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  1. #1
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    The 'No Bullshit' Review - Undertaker vs HBK Special

    Welcome back to the “No Bullshit Review”, where we judge matches based on whether they can sustain the illusion of a contest well enough that I’m not forced to involuntarily shout ‘bullshit’ (or similar) at my TV three times. We’ve covered plenty of matches so far on the NBR – as I affectionately call it – though it has been a while since I’ve brought one of these columns to you. The last one, I think, was back in July – roughly at the time I tapped out on NXT and New Japan and shortly before I decided that AEW had hired too many people of dubious talent and/or intent for me to invest my time in them going forward.

    Anyway, back before that I was asked to look at a match – between Shawn Michaels and Undertaker at Wrestlemania 25. It’s one of the biggest matches of the generation and for fans of a particular age and ilk this is often cited as one of the greatest matches of all time. There are all sorts of reasons for looking at this match through this lens, then. But rather than look at it in isolation, I thought it’d be more fun to combine it and consider it alongside the other two major matches between ‘Taker and HBK over the years. We’ll take them in chronological order. Are you ready? No, I’m not trying to channel D-X, though that is the time period we’re heading back to. Here we go…..


    Shawn Michaels vs Undertaker, Badd Blood: In Your House 1997, October 5th, 1997
    Hell in a Cell
    Kiel Center, St Louis


    I’m not sure what my system will make of this match. On the one hand, this is a very well-respected match from an era with a lot of pedigree. On the other, the historical results of this bout are well-known, and it’s seen the concept essentially ruined over time. It will be interesting to find out if the Cell match can survive the damage done to it by later iterations.

    Michaels walks to the ring full of cockiness, but that changes when the combination of the Undertaker’s entrance and the presence of the Cell – for the first time in the WWE, lest we forget – undoes his braggadocio. The beginning of the match sees a spooked Michaels only getting his offence in out of desperation with Undertaker basically beating on him for five minutes. It’s slow, methodical, and Undertaker is looking to take Michaels apart rather than to try and destroy him quickly and make mistakes. The Deadman begins the match with the sound strategy of making Michaels adapt to his pace.

    We’re about ten minutes in before this starts to change – Michaels is able to get a bit of distance between himself and The Undertaker following a mistake, and a few attacks from range buy him a little bit of time and a chance to catch his breath. Through all this time the closest we come to a strike is that Michaels appears to be smiling as Undertaker beats him up, though there’s as good a reason for interpreting this as him being knocked half-goofy as for anything troubling. A very strong opening section.

    The spot, when it finally comes, is of enough importance that you do buy Michaels taking proper control despite the early pounding. A piledriver on the steel steps is the sort of thing that should end most matches. Undertaker is not exactly your typical cat, though, so you can go along with it enough to imagine him trying to fit his way back from this position – but thankfully, sensibly, it’s enough for a major momentum shift to Michaels. This carries on for another few minutes until the Andre spot with Undertaker tied in the ropes which leads to the bit out on the floor where Michaels clobbers the cameraman.

    The spot shifts the focus outside the ring for long enough that things back in the ring are not especially jarring, not even when Michaels does the kip-up. The other thing that the cameraman spot does is opens the cage door for long enough that the structure designed to keep the competitors in can no longer perform that function. I’d have probably accepted Undertaker sitting up in 1997 – hey, in fact I think I did – but to avoid the impression of historical bias I’m going to say that taking Shawn’s best move after all this punishment and sitting up like that is a bit much. And I do treat older matches more harshly than new ones. Any derisive noise counts as a strike, and while I don’t shout bullshit, I did kind of cluck my tongue at it here. So, it’s a strike, though one fans of the match can feel a little aggrieved about, perhaps.

    Michaels fleeing the scene makes perfect sense, though, and we’re now outside the cage. All his attacks make sense when explained by desperation and we soon find out why is so perturbed, as shortly after he’s thrown into the cage and his face is covered with the crimson mask. His attempts to flee take them to the top of the cell where, arriving first, he’s able to grab Undertaker but is backdropped due to his impaired condition.

    I should say, between the psychology of the two and how they’ve paced getting up there, the blood on Michaels face, the roars of the crowd, the announcing…. it’s very hard to imagine what could get a bullshit at this stage in the match. They’ve got the crowd – and me – eating out of the palm of their hands. I’ve always said you can earn your bullshit, and with the adrenaline flying around at this point they’ve earned whatever they want to try and get away with. Michaels coming off the side of the cage when Undertaker steps on his fingers is just the denouement of a brilliant bit of ringwork, and I doubt there’s a wrestling hold in the whole sequence.

