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WWE Classic of the Week: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels from In Your House

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2015

Credit: WWE.com

There are certain pairings throughout wrestling history that generate magical matches and fan experiences whenever they take to the squared circle.

One such pairing is The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.

As two legendary stars who deserve their own wings in World Wrestling Entertainment's Hall of Fame, they have engaged in some of the greatest matches ever promoted by Vince McMahon.

Whether they were pummeling and punishing each other in the inaugural Hell in a Cell match or stealing the show with one of the greatest matches ever wrestled at WrestleMania 25, they captivated fans and took them on emotional roller-coaster rides.

It is surprising, then, that two of the biggest Superstars to ever grace a ring never worked a program with each other prior to 1997.

That summer, a controversial conclusion to a high-profile main event necessitated a heel turn by Michaels and an intense rivalry that would change the tone of WWE programming forever.

At In Your House: Ground Zero, The Heartbreak Kid and The Phenom would compete in their first significant match. That contest would set the stage for every one of their wars to come afterward.

The Background

The main event of SummerSlam in August 1997 saw The Undertaker defend his WWE Championship against Bret Hart in one of the most emotionally charged matches of the year. With Hart spreading his anti-American sentiments all over WWE programming, The Deadman was fans' greatest hope to represent the United States and prevent The Hitman from taking the top prize in the industry back to the Great White North.

Shawn Michaels was the guest referee for that match and would figure heavily into the finish.

Not allowed to prevent rival Hart from leaving with the gold, Michaels did everything in his power to maintain his composure. By the time the challenger spit in the face of his most hated opponent, HBK could no longer contain himself. He swung a steel chair at Hart, who ducked. The smack of the chair off the head of Undertaker stunned the audience and led to Michaels reluctantly counting the pin in favor of Hart.

The accident led to Michaels finding fault with the blame placed on him by WWE fans. He began showcasing a new attitude, one that saw him strike out at those who held him responsible for his actions. No one held him more responsible than Undertaker, who looked to unleash his wrath on The Heartbreak Kid.

On an episode of Raw shortly after SummerSlam, Michaels teamed with Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a unique pairing to face Undertaker and Mankind, an even stranger duo given their history.

That night, Michaels and Helmsley worked together to blast Undertaker with a chair, busting him open in the center of the ring. It was the unofficial formation of D-Generation X and the intensification of a rivalry that would continue at the In Your House: Ground Zero pay-per-view when HBK and The Phenom squared off for the first time.

The Match

The Analysis

The main event of Ground Zero was an insane, chaotic, wild brawl that perfectly fit the context of the story.

Michaels had been avoiding The Deadman for weeks, as all great cowardly villains would, but he found himself on the receiving end of a beating that fans had waited nearly a month to witness. The Undertaker was absolutely believable as the ass-kicker babyface, bumping Michaels around the ring, up the ramp and all around ringside.

The interference of Triple H and Chyna helped further cement the relationship between them and HBK, while the numerous referee bumps and uncontrolled nature of the match effectively planted the seeds for a much more violent match a month later.

There was no winner here; however, unlike other instances in which WWE Creative robbed fans of a decisive outcome because the writing staff booked themselves into a corner, this was specifically designed to set up an endgame. As such, it succeeded tremendously. 

It was a hell of a match to boot, with action and storytelling meshing to create one mangled, twisted and somewhat forgotten classic.

The Aftermath

As you well know by now, the Ground Zero match was directly responsible for the institution of the Hell in a Cell match, which headlined the Badd Blood show.

Michaels would win that battle, thanks to the involvement of the debuting Kane.

Three months later at Royal Rumble, the rivals would compete in a casket match for the WWE Championship. Unfortunately for The Phenom, Kane would once again have a say in the outcome of the bout, betraying his brother and allowing Michaels to successfully retain his title.

It would be another 12 years before the two would meet again in a high-profile match.

This time, Undertaker would score the win, beating Michaels at WrestleMania 25 and adding him to the graveyard of stars unlucky enough to cross him at the Showcase of the Immortals.

One year later, he would again defeat Michaels, retiring the Showstopper from the ring for good.

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