Raw Magazine interview (8/00)

Injuries brought one of the greatest careers in Federation history to a premature end, but for new dad Shawn Michaels, life has just begun. Shawn Michaels is trying to recall his greatest moment in the squared circle when his infant son Cameron lets out a wail. In a flash, Michaels is out of his seat, delivering a bottle to the baby as swiftly as he used to execute "Sweet Chin Music," the superkick he adopted as his finisher in his days as the World Wrestling Federation's premier attraction. When Michaels returns, he seems less focused on his triumph over Sycho Sid at the 1997 Royal Rumble or his emotional victory over Bret Hart at WrestleMania XII than the sheer joy he derives from fatherhood.

"It's great...great," says the three time World Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Champion, "the best experience of my life, bar none. Before my son was born, having 20,000 people shout my name was the greatest thing I knew. But being a father, seeing my son smile at me surpasses that."

These are curious words, coming from a man once notorious for his smirk and swagger. But since chronic back pain drove him from the World Wrestling Federation in 1998, Michaels has had time to reflect. While the smugness associated with his in-ring persona still creeps out, today Shawn Michaels is a wiser, humbler individual.

To be certain, Michaels was a comet in the World Wrestling Federation, a kid who seemed destined for stardom the day his face appeared on television. Even now, he vividly recounts his feelings as he entered the World Wrestling Federation in 1988. He was 23 years old, and he and partner Marty Jannetty had been among the few bright spots of the tanking American Wrestling Association (AWA), displaying youthful athleticism, synchronicity and sex appeal. In the World Wrestling Federation, they were packaged as the Rockers, a long-haired, heavy-metal tag team. But when they walked into a backstage cafeteria before their fellow performers, including Hulk Hogan, Brutus Beefcake, the British Bulldogs, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, and the Rougeau Brothers, were less than welcoming.

"They were men, and we were boys," Michaels says. "{We had} a reputation for partying too much. Marty and I hung out by ourselves, and waited for the other wrestlers to say hello. It didn't happen."

Michaels had misunderstood an unwritten rule in the World Wrestling Federation of the late 1980's; newcomers paid their respects to the veterans, not the other way around. Although he eventually introduced himself to the other athletes, he was immediately typecast as conceited-a characterization he admits he did little to diffuse either in or out of the ring.

The Rockers were dynamic, and Michaels relished the limelight. Jannetty-the older of the two-became the de-facto captain of the squad, with Michaels following his lead. The arrangement seemed to work fine, until the two began play fighting one night in a hotel room. Everyone was laughing at first, but then, Jannetty and Michaels lost their tempers. "We were throwing real punches," Michaels says. "It wasn't a big deal. We were both competitive people, so what do you expect? And we made up almost right away." Nonetheless, the story got around, and the duo's already shaky standing was further tarnished.

Behind the scenes, there was speculation that the Rockers couldn't stay together forever. The competitiveness that led to the fistfight had Michaels wondering which partner would receive greater acclaim if they split. Finally, he approached his teammate with the idea of feuding with one another. Jannetty would be the fan favorite, Michaels the villain (heel). "It was a business decision to me," Michaels says. "I believed I could achieve real success as a singles wrestler. But (Marty) took it personally."

In time, Michaels eclipsed his friend. "I can't really tell you why that happened," he says. "Marty had a lot going for him. he was really talented, good-looking and a great all-around worker in the ring. But when we split, he started to give up. He could have done so much better than he actually did."

Apart from the Rockers, Michaels was on a roll. When two-time World Wrestling federation Heavyweight titlist Ric Flair announced his decision to leave the league, Michaels asked for the opportunity to wrestle his idol one-on-one. The match lasted eight minutes, but Flair later gave the youngster the ultimate compliment: "There's somethng special about you, kid." The Federation brain trust concurred. In 1992, the Heartbreak Kid won the first of an eventual three Intercontinental Championships on the final edition of Saturday Night's Main Event.

