Authors note: This was orginally published under a different blog title on March 30, 2010. The only edits made are to remove defunct website links from former endeavours. These old blogs will be rerun as part of a Throwback Thursday to unify all my work in one place. I hope you enjoy these. This is an early Cheap Seat Booking
The end of an era…yet again. Sunday March 28, 2010. ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels retires from professional wrestling.
In early 1998 Shawn was forced into exile by a severe back injury that would take over 4 years to recover from and a myriad of substance abuse problems with pain killers and alcohol, a combination common among athletes in pro-wrestling. Now the timing of the injury and the fact that it was such a freak accident leads me to believe that the injury was not caused by The Undertaker, nor the casket the small of his back hit, but by karma, karma not only for his part in the ‘Montreal Screw Job’ (if you don’t know, find google and ask it) but for all his past sins. You see for many years HBK had a notorious reputation behind the scenes in the WWE (then known as the WWF) hard to deal with, arrogant, a prima donna. The antics back then were easier to keep under wraps as pro wrestling may have been ‘out of the closet’ as far as staged and predetermined goes, but the back stage life had not yet fully collided with the social media boom nor the mass spread of the, then infant, internet. His list of incredible matches was already long and distinguished.
The story goes that during his injured hiatus he was then married and had children while alienating his closest friends and spiralling downward in addiction. Then, some how, during it all he found the church and as such salvation. Now my own religious views aside those are exactly his words on many occasions. If you look on youtube you can even find an interview for a gospel show where the WWE icon HBK had a religious chat with WCW/TNA icon Steve “Sting” Borden. For me that was surreal, the best that WCW had and the best in the WWF meet on TV. To make it more poignant, neither had worked in the others company for any duration so a dream match never occurred on a national or global stage.
As the years passed Shawn eventually made amends to his alienated friends and co-workers and was eventually able to gain employment with the WWE again in 2002. Whatever the intentions were then the stars aligned, fate stepped in, or God dictated, Shawn Michaels had ‘one last match’. Only it wasn’t the last. His back with stood the punishment. Because the injury was so well known and wide spread the story of the lead up and the story in the match itself was his opponent and close friend off stage Triple H was going to punish that back. Now before you get too down on this ‘punishment’ pay attention to the physics of a wrestling match. All the “fall training’ a pro wrestler does is to ingrain an automatic reflex to land on as much of there back as possible to spread out the impact of falling from any height. In fact the worst back in pro-wrestling is probably that of Ric Flair, watch closely how he hits the mat, he turns in mid air and lands on his side, every time. Shawn landed on various surfaces flat on that back. After the match stepped out of the spot light and returned once more months later and won his final WWE championship (World Title). This was the start of a full time return. He worked up to a weekly TV appearance and monthly Pay Per View. At Wrestlemania 19 he once again stole the show working with Chris Jericho, I was amazed to have been there to see it. That is the point where I realized the HBK was back for a long time, 7 years it turns out.
Those years held few titles, all of them tag team championships. However every match was as good as it could be. Along the way he elevated a new generation of talent, Shelton Benjamin, Randy Orton, John Cena, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Chris Masters, Cody Rhodes, Ted DiBiase Jr, Edge. He had incredible matches with veterans, dream matches in many cases, Triple H, Kane, The Undertaker, Rey Mysterio. He made the least technically talented or capable people look absolutely incredible, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Vince McMahon. The truly astounding part was that given the easy to access dirt sheets and back stage gossip thanks to social media and the internet never did a story of HBK returning to his difficult roots emerge. When the raunchy duo of D-X HBK and Triple H) reformed on several occasions the raunchy humour was done solely by Triple H with HBK away from the camera for some reason or cutting his partner off in humorous fashion, he stayed true to his new faith. D-X still had the edgy jokes but a new slap stick or air headed slant on the act in many cases.
In the last few months of his career what was considered unthinkable by many happened. HBK had publicly apologised to Bret Hart for his role in the ‘Montreal Screw Job’ and he said in many media outlets and TV appearances including his return to Montreal with a televised WWE show that if Bret would extend his hand HBK would shake it and prove he was a new man. January 2010 Bret hart did just that. Bret said his piece on live TV on Monday Night Raw and Shawn said his and it was over with a hand shake. In a video exclusive to WWE.com Shawn is shown return back stage after his final match and hugging Bret after a short congratulations from ‘The Hitman’ for an incredible match, had I not seen it I wouldn’t have believed it.
By all accounts the match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 26 was better than their match the year before and once again HBK had the best match of the night. When I am asked what the best matches I have seen are I say Shawn Michaels a lot. Just as much, if not more than Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit or Eddie Guerrero, possibly more than Bret Hart. When I am asked what the best matches I have seen live are two pop to my mind immediately. The first was seen by only a couple thousand people. In the early 90’s at a non-televised event I watched The Hart Foundation (Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart & Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart) battle The Rockers (Marty Janety & Shawn Michaels) to a 20min time limit draw. I was so pissed when it ended and the ref wouldn’t give them an extra 5 min both sides seemed to want, I was so engrossed in the match that I thought it had only been a few minutes, little did I know that this would be a tone set for the next several years as Bret and Shawn would both go on to legendary status and many, many championship reigns. The second match is Shawn Michael’s vs Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 19. The psychology of the match was set in such a way that literally from the entrance of Chris Jericho it began. I remember screaming for both to win and not caring who did, I was astonished that HBK was truly back and stunned at how good he still was, having Chris Jericho to work with was akin to seeing a DaVinci sketch inked in and painted by Michelangelo.
Now it is over. I have been watching wrestling for 26 years and rarely does the kind of sincerity show through that I have seen after Wrestlemania and on Monday Night Raw from Shawn Michaels. I have heard many “retirement’ speeches that the all seem bogus and most times they are. I have lost respect for Mick Foley and Ric Flair, ok I never had too much fan respect for Flair, because they had great send offs to retirement by the WWE and both Triple H and HBK made each respective man look like a million dollars in their last matches when neither was in a league remotely close to them at the time of their ‘retirement’. As much as I would love to see more Shawn Michaels matches I would hate to see this turn into an angle or false retirement. A good friend of mine who had little to no respect for HBK admitted publicly that his retirement speech did in fact
‘lessen his dislike’ for HBK. I would be crestfallen to see HBK in TNA or return to the WWE after a few months off, it would be like Shane riding back in to town after hearing the boy call his name. The end may be bitter sweet to us all as fans and perhaps to Shawn himself, but it could not have been more fitting or better done.
Should HBK make one more foray in to the WWE ring there is, to me, one perfectly acceptable scenario. I would love to see the one match that could eclipse all other dream matches; Wrestlemania, ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels vs “The Man They Call’ Sting. It may never happen, but leave me my dream and leave Shawn his words to live up to.
Farewell Shawn, thank you for all you did to entertain us. See you when you get you Hall of Fame ring until then, live well.