He was born in 1965 as Michael Shawn Hickenbottom. In 1984, after training with Jose Lothario, he became Shawn Michaels. In the 28 years since, he has been known as The Heartbreak Kid, The Showstopper, and The Main Event. Since 1992, he has earned the title, Mr. WrestleMania.
Michaels debuted in late 1984 at the age of 19 with Mid-South Wrestling. Over the next 3 years he worked in solo and tag wrestling in Texas All Star Wrestling for Chavo Guerrero, Sr. where he carried the Tag Team Championship with Paul Diamond. He then moved to Central States Wrestling where he met Marty Janetty, becoming the Central States Tag Team Champions.
In 1986, he and Janetty joined the American Wrestling Association (AWA) as the Midnight Rockers, a young and cool tag team similar to the Rock-N-Roll express of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. The pair was immediately popular, girls loved their looks and the guys were impressed with their high flying ring style. They also caught the eye of Vince McMahon who signed them as soon as he was able and brought them to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF)……for 2 weeks. After an alleged bar incident that has been disputed for years, the pair was fired almost immediately after their debut.
After another short stint back in the AWA, Michaels and Janetty would be forgiven and return to the WWF, this time, as simply, The Rockers. Over the next 3 years, the pair became a fixture on television and pay-per-view events, having many matches against the company’s top teams, including the Killer Bees, British Bulldogs, and most notably, the Hart Foundation. Michaels and Janetty even made it to WrestleMania, losing to the Twin Towers at WrestleMania V and The Orient Express at WrestleMania VI. The Rockers would manage a win at WrestleMania VII over the Barbarian and Haku.
Shawn may have gone on as a mid-card talent had it not been for the only memorable episode of Brutus Beefcake’s “Barber Shop” from December 1991. Michaels stunned the audience by turning on his longtime partner, beating and kicking him, and then putting him through a window. With a loud exclamation point, the Rockers were no more. The company paired him with Sensational Sherri, he adopted the name, “The Heartbreak Kid”, and he started his solo career as an ultra-cocky villain, so obnoxious that he sang his own entrance music.
Shawn made his solo debut on “The Grandest Stage of Them All” at the opening match of WrestleMania VIII, defeating El Matador in a very underrated match. (Who the hell is El Matador you ask? You likely know him better as Tito Santana) Over the next year, he unsuccessfully attempted to wrestle the Intercontinental and World Titles from Randy Savage and Bret Hart multiple times. However, he won his first of 3 Intercontinental Titles from the British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith in October 1992 at Saturday Night’s Main Event.
At WrestleMania IX, he lost to Tatanka, once again in the opening match, but once again, even though he was wrestling a large cardboard cutout of a human being, he managed a strong, technically superior match. In May, he lost his title to his former partner, Marty Janetty in a hugely entertaining match, but he would regain his title 1 month later thanks to the debut of Michaels’ new bodyguard, Diesel. Later that year, Shawn would leave the company. The reason for this is under some dispute, but most believe that this was steroid related, a charge Shawn loudly protests. He would soon return to the WWF, and the company would be 1 titleholder heavy.
Razor Ramon had been named Intercontinental Champion after Michaels left and the company vacated the title. Shawn, having never lost the belt, called himself The True Intercontinental Champ. This rivalry would culminate in a classic ladder match at WrestleMania X, one of the truly great matches in WrestleMania history. Razor would win the belt, but all the fans who watched were the real winners. Hell, I’ve written about it twice in 2 weeks and that was 20 years ago.
Later that year, Shawn and Diesel would claim the WWF Tag Team Championships from The Headshrinkers, but immediately split up as a team after Shawn super-kicked him; causing Diesel to lose his newly won Intercontinental Title. Shawn would obtain the services of Sycho Sid as his replacement bodyguard and, after winning the Royal Rumble, he would face Diesel for the WWF Championship at WrestleMania XI. But, once again, he came up short in his quest to be WWF Champ. He was attacked by Sid the next night, with Diesel of all people coming to Shawn’s aid and fending off his attacker. Shawn would take a period of time away from the company, citing injuries received during the attack as the reason.
By this point, Shawn’s ring ability had peaked and he was regarded by many as one the elite workers in the wrestling business. He also had become known for his heavy partying, and his friendship with the “Kliq”, Triple H (Jean Levesque), Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), the 1-2-3 Kid (Sean Waltman), and Diesel (Kevin Nash). Under a watchful eye from Vince McMahon, his co-workers, and fans, Shawn returned in early 1995, defeating Jeff Jarrett in a terrific match at the May “In Your House” event, capturing his 3rd Intercontinental Title. In October, Michaels was attacked outside a bar in Syracuse, NY and he was unable to defend his belt, forfeiting it to Dean Douglas.
The Heartbreak Kid made his return at the Royal Rumble and won for the 2nd straight year, going on to WrestleMania XII against Bret Hart for the WWF Championship. The 2 great workers would tear the house down in an epic Iron Man match which lasted over an hour. In the end, Shawn Michaels would finally win his first ever WWF Championship. In May of 1996, he and the rest of the “Kliq” would participate in the “Curtain Call”. Diesel and Ramon had signed with WCW and were in their last night in the company. After Michaels defeated Diesel, they were joined Triple H and Razor, joining in a group hug to say goodbye to their friends, an unheard of “lifting of the curtain”.
Later that year, Shawn lost and regained his WWF Championship to Sycho Sid before vacating the title in another landmark moment, when Shawn “lost his smile”. In reality, he underwent surgery and was unable to perform, many feeling the timing made so that he could avoid losing the belt to Bret Hart at WrestleMania XIII. The personal animosity between the 2 stars was so well known at this point that anything seemed possible between them. Bret did television interviews at the time claiming the entire injury was a fake.
