Examining Shawn Michaels' Influence on Today's WWE Superstars

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Examining Shawn Michaels' Influence on Today's WWE Superstars
Credit: WWE.com

Long after Shawn Michaels faced his last opponent, his presence can still be felt in WWE rings as a new generation of Superstars borrow from his repertoire and mirror his show-stealing approach to the business.

Dolph Ziggler, Kofi Kingston, Alberto Del Rio and Daniel Bryan are among those who echo much of Michaels' work.

"Mr. WrestleMania" was by no means the only smaller wrestler to succeed, but he helped break the stereotype that top wrestlers had to be bulking brutes. His triumphs have led the way for Kingston (6'0'', 212 lbs), Ziggler (6'0'', 213 lbs) and Bryan (5' 10'', 210 lbs) to wear gold around their waists.

His most obvious gift to this generation is the superkick.

Michaels didn't invent the move, but he turned it into one of pro wrestling's staples. "Gentleman" Chris Adams popularized it before him, but Michaels used it under a greater spotlight. He won world championships and created classics at WrestleMania with his version.

Del Rio, Tamina SnukaThe Usos and Ziggler all utilize the move in their matches. It's hard not to think of Michaels when Jimmy or Jey Uso generate that same cracking sound as they knock their opponents out with it.

When Ziggler borrows it, his body seems to channel Michaels more than his peers.

The theatrics Michaels added to the kick lives on now as well. When he was ready to deliver Sweet Chin Music, he stood in the corner, pounding his boots against the mat as he waited for his foe to rise.

Shawn Michaels prepares to hit Sweet Chin Music.

Del Rio carries on that tradition today.

He crouches in the corner before his superkick, stretching out his hand as if to will his opponent up from the canvas. Then he strikes with a kick much like the one that Michaels made famous.

Alberto Del Rio prepares to superkick Dolph Ziggler.

This is parallel to what Kingston does as he prepares to deliver Trouble In Paradise. The high-flyer waits in the corner Michaels-style and slaps his hands together, urging the crowd to say "boom, boom" along with him.

Michaels was always one of the best wrestlers at finding the perfect blend of sport and theater, which is WWE at its best.

From the way he fell after taking a blow to how desperately he hung onto the ropes after taking a pounding from his opponent, Michaels excelled at the selling element of pro wrestling.

To hear Ziggler tell TimesRecordNews.com that Michaels and Ric Flair were two of his favorite wrestlers growing up is no surprise at all. Ziggler's dramatic mannerisms act as a homage to "The Heartbreak Kid," who borrowed heavily from Flair.

Going up against Cesaro in a recent match, Ziggler failed to get a three-count after hitting a DDT. The emotional way that he falls over the bottom rope has Michaels' name all over it.

Dolph Ziggler battles Cesaro.

Factor in Ziggler's cockiness, his inflated view of himself and the flashy way he approaches his battles, and it's clear that "The Show Off" has modeled much of his own game from that of Michaels. While Ziggler is Michaels' more obvious successor, Kingston has adopted his share from him as well.

Kingston said of Michaels to AOLNews.com that "He was just a big influence on me and a lot of people there right now. He was an influence for us even getting into the WWE and having a dream to become a superstar."

One can see that influence when Kingston is in action. There is certainly some Ricky Steamboat-inspired moves inserted into Kingston's arsenal in this match against Ryback on Main Event, but it also displayed much of what "The Wildcat" has taken from Michaels' playbook. 

Kofi Kingston vs. Ryback on Main Event

He dramatically pulls himself up on the ropes and does his Sweet Chin Music-like routine in the corner.

Michaels' most famous student certainly added other influences (William Regal for example), but Bryan is his heir in many ways. Some of Bryan's first steps on his pro wrestling journey came under Michaels' watch. The bearded warrior received "training at Texas Wrestling Academy, led by Shawn Michaels and Rudy Gonzalez," per The Baltimore Sun.

WWE played up that relationship for Hell in a Cell, when Michaels was set to be the guest referee in Bryan's title match against Randy Orton.

For the sake of the storyline, WWE made it sound as if Michaels was Bryan's main teacher. That's an exaggeration that leaves out what he learned from Regal, his time in Japan and his career in the indies, but there's no mistaking the impact Michaels had on his student.

A look at Shawn Michaels' influence on Daniel Bryan.

Bryan told WWE.com that Michaels' first lesson was cardio. He had the students do a long series of rolls in the Texas heat. Bryan was one of only two students not to throw up.

It's not surprising, then, that Bryan is one of the best conditioned Superstars on the roster today, often asked to work multiple matches on the same night.

Later in the interview, he said, "Shawn got us a tryout match with WWE in Austin, Texas." The tryout led to developmental deals and eventually Bryan making his way to the stage where now stands. Perhaps Bryan would have entered WWE's doors on his own, but having a Hall of Famer vouch for him certainly helped.

Now, Bryan, like Michaels, is a small man succeeding in a big man's game. 

GIF from GIF Soup
Daniel Bryan's running-knee finisher.

His moveset doesn't mirror Michaels' the way Ziggler's and Kingston's does, but it's fitting that his newest finisher has him set up in the corner a la Sweet Chin Music. He is one of Michaels' successors, continuing a tradition of borrowing and adapting that has gone on since wrestling rings were first put up.

Michaels took from Flair who took from Buddy Rogers. Kingston, Ziggler and the Superstars who grew up watching Michaels make up the next step in that evolution.

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