Wrestling Flashback – The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels & Triple H Wrestlemania Feud

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The Undertaker’s streak. Many tried to beat it. Monsters like Mark Henry, King Kong Bundy and Giant Gonzalez have tried to crush the Dead Man. They failed. Some have put up championships against the Undertaker, hoping to be known as the great champion that ended the Undertaker’s streak. Batista, Edge and Psycho Sid all put their titles on the line against Undertaker, only to lose those belts they hold dear and become part of the streak. Men like CM Punk had tried to use head games as a means to break the streak, but could not get the job done. Many tried. One succeeded. However, none of the matches came close to the excitement and story-telling than Undertaker’s streak of matches against Shawn Michaels and Triple H.

It was not like none of matches before his encounters with Shawn and Triple H, that spanned from Wrestlemania 25 to Wrestlemania 28, were any good. There were some beauties that the Undertaker took part in against the likes of Randy Orton, Batista, Edge, Ric Flair and even Triple H at Wrestlemania 17. However, none of them stole the show quite like the matches in the saga between Taker, Michaels and Triple H.

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These matches were usually a thing of beauty but the story-telling of these matches were even more impressive. At Wrestlemania 25, Shawn Michaels was the first man to step up. With Shawn Michaels being almost an exclusive to the RAW brand and the Undertaker being almost exclusive to SmackDown!, these two legends never seemed to collide during the brand split of WWE. However, when the two of them would battle in the Royal Rumble, it was usually exceptional. Undertaker and Shawn Michaels produced possibly the best finish to a Royal Rumble match in 2007. While Undertaker won that particular encounter, Shawn returned the favour by eliminating Undertaker at the 2008 Royal Rumble. At Wrestlemania 25, we got to see Shawn and Undertaker go at it for the first time since 1998… in a match that put an end to Shawn’s career for four years.

Shawn was confident though, particular bragging pre-match about how the Undertaker had never beaten him. The two clashed and it was quite possibly the best Wrestlemania match we’ll ever see in our life time. These men kicked out of everything they could throw at each other. Shawn even kicked out of the Undertaker’s tombstone piledriver which caused Jim Ross to, and I quote, “have an out-of-body experience.” In the end, Undertaker prevailed in what was the match of the night by a HUGE margin. And they weren’t finished there…

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Both Undertaker and Shawn Michaels would take a hiatus from the WWE following Wrestlemania, returning in August 2009. Shawn had re-united DX and battled Legacy and Jeri-Show en route to winning the Unified WWE Tag Team titles while Undertaker dominated the SmackDown! roster en route to winning the World Heavyweight Championship. At the 2009 Slammys, Michaels and Taker won the Slammy for Match of the Year. While accepting the award, Michaels issued a challenge to the Undertaker for a rematch at Wrestlemania 26. Undertaker declined, so Michaels would try to force the issue at the 2010 Royal Rumble. If Michaels won the match, he could challenge for Undertaker’s World title and more importantly… the streak. Sadly, Shawn was not able to win the rumble match. Shawn’s life continued to deteriorate, as he was unable to accept his loss to the Undertaker the year before. Michaels’ obsession would lead to Elimination Chamber, where he cost Undertaker the World title. The next night on RAW, Michaels goaded Taker into a rematch claiming that Taker wanted revenge. Taker accepted with one condition… if Shawn lost, his career would be over. Michaels stated that if he couldn’t be Undertaker, he’d have no career and he accepted the stipulation.

While this match was not at the level of their match at Wrestlemania 25, this was still great. It was the main event of the show and rightfully so. Shawn kicked out of everything the Undertaker had and refused to go down. Michaels slapped Undertaker to get him to fight and Undertaker went into a fury. Taker gave Michaels one final tombstone and that was that…. Shawn Michaels’ career was over.

