It’s the Final Day of #HBKWeek, a celebration of all things Shawn Michaels and the eighth installment in our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. We started with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better. We’ve given you the finer points of the Michael Hickenbottom oeuvre with some Essential Viewing before marching through Hump Day with a GIF parade paid for with Hidden Gems. Yesterday, we made our “Amazon.com on steroids” dreams come true with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…“. Today we finish everything off with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Sweet Chin Music-fueled civil war.)
Nick: Did you get my message about The Shield being one of next month’s Stables of the Week?
Dave: Yes. I did. That sounds like a good idea. My apologies again. This week has been freaking crazy, as Don West would say.
Nick: Oh, to be clear when I ask if you’ve seen stuff I mean “Did you get that thing I sent you?”
Dave: DIDJA GET THAT THING I SENTCHA?! God bless Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law. If only the Colbert Report hadn’t killed it.
Nick: IS THAT STEPHEN?
Dave:: KEN’S BACK!
Nick: Oh, and the other Watch and Learn Bray Wyatt thing, where we tell wrestlers who they should watch to get better and fans who to watch if they like those wrestlers?
Dave:: Yeah, it’s kind of a fine line because you don’t want to do anything too obvious. Like, anybody with the internets can find the similarities between him and Waylon Mercy. So we’ll need to actually explain HOW they’re similar. Not just like “He’s a bigger guy in a Hawaiian shirt…”
Nick: Oh, exactly. And it’s easy to say to Bray “you should wrestle like Mideon!” but not everyone says to him “you should check out Bam Bam, Real Talk”.
Dave:: Or “If you liked the Follow the Buzzards vignettes, you should watch the Waylon Mercy vignettes, because they’re very good in a similar way and they directly influenced the character.” That works better.
Nick: Yeah. Like in the way, after watching both of their old matches, that Chris Jericho is so HBK he doesn’t even know it.
Dave: I think Shawn Michaels was such a game-changer for smaller guys that every smaller big-time guy can’t help but be him. Whether it’s Jericho or Bryan or A.J. Styles.
Nick: Also, I’m pretty sure it would be impossible to watch his body of work and not want to try some of the things out. That’s probably the biggest thing I learned doing all the stuff this week. He has so many good-to-great matches, it’s kind of silly.
Dave: Oh yeah, definitely. He could elevate anything into being a hot match. His two primes both came during down periods in the business, and in spite of how tepid a lot of crowds were at those times, his matches always got the biggest reaction.(His first prime being the late new-generation/infancy of the Attitude Era, his second prime being the post-attitude/”ruthless aggression” era.)
Nick: I remember distinctly you explaining the noise that came out of the crowd during his match with Jericho at the Great American Bash they had at Nassau Coliseum. Or, lack thereof.
Dave: Oh, yeah. When you’re working catering you can hear the crowd very distinctly, and that match was silent. There was more noise for Cena-JBL and they were brawling “in the parking lot” (said in my best Tony Schiavone voice) where the crowd was only watching on the Tron.
Nick: But in a good way. Michaels is beloved, and that match especially was an exercise in “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?”
Dave: Oh yeah. They took the idea of the blood feud and pushed it to the point where people were actually uncomfortable. But not Bully Ray hold-your-nose uncomfortable, actually emotionally questioning why Jericho was such an awful person. Which got that character over so big that a certain kind of mark now believes Jericho’s been a top star his whole career.
Nick: Exactly. And I think Michaels is the only one that could have pulled that off. Which was weird for me, before this week.
Dave: Yeah, Michaels is probably the best sympathetic babyface ever. Hilarious, considering that outside of kayfabe he’s one of the least sympathetic figures you can imagine.
Nick: Exactly. Like, I really meant all the stuff I said at the beginning of the week. He’s was a VERY conflicted figure for me. But after watching match after match of him, it’s so obvious why him nearly ruining the company is not considered that big of a deal.
Dave: Yeah. As much as he was a terrible guy when he ruled the roost, he kept them afloat at a time where they easily could have sunk.
Nick: And you also realize, that was ENTIRELY what they were selling the company on at some point. “Shawn Michaels wrestles a LOT”
Dave: Oh yeah. “Watch Shawn Michaels take a ton of bumps and then have an emotional comeback.” Steamboat was better at the formula, but he wasn’t nearly the star Michaels was in his prime.
Nick: Was he the worker? I ask because I don’t “get” it with Steamboat.
Dave: I think they’re really, really similar. Both great at building sympathy, both kind of repetitive in terms of the actual moves and sequences they did in the ring, but both over like crazy with the fans.
Nick: Michaels seems like he makes a much better heel, though.
Dave: I think it’s really hard to contextualize Steamboat if you live in a world in which the WWE is always thought of first in terms of professional wrestling. Oh yeah. Steamboat would be an abominable heel.
And I don’t mean that in the “What an abominable heel!” way. I mean that in the “He’d be awful at it!” way.
Nick: Alberto Del Rio as a face.
Dave: Yeah, pretty much.
Nick: And I think that’s what separates Shawn from most other guys. He was also the top heel champion. He can’t talk a lick, but man, he could make you Effing Hate Him.
Dave: It’s funny that for most people under, say 25, Michaels is the consummate baby face. But if you actually watched wrestling in the 90s, you know he spent almost all of his time as a great heel.
Nick: Yeah, he also is, as cliche as it sounds, Mr. WrestleMania
Dave: Well, as you wrote about, it’s hilarious how he was dead set against creating one of the biggest Wrestlemania moments of all time… until the payoff was right and ‘Taker was threatening him with actual physical violence. I think all those superlatives like “showstopper,” “Mr. Wrestlemania,” “The Main Event” were just hype slogans in his actual prime. It was all marketing. When he made his comeback, they pushed him as if those things were real. Which is the magic of pro wrestling: you can actually do that.
Nick: Which kind of touches on what I think is actually the most interesting thing about him: there is a segment of the population who thinks he’s not so good.
Dave: I think there’s a certain population of fans who want to play the “I hate everybody who held people down” game, and those folks will never forgive or accept him. Plus it doesn’t help when you have Shane (Gregory?) Helms constantly telling internet smarks about how his miraculous conversion is a work to make money and he’s still a jerk and blah blah blah. I think Michaels is a hilarious example of a guy where “smart” wrestling fans accept him for who he was and “smarks” hold it against him.
Nick: So, given that, what do you think his ultimate legacy is?
Dave: I think he’s a face on Mt. Rushmore, in terms of WWE history. He’s one of the top four or five stars they’ve ever had.
Nick: Yeah, to me, he’s the best big game player they’ve ever had, not just in the sense that he worked well at major shows, but that he’s also one of the great free TV guys of all time.
Dave: Oh yeah. He’s not only “Mr. Wrestlemania,” he’s one of the top performers in the history of Raw as well.
Nick: And, while we both know what I think about him personally, should we also downgrade Ric Flair because he’s crazy?
Dave: If we’re going to make fun of Ric Flair, “crazy” is just the starting point.