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Posted in: LOP Hall Of Fame
2015 LOP Hall of Fame Inductee: Shawn Michaels
By The Doc
Mar 29, 2015 - 8:46:57 AM

Shawn Michaels
Class of 2015


Napoleon Hill, author of many self-improvement books, suggests finding pacesetters for your life and emulating them. Shawn Michaels is one of my life's pacesetters. His excellence in the wrestling ring and, more importantly, his dedication to his family, has been inspirational to me. He represents a rare and admirable caliber of human-being. He made substantial mistakes in his life and came back stronger and a better person from the experiences. So, you see, Michaels is not just my favorite wrestler of all-time, but he is one of my favorite people of all-time.

Inducting him into the LOP Hall of Fame, therefore, is a task equal parts exciting and daunting, but a responsibility that I wanted on nobody's shoulders but my own. Shawn Michaels – the first man to hold every major championship available in WWE, owner of more Match of the Year awards than any WrestleMania Era peer, and the superstar revered by many as the greatest in-ring performer ever. Those accolades alone will keep wrestling enthusiasts talking about him for the next century. Yet, it is his impact on my life for which I am most appreciative and is the reason why, in writing this induction over the last few weeks, I have found it difficult to optimally express my thoughts.

When I was six years old, my parents divorced and my mother remarried within the year that followed. My dad was my best friend, so we had an awkward transition to seeing each other infrequently. Once as close as could be, our relationship was fractured by a tumultuous situation. One day at school, I had a freak accident that left me with giant goose egg on my head and, for some reason that I've since forgotten, my dad picked me up early instead of my mom. We went back to his apartment and watched the VHS tape of the 1992 Royal Rumble. With an ice pack pressed to my forehead, I sat there with my father and watched one of the most famous matches in history. We returned to being as thick as thieves and were until the day he died three years ago.

On a strange day in the spring of 1992, wrestling became something more to me than a TV show. And, though I enjoyed watching the incredible triumph of Ric Flair (my dad's favorite), I adopted a new favorite from that Rumble match: Shawn Michaels. A bond was created. Two years of emotional turmoil culminated in a horrible day in gym class that left me physically hurt to add to my mental anguish, but it landed me on my dad's couch, my mind drifting into the wondrous world of pro wrestling, highlighted by the performance of a young, determined star nicknamed The Heartbreak Kid.

Wrestlers were larger than life heroes like comic book characters come to life when I first discovered pro wrestling. I never read comic books; just flipped through the pages. Michaels and his fellow 2015 LOP Hall of Fame inductee, Bret Hart, established my deeper connection to pro wrestling. Before them, I never watched wrestling; I just looked at it. It was colorful and eye-catching to my young mind. I had actually taken a liking to Michaels, when he was part of the Rockers, for that very reason – they wore flashy tights, performed aesthetically pleasing moves, and their music sounded like that of my first favorite wrestler in WWE: the Ultimate Warrior. My true education in pro wrestling really began that day in 1992, though, one calendar year after Michaels had turned on former partner, Marty Jannetty, by shoving his head through a glass window in the famous Barber Shop segment.

HBK was the first wrestler that transcended the boundaries of good and evil for me. Despite portraying a “bad guy,” he was never a heel in my eyes. He was more like the friend that you grow up with that starts acting out and doing things unbecoming of your previous opinion of him. I did not dislike HBK at all. I may have been disappointed in him, but I was always rooting for him. When he won the Intercontinental Championship from British Bulldog on Saturday Night's Main Event in the fall of '92, I was watching; and I was thrilled. I had a growing investment in Michaels.

During the first twenty years of my life, wrestling had a tendency to be most important to me when I was going through a trying period. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Our last move was the hardest. The older I got, the more challenging it was to be uprooted. Wrestling had faded into the background prior to, but it moved to the forefront of my life again, in part, because I needed a respite; and I might well have sought it through a different avenue had it not been for HBK. Michaels had just won the Royal Rumble match for the second straight year and was gearing up to challenge Bret for the WWE Championship. HBK came to embody my hope and desire that everything would be OK; “The boyhood dream” for Shawn Michaels helped prevent a boyhood nightmare for Chad Matthews. Thus, I had a greater appreciation when he reached the top of the mountain.

