I’ll say it, I love professional wrestling. Have ever since I was six years old way back in 1994 when I randomly started watching on a semi-regular basis. Through the Monday Night Wars, the WCW buyout and the current “PG” era of the WWE, there’s one individual that kept me coming back every week — even during his four year absence as I sat around hoping he’d pop up — Shawn Michaels. The Heartbreak Kid. The Showstopper. Mr. Wrestlemania.
Tonight on RAW, HBK said his tearful goodbyes and I was choked up right along with him. Not just because he’s a charming character or fantastic in-ring performer, but because he is, without a doubt, one of the best pure performers I have ever seen, no matter the media or showcase.
I know, that sounds strong, especially because next to no one takes professional wrestling seriously. The best it usually do is get the clichéd “soap opera for men” comment, as if that’s some form of praise. For the most part, that moniker, along with all the other adjectives like “ridiculous,” and “over the top” are valid most of the time. I’ll admit that.
But not with Shawn Michaels.
In my 16 years of fairly regular viewing of pro wrestling and my somewhat knowledgeable journey into the business’ past, there is simply no one better at telling a story, both in and out of the ring, than Shawn Michaels.
As he said tonight in the ring, the most obvious reason for that is because HBK has always been one of the most upfront pro wrestlers. When Michaels life was barreling out of control in the late ’90s and he had to take some time off because of it — and injuries — he sold it with the now-infamous “Lost my smile” speech. But as corny and ham-fisted as that is, watch this video and see how HBK acts during the announcement. This isn’t some musclehead trying to emote. Those are legitimate tears, folks.
And after his sabbatical, I think that HBK was an even better performer on the mic. The guy cuts a promo better than anyone in the wrestling business, whether he’s crying over something intensely personal or flipping the script and playing the villain like he did a few years back when he returned to Canada, the sight of the uber famous “Montreal Screwjob,” which Myles McNutt analyzed beautifully a few months ago when Bret Hart returned to the WWE
Let us also not forget HBK’s comedy skills, which he also puts to good use any time that he’s together with HHH as DX. Though most of the sketches were outrageous and HHH overdoes it every. single. time., HBK always does his best to salvage even the goofiest of bits, like this one from the middle of 2009:
All of this doesn’t even consider how great of an in-ring performer Michaels has been for all this time. Nobody sells the emotional and physical toles of a wrestling match like him. And he never needed a blade, a steel chair shot or any other sort of gimmick make his matches the best — even if he did popularize the ladder match and compete in the first and still-best Hell in a Cell match. Just like he did in his match with Ric Flair a few years ago at WrestleMania:
Should Shawn Michaels have ever moved into mainstream acting? Probably not. But there aren’t many other performers in the world that convince me more than HBK, even amid a world of out-there characters and stories that barely exist in reality. Michael’s heart-on-sleeve persona worked for him for more than 15 years, and people bought it the whole time. No other pro wrestler could sell us on storylines that saw him be “forced” to work for someone else because he was out of money due to bad investments during the 2008 economic crisis. Or when he faced the McMahons in a tag match where his partner was God. Or really any of the ridiculous things he was thrown in the middle of during his mid-’90s title reign when the then-WWF was struggling mightily.
So when people like me nearly cried tonight when HBK said goodbye, it’s because no other pro wrestler let us in more. In a profession that’s based on scripted situations, but relies more on serialization more than anyone wants to give it credit for, Shawn Michaels was the ultimate performer because we remember everything he’s been through over the past two decades. And we remember all the feuds, the gimmick matches, the swerves and more because he sold it to be as real as possible. We — or at least me — were more than just entertained, we were moved. And that’s why Shawn Michaels will never, ever leave pro wrestling’s Mount Rushmore.