TJR Classic: My Tribute to WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels

This article was originally written on April 1, 2010 just a few days after Shawn Michaels wrestled his last match ever at WrestleMania 26 against The Undertaker. That show was on March 28, 2010, so this was written later that week. I think it’s the best article I’ve ever written about professional wrestling because “The Heartbreak Kid” is my favorite wrestler ever. This article was originally posted on my old site (back then it was thejohnreport.net and later tjrwrestling.com), but sadly that site was deleted and we lost everything on there. It was out of my hands. I’m not happy about it. Anyway, I figure that a lot of you may not have read this column when I did it eight years ago, so why not repost it? I have had some long-time readers request it, so I figure it’s as good of a time as any to share it again especially with my Bruce Prichard and Conrad Thompson doing a “Something Else to Wrestle” with episode about Michaels on WWE Network this week.

A little known fact about this column is that when I posted originally, I got a lot of email from wrestling fans because I was asking for favorite Shawn Michaels memories. There were hundreds of emails. One of the guys that emailed me was just starting out his wrestling career and a few years later ended up in WWE. He’s currently on the main roster. I don’t want to reveal his name, but it was very cool to hear from him back then and see what he has become today.

I’m excited to share this with you, but I need to point out that for some reason I’m blocked by @shawnmichaels on Twitter. It’s been a few years and I have no idea what I did. I don’t remember ever tweeting him and if I did, I doubt I was mean to him! Anyway, if you want to help me out to try to get him to unblock me @johnreport that would be awesome. It’s not a big deal either way. I just think it’s weird. Anyway, here’s the column.

Thank You Shawn Michaels by John Canton

This past Sunday at WrestleMania 26, Shawn Michaels retired from active competition. Without question, he is one of the best professional wrestlers ever. Is it for good? He says so. If it isn’t for good, will we be mad at him for it? I doubt it. That’s the relationship that Shawn Michaels has built up with wrestling fans that grew up watching this man perform at a high level 25 years. We’ve been fortunate enough to watch him grow up before our eyes as we’ve grown up as well. The guy that Shawn Michaels was in the 1990s was much different than the man we saw tearing up in Phoenix as he gave his farewell address to the wrestling world. His story is one of growth, dedication to one’s craft, natural ability and the kind of determination that only the best seem to be capable of showcasing. It’s one of the most amazing stories of any professional wrestler in the history of the business. What made his story so interesting and what made us care so much about him? To answer that, we need to go back to the beginning.

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“From an all-around standpoint, professionally in the ring, I don’t think that Shawn has any peers. I think that Shawn, in all likelihood, is in a class all by himself.” – Vince McMahon

The story of Michael Shawn Hickenbottom is well known. Growing up he had no interest in anything else other than being a pro wrestler. When he brought home bad grades from school (he always says his GPA was about a 1.5, which is not good) he convinced his parents to let him try to be a professional wrestler when he was 19 years old. It was the only thing he wanted to do in his life. He went after it hard, making the rounds in the indy circuit before catching on in the AWA with Marty Jannetty as the Midnight Rockers. Eventually, he made it to the big time with Vince McMahon’s growing World Wrestling Federation in the late 1980s. It was a situation that was the right place at the right time. It was about getting your foot in the door. The Rockers run as a tag team didn’t see them officially become tag team champions even though they were a very good team that was popular with the fans. It was time for the Rockers to break up in 1992 and Shawn was about to turn heel.

In terms of memorable heel turns, Michaels turning on Jannetty is probably in the top five of all time in WWE history. They were getting interviewed on the Barber Shop, a talk show hosted by Brutus Beefcake, when Michaels attacked and threw Marty through the glass barbershop window. The crowd was screaming. Michaels was acting like a jerk up to that point, but to turn on his partner like that? It was shocking. That’s what made it so great. From there, his career as a cocky, on the rise, midcard heel began. Michaels went from being the Rocker with the flowing blond locks that the ladies loved to being the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels that the ladies still loved while the men hated him due to what he did to Marty and his cocky attitude.

It’s important to note that the timing of his career taking off was also perfect for him. It came at a time when Vince McMahon was being investigated for possibly dealing steroids to wrestlers (he was acquitted), so the company started to phase out the really big muscular guys. Of course, they still had plenty of them, but it was also the year when Bret Hart, Ric Flair and Randy Savage (all smaller wrestlers by WWF standards) would hold the WWF World Title.

