In honor of my birthday, this article will outline the career of my favorite wrestler of all time: Shawn Michaels. Michaels, who shares the same birthday as mine, was considered to be one of the most influential and entertaining professional wrestlers to have ever graced the squared circle. Best known for his abilities in counter wrestling, working the crowd, and leadership among the WWE creative team, Michaels truly left his mark on the WWE as one of its’ most unique identities ever.
Michael Shawn Hickenbottom was born on July 22, 1965 in Arizona to a military family, thus spending portions of his early life moving frequently around. Hickenbottom’s family eventually moved and raised their children in San Antonio, Texas. Hickenbottom disliked his first name of “Michael,” as a child, so his family and friends alternatively called him by his middle name, “Shawn.”
Shawn was an athlete growing up, and by the age of twelve he knew that he wanted to pursue a career as a professional wrestler. After graduating from Randolph High School and earning honors as a captain, standout linebacker on the school football team, Shawn enrolled at Southwest Texas State University. Realizing that college life was not for him, however, Shawn dropped out to follow his dream in becoming a pro wrestler.
After training under Jose Lothario’s Mexican Lucha Libre style, Shawn spent time working for a number of Texas-based wrestling promotions. It was during this time that Shawn adopted his ring name, Shawn Michaels. Michaels honed his skills in tag team wrestling, accumulating tag team championships from TASW, CSW, WCCW, and AWA. At CSW, Michaels met and first worked with his most famous tag team partner of all time, Marty Jannetty, who he also worked with in AWA as the babyface “Midnight Rockers.”
The Midnight Rockers’ move to the WWF resulted in a name alteration due to chairman Vince McMahon’s desire for his performers to have WWF-exclusive names. The renamed “Rockers” became a mid-card mainstay on television and pay-per-views as a result of their popularity amongst women and children. Booked to win the WWF Tag Team Championship, the Rockers defeated the Hart Foundation, consisting of Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart, the latter of who was in the process of negotiating his release from the WWF at the time, in October 1990. The Rockers won the belts on tape, but Neidhart came to an agreement to be rehired by the WWF, and the titles were controversially returned to the Hart Foundation, “due to a turnbuckle collapsing in the ring during the bout.” The title change was never broadcast or acknowledged on television. Over a year later, the Rockers split after Michaels superkicked Jannetty and threw him through a glass window on the set of Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake’s Barber Shop talk show segment. The aftermath: Jannetty disappeared from the company, while Michaels became the villainous “Boy Toy.”
Working now as a heel, Michaels adopted the nickname “The Heartbreak Kid,” and began being accompanied by the Sensational Sherri, who was infatuated with him, to ringside. Michaels’ infamous “Sexy Boy” theme music was born during this time, with Sherri supplying the lyrics for the first version. Michaels traditionally worked the first half of live events at this time, and would mark his departure by alluding to Elvis, exclaiming that, “Shawn Michaels has left the building.”
Michaels would feud with Bret Hart over the Intercontinental Championship in July 1992, losing to him in the WWF’s first ladder match at a live event. Michaels would win the title from the British Bulldog on October 27, 1992 on Saturday Night’s Main Event, marking his first major WWF title victory. Soon afterwards, Michaels battled Bret Hart for the WWF Championship at Survivor Series, again losing. During this time, Michaels split with Sherri and began feuding with former tag team partner Marty Jannetty, losing and eventually winning back the Intercontinental title with help from his debuting bodyguard, and real life friend, Diesel.
After kayfabe quitting the company in 1993 (Michaels was suspended for testing positive for steroids), Michaels returned to the WWF by substituting for legally troubled Jerry Lawler in a match with his three “Knights” against the Hart Foundation at Survivor Series. Michaels then entered into a feud with Razor Ramon, who had won Michaels’ vacated Intercontinental Championship, which culminated in a Ladder Match between the two at Wrestlemania X. Michaels lost the match, but the match received 5 stars and was voted “PWI Match of the Year” by fans.
Michaels’ Heartbreak Hotel television talk show segment began receiving airtime on WWF Superstars over the next few months in response to his rising popularity, and on August 28, 1994 he and Diesel were booked to win the Tag Team Championship from Samu and Fatu, The Headshrinkers. Michaels cost Diesel his Intercontinental Championship the next day at SummerSlam when he accidentally superkicked Diesel in the face during his match. Michaels and Diesel split and entered a feud that was drawn out until Survivor Series in November. Michaels won the 1995 Royal Rumble, however, and would wrestle Diesel, who won the WWF Championship from Bob Backlund, again at Wrestlemania XI in a culminating championship grudge match. Michaels recruited a new bodyguard, Sycho Sid, for this match against his old bodyguard, but Michaels lost to Diesel and was even attacked by Sid the following night on Raw is War. This officially culminated Michaels’ first run as one of the WWF’s top heels.