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Having beaten Shawn Michaels in two incredible Wrestlemania matches in a row, the question was this… what could WWE possibly do to follow up two of the greatest matches in Wrestlemania history? Their solution was to put Undertaker up against the “Cerebral Assassin” Triple H at Wrestlemania 27…

Undertaker and Triple H had faced each other at Wrestlemania before but this one was very special and necessary for a few reasons…

  1. Their match at Wrestlemania 27 would be a rematch from their previous Wrestlemania 17 showdown ten years before… which Undertaker won.
  2. It’d make sense for Triple H to try and avenge his best friend Shawn Michaels, who had his career ended by the Undertaker.
  3. Triple H and Undertaker, like Shawn and Taker, have both been near-exclusives to the RAW and SmackDown! brands respectively. Therefore, they’ve not really had any big programs together for almost a decade. This was unique.

The first match was made No Holds Barred match. This helped appeal to the intensity of both these characters. These men could go all out and they did. It was hard-hitting and it just helped Taker and HHH thrive. This was not like the wrestling masterpiece that the Michaels/Taker matches were. This was a straight up battle. It suited both men well.

This match was also unique in it’s layout. The story of the match was last outlaw of WWE refusing to give up as Triple H was wanting to put him away. It was not like Undertaker and Triple H just had a great back-and-forth match. It was initially, but then Triple H just simply battered Undertaker. He battered him with chairs, pedigrees and even a TOMBSTONE of his own! However, Undertaker still refused to give. Triple H wanted to end things with his trusty sledgehammer, but Undertaker locked on Hells Gate to make Triple H tap and escape with the streak intact. However, Undertaker ended up being carried out on a stretcher. Undertaker won, but it hardly seemed like a victory. This match was the brightest spark during a pretty lame Wrestlemania 27. The ending was also the perfect set-up for a rematch…

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While Undertaker had spent the year on the sidelines, Triple H had been through a fair amount of character development. Following Money In The Bank 2011, Triple H would take the reins in WWE as the COO. He had traded in his wrestling gear for a suit as he started doing more paperwork than pedigrees. On an episode of RAW in January 2012, Triple H was about to fire Interim GM John Laurinaitis. As he was doing it though, we heard that all too familiar gong. Undertaker returned, hinting towards the rematch. However, Triple H seemed to take a pass on one final match.

Despite pressure from Undertaker and even Shawn Michaels, Triple H refused to face Taker as he didn’t want to destroy the “brand” of the streak that helped made Wrestlemania such a success. It was great that the build up to this match was also able to tie-in to Triple H’s role as COO as well. Undertaker was adamant about erasing the memory of Triple H forcing Taker onto a stretcher the year before and offered Triple H one more shot at immortality. Undertaker went as far as to call HHH a coward and claim Shawn was always better than him, which pushed HHH over the edge. Triple H accepted on one condition… Hell in a Cell.

This was an appropriate finish to this four year storyline. As pointed out, Taker and HHH had a lot of history inside the cell. A standard match might have not had as much impact. The Cell made more sense from a storyline standpoint. Shawn Michaels was also added to the match as he had the streak in the palm of his hand. The stage is set. At Wrestlemania 28, Taker beat Triple H in the cell to take the streak to 20-0 and end the era which I believe was simply this four year storyline. While a lot of people might not have gotten the “End of an Era” billing of the match, I think it was just this era of Wrestlemania matches which was centred around Michaels, Taker and HHH. Jim Ross was also brought into to commentate the match and did a great job.

Now, I’m going to say something which will not be a popular opinion… I was left disappointed by this match. This was by no means a terrible match. It was not as great as their match at Wrestlemania 27 but it was still a great match. However, there were a few things about it that really hurt the match in my opinion.

The first issue I had with it was Shawn Michaels as the special referee. The reason Shawn gets a bit of criticism is because it wasn’t really made clear what his motivation was leading into this match. It was kind of hinted on television that he was going to screw Undertaker. However, the storyline in the match became about whether Michaels would allow his friend to do what Michaels himself was unable to do or if he would help his friend end the streak of the man that had ended Michaels’ career. Therefore, everything Shawn was doing as the referee was just dead confusing to me. He teased calling for the bell, then he jumped in when Triple H was beating Undertaker with the chair and then he tried to screw Taker himself with the super kick. By the way, that Super Kick/Pedigree spot was the highlight of the night.

