WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels isn’t the same man he used to be. In the ’80s and ’90s, Shawn was known as a notorious partier, imbibing equal quantities of drugs, alcohol, and women. Even after his first retirement in 1998, Michaels continued to live that lifestyle until his reality came crashing through in heavy fashion. Today, the former world champion has found peace with his spirituality, a journey that he documents in his newest memoir, Wrestling for My Life: The Legend, the Reality and the Faith of a WWE Superstar.
Fans of wrestling will find the book to be littered with fascinating stories about his time in and out of the ring. But, this book is also stuffed with lessons that Michaels had to learn the hard way, from overcoming drug addiction, to finding his place in society with his newfound God. There are many things one may glean from this interesting look into a man’s path to find his true self, but here are four takeaways I kept after reading Michaels’ book.
1) Things don’t always go according to plan.
At WrestleMania 25, Shawn Michaels faced The Undertaker in what would be considered one of the greatest matches of all-time. Both wrestlers were in the twilight of their careers (somehow Taker is still carrying on today), and they were successful in telling a riveting story inside the squared circle of two athletes past their prime who just wouldn’t give in to failure. There was one incredibly scary moment, though: When Taker performed a leap over the top rope, he was supposed to collide with a cameraman who would help the almost 7-footer break his fall. Michaels remembers the moment vividly in his book.
When it came time for Taker’s dive, the “cameraman” set up a step too far away from the ring. I shoved (the referee) aside as planned, grabbed the “cameraman” and tried to pull him closer to where Taker would land. But I couldn’t get him to where I wanted. He dropped his camera and reached out toward Taker, but barely got his hands on Taker, who hit the padded floor headfirst.
In case you don’t remember that frightening moment:
2) Sometimes you need to take a hard look in the mirror.
If you’ve followed Shawn’s career, especially his earlier days in the ’90s, then you may have heard about his tumultuous times behind the curtain. Michaels, along with his compatriots like Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, were notorious party animals. For Shawn, though, the party continued even after he stepped away from the ring in 1998 due to a back injury. He admittedly was swallowing 30 to 35 pills (mostly muscle relaxers) a day to the point that he would become a zombie. There was a turning point, though. One night, when he was high as a kite and passed out on his sofa, Shawn awoke and didn’t remember the night’s events. He also noticed that his son, who was only 2 at the time, was beginning to notice a pattern in his father’s druggy behavior.
Angry at myself, I stormed to the bathroom and flipped on the light…Sobbing almost uncontrollably, I stared at the man in the mirror directly into his eyes and told him that I was a piece of trash…For the first time, reality had set in: My son was beginning to notice who I truly was and that was going to affect him. I was in the process of ruining not only my life, but also my son’s.
“Lord,” I said. “Please change me.”
3) Secrets keep you sick.
The above statement is an old AA adage that pertains to people struggling with addiction, but it can also prove true to many other areas of life, especially matters of the heart. When Michaels was at the height of his first run in the WWF, he was a heel (i.e. villain), battling Bret Hart for the world championship at the Survivor Series pay-per-view event in 1997. The event would go down in history as one of the most controversial endings to a wrestling match ever.
Pro wrestling is, of course, scripted, but in this case, Hart was told the ending of the match would go in his favor; that was not the case. Michaels and WWF owner Vince McMahon colluded to have Michaels win the match in order to keep Bret Hart from possibly taking the title with him to another organization. Hart was kept in the dark, and after the swerve, he proceeded to tear apart the PPV set, and then even punched McMahon in the face during a locker room altercation.
For his part, Michaels was told to lie about his involvement in the incident in order to keep his name above the controversy. When Michaels returned from his hiatus after a back injury in 2002 — and after he had found spirituality — he could no longer perpetuate the lie that he had kept for five years. During an interview with WWE, he let the cat out of the bag.
So when I was asked in that interview about the Montreal Screwjob, I said, “I don’t know if you guys know this, but I knew it was going down.”
Judging by the shocked expression on the interviewer’s face, I would say she didn’t know!
“Vince told me adamantly that I was never to talk about that,” I continued, “because he wanted to take responsibility for it. I’m not comfortable with that anymore. Can I just say it?”
4) Respect those who came before you.
At WrestleMania 24 in 2008, Shawn Michaels was in another legendary bout, this time against Ric Flair in a match that, if Flair lost, he would have to retire. Michaels grew up watching Flair, the man who is considered one of, if not the, greatest all-around performer in pro wrestling history. Flair is a 16-time world champion, and his time within the squared circle spanned decades helping to define what pro wrestling is today. Michaels, knowing that he would be the one to put a cap on the career of Flair, recalled just how important it was to give him a sendoff worthy of his contributions to the business.
A few days before Wrestlemania, I popped up wide awake at two o’clock in the morning and my entire match with Ric came to me. I hurried to the dinner table and started jotting down notes. Yes, it’s pro wrestling — a bunch of men in their underwear fighting each other — but the element of that match that most compelled me was the story of a guy who admired another wrestler and had been inspired by him in the business. I paid attention to all the emotions I felt as I wrote out the match and after I put the finishing touch on what proved to be one of the greatest endings in wrestling history, teardrops spilled on the page.
When we got to Orlando, Florida, for Wrestlemania I showed my noted to Ric and Michael Hayes. As they looked over the sheet, I observed Ric’s eyes moistening. He reached over, patted me on the leg, and said, “Thank you!”