Following his Wrestlemania loss, Michaels took time off from wrestling because Vince McMahon wanted to push Michaels as a face, or fan favorite. When Michaels returned, he won the Intercontinental Championship for a third time, eventually setting up a title defense against the now-heel Razor Ramon in a ladder match rematch at SummerSlam 1995. This time Michaels won, but would amass numerous injuries and even flirt with retirement over the next few months before again returning at and winning the 1996 Royal Rumble. Michaels would meet his long-time rival Bret Hart at Wrestlemania XII in a 60 minute Iron Man Match, which Michaels won 0-0 (+1) in overtime for his first WWF Championship.
It was around this time that he became the alleged leader of the infamous backstage group, The Kliq, which was perceived to have an exclusive rapport with owner Vince McMahon. Consisting of Michaels, Diesel, Razor Ramon, the 1-2-3 Kid, and Triple H, the Kliq was notoriously know for breaking kayfabe, or acting out of character, in their incident known as the “Curtain Call,” in which Michaels, Diesel, Razor Ramon, and Triple H hugged in the ring after a steel cage match, supposedly in honor of Diesel and Ramon’s impending departure to rival company WCW. Michaels would hold onto the WWF Championship for most of the year, eventually losing the title to former bodyguard Sycho Sid at Survivors Series, but recapturing it a few months later at the Royal Rumble 1997. Due to a conjured knee injury, Michaels vacated the title before a Wrestlemania 13 rematch against Bret Hart, whom he was unwilling to drop the title to; Michaels claimed that he needed to find his smile again, which he had lost.
After successful knee surgery by Dr. James Andrews, Michaels returned to win the Tag Team Championship with Stone Cold Steve Austin, officiate a WWF Championship match between The Undertaker and Bret Hart at SummerSlam, and capture the European Championship from the British Bulldog at WWF One Night Only, much to the chagrin of the fans in Birmingham, England, who booed Michaels out of the building and littered the ring with trash. At Badd Blood 1997, a feud between Michaels and the Undertaker, due to Michaels accidentally hitting the Undertaker with a steel chair and costing him the WWF Championship to Bret Hart at SummerSlam, culminated in the WWF’s first ever Hell in a Cell match. Despite falling off the side of the 15-ft high cage, Michaels defeated the Undertaker, and the match received a 5-star rating.
D-Generation X was born in the summer of 1997 when Michaels joined forces with real-life friend, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Hunter’s then-girlfriend, Chyna, and Rick Rude. Moving away from the family-oriented product, this marked the beginning of the WWF Attitude Era. Michaels continued his rivalry with Bret Hart and his reformed Hart Foundation, culminating in a WWF Championship match at Survivor Series 1997 known as the “Montreal Screwjob.” In controversial fashion, Michaels locked Hart into Hart’s own Sharpshooter submission move, and Vince McMahon signaled for referee Earl Hebner to ring the bell, making Michaels the new WWF Champion. Regarded as perhaps the most controversial moment in sports entertainment history, this issue between Bret Hart and the WWF would not be resolved until a decade later.
Michaels now held both the WWF and European championship at the same time, but he lost the European Championship to D-Generation X member Triple H when he was pinned by him during a scripted title match. At the 1998 Royal Rumble, Michaels received a legitimate back injury in a Casket Match against The Undertaker when Michaels took a back body drop to the outside of the ring and smashed his lower back on the casket. This caused him to herniate two discs and crush one completely, and forced Michaels into early retirement after losing the WWF Championship to Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV.
Michaels would continue to make regular non-wrestling appearances on WWF programming as WWF Commissioner, and as a member of McMahon’s Corporation as a villain. In early 1999, Michaels re-joined DX as a fan favorite, but disappeared from WWF television for a few months to have back surgery, and by the time he had returned, DX had broken up. After a few more appearances, Michaels handed over the role of Commissioner to Mick Foley, and attempted to straighten out his life with his addiction to painkillers and depression. Believing that his wrestling career was over, Michaels was interested in training individuals who wanted to become professional wrestlers, opening the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy, which he eventually left. Also during this time, Michaels, who is an avid San Antonio Spurs fan, was a sportscaster for San Antonio’s local news for a short time during his retirement.
In 2002, Shawn Michaels made his return to professional wrestling by joining the New World Order (nWo), after which he entered a feud with Triple H that included an epic street fight, an Elimination Chamber match (which Michaels won for the World Heavyweight Championship), and a Three stages of Hell match, to which Michaels dropped the belt to Triple H. Michaels then feuded with Chris Jericho, culminating in a grudge match at WrestleMania XIX, which Michaels won. A year later, Michaels was involved in a Triple Threat World Heavyweight Championship match with Triple H and Chris Benoit at Wrestlemania XX, which marked Chris Benoit’s first ever World Heavyweight Championship. After this, Triple H would win the championship back from Benoit, and Michaels and Triple H resumed their rivalry with a Hell in a Cell match at Bad Blood. Michaels lost, but was granted a rematch by the voting fans at Taboo Tuesday. Edge, however, would interfere and cost Michaels the title because he was jealous that the fans voted Michaels to face Triple H one more time over himself and Chris Benoit. Michaels took a few months off with a legitimate torn meniscus following Taboo Tuesday.
