history HBK vs. The Undertaker Wrestlemania XXV, as you can tell by the fact this year’s contest is career vs. Streak that Undertaker beat HBK at WMXXV, something that didn’t sit well with Shawn. So at the 2009 Slammys HBK issued a challenge to then World Heavyweight Champion the Undertaker who turned Shawn down. So what did HBK do? Did he just accept the rejection and move on? No, he begged and pleaded for Teddy Long to let him into the Elimination Chamber match for the World Heavyweight Championship, his logic being that he was going to slay the beast that Undertaker and then offer him a title rematch at Wrestlemania XXVI. Teddy refused and got some Sweet Chin Music for his troubles. Shawn then snuck into the Elimination chamber unofficially and cost the Undertaker the match. Knowing full well that The Undertaker would never let such an event pass without seeking retribution, so it came to pass Shawn issued the challenge once again and this time The Undertaker accepted on one condition Shawn Michaels put his career on the line.

This year’s contest unlike the match at Wrestlemania XXV will be a no disqualification, no count out match. This stipulation was added a few weeks after the match itself was decided. On the face of it this would seem to make very little difference but, if it is taken in to consideration that at Wrestlemania XXV HBK was one second away from a count out victory after ‘that’ suicide dive. Also HBK is no stranger to shall we say bending the rules and this could mean he has some advantage going into tonight’s match. But the Undertaker is no stranger to bending the rules.

If tonight’s match has anything to do with statistics then HBK looks almost destine to lose. His Wrestlemania record is 6 (5 as a singles competitor and 1 as part of the Rockers) wins to 10 loses at Wrestlemania. Even if you look at Shawn performances in the majority of those matches he still comes out second best and at Wrestlemania XXVI Shawn can fight his heart out but if he does not secure a 123 or a submission he will have to retire. Paradoxically the Undertaker is 17-0 at Wrestlemania and much like HBK the majority of his performances have been of a high calibre. The exception to the rule is perhaps his contest at Wrestlemania IX in which he beat the Giant Gonzalez by disqualification (up until Wrestlemania XXIV which was won by submission) was the only time that The Undertaker had won a match at Wrestlemania by anything other than pin fall.

This year is a first for the streak; it is the first time that the Undertaker has fought the same opponent consecutively. In fact Taker has only fought the same person at Wrestlemania twice before tonight and that was? You guessed it, Kane, who seems to keep popping up in the careers of Undertaker and HBK. HBK put forward the idea that this was the case for one simple reason Taker knows how close HBK came last year and now he wants to get rid of him for good. Which sounds like a good theory but if The Undertaker knew how close HBK came why would he accept another Wrestlemania match with him? Why not take an easier option? Perhaps the real reasons why Taker is taking on Michaels again is to finish what he started in 1998 and end HBK’s career, or even finish the job from last year in which the Undertaker claimed HBK’s soul maybe this year Taker will take the rest? The truth is that there is not one (kayfabe) reasons as to why Taker and Shawn are locking up again, but to be honest does there need to be? Not really, as a former WWE commentator use to say before major ‘This is going to be off the chain!’

When looking at this match a key feature will be the differing styles used by each competitor. The Undertaker will no doubt have the power advantage over HBK. This will be shown through moves like the Chokeslam which Taker has utilise on many occasions to good effect but I just don’t see it being the move that is going to put HBK away tonight. Also one of the more devastating moves in Taker’s arsenal based around power is the Last Ride Powerbomb, which was used to great affected against HBK last year at Wrestlemania XXV, however, much like the Chokeslam I don’t think the Last Ride will be Taker’s weapon of choice for tonight’s contest. I believe one of the firm favourites to be the last move of the match tonight is The Tombstone Piledriver a move that few men have kicked out of. A move that is so dangerous only a handful of Superstars are trusted in the WWE to perform it. The move that eventually put HBK away last year could perhaps do the same this year. Other power moves in Taker’s arsenal expected to be seen tonight to deliver damage to HBK are Snake Eyes which is usually followed by a running boot to the face. Also one of the biggest features of Undertaker’s offense which might be over looked but after a gruelling contest some of Undertaker’s straight right hands could be the difference maker. Who can forget when Taker threw Mick Foley off and through the Hell in a Cell? Foley himself later said neither fall knocked him out it was in fact one of Taker’s punch’s that did the damage. Also Batista when reflecting on his Wrestlemania match with Undertaker talked on how one of Taker’s caused him to suffer an injury to his face.

Taker might have the Power advantage but HBK has the speed advantage, at has been demonstrated many times before Taker’s big shots are no good if he can’t land them. However, as the match wears on HBK’s speed begins to diminish, that is when HBK’s finishing move, Sweet Chin Music, can be utilised to its maximum effect. The move can virtually be hit from any position and as JR would say is ‘quicker than a hiccup’ and if HBK can hit that then maybe Taker’s streak will be over. Also HBK has the use of the flying forearm and flying elbow moves that have helped him win on many occasion, but with the flying elbow it is very high risk and the chances of succeeding are just as high a failing, especially if HBK introduces a ladder into tonight’s match something that could happen there might be some lying around after MitB. The Undertaker may not be as quick as HBK but he has shown himself to be as agile, Taker’s suicide dive is one of if not the best in the business and it has become a Wrestlemania tradition so the question will more be when then if he is going to hit it. Also an often forgotten move of the Undertaker’s is the running DDT a move that sounds very mundane but when delivered could be the ending of Shawn Michaels.

