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WrestleMania XXVI: A Portrait in Wrestling History
From University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ
March 28, 2010
One of the biggest differences between WWE and TNA is that when WWE utilizes older wrestlers, it’s to their maximum.
In the fall of 2009, TNA went ahead with a considerable end-run to bolster their roster, with the target of running a monster three-hour episode of Impact, live on Monday, January 4, up against Raw.
To sweeten the pot and lure in casual fans not familiar with TNA, the company brought in Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff to be major players, while negotiating with Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, Ric Flair, and Jeff Hardy, as well as other familiar faces.
WWE, knowing that TNA was going to bring their best laid plans to that Monday night, countered with something that would shock fans all over the world.
WWE Fans didn’t know what to think. Bret Hart, really? The same man who, while he’d done a few side ventures with WWE in recent years, had a rocky relationship with the company that embarrassed him on PPV with the “screwjob”? The same Bret Hart that locked horns with the company when the two sides became embroiled over who was responsible for the death of Bret’s brother, Owen?
Indeed, Hart showed up on January 4 in Dayton, OH, where he’d won the 1993 King of the Ring tournament.
To add to the surreal nature of Hart even standing in a WWE ring, he called out longtime nemesis Shawn Michaels. Hart had Michaels removed from the 2006 Hall of Fame ceremony, not wanting him there to witness his speech.
On this night, Hart and Michaels shook hands, and then embraced with a hug, dropping the jaws of fans around the world.
Only in WWE.
Edge made a surprise comeback after a near six-month injury layoff, and won the 2010 Royal Rumble from the #29 spot. Edge waited to pick the champion he would face, and it paid off when he selected Chris Jericho, who won the World Heavyweight Championship three weeks later at Elimination Chamber.
Jericho and Edge had won the Unified Tag Team Titles in the summer, and then Edge bowed out with the mentioned injury. Jericho chose Big Show as his replacement, and then would off-handedly slag Edge for his shortcomings. Edge would taunt Jericho with threats of spearing him, getting the fans to yell, in Pavlovian fashion, “SPEEEEEEEEEAR”. Jericho’s improbable title win on February 21 meant he might have to eat his words at WrestleMania.
On the opposite brand, John Cena won the Raw Elimination Chamber match, winning Sheamus’ WWE Championship. Immediately after the grueling contest, Vince McMahon, who was on bad terms with Cena after he’d stood beside Bret Hart (explanation forthcoming), sent Batista to the ring for an immediate title match. Batista mauled Cena to win the belt within seconds.
Cena had a chance for a WrestleMania rematch if he could beat Batista in a non-title rematch the next night on Raw. Batista got himself disqualified intentionally, due to his hatred of Cena, his success, and what he stood for. In fact, Batista made it clear that when the two men had their skyrocketing career paths parallel each other just several years earlier, Cena got more love and Batista admitted that he was jealous.
Batista also made it clear that Cena had never, ever beaten him, and promised that WrestleMania, in front of the world, would be no different.
But back to Hart, Vince McMahon had assaulted him at the end of the January 4 Raw, continuing the bad blood that had existed since 1997. McMahon would spend over two months ripping Hart for hanging onto the past, claiming that he’d made “The Hitman”. Bret, however, would get a chance at revenge as he’d challenged Vince to a street fight.
McMahon accepted, but after Bret attacked him, Vince would renege. After Hart was then injured in a car accident backstage, McMahon would accept, thinking Bret was too hurt. However, after Vince signed the contract, Hart proved that his injuries were merely a ruse to get Vince to agree, and that the accident was all a set-up. Hart would have his chance to get 12 years worth of revenge after all.
Speaking of revenge, Shawn Michaels had some in mind as well.
Michaels lamented not ending The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak one year earlier, and became obsessed with doing so.
Shawn Michaels had cost The Undertaker the World Heavyweight Title at Elimination Chamber, doing whatever he could to get a rematch at WrestleMania, so that he could end the streak. After weeks of hounding “The Dead Man”, Michaels finally got Undertaker’s attention. However, Undertaker would only accept the match if Michaels agreed to put his career on the line.
Michaels implied acceptance, saying “If I can’t beat you….I have no career.”
Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and Matt Striker called the action from ringside. Fantasia Barrino performed “America the Beautiful”. Entering the WWE Hall of Fame were Ted Dibiase, Antonio Inoki, Wendi Richter, Mad Dog Vachon, Gorgeous George, Stu Hart, and Bob Uecker.
Unified Tag Team Championship: The Miz/Big Show def. John Morrison/R-Truth in 3:24
(Miz and Morrison get a “make up call” from one year earlier, and get to be on the actual show. Of course, it gets 1/3 of the time as their dark match from last year. Life’s just not fair)
Triple Threat Match: Randy Orton def. Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase in 9:01
(This was decent, and did what it was supposed to do in elevate Orton, but Rhodes and DiBiase’s slap fest was so horribly goofy that it became hard to take either man seriously. Some Mania debut for both)
Money in the Bank: Jack Swagger def. Kane, MVP, Christian, Dolph Ziggler, Matt Hardy, Shelton Benjamin, Kofi Kingston, Drew McIntyre, and Evan Bourne in 13:44
(Swagger was an interesting choice for a winner. And by “interesting”, I mean “odd”. He’d become World Heavyweight Champion two nights later in one of the most forgettable reigns in recent memory)
Triple H def. Sheamus in 12:09
(Ever feel like Orton and Hunter were punished for their crappy main event from last year by being stuck in the first half of the show? Match was pretty good, actually. Sheamus deserves more love)
Rey Mysterio def. CM Punk in 6:30
(Damn good match, but way short. Mysterio had to go “straight edge” if he lost, as if that were a heelish thing to have to do. “How dare that villain infringe on Rey’s right to take HGH! That cad!”)
Lumberjack Match: Bret Hart def. Vince McMahon in 11:09
(All of the Hart siblings, as well as the Hart Dynasty, surrounded the ring for a match in which Bret slowly and meticulously stomped Vince and beat him with a chair for eleven minutes. Well, it’s fine by me. By the way, look at the match’s time. What date was Montreal again? 11/09! CREEPY!)
World Heavyweight Championship: Chris Jericho def. Edge in 15:48
(Like Jericho’s previous WrestleMania World Title match, this had no heat, seemed a bit awkward, and is not often remembered. It’s a shame, because it was a pretty good match, but Edge’s entire face schtick centered around him bellowing “SPEEEEEEEAR!!!” which does nothing for anyone)
Michelle McCool/Layla/Vickie Guerrero/Maryse/Alicia Fox def. Mickie James/Beth Phoenix/Kelly Kelly/Gail Kim/Eve Torres in 3:26
(The last major WWE appearance of Mickie “Lesbian Stalker” James. I’ll always have the memories)
WWE Heavyweight Championship: John Cena def. Batista in 13:31
(A bit abbreviated, but still a damn good outing. Cena and Batista have pretty good chemistry when they’re not bogged down by pointless stipulations, as they were in subsequent rematches. Batista’s face when Cena kicked out of the Batista Bomb is a sight to behold)
Career vs. Streak: The Undertaker def. Shawn Michaels in 23:59
(Not quite as “epic” as last year’s match, but epic nonetheless. Gah, I’m splitting hairs here. This was a great match, and a great way for Shawn Michaels to go out. I hope, unlike Flair, he stays retired and lets his tremendous legacy tell the story of how amazing a performer he was. I hope when Undertaker retires one day, he has the sense to do the same. Great ending to the show)
ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
I never would have guessed, in 2010, that we’d see Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels wrestle on the same show ever again. Hart and Michaels were, at one point, both retired simultaneously, until Michaels found the itch to wrestle again in 2002.
But for both men, WrestleMania XXVI was about closure.
For Hart, it was about giving the fans “one more match”, the one he’d wished for at his Hall of Fame speech in 2006. Sure, it wasn’t anything great, but it was one more Sharpshooter in front of millions of fans, as a way of putting some of his bitterness into his past.
For Shawn Michaels, it was one last great performance. The most talented wrestler the world has known stole the show once more, from peers young and old. He could now rest his battered body forever.
A photo surfaced one day after WrestleMania with both Hart and Michaels smiling, congratulating each other after the show had ended.
If you can think of a more appropriate portrait for this show, I’d like to see it.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.