They added a terrific heel manager in Sensational Sherri to Shawn’s act in order to help his singles career take off even more. It worked. Michaels’ act as the “Sexy Boy” appealed to some, but angered people more. He was a heel on the rise that was able to have good matches, cut strong promos and since he was still in his 20s he could be somebody that Vince McMahon could count on in the future.

The next phase of his career lasted a couple of years with Michaels being the centerpiece of the Intercontinental Title division. For the younger readers out there, the late 80s and the 90s was a period when the IC title meant something. It wasn’t the joke title that we see it as now. It was a precious commodity that elevated the talent that held it. For a guy like Michaels it cemented his place in the company. The most famous match surrounding the IC title, possibly ever, is the one that took place at WrestleMania X in 1994 against Razor Ramon. They had the first ever televised Ladder match in WWF history. It was a breathtaking match featuring memorable bumps, highspots and a finish that would set the stage for every ladder match that would follow. Some say it hasn’t been topped in terms of ladder matches. Others, like myself, say their ladder match at Summerslam 1995 was even better than the first one although it’s not remembered as fondly since it wasn’t at a WrestleMania. Without the Intercontinental Title to help his stature rise in the eyes of the fans, Michaels would have taken even longer to get to where he arrived next: the main event.

If you were watching the WWF in the mid-90s you probably didn’t know that by this time Michaels was wielding a lot of power backstage. Although the company didn’t have “writers” to this point, they had a booking committee that had influence on what would be presented. Michaels quickly found himself in that position due to his passion for the business although his detractors would point to it as sucking up to the boss, which it probably was to some degree. He was part of a group called “The Kliq” that also featured Kevin “Diesel” Nash, Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall, the 1-2-3 Kid Sean Waltman and Paul “Hunter Hearst Helmsley” Levesque. They formed a really tight bond that usually doesn’t exist in wrestling. Wrestlers by nature are a fickle bunch. It’s a business where few true friendships are formed because, as most of them say, you never know who you can really trust. The guy that’s your friend one day is talking badly about you to management the next just because they want your spot. The Kliq was different because they had each other’s back. They still do to this day. Good for them, but bad for people that got in their way.

By 1995, after a three year run as a heel that saw him win the 1995 Royal Rumble and lose a WWF Title Match at WrestleMania 11 to Diesel, Michaels turned babyface. His bodyguard Sid gave him multiple powerbombs in a vicious attack, so Shawn took some time off, came back and was one of the most popular guys on the roster. While his heel character was great, it seemed as though his offense in the ring was more conducive to being a babyface.

There was no better seller in the company, which meant being a babyface would allow him to showcase those skills more often. Since he was smaller than a lot of his bigger opponents, it allowed him to show off that God-given natural talent that he had. Having desire is great, but he also had the natural gifts to run faster, jump higher and take more punishment than most of his peers. As a result of Michaels’ babyface turn, he started to have the best matches (along with Bret Hart) on the show. He became a consistently good worker. In the summer of 1995, he had two classic matches on PPV (one against Jeff Jarrett at the July In Your House and Summerslam against Razor Ramon in the ladder match rematch) and just as it looked like his career was really going to take off, there was an incident in Syracuse.

It was known in the business that Michaels liked to party. He drank, he used drugs and he lived the “rock star” lifestyle that we’ve all heard so much about. After a live event in Syracuse, he went out to a bar with Davey Boy Smith and Sean Waltman where they got into an altercation with a group of guys that ranged anywhere from six to ten of them. (It was probably less than that.) While we don’t know what was said (you can only imagine what a bunch of locals could say to some drunken wrestlers when they had the numbers) we know what happened. They beat Michaels up badly.


The locals injured Michaels to the point where he had to give up the Intercontinental Title that he held at the time. Remember that influence that was discussed? After forfeiting the title to Dean “Shane” Douglas at the October In Your House, it was Michaels’ real life friend Razor Ramon that would carry the belt as the next champion. Douglas would get fired from the WWF soon after and cut promos against Michaels for years wherever he went. To the WWF’s credit, they used the Syracuse angle to build Michaels up even more as a babyface while also helping Owen Hart out. During a match on Raw after Michaels returned, he collapsed in the ring in what looked to be a very serious injury as a result of the concussion he suffered in Syracuse. A lot of people believed it was real. If you were watching the WWF during that time period you probably remember a video called “Tell Me a Lie” that they played for weeks before Shawn came back. Michaels ended up selling the injury until the 1996 Royal Rumble, which he won for the second year in a row although this time it was as a babyface. They were able to turn the real-life ass kicking to an on camera angle that elevated the status of Michaels in the eyes of the fans. He was definitely the future of the company.

