The Heartbreak Kid – The Showstopper – Shawn Michaels
on Today’s Knockout
There’s no getting around it, so I’ll begin this piece by saying that I am as big a Shawn Michaels fan as there gets. As a young man, for some reason, his cocky, charismatic demeanor and incredible in-ring ability fascinated me. Whether you like him or not, and there are plenty of people who don’t, you can never take away the fact that he is one of the greatest performers in the history of the sport of professional wrestling. His resume speaks for itself.
Shawn Michaels was born Michael Shawn Hickenbottom on July 22nd, 1965 in Chandler, Arizona. He was a military brat, the youngest of four, and spent most of his early years moving around. The Hickenbottom family eventually settled down in San Antonio, Texas, hence HBK was billed from there. He was a standout linebacker in High School, eventually becoming the Captain of the team. He moved on from there to Southwest Texas State University, but quickly decided college wasn’t for him. He then decided to pursue his dream of professional wrestling, instilled in him at a young age after The Nature Boy Ric Flair captured his imagination.
Hickenbottom worked in the AWA and the NWA before making his way to the WWF with his tag team partner Marty Jannetty. They didn’t last long in their initial run at WWF; they were fired for an incident at a bar. They’d be back a year later in 1988. Vince McMahon dubbed them The Rockers and the fans fell in love. There had never been a team like them before. They were so high-flying and exciting. Their tandem offensive maneuvers were unmatched in skill and grace. They only won one Tag Team Championship together, but the results of the match with The Hart Foundation were later decided invalid due to the ropes literally falling apart during it.
By this point, Hickenbottom was wrestling as just Shawn Michaels. He never liked Michael as a first name. So much so, that his family only called him Shawn. It was a simple fix for a ring name, as obviously Hickenbottom is not the kind of name you’re going to put on a marquis. So Shawn Michaels and Marty Janetty were The Rockers, but Shawn Michaels wasn’t long in the tag team world. On December 2nd, 1991, during a segment of Brutus The Barber Beefcake’s talk show Barber Shop, The Rockers split when Shawn Michaels hit Marty Janetty with the super kick and then threw him face-first through a plate glass window. Soon after, at the suggestion of Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig, Shawn Michaels began to call himself The Heartbreak Kid.
From here, HBK would fill his career with a massive list of phenomenal matches. He wrestled the first ladder match in WWF or WWE history against Bret the Hitman Hart at a taping of Wrestling Challenge, a secondary program that was syndicated weekly. He also wrestled what is arguably still, to this day, the best ladder match in the history of the company against Razor Ramon at WrestleMania 10. There’s a reason they began to call Shawn Michaels, Mister WrestleMania. This was the first chance he really got to steal the show on the grandest stage of them all, and that’s exactly what he did. Try and find a best matches of WrestleMania list without HBK versus The Bad Guy.
A year after that match, HBK wrestled one of his best friends, Diesel (Kevin Nash) for the WWF Championship at WrestleMania 11. If it hadn’t been for Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow, WrestleMania 11 would’ve been The Heartbreak Kid’s first WrestleMania main event. Instead, he would have to wait another year for that. At WrestleMania 12, he and Bret had everyone’s attention for over an hour as they put on a clinic.
In 1998, Shawn Michaels sustained an injury that took him out of in-ring action for over four years. He wrestled Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14 on March 28th, 1998 and didn’t wrestle again after that until August 25th, 2002 at SummerSlam. Watch both of those matches back to back and then try and tell me it doesn’t blow your mind that there was four years, a crippling back injury, an addiction recovery, and a religious awakening in between. He came back to the company all the better after everything he’d been through. His work became more collaborative and free flowing, leading to some of the best matches of his career.
The Heartbreak Kid, The Icon, The Main Event wrestled his last match at WrestleMania 26 in a Career vs. Streak match against the Undertaker that will live on forever as one of, if not the best WrestleMania match of all time. As someone who followed and dug into every bit of Shawn Michaels career, as he is undoubtedly my favorite wrestler of all time, I couldn’t have been happier to see him finish his in-ring career with a classic. Some guys stick around for too long. Mick Foley will be the first to admit that he should’ve retired on a number of occasions. Flair jumped to TNA after his incredible career-ending match with HBK at WrestleMania 24, which is why it wasn’t covered here. Flair went and sucked all the emotion out of it.
Sure, he’s been back on a number of occasions to be special-guest referee and all that, but HBK hasn’t wrestled a match since WrestleMania 26. It’s not in his style. Why ruin a great thing? With his match against Undertaker, HBK had a final match befitting his legacy as The Showstopper.