Shawn Michaels
Stats: 5' 11" 225 lbs.
Real Name: Michael Hickenbottom

"The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels
By Steve Slagle

Throughout the course of its lengthy existence, the World Wrestling Federation has boasted some of the most charismatic, flamboyant & successful Heavyweight Champions in professional wrestling history.  Legends such as "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, Bruno Sammartino, "Superstar" Billy Graham, Hulk Hogan, Bret "Hitman" Hart, The Rock & "Stone Cold" Steve Austin are just a few of the names (among many others) that have a legitimate claim at being called "The Greatest WWF Champion Ever."  Another name that surely needs to be included on this imaginary (yet, in some ways, very real) 'Best of the WWF's Best' list would have to be the colorful, high-flying, cocky & arrogant three-time WWF Heavyweight champ, "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels... 

Despite the fact that Michaels' career was somewhat short when compared to many other wrestling legends, his impact on the "sport" during the nineties is undeniable.  An athlete of smaller stature (relatively speaking), the native of San Antonio, TX. incorporated a high-impact, high-risk & highly exciting style that, along with his controversial nature on camera, propelled Michaels from mid-card tag team status to the top spot in the biggest promotion in the world.  At the same time, "The Heart Break Kid" (along with his 'average' sized predecessor, Bret Hart) proved, without question, that a man didn't have to be gigantic in order to be a successful, money-drawing WWF champion. 

He began his career in his hometown, wrestling for Joe Blanchard's San Antonio-based Southwest Championship Wrestling in the mid-eighties while still a teenager, as well as competing for Bill Watts' Mid South Wrestling.  It was in the S.C.W. territory that Michaels gained his first championship, the Southwest Tag Team title, in September of 1985.  The rookie Michaels captured the championship when (following a break-up with partner Al Madril) Chavo Guerrero, Sr. gave the belts to the young team of Michaels & Paul Diamond, rather than choosing a new partner to replace Madril.  The team of Michaels & Diamond, known as "American Force," only held the Southwest tag title for a month before dropping the straps to The Masked Hoods (Ricky Santana & Tony Torres).  However, the young duo regained the championship belts from The Hoods in November of 1985 and went on to hold the title until January 27, 1986, when they where defeated by the team of Al Madril & The Magnificent Zulu.  Following the end of his run with Diamond, Michaels moved on from SCW and began taking bookings as a singles wrestler in Bob Geigel's Central States Wrestling territory.  While competing in the Kansas City, KS.-based promotion, Michaels met a wrestler who would become a very important figure in his career, Marty Jannety.  It was with the athletic Jannety that Michaels formed The Midnight Rockers and began a partnership that lasted for some six years. 

When Michaels & Jannety formed their team in 1986, the duo of Ricky & Robert, The Rock `n Roll Express, were riding a wave of popularity in the NWA that was rivaled only by The Road Warriors.  Observing the success of Morton & Gibson's unique (at the time) gimmick, Michaels and Jannety shaped their team very much in the same vein as The Express...and soon found out that in doing so, they'd definitely made the correct career choice.  Capitalizing on their youth & energy The Midnight Rockers' ring entrance was nearly as exciting as their high-impact matches, and the team whose theme music was Judas Priest's Livin' After Midnight quickly became the top babyface team in the multi-state midwestern territory.  Not long after forming their team, Michaels & Jannety won their first title together when they defeated The Batten Twins on March 15, 1986 to become the Central States Tag Team champions. 

The next stop for Michaels & Jannety was the southernmost city of the American Wrestling Association's territory, Memphis, TN.  Upon their arrival, the young duo quickly engaged in a feud over the AWA Southern Tag Team championship with Mike Davis & Tommy Lane, who were collectively known as The Rock `n Roll RPM's.  During their stay in Memphis, The Midnight Rockers won the Southern Tag title twice (defeating the RPM's both times) and continued to build upon their ever-growing fanbase.  A side note; The Midnight Rockers have the distinction of being the last Southern tag team champions, as they vacated the title (which was later renamed the CWA Tag Team championship, and, even later, again renamed the USWA Tag Team championship) when they won an even more important tag team honor, the AWA World Tag Team title in January of 1987.