For a lot of WWF fans, myself included, the 1990s were a tough time to watch the product. The company was full of ridiculous gimmicks (The Narcissist, Ludvig Borga, Duke “The Dumpster” Droese, The Goon to name a few) that made it tough to watch. There were, however, two guys that kept most of us watching: Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. They were simply better than everybody else on the roster. Anybody could see it. Bret was a technical wrestling master while Michaels was more of the athletic type that took risks to get the job done. They each had a lot of fans and when they wrestled at WrestleMania 12 in the Ironman match it was one of the most anticipated matches ever. In Bret’s book, he wrote about how he didn’t think it was fair that he was working all the house shows in the months leading up to the match while Shawn was able to stay at home to train for it. In Shawn’s book, he wrote about how it bothered him that Bret wasn’t in the WWF while Shawn was champion the way that Shawn was there for him. They are both hyper-competitive guys that wanted to be the best at what they did. Ultimately, what could have been one of the best rivalries on screen if they were able to co-exist (imagine how good Shawn vs. Bret would have been as a feud over several months?) became the biggest legitimate rivalry between two main eventers possibly in the history of wrestling. In Bret’s book, he mentioned that Shawn told Earl Hebner to get Bret out of the ring because it was his moment and he used some very colorful language to do it. It was the start of what became typical behavior for Shawn Michaels.

Shawn’s first WWE Championship run went really well in terms of quality matches. Along with the Bret match, he also had ****+ matches with Diesel, Vader and Mankind on PPV along with a number of really good TV matches. The problem was as a business the WWF wasn’t doing very well. It didn’t help that in the summer of 1996, Hulk Hogan turned heel while in WCW to form the New World Order with Shawn’s friends Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. It weighed on his conscience a lot and it changed him. The pressures of being World Champion are not easy to deal with and everybody deals with it in different ways. It affected Shawn on screen and off.

The year 1996 also included the infamous “MSG Incident” where Michaels, Nash, Hall and HHH broke character to hug in the ring on the last night of Hall and Nash. McMahon was furious when he found out about it or at least some people were mad about it. There are various stories saying Vince was okay with it, but who knows what is really true? Michaels went unpunished due to being the WWF Champion while HHH got his King of the Ring push taken away from him while having to spend the next year trying to get back to where he was supposed to be. Who won that 1996 King of the Ring? Steve Austin. That worked out pretty well. It was one of the first signs that Shawn’s life, not just career, was veering down the wrong path.

The 1997 year was a monumental one for the WWF and Shawn was no exception. He started the year winning the World Title back from Sid at the 1997 Royal Rumble, who he had lost it to a couple months prior at Survivor Series 1996, and a month after that he gave it up. The thing was, just like the Syracuse incident, he didn’t do it in the ring. Shawn cited a knee injury and gave it up in a tearful goodbye at a special Thursday edition of Raw in February. It was the infamous “lost my smile” speech where he talked about losing the love he had for the business. In his autobiography, he wrote about how at the time the doctors told him he couldn’t come back from the knee injury. Meanwhile, other wrestlers and skeptics were critical of that. Shawn was working a week before he gave up the belt and he didn’t have any surgery on the knee. When he came back three months later in May to win the tag titles with Steve Austin against Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith (one of the best Raw matches ever by the way), Shawn did not look like somebody that had a career-threatening injury.

The knee injury is something that HBK haters will always bring up even to this day as a sign that he was a selfish guy. And you know what? He definitely was selfish. If he could walk, he should have lost the belt in the ring. Instead, he gave it up in a speech. Tensions mounted when he returned, things got personal with Bret in some of their promos (“Sunny Days”) and it eventually led to a legit fight between the two men in June 1997. Michaels was so furious that he threatened to quit the company, but there was no way Vince was letting him go. Not one to miss an opportunity, Vince had Shawn return at Summerslam 1997 as the referee of the Hart/Undertaker title match where he accidentally helped Hart win the title.

