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The Best

The Best Of The Best

#01 - Shawn Michaels
by Glenn Harrison

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He started out as the silent half of a teenybopper tag team, but secured his legend as an outspoken singles champion.  Standing just 6’1” 225 pounds, he also re-established a place for smaller, high-workrate technicians atop the pro wrestling world; and it is “the Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, who is #01 among the industry’s 100 Most Influential Figures.

   Michael Shawn James Hickenbottom was born on July 22, 1965 at Williams Air Force Base in Scottsdale, Arizona, where his father served in the U.S. Air Force.  His family moved to England shortly after he was born; but when his father was called to duty in Vietnam, they returned to his mother’s hometown of Storm Lake, Iowa.  After his father returned from the war, they were then stationed briefly in both Washington D.C. and Texas before his father retired from the military in 1971; and the family then settled permanently in the San Antonio region.  The youngest of four children, he went by the name Shawn ever since he was a small boy; and as a child, he excelled on the football field.  He would eventually serve as the team captain while playing outside linebacker at Randolph High School, and he then briefly attended Southwest Texas State University.  However, Shawn dropped out of college after just one semester when he made the decision to pursue a career in professional wrestling.

   At age 18, Shawn began his wrestling training when he sought the guidance of Mexican ring legend Jose Lothario.  Within a year, he made his pro debut as Shawn Michaels in the Mid-South territory, losing to Art Cruz in his first match on October 16, 1984.  After six months, he then traveled to Bob Geigel’s Kansas City region, where he would first meet another up-and-coming high-flyer named Marty Jannetty (real name: Marty Oakes).  Three months later, Michaels moved on to Texas All-Star Wrestling, where he formed a tag team with Paul Diamond known as the American Force, and the tandem won two Texas All-Star tag team titles in 1985.  Michaels next arrived in the NWA’s Central States territory, where he again met up with young Marty Jannetty.  The two began teaming as the Midnight Rockers, and they defeated Brad & Bart Batten for the Central States tag team titles on May 15, 1986.  Later that year, the Midnight Rockers entered the AWA, and while they were initially dismissed as cheap rip-offs of the Rock ‘n Roll Express, they soon established themselves among the sport’s top duos, beating “Playboy” Buddy Rose & “Pretty Boy” Doug Somers on January 27, 1987 to capture the AWA World Tag Team Titles.  As an exciting young tag team, the Midnight Rockers eventually attracted the attention of the WWF, who asked them to try out at a TV taping.  However, they were quickly dismissed after they had partied a bit too hard the previous night.  As a result, they returned to the AWA, where they held a second reign as tag champs and feuded with the Original Midnight Express and Bad Company before they were given a second chance by the WWF in late 1988.

   Renamed as simply the Rockers, Michaels & Jannetty quickly became one of the WWF’s top babyface tag teams while battling the likes of the Hart Foundation, Demolition, and the Brain Busters.  On October 30, 1990, the Rockers defeated the Hart Foundation to capture the WWF World Tag Team Titles after Jim Neidhart was fired from the WWF.  However, Neidhart was quickly rehired the following week; and the WWF decided to keep the titles with the Harts.  As a result, the title change was annulled, and the bout never aired on television, thus erasing the Rockers’ WWF tag title reign from history.  Despite their success, Michaels gradually became frustrated with his role as the silent partner while Jannetty hogged most of the attention; and in a late 1991 episode of Brutus Beefcake’s “Barber Shop” interview segment, Michaels shocked WWF fans by turning heel when he threw his former partner through the set’s glass window.

   Dubbed “the Heartbreak Kid” by new manager Sensational Sherri, Michaels quickly established himself as a rising singles star, capturing the Intercontinental Championship and then prevailing in his feud with a returning Jannetty.  Michael’s radical new personality as a cocky pretty-boy lifted “HBK” to become one of the company’s top heels; and as the WWF began to lose the ratings war to WCW in the mid-1990’s, Vince McMahon Jr. initiated a new direction for his company.  With Bret Hart currently installed as WWF World Champion, Vince saw the potential for a series of high-workrate bouts between the Hitman and the Heartbreak Kid, as the two had already wowed audiences in their previous battles for the I-C belt.  So at WrestleMania XII, Michaels wrestled Hart in a one-hour Ironman match, defeating him in overtime to capture the WWF World Title in what has since been hailed as a one of the event’s classic encounters.  As WWF World Champion, Michaels continued his run as the company’s top personality; and at the same time, HBK founded the legendary Degeneration-X stable along with Triple-H and Chyna.  D-X was revolutionary in that it added a racy edge to what had been a stale product.  With HBK at the top of the group, D-X was hugely popular with the fans, and it was instrumental in carrying the WWF into the new Attitude Era that would propel the company back to prominence. 

   At the 1997 Survivor Series, Shawn Michaels would again defeat Hart for the WWF World Title in what would become known as the infamous “Montreal screwjob,” as McMahon maneuvered the WWF title away from Hart before he could leave for WCW.  The bout catapulted HBK into a world of controversy, and further cemented his status as one of the industry’s most notorious superstars.  Unfortunately, Michaels’ career would come to a crashing halt while he was on top of the industry when he suffered a debilitating back injury during a match with Steve Austin in 1998.  Michaels was forced to retire, and disappeared from the sport just as the WWF was beginning to re-emerge among the national mainstream interest.  However, in 2002, Michaels made a surprise return alongside good friend Kevin Nash (who had played Michaels’ bodyguard Diesel in the mid-1990’s), as part of a newly revived nWo.  Feeling his back was somewhat recovered, Michaels agreed to take part in a single return bout with former partner Triple-H.  The match was so successful that Michaels continued to participate in more and more matchups, even winning the RAW World Heavyweight Championship from HHH at the 2002 Survivor Series. 

   Today, “the Show Stoppa” has made a triumphant return to a full-time wrestling role on RAW; and through his famous “Sweet Chin Music” finisher, he has regained his status among WWE’s premier main event talents while serving among the sport’s most charismatic superstars.  Nonetheless, his greatest legacy is his role in re-establishing lighter, quicker wrestlers as top-of-the-card performers in WWE, as the company had traditionally pushed larger-than-life brawling types like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior as its champions prior to his emergence.  Thus, at #01 among wrestling’s 100 Most Influential Figures is “the Heartbreak Kid,” Shawn Michaels.

 

 

ALL RIGHTS ARE ENTITLED TO EITHER SHAWN MICHAELS HICKENBOTTOM HIMSELF OR THE WWE INDUSTRY.