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Ask 411 Wrestling: When Was Shawn Michaels at His Best?

February 4, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a whole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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Tyler from Winnipeg is not your boy toy:

Which incarnation of Micheal Hickenbottom was your personal favorite?

I’ve seen footage of Shawn Michaels from throughout his career – including some of his very earliest pre-Rockers matches from Texas – and there wasn’t a single point during his time in the industry that he wasn’t at least “very good.” (His recent comeback match in Saudi Arabia notwithstanding.) Even as a green, fresh out of training rookie, he moved very naturally in the ring and clearly had an almost inborn aptitude for performing.

His almost innate ability as a performer from the very beginning is one thing that makes Shawn Michaels a very unique performer.

One other thing that makes Shawn Michaels a very unique performer is that I think my favorite period of his career is actually the end of it.

Oftentimes, professional wrestlers hang on to their careers for too long and keep wrestling well after their athletic primes, when they are only shadows of the performers that we once knew them as. However, the Heartbreak Kid stepped away from the sport at just the right time, before his body betrayed him too badly. He was still able to perform enough of the spectacular highspots that brought him do the dance, while performing them at a time in his life when he had decades’ worth of experience and had learned all of the little psychological tricks of the trade that allow a veteran wrestler to manipulate a crowd and add extra drama to a match.

I would say that peak Michaels begins in 2007 and continues through his retirement in 2010. During that period of time, you’ve got the program and match with John Cena in which he basically saved Wrestlemania. (Triple H vs. Cena had been the scheduled main event, but Trips went down with an injury.) You’ve got the hour-long match with Cena in the U.K. You’ve got Ric Flair’s retirement match at Wrestlemania, which, though not a classic from an athletic perspective is one of the most emotional matches that I have personally ever watched live. You’ve got the two Wrestlemania matches with the Undertaker. Perhaps most importantly, you’ve got Michaels’ stellar feud with Chris Jericho that wound up involving the World Heavyweight Title, which was part of the aftermath of HBK having forced Ric Flair’s retirement.

Granted, there was the occasional weird misstep during that period as well, including Shawn’s pseudo-heel turn and eventual rivalry with John Bradshaw Leyfield caused by Michaels allegedly having blown his life savings, but the Heartbreak Kid is such a talented performer that even his subpar work is better than most wrestlers’ best.

With all of that said, I think I’m going to go watch some Shawn Michaels DVDs now.

Keith H. sent in several “Mount Rushmore” questions . . . we’ll do one today and save the others for later on:

I would like to know who is on your Mount Rushmore of Canadian wrestlers.

There’s something that seems off about using the concept behind a U.S. landmark to rank Canadian wrestlers . . . and there’s also something that seems off about discussing Canadian wrestlers after discussing Shawn Michaels . . . but I’ll play along.

I’ll start by giving the same caveat that I’ve given in the past when answering these questions: In my mind, “Mount Rushmore” does not mean picking my four favorites. It means making selections based on talent and historical significance, with historical significance probably being the more important of those two criteria.

That said, here we go:

Don Leo Jonathan: Some might consider this a little bit of a cheat, because Jonathan was not actually born in Canada, but he did wind up residing there for most of his life and is probably most closely associated with that country. Also known as the “Mormon Giant,” Don Leo had a thirty-plus year long career and amazed everybody with the speed and athleticism that he demonstrated despite having a massive 6’6″ frame with, at points, over 300 pounds on it. Jonathan had stints in almost every major territory, including the AWA where he faced Verne Gange, the WWWF where he challenged both Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales for the top title, WWA where he encountered “Classy” Freddie Blassie, and All Japan, where he locked horns with Giant Baba. His biggest series of matches, though, was a “Battle of the Giants” with a young man from France by the name of Andre.

