From 1995-2001, pro wrestling benefited greatly from what was dubbed the ‘Monday Night Wars’. USA Network was the broadcast partner for World Wrestling Entertainment (World Wrestling Federation at the time) while Turner Network Television broadcasted World Championship Wrestling, billionaire Ted Turner’s entrance to the pro wrestling market.
At the time, USA and TNT were back and forth on who was garnered the most viewers in a given week. WCW made great strides with talents like Goldberg, The Four Horsemen, and one of the greatest factions in all of pro wrestling, the NWO (New World Order). TNT and WCW enjoyed tremendous success and even outperformed USA and WWE in some weeks, but Vince McMahon and the WWE were always going to be kings. A large part of that success can be contributed to the greatest wrestler of all time, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels.
After making his first appearance in the WWE in 1987 with Marty Jannetty as the duo “The Rockers”, Michaels would eventually become a fan favorite. In the mid-to-early 90s, Michaels was prominently what is referred to as a ‘heel’, or a villian, in the WWE. After adopting the mantra ‘The Heartbreak Kid’, Michaels began to personify the fan favorite tag he enjoys today.
The first match I remember as a kid that made Shawn Michaels my favorite wrestler was the ladder match between him and Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania 10. In 1994, at 9 years old, this was all a kid could ask for in terms of excitement and drama. At 9, you are fully convinced that every single punch, kick, and flying elbow is 100% real. The drama and excitement were palpable. Even while losing the match, the fans got one of the greatest matches of all time.
After winning the 1995 Royal Rumble, Michaels faced off against Diesel in the Wrestlemania 11 main event, losing that championship match against his long time friend. He would next take time off from wrestling, allowing the WWE to re-brand him as a fan favorite, wiping away the heel persona.
After winning his second straight Royal Rumble, one of only three do accomplish this feat, Shawn Michaels would once again headline the Wrestlemania main event in the WWE Championship match, this time an ‘Ironman Match’, a timed sixty minute main event. To this day, the entrance of Shawn Michaels is one of the greatest, most exciting moments of all time.
Michaels early career is only the tip of the iceberg, however. The formation of D-Generation X was the WWE’s response to the NWO, and by all accounts was much better received by fans. Teaming up with Triple H, Chyna, and Rick Rude, DX became one of the greatest and most influential stables in pro wrestling.
With Rude being the shortest term member of the faction, new members X-Pac, Billy Gunn, and The Road Dogg joined up and became the main event of almost every single television event the WWE put on. Their extended success gave every member of the group long lasting careers. Triple H is now married to WWE President Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie and serves as Executive Vice President of Talent for the company.
For over 25 years, Shawn Michaels enjoyed great successes in pro wrestling. A three-time WWE Champion, a World Heavyweight Champion, the first Grand Slam Champion, and holder of 10 other championships, Michaels’ name was synonymous with excellence.
Throughout his career, the Heart Break Kid was involved in some of the greatest matches of all time. The previously mentioned Wrestlemania 10 Ladder Match, the 1997 Hell in a Cell match with the Undertaker, the Wrestlmania 14 main event with Stone Cold Steve Austin where he was knocked out by Mike Tyson, my childhood memories are littered with matches that I can immediately recall.
In 2011, Shawn Michaels was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, with an emotional speech not only by himself, but by his presenter, long time friend Triple H.
Now, at 52, the WWE Hall of Famer enjoys success outside the ring. He has a hunting show on CarbonTV called “Shawn Michaels’ MacMillan River Adventures”, has been in a couple movies, recently making his film debut in “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone”.
The career of Shawn Michaels had ups and downs, injuries, rumored drug test failures. Throughout the ups and downs, Michaels found a way to better himself, work harder, and go on to have not only a long career in the squared circle, but outside it as well.
If you have never seen him perform, go on YouTube. Find some old matches. Even knowing now that these matches are staged and pre-planned, there is something riveting about the way he carried himself as a performer and an athlete.
From this lifelong fan, thank you HBK for making my childhood that much more fun.