The Ironman match at WrestleMania XII, another 2015 LOP HOF inductee, was a match for the ages forever to be regarded in my book as a masterpiece for its time. It exemplified something important about truly becoming a wrestling fanatic during the era in which Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart were the top guys in WWE: it made your education to sports entertainment akin to your education to Hollywood being through Robert De Niro and Tom Hanks. Even if you did not fully understand the ins and outs of what you were watching, you innately knew that it was a cut above what everyone else was doing. Michaels vs. Hart, thus, embodies my transition from a fan who got swept up by the lights, the music, and the production into a fan that cared on a more intuitive level.

HBK so ingratiated me to his brand of art on the 20'X20' canvas that he became the very first pro wrestler to whom I remained devoted like a sports team no matter what he did. If HBK was involved; I liked it. It was that simple. His antics in Degeneration X were called “sophomoric.” I didn't care. I thought it was hilarious. I was the DX target audience. It only strengthened my fandom. Though it was similarly antagonistic to what Steve Austin was doing, I hated Stone Cold but still cheered on Michaels relentlessly. Anyone that slighted HBK, as far as I was concerned, slighted me. Bret's actions toward him made me dislike the Hitman (a once seemingly impossible thought). Kane's Hell in a Cell assist (and debut) that gave The Icon the victory over The Deadman made me a fan of the Big Red Machine. I absolutely despised Austin for beating Michaels at WrestleMania XIV and sending him to retirement beaten and embarrassed. It took me half a decade (and a dislike of Stone Cold for the entire Attitude Era and beyond) to get over that.

I identified with HBK, in more ways than one. I injured my back in the same part of 1998 that he injured his. It was the start of a lengthy health decline for me and was the reason why I, ultimately, became a doctor. I actually was diagnosed with the same problem – a lower lumbar disc herniation. It eventually ended my soccer career. I cringe watching the Mania XIV match, now, but the respect that I have for that man is off the charts. It is difficult to walk in that state of physical breakdown. How he wrestled that match is beyond me.

My professional wrestling interest has and always will extend beyond Shawn Michaels. Though I stopped watching 15 months into his four year hiatus due to dwindling passion for the product, he was not the reason I started watching WWE in 1987 and he was not the reason why I came back to it in 2001. HBK is and was, though, the wrestler who, to date, emotionally captured my imagination more than any other and who allowed me to most easily suspend my disbelief. I love many things about pro wrestling, but I love the storytelling the most; it combines the best elements of sport and entertainment. Michaels is the single greatest characterization of sports entertainment in WWE lore, in my opinion. His range as a character was vast and his abilities in the ring made him the Michael Jordan of WWE.

HBK's retirement in 1998 felt like Jordan's in 1993. His innovation with the Rockers stood out like a sore thumb in the Hulkamania Era. He carried over that same drive to outperform his contemporaries as a singles wrestler, most notably in the Ladder match with Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X. The Ironman match is so athletically and psychologically fascinating that hyperanalyzing it can be almost pathologically detrimental to its memory. The Michaels WWE Championship reign in 1996 reset the critical standard for World Champions thanks to his stunning series of matches with stylistically unique opponents (Diesel, Bulldog, Vader, Mankind, and Sycho Sid). The inaugural Hell in a Cell match with Undertaker remains a leading candidate for greatest match of all-time even today. Yet, as with Jordan's MVPs and NBA titles by the time he left basketball for baseball, HBK's accomplishments as of 1998 still felt like the scratching of the surface. Greatness to that degree demands more.

