For wrestling fans who came of age in the early to mid nineties, there's a decisive split between two favorites - Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Fans will always remember both as two of the greatest of all time. But when it comes to Shawn, even his peers generally acknowledge he is the greatest of all time. Starting as a tag team specialist, Michaels would follow the path of becoming a reliable hand to World Champion to untouchable trendsetter. He was one of the few who had Vince McMahon's ear and was able to convince him to ditch the cartoon characters and go with more realistic storylines and characters.
Because of HBK's career trajectory, he is one of the few if only wrestlers to have returned after such a long hiatus and not only not miss a beat but be just as good if not better than when he left. Shawn Michaels got to go through every one of the WWE's eras from the Golden Age-Hogan Era to the current PG-Era, and each time he rose to the top of the roster. But it wasn't always easy. Here are 15 things detailing the Birth, Death, and Resurrection of the Heartbreak Hall of Famer's career.
15 Birth: The Barber Shop
When The Rockers debuted, they were two of the smaller guys on the roster. The first hurdle HBK had to overcome. The team was able to surpass many teams of the day and go on to have memorable programs and matches with the likes of The Brain Busters and The Orient Express. The breakup of The Rockers was still to this day one of the most carefully orchestrated moments in WWE history. Beginning in late 1991, The Rockers, who were always on point with each other and knew each other's moves before they made them began to bungle up each other's matches. Marty Jannetty cost Shawn a match with Ric Flair and accidentally got him eliminated in a Survivor Series match. They would lose matches and argue who was at fault, and even the WWE Magazine had a written a piece, "Is There a Problem with the Rockers?" It all culminated in the infamous Barber Shop segment with the Superkick heard 'round the world as Shawn layed out his now-old tag team partner and then launched him through the window of the set, busting him wide open. HBK's career is filled with memorable moments and this one will always be top five easily.
14 Birth: The Rockers Explode for the IC Title
Naturally, with a breakup as devastating as theirs, the inevitable program between the two should have been one of the best things to come out of the early nineties. But personal issues led to Marty leaving the company. Instead of an actual program, "The Heartbreak Kid" rose to infamy as a great heel, with Sensational Sherri behind him carrying a giant mirror for HBK to check himself (and his massive ego) out in. On one fateful Saturday morning Superstars, Michaels' worst nightmare came true as Janetty came from the crowd to surprise HBK while he was checking himself out. Marty would try to level his old partner with the mirror but Michaels yanked Sherri into the line of the fire. She would turn on HBK but unfortunately still inadvertently help him retain the IC title against Marty at the 1993 Royal Rumble. In May, Janetty would again be a thorn in his ex-partner's side, this time in the greatest Intercontinental Championship match Raw has ever seen. Janetty would shine, if only for a brief moment over his former friend and become the new IC Champ. Even in defeat, Michaels would do what great heels do, make the babyface look amazing, and in the process good ol' HBK became a made guy himself.
13 Birth: Winning the Royal Rumble in '95 and '96
It was a feat achieved only by Hulk Hogan before him and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin after him. Shawn Michaels would win both the 1995 and 1996 Royal Rumbles back to back. Unlike his fellow members of this exclusive club, Michaels would officially get to go on and challenge for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania (Austin's '97 shot was taken away by Gorilla Monsoon since he cheated to win the match and Hogan's victories were prior to the stipulation that the winner gets a title shot). HBK's road to becoming Mr. WrestleMania was cemented by these two Rumble victories. He went on to face Diesel at WrestleMania XI and of course the Iron Man match at XII. But the mere fact that Shawn won the Rumble in the first place aignaled a new norm for the company where the emphasis would be put more on characters with athleticism than big men who lumbered through a match. More importantly, the company was willing to trust Shawn Michaels in main event programs.
12 Birth: Two Dudes with Attitude
Some older fans give Kevin Nash flack for supposedly being a low-drawing champion and someone who makes no bones about the fact that he does this job for money (why do you do any job even if you like it?). But when he originally came to the WWE and was paired up with HBK as his bodyguard. It was the missing piece of the puzzle for Shawn Michaels. He now had a massive heater, friend, and tag team partner that he could be cool and cocky with. Once they became a tag team, Michaels' speed and skill was matched perfectly with Diesel's raw power and the duo on two separate occasions held the WWE Tag Team Championship. The story of how the pair came together is that Michaels saw Nash on WCW and inquired if Vince could get him. Pretty much the instant WWE contacted Nash, he facilitated his release and showed up on Raw soon after that. But it wasn't just the pair's in ring presence that helped Michaels along in his career, it was the backstage stroke they were gaining and the favor with Vince McMahon they were currying.
