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HBK "Shawn Michaels" Career End after Wreslemania

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PHOENIX – One could argue that it wasn’t Shawn Michaels who lost on The Grandest Stage of Them All Sunday night. Yes, Michaels fell in defeat to The Phenom, who extended his unbeaten WrestleMania streak to an unprecedented 18-0. However, by ending The Showstopper’s storied career, The Deadman effectively provided the WWE Universe with perhaps its greatest collective loss in WWE history: the end of an icon’s ring career.
Their rematch was destined to happen – many believed that as soon as their epic first confrontation at the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania concluded one year prior. It certainly remained foremost in the mind of HBK, who had demanded another opportunity against The Phenom at The Show of Shows since last December’s Slammy Awards ceremony on Raw. Yet after months of calling out The Deadman and coming up short in bids to earn a rematch, Michaels finally succeeded after costing The Undertaker his World Heavyweight Title inside the Elimination Chamber last February.

Of course, garnering The Undertaker’s sole, undivided attention is a double-edged sword. The Phenom finally agreed to face The Showstopper one more time at WrestleMania – with the stipulation that it would be Shawn Michaels’ last time as a WWE Superstar, should he fail to end “The Streak,” a prize that many would equate to a World Championship … or perhaps hold in even higher regard.

Sunday’s rematch between HBK and The Undertaker was only the fourth such contest to end a WrestleMania without championship gold on the line. However, it was, by far, the most important of those matches. Furthermore, indecision or controversy was all but eliminated by the stipulation that this “Streak vs. Career” Match could end only via pinfall or submission.

“I wouldn’t have agreed to this match if I wasn’t at a place where I was ready to take on the inevitable, which is the end of my career,” Michaels told in an exclusive interview hours before the confrontation. “I like to be a man of my word. I’d like to honor what I said to The Undertaker … that if I don’t beat his streak, I will walk away.”

That said, Michaels was more than ready Sunday night. Before 72,219 fans inside the University of Phoenix Stadium, fans’ loyalties were divided as “Mr. WrestleMania” gave the Showstopping performance of his career – and a match that must have left The Undertaker wondering, even if just for a moment, whether or not he could defeat HBK at a second consecutive WrestleMania.

The Phenom had good reason to wonder. After an offensive onslaught to open the match, he jarred his left knee on the mat while going "Old School" off the top rope. Michaels, seeing how his adversary favored his leg, immediately took advantage, directing the focus of his offense toward the injured appendage. And the occasional posters of "17-1" throughout the stadium seemed raised a little higher than before.

It would take much more than great strategy to stop The Undertaker's streak, however. In fact, he nearly put The Showstopper's career into the grave several times early in the battle, including a devastating Tombstone on the outside floor that would have rendered lesser opponents to pure dust. Even the most divided of fans, however, had to be amazed not only by Michaels' resiliency, but his wherewithall to counter a Hell's Gate submission into a quick-two count, then connecting with one of the loudest Sweet Chin Musics ever heard inside the ring.

The Undertaker barely kicked out, then almost dealt Michaels his own graveyard symphony. But another confrontation on the outside floor resulted in more Sweet Chin Music that planted The Deadman onto the announce table, and HBK's moonsault off the top rope that drove both Superstars through the table.

Despite seeming to have little idea where he was at the moment, The Phenom refused to stay down, even after a third chorus of Sweet Chin Music. More than 72,000 strong felt that the end might be near for Michaels, though, especially as The Deadman caught "Mr. WrestleMania" with a crushing chokeslam and Tombstone Piledriver.

They were wrong. Michaels kicked out by the narrowest of margins, impressing even the clearly frustrated Undertaker. Mustering perhaps the greatest sign of respect he could offer, The Deadman stopped himself from delivering his cutthroat motion.

Michaels, defiant to the end, finished the motion for his adversary, then slapped The Undertaker in the face. He, more than anyone else, understood that between the Streak and the career, something had to give.
The Undertaker, with fire in his eyes, obliged his noble opponent. With another devastating Tombstone, he silenced Shawn Michaels' career once and for all.

Though it seemed impossible to conceive, Michaels and The Deadman outdid their epic confrontation from 2009 – a match that was deemed universally as Match of the Year. And the sold-out crowd in Phoenix made sure their Superstars knew it, with chants of "This is awesome!" and "Thank you, Shawn!" filling the stadium. And, in a moment never before witnessed, the often-emotionally devoid Deadman acknowledged a very emotional Michaels as well.

In his seventeenth and final WrestleMania as an in-ring competitor, Michaels motioned to the WWE Universe, professing his undying gratitude and love. And like a true ring warrior, he exited the stadium in the Valley of the Sun with his head held high - and a career that will live on as long as any WrestleMania streak The Undertaker can achieve.

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