After defeating the hated team of "Playboy" Buddy Rose & Doug Summers (who were managed at the time by "Sensational" Sherri Martel, shortly before she made her WWF debut) for the AWA World Tag Team championship, the Midnight Rockers became a staple of the AWA's television program, which aired nationally on ESPN.  Eventually, though, Michaels & Jannety's athleticism was overcome by the sheer force and brutality of their #1 contenders, Sheik Adnan Al-Kassie's monstrous team of Soldat Ustinov & Boris Zhukov.  On May 25, 1987 in Lake Tahoe, NV., the brawny Russian duo scored a controversial win over the Midnights, ending Michaels & Jannety's four-month title reign.  However, within months, Jannety & Michaels were right back in the title picture, battling Paul E. Dangerously's AWA World Tag Team champions, the "Original" Midnight Express, in an exciting & bloody feud that kept AWA fans glued to the set each week.  Eventually, after many controversial, hard-fought encounters, the Midnight Rockers finally defeated Paul E.'s Express (Dennis Condrey & Randy Rose) on December 27, 1987 for the AWA gold, thus becoming two-time World Tag Team champions.  From there, the Rockers went on to defend their championship frequently, and established themselves as the premier team in the company and one of the AWA's most valuable box-office draws during the last years of the promotion.  The Midnight Rockers' final major AWA foes came in the form of manager Diamond Dallas Page's team of Pat Tanaka and Paul Diamond, known collectively as Badd Company. The two young & quick teams engaged in an exciting series against each other that lasted for months and was one of the AWA's most successful programs of the year.  Not surprisingly, though, the Midnights eventually fell (on March 19, 1988) to the talented duo of Tanaka & Diamond, led by their flamboyant manager DDP and his ever present collection of scantily-clad "Diamond Dolls."  Not long after their title loss, The Midnight Rockers made their next career move, one that turned out to be the biggest of either man's career... 

In the fall of `88, Michaels & Jannety -- now known simply as The Rockers -- made their debut in the World Wrestling Federation, joining a virtual laundry list of AWA superstars who "defected" to the WWF during the mid-late eighties. Although their smaller stature (when compared to the multitude of monolithically proportioned wrestlers that overwhelmingly populated the WWF in the mid-eighties) was a bit of an obstacle at first, The Rockers nevertheless enjoyed a fair share of success during their WWF tenure.  Capitalizing on their considerable speed, solid team work, and the ability to consistently deliver exciting matches, the athletic young duo (after 'paying their dues' by spending the majority of their first year in the WWF wrestling on the undercard, and then slowly working their way up the competitive WWF tag team ranks) eventually became one of the most popular teams in the entire Federation, particularly with the promotion's large teenage fanbase.  Over the course of the following three and a half years, The Rockers engaged in exciting feuds with many teams, including Power & Glory (Hercules & Paul Roma), The Orient Express (former AWA rivals Badd Company under a new gimmick) and others.  However, two opposing duos stand out as especially memorable opponents; The Brainbusters and The Hart Foundation.

When Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard, one-half of the NWA's infamous Four Horsemen, entered the WWF at the end of 1988 they were, arguably, pound-for-pound, the best team in North America and multi-time NWA World Tag Team champions.  However, as was the case with the multi-time AWA World Tag Team champions The Rockers, upon their arrival to the WWF, Arn & Tully were not placed at the top of the card, but rather, somewhere in the middle.  Although no World championships were at stake during their lengthy feud, this one-time NWA vs. AWA Dream Match proved to be a genuine show-stealer when presented on the WWF's stage, and the two highly talented teams excelled against each other, simultaneously raising each others value in both the eyes of Federation fans and management.  Perhaps not coincidentally, both teams went on to become WWF World Tag Team champions following their feud.  Well, kind of... 