    That is the reason, I think, why the ending manages to get off scot-free. I’m obviously sat here writing this after that fact and I can think of several things to object to about the Kane run-in. Why is his music playing? Why wait until Undertaker has him back in the ring, when you’ve had all the time outside the ring to make your attack? Truth is, I notice all this now, but because of the good work they’ve done in the meantime I never once notice it in the moment. You simply get swept away with it all – good old suspension of disbelief. The Kane shenanigans buy Michaels roughly three minutes, enough time to believe that he could juuuuusst about get an arm over Undertaker’s chest.

    So, it’s a pass, and I actual feel a bit bad about the one blemish on the record. That’s almost certainly the passage of time. I don’t think if I were doing this in 1997, that moment would have bothered me at all. This could be a victim of circumstance, and one match in which the participants can feel aggrieved not to have hit the rare ‘Gold Standard’.

    Result – Pass with One Strike



    Shawn Michael vs Undertaker, Wrestlemania 25, April 5th, 2009
    Reliant Stadium, Houston


    This match has achieved such a status in the decade since it happened, that I actually feel a little bit of pressure as I’m about to grade it. It’s the only time I’ve felt like that, and I’ve looked at some very highly acclaimed matches. All I can say is that it won’t interfere with what I have to say.

    There are no problems in the early going. The start of the match feels great. The closest they come to an early strike is when Shawn throws the punch and ‘Taker catches it. No problem with the spot – I’ve seen this done in legit fights – but Shawn’s punch isn’t entirely convincing. But still, I stayed quiet through this bit, even though I’d forgotten that it happened.

    A minute or later, there’s another minor glitch from Shawn where he telegraphs the flip into the corner. Again, I stay quiet and it’s not a major problem, but I’m seeing that this performance from HBK isn’t quite as crisp as I remember it – and is decidedly less impressive than the younger man managed in the 1997 match (unsurprisingly). That perhaps bodes poorly, given, that we’re only about three minutes into what I’m remembering as quite a long bout.

    But to give them their due, nothing stands out for a while. The next thing even worth mentioning is the ‘low kick’ where Undertaker seems to just drop to his back to avoid Sweet Chin Music, but since he doesn’t sell it you can easily chalk it up to a blown call by JR rather than losing the moment. In fact, in the first half of the match the closest they come to a strike is a slight shake of the head at them using the ring steps as weapons outside the ring – a problem for me because I can remember what the rules are supposed to be but something that is practically de rigeur for contemporary wrestling. Anyway, we’re moving into the second half of the match with a clean slate.

    There’s a looooong section outside the ring, that effectively splits the match into two halves – before this interlude, and afterwards. Following that section, we’re almost immediately flirting with the line as Undertaker goes from selling like crazy to looking pretty healthy in the space of a millisecond. It’s fairly gratuitous and I think only the fact it’s ‘Taker stops it from being an instant strike against the match. Shawn’s acting is not good in the follow-up and he is running up against ‘miracle healing’ though thankfully it’s not as bad, and again it can just about survive. But what you’ll notice is that the general impression of a problem is starting to accumulate, something that just rises again when Michaels kicks out of a Last Ride and Undertaker, inexplicably, decides to head to the top rope. I think I could buy it were I still in the zone, but the last few minutes have taken me out of there. We’re getting to a stage where everything about this is bothering me, and I don’t know how much longer it can survive before we get a strike – in fact, in this environment, three in quick succession is a possibility.

    When it comes, the bullshit is at the Tombstone. Is the choreographed spot where Shawn skins the cat, only to be caught and moved into the Tombstone position, too much? By itself, probably not, but coming at the end of the last few minutes, it suddenly all seems too implausible. That Shawn kicks out is the straw that broke the camel’s back, as I catch a ‘fucking shit’ escaping from under my breath.

    The possibility was there for this to take a couple in quick succession, and the contrast between Michaels selling it like he’s dead (which makes even Lawler question the kickout) and his being able to hit the move – admittedly, as the commentators say, in desperation – is just too great. It’s a second strike, mainly just because he’s been selling like he’s completely defenceless just a few seconds earlier. If he hadn’t laid it on so thick, this might have been more plausible. I feel vindicated, too, because Shawn hits one of the shittiest DDT’s I’ve ever seen in desperation and beats Undertaker to his feet, despite the fact he’s taken the Last Ride and Tombstone in the last couple of minutes? No way. I couldn’t be more convinced that something stinks in this finish.

