But then there is the concept of a dream as some form of fantasy. Something that we would love to experience, yet know within ourselves that it may be ultimately unrealistic to expect it to happen. Becoming a sporting or music superstar perhaps, or having Edge-Lita with your favorite celebrity. The ideal life or ideal event you would choose for yourself, given the chance. These are the more far-fetched dreams we have, ones rarely achieved. Not all dreams are unrealistic though. Dreaming of meeting your hero, going to Wrestlemania (*pop*), seeing Newcastle actually win something, having good friends, seeing your children get married, or some form of sentimentality to that effect, are viable dreams, largely achievable with luck. These are often not unrealistic, rather the things you desperately want to happen that conceivably could. So a dream can be different things, and we all have them. Let me share with you a dream of mine. It begins over ten years ago.
The year is 1995. A new sitcom named Friends is gaining popularity amongst television audiences; a largely unknown teenager by the name of Tiger Woods is winning his second U.S Amateur Championship, and wrestling, in the shape of the WWF, on a consistent, weekly basis is available to me for the first time. Before then, I had seen it only when I could manage to find a television that wasn’t mine, one which carried the necessary channel, most likely in friends or relatives houses. My first wrestling memory is of a brief encounter with Wrestlemania VII, in particular witnessing a collision between Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior, a slice of fortune for me you’ll agree. Aside from that, before 1995 my only memories of significance concerning wrestling are seeing Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog at Summerslam ’92, on tape I recall, and Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart from Summerslam ’94. I know I saw other bits and pieces elsewhere, but those are the two most prominent, they certainly stood out. Now having weekly wrestling available to me, I was able follow it as well as I could wish to. Throughout 1995 and 1996 my love of wrestling was solidified. Many athletes would be instrumental in helping to achieve this, but one stands out in particular. I could give a long intro but really, despite the cliché, this is a man that needs none, The Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels.
Maybe I’m weird. It’s entirely possible; more so now that I’ve said it. As a wrestling fan, I didn’t sway between good and bad guys, heels and faces so to speak. My parents, bless their delicacy, had bluntly informed me at an early age that wrestling was scripted, fake so to speak, though this didn’t bother me at all, to their dismay I imagine. I tended to have a few wrestlers that I liked, regardless of whether they were fighting on the side of good or evil. That started at the 1995 Royal Rumble, when Shawn Michaels won a widely discredit rumble match despite the notable handicap of being the first entry. The charisma and athleticism of the man stood out, he was someone I just felt drawn to, and quickly became the first wrestler that I supported with any sense of passion. Returning in mid-95 after losing to Diesel at Wrestlemania, as challenger for the WWF Championship, he began a journey that would cement my fanaticism. An Intercontinental Title reign, including a particularly memorable ladder match against Scott Hall, then Razor Ramon, captivated me as a fan. All seemed rosy for the Shawn Michaels fans of the world, myself by then well included. Then, as nothing seemed like it could go wrong, it did. They went after my heart. Twice in the space of half a year, I was put through the turmoil of not knowing whether my favourite wrestler would ever grace a ring again. I knew nothing of what happened off screen, no Internet, magazines, anything. So the Dean Douglas and Owen Hart related retirement angles were very emotional times for me. I believed that it could be the end, I didn’t know any better. Then, one glorious December Day, it was announced that Shawn Michaels would be returning, at the 1996 Royal Rumble.
It was perfect. Returning from injury, he went straight on to win the Royal Rumble. The Wrestlemania boyhood dream storyline was a treat for marks, it really was. I know I loved it. So by the time Wrestlemania rolled around, despite a brief threat from Owen Hart, Michaels was perfectly set to fulfill his dream of being WWF Champion. I remember having school the next day, as I often did in those days, and therefore having to tape Wrestlemania rather than watch it live. On my lunch break at home I took a quick look. I saw Shawn Michaels coming in on a zip line from the roof for his entrance. Intrigued. That evening I lived every second of an Iron Man Match, one that saw Michaels take the first and only fall in the third minute of overtime. I can remember being particularly emotional after wrestling matches on two occasions. The end of Wrestlemania XX, as Benoit deserved that moment so much, and as Michaels celebrated in the ring after beating Bret. Over the next two years attitude would take over the WWF. Two years later, after Wrestlemania 14, Shawn Michaels would retire after losing to ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. During that two-year period, I had remained loyal to Michaels no matter who his opponent was. He was my guy, the favorite.