"It was an acknowledgement that I'd come along in my craft." Michaels says. "As a heel, I felt I had unlimited range. The Heartbreak Kid had no borders. It was never like that as a babyface (fan favorite). I could jump around, but I had to limit myself creatively. Now, I was having a great time experimenting. I went through the Rolodex of wrestling moves and psychology, adapting to other people's styles and developing my own."

In fact, Michaels was so charismatic as a heel that the fans were starting to cheer. This was evident at WrestleMania XI, when the Heartbreak Kid challenged World Wrestling Federation Heavyweight titlist Diesel (Kevin Nash). As the action heated up, Michaels delivered his Sweet Chin Music, then covered the champion. Diesel kicked out of the pin attempt eliciting a loud jeer from the crowd. responding to the overwhelming popular demand, Michaels turned babyface the very next night-when his then body guard Psycho Sid attacked him on Monday night Raw.

Not everybody was smitten. Some male fans found Michael's wiggling posturing and his entrance song Sexy Boy infuriating, and boasted about how they'd like to meet him outside the arena and "kick his ass." One night in Syracuse, New York, Michaels walked out of a nightclub and stepped into a car to rest while his friends, the British Bulldog and X-pac (then called the 1-2-3 Kid), continued partying inside. Suddenly, the door flew open, and a mob of thugs pulled Michaels into the parking lot, where they viciously beat him. "I woke up in the hospital." says the former champion. "I'd always suspected that something like that could happen. A lot of people out there get caught up in what they see on TV. These guys just happened to come at me when it was safest for them-when I was asleep. But I wouldn't even waste my energy by calling them cowards. My life went on, and I've accomplished a lot since then. I wonder if they'd be able to say the same thing."

Michaels says his doctors advised him to take time off from the squared circle, forcing him to surrender his Intercontinental belt to contender Dean Douglas (Shane Douglas) in the center of the ring. When the Heartbreak Kid did return, speculation over the extent of his injuries still hadn't faded. After discussing the situation with Triple H and other friends during a Canadian tour, Michaels came up with an idea. He would appear to pass out during a match, fueling sympathy for his recovery.

The angle took place during an edition of Monday Night Raw. While tangling with Owen Hart, Michaels slumped to the canvas. Hart deliberately went out of character, backing away from his opponent. The announcers said nothing seemingly stunned by the turn of events. Fans accustomed to viewing every World Wrestling Federation occurrence with skeptism were sure that this was related to the previous parking lot incident, and couldn't wait to see Shawn come back after the accident. Michaels was delighted with the results: "We hooked a lot of people."

The intrigue was something the World Wrestling Federation needed during one of its rockiest periods. Owner Vince McMahon was often too preoccupied with legal proceedings, stemming from what he described as a government witch hunt, to focus completely on conceiving creative storylines and battling World Championship Wrestling (WCW), which had used its immense resources to buy away several World Wrestling Federation stars.

At WrestleMania XII on March 31, 1996, Michaels challenged champion Bret Hart in a thrilling "Iron Man Match." The two athletes would clash for 60 minutes, with the man scoring the most pinfalls deemed the kingpin. When the hour time-limit expired without a fall, the match went into overtime. The arena erupted when Michaels emerged victorious, and-in a gesture befitting a champion-embraced his rival's father and son at ringside.

As the new focal point of the World Wrestling Federation, Michaels received the burden of leading the league out of its dark period. "I felt unbelievable pressure," he says. "WCW was gaining momentum, and people were saying I was too small to be champion. I knew that if things got any worse, a lot of fans were going to put the blame on me.

"It took a while before we beat WCW in the ratings." recalls Michaels. "I feel like I was the guy who helped keep things together when the company was down. That gives me a lot of satisfaction. It's easy to enjoy the World Wrestling Federation today-it's 'in.' But I gave people a reason to enjoy the World Wrestling Federation when the company was struggling. I believe I was the catalyst for what the World Wrestling Federation turned into."

