"Wrestling Declassified" is a new, weekly series from WrestlingINC.com in which we draw together lesser-known details regarding some of the most noteworthy matches, angles, and stories in pro wrestling history. We'll also include commentary and new information from the men and women of pro wrestling who generously share their reflections for this series. This week, we're looking at one of WWE's most infamous bookings, the match between Vince and Shane McMahon against Shawn Michaels and "God" from Backlash 2006.
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The history of WWE is, in a very general sense, a tale of two extremes. At one end rests the kind of storylines that never quite got resolved to the satisfaction of devout fans. Sometimes there's still more story to tell and other times, the creative team drops the ball for one reason or another. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there are angles that perhaps play out a little too long; stories that hit a zenith and then try to fly a bit higher, only to lose the support and interest of the audience. These days the kids call it "jumping the shark." And if there was ever a WWE angle that dared to leap over a 5,000 pound aquatic predator, it was the bout at Backlash 2006 in which Vince and Shane McMahon took on Shawn Michaels and "God."
The match was a continuation of a tale that arguably reached its climax at WrestleMania 22 when Michaels squared off against Vince McMahon in a no-holds barred match. Their 'Mania meeting was, in fact, so well-received that the readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated voted it "Match of the Year" for 2006, topping Kurt Angle and The Undertaker at No Way Out, Angle's TNA debut against Samoa Joe, and the hardcore war between Edge and Mick Foley at WrestleMania 22.
Leave it to WWE's Chairman to milk the cash cow until the udders run dry, though. Backlash was held at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky on April 30, 2006 and the underlying story behind this stage in the McMahon/Michaels feud was that Vince had finally decided to strike at his rival by attacking his faith.
"God has to have a sense of humor," said Vince McMahon when he reflected back upon the match during the 2007 WWE documentary The Shawn Michaels Story: Heartbreak and Triumph . "So I suggested with, my ego being the way it is, that I could beat God."
Michaels, an outspoken born-again Christian, surprisingly went along with the plot as it was laid out, much to the surprise of many who knew him well, including his best friend Triple H. In Heartbreak and Triumph, Triple H shared that he never expected Michaels to agree to the angle but in the end, the Heartbreak Kid played his part to the hilt.
Bell to bell, the match spanned almost 20 minutes, but it was preceded by a long, rambling segment. Before things got underway, McMahon introduced Michaels' supernatural tag team partner, who represented by a single spotlight on the ramp. Although the bout featured loads of hard-hitting action, some high-risk maneuvers, and a respectable quantity of bloodletting, the live crowd erupted in a chorus of boos more than once as it all unfolded. And while it's true that most facets of the match were intended to draw heat—from McMahon's blasphemous blathering to the run-in by the five-members of the Spirit Squad—it's hard to look at the fans' reaction as any sort of indication that the spectacle was a "win" for the 'E.
"There was a segment of fans that were offended, but I think most fans were simply annoyed because it was a highly promoted pay per view match without a pay-off," recalls PWI Senior Writer (and co-host of The PWI Podcast) Dan Murphy. "The segments featuring Vince and Shane leading up to the match were actually quite entertaining. But the were building this angle around the personal religious beliefs of a top performer. If it was going to be done, there should have been a measure of seriousness about it. Either Michaels should have displayed the heartfelt intensity of a man whose principles are being mocked, or something more serious should have befallen Vince for his unchecked ego. Instead, the whole thing fell flat."
WWE kept the plot rolling with the next episode of Raw, using the story as a springboard for the kayfabe departure of Joey Styles from the show's announce team. His "resignation" was quoted in the September 2006 issue of PWI:
"I'm sick of sports entertainment," Styles proclaimed during the May 1 edition of Monday Night Raw. "I am sick of male cheerleaders. I am sick of boogers and bathroom humor and semen. I am sick of our Chairman, who likes to talk about his own semen. He mocks God. He mocks God and makes out with the Divas all to feed his insatiable ego. I am sick of sports entertainment. And, most of all, I am sick of all of you fans who buy into that crap—this sports entertainment circus. I never needed this job. And most of all, I don't want this job any more. I quit."
Almost a decade later, a large portion of fans still look back on the match with some degree of disdain, whether it's because they feel that the story was distasteful and offensive or just plain ridiculous. Chris Jericho didn't mince words with his assessment when he spoke about in Heartbreak and Triumph:
"I think that was probably the dumbest match in the history of the WWE," said Y2J. "Not the actual match but the idea behind it."
Shawn Michaels appeared on In Your Head Wrestling Radio in 2011 and was asked if, in hindsight, he had any conflicting feelings having participated in the angle and HBK said his conscience was indeed clear.
"That was just so over the top silly. I guess that's the thing. I sort of get accused (of being) this guy who wears his faith on his sleeve but I always get asked about it. So it's not so much on my sleeve as it is me answering questions that they come up with. It's funny…obviously it's a big part of my life but when it's so over the top amusing and so over the top just nuts, I don't take offense to that kind of stuff… It's pretty clear that kind of stuff is going to come anyway regardless of whether or not it's about (my) faith. "
In hindsight, perhaps Vince McMahon himself understands that the match isn't likely to be remembered as a "fan favorite."
"That was a one of a kind match," said McMahon in his interview for Heartbreak and Triumph. In all likelihood, to never, ever happen again."
With all due respect, Vince, we're all praying that's the case.
JuJu Be and Rene Merced contributed to this article.