Pat Patterson: Though he’s considered a WWE legend and had some great moments in the ring for that company, really Patterson’s most noteworthy accomplishments as a professional wrestler came well before he had anything to do with the McMahon family. He was a significant drawing card in the regional days of the sport, most notably in San Francisco and the AWA, in addition to touring with New Japan. On top of everything that he accomplished in the ring, Patterson also deserves a great deal of credit for becoming a creative force after his retirement from active competition, as he was a trusted advisor of Vince McMahon during the WWF’s two greatest boom periods in the 1980s and 1990s, with perhaps his two most noteworthy contributions to the “sport” in that regard being the creation of the Royal Rumble match and laying out most of its early incarnations (something that you can argue has become a lost art if you’ve watched more recent versions of the match) and being one of the earliest and greatest behind the scenes advocates for a young wrestler named Rocky Maivia, who went on to do some pretty amazing things.

Bret “The Hitman” Hart: I hate to get all Watry on you here, but do I really need to explain this one? Granted, there are people out there who try to downplay the Hitman’s legacy because he was on top of the WWF at a time when business was largely down or because they don’t care for how he handled his exit from that company, but, the fact of the matter is, there is at least one if not two generations of fans who, when you say the phrase “Canadian professional wrestler,” immediately think of Bret Hart. He is perhaps one of the best pure in-ring performers that North America has produced in the last fifty years, and he did such a great job of marketing himself and tying his identity to that of his home country that it would be nearly impossible to justify leaving him off of this list.

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper: Oddly, in putting Bret Hart on this list, I mentioned how well he did in terms of identifying himself with Canada throughout his career, but Roddy Piper is a Canadian who almost went out of his way to promote himself as not being Canadian, and I still think that he belongs here, too. To clarify for anybody who might not realize it, the Hot Rod was born and raised in Saskatchewan, and his earliest matches that I was able to find record of took place in Winnipeg on shows promoted by Tony Condello. (Some will recognize Condello as the promoter of the infamous far-north “Death Tours” that guys like Chris Jericho and Lance Storm still talk about to this day.) Though Piper did not do much to explicitly rep the Great White North throughout his career, he was one of the top two or three performers during one of the greatest wrestling booms in the U.S./Canada, so he deserves a spot on this list.

And that’s all four slots. If you’ve got your own list, fire it off down in the comments.

Bryan J. is taking us to a promotion we don’t talk about that often, the USWA:

Back when the USWA ran shows out of Dallas, before going to Memphis they had the words “Renegade’s Rampage” on the ring apron and on the mat, was this a local business or bar or what?

Renegade’s Rampage was the name of a supposed professional wrestling tournament that was referenced on television programs hosted by the USWA, the AWA, and the CWA (Memphis) in the dying days of all three promotions. The event got its name because it was sponsored by the Renegade Tobacco company in the sort of advertising that you would never see on a wrestling television show today.

I referred to Renegade’s Rampage as a “supposed” professional wrestling tournament because it went on for quite some time with no defined brackets or blocks. Promotions that participated would just reference it whenever it suited their purposes, sort of like what WCW would do several years later with its so-called tournament to crown its first Cruiserweight Champion. Random matches on TV were labeled as having something to do with the tournament, though it’s no clear how they played into each other.

However, there are some sources showing that, when it was finally decided to put the Renegade’s Rampage to an end, there was a “final four” bracket drawn up with the matches being held in Memphis. A young Scott Steiner defeated Gary Young in one semi-final match, and Robert Fuller defeated Jeff Jarrett in the other. Then, Steiner beat out Fuller in the finals.

And, there you go . . . probably more backstory than you ever really wanted on a ring apron.

Marcus E. wants to follow up on some Royal Rumble statistics:

At the 2019 Royal Ruble PPV six different Japanese wrestlers competed in five different matches. This led me to wonder, what is the record for most wrestlers competing on a WWE PPV from a single foreign country (actually wrestling, managers and valets don’t count) and what is the record for most matches on a WWE PPV featuring wrestlers from a single foreign country. (For the purposes of this question let’s not include Brits at the NXT UK Takeover.) I assume the answer to the first question has to be Canada. For the second, it wouldn’t surprise me if Japan now has the record at five.

First off, I would personally count the number of Japanese wrestlers on the 2019 Rumble show differently, because I’ve never considered pre-show matches to be part of the PPV proper, but that’s neither here nor there . . . because, even if you count those pre-show matches, it turns out that the Japanese wrestlers don’t hold the record for most wrestlers on a WWF/WWE pay per view, and neither do the Canadians.

