Shawn Michaels is both one of the worst and one of the best referees in WWE history.
His biases have controlled his officiating and he's gotten physically involved in just about every match he's reffed. On the other hand, he's elevated those bouts from an entertainment standpoint. While if he were in charge of MMA bouts or boxing matches, he would have been banned after his first referee outing, however, WWE's chaotic form of theater is the ideal home for him.
Russian writer Anton Chekhov once said, "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one, it should be fired."
Michaels' time as referee has seen him be that pistol, inserted into a match, standing quietly in the background before firing a superkick that helps determine the outcome. He will once again play that role at Hell in a Cell 2013 when he presides over the WWE Championship match between Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan.
Don't expect him to be unnoticeable as referee but instead a driving force in the narrative. His history with a striped shirt on tells us that.
Much like with Orton vs. Bryan, Michaels was asked to referee the WWE title bout. Undertaker defended the championship against Bret Hart.
Though the famous "Montreal Screwjob" was still several months away, Hart and Michaels had a surplus of animosity between them. The tension created from a rival overseeing his foil's chances at championship glory made the audience anticipate the inevitable shot going off.
Michaels had to call the match impartially, though, or he would be banned from wrestling in the United States.
He did just that for much of the match, but an errant chair shot sparked a rivalry between him and Undertaker and gave Hart the win. Hart had used a steel chair on the champ while Michaels was hurt on the outside.
When Michaels reentered the ring, he noticed the chair lying in the corner, evidence of an unseen crime.
He argued with Hart about the chair. "The Hitman" took offense and spit in Michaels' face. Referee or not, Michaels' anger took over and he swung the chair at Hart's head like it was a hanging curveball.
Undertaker took the blow instead and lost the match because of it.
A showdown between he and Michaels in the first-ever Hell in a Cell awaited. Michaels was forceful here in his admonishing of Hart, but he was generally fair. Expect of course for his decisive chair shot.
Nov. 23, 1999
Michaels can be a fair referee when he wants to, as fans in Japan saw at a Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling event in 1999.
The real Hayabusa, known as "H" at the time, battled Mr. Gannosuke, who now claimed to be Hayabusa. The buildup was an odd one that included a firecracker being set off in between a set of butt cheeks.
The longtime rivals ended their feud with Michaels calling the action.
His short shorts aside, Michaels blended into the background here. The match's action was the focus, not the referee. Michaels called the match with no bias and without playing any Sweet Chin Music. He was simply there as an added attraction, bonus star power for a big bout.
There's little chance WWE has him repeat this excellent officiating; it just wouldn't be as fun.
SmackDown-Aug. 26, 1999
Michaels' actions in the WWE Championship match from the first episode of SmackDown will worry Bryan fans.
He made it look like he was doing everything in his power to keep order between The Rock and Triple H. He admonished Chyna for interfering and prevented Shane McMahon from distracting The Rock. The fix was in, though.
When The Rock seemingly had the title won, readying himself to drop The People's Elbow, Michaels superkicked him.
A few moments later, The Rock was on his back and Michaels counted to three. Triple H and Michaels embraced afterward. Jim Ross summed up what we were witnessing, "We got a crooked commissioner. Look at this collusion."
WWE and Michaels misdirected the fans, setting up for a surprise ending by making it appear that Michaels was on The Rock's side.
In terms of the present, one has to wonder if we'll see the scene of Triple H and Michaels celebrating play out once more or if Michaels' crookedness will be used to get Bryan the win.
Judgment Day 2000
Triple H and The Rock once again entrusted Michaels to referee a WWE title bout. Michaels cost The Rock the championship this time as well, but it was inadvertent.
The Iron Man match was tied 5-5 when order turned to anarchy.
Michaels, knocked to the outside, was unable to see X-Pac, Shane McMahon and others interfere. There were so many extra bodies at one point, it looked like the Royal Rumble. The only thing Michaels saw was the last offender, The Undertaker.
