Shawn Michaels' recent return to WWE television got a lot of people buzzing. When he first came back as special referee for the last match of the Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan series for the vacant WWE Championship, the prevailing belief was that he was thrown in to make it clear to fans that Bryan was winning. He had been screwed out of the title three times, WWE was promising a definitive winner and now Bryan's original trainer was the special referee.
Then he turned on Bryan.
The outrage over the booking of Bryan in title matches dominated conversation for about 24 hours. That changed a little the next night on Raw: After being dressed down by Michaels, Bryan put him in the "Yes!" Lock and had to be torn off by WWE officials.
Was this leading to something else? Could Michaels be returning to the ring to face Bryan at WrestleMania? Or was it just a way to give Bryan some justice so he could hold his head high and come out of the Orton feud looking good?
In the November 4 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (F4WOnline.com subscription link), Dave Meltzer wrote that, as always, Michaels is telling everyone he's not returning to the ring. He takes his retirement very seriously, especially after being disappointed when Ric Flair came back for both the Australian Hulkamania tour and a few matches during his run in TNA.
However, Meltzer added that "Those who have been around for a long-time don't believe him and think he will wrestle Bryan at WrestleMania, and those people are right more than they are wrong. Time will tell." For several weeks, that was that.
Last week, Michaels returned as the Slammy Awards presenter for Superstar of the Year. Bryan won, but his speech was uneventful, as he even thanked Michaels, saying he couldn't have gotten where he is without him. The end of the show was a lot more eventful.
Every former WWE and World Heavyweight champion in the building was in the ring for the Championship Ascension Ceremony, where Randy Orton and John Cena gave up their belts for the last time before their unification match at TLC. It eventually devolved into a pull-apart brawl between the two champions, which somehow escalated into CM Punk attacking Orton and Triple H, Michaels superkicking Punk and Bryan laying out Michaels with the Busaiku Knee. Michaels was the last wrestler laid out.
Michaels was also on Raw again this week for no apparent reason. While he didn't interact with Bryan, he confronted Bryan's sometimes tag team partner Punk, which was...curious, to say the least.
The past two episodes of Raw have added a lot of fuel to the fire when it comes to Michaels returning. PWInsiderElite.com (h/t WrestlingInc.com) chimed in with an update on the situation. In a fairly unsurprising turn of events, it's up to Michaels whether he comes back, and if he does, it would only be for a singles match with Bryan at WrestleMania. It wouldn't be for a singles match with Punk or a tag match with Triple H vs. Punk and Bryan.
If Michaels is conflicted, thinking that returning at WrestleMania 30 to face Bryan would cheapen his retirement, I really don't think he should be. For starters, this isn't a scenario he could have had in mind when he retired.
By the time WrestleMania 30 comes around, Michaels will have been retired for four years. When the buildup to his retirement match started, Bryan had just barely been called up to the main roster as one of the "rookies" in the first season of the original format of NXT.
While in some ways, he was one of the stars of the show, he was still a guy with a losing streak who was the first wrestler eliminated (he came back) and was constantly buried by Michael Cole for having been one of the top stars on the independent scene.
When Michaels retired, he had no way of knowing that Bryan would advance in WWE to the point he'd be a main event-level star who would be a viable WrestleMania opponent for him. There was no reason for him to consider the possibility and take an alternate route.
Plus, like I said earlier: It's been four years. This is not Mick Foley returning in a few weeks because he got a last-minute WrestleMania main event offer, or Ric Flair returning in 18 months for a good payoff. Michaels returning for a one-off WrestleMania main event-level match—a match that's been built up for several months—against his protege is something special and worthy of coming out of retirement for.
The match itself will be marketable in many ways: As an epic battle that will be one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history, as part of a great layered storyline, etc. If (when?) Michaels puts over Bryan clean in the middle of the ring, he used his "one match back" to pass the torch and do the honors for the best of his trainees, the man who succeeded him as the standout in-ring performer in WWE.
Don't worry, Shawn. We understand.
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