It’s Day Two of #HBKWeek, a celebration of all things HBK and the eighth installment in our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. Yesterday, we started with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better. Today we give you the finer points of the Michael Hickenbottom oeuvre with some Essential Viewing and mix up things tomorrow with some Hidden Gems from that very same catalog. After Hump Day, we’ll make our “Amazon on Steroids“ dreams come true with Juice Make Sugar Recommends… before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Sweet Chin Music-fueled civil war.)
There’s a dirty little secret about Shawn Michaels career that no one likes to talk about. It’s not the pills. Or the Playgirl shoot.
It’s that he’s a TERRIBLE promo.
While some might argue Kevin Nash, it’s not a stretch to say that out of anyone who has been made the face of the WWE for any extended period of time in the post-Hogan era, he is the worst on the microphone. In the entirety of his title runs there wasn’t a single good, let alone great, promo. There are okay ones, like his notorious “Lost My Smile” speech/interview:
But even that is significantly more infamous/important than “good” with HBK buoyed by having Vince standing next to him explaining the parts that a babyface is supposed to get over himself. And when it comes to “commentating on a match your opponent at the next PPV is in”, HBK makes Brie and Nikki, the Bella twins, sound like Gordon and JR, the Solie twins. This is, of course, because of his pathological inability to get anything or anyone else over through his words.
For much of his career, he made up for the live mic work by being — when he wanted — among the most helpful performers of all time. His colleagues consistently put working with him — like this one with (former Wrestler of the Week) Mick Foley — among the highlights of their careers:
The match — which starts after HBK spends two minutes saying the words “nervous”, “jittery” and “whackjob” before explaining that Mind Games (the name of the PPV) don’t work on him because he’s dumb — is long, and allows both men to “explore the studio space”. The match, which went on for a full 26 minutes, is one of the first WWF matches to incorporate the “within the context of the match” hardcore style that Foley had made famous.
This, and the two Ladder Matches with Razor Ramon:
(from WrestleMania X)
(from SummerSlam 1995)
show Michaels makes expert use of his surroundings to give fans a familiar story – good vs. evil — told in a new way: amoral weapon and “foreign” object use, informed by an understanding of the stakes involved. In these cases, a “whackjob” was trying to take his title by any means necessary, and the rules “requiring” him (and Razor) to do “whatever it takes” to get the title above them.
Michaels didn’t always do right by the other man in the ring, however. With great power comes great responsibility, and we all know exactly how HBK dealt with responsibility. For instance, this match with Nash, as Big Daddy Cool Diesel fought HBK in the second main event (behind a surprisingly good Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Lawrence Taylor match at the top of the marquee):
An enjoyable romp, but outside of the last three seconds, nothing about this does anything to make Diesel look like the WWF’s Intercontinental Champion, let alone its World’s Champion. Aside from being one of Bret Hart’s least favorite matches — or, more accurately, yet another excuse for the Hitman to complain about the Heartbreak Kid in his autobiography — this (again, the co-main event for the biggest show of the year) shows what happened when Michaels didn’t want to play ball with his opponent.
Well, I mean, one of the things:
The Screwjob is — *possibly* outside of Hogan/Andre and Mankind/Taker’s Hell in a Cell — the best known match of all time. What’s usually ignored, though, is how good the match is before its ignominious conclusion. For two guys who loathed each other, Hart and Michaels put on a fantastic match that far outstrips their highly overrated — a word we don’t use lightly around here — 60-minute Iron Man showdown from WM 12, and not just because they didn’t have to figure out how to do an hour’s worth of work without passing out in the middle of the ring.
Up until the end, it remains easily the best match in what may have been the best rivalry in the history of the company, but it still leaves a nasty taste in the mouth when watching it, no matter how much has been forgiven or how long ago it was.
Michaels then worked a program with Taker, after making a brief stop in CrazyTown to visit Ken Shamrock, which resulted in the back injury that took him out of action for four years.
After coming back in 2002 on the heels of a “best friends, better enemies” feud with Triple H, Michaels became known primarily — and now will have the legacy he has now, instead of what it was after 1998 — for his work on the company’s flagship show. He more than earned the title of “Mr. WrestleMania” despite A) losing most of his matches on the show and B) not being the guy with “The Streak”, losing to Taker TWICE — including his retirement match.
Instead of explaining each match, though, it’s best just to watch them. He has what was either the best or second best match from WrestleMania XIX (Jericho) through WrestleMania XXVI (Undertaker), which is an Edwin Moses-level athletic accomplishment mixed with a David Hyde Pierce-at-the-Primetime Emmys run.
WrestleMania XIX (w/ Chris Jericho)
WrestleMania XX (w/ Triple H and Tom Riddle)
WrestleMania 21 (w/ Kurt Angle)
WrestleMania 22 (w/ Vince McMahon)
WrestleMania 23 (w/ John Cena)
WrestleMania XIV (w/ Ric Flair)
25th Anniversary of WrestleMania (w/ The Undertaker)
WrestleMania XXVI (w/ The Undertaker – Streak vs. Career )
These matches, which all manage to tell different stories, are a testament to Michaels late-career renaissance that completely redefined his legacy from a gifted ne’er-do-well who never matches his potential to someone who turned his life around and became what everyone thought (and hoped) he could be.
These are the definition of Essential Viewings, both in the sense that they tell you why Shawn Michaels is perceived the way he is despite his shortcomings, and why wrestling (and the WWE) — even aside from the fact that HBK “trained” Daniel Bryan — has evolved into the product it is today.