Upon his return, Michaels would feud with Kurt Angle, Muhammad Hassan, La Resistance (with former tag team partner Marty Jannetty), and most notably Hulk Hogan. After teaming with Hogan for weeks, Michaels inexplicably superkicked Hogan after a match, and challenged Hogan to a match at SummerSlam. In the feud’s build-up, Michaels performed an infamous mimicry of Hogan on Piper’s Pit, but Hogan defeated Michaels at SummerSlam. After the match Michaels shook Hogan’s hand, saying that he needed to know, and that he found out that Hogan was better than him.
Over the next few years Michaels would reunite with Triple H to reform DX, feuding with Vince McMahon, and pleasing the crowd with their old, silly antics. Becoming involved in a feud with Rated-RKO (Edge and Randy Orton), DX was pronounced “over” after Triple H suffered a second torn quadriceps muscle. Michaels would then team up with fan favorite John Cena to defeat Rated-RKO for the Tag Team Championship. During their reign as champions, Michaels would enter a feud with his partner, and WWF Champion, John Cena after defeating both members of Rated-RKO in a triple threat number one contender’s match. In a title match at Wrestlemania 23, Michaels lost to Cena by submitting to Cena’s STFU submission. The following night on Raw, Michaels and Cena dropped the Tag Team Championship to the Hardys in a battle royal after Michaels threw Cena over the top rope in frustration. With the mega feud between Michaels, Cena, Orton, and Edge culminating at Backlash in a Fatal Four-Way WWE Championship Match, Michaels superkicked Cena onto the fallen Randy Orton, unintentionally allowing Cena to retain his title.
Michaels would then move on to a feud with Randy Orton. After Orton claimed he could beat Michaels, Orton punted Michaels in the head, giving him a concussion, which was used to give Michaels time off for another knee surgery. After superkicking Orton week after week following his return, Michaels was granted another opportunity to win the WWE Championship in a match against Orton at Survivor Series. In this match, however, Michaels was banned from using his “Sweet Chin Music” superkick at Orton’s request, and therefore lost after Orton hit an RKO.
At Wrestlemania XXIV Michaels officially ended Ric Flair’s career in a retirement match by saying, “I’m sorry,” and hitting Flair with Sweet Chin Music. Following the match, Batista confronted Michaels and entered a feud that included a match at Backlash with Chris Jericho as guest referee, which Michaels won after feigning a knee injury before hitting Sweet Chin Music on Batista for the win. After Jericho confronted Michaels on the subject, the two faced off in a match at Judgment Day, which Michaels won. Michaels continued his feud with Batista at One Night Stand, where Batista ended the grudge by defeating Michaels in a Stretcher Match. After Chris Jericho again assaulted Michaels on The Highlight Reel segment, the two resumed their feud in an unsanctioned match at Unforgiven, in which Michaels competed with a tear in his left triceps. The referee stopped the match due to the severity of Michaels’ beating on Jericho. At No Mercy, Michaels would square off against Jericho again for the World Heavyweight Championship in a Ladder Match, which Michaels lost.
After a feud with John Bradshaw Layfield that culminated in Michaels winning an All or Nothing Match at No Way Out 2009 to relieve himself of his duties as JBL’s employee, Michaels would become the first wrestler to successfully defeat Vladmir Kozlov. This earned Michaels an opportunity to wrestle the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXV and possibly end the Undertaker’s unrivaled Wrestlemania winning streak. The Undertaker defeated Michaels in the Match of the Year, after which Michaels took a hiatus from WWE.
After returning to WWE, Michaels would again reform DX with Triple H to feud with The Legacy, a stable of young second-generation wrestlers that included Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase, along with Randy Orton. The feud grew from SummerSlam 2009, with DX trading victories with The Legacy, until concluding at TLC when DX defeated The Legacy and Jerishow in a triple threat TLC match for the Tag Team Championship. Michaels finally buried the hatchet with long-time rival Bret Hart on the first Raw of 2010 by shaking hands and hugging in the middle of the ring. A month after this significant event, Michaels and Triple H would drop the Tag Team Championship to The Miz and Big Show, with DX amicably splitting and pursuing each their own feud.
After getting eliminated from the 2010 Royal Rumble, Shawn Michaels snapped after realizing his goal to wrestle the Undertaker, then World Heavyweight Champion, in a rematch at Wrestlemania XXVI was stifled. As a result, Michaels interfered in the Undertaker’s Elimination Chamber match, costing the Undertaker his title, but provoking the rematch that Michaels desired. At Wrestlemania XXCI, Michaels lost to the Undertaker and, as a result, was forced to retire due to the match stipulation. The following night, on the March 29 episode of Raw, Michaels gave an emotional farewell speech, departing with the familiar sentence, “Shawn Michaels has left the building.”
Shawn Michaels was the first wrestler to accomplish the “Grand Slam Championship” by having held all major titles in the WWE, with the exclusion of the Hardcore Championship, throughout his career.
Until next time peeps, I have left the building.