The Evolution of Shawn Michaels: from a Bret Hart fan’s perspective

I watched the Montreal Screw Job live. The most controversial wrestling match of all time happened at the November 9th 1997 Survivor Series when Shawn Micheals beat Bret Hart for the WWF title at the Molson Centre in Montreal Canada. The outcome of the match appeared to be determined without Hart’s consent or knowledge and at first it appeared Michaels was in the dark about it too. Being an Irish fan this meant sitting up until nearly 3am on Monday morning, due to the time difference, to see the outcome of what would be the most anticipated match of that year. I was a huge Bret Hart fan. I knew wrestling was a work but I also knew there was real life rivalries going on behind the scenes between the stars. None bigger than the Hart-Michaels rivalry and I was Team Bret all the way. The year previous Hart had done the honours for Michaels putting him over in the one hour Iron Man Match at Wrestlemania 12. More than a year and a half later it looked like it was Hart’s turn to go over with Michaels returning the favour. Of course this was not to be. Remember too that the internet was still in its infancy and back then I had little or no access to it. As the main event started that night I remember there appeared to be some fans booing Bret which was highly unusual as he was a Canadian legend and Michaels was pretty much despised by the fans in Canada. The reason for the booing was that some of these fans had heard the leaked news that Hart would soon be leaving WWF and on his way to rival company WCW the following month. At the time I didn’t know this and then I picked up on something that the commentator Jim Ross said as the match was about to start. Ross mentioned that there were rumours that this could be Bret Hart’s last match with WWF. My head spun a little when I heard that but nonetheless I continued watching. The ending has been well documented in countless forums of course at this stage, with referee Earl Hebner calling for the bell while Michaels held Hart in his own submission move the Sharpshooter. There had been no indication from Bret to submit. I remember at first being confused when the bell rung as both wrestlers body lanugage didn’t look right and then Hart spat at WWF owner Vince McMahon, who had been standing at ringside, and I knew that I had just witnessed something extraordinary and surreal at the same time. Of course it would eventually come to light that Michaels had been in on the double cross with McMahon all along. You have to also remember that back then we didn’t get to watch WCW that easily in Ireland so now that Bret was gone from WWF I was stuck with Shawn on my screen as champion. Remember I was a huge Bret Hart fan.

A few months later, on March 29th 1998, the Attitude Era was offically born when Stone Cold Steve Austin beat Michaels for the WWF World Title at Wrestlemania 14 in Boston Massachusetts. I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the Fleet Center that night and see Austin capture his first singles world title. Like so many other fans at that time I was starting to take to Stone Cold’s brash, trash talking, beer drinking character. He was a riot. Having flown from Dublin to Boston specifically to attend Wrestlemania I was hugely satisfied with the outcome of this match. Unlike Survivor Series the main event of Mania had gone just the way I had hoped it would and Shawn Michaels had been relieved of his duties as world champion. After all, he didn’t even win the title fairly in the first place. He actually cheated the champion out of his title in a sport that was already predetermined!! I had been reading the UK wrestling publication Powerslam at this stage and they mentioned many of Michaels attitude problems behind the scenes from time to time. I read all about the ego of the infamous Kliq which consisted of Michaels and his buddies Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman and Triple H. These guys had the ear of Vince McMahon and besides Bret Hart and The Undertaker they appeared to be calling their own shots behind the scenes. That night in Boston I remember drinking a beer satisfied that in the make believe world of pro wrestling a genuine bad guy (Michaels) had been dethroned by the new sheriff in town (Austin) and that at least he was no longer holder of the belt. Remember I was a huge Bret Hart fan.

Wrestlemania 14 would turn out to be Shawn Michaels last match for nearly 4 years due to an aggravation of a back injury. During those 4 years Michaels made several on screen appearances as “commissioner” of WWF and even joined the WWF version of the nWo in a non wrestling capacity at one stage. Eventually after 4 years of being out of the ring the time came when the back injury appeared to have eased somewhat for him and Shawn decided to make a come back taking on his old buddy Triple H in an unsanctioned street fight at Summer Slam 2002 on August 25th at the Nassau Coliseum in New York. When I watched him that night I thought Shawn looked to be as good and as smooth as ever in the ring. That match was the beginning of a long running on/off feud/friendship with Triple H that would become a classic feud over the years to come. It was also the beginning of something else. It was the beginning of part 2 of Shawn Michaels career. For me Shawn’s career consisted of two parts and in my opinion part 2 was better than part 1 and part 1 hadn’t been too shabby. Part 2 however would take Shawn to another level for sheer talent in the ring. Remember I was a huge Bret Hart fan.

