After four long years of retirement from in-ring competition, The Heartbreak Kid returned in an angle against Triple H at Summerslam 2002. They are great matches. I do mean great. It was funny because Michaels came back and it was like he had never left. If anything, he was better than he was before. Four years is a long time to not be wrestling and to come back on top of his game was a shot in the arm for WWE. When HBK left after Wrestlemania XIV, the Stone Cold Era had just begun, but when he came back, Austin had taken his ball and went home and the Austin Era was over. The Rock had officially made the jump to being a wrestler and a movie star and Triple H was the top wrestler in the industry. A lot had changed, but Shawn Michaels came in and was one of the best performers in the industry and it was clear that he had plenty left in the tank.
Now I’m a real fan. I acknowledge everything between 1998 and 2002 when it comes to HBK. I love the guy, but I don’t have beer goggles on. He was the commissioner and the finest one there had ever been until he gave Foley his job. I still argue that Michaels is the best special guest referee there as ever been. I even acknowledge the NWO angle that I still think was a stroke of great creativity, but Michaels needed to wrestle to make that transition work. He wouldn’t and the angle fell apart, but in the end we got the feud we had never seen between the two men of DX and it is one of my favorites.
In my opinion, HBK and HHH had the feud of the decade in 2002 through 2004. We’ll get to 2004 soon, but I think a lot of people look bad at that feud in a negative light when the truth is that their feud was the constant in WWE programming so that when all this new talent came up, they had veterans to control the locker room. Their feud is one of my favorites, but it took a break for a little while around Wrestlemania XIX when Shawn Michaels had his triumphant return to the grandest stage of them all against someone cut from the same cloth, Chris Jericho.
The Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels feud really began after an almost stalemate late in 2002. The HHH/HBK feud had boiled over and at Armageddon, Michaels had lost to HHH. It was enough for Y2J to call Michaels out on coming back despite not being the Shawn Michaels that we knew before. Jericho questioned Shawn’s endurance and how much he had left in his tank. This led to their consistent attacks of one anther and Y2J trying to prove that he was better than Shawn Michaels. Jericho admitted that when he was young, he wanted to be Shawn Michaels. However, he had grown out of that and became the first Chris Jericho. Their debate would culminate at The Heartbreak Kid’s return to Wrestlmania XIX at Safeco Field in Seattle. The match was the culmination of HBK proving that he was still The Showstopper, but Chris trying to prove that Jericho has become better than Shawn Michaels. It is a great match that to me proves the points of both men in front of 54,000 fans that would see the return of Mr. Wrestlemania.
I’ll admit what we are all thinking, this is going to be a great match. For some reason, Jericho and Michaels are just amazing together in the ring. Go ahead and watch the beginning of their feud in 2008 after this and tell me that Chris Jericho isn’t one of the best heels in the last decade. Watch this match and tell me that Chris Jericho isn’t every bit as great as Shawn Michaels is. The in-ring chemistry between these two is unbelievable. That prematch promo just got me really excited to see this. It’s the story of Chris Jericho wanting to be better than the best there was ever been. Jericho proving his level of performance in wrestling history. That is how special Shawn Michaels was as a performer. Michaels was the best at making others look good in the ring; More than anyone in the history of this business. The depth of story Jericho is able to create with Shawn Michaels by just facing him at Wrestlemania is enough for Jericho to lose this match without a scratch on him. You know something? Jericho just proved to me how little credit I give him for being one of the best performers of my lifetime. This is the match Shawn Michaels has to have in his return to Wrestlemania. Just keep all this in mind while we watch the match unfold.
Jericho’s titantron hits as the buzzer counts us down for Y2J. We follow through the weird electric tunnel thing that I’ve never asked about and the pyro explodes in Safeco field in front of 54,000 fans. Glowing Chris Jericho morphs into real Jericho back on the stage where Jericho stands with his entrance pose to the audience before the walls break down and Jericho electrifies the arena on his way to the ring. JR makes the point that Y2J grew up emulating HBK and that he now faces the man who makes his way out to the ring next as “Sexy Boy” explodes into the arena.
