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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Where Have You Gone, Mr. WrestleMania?

1994, 1995, 1996, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010

Those years don’t represent all the Match of the Year awards that Shawn Michaels has won (he actually has two more). Those are the Match of the Year Awards that he’s earned just from bouts contested at WrestleMania.

Although The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak may be the most heralded accomplishment in all of wrestling, Michaels’ streak of world-class performances on the biggest stage in the sport is, in some ways, even more impressive.

And for the first time since 2002, the man who earned the name “Mr. WrestleMania” will not compete on the big show. As loaded as this year’s line up may be, Michaels’ absence leaves the event with a huge void, and fans with a looming question: Is there a Match of the Year candidate at WrestleMania 27?

This year’s nine-match card features several potential good matches, but perhaps no truly great one. The best chance for a MOTY nod likely rests with the Undertaker vs. Triple-H, but even here a five-star classic is not guaranteed.

Triple-H may be the greatest practitioner of the “WWE style” of wrestling, but his deliberate, methodical approach can sometimes hold back a match from reaching its full potential. He’s certainly not the athlete that Michaels is, but does his best to make up for his shortcomings in speed and agility with unparalleled ring psychology.

Still, Triple-H’s only previous Match of the Year was WrestleMania XX’s triple-threat main event that included Chris Benoit and, yes, Shawn Michaels.

In the past, The Undertaker has proven more than capable of holding up his end of an epic match. He’s been one-half of three MOTY’s—two against Michaels and his famous Hell in a Cell match against Mick Foley, which was memorable less for what Undertaker did to Foley than it was for what Foley did to himself.

But, because of mounting injuries, “The Dead Man” has been largely inactive since last year’s WrestleMania. His run during the fall months against Kane was entirely forgettable.

To maximize the potential for ‘Taker and Triple-H to have a classic contest, WWE added the no-holds-barred stipulation, which will allow the two men to use every shortcut imaginable to make their bout stand out. But it’s still far from a given that the two icons’ styles will mesh enough to deliver this year’s best bout.

The rest of the card is even less likely to deliver an HBK-esque WrestleMania classic. The Miz vs. John Cena should be a solid bout, but will be focused more on the involvement of The Rock than the actual wrestling content in the ring. Edge has looked terrific in the ring in recent months, and may have done enough to already earn MOTY with his stellar performance in last month’s Smackdown Elimination Chamber bout. But his WrestleMania World title match with Alberto Del Rio doesn’t have the gravitas—and likely won’t be given the time—to be truly great. CM Punk and Randy Orton are two seasoned professionals, but likely won’t be aiming to steal the show, even if they could. The same could be said for Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan and the other undercard matches.

And so, come this fall, it will be very interesting to see how the votes add up for the 2011 Match of the Year. As the biggest wrestling show of the year, WrestleMania is typically the first place to look for a candidate. Storylines are intricately developed. Wrestlers are inspired to give it their all. And the grand setting of ‘Mania makes every bout feel that much more special.

But with Michaels not on this year’s show, and nobody in WWE coming close to replacing what he brought to the table, fans may have to drop their standards a bit this year when casting their votes.

I can’t help but be reminded of something Chris Jericho said to me during an interview late last year.

“What used to be a three-star match five years ago just may end up being the five-star match of the future.”

-Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

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