Ryan Pratt takes an in-depth look back at WrestleMania 26’s main event, a stellar classic between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker.
March 28th, 2010 was the day of one of the biggest Wrestlemania main events in the history of the ‘Showcase of Immortals’. It certainly had huge implications. ‘The Showstopper’, ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels faced ‘The Phenom’, ‘The Deadman’ The Undertaker. The match was billed as ‘Streak vs Career’. If Michaels defeated ‘Taker, he would become the first person to defeat The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. However, if Michaels lost, ‘The Phenom’ would not only extend his Wrestlemania undefeated streak to 18-0, but HBK would have to retired from in-ring competition. All was at stake here...
This rivalry goes way back. The two feuded in late 1997 and into 1998, with their first singles match at In Your House 17: Ground Zero, coming about after Michaels hit Undertaker with a steel chair shot that was meant for Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart in a WWF Championship match between Hart and ‘Taker in which ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ was a special guest referee. The bout went to a non-contest after all hell broke loose to end the show with outside interference from almost everyone and referees and officials were taken out by the participants.
Michaels would overcome The Undertaker on multiple occasions, winning the first ever Hell In A Cell match at In Your House 18: Badd Blood after ‘Taker’s brother ‘The Big Red Machine’ Kane debuted flanked by Paul Bearer, costing ‘The Deadman’ the match by giving him a Tombstone Piledriver as Michaels became number one contender for the WWF Championship. HBK, then also European Champion, went on to Survivor Series 1997 to take on WWF Champion Bret Hart in the infamous, controversial Montreal Screwjob set up by Mr. McMahon, which saw Shawn Michaels leave Canada as WWF Champion.
After dropping the European Championship to D-Generation X stablemate Hunter Hearst Helmsley on a December episode of Raw Is War in a ludicrous match that saw Michaels lay down for Helmsley to pin him. ‘Taker and Michaels met in mid-January 1998 in an exciting Casket Match for the WWF Championship that HBK won, despite being injured for the majority of the match after a back body drop onto the casket crushed a disc in his back and herniated two others, following interference from Kane who put his brother in the casket and later set it on fire! This is professional wrestling, after all!
The two superstars met in occasional tag matches, but enjoyed a memorable back and forth final two sequence in the 2007 Royal Rumble, which was almost a mini-match in a match. The Undertaker won the Rumble after entering at number 30 spot, going on to defeat Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania 23, the same event Shawn Michaels lost to John Cena for the WWE Championship.
Two years later, HBK challenged ‘The Deadman’ at Wrestlemania 25, wanting to be the first person to defeat his Wrestlemania undefeated streak. In one of the greatest matches of all time, ‘Taker got his win over Michaels to continue his streak after he caught Shawn attempting a moonsault to deliver the Tombstone Piledriver for the three count. The match won Pro Wrestling Illustrated and The Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Match Of The Year for 2009.
The bout also won the 2009 Match Of The Year at the annual WWE Slammy Awards. Michaels accepted the award, and stated that he could beat The Undertaker at Wrestlemania, going on to continuously challenge ‘The Phenom’, who was then World Heavyweight Champion, to a match at Wrestlemania 26. ‘Taker refused Michaels’ plea, as Michaels went on a quest to win in the 2010 Royal Rumble match and go on to face ‘The Deadman’ for the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania.
Michaels would be eliminated by Batista in this match, and he would then lose control over his temper, going on to attack referee Charles Robinson following his elimination and then Smackdown General Manager Theodore Long when Michaels lost a World Heavyweight Championship Elimination Chamber qualifying match. With the obsession of a match at Wrestlemania with ‘The Phenom’, HBK, not even booked on the card, interfered in the 2010 World Heavyweight Championship Elimination Chamber match, sneaking into the chamber to deliver a Sweet Chin Music to The Undertaker, costing ‘Taker the match as Chris Jericho crawled over to pin ‘The Deadman’ and win the World Heavyweight title. This added fuel to the fire, and led to The Undertaker agreeing to a Wrestlemania match with Shawn Michaels, with the stipulation that if HBK lost, he must retire.
To end Wrestlemania 26 was the match that everyone in the University of Phoenix Stadium was waiting for. ‘The Phenom’ vs ‘The Showstopper’. ‘The Deadman’ vs ‘The Heartbreak Kid’. ‘Mr. Wrestlemania’ vs ‘Mr. Wrestlemania’. The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels. On the grandest stage of them all, there could only be one winner. The last non-title main event match at Wrestlemania prior to this match was 15 years before, at Wrestlemania XI, between Bam Bam Bigelow and NFL linebacker and two-time Superbowl winner with the New York Giants Lawrence Taylor, in which Taylor ran out as the winner.
