Continuing with our series of the greatest WWE wrestlers of all time, at No. 5 comes in none other than the legendary Heart Break Kid, the one and only Shawn Michaels.
No. 5 – Shawn Michaels
The Heart Break Kid. The Showstopper. The Headliner. The Main Event. The Icon. And the best of the lot, Mr. Wrestlemania. The innumerable names of the irrepressible Shawn Michaels, one of professional wrestling’s most decorated and respected stars of all time.
Born in Chandler, Arizona as Michael Shawn Hickenbottom, he is the youngest of four children and was born into a military family. Hickenbottom grew up watching and loving pro-wrestling and planned on becoming a wrestler at a very tender age.
He had his beginnings as a wrestler in the American Wrestling Association (AWA) and now named ‘Shawn Michaels’ (a name he adopted in his training), Michaels and his tag-team partner Marty Janetty (named ‘The Midnight Rockers’) won the AWA World Tag Team Championship twice before eventually joining the WWF in 1988. In the WWF, the duo were re-christened as ‘The Rockers’ and enjoyed mild success without winning a title, before Michaels ended the partnership by superkicking Janetty and threw him through the glass window of Brutus Beefcake’s ‘Barber Shop’ segment.
While Janetty experienced mild success before departing the WWF, Michaels became a phenomenon and along with arch-rival Bret Hart, carried the WWF through the mid-nineties. It was during this time that he took on the famous moniker, ‘The Heart Break Kid’ and eventually won the Intercontinental Championship for the first time in October 1992. Michaels put on his first famous, legendary display at Wrestlemania X, in a ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship against Razor Ramon. The match was voted the PWI Match of The Year (Michaels’ second) and was the first ever WWF match to be given a 5-star rating by the prestigious Wrestling Observer Newsletter (WON). The match proved instrumental in launching Michaels’ career to greater heights and he would go on to win the 1995 and 1996 Royal Rumbles.
At Wrestlemania XII in 1996, HBK won his first ever WWF Championship by defeating Bret Hart in a grueling 60-minute Iron Man match in overtime, after it ended in a 0-0 stalemate. It was voted PWI Match of The Year, incredibly Michaels’ third in a row.
“The boyhood dream has come true … for Shawn Michaels”, screamed the then commentator Vince McMahon.
The surging career of the ‘Sexy Boy’ continued to flourish, but reached an all-time low at the most controversial Pay per View in wrestling history, Survivor Series 1997, when the beloved HBK played a major role in Vince McMahon’s unscrupulous plan to screw rival Bret Hart out of the WWF Championship. The incident, nicknamed ‘The Montreal Screwjob’ damaged Michaels’ career irrevocably and Michaels himself admitted it was a burden that he had to live with and could never forgive himself.
Despite a forced retirement the following year due to an injury, Michaels came back in 2002 and led the newly christened WWE through the new era putting over the new generation wrestlers such as John Cena and Randy Orton. Throughout his career, Michaels engaged in numerous memorable feuds with the likes of Triple H, Bret Hart, The Undertaker and Chris Jericho. Eleven of his matches have been voted the PWI Match of The Year, including an incredible seven year streak from 2004 to his retirement in 2010 and two of his matches have received 5-star ratings from WON (only 5 WWE/F matches have ever received 5-star ratings and Michaels is the only wrestler to have two 5-star matches).
With a wide array of breathtakingly spectacular moves, Michaels is one of the most gifted wrestlers of all time. One of the few to be blessed with both incredible mic skills and technical abilities, Michaels always reserved his best for Wrestlemania which inevitably led to the nickname, ‘Mr. Wrestlemania’. Michaels epitomized the undying spirit of a true wrestling fan, who had achieved all that he ever wanted to achieve as a boy. He formed the iconic stable ‘D-Generation’ with Triple H, China and Rick Rude, a stable that characterized the rebellious nature of the ‘Attitude Era’.
Universally respected by fans and fellow wrestlers alike, Michaels’ patch-up with Bret Hart on the January 4, 2010 episode of Raw is one of the greatest feel-good moments in WWE history. A superstar who transcended the confines of professional wrestling, Michaels could make anybody look golden in the ring (he made Mr. McMahon look good!) and made wrestling fun to watch with all the risks he took. At Wrestlemania XIX, Michaels’ first since his return to the company, many wondered if HBK still had the ‘Mr. Wrestlemania’ magic. Facing Chris Jericho, the veteran master and the young upstart put on yet another iconic performance for the fans in what would become a classic rivalry, and it was the start of an even better period for ‘The Icon’. Mr. Wrestlemania was back. And there was no stopping him.
During his retirement period, Michaels founded the Texas Wrestling Academy which churned out excellent wrestlers such as Lance Cade, Brian Kendrick and former World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan. Continuing in the footsteps of Michaels, Bryan looks set to become the next legendary WWE wrestler, as only he and CM Punk today are capable of matching Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels in terms of technical ability in the ring.
Being forced to retire for the final time after his Career vs Streak, the departure of Michaels elicited emotions that hadn’t even be seen after Ric Flair’s retirement. This author was moved to tears when he realized that Michaels would not get up one last time, after foolishly slapping The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 26. It was déjà vu. The Undertaker had retired Michaels, just like Michaels had retired Flair. Cruel irony.
A larger than life character, the Heart Break Kid had the kind of charisma that the likes of Stone Cold and The Rock could only hope to match. He was a one-of-a-kind superstar, who in all probability will never be replaced. If this author had his way, he would place Michaels right atop the pinnacle as the greatest wrestler ever.
I salute you, Shawn Michaels.
Here’s a tribute video to the WWE’s greatest in-ring performer of all time –>
Here are the other players who have made it so far:
No. 10 – John Cena
No. 9 – Triple H
No. 8 — Andre the Giant
No. 7 — Macho Man Randy Savage
No. 6 — Bret Hart
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: