WOW Magazine-6/01
Breaking Hearts, Unbroken Spirit

March 29, 1998, is a very significant date in Shawn Michaels' life. The wrestling world was focused on his Wrestlemania main event in which he lost the World Wrestling Federation world heavyweight title to Steve Austin. The match had an extra aura about it as boxing great Mike Tyson was in the ring as the guest referee. More than 19,000 enthusiastic fans jammed Boston's Fleet Center, pumped up with excitement to bear witness to the event. Michaels' (real name: Shawn Hickenbottom) feigned as much enthusiasm as he could, but underneath he was sad. This was his "swan song". At 33 years old, this was to be, in his mind, the end of his active wrestling career. Accumulative injuries had taken their toll on Michaels' body, especially in his lower back where surgery would be needed to repair several degenerative discs.

Michaels faded from the spotlight as a performer after disc fusion surgery. He opened a wrestling school, married former World Championship Wrestling Nitro Girl Rebecca "Whisper" Curci and fathered a child, Cameron, who is now 16 months old. He seemed content to remain out of the mainstream. Although he did appear as the WWF commissioner on several occasions, "The Heart Break Kid" didn't have the cutting edge he had as an in-ring performer.

"I just wasn't "Shawn Michaels" any longer," he said in an interview in March 2001. "I was Shawn Hickenbottom, the real me. No facades. What you see is what you get. It's a different me. I'm not the same guy any longer".

In an exclusive and probing interview, Hickenbottom discussed the change in his personality, his drive to come back to work in the ring (at press time, a date had not been set for his return) and other personal facets of his life.

Q: Despite back surgery, you still have one degenerative disc. How will that restrict what you do in the ring?

A: It restricts you from doing a lot, because your back, especially your lower back, does so many things. Each time a vertebra is fused, it limits your range of motion in all directions. obviously, any impact to the disc causes it to degenerate more. So each bump I take will make it worse. If I were to drop a leg from the top rope, I would probably never get up.

Q: The why risk an actual wrestling comeback if it could mean spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair?

A: I don't think it's as serious as spending my life in a wheelchair. Probably, I'll have to have surgery again. The one disc above my fusion is already pretty bad. I need to get it operated on anyway, so I might as well go back and make one more run to get the most out of it and then get it worked on.

Q: What is your actual motivation for a return to the ring?

A: It is definitely not about being back on top again, because I definitely don't want to be. I only want to be a supporting player, because I don't want the demand on my time. The reason for this comeback is simple, and that is security for my family. This is what I do. It's been three years since I was in the ring. Truthfully, I miss interacting with the people and the boys in the business and all that kind of stuff. Wrestling is the kind of business that once it gets in your blood, it's tough to get it out. I still want to be part of the business, and I still have a little something to offer. I'm not going to be a showstopper. I'm not going to be your main-event guy or your headline guy. When I went out, I was lucky enough that people wanted more. I'd like to give them that little bit more and put a different ending to my career, because the other one was a little sad, If I have to get surgery and leave the business again, I'm well prepared for it. I think it's inevitable that it's going to happen this time. I can just enjoy myself for what this is and not put so much pressure on myself, not worry about being the best and stealing the show.

Q: Deep down everyone wants to end his career on the highest note possible, such as winning the world title or being the top draw. Are you looking for that?

A: No. To me the highest note is to go back into this business the way I didn't do it before; that is to have fun. The same thing that made me good was the same thing that got me in trouble. That also made me not enjoy the business, because I was always so angry. I was always trying to prove something, and I was always so angry that I wanted to prove something to everybody and throw it in his or her face. That stems from being told, "You're too small to make it, you're definitely too small to be on top and you're too small to be on pay-per-view." All that kind of stuff bothered me. Throughout my career, I was angry most of the time. That's what drove me and gave me an edge. That's what made me overachieve, but at the same time it caused a lot of problems with me personally and professionally. I was just so angry, I took it out on everybody. It wasn't personal toward those people. It wouldn't have mattered who it was, I was just angry. I want to go back and enjoy the business and have a chance to do this job that can be so much fun and make money on it and just have a good time doing it.

Q: Why was your previous departure sad?

A: It was sad because I knew it was over. I definitely thought it was all over at 33. Wrestling in the ring is what brought me the glory. All that time I was angry, the only time I was really ever happy was when I was in the ring. To know that you're not going to get to do it anymore is sad. You know very well there are guys who wrestle well into their 50s. That's a little disheartening. I don't want to be a guy who wrestles into his 50s. I want to be a guy who left on his own terms and goes out happy about it.