Both men in this match are well versed in submission holds and I would not be surprised if many were attempted if not locked in by both men. The Undertaker’s signature submission hold at this moment of time is the Hell’s Gate. A move that was once banned by Vickie Guerrero for being ‘too dangerous’ has been reinstated after modified to make it more effective and a legal hold, also a move very few people have escaped from HBK being one of them. However, in the past the Undertaker has been known to use many other submission holds. Examples of these are the Triangle Choke and the Standing Dragon Sleeper or as it was known when Taker used it as ‘Takin’ Care of Business.’ All of the above holds are devastating when applied and could be used to wear down if not defeat an opponent. Shawn Michaels is also well versed in submission holds, however his preferred holds are the Figure of Four Leglock and Inverted Figure of Four Leglock, the Sharpshooter and the Crippler Crossface. During tonight’s contest I would not be surprised if HBK did not attempted to war down the legs of The Undertaker to make the 2 variations of the Figure of Four more effective. Likewise HBK might looks to reverse the Chokeslam into a Crossface as an attempted to wear down The Undertaker and take out his power game. Although I highly doubt that this contest will end via submission as I cannot remember The Undertaker ever giving up (except at Montreal Screwjob 4 which to be perfectly honest I don’t really count unless I am trying to big up CM Punk) and I don’t see Shawn Michaels ending his career by tapping out.

Time, is always an important factor when it come to wrestling. Last year HBK and Undertaker were given just over 30 minutes which was the longest match on the card. This I feel should be replicated this year however I think the match should go for about 45-60 minutes. The reason for this is that this match is probably going to be one of the emotional matches in WWE history and regardless of the winner I would say that there will be very few dry eyes in the WWE Universe. However is also feel that the match should not close the show. This would show disrespect to Ric Flair who had a retirement match at Wrestlemania XXIV. Despite the fact that Ric went back to work a decision that he could do very little about due to his financial situation, a decision that Flair ‘checked’ through with Michaels before taking, it still needs to be respected. Also I think that the Royal Rumble winner’s match should be the last match on the card because that is a tradition in WWE that has lasted a long time and when it has not been adhered to the PPV has felt slightly abnormal for example Wrestlemania 23 felt weird with HBK vs. Cena closing the show rather that The Undertaker vs. Batista even more so because Undertaker that year eliminated HBK last from the Rumble.

Jim Ross, respected WWE Commentator and owner of a two Bar-B-Q stores in Oklahoma on his website he has said many times that he cannot see The Undertaker’s streak being ended. A view which many people have held for many years myself included. HHH on RAW says that he ‘knows’ that HBK can beat The Undertaker and some people have taken this to mean that somehow Triple H is going to get involved and cost HBK the match. I however, do not feel that an event of this magnitude will not have a clean finish one way or the other. Also in many interviews recently HBK has been talking a lot recently about hanging up his boots and spending time with his family. He also addressed the fact that this was increasingly becoming the case after turning towards religion that has made him feel this way. Could this be a sign for tonights out come? Not really as Vince is a clever man and he wants to sell PPVs in fact WWE has predicted this Wrestlemania could make them the most money in WWE history and the best way to sell this PPV is to make people think they could see something amazing or for the last time and unlike with Ric Flair were the writing was clearly on the wall, with HBK every year is rumoured to retire this is why people might treat this with suspicion.

The aspect of this match that might be forgotten is the commentary team. In an ideal World my commentary team would be Jim Ross, King and Matt Striker. Also I would love to see maybe Mick Foley, Jesse Ventura or JBL along with JR and King on the commentary team but again that would be impossible. So if we assume that WWE will go with a three man team of Michael ‘I hate the internet’ Cole Jerry ‘The King Lawler’ and Matt Striker, you have to look at what that adds to the match. You might be reading the now thinking who cares? But the commentary team on a match can be huge on the storytelling front. JR’s catchphrases and expressions made good moment’s great and great moment unbelievable and no offense to Cole but Vintage is not quite ‘Boomer Sooner’ or ‘Business is pickin’ up!’ Jerry Lawler does not prep and yet I wouldn’t want for him not to be calling the show he is such an amazing commentator despite his occasional risqué joke. Matt Striker average wrestler top commentator. His performance as a slight heel is amazing as shown at TLC when Sheamus beat John Cena, Striker’s commentary after that moment was a Dirt Sheet HD favourite moment. His style of commentary could lend itself perfectly to this sort of match I have the feeling he will be heelish during the match and then after the match he will play it sensitively but to the point. Cole and King will be the consummate professionals and they will call it perfectly. Although JR is in Arizona and has been claiming he is not calling the show, but WWE have often done things like that and in the past JR has been called into just one match and I am hoping that this is the case even if Matt Striker has to be dropped for that to happen.

The last aspect I want to look at in this match is the entrances of the Superstars. I have the feeling that there is going to be something special going on but I have no idea what. I felt that last year’s entrance for The Undertaker was poor to say the least. It was a Gangrel rip off and also it was not what we have come to expect from The Undertaker, I wanted to see druids! Also it would be a huge surprise but a nice one if WWE could get Paul Bearer and Jose Lothario to come to the ring with their respective former mentees. What however HBK and Taker come even if it is conventionally (Druids are a must however for the Undertaker) it is going to be special as it could very well be the last time.

This match is going to be amazing. This match is going to be everything it should be and more. I am a massive Undertaker fan and yet part of me a small part of me wants HBK to win because HBK can have a great match with anyone and I mean anyone. But at the same time The Undertaker’s streak is special I would suggest that no one will ever match it and certainly not beat it, in fact I doubt anyone will be able to get near it. This is one of the few matches were I have no clear favourite in my mind, every time I think about it I have a different outcome. This will be one of a handful of matches where I will sit down not as a blogger/writer, not as a wrestling historian and not as a Smark. I will sit down and watch this match as a WWE Fan, as a wrestling fan and as a wrestling fan!

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