(The one that I didn't know how to rank)
This match confused me a little bit. It took me a few weeks (I wrote this series over the course of about 4 months, taking time off to write a few other things and then coming back here) when I was shuffling the rankings to settle on this spot. It moved up and down about five spaces in each direction.
On the one hand, you had the first (and only) match between two first-ballot Hall of Famers, one of who was still putting on clinics in the ring despite just turning forty, and the other only being the most famous professional wrestler ever.
On the other hand…well, we’ll get there.
Let’s set the scene.
Like many feuds, this one started out with the two as a tag team. Hogan rescued Michaels from certain doom at the hands of Muhammad Hassan and Daivari in April and HBK returned the favor in July. It was during the July segment that Michaels turned heel with a superkick.
HBK then proceeded to cut a series of videos (see here) where he would make fun of Hogan for being old and bad at wrestling. Some of these were pretty damn funny actually.
The feud itself was simple, but that’s not a bad thing! Basically Shawn Michaels wanted to test himself against a legend and so he did. It was a lesser version of the story going into the second HBK-Taker match in 2010.
Things barreled along to SummerSlam, with HBK turning back the clock and being the cocky heel, while Hogan was the All-American face. Nothing wrong so far.
Most of the next part is conjecture, as far as I can tell not 100% confirmed by neither Hogan nor HBK, but there’s more than enough smoke to signal a forest fire.
Hogan, like always, had creative control of his character written into his contract. Michaels, himself no stranger to wrestling politics, tried to propose a series of matches, with HBK winning the first and Hogan winning the second. Hogan said no – one match only. Eventually Hogan relented and said "sure, Shawn, two matches are great, brother – but I gotta win both brother."
Shawn said no way, and since he had no intention to job twice, it was agreed that (Spoiler Alert!) Michaels would job at SummerSlam clean in the ring to the legdrop. Well, "agreed" isn’t the right word. Hogan, armed with his creative control clause, (allegedly) went to Vince McMahon and essentially said "if you want a main event at a marquee pay-per-view, I win clean." Michaels had no choice but to accept.
During the buildup to the match, I figured it would be better than it ended up being because HBK was at the pinnacle of his powers, and Hogan, while limited, could do enough in the ring to let Michaels do the brunt of the work. Michaels was great as expected, but Hogan was a man in his early 50s with two bad knees, a bad back and a fake hip who wasn’t exactly a master in-ring wrestler in his best of days.
So Shawn Michaels, himself a grand player of wrestling’s realpolitik, decided to outmaneuver the master. He would job to Hogan clean as demanded, but would make the old lion look so unbelievably bad in the process the victory itself wouldn't matter.
Main Event Time!
Throughout the match, Michaels did two things to embarrass Hogan: He oversold the Hulkster’s moves to the point of comedy (the picture at the top of the page is Michaels launching himself three feet into the air after a routine kick to the midsection) and he stiffed Hogan at just about every chance, including slapping him clear across the mouth on a few occasions.
Shawn’s comical overselling overshadowed the rest of this match. To be fair, it wasn’t like this was a classic. Hogan blew up pretty much right away, so the match devolved into a few long rest spots. Hulk bladed huge, with the blood smeared all over Michaels’s arms and chest (to the point where Jerry Lawler said something like "The blood of Hulkamania is literally on Shawn Michaels’s hands!" Props to Lawler for literally using the word literally correctly.)
The crowd responded to all this by chanting "We want Bret!" By the way, SummerSlam was located not in Calgary or Montreal, but Washington, D.C. Shawn obliged by going for a Sharpshooter, all the while wearing a huge smirk. He’s the best.
A ref bump signifies the "smoke-and-mirrors" section of the match, which had a Hulk Up, the aforementioned ref bump, a Sweet Chin Music (that Hogan took like a champ) and another Hulk Up. The big boot (with another glorious oversell), legdrop and three-count end this match.
The thing is, this isn't a bad match. Despite Hogan’s physical limitations and Shawn’s comedy routine, the match itself is still decent. I mean, nobody is going to confuse it for one of the all-time great matches in the history of the sport, but it isn’t Undertaker-Underfaker either.
A quick note before we wrap this one up: There are two ways to look at this match and specifically Michaels’s actions. The first perspective – which I subscribe to – is that Michaels was in the right when he torpedoed the main event of a franchise pay-per-view to show up Hogan and McMahon. Most of the reason I latch on to this viewpoint is because screw Hogan and screw McMahon for enabling Hogan.
However, there are longtime wrestling fans whose opinions I trust and respect who hate Michaels for what he did. They say that despite Hogan playing the politics game, Michaels still had a professional obligation to put forth a good honest effort, not the insulting display that dragged the match down.
I can see it both ways. So I leave it to you…was HBK "right" or "wrong" for what he did?
Curtain Jerker’s Star Rating – Probably around 2¾-3 or so, but I can see it going up or down depending on how you feel about Michaels’s actions
Up Next – These two guys wrestled a lot over the years. Most of the time the matches had some sort of stipulation. This one was no differentAlso in this series: