At WrestleMania 25, Shawn Michaels and Undertaker composed a masterwork together.
One of the best WrestleMania matches and one of the best matches in WWE history was born from a convergence of spectacle, star power and high stakes. Two icons at their peaks happened to collide on a grand stage with an ideal set of circumstances around them.
Their first WrestleMania meeting serves as a blueprint for a classic match.
It begins with the setting, the grandeur that is WrestleMania. It being the 25th version of the event gave the match an added layer of prestige.
The unique nature of Undertaker's streak elevated this as well.
There have been countless battles for championships, but the fight to end Undertaker's undefeated WrestleMania streak is a one of a kind situation. It adds to the power of high stakes.
A loss for Michaels meant Undertaker would move to 17-0. Undertaker would finally defeat a man who'd beaten him in every other encounter of theirs. A loss for Undertaker meant the end of an historic run, that Michaels would be the man who'd finally stopped the legend.
Several other superstars have had the benefit of this streak to create drama, but the pairing of Michaels and Undertaker is the kind of clash of icons that fans rarely see.
Chemistry and Contrast
Undertaker and Michaels already had developed phenomenal chemistry between each other years before this match.
Their Hell in a Cell match in 1997 showed off how well these two worked together. The same goes for their casket match at Royal Rumble 1998. By 2001 and both men had grown as performers, sharpening their skills to an all-time great level.
WWE then did well to emphasize the foes' differences.
Michaels dressed in white and Undertaker dressed in black, playing up the light vs. dark angle. Undertaker represented hell, a demonic, supernatural force. WWE used Michaels’ Christianity to present him as a luminous opposing force.
It's not often that two unquestionable Hall of Famers bang heads in the crux of their primes with the whole world watching.
Seeing them battle was much like watching Larry Bird and Magic Johnson going head to head in the '80s, like Muhammad Ali facing Joe Frazier in the '70s.
Few wrestlers have worked so in sync with each other. Their chemistry fueled the greatness of the in-ring action.
The Match We Will Never Forget
From the opening stare down to the final Tombstone piledriver, Undertaker and Michaels played two titans engaged in a battle that meant everything to them. They built their violent symphony to an incredible acme.
Michaels attempted to strike and run at first, circling the big man and tossing chops at him when he could. This patient approach to open the match created suspense and let fans' stomach flutter a bit before the action began in earnest.
The Heartbreak Kid feigned a knee injury and used the distraction to attack Undertaker, pounding him with blows to the head. Undertaker found the mark with heavy strikes early, rattling Michaels' body with every punch.
Jim Ross had billed this match as "the puncher, the power hitter vs. the boxer."
Undertaker used his strength advantage to punish Michaels' back. Michaels soon found a chance to attack Undertaker's injured knee. The momentum shifted. Both men appeared focused, intense and quick to take advantage of the other's missteps.
They soon fired their best weapons at each other, only to miss.
A chokeslam became an attempted Sweet Chin Music became an attempted figure-four leglock became a Hell's Gate submission. Their ring work was the wrestling equivalent of harmonizing, the two men working together seamlessly.
Michaels missed a moonsault outside of the ring. Undertaker sidestepped him and tossed Mr. WrestleMania to the mat.
A strange, unique spot began to develop at that point.
With Michaels reeling on the outside, Undertaker dove through the ropes at him. Michaels yanked a camera man in front of him to protect himself. The Deadman's body crunched against the camera.
This felt serious, perhaps someone had been legitimately injured.
The ref began his count and it looked like there'd be no way that Undertaker would make it back to the ring in time. Though every fan knew WWE wouldn't end this match on a count-out, the fans held their collective breath until Undertaker slipped under the ropes just before the ref reached 10.
Then the kick outs began.
The ensuing exchange was not merely a succession of finishers and near escapes though, Michaels and Undertaker made each one feel as if it may truly be the end of the match. Both men suffered after each high-impact move, teetering more and more.
Undertaker hit a chokeslam, the Last Ride and the Tombstone piledriver, but Michaels willed his way out each time. Michaels delivered two Sweet Chin Musics, but couldn't get the victory.
Jim Ross shouted, "Chokeslams, Last Rides, Tombstones and a kick out, and a kickout, and a kick out."
These moves and the kick outs that followed worked to build the crowd's excitement to a frenzied level. It was as if Michaels and Undertaker had their fingers on a button that sent adrenaline into the Houston crowd’s veins.
A final Tombstone ended a match many didn't want to ever see end.
We may never see the factors that made this such a classic come together again. We may never see such a masterful in-ring performance under the WrestleMania lights again.
It's a match that can be watched again and again, a treasure given to us by two of WWE's best ever.