WWE Legacy Series: Shawn Michaels and Wrestlers He Helped to Establish
This series is aimed at discussing the impact wrestlers have left on the business, regardless of their personal achievements.
This legacy refers to how they have improved the product or careers of other superstars.
Due to my age and when I started to follow the WWE, I am solely focusing this series on individuals whose careers date from 1997 onwards and, more specifically, on less active or retired wrestlers.
For the third installment, I am focusing on Shawn Michaels.
Without a doubt, every moniker bestowed upon him—The Icon, The Showstopper, The Main Event, Mr. WrestleMania and most recently Mr. Hall of Fame—have been hard earned by HBK.
To put his achievements into perspective, one often overlooked aspect is that he returned after a four-year hiatus due to a career threatening back injury.
After such a severe back injury, he overcame a drug addiction and evolved from being one of the most disliked egotistical backstage personalities into one of the most revered and respected.
He wrestled at WM 14 against Stone Cold so as not to disrespect the title and business by simply vacating the championship. Incredible, considering the severity of his injury.
And after his four year hiatus, he continued for an incredible eight years, helping to the carry the WWE through several transitions. He wrestled several classic five-star (not Dave Meltzer approved but regardless) matches against the likes of The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho and HHH.
The hiatus following his injury would leave any other man walking away from the business.
Shawn Michaels came back, didn't miss a single beat, and proved to the world that HBK truly is The Showstopper and The Main Event. The second era of HBK is unprecedented, because he defied the odds and his return displayed the quality only he could bring to the product.
During a long and successful career, Shawn Michaels has helped to create and establish the careers of many future WWE Hall of Fame candidates. He himself has one of the rare careers like The Undertaker, whose efforts arguably deserve an individual wing, should a building ever be built, to physically house Hall of Fame memorabilia.
His catalog of classic matches is unparalleled in the modern era, and his ability to perform and bring out the best from his opponents is truly unique. Since his retirement, the WWE has missed that star performer who can elevate any match and feud, and it has exposed the company's lack of talent.
Please take the time to enjoy the legacy of the Heart Break Kid, Shawn Michaels.
Previous Articles in this Series -
As members of the infamous Kliq, both HBK and HHH have been pivotal backstage members of the roster for well over a decade.
HHH has strengthened his position with his marriage to Stephanie McMahon. However, there was a time when HHH was floundering around the lower mid-card as a pompous blue blood character that would certainly have been fired if not for his friendship with HBK.
Following the curtain call incident at Madison Square Garden in 1996, HHH was left to take the heat as HBK was world champion. For several months, HHH was demoted to a jobber and had little involvement in any championship scenes.
Then, in 1997, arguably the most influential stable in WWE history formed—D Generation X.
They were lewd, crude and occasionally nude, and they were the foundations of the greatest era in the history of pro wrestling, The Attitude Era. HHH and HBK became half of some of the greatest promo antics in the business and emerged as one of the future cornerstones of the WWE.
When HBK was injured and apparently retired, HHH took on the mantle of the leader of DX.
After recruiting the New Age Outlaws, as well as aligning himself heavily with Chyna, he became embroiled in a strong feud with The Rock and grew into a main eventer.
When HBK returned in 2002, in a shocking twist to their relationship, HHH screwed him by pedigree-ing him in the middle of the ring during a mock DX reunion.
The feud that followed was incredibly influential in developing HHH's Cerebral Assassin gimmick and helped cement his position at the forefront of the main event scene.
Over a period of two years, the two wrestled in some classic matches, including their Hell in a Cell epic, the street fight and three stages of hell.
Eventually coming full circle in 2006, after an intense feud with Vince McMahon, HBK and HHH finally reunited as DX, the group that initially helped launch HHH into the stratosphere.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
At King of the Ring 1996, we witnessed one of the finest promos ever in the history of professional wrestling. Stone Cold had defeated Jake the Snake Roberts, and Austin 3:16 was born.