One of Michaels' proudest accomplishments was his role in cultivating future champion Triple H. The two first met at WrestleMania XI, when Triple H-then playing the part of a smug, moneyed brat called Hunter Hearst-Helmsley--introduced himself.

Michaels remembers their first words: "I've been told that if I stay in your right-hand pocket, I'll be okay.' said Hunter. 'That's right.' I replied. 'Stick with me, and you'll be famous."

There was more than an element of truth to the joking. Hunter has devoted his life to the wrestling business. Now that he'd made it to the World Wrestling Federation, he looked upon Michaels-a master of his craft- as a mentor. In the dressing room, on airplanes, in rental-car offices, the two strategized about what it would take for the newcomer to make the jump to main-event status.

"Hunter has great sense of humor, but the fans didn't see it because he was playing a rich boy." Michaels recalls. "I wanted us to be able to act like the (asses) we were in the dressing room. I'd say. 'You shouldn't be trying so hard to play a character on camera. Let's have fun like we do when the cameras aren't around.'"

The result of these sessions was D-Generation X (DX) a gang of wiseasses headed by Michaels, and seconded by Hunter. "We were good friends in real life, and I think the fans could tell," Michaels says. "DX reflected my 'who gives a damn' attitude. I could see fans in the audience laughing with us at our jokes. It kind of prepared Hunter for later on. When I finally left the World Wrestling Federation, it was his time. He kept going with what we started.

Just as DX was picking up steam, Shawn Michaels decided to leave the squared circle. Now the World Wrestling Federation Champion, he would hand the mantle to Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV-then leave the ring to attend to nagging back injuries. But, first, the Heartbreak Kid went all-out to build up the match. Boxing star Mike Tyson was deemed a 'special enforcer' to keep order in the upcoming encounter. As folks who'd never been exposed to the World Wrestling Federation turned into Raw to follow Tyson's antics, Michaels kept them riveted, proclaiming that the pugilist was now a member of DX, and would skew the battle in favor of the Heartbreak Kid. When WrestleMania XIV was finally held, untold numbers of new devotees tuned in, thanks largely to Shawn's pre-match hype.

Michaels was in pain when the day began, but he put it out of his mind, and staged a memorable match that culminated in Tyson turning against the Heartbreak Kid and aiding Austin in capturing the World Wrestling Federation Championship. Later, as Austin and Tyson held a press conference, Shawn walked by the room and peeked inside. "I was calm, content," he remembers. "The pressure of holding everything together was off me. I'd passed the torch and was leaving the World Wrestling Federation in good hands."

With the federation experiencing its greatest surge ever. Michaels said goodbye to the spotlight and opened the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy, as well as a small promotion in south Texas called the Texas Wrestling Alliance (TWA). "This is my way of going back full-circle to a time when I wrestled simply because I loved it. It's very nice to be around a bunch of talented kids who want the same thing."

Already, four of Shawn's students- Lance Cade, Brian Danielson, Shooter Schultz and Brian "Spanky" Kendrick- have been signed to Federation developmental deals. "Maybe they'll make it, maybe they won't," Michaels observes. "But it's great to be the guy who's giving these kids that shot."

And while he lives a quieter existence now, Michaels occasionally glimpses into the world he left behind. Prior to this year's WrestleMania, the former champion participated in WWF Axxess, the fan festival preceding the event. Dispelling the notion that wrestling fans have short memories, visitors mobbed the man formerly known best as the Heartbreak Kid. "You always hear out of sight, out of mind,'" Michaels notes. "So it was nice to see the fan reaction, and feel like I left a mark that no one could erase. I'm glad the fans still sppreciate everything I did, and the fact that I did it at a time when the World Wrestling Federation really needed it."

Still, it's only natural to wonder how Michaels might fare against the likes of Chris Jericho, the Hardy Boyz and Too Cool. "I've never officially retired," he teases, before steering the conversation back towards his current obession of fatherhood. "Could I come back? Maybe. Will I? Probably not. The only thing that could bring me back was if my son wanted to see me wrestle. I'd do it once-for him."

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