Q: What do you think about the current state of the WWF?

A: What's good about it is that it's successful, it's working and it's making tons of money. I don't know that I know enough to say what's bad about it. There are some things now that I don't necessarily agree with or like, but if memory serves me, I was one of the guys pushing for things to go that way. The whole attitude; they've pushed the envelope far and away. I can't say it's bad, because it works. At the same time, you go "whoa, geez." I'm also a dad now, and I hear myself saying I wouldn't let my boy watch that.

Q: If you don't like the edgy material the WWF presents, then why are you going back to it?

A: Simple, that's how I make my living. What else am I going to do? I don't mind looking at people and saying, "Hey, where else am I going to make the amount of money I'm going to make at 36 years old?" I'd be able to still be home with my family. You have to make sacrifices. I'm not condoning everything they do, and I'm not condemning everything they do. This is the line of work that I chose 16 years ago. This is the life that has given me everything. It's essentially what I do best, so you gotta dance with the lady that brought you.

Q: As you return to the WWF, do you think you have a certain amount of tenure, or do you have to pay your dues all over again?

A: I think I have to pay (some) dues, because I'm not coming back the same guy. When I was there years ago, I was very vocal and very opinionated. I'm going to be more of a company man now.

Q: With your current physical state, who are the guys you think you could work really top matches against?

A: One thing that's going to have to change is people are going to have to do for me what I used to have to do for a lot of my opponents. They're going to have to take up a lot of the slack. I have now become the guy you have to work around.

Q: So you're not going to do something like go to the top of a ladder and do a flying body press?

A: No. People need to understand that I'm only going to be playing a supporting role, and that's all I want. I don't think I have the ability anymore to be a top guy. I don't think I could physically hang with a lot of them. I guess I'll need to get in the ring before I know if I can hang with a lot of these top guys. Right now, I don't know what I'm capable of doing. I don't have the confidence I once had. In the past, no matter what the question was, I would step up to the challenge. Now, I am a little more realistic, and I don't know what I can do. Let's start off slow and see how far I can go.


Q: Is there one match from the past that people would say was the classic Shawn Michaels match?

A: I don't think there's just one match. I'd like to think what I did better than most folks was being able to adjust to everybody's different styles. I could have top matches with big guys like Sid (Vicious) or Kevin (Nash) or a guy more my size like Bret Hart. I was able to adjust. A lot of guys can't or won't do that.

Q: Let's talk about two very controversial people whose careers you had a large role in. One of them is your friend, Scott Hall. He's going through some very hard times in his personal life. Do you stay in touch with him?

A: Yes. Scott is such a great guy, a good-hearted guy, and I know I should be like everyone else and say he has problems he need to work out. He's aware of his problems, and Scott told me, "Hey, I'm the bad guy. I'm a pro wrestler - that's what I do." People talk about feeling bad for Scott, because he's got an addiction and a problem. I don't know if that's necessarily the case. The case is that Scott Hall happens to enjoy living his life that way. It's a conscious decision that Scott's making. It's not like he's sitting there saying, "Oh man, I gotta have a drink." That's not it at all. It's just saying, "I'm gonna go out and get smashed." That's what he wants to do. I've talked to him a number of times, and he's still the same guy. He's a fantastic guy, he's fun, he's funny and he is just not ready to stop living that old-school wrestler lifestyle.

Q: You had an adversarial relationship, both on a professional and personal level, with Bret Hart. What do you think of Hart's bitterness toward wrestling?

A: What a lot of people have to understand is that Bret comes from a wrestling family, and I think there's something different when you come from a background like that. His dad (Stu Hart) wrestled in the old days when everyone always tried to convince you that everything you saw was exactly what you saw. And perhaps - this is just a guess - the way the business is now, people may not respect professional wrestlers. In the day that we were trying to convince everybody that it was real and that you were the world champion, well hell, that meant you were the best and you got that respect. Well, now, you can be world champion and nobody cares because they know it's a bunch of bullcrap. I think Bret identifies himself with where and who he is in the wrestling business. This is a serious business and it's how we make our living, but at the same time it's a joke. It's like going to Hollywood and saying I don't want to be in this multi-million dollar movie if I'm the guy who gets beat up. I say look at Jim Carrey, he looks like an ass in every movie he makes. I think it's a case of taking this line of work a bit too seriously.

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