Under the guidance of manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, The Brainbusters became WWF tag team champions in July of 1989 when they defeated Demolition in Worchester, MA.  Together, Blanchard & Anderson enjoyed nearly four months at the top of the WWF tag team mountain.  Meanwhile, Michaels & Jannety met their championship destiny on October 30, 1990 in Ft. Wayne, IN. when they defeated Bret "Hitman" Hart & Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, The Hart Foundation, for the title at a non-televised event.  However, due to events that had taken place far from the WWF's TV cameras, the Rockers were not allowed to keep the championship.  Their title victory was not acknowledged on any WWF television broadcasts, and The Hart Foundation's reign continued, seemingly uninterrupted.

In the months following their 'phantom' title change, signs of dissent within Jannety & Michaels' five-year partnership began to appear, and it seemed as though a split in the team was on the horizon. Then, after seemingly mending their differences during one of Brutus Beefcake's 'Barber Shop' segments, Michaels viciously attacked & injured his unsuspecting longtime friend, simultaneously ending the Rockers team while stepping into the singles division for the first time in his WWF career.  The 'new' Shawn Michaels was no longer the humble young athlete he'd once been, but rather, the complete antithesis of his former persona.  Calling himself "The Heart Break Kid," the (now) cocky, arrogant and very outspoken Michaels quickly adapted to his new role, and transformed himself into the most controversial young performer of the WWF's "New Generation."  Additionally, Michaels proved to be even better as a singles competitor than he had been at tag team wrestling...which was saying quite a lot!  Priding himself on always having the most exciting match on the card, HBK saw his hard work eventually pay off when he won the WWF Intercontinental title on October 37, 1992 in Terre Haute, IN. by defeating The British Bulldog. 

Over the course of the following seven months, Michaels (who, for a time, enlisted the aid of Sherri Martel as his valet) defended his I-C belt against a plethora of opponents and, whether by hook or crook, always came out a winner.  That is until, after making an open challenge to any WWF wrestler who wanted to face him for the title, he unknowingly accepted a match against his former partner, a man who had a serious score to settle, one Marty Jannety.  On March 17, 1993 in New York City, Jannety (who had not appeared on any WWF programs since his split with Michaels over a half-year earlier) met & defeated the so-called 'Boy Toy' for the I-C belt, humiliating his former friend and evening the score between the two.  Jannety's victory was short lived, though, and he dropped the title back to Michaels just three weeks later in a return bout held in Albany, NY.

Although he faced many opponents during his first two I-C title reigns, the feud involving Michaels that is most remembered from this period in history would probably be his run against the 6' 5", 290 lb. Razor Ramon (a.k.a. Scott Hall).  The two arch rivals (who, behind the scenes, were actually very good friends) engaged in a lengthy feud that featured several very exciting pay-per-view matches; the most noted of which was their famous Ladder Match, which is still noted as one of the greatest matches in WWF history. 

Yet, despite (or perhaps because of) his enormous talent and obvious success as the Intercontinental champion, Michaels' ego, which was said to have been as inflated behind the scenes as it was when he was on camera, began to become more and more of an obstacle for WWF matchmakers.  In September of 1993, Michaels was stripped of the title due to a dispute with management, and subsequently quit the promotion for a brief time.  WWF fans were told that Michaels had been injured, was unable to continue defending the title, and that a tournament would be held to crown a new I-C champion.  The two sides eventually worked out their differences and Michaels returned, however, his reputation as being a bit difficult at times preceded him, deservedly so.  Yet, his superlative ring skills and abundance of talent generally outweighed the occasional problems caused by his large ego and unwillingness to "work" with certain opponents. 

