Classic Rivalries: Shawn Michaels Vs. Chris Jericho


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In 1998, Shawn Michaels wrestled what many believed to be his last match at WrestleMania 14 against Stone Cold Steve Austin.  Around the same time, Chris Jericho was hitting his stride in WCW, working his way up the card and winning championships while being one of the most popular acts with the WCW fans.  At this point in wrestling history the idea of a Shawn Michaels versus Chris Jericho match seemed like nothing but a pipe dream.  It was a “dream match” that many fans who enjoyed the work of both Michaels and Jericho could only hope for.  Four years later, Shawn Michaels made a miraculous comeback from a broken back and returned at SummerSlam 2002 beating HHH.  By this point, Chris Jericho was not only a part of WWE, but was a former WWE Champion, and firmly entrenched in the main event picture.  It was at this point in time that one of the best rivalries in wrestling history began, and it began…with a kick.

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After Shawn Michaels lost the World Heavyweight Championship to HHH at Armageddon 2002, he appeared in an in-ring segment with Chris Jericho.  It was there that Jericho told HBK that he was washed up and had nothing left in the tank.  Jericho said he was ashamed of Michaels, because HBK was the reason he wanted to become a WWE champion, and that Michaels appeared to be a shell of himself by not being able to beat HHH at Armageddon.  After mocking Michaels and threatening to attack him, Jericho turned around into a superkick from HBK.  This was the kickoff to a feud that would culminate at WrestleMania 19.  At the 2003 Royal Rumble, Michaels was the #1 entrant. Jericho, using Christian as a distraction, attacked HBK from behind with a low blow.  Jericho cracked HBK over the head with a chair and dumped him over the top rope, eliminating Michaels very early in the match.  Michaels would later return to the Rumble later in the match and attack Jericho, helping to lead to his elimination.  The two would agree to meet at WrestleMania 19 in a match that would steal the show.  That match, one of my personal favorites, accomplished many things at that time.  First, it was HBK’s first match back at a WrestleMania since his return, and he proved to any doubters that he was still one of the best wrestlers in the business even after a four year plus hiatus.  It also helped Jericho have his first WrestleMania classic, and only served to firmly entrench him as a main event player in WWE for years to come.  They would fight again in the summer of 2003, in another great match that many forget, where Jericho would get the win back making HBK tap out to the Walls of Jericho on an episode of RAW in July.  But this would not be the last time these two would engage in a great series of matches.  Five years later they would meet again in one of the most personal rivalries wrestling has seen in the last decade.

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By the summer of 2008, both men were still going as main event players in WWE.  At WrestleMania 24 earlier that year, Michaels defeated Ric Flair, ending Flair’s WWE career.  Jericho was part of the Money in the Bank ladder match that was won by CM Punk.  Michaels would move onto a feud with Batista, where he would feign a knee injury to get a victory in a match with Jericho as the special referee.  Jericho would call Michaels out on faking the injury, which at first Michaels denied.  He defeated Jericho at Judgment Day after admitting that he did in fact fake the injury.  It’s important to note at this time that Chris Jericho had been playing a babyface, whereas during his prior interaction with Michaels in 2002-03 he was a heel.  When Jericho invited Michaels onto his Highlight Reel interview segment, that would quickly change.  In a segment that is still remembered by fans to this day, Jericho would turn on Michaels, calling him a liar and throwing him face first into the JeriTron 5000 television hanging in the ring.  As a result of this, Michaels would sustain an eye injury.  This would be exposed when the two battled at the Great American Bash that year, with Jericho attacking and bloodying Michaels’ eye forcing a match stoppage and giving Jericho the win.  That’s part of the beauty of the feud.  They had continuity with the eye injury, and built sympathy on HBK by having the match stopped due to the blood and injury.  In turn this made Jericho look like a killer, as he not only won the match but did so in brutal fashion.  This led to SummerSlam, where Michaels came to the ring with his wife to announce his retirement due to the injuries he had sustained over his career.  Of course, Jericho would interrupt, trying to make the claim that it was Jericho that had forced Michaels into retirement.  Michaels shot back with some great stuff, including a line where he indicated that Jericho should go home and tell his family he would never be Shawn Michaels.  As HBK was about to leave, Jericho attempted to hit Michaels, but he ducked and HBK’s wife took the shot instead.  Jericho left the ring, seemingly with no remorse, and Michaels attended to his wife who had a legitimate swollen lip.  As one can imagine, HBK decided not to retire and challenged Jericho to an unsanctioned match at Unforgiven the next month.  That match was a crazy brawl, with no rules, seeing both men use multiple weapons to gain the advantage.  After a great match, the referee would stop the match deeming Jericho unable to defend himself against Michaels.  It’s a cool point to note that Michaels won this match via ref stoppage after Jericho did the same at the Great American Bash.   Later that night at Unforgiven, Jericho would enter himself in the World Heavyweight Title scramble match and win the championship.  This would set up one final match between the two at No Mercy, in a Ladder Match for the championship.  Jericho would win that match, another classic, and retain the championship.

After No Mercy,  both men would move on to new opponents.  Michaels would go on to wrestle another year and a half, and retire at WrestleMania 26 against the Undertaker.  Jericho would continue on in WWE for two more years and go on another hiatus in late 2010.  He has returned on a part-time schedule a few times since then.  The feud the two men had in 2008, and the precursor to it in 2002-03 is an example of classic wrestling storytelling.  They played off each others characters and had believable chemistry against each other.  Both men have said in interviews and books they’ve written since then that they truly enjoyed working with each other, and it clearly showed in their on-screen rivalry in WWE, one of the classic WWE rivalries of all time.


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