So his departure left a void, no sense saying otherwise, or mentioning the fact that I might. I continued to be thoroughly entertained by wrestling, and had many wrestlers who I loved watching. Austin, The Undertaker, HHH’s new Degeneration-X, The Rock, Mick Foley and many others, with the help of some great storylines, gave me everything I could ever want in a wrestling show and more. It was one of my greatest times as a fan; such was the quality of programming. Yet, despite having all these great choices to choose from, nobody ever took over as my wrestler of choice, my main guy so to speak. I was the same with golf. Greg Norman was my top guy for years; having nobody to root for in particular was annoying when he dropped away in the late 90’s. I would eventually come to cheer for Phil Mickelson, but I digress, and you likely don’t care anyway. Filling the void left by Shawn seemed like it may be impossible. I was getting older, perhaps a shade more cynical, certainly less of a mark than before. Perhaps no other character would be able to capture me as HBK had done, I would simply see how I felt on the day, perhaps depending on the alignment of the planets, though I don’t believe in astrology. Thankfully, this would not be the case. One man would step up and grasp my undivided loyalty, as much as Shawn had before him. His name would be Kurt Angle.
Kurt Angle came to the WWF in late 1999, at the Survivor Series Pay Per View, being fed Meat on his debut… My initial feeling towards him was of curiosity, his initial vignettes before arriving were hilarious. A gold medal was an impressive accolade, and I liked the idea of an American hero who Americans didn’t like. I have always found Kurt Angle to have one of the best senses of comedic timing I have ever seen in wrestling, on a par with the likes of Foley, Austin and The Rock, and this is something that usually gets me as a fan. While being a heel meant he wasn’t a fan favourite, the crowd loved to boo him rather than disliked him; he was just so entertaining. But aside from that, his ability was instantly noticeable. Kurt Angle is the only wrestler I have ever found a certain flaw in. He often looks ridiculous getting beaten. Everything he does is so quick and well executed; you wonder how people actually beat him. Very quickly, he was having top quality matches with the likes of Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Taz and even The Rock in his first few months in the business. When he won the King of the Ring in 2000, it was obvious he was going to be a big star. He would hold the WWE Title within his two years of actually beginning training for his first professional wrestling match, a simply ridiculous feat, and looked brilliant doing it. Over the next few years, Angle would win many accolades and have great matches and feuds with many wrestlers, including HHH, Steve Austin, a great street fight with Shane McMahon and encounters with most of WWE’s top talent. A string of matches with Chris Benoit, most memorably an epic battle at the ’03 Royal Rumble, represented Angle at his very best for me. There had been a second coming. The new favourite.
At this time period, it had entered my head one or two occasions that a Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle match would be something I would have loved to have seen, a dream match so to speak. But, with Michaels retired with what seemed a legitimately career ending injury, it seemed an impossibility. One can always dream.
August 2002. Something of interest happened. After over 4 years of sporadic non-wrestling appearances, in which all hopes of a comeback seemed to have been erased, Shawn Michaels would actually be returning to face HHH at Summerslam 2002. I was pumped, but didn’t know what to expect’, on edge so to speak (there’s another Lita joke there, but really). During the match, I was legitimately concerned about Michaels’ health for a long period of time. Only when the trademark HBK comeback began did I truly get caught up in the emotion of it all, the glorious return. After a great match, Michaels won after reversing HHH’s pedigree into a cradle for a 3-count. The ecstasy of the victory was amazing, but the post-match sledgehammer beating seemed to confirm suspicions that this was a swansong rather than a comeback. However, a return and eventual title win at the 2002 Survivor Series, complete with confetti, indicated that maybe he would be back for a run of matches before bowing out. Despite a great feud and match with Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania XIX, I always felt that Michaels had just come back to have the feud he and Triple H always wanted to have, before calling it a day. I was aware that an Angle-Michaels match was more of a possibility, just did not feel it was much of a probability. Kurt was doing his own thing on Smackdown, feuding with the likes of Benoit, Hogan, Lesnar, Guerrero and others, the quality he maintained despite injury problems furthering my admiration for him even more. With a pen and yellow pad, what a handsome lad, that’s my boy…
Bad Blood 2004 marked the end of the HHH – HBK saga, one I thoroughly enjoyed. But it also marked a significant change in my outlook regarding the career of Shawn Michaels. The HHH feud was over, both done and dusted, but all indications were that Shawn was going to continue to wrestle regularly, despite leaving for a short time after an attack from Kane. Kurt Angle’s neck had been cause for concern for a couple of years, and at this time he was the Smackdown GM, taking another forced rest period from competition. So while in early summer of 2004 neither of the two was taking part in active competition, there existed a chance that they would both be wrestling again soon, if potentially only for a short time. Angle returned to the ring against Eddie Guerrero at Summerslam, with Shawn returning at Unforgiven to gain revenge on Kane. At this point, I knew a match between the two looked more likely than it had at any other point in time. Sadly, brand extension was looking as bad to me as it ever had, and it has done on a few occasions I think you’ll agree, Great American Bash 2004 anyone? I was bitter at it, simply for holding these two apart, something I’ve taken too long to explain with these very words. My ideal scenario at this point was a first time match at Wrestlemania this year, or perhaps the year after, but I felt that a post-Wrestlemania draft and the opportunity to engage in a feud on the same show represented my best shot. I would soon see.