The record for most wrestlers from a single foreign country on a single WWE/WWF PPV actually goes to the great country of Mexico thanks to the fact that, for the 1997 Royal Rumble, the WWF called in some assistance from AAA, and I don’t mean the auto club. Hoping to draw more Latino fans to help fill up the massive Alamodome, Vince and company stacked the show with luchadores. There was a trios match on the show that saw Hector Garza Jr., Perro Aguayo, and El Canek defeat Jerry Estrada, Heavy Metal, and Fuerza Guerrera. Then, to top it all off, four lucha stars entered the Royal Rumble match itself: Latin Lover, Cibernetico, Pierroth, and Mil Mascaras.

That’s ten Mexican wrestlers on the same card, and no single country has ever had more wrestlers on the same WWE/WWF pay per view.

As to the second question, i.e. which single country has been represented in the most matches on a WWF/WWE pay per view, Canada does hold the record there. Canuks have appeared in five matches on a PPV on several different occasions, and no other foreign country can claim to have met that mark. The shows that feature five matches involving Canadians are:

Wrestlemania III
Can-Am Connection vs. Bob Orton Jr. & Don Muraco
Hillbilly Jim, Little Beaver, & Haiti Kid vs. King Kong Bundy, Little Tokyo, & Lord Littlebrooks
Dream Team vs. Fabulous Rougeau Brothers
Roddy Piper vs. Adrian Adonis
Hart Foundation & Danny Davis vs. British Bulldogs & Koko Ware

Wrestlemania V
Bushwackers vs. Fabulous Rougeau Brothers
Mr. Perfect vs. Blue Blazer
Dino Bravo vs. Ronnie Garvin
Brainbusters vs. Strike Force
Hart Foundation vs. Rhythm n’ Blues

Wrestlemania VI
Rick Martel vs. Koko Ware
Earthquake vs. Hercules
Bad News Brown vs. Roddy Piper
Hart Foundation vs. Bolsheviks
Jim Duggan vs. Dino Bravo

Wrestlemania VII
Kerry Von Erich vs. Dino Bravo
Nasty Boys vs. Hart Foundation
Jake Roberts vs. Rick Martel
Earthquake vs. Greg Valentine
Mountie vs. Tito Santana

Wrestlemania VIII
Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper
Big Boss Man, Virgil, St. Slaughter, & Jim Duggan vs. Nasty Boys, Repo Man, & Mountie
Natural Disasters vs. Money, Inc.
Owen Hart vs. Skinner
Tatanka vs. Rick Martel

Wrestlemania X
Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart
Bam Bam Bigelow & Luna Vacho vs. Doink & Dink
Men on a Mission vs. The Quebecers
Earthquake vs. Adam Bomb
Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna

Wrestlemania XVII
APA & Tazz vs. Right to Censor
Eddie Guerrero vs. Test
Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit
Edge & Christian vs. Dudley Boys vs. Hardy Boys
Gimmick Battle Royale (ft. Earthquake)
* Note – You can get this show to six matches if you count Chris Jericho as a Canadian, but he was actually born in New York.

Backlash 2017
Usos vs. Tyler Breeze & Fandango
Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin
Natalya, Tamina, & Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, & Naomi
Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles
Jinder Mahal vs. Randy Orton

Clash of Champions 2017
Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin vs. Bobby Roode
Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya
Bludgeon Brothers vs. Tyler Breeze & Fandango
Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn vs. Randy Orton & Shinsuke Nakamura
AJ Styles vs. Jinder Mahal

Judgment Day 2003
John Cena & The FBI vs. Rhyno, Chris Benoit, & Bryan Kendrick
La Resistance vs. Scott Steiner & Test
Battle Royale (ft. Christian, Lance Storm, Test, & Val Venis)
Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper
Jazz vs. Trish Stratus vs. Victoria vs. Jacqueline

King of the Ring 2000
Chris Benoit vs. Rikishi
Val Venis vs. Eddie Guerrero
Edge & Christian vs. Hardy Boys vs. Too Cool vs. T&A
Rikishi vs. Val Venis
Pat Patterson vs. Gerald Brisco

And that will do it for this week. As always, if you’ve got your own questions to submit, shoot them over to [email protected].

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Ask 411 Wrestling, Ryan Byers