11 Birth: Beating Bret
The final piece of the puzzle in Shawn Michaels' initial rise to glory as headlining and winning the WWE Championship at a WrestleMania. After all, winning the title is one thing, but winning it in the main event of the biggest show of the year will make you pretty much for life. So it was in 1996 that Shawn Michaels won the Royal Rumble for the second straight year in a row and now that he was one of the most beloved babyfaces in the company he was on a collision course with the top babyface, Bret "The Hitman" Hart. Their program was showcased by training videos of both men, Shawn of course a whole lot flashier than The Hitman, doing things like upside down push-ups hanging from a pull up bar. The match itself, twenty years later is one of the best hours of wrestling you will ever see. Chain wrestling, moonsalts, and fast-paced sequences galore. For many wrestlers on the current main roster this match is one of the moments that inspired them to lace up their own boots. When it was all over, Shawn Michaels had final,y reached the mountaintop, with Vince McMahon's words continuing to echo in the hearts and minds of fans to this day - "the boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels!"
10 Death: The Curtain Call
It might be one of defining moments of mid-nineties wrestling, buts it is also the beginning of HBK's downfall. We all know the story - on Nash and Hall's final Madison Square Garden show, them along with Triple H and HBK asked the brass for and received the opportunity to brake kayfabe and say goodbye to one another in the middle of the ring. Sadly for them (but ultimately awesome for the history of the business), a fan snuck in a camcorder and recorded the footage of the then-taboo moment. While Vince OK'ed The Kliq doing this, many of the company higher ups were pissed off at their brazen display of disrespect for protecting the business, which it quite frankly was. For everyone who still bought in, they now knew the business was a work. For HBK, he didn't receive any sort of punishment since he was champion, and on fire in a way that can be compared to AJ Styles this year. But it was the first chink in his Teflon armor. Backstage, he was becoming more and more of a handful to deal with and even wanted to hightail it down south to be with his with boys.
9 Death: Losing His Smile
Depending on which story you believe, when Shawn defeated The Hitman, HBK had claimed that he would only work with and put over his friends. That didn't sit well with Bret or many other veterans. Again, depending on which story you believe, the original main event for WrestleMania 13 was supposed to be the epic rematch between the bitter rivals, only this time Shawn was booked to drop the belt back to The Hitman. Backstage, he was now in full-on primadonna mode, and the very real tensions between the two men were growing. This did not sit well with Shawn at all. So he did what any fast growing whiner would do, he complained of a possibly knee injury, one which Bret didn't believe, seeing as how the guy was flipping all over the ring weeks prior and after. But in any event, the guy went to see Dr. James Andrews and was advised to never to wrestle again. HBK would deliver the now infamous "lost my smile" speech and relinquish the title, instead of dropping it clean to the "Excellence of Execution."
8 Death: Montreal
The war with Bret Hart had boiled over to a fever pitch by the time Survivor Series 1997 rolled around. Neither man wanted to lose to the other one in the ring or deal with the other backstage. Shawn Michaels spent years denying having any prior knowledge of the events in Montreal. Once he did reveal that he was in on it, he has always acted as a knowing patsy - he wasn't completely OK with what down, but considering how he felt towards Bret at that time and his loyalty to Vince, good ol' HBK didn't seem to be eaten up about his part in screwing Bret Hart in his home country. What happened in Montreal, as well as the events leading up to it, most egregiously, the Sunny Days comment, which certainly didn't help Bret's marriage are signs that the guy might have been cracking trying to stay on top of the mountain. What went down in Montreal might have started a tailspin for Bret, but Shawn too as his behaviour became more erratic and barely six months later, he had to take a sabbatical for his injuries.
7 Death: Career-Ending Injury
For HBK, it wasn't enough for his fans and his peers to know he was the best, he needed to go out every single night and prove it. Never one to rest in his laurels, Shawn Michaels would push himself to the limits every single night. So when Mr. WrestleMania came head to head with The Undertaker at the 1998 Royal Rumble, he sought to outdo himself and what they did several months prior at the first ever Hell in the Cell match. HBK took a nasty backdrop onto The Deadman's casket. He was able to finish the match, but it became apparent that his back was hurt far more than initially thought. HBK would grimace and grit his teeth through the pain in order to get to WrestleMania and put over Stone Cold. At the time, Triple H and Chyna were doing all they could to make sure HBK would make it to Boston, and supposedly The Undertaker threatened to make Shawn famous had he decided to no-show WrestleMania. But he go there, did what he could in the match to put over Austin and successfully help launch the Austin Era.
6 Death: Too Strung Out for the Game
On his way to his career-threatening back injury, HBK has made no bones about the fact that he just wasn't a happy person, nor was he a decent person to his friends. He was pretty much there just a pill to be around. His personal life wasn't what most people would desire and of course his in ring career was coming to a close. But he made it to 'Mania and put Austin over. Afterwards, even when he came back for sporadic appearances, he was still no fun to be around. Instead of enjoying retirement, Michaels, by his own admission felt sorry for himself. According to Triple H, the night that Vince bought WCW, HBK was in the building but he was strung out and an embarrassment. It was The Undertaker who motioned to Hunter to try and get Shawn out of the room. HBK wasn't hearing any of this though and cut a torrid promo on his friend, blaming Triple H for all of his troubles. Vince was planning to put Shawn back into the storylines, but that went out the window as HBK almost ruined every bridge he ever built.