The Showstopper is in full effect tonight. Shawn Michaels has a good time shooting confetti at the fans. Some of the guns don’t work, but Michaels gives them a show and takes care of them. I have to admit something else, Wrestlemania is not the same without Shawn Michaels. I’ve never trusted a wrestler as much as Shawn Michaels and its great to see him back on the grandest stage. I remember not having Shawn Michaels for years growing up. This is much better. Seeing him run around the ring in that pose with the fireworks going directly behind him and then on the roof of the arena is a treat. The man just has too much talent. There has never been a Wrestlemania performer like Shawn Michaels. Let’s see if he still has something left in the tank.
The arena focuses in as Jericho and Michaels circle the ring as the bell rings. Shawn Michaels really had a great reception from the fans. Good for him. The two men circle as Y2J has something to prove. The two lock up for a brief moment before doing it again. Michaels got a headlock and a takedown, but Jericho countered with the head scissors for a stalemate. Jericho continued with a deep arm drag takedown before Michaels answered with a head scissor of his own for another stalemate. Michaels feels the momentum as he plays for the crowd. Another fast paced sequence between Jericho and HBK. There are a lot of reversals and technical wrestling thus far. The next one moves to the ground as Michaels gets a takedown on Y2J, but Jericho counters into a cradle. He continued to fight until both men were on their feet. Jericho and Michaels play a game of jump and dodge in the ring until Jericho as had enough and he slaps HBK right in the face. The two men shared three in depth sequences of reversals and no one taking the upper hand. Jericho found a way to get the upper hand. He has Michaels attention now. He’s saying, “Stop it. Take me seriously.” The match is about to change from fun and games to something more brutal.
Michaels hit Jericho with a huge right hand and then threw him over the top rope and onto the outside. That could have gone better for Jericho. Michaels hit a baseball side onto Jericho before going to the outside. Michaels has thinking bigger there. I wonder why he didn’t go for it? The two men get back into the ring and Michaels tries for a crossbody from the top and Jericho uses the momentum to roll Michaels into a two count pin. Jericho takes control of Michaels and beats on him in the corners. Jericho works on Michaels until HBK counters a potential bulldog and Lionsault attempt by throwing Y2J into the corner. HBK locks in the Figure Four and Jericho does a good job of showing the pain. Jericho reverses it after a minute or so and HBK unlocks the hold. Michaels goes right back to the leg and tries to wrap the Figure Four again, but Jericho counters by kicking him into the corner. Michaels recovered and sent Jericho back over the top rope with head scissors, but Michaels skinned the cat and launched himself over the ropes and into a crossbody onto Jericho. Michaels beats Jericho and onto the ramp, but Jericho locks in The Walls on the outside and drastically hurts Michaels. Jericho picks up Michaels batters him into the ringpost a pair of times before reentering the ring and taunting the audience who are not pleased. Michaels is hurt on the outside.
Jericho is in complete control of this match. As Jericho hits his apron dropkick on Michaels. By the time Michaels gets in the ring, Jericho is in overdrive. He pounds on Michaels telling him that he is better than him. He has established his dominance. He’s made his point. Jericho hits a pair of suplexes on HBK and he almost gets the win with a close two count. Jericho wasn’t kidding that he wanted to end HBK’s career. The lower back is taking a beating. Jericho is trying to break Michaels in half. Jericho puts Michaels on the mat with a reverse chinlock. We watch Shawn Michaels come back to life as Jericho does everything he can to put him down. Michaels gets to his feet, gets racked in the eye, he eventually turns a slam into a tornado DDT. Both men were down for the count of six until Jericho got up and Michaels followed. Note that he didn’t nip up. He struggled to get up.