At Survivor Series ’97, Shawn Michaels would face Bret Hart again for the WWF Championship. Bret was leaving the company days later and didn’t want to lose his title to Shawn; instead, Vince McMahon and he agreed Bret would drop the belt to Ken Shamrock the next night. What followed would become known as the “Montreal Screwjob”. Michaels placed Hart in his own finishing move and immediately referee Earl Hebner rang the bell, handing the title over to HBK. Triple H quickly came ringside and escorted Michaels away from ringside with the WWF Championship, while Bret Hart cursed at, spat on, and punched Vince. Michaels would not admit his part in this event for a decade.
By this time, Shawn, Triple H, and Chyna had formed Degeneration X. The WWF had fully entered “The Attitude Era” with Shawn Michaels and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as their centerpieces, when tragedy struck. At the 1998 Royal Rumble, Shawn seriously injured his back, damaging 3 discs during a “Casket Match” with Undertaker. Hurting badly, and against doctor’s orders, Shawn went to WrestleMania XIV and with Special Enforcer Mike Tyson’s interference, dropped the WWF Championship to Austin in a match they both hate.
And then, just like that……….he was gone. Over the next 4 years, he would make appearances on WWF television, and had 2 different runs as WWF Commissioner, but the legend was over. This period was good for Shawn however, now married and a father, he stopped drinking and partying altogether. The road life of the wrestling business is a hard one, and by his own admission, it saved his marriage, and probably his life.
By 2002, Michaels had healed himself, physically, and emotionally, so when Vince asked if he would consider a return to the business, he agreed. Shawn had never been happy with the way he left, and ached to change people’s view of him. Shawn Michaels would win the WWF Championship from HHH at Survivor Series ’02 in a jaw dropping match, proof that the “Main Event” still had it. He would drop the title back to HHH not long after at WWE Armageddon. This set up the 2003 Royal Rumble, where Shawn would draw entrant number 1, with Chris Jericho starting at number 2. After Christian aided Jericho in eliminating Michaels a match was set for WrestleMania XIX.
The Jericho/Michaels match, which I referenced in last week’s column, was an epic performance by both men, with each one trying to top the other to the delight of the fans in the arena and around the world. A favorite of mine, I was happy when the hugged afterwards, and even happier when Jericho kicked HBK in the groin. At WrestleMania XX, a spectacular match I should have listed last week, Shawn, HHH, and Chris Benoit battled in a true slugfest. The emotions in this one are so strong, no matter who you are pulling for, it feels as though they can win or lose the match time and time again. Ultimately however, Benoit would take home the WWE Championship that night.
Shawn battled some minor injuries over the next few months, but was ready to go at WrestleMania XXI against Kurt Angle. This is a solid match, but not what I would’ve expected from 2 performers of their caliber. Angle would claim victory with an ankle lock submission, but the pair had a much better rematch on RAW a couple of months later. Shawn would deliver “Sweet Chin Music” and redeem himself, once again having best match of the night. WrestleMania XXII saw Michaels defeat Vince McMahon in a “No Holds Barred” match (I mean, who hasn’t?) with apparent interference from half of the locker room, most notably, all 5 members of the Spirit Squad.
Much to the delight of fans, Shawn Michaels and HHH would reform DX a few months later, continuing to feud with Vince & Shane McMahon. During this, Shawn would enter into a feud with John Cena, which led up to a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania XXIII. Cena would prevail, and have in my opinion, his best match to date. Shawn was his usual big game self, carrying the crowd with him at every moment. After the match, Shawn’s issues with Vince continued, and at WrestleMania XXIV, he would be forced by the McMahon’s to face the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair in a “Retirement Match”. This is an emotional match, albeit not technically sound, due largely to the fact that Flair was in his late 50s. Everyone remembers Shawn mouthing the words “I’m sorry” before delivering “Sweet Chin Music” and ending Flairs long and storied career.
Michaels feuded with Chris Jericho over the next several months, branded as a bad guy for ending his good friend Flair’s career (of course, he was asked by Flair to do him the honor). Some terrific matches ensued but faded away into memory when HBK challenged the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXV. If you’ve read my stuff before, you know what I think of this match, BEST WRESTLEMANIA MATCH EVER. I’ve already praised it to death, so I will leave it at that. After losing to the Undertaker, Shawn would take a hiatus from wrestling.
At the behest of HHH, in a very funny episode of RAW, HBK would rejoin Triple H and reform DX one more time. (after super-kicking a loudmouth 12-year-old girl mind you) Degeneration X would do what they had never done; capture the WWE Tag Team Belts. The pair would carry them until February 2010, losing them to Miz and Big Show. Shawn also laid to rest a demon from his past, apologizing to Bret Hart in public for his part in the “Montreal Screwjob”.
Demons exercised, Shawn then set out to take 1 more attempt at Undertaker’s streak. His request denied, HBK was forced to take drastic measures to get his rematch. He would interfere and cost Undertaker the WWE Championship. The 2 legends met again at WrestleMania XXVI, the Streak vs. Shawn Michael’s Career. The result was the same, Undertaker ran his streak to 18-0, and “The Heartbreak Kid” was done. He would deliver a dramatic and emotional retirement speech the next night on RAW.
I didn’t intend to write such a long passage here, but Michaels is an interesting figure. His life is like a Tolstoy novel, a talented, flawed, egomaniacal man, meets success, failure, and finally finds peace and redemption. My favorite performer of all time, I hope you stayed with me and please dear readers, keep your shoulders off the mat.
I always leave you with something, here is Shawn Michaels’ retirement tribute: