This week Shawn Michaels turns 51. Not exactly a Heartbreak Kid anymore! Michaels’ legendary career is split evenly between his early wild-child years, and his later respectable elder statesman run, but regardless of era, Michaels’ in-ring mastery remained a dependable constant.
Today we’re going to look at that contentious early era. The rise, the controversy, and also that time he was on Baywatch. Here’s a few things you may not know about the Shawn Michaels that was more into raising hell than hallelujahs …
Shawn Michael’s wrestling career began at a high-school talent show.
Michael Shawn Hickenbottom was born July 22, 1965, in the town of Chandler, Ariz. Shawn, who swapped his first and middle names long before he got into wrestling, was uprooted frequently until his Air Force officer father finally settled in San Antonio when he was in middle school.
Shawn was a star high-school football player, but his real passion was pro wrestling. The young heartbreaker regularly watched the likes of Tully Blanchard, Gino Hernandez and Bruiser Brody battle in Southwest Championship Wrestling and would play wrestler with his friends. Michaels’ first battle in front of an audience came during a high-school talent show, where he and a friend staged a match, complete with chair shots and “blood.”
“I remember during the match, my friend Kenny hit me with a chair, and I fell down under the table and poured food coloring on myself as blood. It was a lot of fun. He and I even got second or third place for it.”
Unbeknownst to Michaels, he’d still be doing the same thing decades later, although his days of being runner up were numbered.
WWE fired him for for his hard-partying ways.
How could these guys possibly rub anyone the wrong way?
At 19, Michaels began training with Mexican journeyman wrestler José Lothario, and within a couple months was out on the road, working various Midwestern and Southeast promotions. While wrestling in Kansas City, Shawn met another brash, if slightly more experienced, wrestler named Marty Jannetty. Before long, they formed the hunky, high-flying tag team, The Midnight Rockers. In 1987 Michaels and Jannetty got the call from WWF, but the good news wouldn’t last long.
See, The Midnight Rockers liked to party. Like, a lot; so much so that none of the WWF guys wanted anything to do with them, and lemme tell you, partying too much for ’80s WWF locker room is no small feat. Stories vary, but basically, our heroes were invited to the bar their first night in, and Shawn ended up getting belligerent and breaking a bottle over his own head. This story got back to Vince McMahon, probably mutating a bit along the way, and Shawn and Marty were released from WWF only a couple weeks after joining the company. Thankfully for wrestling fans, Vince couldn’t quit Shawn Michaels that easily.
The Rockers were screwed out of a planned tag-team title reign.
In 1988, Michaels and Jannetty were rehired, lost the “Midnight” part of their name, and quickly became one of WWF’s most popular tandems. Unfortunately, tag team gold never followed. Yup, if you’re listing off the greatest tag teams to never win the titles, The Rockers are pretty much number one with a bullet.
Ah, but it turns out The Rockers actually did win the gold. Sort of. In late 1990, Michaels and Jannetty beat The Hart Foundation for the straps at a Saturday Night’s Main Event taping, but the match didn’t end up airing and the title reign was scrubbed from history. According to Shawn and Bret Hart, the title change was scrapped because the top rope broke, resulting in a lousy match, but reportedly the real reason was there were plans to break up The Hart Foundation, and possibly fire the unpredictable Jim Neidhart. Ultimately, Vince changed his mind about The Harts at the ninth hour, so The Rockers lost their one shot at the top of the charts.
He was named in a lawsuit that cost WWE millions.
In late 1990, The Rockers were wrestling Lanny Poffo and local enhancement guy Chuck Austin (no relation to that other Austin). Marty went for his finisher the Rocker Dropper/Fameasser, and the inexperienced Austin took the bump wrong, resulting in a paralyzing neck injury.
Austin sued the WWF, Jannetty and Michaels over the incident, and darn if he didn’t win. The real shock came when the jury awarded Austin, who was only looking for $3 million, an eye-bulging $27 million. Surprisingly, Vince McMahon didn’t throttle The Rockers to death right there in the courtroom, but then again, the whole thing wasn’t really their fault.
Chuck Austin’s big win actually ended up changing WWE for the better, as the company made it policy to only hire experienced enhancement talent and to always have medical personnel at ringside following the incident.
Michaels and Jannetty had a legit falling out before their legendary breakup.
On a December, 1991 episode of WWF Wrestling Challenge, Shawn Michaels superkicked Marty Jannetty and threw him through Brutus Beefcake’s barbershop window. It’s still the best-known tag team dissolution in history, probably partly because there was a good deal of realism to the scenario.
By the early ’90s, too much time together on the road and various business disagreements had badly soured The Rockers’ friendship. In fact, in early 1991 the bad blood boiled over big time, resulting in a legit brawl between the teammates. The police were actually called, and Shawn and Marty were about to go to jail, but Randy Savage stepped in, convinced the police it was a work thing and got them to leave in exchange for autographs. Sadly, the Macho Man couldn’t save the team — the writing was now on the wall for The Rockers.
Curt Hennig came up with the “Heartbreak Kid” nickname.