So, how fitting it was that, on the same weekend that I embarked on the next extremely difficult time in my life, Michaels came back to ease the tension. Summerslam 2002 took place mere days after I moved into my college dorm. That was not easy for me. Outgoing as I have always been, it takes me awhile to adapt to change. My enthusiasm for wrestling had already grown from WrestleMania X8's Rock-Hogan match, but HBK's comeback renewed my interest to levels not previously reached. His match with Triple H stands the test of time for me as the greatest match in Summerslam history. There are not many matches that can compete with its emotional resonance. It had a ripple effect that permeated my psyche and devoured any trace of resistance within the part of my brain that had allowed me to drift away from wrestling in the past. The return of The Headliner / The Main-Event ensured that the young man that you now know as “The Doc” would never Stop watching The Show again.

As time went on, Michaels broke down more of wrestling's surface barriers for me. First, it was hero and villain; next, it was wins and losses. HBK was so good that all I wanted to see was the performance. It was his mastery of in-ring psychology, execution, and selling that created within me a desire to grasp the art of pro wrestling. Whatever the occasion called for, HBK figured out the best way to accentuate the details of the plight he needed to portray. Against Triple H, it was always his history with the back injury. He made me believe that he was being reinjured. Against Chris Jericho, most notably in their 2008 feud, it was the threat of losing his sight. That could not have been sold any better, neither verbally nor physically. Against Hulk Hogan at Summerslam 2005, the situation called for him to oversell in order to make a main-event with an immobile, freshly hip replaced 50 year old entertaining. The list goes on and on. The lessons learned from watching his matches from a more critical perspective shaped the way I have viewed wrestling as an adult.

Writing about HBK's work is easy. One of my editor's notes after the first draft of The WrestleMania Era read: “The Shawn Michaels chapter is 7,000 words; cut it in half.” I could write all day about the post-comeback years alone. If asked to choose just a few matches to highlight from 2002-2010, I have to start with Michaels vs. Jericho from WrestleMania XIX, which has aged like a fine wine and is a smooth, vintage performance worthy of immense praise; Michaels vs. Jericho from No Mercy 2008 tops my list for best Ladder matches in wrestling lore, as it followed the title, rivalry-focused formula from the WMX bout but exceeded its overall quality; Michaels vs. Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 21 is my favorite match of all-time and lived up to the unrealistic expectations that I placed upon it, both on the night of and in hindsight (which is, to me, what the moniker “Mr. WrestleMania” is all about – maintaining an almost impossible standard every year on the biggest stage); and Michaels vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania 25 is the greatest match ever and redesigned the blueprint for the ultimate WWE performance.

I am unequivocally, an HBK mark. I have a tattoo on my wrist, the location chosen because I thought it was cool that Michaels had a tattoo on his. All those years of reading about his born-again relationship with God finally sunk into my thick skull and, similar to HBK, I used the most devastating emotional occurrence in my life to find my own faith and inner peace; the result of which was, nine months later, I met the woman who became my wife. I, too, now have a daughter and a son.

In March 2008, I had the honor of sitting in the Orlando, Florida Citrus Bowl to watch WrestleMania XXIV with my father. Fittingly, HBK wrestled Ric Flair in one of the most emotional matches of all-time. Sixteen years prior, a young boy sat with his dad, being nursed back to health, mentally and physically, by an awe-inspiring, foundation-shifting pro wrestling match. Life was never the same after that day in 1992; life never got much better than that day in 2008. Before delivering the superkick that ended the Nature Boy's career, a teary-eyed Michaels said “I'm sorry; I love you.” Well, a part of me is forever sorry that the period of my life directly impacted by HBK's WWE tenure had to come to an end. I was teary-eyed watching his final match at WrestleMania XXVI and then again the next night on Raw and then, finally, while sitting live with my wife in Atlanta on the night that he got inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. However, I love that I can sit here and reflect on such an influential figure in my life and celebrate not just his career, but what he and his career mean to me.

For three decades, professional wrestling has been my escape from the real world, there for me when at times nobody else was. It helped me keep my spirits up through the worst moments of my life and it has enhanced the best periods of my life, which has been worth more to me than any dollar amount. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my distinct honor to induct Shawn Michaels into the LOP Hall of Fame. It has been the single greatest honor of my writing career.

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