We witnessed his epic match at WM 13 against Bret Hart, the match that established him as a serious main event talent.
However, I would argue the match that made Stone Cold, where he won his first ever World Championship, was the bittersweet bout against HBK at WM 14.
Before this match, several events had taken place, creating bad PR because Michaels was frustrated of the circumstances in which he had to drop the title to Austin.
Michaels was well aware of the fact that he would no longer be the poster boy for the WWE.
This match was the last match of the first period of Michaels's career, and he retired from wrestling immediately afterwards due to his injury.
The importance of the outcome was that it was the culmination of a developing characterisation of the WWE, ushering in the Attitude Era, and making Stone Cold the poster boy of the product. Austin has gone on to be arguably the biggest draw in the history of the business and the legendary central figure of the Attitude Era.
This match ignited the greatest era in pro wrestling ever.
Chris Jericho is one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation. He has developed his craft through various promotions across the globe, including stints in Japan and Mexico, as well as for each of the major promotions that have defined the modern wrestling era (WCW, ECW and WWE).
A wrestler from the same generation as Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio Jr. and Kurt Angle, Jericho's in-ring style is heavily influenced by Shawn Michaels.
For all of Jericho's accomplishments at the time, in 2003 he engaged in a compelling feud with HBK, because he wanted to prove he was better than his idol. He felt he was in Michaels' shadow in the company, and wanted to prove himself against the greatest performer in the business.
Their feud is a modern classic, echoing the great rivalries of Flair-Steamboat and HBK-Hart.
Their matches were a great balance of technical, aerial and mat wrestling. What separates them from the average technical masterpiece is that both wrestlers were incredibly talented at carrying a feud and creating a story within the ring.
Epic barely describes the chemistry between the two, and notably in their classic encounter at WM 19, HBK wrestled in a style that would show off Jericho's talents. Though HBK won, Jericho emerged from HBK's shadow and looked like a Hall of Famer from then on.
It was an incredible feud, and it was of benefit to them both. HBK had somebody who he could showcase his entire move set against, and Jericho proved he could perform on the grandest stage of all in a main event match.
He was the first ever undisputed champion in the history of the WWE, but that night made Jericho one of the biggest stars in the business.
These days, he's regarded as one of the best in the world, and that stems from WM 19 against Shawn Michaels.
Revisiting the rivalry in 2008 was great for the fans, because the quality of the feud is based on Jericho needing to prove himself. HBK is his personal yardstick.
The second feud was intense and personal, it made for a compelling storyline, and proved that the PG Era was capable of delivering great wrestling and feuds.
The benefit of revisiting this feud is that Jericho had accomplished so much since the first feud. He was more HBK's equal than anybody else in the company.
His Highlight Reel show was a fantastic touch, as it aided the impact of their promos and gave us that moment when he threw HBK head first into the Jeritron 5000.
In 2007, Cena was a well established superstar and almost the top man in the company.
The roster was arguably well balanced with a strong main event scene and respectable mid-card. For a while though, mature fans and the IWC were questioning Cena as a performer due to his lack of in-ring style.
So the WWE placed him in a feud with Shawn Michaels in an effort to encourage Cena to really perform and learn to work the audience. Perhaps it was a baptism by fire having him main event WrestleMania with HBK. Many would agree Cena showed he is a capable and decent performer that night.
HBK lost to Cena, putting him over on the grandest stage in the business, and Cena was for a while looked upon with more credibility.
However, a few weeks later in the UK, the two faced off again.
The match, I believe, lasted longer than intended, exceeding 45 minutes. It is without a single doubt one of the finest matches in the history of Raw.
Fans at the time voted it the greatest match in the history of Raw. See http://www.wwe.com/shows/raw/raw15/exclusives/raw15pollresults.
It also is proof that during the PG Era, wrestling could be as good as it ever was, so long as the wrestling element of the entertainment was respected properly by the competitors.
