The Road to WrestleMania is in high gear, and whenever The Show of Shows is at the forefront, so is the name of one WWE Hall of Famer: Shawn Michaels.
It’s been three years since Michaels’ legendary career-ending duel against The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI. In that time, The Grandest Stage of Them All has only grown larger, and the excitement and spectacle surrounding it more fervent. Yet with HBK no longer an active competitor and WrestleMania 29 just around the corner, WWE.com pondered a simple — and perhaps, misguided — question: Can there ever be another “Mr. WrestleMania”?
And if so, who would it be? (No, we’re not counting Michael Cole’s one-time claim in 2011.)
Before jumping into the hot-button topic of trying to anoint a current Superstar the next “Mr. WrestleMania,” we first had to figure out what it was, exactly, that made HBK the man on The Grandest Stage of Them All in the first place. For the more than dozen Superstars and WWE personalities we asked, this question was a no brainer. In some cases, the query garnered just short of a chuckle.
“That’s not even a question,” WWE newcomer Bo Dallas said.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” Michaels’ former D-Generation X cohort Billy Gunn answered, before rattling off a litany of reasons.
“He’s The Showstopper, man,” R-Truth croaked. “That’s qualification enough right there.”
No matter which Superstar we asked, the sentiment was the same. HBK might not have always won at The Show of Shows (his record was a pedestrian 6-11) and he wasn’t always in the main event (he competed last in five of his 17 WrestleManias), but he could always be counted on to deliver one of the evening’s most memorable performances, if not the most memorable.
“It’s pretty simple,” Cody Rhodes replied. “Shawn Michaels was always potentially in a major match at WrestleMania, but that’s not what it is. It’s the fact that after his match, very few people could follow it.”
Rhodes recalled an observation that his WWE Hall of Fame father, Dusty Rhodes, shared with him backstage at The 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania, after Michaels fell to The Undertaker in an epic encounter. With both World Championship matches still to come, “The American Dream” simply called it like he saw it. “My father said to me, ‘They might as well start the bus now,’ ” the younger Rhodes remembered. “ ‘This show is over.’ ”
A big-game performer through and through, Michaels excelled whenever he competed on sports-entertainment’s biggest platform, and his list of WrestleMania opponents reads like an index of WWE Hall of Famers and first-balloters. But it is not enough to simply steal the show. Michaels’ awe-inspiring matches spanned multiple eras of WWE, from The New Generation to The Attitude Era to the brand split and beyond.
“To be named ‘Mr. Anything,’ you have to almost validate the event and the identity of the event needs to assimilate with you,” Matt Striker said. “Shawn Michaels saved his very best for WrestleMania. Any time you think of WrestleMania, you can apply those same thoughts to an image of Shawn Michaels. They’re interchangeable.”
“WrestleMania” and “Shawn Michaels” may be interchangeable, but does that preclude The Show of Shows from one day sharing a similarly close affiliation with another Superstar? Can any wrestler hope to amass a body of five-star Show of Shows classics so dense he could supplant Michaels as “Mr. WrestleMania”?
Superstars’ reluctance to suggest even a potential heir to the throne seemed to do as much with not wanting to curse a current Superstar as wanting to show deference toward Michaels and his well-established legacy.
“Saying somebody is the next ‘Mr. WrestleMania’ is putting a huge weight on somebody’s shoulders,” Striker cautioned. “To try and step into Babe Ruth’s shoes, to try to be the next Joe Montana or Mario Lemieux, you’re always going to fail, no matter what.”
WWE timekeeper Mark Yeaton, who has sat ringside at 26 WrestleManias, conceded that there are current Superstars who compare to Michaels in terms of showmanship and being able to “walk the walk.” He doubts, however, that anyone will be able to combine those elements in addition to matching HBK’s longevity.
That’s not to say all respondents came up blank in trying to name the next “Mr. WrestleMania.”
Prefacing his picks by saying no one will ever have quite the same impact as Michaels, Kofi Kingston named several peers who boast mightily impressive WrestleMania track records, ranging from Chris Jericho to CM Punk (whose WrestleMania XXVII match against Randy Orton Kingston recalled specifically) to John Cena.
