In this new weekly feature, the “Cowboy” Roger Morrissette saddles up and heads to school for a re-education about the wrestling business. Roger grew up a wrestling fan but faded away for nearly twenty years, only returning to his roots on brief occasions throughout the last two decades. Now, his professor, Justin Rozzero, will be doling out weekly homework assignments geared at educating Roger on everything he has missed. Roger will provide thoughts on the matches and angles he watches and will include grades on each as well. So, join the Cowboy as he heads to class, PTBN style.
This Week’s Assignment:
Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker – Ground Zero 1997
Needless to say I was pretty excited for this week’s assignment from Professor Rozzero. Up until this point I had, at the very least, vague recollections of all of the matches I was asked to review. While I feel as though I was able to provide unbiased analysis, there was certainly a bit of nostalgia and sentimentality associated with my previous assignments that could have possibly clouded my judgment. For this Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels trilogy, I know for a fact that this is the first time I am seeing any of the matches. I graduated from high school in 1997 and was smack dab in the middle of about a five-year hiatus from professional wrestling. Given that and the fact that the The Streak was broken at WrestleMania a few weeks ago, I was pumped up to watch some vintage Taker. Hopefully this would go a long way toward erasing the memory of the slow, old Deadman I had witnessed lose to Brock Lesnar. It did that and more!
The first match is the Main Event from In Your House: Groud Zero 1997. Watching the opening montage it appears that HBK “accidentally” drilled the Undertaker with a steel chair costing him a match with Bret Hart for which Michaels was the guest referee. The Undertaker took exception to this, as expected, and the feud was born. Both combatants make their way to the ring and I am thoroughly impressed by each of them. Shawn Michaels plays the role of the cocky playboy to perfection. He has taken the torch from “Ravishing” Rick Rude and run with it. You can feel in the air that every guy in the crowd can’t wait for the pretty boy to get his ass handed to him. Taker’s introduction is simply the best in the history of the company in my opinion. When you hear those bells, you can immediately cut the tension with a knife. It is good to see young Taker at his intimidating best. He is one of the few wrestlers who could sell his disdain for his opponent 100%. As a viewer, you feel that he truly hates this man and wants to end his life.
Before Michaels even gets to the ring, Undertaker knocks the referee out cold. Talk about setting the tone! He is out for blood and he doesn’t want something as silly as “the rules” to get in his way. Once the ref is out Michaels is refusing to come to the ring and face off against the Deadman. Undertaker has just the answer for Shawn. He rouses the ref just long enough for HBK to get close to the ring and then proceeds to throw the ref over the top rope at Shawn. This knocks Shawn down and Taker is able to get his hands on him. A brutal beatdown ensues outside the ring and, most entertainingly, on the front lawn of the “house” set up. Taker is getting his pound of flesh. Eventually they end up in the ring and, finally, the match officially starts.
This has already been one of the more entertaining bouts that I’ve covered and the bell just rung! This is Taker and Shawn both in their absolute primes. The action is furious back and forth with neither man able to maintain an advantage. The refs are taking a vicious beating as new ones are sent to the ring from the dressing room every five minutes. As the bout progresses a burly guy with a mustache in a suit comes down to the ring…wait a minute…that’s “Ravishing” Rick! Evidently he is now the “Insurance Policy” for HBK. I couldn’t be happier about this. Michaels is clearly the heir apparent to Rude as the ladies man of the WWF and the fact that Rude works for him is just fantastic. You can picture them talking about the “fat, lazy sweathogs” backstage as each looks in the mirror. Rude helps Shawn out by giving him a pair of brass knuckles. HBK immediately drills Taker with the knuckles and hides them in his tights. This is another move I wish we saw more of now…hiding the foreign object in the tights is just classic.
After the shot with the knuckles it looks like Taker is out. HBK goes for the cover but the ref is still out. A very young Triple H and a very scary Chyna make their way to the ring with another ref, but Taker kicks out. As things go on, Michaels assaults the new referee a couple of more times and things slowly delve into chaos. Taker recovers and eventually retrieves the brass knuckles from Shawn’s tights (clearly demonstrating that this match is being fought under “prison rules”) and lights Michaels up. All looks lost for Shawn as he is covered, but somehow kicks out at two. This prompts Undertaker to chokeslam the referee. It is becoming clear that no winner will be crowned tonight. Finally, a fourth referee makes his way to the ring and calls the match off. Taker is refusing to stop fighting though. The whole dressing room comes out and about 12 wrestlers spill into the ring to separate the two combatants including the Rock before he was THE ROCK. What happens next is what separated the Undertaker in his prime from any of the other big guys in the promotion. He vaults himself over the rope Seth Rollins style and takes out HBK and about seven other guys. This was just awesome.
The stage has now been set for this feud to continue. One of my initial thoughts while watching the promo was that the feud itself seemed a bit contrived and forced. Michaels and Bret Hart despised each other so it is tough to believe that he would intentionally gift wrap the match for Hart by clubbing the Undertaker. With this fantastic main event, Taker and HBK did what great showmen do: they sold it. From the second the match started to the crazy climax I, as the viewer, felt that these two guys couldn’t stand each other. What started, for me, as a forced storyline just to get these two superstars in the ring ended with me begging for more. Things are just heating up and I can’t wait to watch the next two matches in the series!
