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After over eight years of retirement, Shawn Michaels will return to the ring and face off against arguably his greatest rival, The Undertaker. This match won't be taking place at WrestleMania, or even the Royal Rumble, instead Michaels will be returning at WWE's Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia. An event that is fiscally important to the company but does not carry the clout of a WWE "Big 4" event.
Michaels returned to WWE television last month when he became involved in the build-up for The Undertaker's match against Triple H at Super Show-Down in Australia. Michaels ended up in Triple H's corner and became physically involved in the match over and over again. In the end, he succeeded in helping Triple H defeat The Undertaker in what was billed as their last one-on-one confrontation ever. Following a post-match attack from Undertaker and his brother Kane the wheels were put in motion for a DX vs Brothers of Destruction tag match at Crown Jewel.
Michaels, as big of a legend in WWE as any other name, will return to wrestling in a couple of weeks. For man fans, myself included, the timing seems odd. Michaels' return is an unexpected development and should be a big deal, right?
For the last several years, really since Michaels retired following WrestleMania 26, WWE has tried to integrate more "part-time wrestlers" into their product. Whether it's The Undertaker, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, The Rock, Batista or Shane McMahon… WWE has begun to rely on those stars to anchor big shows, particularly WrestleMania. Two weeks ago, a segment involving Michaels, The Undertaker, Triple H and Kane main-evented the lowest viewed RAW in company history. Could this be a sign that fans have become less interested in these kinds of special attractions? I would argue, yes.
The match between The Undertaker and Triple H in Australia seems to have fans divided. Some fans thought it was slow, plodding and boring. Filled with too much interference and featuring performers who physically should not be given 30 minute matches. On the other hand, I've also heard fans rave about the match. Including some that have told me it was their favorite match so far in 2018. They liked it because the crowd was into it, the guys did all of their signature moves and it was a back-and-forth struggle.
Michaels physical abilities at 53 years old, having not wrestled in eight years, are still yet to be seen. While he looks like he's in good shape for his age you have to remember he wrestled a hard style throughout his career. Michaels has a long and documented history of serious injuries. The fact that he's cut his trademark long hair has seemingly also jarred some of the fanbase. To me, it makes him look more his age, even if from a physique standpoint he looks about the same.
Michaels is notorious for putting on matches that steal the show. The bar for him is higher than for someone like Goldberg, who made a similar return in 2016. Michaels' final two matches against The Undertaker are regarded as being two of the best matches in WWE history, and fans are probably expecting a lot out of him on this return.
I have little doubt that Michaels will be able to put on a show. Even at his age he still has his charisma and can probably do all of his trademark spots. His signature moves and some selling might be all he needs to have a memorable match. Working in front of the Saudi Arabia crowd may be easier for him as well since he won't have the vocal "smart fan" crowd of a New York or Chicago. Michaels is going to look like a big star even if he doesn't steal the show.
Moving forward I'm curious to see how fans react to Michaels if he continues to wrestle. Fans love Michaels, but there is growing resentment in pockets of the fanbase about older stars being plastered all over the product instead of younger wrestlers. Fans love The Undertaker but after a series of sub-standard performances there are grumbles from some about no longer being interested in seeing him wrestle. If Michaels doesn't look great in his match at Crown Jewel, I'm not sure how big his return is going to be for WWE.
Michaels will likely always get a pop and the crowd will cheer for him, but will he be able to positively impact business over the next six months? Would an angle between Michaels and The Undertaker, or Michaels vs Triple H, really excite the fanbase? Or, would it just lead to more complaints about the old guys stealing the spotlight to have a mediocre match?
This week on RAW, Triple H and Michaels announced that they would be teaming up as the group D-Generation X. DX has been brought back twice after initially disbanding in 2000 and has been popular each time. However, this time feels a bit different. The idea behind DX has always been they were anti-authority radicals that did things their own way and stuck it to the establishment, mainly through the use of pranks and dick jokes. Even though there is nostalgia there, it's a little weird to think of these guys in their 50s still doing those kind of jokes. Kind of like how Adam Sandler is still making gross-out comedies in his 50s.
It doesn't help that for the last five years Triple H's character has literally been in a faction called THE AUTHORITY. Now he is part of a faction's whose whole gimmick is that they are ANTI-AUTHORITY? It's just another bizarre layer in his absurd character inconsistency where he flip flops between babyface to heel on a hourly basis.
If Michaels is up for another match following Crown Jewel, it will likely be a singles match against The Undertaker. I feels like a WrestleMania match but with Survivor Series just a couple of weeks after Crown Jewel WWE may want to use that match as the headliner. They won't have a ton of time in between Crown Jewel and Survivor Series to build a stacked card. That also opens the door for additional matches Michaels could have after Survivor Series if he is up to it.
The best use of Michaels isn't in a nostalgia run for me but with a fresh feud against a current star. A true dream match for fans isn't another rematch between Michaels and The Undertaker, or Michaels and Triple H, it is against Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins or AJ Styles. We've already seen the best of Michaels and other Legends, we want to see something new. In addition, if Michaels physically can't perform at the level fans are used to seeing him at, working with a younger star in their prime would. Rather than against The Undertaker where he'd have to carry most of the match.
WWE seems to like pitting these part-time talents against each other instead of pairing them with a current star, except for Roman Reigns. When Goldberg came back his big program was with Lesnar. The Undertaker's last opponents have been Triple H and Cena. It would be exciting to see the new generation face off against the previous era. Michaels may face a guy like Bryan at WrestleMania just as easily as he may Triple H, it's unclear.
For years Michaels had been rumored to return to wrestling. Now that he is back, it doesn't feel all that special to me. Maybe Michaels will have an amazing, turn-back-the-clock performance at Crown Jewel and have a great final run in WWE. Or, maybe, he will look his age and fans will be calling for his retirement. Kind of like what is happening to The Undertaker. Michaels is a legend and nothing he does during this run is going to negatively impact his legacy. The question is, can he raise the bar yet again?
WWE Super Show-Down Ratings
The New Day vs The Bar: ***
Charlotte vs Becky Lynch: **1/2
The IIconics vs Naomi and Asuka: *1/2
AJ Styles vs Samoa Joe: ****1/4
Ronda Rousey and The Bella Twins vs The Riott Squad: **
Buddy Murphy vs Cedric Alexander: ****
The Undertaker vs Triple H: *1/2
Must Watch Matches
Jay White vs Hiroshi Tanahashi: **** - NJPW King of Pro Wrestling
Marty Scurll vs KUSHIDA: **** - NJPW King of Pro Wrestling