Monday 23 December 2013

Mr Retirement

March 28th 2010. WrestleMania XXVI. Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker faced each other in a career versus Streak match. Michaels lost. He hasn't wrestled since.

This is an incredibly rare example of a wrestler honouring a retirement stipulation after losing. The norm is for the retirement stip to be used as a way of writing people off of television to undergo operations or to take a break. It’s also not unknown for retirement angles to be tacked on to lengthy feuds to heighten drama and tension with no intention of either party genuinely retiring. See Mick Foley, Ric Flair, Terry Funk and some of the ludicrous stipulations implemented by Vince Russo in WCW for all the examples you could need on wrestlers and retirement.

While he's managed to adhere to the terms of his loss to 'The Dead Man' Michaels hasn't disappeared completely. He's come and gone from television over the last three and a half years. For the most part he's made one off appearances but that changed a couple of months ago when he was made the guest referee of Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton's WWE championship Hell in a Cell match (at the imaginatively titled Hell in a Cell). Before the show Michaels had stated he'd be fair and call the match impartially. On the night that was proven to be a lie when he super kicked Bryan, billed as his protégé1, and allowed 'The Viper' to leave as champion.

The Slammy Award-winning Shawn Michaels
It wasn’t an immediate heel turn for Michaels. He received a mixed reaction on the following evening's RAW, which saw him trapped in the Yes Lock by an angry Bryan (a moment which showed that retirement hasn’t diminished his ability to make you believe he’s in pain one bit). Since then the mixed reactions have continued and he's stuck with playing a character of blurred alignment as opposed to an out and out heel. He'll support lead bad guy Triple H but act in a relatively humble manner when accepting a (prestigious) Slammy. It's the logical way to play it. Not being on the active roster means he has to be presented differently. It’s a reflection of his standing within the company.

He’s also found himself at odds with CM Punk. During the excellent show-closing segment of the pre-TLC RAW Punk manhandled ‘The Game’ and got Sweet Chin Music for his trouble. Michaels in turn was floored with Bryan’s running knee strike. The following week Michaels confronted Punk to tell him that he should be worrying about him, not Tripper. They didn’t come to blows, but Punk did say that if he was kicked by HBK again he’d be kicking him back.

So as 2013 draws to a close Shawn Michaels has established disputes with two of WWE’s most popular wrestlers. It feels very much like a Michaels match against one or both of the former indy stalwarts is being teased.

But teasing and promoting are two different things. I don’t think Michaels will return to the ring for an official match. I’m sure he’d be physically able to, his appearances over the last couple of months have made it clear that he can still throw his finishing move and is just as good at drawing fans in as he ever was (and he was among the best). I just don’t think he’d want to. One thing motivated Michaels throughout his entire career, and that was being seen as the best. It manifested in different ways, the nineties saw him playing some cutthroat political games to ensure the spotlight was always on him, while from his return in 2002 until his retirement eight years later he was more about putting on the best match of the night no matter who he was facing. The latter was a far more admirable approach but it had the same motivation. Michaels wanted to outperform everybody else2.

When he retired Michaels was the best. He was WWE’s top in-ring performer. His last match was the best match of the biggest show of the year and it went on last. There is no finer send-off a wrestler could receive than that, and Michaels would know that. I can’t imagine that he’d come back to have another match and run the risk of it not being quite as good as the masterpiece of a last stand he had with The Undertaker. Even a very good match would be a comedown from what is currently his last outing. Not that he’d have a less than satisfying match. I just don’t think he’d want to run that risk. Seconding Triple H in his matches opposite Punk and Bryan (and I think ‘The Cerebral Assassin’ will be going up against both men next year) seems more likely.

This isn’t to say WWE wouldn’t try to tempt the guy. Michaels versus Punk and Michaels versus Bryan are both fresh matches and would be a great addition to the WrestleMania XXX card. Almost as appealing would be the “dream match” (that’s definitely how they’d promote it) pitting CM Punk and Shawn Michaels against D-Generation X. It’s not the sort of thing that would be added to ‘Mania but it would certainly be a boon to Royal Rumble or Elimination Chamber. Planned right WWE could probably find a way to stretch the current disputes out to include Michaels matches at SummerSlam 2014 and WrestleMania XXXI.

I’d love to see another Michaels match. He’s one of the best wrestlers ever and his involvement would benefit WrestleMania XXX in ways that nobody else’s would. That said I’m equally happy not seeing him wrestle again. He went out on top after having one of the most amazing careers the business has ever seen. There are loads of highlights we can look back on. Nothing new is needed.


1 I feel I should clarify this. When Michaels had his four year lay off from 1998 to 2002 (due to what was originally believed to be a career ending back injury) he handpicked a small number of young guys to teach at a wrestling school in Texas. Bryan ‘Daniel Bryan’ Danielson was one of the guys there. How much Bryan learnt from Michaels is impossible to say without speaking to either man (which I haven’t done, obviously) but we can take a guess from the amount of time Bryan stayed there (less than a year) that it wouldn’t have been that much.

Daniel Bryan made a point of travelling all over the world to learn how to be a professional wrestler. His style is not especially influenced by ‘The Heartbreak Kid’, it’s more in line with Japanese wrestling and technical mat wrestling. Bryan’s been much more heavily influenced by KENTA, whom he faced many times before signing with WWE, and William Regal, whom he trained with while under his first WWF developmental contract in the first few years of the millennium. The reason he wears maroon trunks is as a tribute to Regal. No broken heart emblems there!

All of this said I can completely understand why WWE presents the Bryan and Michaels relationship in this fashion. Being the former student of Hall of Famer and ‘Mr WrestleMania’ Shawn Michaels does more for Bryan’s standing with the average fan than an open admission of the same relationship with an NXT commentator would.

2 There is absolutely nothing wrong with this attitude. More wrestlers should attempt to have the match of the night more often. It would contribute significantly to making the output of many wrestling companies more enjoyable.

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