The point is, Michaels’ actions just came off as so confusing that it looked for all the world like he was Darth Vader struggling to decide between saving Luke or siding with the Emperor but it was done in such a complicated matter that it took way from his role as referee. There was also the use of the Hell in a Cell itself. Now let me just make clear that I did not expect HHH and Taker to do something crazy like going to the top of the cell. However, HHH said in a promo leading into the match that he and Taker should “go all the way.” To me, it didn’t look like they “went all the way.” It looked like they just did a repeat of the match from the year before, added Shawn Michaels and a Cell. They rarely ever used the cell. I would have preferred it if they just left it to being a singles match with Shawn as the referee. At least then, the cell wouldn’t have limited Triple H and Undertaker.

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With that being said though, this was still a great match. The hug at the end was great and it was a great way for this saga to end.

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Wrestling Flashback – Joey Styles’ RAW Shoot Promo In 2006

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In October 2005, Jim Ross was fired (kayfabe) as play-by-play commentator of RAW in a rather embarrassing way. After Stone Cold Steve Austin had stunned every member of the McMahon family the previous week, Jim Ross was the scapegoat. Vince and Stephanie McMahon put the blame on him and picked on him until Linda McMahon came to his aid. On television, Linda and JR had a great relationship. In a big swerve though, Linda fired JR and kicked him in the nuts.

This was really just done so JR could recover from colon surgery. However, this provided an opportunity for a new RAW commentator to get a shot at covering the flagship show of WWE…

On November 7th 2005, JR’s replacement was finally introduced. It was revealed that former ECW commentator Joey Styles would be the newest play-by-play commentator for Monday Night RAW. Joey was doing commentary for ECW One Night Stand but this was his first true stint as an announcer for WWE programming.

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For Joey Styles, this was a completely new environment to ECW. Joey was mostly a solo commentator for ECW events and his world would change as he became the new voice of Monday Night RAW. However, Joey was doing a fine job adapting to this new sports entertainment environment. That was until Wrestlemania 22 came along… and Joey Styles was bumped from the show in favour of Jim Ross.

Joey was allowed to commentate on the Edge vs Mick Foley hardcore match, fulfilling his dream of one day calling a Wrestlemania match. Luckily for Joey, he was able to call probably the best match of the night. However, Joey’s dismissal from the rest of the show was very interesting as he would return to commentating on RAW the next night. He would also miss out on the opportunity to call RAW’s next PPV Backlash, with JR being selected once again.

Eventually, Joey Styles’ frustrations with the WWE dealings backstage eventually spilled out onto RAW. On the May 1st 2006 edition of RAW, the general managers of the show were the Spirit Squad. Kenny was booked to challenge John Cena for the WWE Championship. Joey was instructed by the Spirit Squad to show some spirit when Kenny wins the title, being forced to wear a cheerleader’s outfit if he didn’t do a good enough job.

Joey Styles returned to commentary as Jerry Lawler also urged Joey to show some spirit. Joey finally decided that he had enough, calling Jerry a hack and slapping him. Jerry pushed him over and Joey ran to the back. Jerry Lawler apologised and wanted Joey to come back out. Joey came back out and the speech he gave was nothing short of fantastic. Below is the full transcript of what was an incredible “worked shoot” promo cut live on WWE RAW by the voice of ECW…