    There’s no sense in the last couple of minutes and judging by the way my face has twisted when Shawn hits that Chin Music again, I can tell this match almost fails there and then. I’m not sure why, exactly, that one gets away with it. All I know is there’s no room for interpretation in this series and for whatever reason, I don’t speak. The last couple of minutes than ebb away, and while there’s nothing particularly good to say about bringing the sense back into the match, there’s also no final moment that pushes them over the top. I’m not sure how this has survived with its final life intact, but it has – by the skin of its teeth.

    Result – Pass with Two Strikes



    Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels, Wrestlemania 26, March 28th, 2010
    No DQ Streak vs Career
    University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale


    My first real observation in this one is something that comes not from a problem in the match itself, but through other matches pushing the boundary. There are moments where – within a proper wrestling framework – you’d absolutely buy into the little gaps of what is happening. The WWE has established itself as somewhere where strikes of all kinds are not really frowned upon anymore. So, for Shawn to stand there while Undertaker just takes his time to get him into basic holds, is a little more jarring than it should really be. A minor observation, though, and one that I’m making because much like the previous year the match starts without any major issues.

    The first strike comes much earlier though, and it’s an unfortunate one. Shawn struggles to get Undertaker’s leg onto the ropes for the spot where he’s attacking his knee. I’d forgotten this, but rather than changing the spot or making Shawn do it again, Undertaker just… puts his knee back so it can be attacked. When Shawn kicks it off, he puts it there again. I can’t remember ever seeing something so blatant from the Deadman. There’s definitely a shout of bullshit mixed somewhere in with my howls of laughter.

    If you’re fearing the worst after an early strike, then it’ll be good news for you to hear that the next ten minutes or so pass without much to complain about. If I were being picky, it’d be that Shawn Michaels using MMA holds is about as convincing as Michael Cole using MMA holds, and I’m not sure that Undertaker is damaged enough that he couldn’t have rolled Shawn into the ring and pinned him after the Tombstone to the floor – and thus recreated the Jake Roberts finish from Wrestlemania VIII. None the less, these are again more minor observations and not things that made me say anything while I was watching.

    We go most of the way to the end of the match before the second bullshit – and again, it’s something that Undertaker should probably do better. His lying there on the table, waiting for Shawn to come – without moving, which would have made it all OK – is just a bridge too far for me, I’m afraid. It’s funny, because the previous year it was Michaels who was just a little bit loose here and there, while in 2010 Undertaker seemed to be the one just making the little slips – and it’s put this match on the cusp of failing. I will give them some credit, despite the bullshit – they manage to make at least enough of a virtue out of the fact that Shawn should, by rights, have been thought of as having missed the moonsault while Undertaker sold it anyway by ‘Taker selling the knee. It’s a ludicrous proposition really but I think they call it making the best out of a bad situation.

    In the end, though, much like the previous year the sands of time eventually run out without this match taking a third strike. It’s much less of a surprise in the end. The 2009 match runs into trouble precisely because of what it is and how it is put together. The following year, if they’d executed their blueprint here it would probably have got away with a clean bill of health. I must confess it would never have been to my taste, with Shawn Michaels taking three tombstones and multiple chokeslams and Last Rides before he was finally put away for good. Nevertheless, if we leave my taste aside for one moment and focus solely on the objectionable, this match demands far less of you as an audience member. I’m just not sure one of the participants was really at his best on the night.

    Result – Pass with Two Strikes



    So, there we have it – the No Bullshit Review take on the three biggest matches of the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels rivalry. We hope you don’t feel too cheated that we didn’t have the time to look at the Ground Zero or Royal Rumble ’98 matches. This thing doesn’t always reflect my views very well – there are matches I like that get treated roughly, and ones I don’t like that get away with some stuff – but I feel as if this time the system has matched up to my own take pretty well. I absolutely rate the Cell match more highly than the other two and think it’s still far and away the best performance from both men. You might struggle to find a better showing in either of their careers. The other two matches are perfectly reasonable examples of what wrestling has become, but they bear not only the baggage that goes along with that, but the marks of time on the bodies of the central players.


