Remember that day when I said I'd watch Michaels/Taker WM26 again the next day? Well I DID watch it, and......I don't get it. It's good, but that's about it. Don't see how it comes close to WM25 and I don't think that's a classic either. Hell I'd say Ground Zero blows away WM26.
Different strokes for different folks, but I'm the reverse tbh. For the life of me I'm not sure I'll ever 'get' WM25, watching it live I can easily imagine all the nearfalls and atmosphere being riveting and memorable, and in that regard anyone who was live at the time will almost certainly have my understanding for why they rate it so high. Watching it repeatedly over time afterwards though? It feels like a WWE style version of a Puro/Dream match formula. There's a few sloppy moments (not something I'd critique terribly, but in comparison to WM26 there are far more 'that wasn't pretty' moments) and generally overall I don't find the story delves much further from two iconic legends locking up, aside from the final few minutes where Michaels looks to be the most resilient challenger to the streak yet.
WM26? Well the spot where Taker's leg supposedly buckles and tweaks his knee always comes off as a super smart angle injected into the match and is really timed and executed in the most believeable fashion. The subsequent leg selling by Taker is better than anything I can recall in the 25 match minus the tombstone kickout and immediate Taker facial expression, and the way Michaels fakes out Taker to see if the injury is legitn as a callback spot to the year before where Michaels resorted to mind-game tactics to sneak an advantage really impressed me. Then the callback spots to Taker/Angle NWO 2006 and Michaels/Flair with HBK utilising the hells gate floatover counter and the inverted figure four submission he hadn't used since 2008..everything just advanced and progressed the story and Michaels put in arguably one of his stronger main event performances post comeback, although Taker was the clear better performer in my eyes.
The nearfalls weren't as dramatic early on, since people were conditioned to what it would reasonably take to end the match, but that's a minor quibble and honestly I didn't buy the first couple of finishers in the WM25 match. Aside from it being a staple of the WWE Main Event style, Taker's streak matches had had those big nearfalls since the Batista match at WM23. Even in the finishing stretch of 26 however, you've got Michaels becoming a near equivalent of what Flair had become 2 years prior: an aging wrestler slowly realising the certainty of his defeat but ultimately bowing down to a superior opponent rather than continue to wrestle a hopeless match. Even the closest thing to a botch in the match actually advances the story of Taker's injury, namely the moonsault through the table.
So aye, 25 probably has the better pacing and creates a more unique atmosphere being it was their first match together in 11 years, but in terms of story, selling and building the in ring action around a clear narrative, I find the 26 match to be far deeper and layered. In terms of a pretty woeful comparison, its the Vendetta Danielson/Strong whereas 25 feels like their first encounter (This Means War?).