The Heartbreak Kid is back…well sort of. Shawn Michaels returned to the ring for the first time since WrestleMania XXVI, ending an 8 ½ year retirement. With his retirement now officially put on hold, I think it’s safe to start looking ahead to the WrestleMania XXXV return of Mr. WrestleMania.
Candidly, I don’t watch or follow the WWE or pro wrestling much anymore. Life, family, and other interests have taken precedent over my former hobby. However, when I heard that Shawn Michaels was returning to the ring at WWE Crown Jewel I became intrigued. You want to get me back WWE, bring back the Heartbreak Kid! Now, I’m listening.
We have all seen the blogs that come out every year around February pontificating on potential WrestleMania opponents for Shawn Michaels. Whether these blogs were inspired by false hopes or cheap click-bait, there was never a shortage of WrestleMania card predictions that included Shawn Michaels. Yet while HBK seemed to speak sincerely in his annual denials, for the first time in over 8 years, there is some real excitement over what looks like could be the return of the WWE Hall of Fame superstar.
Let’s look at the situation logically. Other than getting a real tune-up for a return to WrestleMania, what other logical reason did Shawn Michaels have to wrestle at Crown Jewel? Why would any smart businessman opt to end an 8 ½ year retirement at what was essentially a “B” show outside of the country other than a tune-up match on a low profile event? If you expect me to believe that Michaels would turn down arguably the biggest payday of his career and yet comeback on a WWE Network event in Saudi Arabia that aired in a sub-optimal timeslot for anything other than a test or a tune-up, you are insulting my intelligence.
Now that said, maybe there is an off-chance that Michaels came away from the event confirming his desire to stay retired. Whether it was experiencing the physical demands for the first-time at 53 or disappointment in his capabilities, maybe the experience wasn’t positive for Michaels. However, as an active trainer in NXT, I have to think that he knew very well what his capabilities and those physical demands would be.
So let’s assume as logic dictates that Michaels is gearing up for the biggest WrestleMania comeback since Hulk Hogan returned to wrestle The Rock at WrestleMania 18. Who will be the lucky WWE superstar to draw the Heartbreak Kid (and an enormous payday)? Here’s a look at five WWE superstars, all for different reasons, that are leading candidates to draw Mr. WrestleMania at MetLife Stadium.
Shawn Michaels vs. Brock Lesnar – Before you laugh and vow to never read my blog again, let’s talk about this at a very high level. If you are the WWE and you have Michaels for one more WrestleMania, how do you maximize that opportunity? What name on the roster would resonate with that casual wrestling audience like me who follows the business from afar? If you drop anyone’s name you are kidding yourself.
For starters, you have a storyline that started several years ago. Lesnar attacked Michaels back in 2012, an attack which was never avenged. Inside the ring, Michaels’ limitations (if he has any at 53) would be hidden by the excitement around a Lesnar vs. Michaels match. I can’t imagine any more drama than Michaels battling the beast on the biggest stage in the game. If you are looking at this truly as a money play, look no further than Lesnar.
Shawn Michaels vs. Daniel Bryan – Continuing along the theme of unfinished business and history, you can’t pack much more than into a Bryan vs. Michaels WrestleMania showdown. Bryan’s former trainer betrayed him in a Hell in a Cell match back in 2013 against Randy Orton. At the time, the angle led to widespread speculation that it was the start of a Bryan vs. Michaels WrestleMania showdown. Unfortunately that never materialized.
Fast-forward six years later and a lot would have changed between this potential match and 2013. Again following WWE from afar, while it doesn’t appear that Bryan has that same momentum today that he had back in 2013 he is still a top guy and a world champion. Could Bryan’s recent heel turn be the start of a long road to HBK at WrestleMania? It’d be a great match and a fun storyline but I tend to think that massive interest has softened on that battle.
Shawn Michaels vs. AJ Styles – Now let’s start talking about the “Dream Match” opponents for Michaels. To those that have watched Michaels in his prime and Styles today, it is easy to draw comparisons. I would even argue that Styles’ road to the top is similar to Michaels’ in that neither guy was “hand-picked” yet the company and the fans could not deny either man’s talent. Yet through a lot of hard work and opportunity Styles, like Michaels has found himself as arguably the number two guy in the company behind Brock Lesnar.
So will it happen? There have been reports that this match is already confirmed for WrestleMania 35. However, I always question as to whether those reports are based on fact or prediction. That said, next to Brock vs. Michaels, I think this has the best chance of getting booked at Mania. The time is now for Styles and if the WWE is going to take the approach of using Michaels to help elevate someone, there is nobody as deserving or qualified as Styles. I’d argue that one of the biggest reasons this match may not happen is Michaels himself. As a perfectionist, if Michaels has any doubts that he can live up to the demands of a fast-paced thriller like this one, he isn’t going there. No amount of money is worth sacrificing his legacy. I am not saying he can’t hang, but nobody truly knows the answer to that question other than Michaels himself.
Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H – Go ahead and groan all you want, but the possibilities of this match going down at MetLife Stadium are real high. I am certainly not advocating it, although their series of matches are highly underrated. However, it’s an easy angle and Michaels doesn’t have to worry about trusting anyone other than his best friend. It’s nothing to get excited about on paper but I guarantee you if that was the path chosen for Michaels’ return, the match would very likely challenge all others at WrestleMania for Match of the Night.
Shawn Michaels vs. Seth Rollins – Other than Seth Rollins there really isn’t anyone else on the roster not previously mentioned who could logically fill this spot. Again not following the WWE closely, it does appear that the company has moved on from Rollins as a building block for the future. Yet with all due respect to the United States title, Rollins seems far removed from the top spot he held securely from March of 2015 through June of 2016.
With that said, what better way to give Rollins a shot in the arm than booking him in the most high-profile match of WrestleMania? I don’t think anyone has a doubt that this match would be anything short of great. Both men’s styles could really complement each other in this environment. Rollins is probably more of a SummerSlam or Royal Rumble opponent for Michaels but if you’re looking to elevate someone and give Michaels a great opportunity to steal the show, Rollins could be your guy.
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