This angle also launched a great feud against the Undertaker that led to the legendary Hell in a Cell match at Badd Blood 1997. That was Shawn in 1997. Shawn was unreliable and crazy in many ways, but it was arguably the best year of his career in terms of the heel promos he was delivering. Why were they so good? Probably because the jerk he portrayed on screen was a lot like the guy he was backstage.

In November of 1997, we all know what happened. Survivor Series. Montreal. Screwjob. Bret Hart didn’t want to put over Shawn Michaels for the WWF Title in Montreal, so Vince McMahon and Shawn screwed over Bret to put the WWF Title back on Michaels as the top guy. Shawn denied involvement until they decided to reveal it on TV in a WWE Confidential segment over five years later. Of course, Bret knew that Shawn was in on it and a lot of people suspected he was, which alienated him from the locker room even more. Bret was loved by the majority of them; Shawn was not. When Shawn says his only friend was Triple H he’s probably right. Hunter stuck by him through thick and thin. The Degeneration X act was taking off because it was edgier than anything the wrestling business had ever seen. They were making lewd jokes, insulting everybody and being over the top in everything that they did. It worked. Sure, Steve Austin and The Rock should be credited as the main catalysts in the resurgence of the WWF in 1998, but Michaels being Michaels certainly helped too. And then it fell apart.

Royal Rumble 1998. Casket match versus the Undertaker. It was arguably the most defining moment in Shawn’s career. Michaels took a bump over the top rope onto the floor except this time, his lower back hit the edge of the casket at ringside. He was able to finish the match, which he won, but his in-ring career wouldn’t be the same. Michaels had a serious back injury. Let’s not forget about that knee injury from 1997. Was he really hurt or was he trying to make a scene again? This one was legit.

Michaels didn’t wrestle another match until WrestleMania 14, which ended up being his last match ever…or so we thought. There’s a story out there suggesting that the Undertaker gave him a threatening look backstage as if to say if you don’t put Steve over I’m going to kick your ass. Michaels denied it in his book, but you know how stories in the wrestling business go. Other people said that it happened. If enough people say it, more people are going to believe it. He gutted it out that night against Steve Austin, putting him over clean. Watch the match. He’s not just selling when he grabs at his back. He’s legitimately hurt. I wonder how many painkillers he was on that night just to make it through. The story goes that he wasn’t even able to walk out of the ring at the end of the match. He literally had to be helped back by Hunter. Of course, the HBK haters all said it was karma for being a jerk all those years. His reputation had been built up as somebody that you either really loved or really hated. There didn’t seem to be an in between.

At that time in March of 1998, everybody thought that Shawn Michaels had wrestled his last wrestling match at age 33. And you know what else? Shawn likely believed it too.

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“The ability to be the most hated man in the business – as a character and for real – and live through it. Then, take a four year sabbatical to heal and come back at the level he’s returned is nothing short of extraordinary. And then to see the man that Shawn Michaels has become is truly the greatest success story of all.” – Jim Ross

Between 1998 and 2002 a lot of things changed in Shawn’s life. He had come back to the WWF as an on screen commissioner, he had major surgery on his back (even the haters believed it when they saw the scar), he opened a wrestling school (where he helped train the likes of Daniel Bryan, Bryan Kendrick, Lance Cade and Paul London among others), he ran his own promotion (TWA where he actually had a match that involved little bumping), he married a Nitro Girl (Whisper was her Nitro Girl name), he became a father, he overcame his addictions after a long battle and he found God. That last one might have been the most important change because by developing a faith in Jesus Christ he became a new man spiritually. I can remember the time in early 2002 when I read about how Michaels was a different guy backstage during his time as a member of the ill-conceived NWO. He didn’t show up looking like he was passed out anymore. I mention that because there was an incident backstage in 2001 where he showed up in no condition to perform and he was sent home by management. He was reborn. Little did we know, so was his wrestling career.