Crowd – ****
Angle – ***
In Ring Action – *****
Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker – Hell in a Cell – Bad Blood 1997
After a great first match which created more questions than it answered, we move on to Taker vs. HBK part II. This time, they will be duking it out in the WWF’s first ever Hell in a Cell match. Coming into this assignment, I was unaware that this was the first of this legendary match type. It certainly makes sense though as whenever I think of Hell in a Cell, the first image that pops into my mind is the Undertaker tossing Mankind off the contraption. Can this second installment of Michaels vs. Undertaker live up to the massive hype created by the first? Let’s find out!
As both men are introduced you can cut the tension with a knife. Shawn is accompanied to the ring by Triple H, Chyna, and Rick Rude. Again, the Undertaker’s intro steals the show as the Deadman makes his way to the squared circle with hatred in his eyes. HBK’s DX cohorts are sent back to the locker room as the cell drops and is locked. The beginning of the match is all Undertaker as he pummels HBK. He gives the impression that he is taking out all of his frustrations from the first bout, and the way the feud has played out, on Shawn. Given that it is the first match of its kind, it is striking how much at home Taker looks in the Cell. As someone who is used to being interfered with and/or having his opponents turn and run, I would be willing to bet that he would like for all of his matches to take place in this format.
The men go back and forth before, about halfway through the match, Michaels decides to beat up one of the cameramen. At first, it is unclear what the point of this is but things soon begin to take focus for us. In order to attend to the injured cameraman, the Cell door is unlocked. When the cell door is unlocked Shawn and Taker take their fight outside the ring. This is the best action of the match and where a good match becomes an instant classic. Taker catapults Michaels into the steel cage leaving him a bloody mess. Eventually they make their way to the top of the Cell. The best thing about this, for me, is the thought that with every step one of these guys is taking the risk of dropping 15 feet through the chain link precariously holding them up. These are two big men and the fence just doesn’t seem strong enough to hold both of their weights, adding another layer of intrigue. Michaels eventually does a “mini-Foley” for lack of a better word while hanging off the cell and crashes through the Spanish announce table.
Eventually they end up back in the ring where Taker is getting the better of the action and looks to be on his way to a clean win…well as clean of a win as you can have in a Hell in a Cell match. Taker levels Shawn with a steel chair and gives us the throat slash gesture that we know indicates the Tombstone is coming. Just as this is about to take place, the lights go out and very creepy organ music begins blaring throughout the arena. When the lights come back on Paul Bearer is leading Kane, Taker’s younger brother, to the ring. Kane destroys the Cell door, drills Earl Hebner, and then Tombstones the Undertaker! Michaels throws one arm over Taker as Hebner comes to and gets the win.
While the introduction of Kane was fantastic as he gave the appearance of an indestructible force of nature, I wasn’t thrilled with the timing. This is the second match between Shawn and Taker and I felt that one of them deserved a clean win. I feel it took away from the significance of the first Hell in a Cell match to have it end in such a way. Couldn’t Kane have come down and Tombstoned Taker after he had defeated Michaels? Wouldn’t this have accomplished the same thing? Regardless, this was an extremely entertaining affair and a third fight has to happen. Unfortunately, with both of their first fights ending indecisively, it is not a true rubber match. I feel an opportunity was missed to end the feud here with a clean Taker win and set up Taker vs. Kane as a potential big pay per view main event with Michaels moving on to a new foil.
Crowd – ****
Angle – **** (for the introduction of Kane)
In Ring Action – *****
Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker – WWF Championship Bout – Casket Match – Royal Rumble 1998
The final installment of Taker vs. HBK takes place at Royal Rumble 1998 in an always exciting Casket Match gimmick match. As a bonus, Shawn is now the WWF Champion and the belt is on the line here. Tensions are again high as both men make their way to the ring. Degeneration X is fully formed at this point and we got lots of “Suck Its” out of Michaels and Triple H. I, like most people, loved DX. However, watching the match, the feeling that it shouldn’t be taking place is still with me. Instead of concentrating on who will walk away with the title, I find myself waiting anxiously for Kane to come down to the ring. Leading up to this bout, the Deadman’s brother helped him fend off an attack from Michaels and his cronies and the storyline around the twisted siblings’ relationship is riveting. While this is all well and good, a WWF Title match and Royal Rumble main event should be its own storyline.
The match itself is good but not great. Both men end up in the casket at different points and there is some solid interference by a hobbled Triple H. Taker looks like he is going to punch Chyna at one point, which sends the crowd into a frenzy. The match goes on for an extended period before, finally, Kane comes out. This gets a huge pop from the crowd as Kane has arrived, presumably, to help his older brother. Kane comes down and cleans house, drilling everyone in the ring. He then turns on Taker and chokeslams him into the casket! Michaels closes the casket, wins the match, and retains his title. For those counting at home, that is three matches between these two without a clean winner. What happens next is simply barbaric. Paul Bearer padlocks the casket and he and Kane light it on fire with Taker still inside! This definitely kicks the battle of the brothers into overdrive and is clearly THE story of this event. Again, I think the brother vs. brother angle is great. I don’t understand why Shawn and DX had to be a part of it and why it was necessary to use a WWF Title bout as a prop in a larger angle.
With all of that said, the Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels trilogy was riveting. What it lacked in closure it made up for with incredible in-ring action from two of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the promotion in their primes. The Cowboy would’ve liked to see someone come out victorious from this one but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Crowd – *****
Angle – ***1/2
In Ring Action – ****
Teacher’s Note: Great job Cowboy, glad to see you really enjoyed this series! I hope you haven’t had your fill of the Deadman and the Heartbreak Kid just yet because we have more on the way next week!