In 1994, the seven-foot, three hundred pound Diesel (Kevin Nash) entered the WWF as Michaels' soft-spoken yet highly intimidating bodyguard, and the chemistry between the two heels became apparent almost immediately.  Eventually, the two began competing as a team, and their combination of ring skill and pure power resulted in a very exciting team.  On August 28 at SummerSlam `94 in Indianapolis, IN., Michaels & Diesel defeated The Headshrinkers to become the WWF World Tag Team champions.  Yet, less than three months later, the overwhelming egos of Diesel & Michaels had clashed one time too many, and their title reign was vacated in November of `94 when the team split up.  Days later, Diesel again made history when he defeated Bob Backlund to win the WWF Heavyweight title in New York City.  Michaels would also win more WWF gold, but not before undergoing a transformation that saw him change from a hated 'bad guy' into a beloved 'good guy'.

On July 23, 1995, Michaels became a three-time Intercontinental champion when he defeated "Double J" Jeff Jarrett in Jarrett's hometown of Nashville, TN.  "The Heart Break Kid," now a loved fan favorite despite retaining nearly all of the personality traits that had made him one of the most hated men in the promotion just a few years earlier, continued to prove his worth to the Federation by putting on stellar performances during each of his matches and cultivating a large & loyal fanbase.

After mending his differences with his former bodyguard, the reigning WWF champion Diesel, the two former Tag champions actually regained the WWF World Tag Team title (on September 23, 1995 in Saginaw, MI. by defeating Owen Hart & Yokozuna) while each held a singles championship.  As a result of commitments stemming from their individual title reigns, HBK & Diesel's second run with the WWF tag team gold lasted only a day before they forfeited the championship.  Meanwhile, Michaels' third (and final) reign as the I-C champion continued on until October 22, 1995 when he was once again force to hand the title belt over the WWF officials.  This time, though, it was not due to a blow-up with management, but rather, a violent altercation at a nightclub with a large group of U.S. Marines that left a battered Michaels physically unable to perform.  Having "lost his smile" the shaken superstar, with a tear in his eye, forfeited his championship and then faded out of the WWF picture for several months. 

By the beginning of 1996, though, Michaels was back and better than ever.  No longer content with ruling over the Federation's secondary championship, Michaels set his sights on the top prize in all of sports entertainment; the World Wrestling Federation championship.  Michaels finally got his shot for at the WWF title (which was held at the time by Michaels' bitter rival, Bret "Hitman" Hart) on March 31, 1996 at Wrestlemania in Anaheim, CA. and he etched his name into the fabled record books when he defeated The Hitman for the championship in a memorable and exciting match.  From there, Michaels went on to hold the Federation's premier strap for eight months, taking on a wide variety of challengers and basking in the spotlight afforded to the WWF's top performer.  Never one to shy away from the media, the controversial "Heart Break Kid" was featured in Playgirl magazine and made several high-profile TV appearances, including a guest spot on Baywatch.  Meanwhile, back inside of the squared circle, the dare devilish Michaels continued to marvel his public with a rapid-fire, high-risk style that was unlike any previous WWF titleholder.  A light-heavyweight who competed (and excelled) in a world of super-heavyweights by using his speed, skill and an inherent lack of fear of performing high-risk moves, Michaels inspired countless future wrestlers and helped set the stage for the fast-paced, high-impact style that defined pro wrestling throughout much of the 1990's.

And, as the outspoken leader of the WWF's answer to WCW's N.W.O. -- the notoriously obnoxious faction known as D-Generation X -- Michaels helped pioneer the edgy, risqué type of interviews that quickly became commonplace during the days of WWF "Attitude."  The over-the-top exploits of D-X during the mid/late nineties, now legendary amongst modern wrestling fans, were a key factor in the WWF eventually regaining it's spot from WCW as the #1 promotion in the world and as the quasi-heel faction's controversial leader, Michaels' role in the ratings turnaround cannot be ignored.  Of course, neither can his WWF championship resume; three Intercontinental championships, three World Tag Team titles (two w/Diesel & one w/Steve Austin), a run as the European champion and last, but certainly not least, three reigns as the WWF Heavyweight champion. 