The two competitors made their respective entrances. Michaels bounded down the ramp enthusiastically, with an eye catching, colorful pyro, whilst The Undertaker did his usual, slow plod towards the ring, surrounded by smoke resembling a foggy, spooky graveyard setting.
Before the match, Michaels and ‘Taker stood off like two cowboys holding each other at gunpoint. Could this really be ‘The Heartbreak Kid’s’ last ride? They stared at each other with a fierce expression on their faces, ready for war. Michaels taunted The Undertaker, making a throat-slashing gesture towards the man who made it notorious. This match was a real back and forth between two phenomenal athletes at the peak of their careers. There was reversal after reversal in this seesaw like affair. The 72,219 in Glendale, Arizona as well as millions of fans across the world that night were on the edge of their seats. I
would have been surprised if many of them had fingernails left during this tense interlude. Both men reached deep into their repertoire of moves and threw everything at each, even the kitchen sink! The Undertaker used the Hell’s Gate submission, Old School, the Last Ride and the Tombstone piledriver, and Michaels used the ankle lock, the figure-four, the cross-face, the flying elbow and the Sweet Chin Music. Michaels even put The Undertaker through an announce table, hitting him with a moonsault that cost him the match a year prior to ‘The Deadman’. Michaels hit a third Sweet Chin Music. This was not enough to put ‘Taker away, who kicked out at two.
HBK went for another superkick, which was countered with a chokeslam by The Undertaker followed by a Tombstone, with Michaels kicking out at the last milli-second. The end was near for ‘The Showstopper’. ‘The Phenom’ stood over Michaels’ lifeless body. He clutched onto ‘Taker to drag himself up, only to slap him, before The Undertaker executed a third and final Tombstone piledriver pinning ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ for the win, extending his streak to 18-0 at Wrestlemania, and ending Shawn Michaels’ career. After the match, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels shook hands and embraced in the middle of the ring in a massive show of respect between two icons of sports entertainment. Michaels ended ‘Mania interacting with the fans in the University of Phoenix Stadium saying his farewells.
So what happened after this for The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ said his farewells the night after Wrestlemania on Raw. He made the occasional appearance in WWE to benefit storylines such as the rivalry between ‘Taker and Triple H and Daniel Bryan’s pursuit to win the WWE Championship in 2013, but largely remained retired (continue reading the rest of this article). The Undertaker would go on to have some fantastic matches at Wrestlemania, arguably some of the best of his career, including two matches with ‘The Game’ Triple H, one of which was an ‘End of an Era’ Hell in A Cell match with special guest referee Shawn Michaels of all people, who tried helping ‘The Cerebral Assassin’ end the Streak but failed.
‘The Phenom’ went on to face CM Punk and Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 29 and 30 respectively, the latter of which saw the end of the undefeated streak, Lesnar being the one in 21-1 on Bourbon Street at Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans. ‘Taker had enjoyed feuds with Brock Lesnar, Bray Wyatt, Shane McMahon and Roman Reigns, before a ‘Last Time Ever’ No Disqualification match with Triple H at Super Showdown 2018 in Australia sparked a rivalry between the Brothers of Destruction (Kane and The Undertaker) and D-Generation X (Triple H and Shawn Michaels), which led to a match at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia a month later, between the two teams, with Michaels coming out of retirement for this dream match. The less said about this, the better, as DX ran out winners over the Brothers of Destruction. ‘Taker defeated Goldberg at Super Showdown in Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2019, before feuding with AJ Styles, leading to the iconic Boneyard Match at Wrestlemania 36 last year, where ‘Taker, bringing back his ‘American Badass’ gimmick, defeated Styles and buried him, before seemingly riding off into the sunset on his bike. A WWE Network documentary was released in 2020, titled ‘Undertaker: Last Ride’.
The Undertaker stated he was finished with the industry, before confirming it in November that year. He gave an emotional farewell speech at Survivor Series, saying “My time has to let The Undertaker rest in peace.” A ten bell salute was given to ‘The Deadman’, who posed in the ring, accompanied by a holographic image of The Undertaker’s former manager, the late great Paul Bearer.
The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels are two of the greatest performers to have ever lived. They have impacted the lives of many. Inspired generations. Their legacies will live on forever. Every time these two met inside the squared circle, they stole the show and tore the roof off of the arenas they performed in.
Ryan Pratt is a feature writer for WNS, looking back at some of the most memorable events and moments in pro-wrestling history. You can find his work on WNS under the hashtag #TDIWH.
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FULL MATCH - Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels - Streak vs. Career Match: WrestleMania XXVI
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