While WWE billed the match between Randy Orton and Edge at Backlash as “The Greatest Match Ever,” most fans would say another match deserves that honor. The WrestleMania 26 main event between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels pitted Taker’s streak vs. HBK’s career and many see that as the finest match ever.
Undertaker would prevail which marked the end of Michaels’ in-ring career until 2018’s Crown Jewel. The climactic part of the match was when Taker was about to finish off Michaels but HBK gave a cut-throat signal of his own and then slapped a shocked Undertaker. The Undertaker then responded with a third jumping Tombstone to finally finish off Michaels in the match and in his career.
It was a memorable ending that was reminiscent of the Michaels/Ric Flair retirement match two years earlier in which HBK mouthed, “I’m sorry. I love you.” Michaels discussed how they wanted to do something like that but also more fitting of the Shawn Michaels character in an interview with Bleacher Report.
“We were just trying to think of something for the end. You sort of think to yourself, like, ‘OK, so this isn’t the, ‘I love you’ moment, but we need something here. What is that?’ And again I don’t know. I can’t recall,” said Michaels. “I’ll give Michael Hayes the props cause I think it was him, but he just said, ‘The end should be one last act of defiance for Shawn Michaels. A slap in the face.’
“We went all the way back to who this character was. They’ve seen the arc of him having this life-changing experience and coming back a different person. But still, when he goes down, he’s going to go down with a little bit of attitude. A little bit of grit. And when he said it, we all just felt like yeah, that’s it. That’s it. And of course Taker comes back and realizes, ‘I got to put the dagger in this guy.’
“I mean it’s just really trying to figure out ‘what best defines this guy?’ And not just in that moment but this guy overall. It’s the completion. It’s the end of the book. It’s the end of the movie. It’s the end of the story. What rounds out this guy? You know? And it’s falling short. It’s heartbreak. It’s giving everything that you’ve got but going down. Going down with a little bit of defiance, going out in a way that’s a little bit hurtful and vulnerable. And it just seemed to work perfectly for what we wanted to accomplish.”
The original plan for Michaels’ retirement was a retirement tour that would take place after WrestleMania. It would have been similar to what many pro athletes like Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter have had where Michaels would have had a final match in all the major cities he had performed in throughout his career. That would then allow the fans in those cities to give him a proper sendoff, but HBK felt that nothing could top the WrestleMania match so he scrapped those plans.
“After that match, myself and Taker and Michael Hayes were doing what we did the year before too, sitting in a room by ourselves with a shot of Jack Daniels,” Michaels said. “I told them, ‘You know what? That might be the one to end it all. I don’t think I’m going to do that other thing.’ And Michael said, ‘I agree.’ And so I just sort of decided right there that was going to be it.”