It is Monday the 4th of April, 2005. A young man walks briskly down a road, clutching a videotape in his right hand. It will take him a mere 5 minutes to reach his destination, less with a bit of urgency. Once there, he and a small group of friends will watch the tape he carries, one which contains the recorded action from the night before, Wrestlemania 21. Needless to say, though I am doing so, this young man is me. Wrestlemania had a stacked card, with many potentially exciting matches. But really, despite the quality of the card, for me it was a one match show. Over the past 9 months, I had seen the potential of a Kurt Angle – Shawn Michaels match go from possible, to probable, to almost certain, to 100% confirmed. Upon seeing Kurt viciously assault Shawn at the Royal Rumble, I knew the match was coming. I even did my happy dance. Over the next couple of months, I had seen a beautifully built up feud that reminded me why I loved these two so much. Angle was the vicious heel, like some form of unbeatable wrestling machine, while Michaels was the resilient hero, who we all knew would give absolutely everything he could, especially at Wrestlemania. They had only had a couple of brief scuffles since the Royal Rumble; Wrestlemania would be the first time they would really face off eye to eye, toe to toe, mano-y-mano. I had never really been forced to think about whom I liked more of the two, Angle or Michaels. Both represented different parts of me as a wrestling fan; I never expected to have to choose between them. As the match got set to begin, I was split down the middle.
What followed was just under 30 minutes of one of the greatest wrestling matches I have ever witnessed. I barely said a word throughout the whole match; I was lost in the great story that was unfolding. After trading holds and blows in the early stages, Angle gained an advantage by Angle-slamming HBK into the ring post. After what had been a largely even match to that point, Angle took control. From then on it was the tale of the charismatic, resilient hero Shawn Michaels trying to overcome seemingly impossible odds and beat the machine, who was just wearing him down. The match had all the things I love about these guys. The Angleslam from the top rope and the moonsault, two moves I had not seen Kurt attempt in years, had me going wild as Angle pulled out all the stops but still couldn’t put Shawn away. A death defying springboard cross body onto a prone Angle on the announce table by Michaels took my breath away. As the match built to a tense finish, my loyalty was still split. I wanted neither to lose. Near falls by Angle after the Angle Slam from the top and by Michaels after the Superkick both saw me cheer out loud when I saw the shoulder come up. When Angle locked in the ankle lock and refused to let go, despite Shawn twisting and turning frantically, it looked like Shawn was finished. When Angle lay down and synched it in even more, it had to be end. He had to tap, didn’t he? Miraculously, Shawn continued to fight, refused to lose, struggled to try and get to the ropes. He twisted, turned, pulled, stretched, and did everything he could try to free himself from the claws of his opponent, but still the relentless Angle held on.
Then he tapped. As the bell rang I recall letting out a deep sigh, something I do now and then. The commotion in the room around me may as well have not existed. In a world of my own, I began to feel emotional. Ten years of wrestling fanaticism had lead me to this moment. Now that it was done, finished, I reflected on what had been an almost perfect encounter. The doubts about WWE’s booking, the fears that the match may not be all I hoped it to be, the terror that it would have a bad finish, all gone. I saw two of the greatest wrestlers of all time go at it on the biggest stage of them all, and give me a match I could be proud to show anybody. It didn’t matter who lost or who won, they were both heroes in my book.
Thank you, Kurt.
Thank you, Shawn.
It had been my dream. I had developed it, craved it and experienced it. It can never be taken away from me.
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