Summerslam 2002. The return. I’ve never been more emotional going into a match. I don’t know Shawn Michaels. I’ve never met him and probably never well. That night, though, much like a lot of people I felt like I knew him. Every time he took a bump I cringed. “What if that’s the bump that keeps him down for good?” Those were the thoughts we had. Cryptic? Perhaps. It’s just that how realistic was it for somebody to take four and a half years off only to come back looking like he hadn’t missed a beat? Is this really happening? When you look back on it eight years later you realize it was one of the best jobs of selling that HBK ever did. We bought it. We believed it. We were able to be young kids again for at least that match. I can remember the New York crowd oohing and ahhing every time Triple H hit a simple move like a backbreaker. Sure, we knew wrestling was “fake,” but at least on this night it felt real to us. Remember the moment when he climbed the ladder, looked out to the crowd, did the “crazy” motion with his hands and leaped off from the ladder? That was Shawn Michaels telling us he was back. At the time, I doubt he realized he’d wrestle for another eight years at such a high level, but you could see on his face that night that he felt “home” in the ring again. When he won the match, we rejoiced although it didn’t last because Triple H attacked him post match to continue the angle. “Hey, he just got attacked. That means he’s going to wrestle again!” Yes, he was.

Once he got through that Summerslam match, it seemed like everything was going to be okay. He won the World Title (for the last time, it turns out) at Survivor Series 2002, dropped it a month later to Triple H, returned at WrestleMania 19 for the first time at WrestleMania in five years in a classic against Chris Jericho that Michaels won. From that point on, he became a regular performer on the Raw brand up until his retirement. Along the way, he had his fair share of injuries with his knees leading to Michaels wearing leather pants to cover his knee braces, but the back held up. His work did too.

Michaels went on to have an incredible run as the veteran babyface that worked with younger wrestlers. He put them over too. A lot. Randy Orton. Triple H. Batista. John Cena. Chris Benoit. Kurt Angle. Edge. Chris Jericho. The old Shawn Michaels never did that. There’s a story, whether true or not is up to who you ask, out there from 1997 about how Shawn told the entire locker room that he’s not losing to anybody ever. In a business where losing matches is the best way to help the company build new stars, this top guy was refusing that. It didn’t happen in the 2000s, though. He became the model employee that all the younger wrestlers could look up to as a mentor. (Side note: Funny thing about the haters. They are consistent. You talk to them about how he was a model employee for 7 years and they’ll mention the “lose my smile” speech from 1997 because to them he’ll always be that guy rather than the guy that apologized for his past transgressions years later.)

If you look at the run he had from 2002 to 2010 you could say it was arguably better than his peak run from 1992 to 1998. He had plenty of WWE feud of the year contenders including 2003 with Jericho, 2004 with HHH/Benoit, 2005 with Angle and 2008 with Jericho as well as Match of the Year contenders. If you want to check them out, the ones that stand out are 2002 with HHH at Summerslam, 2003 with Jericho at WrestleMania, 2004 with HHH/Benoit at WrestleMania, 2005 with Angle at WrestleMania, 2007 with Cena in England, 2008 with Jericho at No Mercy, 2009 with Undertaker at WrestleMania 25 and even 2010 with Undertaker at WrestleMania 26.

Michaels only held a World Title for one month during this second part of his career, which is confusing in some ways, but understandable as well. The story goes (and again take this however you want) that Vince wanted to put a belt on him a few different times during the last decade. Michaels apparently refused it because he was only a part-timer that wasn’t working house shows. He felt like it should be on a full-time wrestler that defended the title on the road at non-televised events. It was another example of how the selfish Shawn Michaels morphed into doing things the “right way” that all wrestlers are taught.

At WrestleMania 26, in what Shawn has said is his last match ever (we think), he went out with a bang. The consensus seems to be that even though it wasn’t as good as the WrestleMania 25 match with Undertaker it’s still one of the best matches ever. Remember, this was his last match. The guy did a moonsault off the top rope onto a table in his last match. That one spot epitomized Shawn Michaels: Crazy, but always willing to do it for the fans.

The story of Michaels going from Rocker to Future Star to Jerk to Nearly Crippled to Returning Hero is very unlikely, yet in a business full of phony people, his story over the course of 25 years ended up being the most real of them all. It’s like a conquering hero movie come to life.

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“For me, Shawn Michaels as a total package is my favorite wrestler of all time. The charisma, the match quality, innovation, pioneering, interview style, moves that I’ve never seen before and moves that I’ve seen every day. All of it, to me, Shawn Michaels is the greatest of all-time.” – Chris Jericho

The term “best ever” in any subject is up for debate. They are discussions that we’ve all had throughout our lives for a number of different reasons. What’s the best movie ever? Who’s the best athlete ever? What’s the greatest musical act ever? People like to argue, to have their voice be heard and to get their point across, whatever it may be. When wrestling fans talk about the best wrestlers ever, the same names are always going to come up. One of those names is Shawn Michaels. While it would be foolish to claim that there’s a definitive name that you could pick as the best ever, I will make the case for Michaels by breaking it down into five major categories.

