Wrestlemania XXVI: The Duel in the Desert
March 28, 2010
University of Phoenix Stadium
At Wrestlemania 24, Shawn Michaels ended the legendary career of Ric Flair. Riding that wave of momentum, he rolled into Wrestlemania 25 promising to be the man who ended Undertaker’s legendary undefeated streak.
And he came damn close. For 30 minutes, Michaels matched Taker move for move. Everything Taker threw at him, Shawn was ready for. He even kicked out of Undertaker’s Tombstone Piledriver, a feat only a few men have ever accomplished. Sensing he had Taker vulnerable, Shawn gambled everything on one huge move: A Diving Moonsault from the top rope. Land it, and glory would be his. Miss it, and it would all be over just like that. The temptation overwhelmed Shawn. For one glorious moment as he flew threw the air, time stopped in Houston. Any ordinary man would have been defeated. But Undertaker was no ordinary man, and he had recovered at a super-human rate. He caught Shawn out of the air and drove him to the mat with another Tombstone Piledriver to win the match and move to 18-0 at Wrestlemania.
Shawn took several months leave to recover from the loss. He considered retirement, but couldn’t away. Not yet, not without testing himself one last time. When Michaels was awarded the 2009 Match of the Year at the Slammys, he tried to be magnanimous, praising Undertaker for his great performance. He had a chance to walk away. But the temptation was just too great. He returned to the podium to declare that he was the man who would Undertaker’s undefeated streak. He challenged Undertaker to a match at Wrestlemania 26.
But Undertaker refused the challenge. He said Shawn at had lost last year, and if they faced off again the result would be the same. Shawn refused to give up. He said he would get his match…by winning the Royal Rumble, and challenging Undertaker for the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania.
But Shawn’s dreams were dashed when he was eliminated from the Royal Rumble by Batista. He was despondent, and lashed out at the referees who tried to escort him from ringside. He knocked out everyone in sight with Sweet Chin Music, and then walked to the locker room, dejected.
Once more, Shawn should have given up. It wasn’t his destiny to face Undertaker again. But he just couldn’t let it go. Desperate men make mistakes. They turn their back on their values. And Shawn Michaels went all the way down the rabbit hole when he interfered in Undertaker’s title defense at Elimination Chamber, costing Undertaker the match. In the process, he handed the World Heavyweight Championship to Chris Jericho, a man he despised and who had previously tried to end his career. But that as all secondary to Shawn’s quest to end The Streak.
Undertaker finally accepted Shawn’s challenge to a Wrestlemania rematch. But he added a stipulation: If Shawn lost, his career was over. Shawn gladly accepted, saying he had no career if he couldn’t win the match.
An epic battle between two of the best ever. A duel in the desert. Either Undertaker’s streak would end, or the legendary career of Shawn Michaels would be over.
Unified WWE Tag Team Championship: ShowMiz vs. R-Truth and John Morrison
Truth and Morrison were thrown together as a team to get them both on the card. And appropriately, they’re dispensed without any trouble here. ShowMiz retain in three minutes when Show knocks Morrison out with his signature KO Punch. Strange all around.
Rating: ¾*. The little bit we got wasn’t bad.
Triple Threat Match: Randy Orton vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Ted DiBiase
Legacy explodes. Cody and Ted finally got sick of bailing Orton out all the time and turned on him. Amusingly, this was a point where a lot of people thought Ted DiBiase was going to be a big deal. Some people even thought he should be the one to end Undertaker’s streak. Writing in 2015, we know that DiBiase got released while Cody has gone on to a solid career in WWE. And that was certainly the right call.
The first thing that stands out about this match is how terrible Cody’s attire was. For some reason he decided to channel the Texas Longhorns, and it did not look good. Cody and Ted try to work together and gang up on Orton, but they end up imploding. Orton manages to take both his proteges down, Punts Cody, and pins DiBiase after the RKO.
Rating: **½. Nice match, good addition to the card.
Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Christian vs. Matt Hardy vs. Kane vs. Jack Swagger vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. MVP vs. Evan Bourne vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston
That is a lot of wrestlers. Ten guys in this match, biggest field ever for Money in the Bank. And it’s not to the match’s advantage. Guys just disappear for long stretches. Somebody falls off a ladder and they’re gone for five minutes. And then someone pops back in and you’ve forgotten that they were ever in the match.
There are a lot of fun spots here: Ziggler running up a ladder to hit Christian with the Zig Zag, Bourne’s one-legged Shooting Star Press, Kofi Kingston’s ladder stilts. Jack Swagger got the win after taking an eternity to unhook the briefcase, except they edited his fumbling out on the DVD (and on WWE Network). He would cash-in the briefcase two days after this on a Smackdown taping and become World Heavyweight Champion.
Rating: ***. Fun stuff, overcrowded.
Hall of Fame was next. The class: “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Antonio Inoki, Wendi Richter, Mad Dog Vachon, Gorgeous George, and Stu Hart.