This match truly demonstrated Cena could hang with the best in the business. Though he lost the match, as with Jericho at WM 19, Cena left with a stronger belief from the fans that he deserved to be at the top of the business.
Interestingly, over the last 18 months or so, fans and the IWC were again booing Cena and his apparent lack of in-ring ability.
It has taken a similar quality series of matches involving CM Punk for the audience to again warm to Cena.
In their brief and disappointing feud, CM Punk referenced Kevin Nash's early gimmicks as Oz, Steel and Vinnie Vegas. These were short-lived and forgettable gimmicks that never worked for Nash, and are often referenced as examples of creative failures.
In 1993, at the request of Shawn Michaels, Nash signed a deal with the WWE and took on the persona of Diesel.
His gimmick was simply the enforcer-type bodyguard for Michaels. Aided by the visual impact of his height, alongside his biker gang image, Diesel was immediately taken seriously by fans and competitors.
For over a year, Diesel was Michaels' bodyguard, though he also managed to win the Intercontinental Championship from Razor Ramon and Tag Team Championship with Michaels.
However, HBK super kicked Diesel to end their onscreen friendship and union.
Diesel was then pushed straight into the main event scene, defeating Bob Backlund for the WHC in an infamous squash match, before feuding with the likes of Bret Hart and later HBK.
They would briefly reunite in 1995 before again parting ways. Diesel would go on to feud with the Undertaker, becoming a number in the Phenom's WrestleMania streak.
He once again feuded with HBK before leaving for WCW.
In an infamous yet legendary moment, on the eve of their departure, Nash, HBK, Scott Hall and HHH broke kayfabe after an event at Madison Square Garden to embrace in the middle of the ring.
In WCW, maybe because of the stature he had gained in the WWE, Nash became involved in the backstage booking and politics.
He became part of the creative process behind one of the biggest story lines in the history of the business, the NWO, and helped to forever change the face of the industry.
While some may reference the selfish overbooking by him, Hogan and Hall, we often overlook and forget that the NWO were instrumental in making contracts better for wrestlers.
The pay increased, as did health benefits and financial security. So despite their flaws, they also left a positive mark on the business.
There has been very little interaction between HBK and his opponents while they are actively feuding and wrestling.
But former WWE writer David Lagana, at a creative meeting regarding ECW, stated, "Vince McMahon was scheduled to appear on ECW for the first time in the start of a new storyline. He was going to rid ECW of it's 'Original' stars and make the way for a 'New Breed.' The meeting quickly turned into another CM Punk bash-fest. My role was to run the meeting but dare not speak out of turn on the veteran agents."
"This was how the previous month's meetings had gone but this day was different. It was a new voice in the room that changed everything. 'Um, if you don't like something the kid is doing, why don't you work with him to fix it...instead of killing him.' That voice belonged to Shawn Michaels."
It has been well documented that HBK has had a lot of sway in the backstage politics of the WWE.
During the days of the Kliq, main event stars like Bret Hart were clearly frustrated about the influence the Kliq were showing in booking and story lines, and it has often been a negative area in HBK's career.
However, since his return in 2002, he has been viewed as a highly respected member of the locker room who has been extremely giving to many superstars.
Since his return, he won only a single World Championship, and though he was often involved in the main event scene, he consistently put over other wrestlers in title matches.
He may not have directly feuded with CM Punk, but the weight of his voice in trying to retain Punk and develop him into the product has paid off dividends for the company.
CM Punk is arguably the most complete superstar in the business today and is likely to receive a big push in the future, according to several sources.
I wouldn't say HBK made CM Punk, even that he helped establish him. But it does seem from Lagana's statement that HBK saved CM Punk's WWE career.
It's great to hear that a veteran of HBK's calibre is humble enough to support new talent, and it shows a maturity in his approach to the business that shames the likes of Hogan and Flair, who still drown superstars.
It would be interesting to see the direction the WWE may take if HBK more actively involved in training superstars and working with the creative department in the future.