From 2002 until he retired on March 28th 2010 Shawn Michaels was part of more classic matches and moments than I can remember. I lost count of the times he struck his signature Sweet Chin Music superkick to opponents chins from seemingly out of nowhere. There was also the still to this day unrivalled selling of opponents moves where you could see casual observers really believing he was hurt in the ring. The matches are too many to list but some that stick out have to be mentioned. His win in the first ever Elimination Chamber match pinning Triple H to capture the World Title in 2002. His Wrestlemania 19 classic with Chris Jericho that would stand as arguably Jericho’s greatest ever match. In 2005 at Mania 21 Michaels took on Kurt Angle in one of my personal favourite matches of all time. These two are up there as two of the best ever in-ring technicians and at this time in their careers they were at their absolute pinnacle. Go back and watch it now and watch the almost shoot style that begins the match before it transitions into the complete wrestling match with back and forth pinfalls that ends with an Angle submission win. It stands the test of time as good as anything you will see today because its a timeless mat classic. Michaels even temporarily turned heel for a short program with Hulk Hogan in the summer of 2005 for a memorable run headlining Summer Slam eventually losing to Hogan in the main event. The following year again at Wrestlemania Shawn managed to take a No holds Barred match to very respectable levels with Vince McMahon himself. There seemed to be nothing this guy couldn’t do and I was enjoying every minute of it. Remember I was a huge Bret Hart fan.

He would go on to have countless feuds with John Cena, Randy Orton, Jericho (again), Triple H (again & again), Ric Flair, Edge, JBL and countless others until he once again crossed paths with his old nemesis The Undertaker in 2009. Again at Wrestlemania, which had became the staple for Shawn Michaels classics at this stage , these two legends put on a show of pure perfection in the ring. Everything just fell into place beautifully and in the end Undertaker got the pin in a match that needed no winner because both competitors had just gone up another level in the fans eyes and more so in my eyes! In the year between their next and final match Shawn would have a tag team classic feud with Triple H as his partner against Jericho and Big Show which was highly entertaining for all fans who went along for the ride. Then when Wrestlemania rolled back around a year later it was time for Michaels-Taker 2. This was the sequel that lived up, for the most part, to the original and once again they stole the show and tore the house down. In the end Shawn would lose and with that his career was finally and permanently over just as he wanted. He was now free to ride off into the sunset and enjoy family life with his wife and kids. From a selfish view point I thought Shawn had retired too early because I wanted to see more of these matches that for me were just getting better and better. The guy could do it all and more impressively he could have a great match with just about anybody, any shape or size. That there is a testament to him personally that he could do what very few others throughout the years of professional wrestling could do so consistently. I realised at this stage that I was really going to miss this guys performances every week on Raw, every month on Pay per View and most importantly every year at Wrestlemania. If a guy deserved the title Mr. Wrestlemania then it certainly belonged to Shawn Michaels. The Undertaker may have held the infamous unbeaten Wrestlemania streak from 1991 until Brock Lesnar ended it in 2014 but for me there has never been a better in ring performer at Wrestlemania than Shawn Michaels. He had several 5 star classic matches at the biggest card of the year which for me has never been matched. The guy could do it all. Remember I was a huge Bret Hart fan.

The same year Shawn’s career ended he and Bret finally buried the hatchet of their long running real life feud when Bret returned to WWE Raw on January 4th 2010 and they spoke in what was reportedly a real shoot promo in front of a live crowd. It was an emotional moment for both men and a long overdue one as well. It was good to see the two of them finally at peace with each other. It’s amazing to think the pre determined world of pro wrestling could create a real life bitterness than spanned 12 years. The sad part about this was that these guys were so good when they wrestled against each other and had timing, contracts and injuries been different they could have had so many more memorable moments in the ring together. I watched Raw that night with a happy heart. Unlike the night of the Montreal Screw Job when I was confused and angry over what had happened and unlike the night I drank a beer in Boston happy that Stone Cold had dethroned the dastardly Michaels, this night I was happy that two old enemies had finally laid their ghosts to rest and come out the other side better people for it. I was particularly happy for Bret as his in ring career was long over properly at this stage while Michaels still had a few years left in him. Remember I was a huge Bret Hart fan and thankful for everything that he did for the sport.

Today I sit in a Belfast hotel having travelled up from Dublin to shake the hand of Mr. Wrestlemania himself, Shawn Michaels, when he appears at a special Q&A event hosted by Inside The Ropes. Having been a fan for so many years there are a few guys that really stand out for me and undoubtably Shawn Michaels is one of those elite guys. His in-ring accomplishments are among the absolute best of all time. Some people say Ric Flair was the greatest in ring wrestler of all time and that he could get a good match out of anybody, any style, at anytime. I would argue that Shawn Michaels could do the very same, as good as, if not better. Its almost time to head off to the venue and shake the hand of Mr. Wrestlemania himself and I must admit I’m looking forward to seeing Bret Hart’s old arch enemy himself and looking him in the eye and saying “Thank you”. Remember I’m also a huge Shawn Michaels fan.

 

-DS

 

 

 

 

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