Why is Shawn Michaels the Heart Break Kid?
It isn’t the Sensational Sherri saga, and it isn’t the rather long list of women’s hearts that Michaels ruthlessly ‘broke’. It isn’t his portrayed cavalier approach to relationships, nor is it his notoriety for ‘having a good time’. Interestingly, for all his unabashed womanising and numerous affairs, it was a certain superkick delivered in a certain Barber’s shop that made Mr. Hickenbottom the HBK.
The late 80s was a significant period for the wrestling industry in America. WWF was starting to make a name for itself, and expanding rather aggressively towards becoming a company. The AWA (American Wrestling Association) was starting to lose big names to the new franchise and they needed new talent. And quickly. So the owner decided to take a chance, and in 1986, he offered a contract to a young team, the Judas Priest’s Living After Midnight inspired Midnight Rockers.
In an industry dominated by heavy and large men, the Midnight Rockers were, and there’s no better word for them – boys. Chirpy, happy, fresh, fast, witty: The Midnight Rockers were everything that the others were not, and nothing the fans had ever seen – and they loved it.
It was inevitable that The Midnight Rockers would make their way to the top of the AWA tag mountain; unfortunately for AWA, it was also obvious that the boys were meant to achieve far greater things. A dream move to the WWF finally came through, and the Midnight Rockers were on course to becoming WWF legends. They had it all – success, experience and youth. What could possibly stop them?
The answer was Vincent Kennedy McMahon. No, not the egomaniacal Vince McMahon who made ‘You’re Fired!!’ a punch line. It was the rational VKM, the owner of a federation, who could not afford to take a chance on indisciplined and unprofessional amateurs.
Luckily for us, and the WWF, a few years later they were given a chance again, provided they would be more professional this time round. With a shortened name- The Rockers, Marty and Shawn made their WWF re-debuts at Survivor Series in 1988. The boys were now… boyish. Which is to say, they were more disciplined behind the scenes, but in the ring, they were still the same: fast and flashy, with daring risks and aerial manouevers becoming a staple ingredient in a Rockers match.
Suddenly, the Tag Team division seemed alive. The crowds seem to love everything about the Rockers, and at one point they were possibly the biggest ‘faces’ of the industry. It was a rather interesting reaction, really. Till then, the fans had been used to seeing larger-than-life characters, and now, suddenly, there were two boys there. Carefree and happy-go-lucky, just like them! Their high intensity feuds with the Brain Busters, the Rogeau Brothers and the Orient Express only increased their fan base and boosted their movement up the tag team ladder.
It is ironic that a team with no official title recognition is a part of almost every Top Tag Teams list. In such a title-based credibility era, The Rockers are a testament to the value of pure entertainment and how true talent can transcend statistics. The Rockers was also the platform on which one of the top performers the industry has ever seen built his reputation. However much Shawn Michaels tries to distance himself from his tag team roots, it will always be a part of his identity.
In spite of beating the Hart Foundation in a two out of three falls match, the official stance was that the title never really changed hands. WWF says it was the top rope breaking, that meant the match could not be displayed on television; The Rockers maintaned that it was the Hart Foundation’s politics that ensured they kept the titles. It still doesn’t make the Montreal Screwjob look like poetic justice though.
But as they say, all good things must come to an end… in a barbershop.
Marty Jannetty wanted to leave WWF, and had approached Vince McMahon about the Rockers’ decision to quit the Federation. Except, it wasn’t. Shawn Michaels had no intention of leaving the industry, because he saw himself as a more than good enough singles wrestler. There’s a lot of controversy regarding the reason for this decision to quit, but at the end of the day, Marty, Shawn and WWF came to what looked like a reasonable decision which seemed to benefit all parties, or at least Shawn and Vince McMahon.
It was a very well played out storyline, as they didn’t immediately make Shawn a heel. Instead, The Rockers were shown as gradually heading to a break up. In-ring misunderstandings, heat of the moment decisions which cost them matches, and ultimately out-in-the-open ego battles. The Rockers seemed to be at the brink of collapse, and to address this issue, a meeting was arranged in Brutus Beefcake’s Barbershop.
It was here that one of the defining moments of Shawn Michaels’ career was made. Although it appeared that the Rockers had resolved their issues, the sudden Sweet Chin Music silenced the entire crowd. The silence was only broken when Michaels threw Marty Jannetty through a window, shattering the glass in the process. The tearing of a Rockers’ poster was the official end of the team, and indeed the start of Shawn’s foray into singles wrestling.
Post the breakup, their careers could scarcely be more different. Shawn proceeded to win the Royal Rumble (on two occasions), the WWF Grand Slam, and become a Hall of Fame inductee. Marty, on the other hand, fought for a variety of promotions, and was even signed by the WWF a couple of times, but his success was nowhere close to that of his former friend and tag team partner. Indeed, the high point in his singles career with WWF was probably the feud with Shawn Michaels. Even then, it was Shawn who stole the headlines, often making Marty look like a jobber.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to bring back the Rockers, it finally happened in 2005, when the Rockers reunited for ‘One Night Only’, defeating La Resistance. Fittingly, it was Marty who picked up the win with his trademark Rocker Dropper.
Even though it’s been years since The Rockers have graced the ring, they will never be forgotten. They set a standard, a precedent for so many tag teams who came up after them. Many of them were much better: more high flying moves, more flashy entrances, better catchphrases, cooler costumes and more brutal finishing moves. But they’ll never be the Rockers. To sum it up in Marty Jannetty’s own words:
“..during the long journey of planes, there are three kinds of boys. One, who roam around and look for chicks, second, who search for somebody to party with, third, who search for a victim to play a rib on. We were all three of them.”Published 24 Nov 2012, 14:21 IST