Triple H vs. Sheamus
This was the first time since Wrestlemania 17 that Triple H had a non-title match at Wrestlemania. His opponent would be a man who had one of the fastest rises in WWE history: Sheamus. He debuted in June on the ECW brand. By the end of the year, he was WWE Champion after defeating John Cena in one of the greatest upsets in WWE history. He lost the title to John Cena at No Way Out after being pinned by Triple H in an Elimination Chamber match. So now he faces the self-proclaimed “measuring stick,” Triple H. Sheamus wins, he proves he’s ready for primetime. He loses, who knows?
Sheamus controls most of the match. In fact, almost the entire match is him beating the shit out of Triple H. Triple H makes his comeback, but Sheamus is even able to escape the Pedigree. In the end, Triple H can’t overpower Sheamus. But he can outthink him. The veteran plays dead, baiting Sheamus into pulling him to his feet. And then he pops up, boots Sheamus and nails him with the Pedigree for the win.
Rating: **¾. Really good midcard match. Sheamus came out looking strong despite losing, and would get his revenge the next month at Extreme Rules.
CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio
If Punk wins, Mysterio has to join the Straight Edge Society. The highlight of the lead to this was Punk interrupting Rey’s daughter’s birthday and singing her “Happy Birthday” in incredibly creepy fashion. Mysterio comes out with an Avatar inspired attire. It’s okay other than the braid of hair on the mask.
The biggest problem here is that the video package and entrances are literally longer than the match. For six minutes, this match isn’t bad. But it’s a six minute match, and there’s only so much you can do in that amount of time. Mysterio wins with the 619.
Rating: **. Wish they had gotten more time. Fun for the short match.
Street Fight: Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon
We all know the story here. Bret returned to WWE to host a Raw in January. He buried the hatchet with Shawn Michaels in a real and emotional segment. And then he curiously embarked on a phony feud with Vince McMahon, who we knew he had settled things with years ago. A bunch of mediocre segments led to this, and here we are.
Now, it’s a tough task to put together a match when one of the participants can’t take any bumps. And the other is a 65 year old man. But I’m sure they could have come up with something better than this shit. Vince comes out and tells Bret he’s pulled a fast one: He’s paid off the Hart family and they’re going to help him beat up Bret. The Mr. McMahon character is crazy, but he’d never been portrayed as stupid. Until he thought he had turned Bret’s family against him and paid them in advance. This whole angle added nothing to the match, and it just made this even more abominably long.
And lord is it long. Over ten minutes of Bret beating up Vince. In awkward, clumsy, slow fashion. After what feels like a decade, Bret locks Vince in the Sharpshooter and Vince gives up.
Rating: Dud. One of the worst matches in Wrestlemania history.
World Heavyweight Championship: Chris Jericho (c) vs. Edge
Edge and Jericho were Tag Team Champions in the summer until Edge tore his Achilles Tendon. Edge then made a surprise return at the Royal Rumble and won the match. He chose to fight Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship, and the two embarked on an uninspiring build to this match.
This match is just okay. Edge was just back from injury and wasn’t quite in ring shape yet, keeping the pace from being what it would have been if he had been healthy. Jericho doesn’t heel it up the way he should, so the match just ends up being a bit bland. The crowd finally gets going when Edge lines up a Spear, but it turns out Jericho has learned every imaginable counter to Edge’s signature move. Which makes a lot of sense. Jericho even reverses a Spear into the Codebreaker, with looked awesome. After Edge kicks out, Jericho goes to work on Edge’s injured Achilles Tendon. A ref bump and a weak title shot look like the finish, but Edge kicks out again. A botched Codebreaker gets the win for Jericho. Strange match.
Rating: **½. Decent, but never really clicked. Like I said, Edge didn’t really seem ready to be in this spot so soon after injury.
Edge gets his revenge after the match with a devastating Spear through the announce table. I always thought this seemed like a setup for Swagger to cash in his title shot, but it doesn’t happen.
Ten Diva Tag: Beth Phoenix, Kelly Kelly, Mickie James, Gail Kim, and Eve vs. Vickie Guerrero, Michelle McCool, Alicia Fox, Layla, and Maryse
At one point in this match Vickie Guerrero botches a cover. I think that says everything.
WWE Championship: Batista (c) vs. John Cena
Batista stole the title from Cena at Elimination Chamber as part of a corrupt bargain with Vince McMahon. In exchange for a shot at the title when Cena was most vulnerable, Batista beat up Bret Hart. And then Batista revealed his real motive: Jealousy. Jealousy that Cena had surpassed his stardom. Jealousy that Cena had become the face of WWE while Batista was stuck being Mr. Smackdown. Tonight, Batista has a chance to stake his claim to be the real face of WWE.
Batista’s spotlight entrance was so great. Cena has another lame entrance here, as a Marine guard puts on a weapon show that goes for a long time and doesn’t build at all. Batista is the one man that Cena had never beaten, so the match here is constantly teasing the idea that Batista just has Cena’s number. Cena looks like he’s going to win early with the AA, but Batista counters with a sick DDT. Batista spends all match targeting Cena’s neck, which Batista injured in their match at Summerslam 2008. When Cena goes for the Five Knuckle Shuffle, Batista is ready with a Spinebuster. Batista is able to make the ropes to get out of the STF, and he comes back with a Spear for a two count.
Cena hits the Five Knuckle Shuffle from the top rope and goes for the AA, but Batista counters into the Batista Bomb! Only gets two. A great series of reversals ends with Cena hitting the AA and Batista kicking out. Crowd definitely thought that was the finish. Cena comes off the top rope and Batista catches him with a Spinebuster! Batista goes the Batista Bomb, but Cena slips out and rolls through into the STF. Batista is trapped in the middle of the ring and the defeated champion meekly taps out.
Rating: ***½. Really good match. They got the crowd rocking again after they had been down for the previous few matches. Built well off their previous match.
No Holds Barred Retirement Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker
We’ve covered everything about this match already. No frills with the entrances, they’re both dialed in. Shawn taunts Undertaker before the bell, baiting him and then sticking and moving. Taker gets control quickly and is going all out to end it early. Taker goes for Old School and hits…but he comes up limping. A hush goes over Phoenix Stadium. Shawn targets the knee immediately. He has to bring the big man down to the mat. Takes keeps trying his big moves, but Shawn keeps getting out with shots to the bad leg. Shawn winds up for Sweet Chin Music and Taker flinches, grabbing his knee. They’re at a standstill.
Takes knocks Shawn to the floor and thinks about the rope dive, but Shawn is ready and takes his leg out. They go back to the floor, where Taker decides to go after Shawn’s weak spot: his lower back. Taker rams the back into the ringpost. Taker hits his signature apron Leg Drop, but comes up holding his knee. Back in the ring Michaels locks on a Figure Four. Taker manages to turn it over and escape. A slugfest ends with a Chokeslam from Undertaker. He goes for the Tombstone, but Michaels rolls it into an Ankle Lock. Michaels pulls him back to the middle of the ring and grapevines the leg. Taker is able to use his giant legs to kick Michaels off.
Shawn knocks Taker to the floor and goes for a Moonsault, but is caught and hit with a Tombstone on the floor! Same mistake that cost him at Wrestlemania last year. Back in the ring, Shawn kicks out at two. He had a solid two minutes to recover as Taker gathered himself. Shawn reverses the Last Ride into a Facebuster. Or maybe Taker’s leg gave out. Both make sense. Shawn goes for the Flying Elbow, but Taker gets his knees up. Shawn’s arm is messed up, but Taker’s knee is destroyed. Fair trade for Shawn. Taker locks on Hell’s Gate out of nowhere, but Shawn rolls forward into a cover! Only gets two. Love that spot. He spent all year preparing for that hold.
Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere! Only gets two. Shawn lines up another Sweet Chin Music, shades of how he ended Ric Flair’s career. Taker blocks and goes for Last Ride and hits. Only a two count. You can see the fear in Taker’s eyes now as he begins to wonder if he can keep Michaels down. Taker throws Shawn to the floor and follows him out. Shawn slips out of the Last Ride and delivers Sweet Chin Music, knocking Taker onto the announce table! Shawn goes to the top and flies off with an insane Moonsault that hits Taker square in his injured knee. That was genuinely terrifying. Michaels desperately tries to get Undertaker into the ring and succeeds. Then he delivers a thunderous Sweet Chin Music that Taker somehow kicks out of.
Both men are physically destroyed. Shawn defaults to Sweet Chin Music, but Taker catches him with a Chokeslam. Taker follows up with a Tombstone. Somehow, Shawn kicks out at two. Taker can’t believe it, and neither can the audience. Taker gathers himself, gets to his feet, and drops the straps. Now we’re getting serious. Shawn comes to and can barely get to his feet, grabbing Taker to pull himself up. The executioner readies his ax…and can’t bring himself to swing. Taker’s shoulders sag and he looks down at his wounded friend. “Stay down!” he implores him. He doesn’t want to hurt his friend anymore.
But Shawn won’t have his pity. He’s going down swinging, like a man. He taunts Taker and slaps him across the face. His fate is sealed. Taker grabs Shawn and delivers the single most devastating Tombstone I have ever seen in my life. That’s a three count. The streak lives, and the legendary career of Shawn Michaels is over.
Rating: ****¾. An amazing match, and a worthy sequel to their all-time classic from the previous year. Not much more to say. The match was as dramatic as a great film.
Taker celebrates, and pulls Shawn up to his feet. They hug, and Taker leaves to give Shawn his moment. Shawn basks in the applause from the fans who salute him. He’s at peace. He had to find out if he could break the streak. It turns out he couldn’t, and he can live with that. He goes out on top, losing with dignity. Shawn Michaels takes the long walk up the aisle for the final time. The sheriff has left town.
Mixed bag of a Wrestlemania. More good than bad, but that Vince/Bret match has a lot of stink on it and Edge/Jericho was disappointing. Amazing main event, good Cena/Batista match, and a few other decent matches.