    Code:
    
    Match					Date		Promotion	S/R	Time	
    --------------------------------------------------
    
    Nick Bockwinkel vs Curt Hennig		02/05/87	AWA		0	23:34
    Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat		20/02/89	WCW		0	23:18
    Bret Hart vs Steve Austin		23/03/97	WWF		0	22:05
    Shawn Michaels vs Undertaker		05/10/97	WWF		1	29:55
    El Hijo Del Santo vs Negro Casas	19/09/97	CMLL		1	24:01
    Daniel Bryan vs Kofi Kingston		07/04/19	WWE		1	23:45
    Dustin Rhodes vs Cody			25/05/19	AEW		1	22:30
    Razor Ramon vs Shawn Michaels		20/03/94	WWF		1	18:47
    Batista vs The Undertaker		01/04/07	WWE		1	15:51
    AJ Styles vs Kurt Angle			02/06/13	TNA		1	15:45
    Kushida vs Drew Gulak			12/06/19	WWENXT		1	10:08
    Mitsuharu Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada	03/06/94	AJPW		2	35:50
    Andrade Cien Almas vs Johnny Gargano	27/01/18	WWENXT		2	32:19
    Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels		05/04/09	WWE		2	30:44
    John Cena vs Daniel Bryan		18/08/13	WWE		2	26:55
    Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels		28/03/10	WWE		2	23:59
    Nick Aldis vs Marty Scurll		27/04/19	NWA		2	23:45
    Rey Mysterio, Jr. vs Juventud Guerrera	08/03/96	ECW		2	16:09
    Samoa Joe vs Nigel McGuinness		27/08/05	RoH		2	14:46
    Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega		04/01/17	NJPW		3	29:54
    

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  2. #2
    The Brain
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    Ah, I do feel the Cell match is perhaps a bit cheated! Given the size difference between them and the history of Taker, a sit up at such a moment doesn't seem beyond the pale. The cry of "bullshit" is law though.

    Less surprised that Taker was looking noticeably worse in 2010 as opposed to 2009, as that's where I've always clocked him going through a pretty significant decline. Strikes or no, I still love that XXV match, but after that Taker's performances seemed to trend downwards, with a few exceptions that should arguably be credited more to smoke and mirrors or the skills of his opponent.

    Great stuff Pete, very pleased to see this return!

  3. #3
    Beautiful Fandom Mystic's Avatar
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    Fun fact: the cell is the match that cemented Nick Aldis' desire to be a pro wrestler.

    It's fun to see a system where the match expectations are inverted. I'd have to rank the WM matches higher because of the expectation or all that was on the line. Or I wouldn't rank them against the Cell because the genre or purposes is just too different. Any which way, I think they are all phenomenal, so any which way you go is fine by me.

  4. #4
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Mizfan - yeah, I kind of agree! It's definitely a victim of the harsher way of judging older matches that we've got, because it's not even a real bullshit, just a derisive noise. But the bout is old enough that even that counts. Even so, I've got a feeling they've been hard done by here because of the number of times people have used The Undertaker to try and defend bullshit. I can't help but think that the match could well have gotten away with it, if only I hadn't had people throwing the problem with the gimmick in my face for most of the last decade. But such is life. Interesing point on 'Taker - I'm not sure I'd say it was particularly physically that he was off here, actually. It's more like he's off in the exact same way Shawn was off a year earlier. There's a big difference, I think, between what I'm flagging here and the evident discomfort of even just a couple of years later. Pleased you enjoyed the column though mate, and thanks for stopping by and leaving some thoughts!


    Shane - Didn't know that about Aldis. But anyway, thanks for checking it out - I think this might be the first one of these you've had a look at it? If so, I should say these matches aren't being judged against each other. They are only assessed against themselves. They're only put in the same column like this because you've got to find some way of organising matches, and I thought picking the three that these two have had was as good a way of grouping them as any. But if this is the first time you've checked out one of these, perhaps this little block from the first instalment might clarify what we're doing:

    "They will be arranged by the number of strikes against them, but generally speaking, the table is just for the sake of display – a pass is a pass, regardless of whether it’s two strikes or none. Failing matches will be organised by the amount of time it took to reach three strikes, with one hitting them sooner ranked as worse than one that takes longer."

    So you get a lot of my impressions on here, and they are ordered in the table for the sake of interest, but to be honest all three of these matches actually got what amounts to the same grade at the end of the day. But anyway, thanks again for reading.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  5. #5
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    Generally speaking, I think it's hard to rate the Cell match and their latter matches in a similar ilk considering the matches were more than 10 years apart and from two completely different generations. I can only imagine how hard it must be to not call bullshit in their latter matches considering the "Epic Match" format. And that goes for a lot of the more high profile modern day matches in WWE.

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