Wrestlemania is an annual Pay Per View by World Wrestling Entertainment (the WWE). Considered the Super Bowl of professional wrestling, it contains matches that are often the culmination of a feud (storyline) between wrestlers looking to have a Wrestlemania or breakout moment so as to elevate their status in the wrestling community. Lately, another trend has emerged. Wrestlemania has become a place for the last stand, an established superstar proving that they are capable of one last great match before retiring. This year, the latter theme is what I have been unable to move past, even if the WWE and its “no off-season” schedule already have. Wrestlemania 26 is where the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels had the last match of his career.
I started watching wrestling in 1992 with Wrestlemania 8. Hulk Hogan and the 'Macho Man' Randy Savage - names I knew of before I started following wrestling - were featured in the main event matches; however, the 3 people on that card that caught my attention were The Undertaker, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and Shawn Michaels. They are the reason I kept watching after. By the end of that year - at the Survivor Series 1992 PPV - the Undertaker was featured in a signature match - the debut of casket match - against the Ugandan Giant Kamala. Guess who won?
The Main Event saw Bret, the World Champion, face Shawn, the Intercontinental Champion. 1992 was no doubt their breakout year as they not only carried the WWF/WWE from that point on but also established my understanding of wrestling. Bret's technical ability regularly turned matches into lessons; Shawn's athleticism carried with it a willing yet defiant sacrifice of body for the sake of entertainment; The Undertaker has never failed to leave the audience in awe whether they be attending a show live or watching a recorded show from home. These three, dubbed the leaders of the WWE’s “New Generation,” provided a guarantee: there will always be at least one thing I would be excited to watch.
In light of what I've said above, I have - admittedly - not been a Shawn Michaels fan; that was my brother. I am a dyed in the wool – pink & black wool, preferably – Bret Hart fan. This led to many sibling arguments where our intensity was matched only by Bret and Shawn’s when they faced off. Their 60 Minute Iron Man Match at Wrestlemania 12 was the culmination of a month long debate over who was better. Even after, I refused to acknowledge Shawn's victory in the match. And, after the controversial ending to their Survivor Series 1997 match, the phrase ‘Montreal Screwjob’ could not be uttered in my presence for years.
But I can't deny Shawn Michaels' ability as a wrestler, athlete and performer. And yes, I have looked forward to his matches, even going so far as to cheer him on rare occasions. I specifically went to my friend’s house to watch him face Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 19. And I watched only that match. I rooted for Jericho though; he lost.
Bret retired in 2001; he has only recently resurfaced in the temporary role of assisting the next generation of the Hart family – the Hart Dynasty – in becoming Tag Team Champions. Now, with Shawn retired at the hands of the Undertaker no less, two-thirds of my inaugural class of wrestlers are done. The Undertaker's stellar in-ring career is in its twilight years, much like Randy Savage's was in 1992. And while he has a few Main Event Matches left in him, there is an expiration date and it is drawing nearer.
Will I stop watching once my wrestling foundation is fully retired? Highly Unlikely. There are some wrestlers in the tradition of these elite 3, Jericho chief among them. But it won't be the same: I've lost my guarantee.
I know, I know. “Wrestling’s fake.” And, yeah, it is (if you want to be a dick about it). If Shawn Michaels does come out of retirement, then he won’t be the first; that’s a wrestling tradition in itself. But if this is the end, and based on the ovation he received after his match at Wrestlemania 26 and / or the ovation he received the next night on Monday Night RAW during his retirement speech, I think it is.
So, sincerely, from a non-HBK fan: Thank You Shawn Michaels. Don’t make me regret it.