  • “You want to apologize? Like nothing happened. Like you didn’t knock me on my ass in front of millions of people worldwide, and I’m gonna come down there and work with you. I’m not coming back, and now thanks to the magic of live television I’m gonna show the whole world, why for seven years in ECW I was the unscripted, uncensored, loose cannon of commentary. Six months ago, WWE called me, I didn’t call this company because I was looking for a job. I didn’t need a job. WWE called me because they had humiliated and fired…again, Jim Ross. So I get JR’s spot, and from week one, week after week I’ve got an ongoing lecture about the differences in professional wrestling and sports entertainment. I’m not allowed to say ‘pro wrestling’, I’m not allowed to say ‘wrestler’. I have to say ‘sports entertainment’ and refer to the wrestlers as ‘superstars’. I’m told to deliberately ignore the moves and the holds during the matches so I can tell stories. Well ignoring the moves and the holds is damn insulting to the athletes, the ‘wrestlers’, not the entertainers who leave their families three hundred days a year to ply their craft in that ring. Here’s the best part, because I’m not a sports entertainment storyteller I get pulled from Wrestlemania, and the reason I’m given is, is because I don’t sound like Jim Ross who’s the guy they fired in the first place. That makes sense, right? So I swallow the bitter pill, I’m a company guy. I get bumped from Wrestlemania. Then I get bumped from Backlash? I’m not good enough to call Backlash!? In ECW, I called live pay-per-views on my own, solo, no colour commentators dragging me down. Wasn’t done before me, hasn’t been done since. But I’m not good enough to call Backlash because I’m not a sports entertainment storyteller. Well you know what? I am sick of sports entertainment. I am sick of male cheerleaders. I am sick of boogers and bathroom humour and semen and I am sick of our chairman. Who likes to talk about his own semen, he mocks God… he mocks God!!!!! And makes out with the divas all to feed his own insatiable ego. I am sick of sports entertainment, and most of all I am sick of you fans who actually buy into that crap! This sports entertainment circus! I never
    needed this job, and I don’t want this job anymore.”

With this speech, he quit the WWE.

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Joey was eventually brought back as part of the ECW revival beginning at ECW One Night Stand 2006 and he actually still works in WWE backstage today. However, this promo was nothing short of fantastic. Back then, the WWE was still very protective of the kayfabe of storylines. Therefore, shoot promos in WWE were very rare.

Wade Keller wrote about this for PWTorch at the time in 2006, saying:

“What stands out the most is that he was allowed to rip on the WWE product. For years, announcers have been discouraged from referring to in–ring athletes as “wrestlers” and instead refer to them as “superstars” dating back to the 1980s. That policy was inspired in part in a desire to distance themselves from pro wrestling’s tawdry image, but it was also an attempt at a self–fulfilling prophesy. Referring to the athletes as superstars elevated their image through their label as being more than “just fake wrestlers.” For Styles to be allowed to point it out, though, means WWE fans will be more tuned in to WWE’s usage of language in the future.”

The fans were never TRULY able to get much detail about the backstage dealings in WWE, unless you had access to the internet. Joey gave the fans an insight into how commentators were told to behave by the WWE. Of course, JR or Michael Cole were never going to tell the audience what Vince McMahon is shouting down their ear. However, Joey was in a position where he was able to let the fans into that world WITHOUT using terminology that was too insider for the majority of fans to get. This was not like Vince Russo, who used shoot terminology a lot during his time as a writer. This was enough so that the fans could get a rare taste of what happens backstage but it wasn’t too much that the fans wouldn’t understand. As an introduction to the backstage dealings at WWE, this was great.

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I believe that this was probably one of the greatest shoot promos in wrestling history. It was not as ground-breaking as CM Punk’s infamous pipebomb and it wasn’t as scathing as Paul Heyman’s shoot on Vince McMahon was back in 2001. However, it was exactly the type of thing the revived ECW would need going forward. Joey had to make it clear that what he would eventually be apart of was nothing like RAW or SmackDown!

This was special because back then, the line between reality and fiction was never really shattered before in such a manner. Paul Heyman talked about the WWF’s presentation of sports entertainment before in his shoot promo but Joey properly exposed the lack of wrestling in the product. When Heyman cut his promo, there was still a lot of attention given to wrestling. When Styles cut his promo, RAW’s storylines at the time included a bunch of cheerleaders, Kane feuding with himself and Vince McMahon depicting himself as god. After all of these storylines, the fans realised just how much on the money Styles was. This worked… sublimely.

