wrestling / Columns

HBK’s Comeback: What We All Wanted…Until We Didn’t

October 18, 2018 | Posted by Steve Cook
Shawn Michaels WWE Raw HBK's

There are a number of things I’ve always felt uncomfortable commenting on as a member of the Internet Wrestling Media. One of them is whether or not a wrestler should retire, or stay retired. Who am I to tell these men or women what to do with their lives? If they want to step in the ring, great! More entertainment for me! If they feel that their time has passed, or want to move on to other things, I fully support their decision.

The only retirements that distress me are those caused by injury. When Daniel Bryan retired in 2015, I was sad because it was injuries that forced him from the ring, not his free will. Had he been in 100% physical condition and decided he was going to retire because he needed to be Brie Bella’s Genetic Jackhammer, I would have supported it. I’m big on the “you do you” philosophy.

When Shawn Michaels retired for the second time, in 2010, it felt right. He hadn’t progressed to the point where he was a shell of his former self. The guy could still go and have matches that were on par with his best. His retirement match with the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI was one of his best, in fact. Ideally, you want to leave the people wanting just a little bit more. That’s exactly what Michaels did.

It was cool with me. I had no problem with Michaels opting for Jesus & hunting instead of wrestling. But I realize that I’m in the minority. Most WWE fans were terribly disappointed that HBK wasn’t on their television anymore. In their defense, the next couple of years of WWE after WrestleMania XXVI likely would have been more entertaining with Michaels in the ring. Certainly, we would have been better off with Michaels in a match at WrestleMania XXVIII than as an over-acting referee for HHH vs. Undertaker. Michaels heard one chant over and over again from fans for years after he retired.

“One More Match”

That chant has become one of the annoying staples of 21st century wrestling fandom, along with “This Is Awesome” & “You’ve Still Got It”. Every year at the WWE Hall of Fame Ceremony, legends give speeches that are interrupted with the “One More Match” chant from fans high on nostalgia & a need to get themselves over. Shawn heard it more than most. He heard it at the HOF Ceremony. He heard it pretty much every time he appeared at a WWE function. I bet he probably hears it when he teaches a a class at the Performance Center.

If you took a poll of WWE viewers, the majority would probably still be in favor of a Shawn Michaels comeback, even when you add in all the young fans that weren’t around to see him wrestle. He’s been put over by WWE endlessly since retirement. He was the #1 Superstar of All Time on that DVD. He & DX are given most of the credit for turning the tide of the Monday Night War. A lot of his peers credit him as the greatest in-ring performer of all time, some of who weren’t even friends of his.

Even if Michaels was happy with retirement, he had to feel the pull to come back. Every other wrestler does. Most of whom aren’t nearly as missed as Michaels was. Any time he appeared on WWE television after his retirement, fans in the crowd begged him to come back. Any video of him on YouTube is rife with comments wishing he would come back.

He finally gave in. He agreed to make the people happy and come back to the ring. He almost stayed out for a decade, which might be a record by wrestling retirement standards. He said he’d never come back, and he meant it for a long time. Once he started working at the PC, he started to sway on that thought. He started saying he might come back for “one more match”. He started waffling. He was looking for the right offer. He was looking for a payday.

Shawn Michaels recently re-appeared on WWE television to involve himself in the latest edition of the Triple H vs. Undertaker feud. Kane got involved too, so they all went down to Australia for a H vs. Taker match. Things went awry, and the obvious next step was to book Degeneration X against the Brothers of Destruction. It was set for WWE Crown Jewel, the company’s latest event in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That’s when feelings got complicated.

There are two main issues that people seem to have with HBK’s return.

1. The booking

Booking always seems to be something that we take issue with. We always think we can do better. Even if the end result is something that we’ve wanted for a long time, we’re not happy unless it’s done a certain way. Let’s be honest: no matter what Shawn Michaels’ return match ended up being, a portion of the WWE Universe wasn’t going to be happy.

