As one-night comebacks go, Shawn Michaels? performance against Triple H at Summerslam 2002 ranks as one of the finest in living memory. The Heartbreak Kid rolled back the years in what was also the jacked up Hunter’s best match of that year. The passionate fan reaction and quality of the match, not to mention his healthy post-match physical condition, convinced Shawn to consider the possibilities of another match. This took place at Survivor Series 2002 in the inaugural Elimination Chamber match. Shawn again emerged victorious, claiming the World Heavyweight Championship in the process.
The victory was the sentimental culmination of Shawn’s return to the spotlight and was not meant to be a long-term arrangement. As such, Shawn immediately dropped the belt back to Triple H in a long-winded and turgid three stages of hell match at Armageddon 2003; hampered by the first of what was to be many debilitating haematomas suffered by HHH and Shawn’s continued ring rust. After dropping the title Shawn felt his body was holding up to the rigours of competition and increased his schedule accordingly.
The return of Shawn Michaels the wrestler was a substantial boon for the WWE. Though a familiar face and longstanding television personality, the addition of HBK to the active roster placed numerous scenarios and combinations at the disposal of the booking team. Though more or less joined at the hip with Triple H (on-screen and off) Shawn has branched out and had great matches too numerous to mention with opponents ranging from Chris Jericho to Shelton Benjamin. The quality of opponents is a bonus to a man as gifted Shawn Michaels, but the Born Again Shawn’s newfound concept of jobbing and giving of himself has elevated him to a plateau much greater than that afforded to just another part-time performer.
The old adage ?you don?t know what you?ve got until you?ve lost it? applies fully to Shawn. In his mid-nineties heyday he was one of the most consistently brilliant performers in the ring, a feat matched only by his arrogance and disruptive tendencies outside of it. When he sustained his back injury in 1998 many employees, from writer to wrestler, were not sorry to see him go. If his attitude had survived in the interim, his return would have been intensely problematic. Instead, the post-epiphany Shawn was an asset. From 2003 onwards he stood second only to Kurt Angle in the consistency stakes. He has wrestled at every Wrestlemania since nineteen and been a part of good to stellar contests each and every time. It was fitting that Angle and Shawn met in a match that embodied excellence in 2005 at Wrestlemania XXI. That Michaels would have a great match with Angle hardly qualifies as revelation as Angle is about as fine a dance partner as could be wished for. That Michaels carried John Cena and even Vince McMahon to superlative ?Mania scraps paints even more vividly the picture of Shawn’s value and continued worth to WWE.
Sadly, age catches up to all men and Shawn Michaels is no different. Living the wild life, as he has done for so many years, aged him prematurely, though all things considered his body has held up pretty well. Shawn’s back troubles have been well publicised, and his knees have been causing him immense discomfort for years now. He enjoys an immensely light schedule on a contract that pays a guaranteed $1.5 million dollars per annum. He is one of those rare performers whose value to the company exceeds the norm and as such he picks and chooses his opponents and controls the frequency of his contributions to the product.
One of the primary purposes of the latest D-Generation X reunion is to lighten the burden of Shawn Michaels. Having HBK wrestle tag matches all year is a perfect way to maximize his value whilst minimizing the physical risk. The talk is of an eventual split and feud with Triple H; an option which substitutes originality for probable in-ring quality and box office appeal. Shawn has apparently postponed talk of retirement for the time being and talk is rife that WWE is considering an Undertaker/Shawn rematch at Wrestlemania 26. Given the imperative of Undertaker’s streak and the difficulty in replicating a stonewall classic, this is an option this writer personally hopes WWE eschews.
With the scheduled return of Bret Hart to Monday Night Raw, speculation is understandably rampant as to Shawn’s likely involvement in proceedings. Though much of the focus will be on Vince McMahon and the confrontation of the legendary proportions, Shawn won?t be far behind. I?d even go so far as to not rule out a Shawn swerve turn and feud with Bret, but given the Hitman’s physical limitations the talk of a physical confrontation with Vince is more likely to be true. Whatever happens, the truth of the day is since returning to the ring in August 2002, Shawn Michaels has cemented his legacy as one of the finest performers in the history of professional wrestling. He will be an asset for as long as he stays fit and the passion burns. He will remain a point of supreme intrigue and his interactions with Bret Hart ought to be moments for the ages. I do have one criticism though. He really needs to do something with that hair!
Daniel R. Browne.