5 Ressurection: Finding God
After Michaels was excommunicated from the WWE, he was home with his wife and son, but unfortunately still using far more than prescribed doses of pain medication. One particular bender, it was the legend's own son, Cameron that found him passed out thanks to too many Soma sleeping pills. Not wanting to be another wrestling statistic, he knew he had to get right. He cleaned up his act, got sober, and most importantly he rediscovered religion thanks in part to his wife Rebecca. With the change in lifestyle came a litany of apologies and moments of clarity. HBK was born again in more ways than just his belief in the Almighty. Michaels didn't just renew his faith in the Lord, he helped out many in his congregation, leading bible study courses and helping families going through their own dark times. Shawn would wear his beliefs on his sleeves when he returned at SummerSlam 2002, wearing a shirt that said Philippians 4:13, which means “I can do all things through Him, who gives me strength.”
4 Resurrection: Return to the Ring
In early 1998, HBK suffered a career-ending injury. His back was severely damaged and he had to retire. Be it newfound belief in the Almighty, or modern medicine fully healing HBK but Michaels was ready to return to the ring and with seldom few on his level, Triple H needed someone to feud with. With the blessing of his family to go back out and finish what he started many years ago, HBK made the decision in 2002 to make a comeback. Making amends with Triple H behind the scenes led to a shocking turn on camera as Triple H assaulted his former best friend. The feud would lead to Michaels' great comeback match at SummerSlam 2002, winning the first Elimination Chamber match, and subsequently the World Heavyweight Championship at Survivor Series 2002. After a WrestleMania match with Y2J, it was apparent, not only was good ol' HBK back - he hadn't lost a single step in the four years he was gone and he was better than ever.
3 Resurrection: "I'm Sorry, I Love You"
He came back in 2002, a little after the Invasion angle, and so did everybody else. Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and of course Ric Flair. While it took Triple H to help Ric Flair remember he was "The Nature Boy again," it would be HBK who would give him the match of his twilight years. Both men's careers had come full circle - both men had come back from near career-threatening injuries and Shawn Michaels had grown up idolizing Ric Flair. In 2008, Vince McMahon issues the edict to Flair - if he lost a match, he'd be forced to retire. The edict would lead to Flair and HBK colliding on the grandest stage, WrestleMania XXIV. A night after being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Flair would walk that aisle one last time to face one of the many Superstars who looked up to him. But in HBK's case, Flair admired Shawn Michaels just as much. HBK, now a veteran himself, would be tasked with doing what he always did - steal the show - while making Ric Flair look like The Nature Boy of old one last time. It was a contest for the ages and another match in a long line of memorable 'Manias for HBK. The ending will be remembered as the most loving Sweet Chin Music ever as HBK did what he set to to do but didn't want to do, end the career of the Nature Boy.
2 Resurrection: Amends with Bret
Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart both went on similar roads and paths on their way to the still talked about ad nauseam Montreal Screwjob. Bret left for WCW while Michaels reigned supreme for a few more months. But HBK's personal demons caught up to him and he was forced to take a sabbatical. In finding the Lord, he also began to mend fences with everyone he ever gave a hard time to. On his eight year comeback tour, he began to work more and more with the younger generation, namely, in this entry's case - Nattie Neidhart and Tyson Kidd. Michaels and the younger Harts began speaking and it was Tyson who was the bridge between HBK and The Hitman. The Hart in-law gave Bret HBK's number and the two legends began to mans fences, culminating with an official in ring mending on January 4, 2010 when Bret returned to host Raw. Both older, wiser, and gentler, Bret and Shawn would be able to not only speak candidly about Montreal, but their entire friendship on their Rivalries DVD.
1 Resurection: Duels with The Deadman
Mr. WrestleMania. That's all you need to know about Shawn Michaels and his legacy. Since his WrestleMania debut in 1989, HBK and his performance on the grandest stage has more or less been one of the brightest spots of the show. The Ladder Match, arriving on a zipline, bouts with Jericho, Kurt Angle, and John Cena - there wasn't much left for Shawn to do at WrestleMania except attempt what no one had ever been able to do, defeat The Deadman. WrestleMania XXV in Houston: the stage would be the stage for the two legendary Texans to reignite their rivalry. Even though the two had clashed years prior, their date with destiny at WrestleMania XXV was a dream match come true. The match and its buildup was the stuff of legend. The lightness and the Showstopping ability of HBK dueling with the Darkness and the Streak of The Phenom. The match itself was 30 minutes of amazing, as the two would pull out all of their stops to best the other man in a contest that should be seen by any one who calls themselves a fan and anyone who wants to step in the ring. One year later, they would do it again, this time wth HBK's career on the line. Michaels had come back eight years prior and reached his full potential as a man and a wrestler. It might have been sad to see him leave, but he left on top and there is no better way to call it quits. To date. Shawn is one of the few wrestlers that actually have never wrestled again after retiring. He is also universally accepted as one of the top three greatest Superstars of all time.