Character – The best wrestlers of all time are usually able to morph into different characters. They have to be the hero as well as the villain at various points in their career. Michaels can do that. Aside from a couple of months where he feuded with Hulk Hogan in 2005 (the promo on Raw in Montreal was incredible), he stayed true to his role as the legendary babyface over the course of the last eight years. He always cited his Christian faith as a big reason for it, not wanting to compromise his beliefs even for a character. In the 1990s, he was at his best as a heel. The rising star era of the Heartbreak Kid really showed that he had main event heel potential while the turn in 1997 signified what was probably the best work of his career. It’s not a coincidence that the character he was in 1997 was, according to him, a lot like the guy he was really like. It’s also not a coincidence that the guy he was these last eight years was like the person he became in his late 30s and 40s as a Christian father of two that was happily married. That’s what they always say in wrestling: The best characters are oftentimes the ones truest to life.

Promo Ability – It’s hard to think that Shawn could be underrated at something, but I feel like he is in terms of his promos. A lot of people don’t remember some of his earlier ones during his singles run in the early 1990s where he was given a chance to get over in those Heartbreak Hotel segments. They did wonders for him because he was able to gain confidence talking in front of the crowd while also getting his character over. By the time he was ready for the main event, he was as good a promo as anybody in the business. His best work came during the heel turn in the summer of 1997 that led to DX forming. As mentioned, it worked because it was who he was.

When he came back in 2002 he was a great mix of serious Shawn with funny Shawn mixed in when he was doing the DX gimmick with Hunter. The heel promo he did in Montreal in 2005 is all-time classic. His comedic timing was as good as anybody I’ve ever seen in wrestling other than The Rock and maybe Mick Foley. In terms of serious promos, he was able to convey his feelings in a way that fans could always relate to. Like he said in his farewell, he was an open book. Sure, he played a character, but when he spoke he felt real to us. There was nothing he couldn’t do on the microphone.

Longevity – Nobody was a main eventer for a longer period of time than Ric Flair, who was a top guy for almost 20 years while wrestling full time for over 30 years. Even in his WWE run in the 2000s, he was nearly a top guy. In Michaels’ case, his main event run went from 1995-1998 and then, of course, he hovered around the title picture for the last eight years, so you’re looking at about 14 years. That’s a very long time to be near the top. Michaels didn’t work the kind of schedule that Flair worked especially in the last decade of his career. When Flair was the top guy he worked 300 days a year. During the last eight years, I doubt Michaels worked more than 60 matches in a year although that was a good strategy because it allowed him to last as long as he did.

The thing that hurts Flair, to me, is that he hung around too long. It’s like how a pro athlete leaves the team they’ve played their entire career on to try to have somewhere else, but it simply doesn’t work. That’s what Flair’s current TNA run feels like. That’s what part of Flair’s run in WWE felt like. Flair lost to Rico of all people at one point. I love Flair and I have so much respect for him, but he has hung around for too long. For Shawn, his last match was one of the best of his career at the biggest show of the year and it was the match of the year too. That’s like a legendary sports star walking away after winning a championship. You can’t do much better than that.

Drawing Power – This is a category that hurts him because he was never the draw that guys like Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, The Rock and even Ric Flair were. His time as the top guy in 1996 was a tough time for the WWF business wise although as mentioned previously the rest of the company was poor. You can make a case that Shawn kept it afloat with his quality matches. His career in the last decade didn’t produce huge numbers although indications are that WrestleMania 26, with him in the main event, is expected to be the most profitable event in company history according to WWE officials. Michaels wasn’t at the level of the biggest draws in WWE history, but he was still main eventing for a very long time and that shows he was marketable as a top guy. He may not have always delivered as much as some of the others, but at least he can say that on his last night he definitely went out with a bang…not to mention a huge paycheck.