Wrestling Flashback – AJ Styles’ Evil Ways

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When I think back to the very best of times with TNA, I think of years like 2005 and 2006. These were the years when it was down to the top quality of the X-Division. A time when TNA had wrestlers that would kill it every time they were on iMPACT, PPV or whatever. TNA was flooded with wrestlers like Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels with so much potential. But I think a period of TNA which I really enjoyed was around 2012 and 2013 and the Aces And Eights storyline. These years were very different and it wasn’t that it was good because the in-ring action was outstanding. It was good because the writers were doing what every wrestling writer should be doing as a means to keep the audience watching the product… sticking to a plan.

That’s one of the things that really annoys me when I watch WWE. CM Punk said it best on the podcast with Colt Cabana. WWE only have plans for a select number of wrestler. This sucks because all this talent is wasted as WWE don’t know what to do with them. When some NXT talent like the Ascension debut on the main roster, Vince and the rest of the writers had NO IDEA how to build them up. Before calling ANYONE up from NXT, surely you’ve got to get a game-plan. Look at the star and say “Right, what do we want Finn Balor doing in six months time?” or something like that. WWE don’t think like that with anyone. They might have had a long-term plan with Kevin Owens, but obviously they’ve went back on a few things with his feud loss to John Cena.

However when it came to the Aces And Eights angle, particular up until Lockdown 2013, they knew what the end game was going to be. They had a plan and stuck to it. It sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, but it’s insane how much wrestling writers nowadays don’t plan things out in advance. It’s always “spur-of-the-moment” booking with WWE regarding RAW. It’s always “spur-of-the-moment” booking with the PPVs. Considering we’re live in a world in which the likes of Game of Thrones rules television with it’s detailed storylines, WWE really need to step up.

However, I think there was one instance in which TNA did well with the planning of its storylines. Not only with the Aces and Eights storyline, but with AJ Styles’ 2013 storyline as well.

At Final Resolution 2012, AJ lost his supposed last match with Christopher Daniels shortly after being banned from the TNA World title picture until Bound For Glory. AJ cut a promo claiming he was tired of always doing the right thing. He decided that he was going to do his own thing. AJ left the company for a few months with cameraman observing a more darker AJ at his home. When he arrived at TNA, AJ had a new attitude which he took out on the good guys of wrestling. After feuding with James Storm and Kurt Angle, the Aces and Eights looked to try and get AJ into their group. Sadly, AJ declined the offer to join up with Aces and Eights OR TNA and decided to be a lone wolf.


With only himself in mind now, AJ took this new attitude into the Bound For Glory Series… which he won. Following his win, AJ began hitting out at how TNA was run and it’s president Dixie Carter. AJ shared the opinions of a lot of wrestling fans had of Dixie Carter, which led to the heel turn of the TNA President. Despite her interferences, AJ ended up winning the TNA World Championship at Bound For Glory. Following this win, AJ walked out on the company with the TNA World Title. After defending it around the world, he returned to challenge Dixie’s hand-picked champion Magnus to a “Winner-Take-All” Title Unification match. The match was set, but AJ sadly lost to Magnus due to an insane amount of interference. This would be the last we see of AJ Styles in TNA.

This storyline was a fantastic send-off for AJ, who seemed to have his sights set on leaving the company a lot sooner. This new attitude was exactly the thing AJ needed. He didn’t need to be a heel, but he needed to be the lone outcast in the war between TNA and Aces and Eights. With his title win, he finally got one last title reign under his belt before he moved onto the independent scene. Now AJ’s really tearing it up with ROH and in Japan. It’ll be interesting to see where the Phenomenal One goes from here…

Wrestling Flashback – Hard Times For The American Dream (RIP Dusty Rhodes)

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In honor of one of the true all-time wrestling legends. The American Dream Dusty Rhodes telling us about hard times in this incredible promo.

R.I.P. Dusty Rhodes