Autumn is well underway and the end of the year is approaching fast. With only a few short months before 2012 kicks off, wrestling fans and journalists alike will soon begin reviewing the best of what was 2011. Many magazines and sites, including this one, compile a “best of” list and recap the year. There is one publication in particular that has a long history of doing a year-end recap. That would be Pro Wrestling Illustrated. For those unfamiliar with PWI’s year in review special, they take votes on several categories from Wrestler of the Year to Most Popular Wrestler of the Year. One of the bigger awards they give out Match of the Year. Readers vote on their favorite matches, and from there, PWI does a write-up on the top vote-getter, along with the matches that places second, third and fourth in the voting. This year will be an important year for the Match of the Year category because of two words: Shawn Michaels. This year is a new beginning for PWI for their Match of the Year award all because of Shawn’s absence.
Shawn’s departure from WWE as an active performer is going on two years, but this is the first whole year without him in the mix for a decade. To demonstrate how important he was to PWI’s match of the year category, read the list below of PWI’s Match of the Year winners from 1993-1996, and then from 2003-2010.
1993: Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty
1994: Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels
1995: Diesel vs. Shawn Michaels
1996: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
2004: Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit
2005: Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle
2006: Shawn Michaels vs. Vince McMahon
2007: Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena
2008: Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair
2009 The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
2010: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
It’s pretty amazing. HBK’s matches have been popular with wrestling fans for nearly twenty years. Going back through these matches, you see how HBK’s career changed over time. Without a doubt, one of the most significant matches of his career was his ladder match at WrestleMania X against Razor Ramon. If you go back and watch the match today, it is still pretty good. Granted, they brought nothing new to wrestling with what they did in this match, but they were the two guys in the ring when the World Wrestling Federation brought the ladder match stipulation to a mainstream level. The 2000 and 2001 winners for PWI’s Match of the Year were ladder matches as well, undoubtedly drawing significant influence from the Razor-Shawn battle at WrestleMania X. It would not be the last time Michaels inspired.
In 1996, Michaels would once again be involved in a special match. His Iron Man contest with Bret Hart put him on the top of the WWF Mountain. Again, Michaels was not a part of anything new as one hour matches happened several times before this one, but the World Wrestling Federation brought it back to the mainstream. It would be the last time Michaels took home the Match of the Year prize before what everyone believed was his retirement.
Injuries kept HBK out of action for quite some time in 1997. He even missed WrestleMania and SummerSlam. It was not until the latter part of the year when he came back and wrestling a full schedule again. His war with The Undertaker led to the first Hell in a Cell match at the end of 1997, but a couple of months later, he would suffer an injury that would put him on the sidelines. From 1998 until 2002, Michaels stayed out of the WWE ring. Rumors of a comeback began about a year before he made the choice to compete again. At SummerSlam in 2002, HBK came back and fought Triple H. Fans were impressed, but it would not be until 2004 that he would take home PWI’s Match of the Year prize again. But once he did, he didn’t stop.
Form 2004-2006, Michaels wrestled three WrestleMania matches in a row, all of them winning the PWI award. His Raw match in 2007 against John Cena in England took home that years’ prize. The following year he made his return to the WrestleMania stage for one more award winner. On that night, he fought Ric Flair in what was supposed to be Flair’s retirement match. Still today the final moments of the match run through the memories of those who witnessed it. Flair knew his time was up as he cried himself to his feet. Michaels told Flair he loved him before giving him a Sweet Chin Music that put Flair down like an old dog.
There are very few pairs or series of WrestleMania matches. There is Rock-Austin. Undertaker-Kane, Undertaker-Triple H, and also the Hardyz-Dudleys, Edge & Christian matches. In 2009, HBK and Undertaker began a two-match series in that took the PWI Match of the Year award. They would follow it up in 2010 with another win. Undertaker won both matches, but the second match put HBK out of the ring per the stipulation – that he would retire if he lost.
It’s no wonder so many consider Shawn Michaels such a great in-ring performer looking back at all his Match of the Year winners. Obviosuly, Pro Wrestling Illustrated is not the bible and Shawn Michaels status as one of the all-time greats is highly questionable. Nearly all of the matches he has won the award for can be debated for their merit. PWI’s own Stu Saks went so far as to express his disappointment in the magazine’s readers when they voted Shawn Michaels vs. Vince McMahon as the Match of the Year in 2006. However, HBK has played an integral part in wrestling for the readers of PWI over the last twenty years. With him now out of the picture for good, will the magazine claim a new favorite? Looking at the 2011 contestants for the Match of the Year, Undertaker’s showdown with Triple H will certainly garner some votes, as will the CM Punk-John Cena match from Money in the Bank. The readers of the magazine moved on once before. When Michaels stepped away in 1998, Mick Foley won the award two years in a row. Perhaps there is another diamond in the rough that PWI readers will come out and support.