WrestleMania 23: Cena vs. HBK and Taker vs. Batista, Last of a Dying Breed

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WrestleMania 23: Cena vs. HBK and Taker vs. Batista, Last of a Dying Breed

There was something special about Royal Rumble 2007. Like the years that preceded it, the WWE was dominated by John Cena and Batista. The World and WWE Champions had ruled the WWE since WrestleMania 21, though Batista was injured along the way.

The Animal made his anticipated return to Smackdown, decimating Mark Henry and defeating King Booker for his World Title at Survivor Series.

It seemed as if all were right in the WWE Universe.

Leading up to the Rumble, the RAW storyline had HBK attempting to relive his boyhood dream after fellow DX member, Triple H, went down with a quad injury. Despite the dirty antics of Rated RKO, Shawn remained a favorite heading into the match and seemed to have the momentum on his side.

But there are always two sides to one story.

As triumphant as Michaels was on RAW, his Smackdown counterpart, The Undertaker, reiterated his dominance on the blue brand and destroyed each Smackdown participant during a battle royale. While the legends were obviously gunning for a collision course, the young guns had to fight off the wolves gunning for gold.

After breaking Umaga’s undefeated streak, Cena was forced to fight another round with the Samoan Bulldozer. Batista’s challenger wasn’t as dangerous, but made up for it with his overwhelming promo ability.

Royal Rumble 2007

Mr. Kennedy.

Despite the onslaught, both men withstood the fire and reeked of smoke as they successfully defended their heavyweight titles.

When the Rumble approached, it was the moment of truth for Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. Neither had won a World Championship in several years and both had something to prove. The weight of the world sat on Michaels' shoulders as he performed in front of his hometown crowd.

A lot of things can be said about HBK, but without a doubt in my mind, the Showstopper was going to WrestleMania.

Entering at No. 23, the crowd roared as the Showstopper entered to the familiar DX tune.

As HBK battled without with Randy Orton, Undertaker entered at No. 30 and immediately eliminated The Great Khali. After the elimination of MVP, there stood four men. Rated RKO, Michaels and Undertaker stared each other down as Edge and Orton apparently planned their next move.

The duo brought a set of chairs into the equation and Orton RKO’d Michaels out of the ring.

After Edge was seemingly poised to spear Orton, the counterparts argued only to crush the Deadman’s cranium with a chair. Orton’s RKO only bounced Michaels under the rope and technically, Shawn was still in.

No Way Out's Tag Team matchup

After disposing of Rated RKO, Michaels and Undertaker lay fatigued as both performed their signature “hulk up” taunts. Back and forth action ensued between the two and Michaels set Taker up for a SCM.

Mimicking his elimination of Diesel years before, Michaels attempted to super kick taker out of the ring, only to be thrust over the top rope to the floor.

The Deadman was going to Mania, but against whom?

This was truly the WrestleMania atmosphere.

Taker certainly didn’t waste time playing his famous mind games with the Champions. Appearing on RAW, ECW and Smackdown, Undertaker hadn’t made a choice until the next week. As Bobby Lashley, John Cena and Batista stood awaiting Undertaker's decision, the Deadman did what we knew he would all along.

He chose Batista.

The Showstopper wasted little time notifying Cena of his intentions to challenge him at Mania.

HBK defeated Rated RKO in a triple threat to cement his place in the main event.

The storyline saw neither duo trusting the other, even with Michaels and Cena as World Tag Team Champions. Batista and Undertaker's dismay grew for each other with each passing week and the No Way Out tag team match was just around the corner.

Sending a message to their RAW counterparts

Michaels and Cena vs. Taker and Batista

Now, the betting man would’ve easily chosen Batista and Taker.

I did.

There’s a little something called revenge and Batista decided to choose the best time to utilize it. Dropping Undertaker with a spine buster, Batista watched as Taker received a SCM and F-U, awarding the contest to HBK and Cena.

Soon after, the WWE set the official WrestleMania theme.

Ladies and Gentleman by Saliva.

The event was definitely a show and unlike the ones that followed it, the matches were unpredictable.

Being that Batista was my favorite at the time, I was behind him retaining the World Championship. As for RAW, I felt good ol' HBK was in line for another run with the WWE Championship. At the time, I was just a teen who bought the ppv’s and watched the shows each week.

I had no knowledge of the IWC and the multiple dirt sheets.

The Smackdown and RAW main events took on the other once more. On the final RAW before WrestleMania, Batista and Undertaker defeated HBK and Cena after tension between both teams erupted.

Moments after taking their revenge the next night

Taker tossed HBK on Batista, only for HBK in turn finally land SCM on Cena to give Batista the win.

If I hadn’t already loved the WWE, it was almost certain now.

The final Smackdown saw a confrontation between Batista and Undertaker where physicality quickly erupted and Batista dropped Undertaker with a spine buster to close it out.

When the event finally approached that Sunday, my anticipation was at an all-time high. In my mind, the streak was over and Michaels would relive his boyhood dream. The event started with the MITB ladder match and my favorite, CM Punk, charging into the event.

Despite becoming shockingly close, Mr. Kennedy crushed Punk’s title dreams, along with his face, after a ladder shot. The first surprise of the night, Mr. Kennedy had won the Money in the Bank. It was a nice bonus to see Jeff Hardy destroy Edge after a leap off a dangerously larger ladder.

Finally, Batista vs. the Undertaker.

The Animal started off intense as he speared Taker to the ground. After an incredible set of counters and finishers, Undertaker caught the Animal with the Tombstone Piledriver.

I yelled at the screen, hoping Batista would kick out, but it was not meant to be. Undertaker extended his streak to 15-0 and claimed his first World Heavyweight Championship. I’ll admit I was shocked, but it wasn’t as far-fetched as I thought.

Despite a valiant performance by HBK, the Champ prevailed.

The rest of the event flew by, but the sight of Vince McMahon's bald scalp was a momentary salvation.

Nonetheless, the event was already one of the greatest in my book and it only got better when HBK vs. John Cena commenced. Another eruption as Shawn slapped Cena and taunted him before the match. This match had some incredible spots as Michaels piledrived Cena on the steel steps and performed his traditional WrestleMania moonsault.

Cena valiantly fought back with the two exchanging finishers on numerous occasions.

In the end, HBK found himself in the clutches of the STFU.

Fatigued and bloodied, Michaels was forced to submit and Cena continued his reign as WWE Champion.

Besides WrestleMania X-7, this event will always be my all-time favorite. From the promos to the main event matches, this event reeked of perfection.

With this year’s WrestleMania approaching swiftly, it only makes you thank the WWE for the moments they did give.

It’s thanks to the four men who made the event a must see and was truly the last of a dying breed.

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