I’m with the people on this one though. I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to see D-Generation X reform to take on the Brothers of Destruction towards the end of 2018. Doesn’t interest me one single bit, other than hoping for botches to use in my column. I recognize that there are a lot of people stuck in the past that only want to see their favorite wrestlers from when they were kids, and some of them seem to be the people funding these shows.

If I really had a hankering for some HBK vs. Undertaker, or even HBK vs. Kane for some unknown reason, I could turn on the WWE Network or dig through my DVD collection. Heck, I just got Michaels’ Unreleased set, full of all kinds of stuff I haven’t seen before. Given the choice between that & watching these guys stumble their way through a Civil War re-enactment, why would I bother with Crown Jewel?

2. The location

As we all know, the Saudis have been funneling money into WWE this year so they would have some huge entertainment events in their country. It’s this new thing they’re doing to try & get some positive PR. The Saudi regime acts like they’re being progressive by inviting all of the male WWE Superstars to perform in a football stadium in front of the royal family at ringside & thousands of fans in far away seats. WWE promotes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as being benevolent & noble because, well, they’re getting a lot of money to do so.

Ideally, this would be seen as kinda strange but nothing worth getting upset about. Pro wrestling has always been about taking money out of people’s pockets. Working the marks, as they say. The Sauds have a ton of money, and they want to spend it on things like WWE events. Why should we get mad at a wrestling promoter for doing what the job has been since the beginning of the business?

Besides, it’s not like WWE is the only American-based company with a working arrangement with Saudi Arabia. And it’s not like the U.S. government hasn’t been working with the Sauds for decades. Saudi Arabia’s never really been known for human rights. America has looked the other way at a lot of their nonsense because we needed a friend in the Arab world. When it comes to relations with the Sauds, our current adminstration is merely following in the footsteps of those who came before them.

The only thing that’s new is Saudi Arabia trying to seem cool & hip. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has led quite the charm offensive since taking the crown in June 2017. He has a vision for 2030 that involves changes across the map to make the Kingdom more open. He’s allowed women to sing in public, drive cars & open their own businesses. He travels the world, meets with leaders & celebrities and talks about reform & culture. A lot of powerful & influential people have bought into it. It all sounds really, really good.

There’s just one problem…that pesky other side of Saudi Arabia. The side that does things that we try & sweep under the rug because they don’t fit the narrative of a dashing young Prince arriving to save the day & bring reform to all. Fortunately, they either take place in Yemen, where nobody is paying attention, or they involve the supression & degradation of people we’ve never heard of. Usually, we can ignore these issues & pay attention to the things that matter, like pro wrestling.

Maybe Shawn Michaels coming back at the behest of the Saudi regime & their money isn’t the way we’d like to see it happen. WrestleMania or an event like that may have been more fitting a stage. But hey, it’s 2018 and we’re all happy capitalists here. All Shawn Michaels has to say is that the Saudis’ offer moved him. To a bigger house.

Usually, he’d get away with it. Unfortunately for Shawn & his big comeback, that pesky other side of Saudi Arabia had to rear its ugly head. Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist that relocated to America & a noted critic of the Crown Prince, entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2. He hasn’t been seen since. It’s become quite the story across the world, with the majority of people not really buying Saudi Arabia’s muddled response denying any knowledge of what happened.

WWE was already getting criticism for running shows in concert with the Saudi government based off of everything else the Sauds take part in. That criticism has increased tenfold since the Khashoggi disappearance. WWE is still promoting the Crown Jewel event endlessly on their programming, but not billing it from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was a staple of early promoting of the event, and of the promotion of the Greatest Royal Rumble event. The event may end up being moved, or WWE will keep the event there & hope people have moved on to talking about something else by November 2.

All we can say for sure is that Shawn Michaels couldn’t have picked a less convenient or controversial time to come back. Considering how his career went the first time around, it only makes sense, right? Shawn attracted controversy like few people before or after him.

I’m not going to tell Shawn Michaels he shouldn’t come back. Neither should you. We don’t have that kind of power. The power we do have? Viewership. If you don’t want to see it, don’t watch it. Remember Shawn the way he was. Leave the memories alone.