The Dreadlocked Dynamo wasn’t alone in naming the Cenation leader. Others who selected the veteran of seven World Championship Matches at WrestleMania include R-Truth, Billy Gunn and ring announcer Justin Roberts.
Some Superstars embraced the notion they could one day live up to the moniker that now belongs to Michaels. That includes World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio, who said, “Anybody could be the next ‘Mr. WrestleMania’ … but I hope the next ‘Mr. WrestleMania’ is me.”
WrestleMania XXVII main eventer The Miz not only threw his name into the mix, but also explained the rationale behind competitors naming themselves.
“If you ask any other Superstar and they say somebody else, they shouldn’t be in WWE,” The Awesome One said. “Everyone should think they’re going to be the next ‘Mr. WrestleMania,’ and I’m going to be!”
Cody Rhodes has similar high hopes for himself, provided the stars align. However, “The Essence of Mustachioed Magnificence” — who counts Randy Orton & Ted DiBiase, Rey Mysterio and Big Show among his past WrestleMania opponents — also gave a nod to another competitor.
“I hope nobody ever tries to genuinely take the moniker, but I’d say either Dolph Ziggler or myself,” he confessed. “I’m very proud of the fact I’ve been able to be in three major matches going into this year’s WrestleMania, and I’m hoping for a solid performance in my fourth. It’s not just performing at WrestleMania; it’s finding that spotlight for yourself. Shawn Michaels was a master at it.”
In naming The Showoff alongside himself, Rhodes joined a chorus of Superstars who singled out “Mr. Money in the Bank.” Yet to compete in a singles match on The Grandest Stage of Them All, Ziggler has seemingly done everything else: At WrestleMania XXVI, he was part of a thrilling Money in the Bank Ladder Match; at WrestleMania XXVII, he teamed with Team Lay-Cool in a bout that featured Snooki; and at last year’s event, Ziggler rounded out John Laurinaitis’ six-Superstar “Team Johnny.”
Although you can count Brodus Clay among those who doubt anyone will ever fill Michaels’ boots on The Grandest Stage of Them All, The Funkasaurus saw fit to compare Ziggler and Michaels on the basis of both men’s tireless work ethic and unfailing ability to perform under bright lights. Calling attention to Ziggler’s well-balanced presentation, WWE veteran Brooklyn Brawler also views The Showoff as next in line behind The Showstopper.
“He’s a great wrestler, he has charisma and he’s got all the tools it takes to be the next ‘Mr. WrestleMania,’ ” Brawler said.
When pressed about Michaels’ WrestleMania legacy, the normally sardonic Showoff waxed sincere, albeit for a passing moment.
“I think anyone who delivers every single night becomes maybe ‘Mr. WWE.’ But when you do it on the biggest stage that there is, WrestleMania, consistently, over and over again, that easily makes you ‘Mr. WrestleMania,’ ” Ziggler said, before openly praising the heartfelt match between Michaels and Ric Flair at WrestleMania XXIV.
“That’s the key to being ‘Mr. WrestleMania,’ ” The Showoff continued. “You bring emotion and story and you tell it better than anybody else.”
That emotion and passion, combined with athleticism and the splendor of ’Mania, is part of what Chris Jericho described on the 2011 WWE Home Video release “The True Story of WrestleMania” as the “beauty” of The Show of Shows. Y2J, whose match against HBK arguably stole WrestleMania XIX, quipped that Michaels has the formula for producing long-lasting ’Mania memories hardcoded into his DNA.
Even if no one can ever match HBK’s proclivity for greatness at The Showcase of the Immortals, is that really such a bad thing? Whether modern Superstars view Michaels’ “Mr. WrestleMania” nickname as an accolade that’s up for grabs and within reach or as an unrealistic aspiration, the distinction is unlikely to deter WWE’s proudest warriors from trying to raise their game to Michaels’ level — even if they don’t want to admit it.
After all, as Jericho explained on “The True Story of WrestleMania,” The Show of Shows isn’t just any ordinary night.
“You can have the best match in the world at a Live Event in Peoria [Ill.] and for the 4,000 or 5,000 people there, that’s great. But the next day, it basically never existed,” Y2J said. “You could have a great match on Raw in front of 4 million people and tear the house down. It lasts a little bit longer, it’s cool.
“But WrestleMania is the night when classic matches are made.”