In 1992 Shawn Michaels embarked on a singles career, but his fortunes didn’t really take off until he took on the Heartbreak Kid moniker. So, who came up with the name that made Michaels a star? None other than Curt Hennig, a man a lot of guys credit with giving them a crucial leg up (he also named Triple H and mentored a young Brock Lesnar). Hey, if you need a great wrestling nickname, go to the guy named Mr. Perfect.
He was suspended for testing positive for steroids.
“Whooopsie. Sooooo sorry….”
In 1991 the WWF’s favorite mark doctor George Zahorian was indicted for drug and steroid trafficking, forcing the previously free-wheeling company to start drug testing. As a result, some of the company’s more absurdly-proportioned heroes like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior were temporarily put on ice, but it wasn’t just the big guys who were juicing back then.
In September 1993, Shawn Michaels was popped for steroids and sentenced to a six week suspension. Michaels disputes the findings to this day, but the test, and Shawn’s shrunken physique after the suspension, don’t lie.
He toyed with jumping to WCW on multiple occasions.
Shawn Michaels was the rare top guy who never bounced between WWF and WCW when the companies were battling it out during the ’80s and ’90s. HBK says this is because he just loves WWE/F so darn much and has never wanted to leave, but like most things that come out of Shawn Michaels’ mouth, this isn’t entirely true.
Michaels very nearly quit WWF in 1991 when he discovered The Rockers were getting paid less than other top teams, but backed out at the last minute. He again thought about jumping ship following his drug failure, and around 1996 when his Kliq buddies were abandoning ship.
So, why did Michaels never take the leap? Bad timing, wariness over WCW booking and a lot of other things played into it. If WWF brand loyalty was a factor, it was pretty far down the list.
The Montreal Screwjob finish was Shawn’s idea.
Ah, The Montreal Screwjob. We had to get here eventually! For years Michaels denied he had any knowledge of, or hand in, planning the most notorious double cross in wrestling history, but in recent years he’s opened up about his involvement. Turns out Shawn not only knew, but he planned a lot of it personally.
For those who somehow don’t know, Champion Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were supposed to battle to a no-contest at the 1997 Survivor Series in Montreal. Instead, Michaels put Hart in his own Sharpshooter at one point and Vince McMahon immediately called for the bell, giving Shawn the title in a finish Bret hadn’t been informed of. Michaels was certainly informed of it though — in fact, it was pretty much his idea.
Before the fateful match, Shawn convinced Bret they should do a Sharpshooter reversal sequence, and when Bret agreed, the trap was set…
“I saw that was the spot where you could ring the bell. This is the only spot we’ve got to do it. I just said to Vince, ‘Look, I put [Bret] in the sharpshooter and you’ve got to ring the bell.’”
Of course, some people think Bret was secretly in on it too, but let’s not travel too far down the rabbit hole.
Michaels only dropped the title to Steve Austin because The Undertaker threatened him.
Shawn Michaels has a terrible, slightly ridiculous record for refusing to lose titles in the ring. He forfeited the IC title in ’93 after the steroid incident and again in ’95 when he was given a concussion in a bar fight, dropped numerous tag titles under wonky circumstances, and most infamously, dodged losing the title to Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 when he “lost his smile” due to a fake knee injury. Yeesh.
So yeah, when it came time for Michaels to pass the torch to Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14, a lot of people rightfully assumed Shawn was going to pull his usual shady sh*t. Enter The Undertaker. According to nearly everybody involved, Taker made it very clear that if Shawn didn’t lay down for Austin, it would be his last ride for real. Perhaps unsurprisingly, WrestleMania 14 ended up being one of the few times Michaels lost a championship fair and square in the ring.
He jobbed to an old lady on an episode of Baywatch.
As we’ve established by now, young Shawn Michaels really didn’t like to lose, although, apparently, this rule did not extend to the beach. Baywatch had a somewhat odd thing for wrestlers — in addition to the infamous WCW episode, Shawn Michaels also appeared on the show in 1996.
In the episode, Michaels plays the bodyguard of a dastardly mobster who is after C.J. Parker’s mom, and Michaels is outsmarted, outsassed and outfought by the old girl at every turn. It’s a tad embarrasing, but hey, I’m not going to begrudge the guy doing what he had to do to get adjacent to ’90s Pam Anderson.
Michaels was supposed to make his return at WrestleMania 17.
After injuring his back in a casket match with The Undertaker, Michaels retired from the ring after losing the title at WrestleMania 14. HBK would eventually get back in the ring at SummerSlam 2002, but it turns out he was supposed to return to action much earlier.
There were plans for Michaels to get involved in the Triple H/Undertaker battle at WrestleMania 17, but Shawn showed up to the March 26, 2001 Raw (the episode where WWF bought WCW, coincidentally) hopped up on pills and in no condition to perform. Triple H was so disgusted with Shawn that he refused to talk to his friend and mentor for a year, and whatever 2001 plans WWF had for The Showstopper were dropped.
There was a silver lining, though — the ugly incident ended up being the impetus for Michaels kicking his drug habit, and when he was truly ready to come back, he staged one of the greatest returns in wrestling history.
But hey, that’s a story for another time. Don’t worry, we’ll get to it some day, as there’s plenty more to tell. Any good stories I missed? What are some of your favorite moments from Shawn’s first run? Make some sweet comment music, below.