WrestleMania Main Event frontrunner?

WrestleMania Main Event frontrunner?

AUSTIN, Texas -- As a groggy, stunned Shawn Michaels gathered his breath, he looked up the ramp at the Frank Erwin Center and gazed at a winded, but exuberant, Jeff Hardy. The Intercontinental Champion's body ached and his lower pierced lip was bloody from a blow taken from HBK during their first-ever encounter -- a prelude to their showdown with Triple H, Umaga, Chris Jericho and JBL in the Elimination Chamber this Sunday at No Way Out.

But Hardy was jubilant because he had just defeated the legendary Showstopper and quite possibly emerged as the frontrunner to win the Chamber and earn an opportunity at the WWE Champion at WrestleMania XXIV. (WATCH)

Our fans were abuzz as HBK and Hardy pushed each other beyond their limits. In some ways, they were watching two warriors who are mirror images of each other. Hardy's career has somewhat paralleled HBK's.

Like The Showstopper, he first made his impact in WWE as a revolutionary tag team specialist with his brother Matt. Like HBK, he has become known for stealing the show with his breathtaking, devil-may-care style and has worn the Intercontinental Championship numerous times. And as our fans have watched Michaels evolve and become one of the most decorated, respected Superstars in history, they have also seen Hardy grow and become one of WWE's elite.

You Can't Always Get What You Want

HBK often smiles when he sees Hardy -- he remembers when the Cameron, N.C., native debuted. Hardy reminds Michaels of himself from years past. Michaels, too, has watched Hardy grow. Meanwhile, Hardy has always admired HBK and will always respect his accomplishments. He ultimately wants to have the career that The Showstopper has had.

Hardy has competed at WrestleMania several times and his trophy case is nothing to sneeze at. But he has never been in the main event at WrestleMania; he has never held the WWE Title. Since he was a young boy playing on a trampoline in his father's backyard, Hardy has dreamt about main-eventing WrestleMania and winning the WWE Championship.

The problem is HBK -- and four other crème de la crème Superstars -- want the same thing. No matter how much mutual respect they have, Michaels and Hardy showed tonight that they were very willing to tear into each other and gain some momentum going into the Elimination Chamber Match at No Way Out. No Way Out Preview ...

Baptism By Fire

If anyone had any doubt about Hardy's toughness heading into his first Elimination Chamber, he may have opened skeptics' eyes tonight. Michaels, the winner of the first Elimination Chamber Match in 2002, punished the Intercontinental Champion. Composed of 10 tons of steel and two miles of chain, the Elimination Chamber is WWE's most ominous, unforgiving structure. Buckets of blood have been spilled and no one is quite the same after experiencing the Chamber.

But when Hardy persevered after enduring Michaels' onslaught and tasting his own blood, he showed that he was more than ready for his first foray into the Chamber. When he ultimately stunned HBK with a Twist of Fate and then drove the breath out of his body with his trademark Swanton Bomb, he made believers out of roaring onlookers at the Frank Erwin Center. (PHOTOS)

And judging from Michaels' glazed gaze at the end of their match, Hardy made a believer out of him, too -- as well as the four other combatants he will battle in the Elimination Chamber on Sunday. Will the Intercontinental Champion raise his hands in victory again at No Way Out? Did he give WWE a glimpse of WrestleMania's future? Hardy may want to beware -- possible frontrunners often have the biggest bull's-eyes on their backs.

Check back with WWE.com for video coverage of No Way Out throughout this weekend, live from Las Vegas.

Check out all of Jeff Hardy's gear at WWE Shop...

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