In-Ring Ability – Michaels has few peers in this category as far as North American wrestlers go. The list of best American workers should include Michaels, Hart, Flair, Angle and Benoit. What separates Michaels apart from the other four was his ability to adapt to different styles of his opponents better than anybody else. If he wrestled a big guy like Undertaker, Diesel or Vader he was going to be the bump machine that made him look good. If he wrestled a technical wrestler like Hart, Angle or Benoit he was going to try to keep up with them although you could tell he wasn’t at that level technically. The thing is, at least he hung in there. He gave it his all. If he wrestled a smaller wrestler that was a great athlete like him such as Benjamin, Mysterio or Hardy he not only kept up with them, but he was able to outshine them because of his instincts. He had the intangibles that you couldn’t teach.

Michaels knew how to get the crowd into a match if they were dead. He knew when to do the signature sports. The flying forearm. The kip up. The top rope elbow. And of course the Sweet Chin Music. Has there been a more perfect finisher for a guy? Yes, it’s just a straight kick to the head, but he made it mean something more. It worked for Shawn better than it would have worked for anybody else. In my humble opinion, there’s no single wrestler that was able to wrestle as well as HBK against so many different opponents. He’s the definition of a complete all-around worker. There was nothing he couldn’t do in the ring. No limitations. No worries. With HBK in the match, you knew it would deliver. For 25 years.

A Lasting Legacy

Is Shawn Michaels the best wrestler ever? That’s up for debate. Remember that wrestler means different things to different people. To some it means in-ring, others think of it as charisma and some think of it as the ability to cut a promo. In my opinion, it’s an all-encompassing term. My opinion is that he is the best professional wrestler ever because he encompasses everything that you need to have to be considered the best. When he was the bad guy you wanted to see him get his ass kicked. When he was the good guy you wanted to see him overcome the odds. If WWE needed him to deliver a great promo he could do it. If you needed him to sell an injury he was the master. Whatever he was asked to do, he did it to the best of his ability and lucky for us, as fans, that ability was second to none.

Shawn Michaels is my favorite wrestler ever. I don’t know if anybody will ever surpass him in terms of my favorite. I don’t buy that much wrestling merchandise, but I have three of his DVDs, his books and even some VHS tapes from back in the 1990s when they made them about specific wrestlers. There are so many moments I can remember off the top of my head without even looking them up. The images are stuck in my brain and hopefully will stay there until the day I die. They are memories I had as a kid that first saw him in the Rockers, as a teen when he turned heel, as a college-aged student and as a grown man.

There are so many memories. Let’s reminisce, shall we? A rocker. The Barbershop. The ladder match. The other ladder match. The collapse. Tell Me A Lie. Iron Man. “The Boyhood Dream Comes True.” The “smile” speech. Suck it. The chair shot on Taker. The fall off the side of the Cell. The Screwjob. The back injury…long pause…The Comeback. The Elimination Chamber win. The return of Mr. WrestleMania. The Angle series. The promo in Montreal. The hour with Cena. Face meet Jeritron. Reconciling with Bret. WrestleMania with Undertaker Part One. And Part Two. The Farewell Address.

Why are there so many memories? Because we cared about what he did. Why did we care? Because when he said things like: “God, I love this stuff” we believed it. We could see it in his eyes. He’s the guy that dreamed about doing everything that you could in the business that he loved. We loved him for that because for those of us not fortunate to be in his position, we appreciated him for living his dream. And that’s what made Shawn special to us. He was one of us.

Thank you Shawn Michaels for providing us with moments that helped shape us as fans.

Thank you Shawn Michaels for getting men all over the world to memorize the song “Sexy Boy” because we heard it so many times over the years. Wait, that’s not a good thing!

Thank you Shawn Michaels for putting your body on the line week after week, month after month and year after year to put a smile on our face.

“I have got to travel all over the world. I have got to meet millions of people. I have got to listen to each and every one of you for the majority of my life. I have spent more of my adult life with each and every one of you than I have with my own family. And I tell ya I don’t say that with regrets. I thank you all so much for giving me the honor and the privilege to come out here and let me show off in front of you every night of my life.” – Shawn Michaels on Monday Night Raw in Phoenix on March 29, 2010

I think that crowd in Phoenix said it best…

“Thank You Shawn”

“Thank You Shawn”

“Thank You Shawn”

Thank you Shawn for all the memories. We will miss you and we will never forget you.

I hope you enjoyed this “Throwback Thursday” article. I can honestly tell you that it’s nearly 7,000 words and as I read through it again, I wish I could have spent more time talking about specific great moments, but it was a long enough article as it is.

My contact info is below. Thanks for reading.

John Canton

Email mrjohncanton@gmail.com

Twitter @johnreport

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