Another aspect of Michaels' memorable career that will likely never be forgotten is his role in the infamous "Montreal Screwjob" on November 9, 1997.  While wrestling his longtime rival and the reigning WWF champion, Bret "Hitman" Hart, Michaels eventually managed to capture Hart in his own signature move, The Sharpshooter.  Immediately upon doing so, before Hart even had a chance to "give up" to the painful submission hold, WWF owner Vince McMahon (fearing that Hart, who it was known would be leaving for WCW soon after his match against Michaels, would take the WWF title belt and appear with it on Nitro the next night) ordered for the bell to be rung and for Michaels to be declared the winner & new World Wrestling Federation champion.  Normally, this event would not be so shocking given the over-the-top storylines that define sports entertainment.  However, by all accounts, this was not part of a wrestling storyline; Hart had been betrayed by McMahon, and his remarkable 15-year career with the WWF was, indeed, over.  Although Michaels' reaction upon being given the title belt indicated that he was as surprised by McMahon's actions as the champion had been, most agree that given the circumstances, it seems quite improbable -- if not impossible -- for HBK to have not been in on the 'conspiracy' to take the belt from Hart.  Whatever the case, the fact remains that Shawn Michaels walked out of Montreal's Survivor Series '97 as the WWF titleholder, while Bret Hart did not. 

Flanked by D-X members Triple H, X Pac, The New Age Outlaws & Chyna, the controversial "The Heart Break Kid" went on to rule over the Federation as WWF champion for the next half-year.  However, after a decade of taking incredible punishment as a result of his high-risk style, Michaels' health became more and more of a concern.  To his credit (as well as his eventual downfall) the hard-working Michaels frequently wrestled in great pain, voluntarily performing with what would be considered debilitating injuries in any other walk of life other than professional wrestling.  But, in time, the injuries began to catch up with Michaels, which is not surprising considering his refusal to slow down and take things a little easier inside of the ring.  At the same time, a phenom by the name of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was quickly becoming the most popular wrestler in WWF history, and a showdown with the champion HBK seemed inevitable for the Texas Rattlesnake.  In a case of one WWF legend bowing to another (although in this case, Michaels was, true to form, somewhat reluctant to "lose" to Austin, which ironically enough became a serious concern of WWF management prior to the match) the three-time Heavyweight champion was defeated by Austin on March 29, 1998 at WrestleMania.  

In the months following his loss of the title to Austin, it became clear that Michaels' injured back (as well as a plethora of other accumulated injuries) had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer perform in the ring, certainly not at the high level he had set for himself.  Additionally, with his doctors informing him that he faced a very real risk of paralysis should he continue to wrestle, he found himself in the position of having to make a career altering choice.  After weighing his options, Shawn Michaels (who had turned 30 a only a few years earlier) decided to retire from active competition.  In the time following his retirement, however, Michaels did stay in involved with the wrestling business.  In terms of the WWF, Michaels' presence within Federation storylines remained, just on a much smaller scale than when he had been an active wrestler.  

As the popular babyface WWF Commissioner (and occasionally serving as a trouble-shooting Special Referee) Michaels found that there was more to life in wrestling than just being the champ.  Later, he opened his own training school in San Antonio and, for a time, even ran a relatively successful regional promotion called the Texas Wrestling Alliance (TWA).  His impressive championship resume (as well as his, at times, prima donna attitude) aside, Shawn Michaels was perhaps the best wrestler in North America during the decade of the nineties.  

It's undeniable that his dare devilish, high impact ring style helped change the 'look' of wrestling for the better.  At the same time, he was the inspiration for countless high-flyers that followed him, many of whom became major stars in their own right.  Furthmore, Michaels proved to all of the skeptics that a smaller wrestler could, in fact, be a great WWF champion.  

The Ring Chronicle is proud to induct a trendsetting man of controversy, excitement and (most of all) talent, "The Heart Break Kid" Shawn Michaels, into the T.R.C. Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame......

 


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