“The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena – WWE Raw, April 23rd, 2007

In 2007, the WWE had already slipped into the bizarre period that followed the Attitude Era. This is not to say that the company didn’t still provide interesting match-ups, but if you were looking for consistent, solid in-ring action and classic wrestling storytelling, you were better off looking at Ring of Honor. Once in awhile though, the WWE would still prove why it was the top promotion in the world. Cena and Ol’ HBK had already faced off a few weeks earlier in an excellent match at Wrestlemania 23. Now, it’s not terribly uncommon for these rematches to take place on Raw, especially when the WWE is traveling to other continents. The performers and crew want to give the fans in other regions as big of match ups as the U.S. gets. Nothing about this seemed odd, or even all that special, going in. The match didn’t even start that late into the show, so even over a decade later, I can tell you that my expectations were quite low. I remember this because I would be treated to, perhaps, the greatest single match in Raw‘s history.

One of the unique strengths of this contest is its length. At the time, Raw was only two hours long (oh man, does that sound great) and this main event would take more than half of the show’s on-air time. That’s roughly forty-five minutes accounting for commercial breaks. This allowed for a pacing not typically possible on the show. It at first seems slow, but it’s a build. It is a risk that only top tier talent can take, and though the crowd does not first seem to comprehend what they’re watching, it is not long until they realize that these two are in it for the long haul. Watch this one and you’ll get vibes of some of the impeccably paced Flair/Sting matches which preceded it. It is also reminiscent of those contests just based on who is in the ring. Michaels, a decade earlier, had been the hottest property in the business. HBK not only put asses in seats, but innovated the in-ring style of the entire industry. In 2007, he was still one of the best (if not the best) in the ring. Eleven years ago, Cena was the top face in the company. A role, that as it is today, was often derided by the longer standing fans.  The difference was that Cena had proven his abilities over and over again. The crowd’s disdain was less for Cena’s persona and more that he was too long the focus of the show. Cena could always invest the crowd in the match, and here it was no different. The two tell a brutal tale, as the match moves forward it only grows rougher and more violent. As with the past year’s Omega/Okada, the steady increase in violence not only keeps the crowd invested, but convinced them that either wrestler could win. Honestly, there are things that both men do here that I’m not sure they ever do again. There’s even some kicking out of finishes, a far less common occurrence in the company at the time. By the end, which I won’t reveal here, the crowd is completely satisfied and the two are left with a match that will be remembered for years to come. It is rare that any moment surpasses one at Wrestlemania. The stage is as important to the story as any other element. Here, two all-time greats prove that if you do it right, the match can even elevate the stage. Its part of the reason Raw has lasted twenty-five years.

This match is most easily available on the WWE Network, though it also appears on multiple home video releases.