It was on 28 March 2010. A man was slowly crawling his way up, using his opponent’s legs. His body had all but given up, but his mind was still ready for battle. And in one last act of defiance, Shawn Michaels got to his feet, looked at his opponent in the eye and slapped him, as if signaling to him “If I am going down, then I am going down defiantly”.
His opponent - The Undertaker, caught Michaels and delivered perhaps the most thunderous tombstone pile driver of his career, and three seconds later, the career of one of the greatest superstars in the history of WWE, a career that had lasted almost a quarter of a century, came to an end.
It was then that something else happened. For the first time in his unparalleled career, The Undertaker broke character, gave a hand to the battered and defeated Michaels, lifted him up, and hugged him. It was perhaps respect, shown by the ‘Deadman’ to one of the greatest performers at the ‘Grandest Stage Of Them All’.
Over the course of three and a half decades, WrestleMania has been witness to several iconic and emotional moments. It was the place where Hulk Hogan defeated Andre The Giant, the place where The Rock defeated his childhood hero - the ‘Immortal’ Hulk Hogan, the place where The Undertaker and Triple H pushed the limits of human endurance in a vicious and brutal ‘Hell In A Cell’ encounter, the place where the legendary Ric Flair wrestled his final match in the WWE, against Michaels himself.
But then, nothing comes close to this moment, where the man nicknamed ‘Mr. WrestleMania’ bowed out in front of a packed house at the Phoenix stadium. It was the last time the crowd got to see Michaels in a one on one clash.
If he wanted, he could have continued. But then, Michaels moved away, at a time when he was still capable of producing classic matches and cutting top promos.
The Undertaker and Michaels gave us a storyline and a match for the ages. From Michaels throwing out the challenge at the Slammy Awards function, to The Undertaker continuously refusing it, to Michaels losing at the Royal Rumble, to him coming out at No Way Out and delivering a Sweet Chin Music that cost ‘The Phenom’ the title, to The Undertaker finally accepting the challenge by stating that Michaels will have to put his career on the line. The storyline weaved around the match was gripping.
This was the most anticipated match of WrestleMania XXVI, bigger than any title match. And The Undertaker and Michaels delivered an absolute classic, took the fans on an emotional roller coaster ride, and wrestled a match that will go down as the greatest ever in the history of WrestleMania.
The fans could feel the emotion, the two iconic Superstars connected with the fans in a way only those two could have, at every pinfall attempt, many of us thought, “That’s it, the streak is over’. But still, the streak hung on by a thread. And finally, The Undertaker went 18-0, at the cost of the legendary Shawn Michaels’ career.
And then, the next night on Raw, before Shawn could begin his farewell address, the gong struck. The Phenom came out, and with a look of respect on his face, tipped his hat to Michaels. That moment will be etched in the minds of fans forever. Not a word was spoken, but the emotion and the message conveyed by the Deadman was extremely powerful.
Yes, we have had several great storylines and promos in the WWE. But then, nothing comes close to the ‘Streak Vs Career’ storyline between two of WWE’s greatest performers - The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.
If two Superstars almost came to define WrestleMania itself, then one was ‘Mr. WrestleMania and the other was ‘WrestleMania’s Phenom’.
And finally, we can be sure of two things. The WWE can never produce another Undertaker and another Michaels. And of course, can never ever produce another storyline that is as gripping, as emotional, and as powerful as the ‘STREAK VS CAREER’ storyline.
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