Michaels won the slugfest, but got caught on the rebound by a Chris Jericho flying lariat that Jericho would end with a nip up of his own. The cocky Jericho paces in the right as right behind him the original nip up from Shawn Michaels bring both men to their feet. Michaels hit Jericho and sent him through the original flying lariat and nip up combination. An atomic drop and a running clothesline to end the sequence that has changed the complexion of the match. A big back bodydrop by Michaels and he would end his offensive run with a moonsault from the top rope for a long two. Jericho and Michaels had a war of pin attempt reversals with no winner until Jericho saw the opportunity to go for The Walls again. Michaels countered. he two men fought for position with a right standing switch until Jericho lifted Michaels for a Northern Lights Suplex for a two count. The two men fought for a backslide, but Jericho landed a running clothesline instead. Jericho is moving on to the end with a bulldog and Lionsault combination. He only gets a two count three times. Jericho’s frustration is showing as Michaels just won’t lose. Michaels tries for some offense, but when he goes for a hurracaranna Jericho catches him and locks him into the Walls of Jericho right in the center of the ring. The Walls does it’s damage well, but Michaels reaches the ropes. Jericho goes for the Walls again, but he gets countered into an inside cradle. Jericho counters with a very impressive double underhook into a backbreaker. Y2J then lands a reverse elbow from the top that looks great. In an act of defiance, Jericho stands in the corner and tunes up the bank for Sweet Chin Music. Jericho hits Michaels with his own finisher. The dream becomes the reality for little Chris Jericho, but Michaels kicks out at two.
Jericho goes to work on Michaels, but as always he answers back with some offense. A crossbody onto Jericho leads to HBK maybe going for The Walls, but he ends up catapulting Jericho into the ringpost for a small package roll up for another two. Jericho targeted the back and went for a back bodydrop from the top onto Michaels. Michaels countered it into a crossbody that put both men down. Michaels would quickly go for the flying elbow from the top, but Jericho kicked the referee into the ropes to stun Michaels. Jericho goes up to fight Michaels but he falls on his face and The Showstopper hits the big flying elbow.
54,000 and one are ecstatic as the arena erupts. The end is near as Michaels tunes up the band. He goes for Sweet Chin Music, but Jericho reverses it into the Walls of Jericho. In any other match, Jericho would have won here, but Shawn Michaels isn’t going out like that on the grandest stage of them all. The Showstopper reaches the ropes by his fingertips. Jericho can’t believe that wasn’t it. He runs to Michaels, but gets caught right in the jaw with Sweet Chin Music.
Jericho gets some time, but kicks out at two. In any other match, Michaels would have won there, but Jericho has something to prove. The two men fight tirelessly in the corner, until Jericho send Michaels flying inside out around the top turnbuckle. Jericho tried a back bodydrop that Michaels reversed into a pinning predicament that would trick Jericho and give Shawm Michaels the three count to win his first Wrestlemania match since he won the WWF Championship.
The two men famously share a moment of respect that you know was really special for both men. The two men wrestled a hell of a match. They both proved their points and they embraced on the grandest stage of them all. For me, it is the validation of Chris Jericho as being the best in-ring performer of a generation and Shawn Michaels still being The Showstopper in the match that everyone talks about at this event despite it being the last match in the career of Stone Cold Steve Austin, the last real match The Rock would have for almost a decade and the main event with Angle and Lesnar. This is a stacked Wrestlemania card, but everyone remembers this match because of the story. The Jericho vs. Michaels story is astonishing because even going back and watching this great match, it almost seems like a preview of what is to come in 2008. When the embrace is broken by Jericho in character during the end of this match, I think that is the fire under Jericho that he holds onto for five years until he tries to eliminate Shawn Michaels from the world. I think it is their match here was the first chapter that takes five more years to build.
This match was great. Everything Shawn Michaels touches from here on out is pure gold. We all just have to argue about how shiny it is. This match was shiny and it helped both guys tremendously. Michaels was back after the HHH feud, a short title run and a great match with Jericho. It almost feels like Shawn Michaels had never left, but this is the first of many. I have to think about what to call this Era of Shawn Michaels. I call the first part of his career, “The Boyhood Dream”, I think we are going to call this Era, “The Showstopper”. He is going to have the best match on the card and he will give you the show you have never seen before. The Heartbreak Kid was back in the building.