411 Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2012: Shawn Michaels
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney
Some people know what they’re born to do. I’m not one of those people yet, but Shawn Michaels was early on. Born Michael Shawn Hickenbottom into a military family, Shawn Michaels knew what he was meant to be. He was going to be a professional wrestler. He dabbled in football through his youth – he was born in Texas after all – but gravitated towards the wrestling ring once he was out of high school and in college.
He got his training from Jose Lothario, who spent decades competing for regional promotions in the NWA. Lothario provided a hybrid education, understanding the ins and outs of the ring styles that existed in both America and Mexico. These influences would remain with Shawn throughout his career, and capitalized on his abilities as a showman. Shawn’s earliest matches were in the southwest, teaming with Paul Diamond. While the team was successful, Shawn quickly moved on to a team with Marty Jannetty that was incredibly popular in the Mid-South territory as well as in the AWA. Michaels and Jannetty took their act to the World Wrestling federation, and the team lasted nearly three and a half years, never quite capturing the WWF World Tag Team Championship despite being incredibly popular.
If that were as far as Shawn Michaels ever got in the wrestling business, he would have had a remarkable career. The wrestling industry is littered with men and women that desperately wanted to be successful in the business but never enjoyed anything approaching the level of success that is required to spend the better part of a decade in two promotions with national visibility. For a twelve-year-old boy to recognize his dream by reaching the upper levels of professional wrestling in America is an astonishing accomplishment. Michaels was only getting started.
After sending his tag team partner Marty Jannetty through a plate glass window, Shawn Michaels embarked on a singles career that would have a series of peaks with few valleys to speak of. He would capture the Intercontinental Championship, and every other title that the World Wrestling Federation had to offer outside of the Women’s Championship. He would headline multiple Wrestlemanias. He would take part in multiple iconic moments across nearly two decades during his singles career in WWE. If wrestling careers were defined simply by achievements, Shawn Michaels would be a Hall of Famer by any standard.
Professional wrestling is more, though. What has endeared Shawn to multiple generations of fans goes far beyond title belts. The Great Khali has held titles and main evented pay per views. Brock Lesnar has been involved in big moments. The reason that Shawn Michaels finds himself in a pantheon above these men is because he never stopped being the boy that was chasing his dream. Shawn Michaels never wanted to be “a wrestler.” Shawn wanted to be, in his own words, the main event. The Showstopper. It didn’t matter what chasing that dream required. If it meant ladder matches, then Shawn would embrace ladder matches. Not only did he embrace ladder matches, but he set the standard for them against Scott Hall twenty years ago in what remains arguably the greatest ladder match ever. If it meant huge spots at the expense of his body, Shawn would sell out and drop off of cages through tables against the Undertaker at Hell In A Cell. If it meant going for 60 minutes like the greats of yesteryear, then Shawn was ready, willing, and able. Face? Heel? Neither? Both? Shawn would do whatever it took.
That would be a problem at times. The part of Shawn Michaels’ career that took place prior to 2002 was littered with political shenanigans, substance abuse, rampant egotism, and stunts like “losing his smile.” None of those things were enough to stop Shawn from being one of the best wrestlers in the world. However, they all lent themselves to statements such as, “Shawn’s a great worker, but…” After establishing Steve Austin as the spotlight attraction of the World Wrestling Federation, Shawn Michaels simply went away. He was a “commissioner”, he was a special referee, he was on camera, but that all faded away, too. Eventually, Shawn was just gone. He was gone and he stayed that way for nearly two years. When he came back, something was different.
Wrestling and religion should rarely be mixed in any fashion, but religion took hold of Shawn Michaels. Between his first run in the World Wrestling Federation, Michaels became a devout, professing Christian. He also matured. The result was a comeback that many had hoped for but that few had actually dared to expect. As good as Shawn was before his retirement, he was somehow better when he returned. Feuds with Triple H, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Hulk Hogan, and others showcased a version of Shawn Michaels that was just as skilled in the ring, but also smarter both in and out of the ring. Over the near decade that Michaels spent in his “comeback”, he took a great career and transformed it into one of those elite careers that results in Shawn being on the short list of guys that are discussed as the greatest of all time.
By all accounts, Michael Jordan was single minded when it came to basketball. He wanted to win at all costs, and crush his opponents psychologically whenever possible. He took great offense to the idea that anyone would even compete with him. The result was a probable sociopath that achieved unparalleled success in the basketball world. Shawn Michaels may well be professional wrestling’s Michael Jordan. For all of his drive, had Michael Jordan only possessed the physical talents of Kurt Rambis he would not have become the greatest basketball player that ever lived. Had Shawn Michaels been trapped in the physical package of Duane Gill or given the personality of Bob Holly, then I wouldn’t be writing this. Michaels was blessed with a perfect combination of drive, talent, and personality that allowed him to become arguably the greatest in ring performer of all time.
Somewhere there’s a kid out there that knows he’s going to be a professional wrestler. He has a dream, and he’ll chase it to the ends of the earth. Every step of the way, he’ll measure himself against Shawn Michaels. That’s what being a hall of famer is all about.
Why He Was Chosen…
There was a time – say 1993, 1994 – where people had it in their minds that Ric Flair was the greatest wrestler ever and nobody would be able to change that opinion. He had reached the same status as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky had in their respective sports. As the years ticked by, Shawn Michaels was making a case for himself to be included in the “best ever” conversation. His back injuries and retirement seemed to eliminate him from contention. It was unfortunate, but injuries likely kept Ken Griffey, Jr. from breaking Hank Aaron’s all time home run record in MLB. They’re a part of the sport. Then the miraculous happened – Shawn returned, and was better than ever. He was smarter, he was more disciplined in and out of the ring, and he was just plain better. Now the discussion isn’t whether Shawn was just as good as Ric Flair, it’s whether or not he was better. Why was Shawn Michaels chosen for the 411 Wrestling Hall of Fame? That’s easy. Because he may well be the best wrestler of all time, and he deserves every accolade afforded to him.