Sadly, a recurring theme of this list has been one of tarnished legacies. This is a sport where few know the right time to step aside. It’s pro wrestling after all, it almost goes with the territory. Hell, they even made a movie about it. The once great hang on past their prime and with each additional performance their standing diminishes that little bit further.
Now, rewind back to 2002 and It’s no wonder we were all skeptical about a Shawn Michaels comeback. He had walked away from the business as a surefire hall of famer, leaving behind a legacy of one of the truly great workers, perhaps even the greatest. With his place in history already long since secured, there seemed little potential upside to an in ring return.
You didn’t have to like Michaels to appreciate what he brought to the business. He broke down barriers for smaller performers. He was instrumental in popularizing the more athletic, high risk styled, main events. He was again a force of change during the DX era; introducing an edgier side of Pro Wrestling. With Bret Hart he shared the most talked about rivalry in wrestling history. And between the two of them, they inspired most of the current generation of superstars. Five star matches; believe me, he had those to. His was a career littered with iconic images from the barber shop window to the Tyson knock out.
But above all else, Michaels was a phenomenal in ring performer. And four years out of the business is a long time, especially factoring in the litany of injuries which put a halt to his career in the first place. Few believed he could still be the Shawn Michaels of old, and if not, then why comeback at all?
Beat up and approaching 40, Shawn didn’t return the same wrestler, he came back a better one. An older and wiser version, both in and out of the ring. His athleticism remained, but to it he added a knowledge and maturity. It was during that eight year career encore that Michaels produced his best work. I truly believe it’s what has taken him from top 20 on this list to top 5. We could talk about his Wrestlemania record, or some of his big one off performances, but it was his consistency over that second run that made it what it was. On PPV, on Raw, on house shows; it didn’t matter, he just always delivered. It was simply quite remarkable.
I have little doubt Shawn could step back in the ring tomorrow at at least 90 percent of what he was, and more likely 99 or 100 percent. I still hope he doesn’t do it because there will come a time when it’s just not there anymore. The magic has to run out eventually. And he can be the one guy who left while he was still on top.
Defining Match Of The WrestleMania Era: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 26.
You couldn’t have possible asked for a more fitting end to Shawn Michaels’ in ring career. These two guys set the bar impossibly high just one year prior, and not only did they have a match every bit as good, but one that told a far greater story as well. This match, from the background and build to the execution and aftermath, is one of the greatest things WWE has ever done.