Undertaker piledrived Triple H and Michaels called for a disqualification which made it 6-5 in Triple H's favor.
This controversial call amid chaos is the most memorable moment of Michaels' refereeing duties, but he was fantastic up to that point in more subtle ways. Every big move that either Triple H or The Rock landed had Michaels reacting dramatically.
His cringing helped sell the violence of the match. That is a skill he has mastered in his time as guest referee.
Raw-Dec. 2, 2002
Michaels held the World Heavyweight Championship and Triple H hungered for it like a zombie wants brains.
In order to get a title shot, Triple H had to defeat Rob Van Dam with Michaels serving as referee. There was no Sweet Chin Music here, but plenty of bias.
"The Heartbreak Kid" counted so slowly for Triple H that it looked as he was moving his hands through mud. Michaels kept trying to bait Triple H into putting his hands on him, which would allow Michaels to call for a disqualification.
He surprisingly showed some leniency, not calling the match when Triple H had a chair in his grip. Michaels chose instead to snatch the weapon away and let the match continue.
Triple H rode a few underhanded techniques and power moves to victory. Michaels was reluctant to count to three with Van Dam's shoulders on the ground, but he did it.
New Year’s Revolution 2005
The Elimination Chamber match for the vacant World Heavyweight Championship only featured a single notable instance of poor refereeing from Michaels.
Edge accidentally speared him in the corner and later got frustrated that Michaels wasn't counting fast enough for him. He made the mistake of putting his hands on the referee.
Mike Chioda might have just pushed him and shouted at him, but Michaels cost Edge his chance at the world title. Sweet Chin Music put "The Rated-R Superstar" down, allowing Chris Jericho to pin him.
Raw- May 1, 2006
Michaels pulled double duty this night.
In his first bout, he turned Kane into an enraged beast, essentially feeding him Rob Conway. Michaels was supposed to wear a yellow shirt marked with "May 19" all over it. That date was when his family was destroyed in a fire; Kane is not fond of it.
Michaels wisely struck Conway and forced the shirt onto him, instead.
Kane saw that date repeated all over the shirt and went berserk. Michaels simply stepped aside and watched Conway's destruction from a safe distance.
Later that night, Kenny from the Spirit Squad, took on John Cena for the WWE Championship. Triple H was supposed to be the referee, but he refused. In the middle of the match, he walked out.
In walked his replacement, Michaels.
He didn't hide his bias for the Spirit Squad. He refused to count to three for Kenny and soon pummeled him with Cena's help. Once the brawl was over, Michaels counted Cena's pin on Kenny.
Cyber Sunday 2008
Personal feelings once again affected Michaels' officiating when he oversaw Chris Jericho and Batista's world title bout.
Steve Austin started out as the referee, but when he was knocked over, Michaels lent his services. His rival Jericho wasn't pleased with the change.
Jericho had Batista beat with the Codebreaker, but Michaels' count was even slower than it was for Triple H in his match against Van Dam. An infuriated Jericho couldn't believe the injustice he was suffering.
Even as a backup, Michaels derailed a match.
This was Michaels's tour-de-force as a guest referee.
His part in the Undertaker vs. Triple H Hell in a Cell match helped make it a powerful, moving work of art. He served as the emotional lightning rod for this battle.
When it looked as if Triple H might end Undertaker's career or send him to the hospital with a barrage of chair shots, Michaels had the dilemma of whether or not stop the match. A man's undefeated streak, and more importantly, his health was at stake.
He struggled with the decision, trying to maintain order in a match built on mayhem.
When he superkicked Undertaker, his regret was obvious. He had nearly changed WWE history with that blow, but Undertaker managed to kick out.
This is the version of Michaels the referee that would most benefit Orton vs. Bryan. Should he be as convincingly torn as he was, affecting the match without stealing the spotlight, a classic awaits to be born.
Michaels' referee career has seen him cheat, blunder and be just. WWE has to find the right mix of those elements to make full use of Michaels, the pistol hanging on the wall.