I feel that I should start this most recent book review with a disclaimer: I do not like Shawn Michaels. I realize that he is a brilliant in ring performer, one of the very best ever. I just feel he is a disingenuous, petulant primadonna. Both on camera and off. I grew up watching Michaels during the 1990’s, and, as a card carrying mark, I didn’t like his in ring persona. It was more gigolo than pro wrestler. I grew up a fan of Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart, two guys who were essentially men’s men. Some will question Hogan’s bodybuilder posing routine, but c’mon now, he was an American idol, a sheer force of nature that kids related to. Bret Hart was a simple character, basically portraying Canadian strength and will. While Bret may have been a heartthrob to female fans, his character was basically an ass kicking, overcoming the odds wrestling machine. For a pre and post pubescent boy/young man, that was a very identifiable character, and one that has stood the test of time for this fan.
Shawn Michaels was the antithesis of this. He was fun to watch, especially with The Rockers. His heel persona as the preening pretty boy was excellent for a heel. He was someone no male fan would want to root for, I get that. And to that degree, Michaels excelled. Then Wrestle Mania 12 approached. The money match, the main event: Shawn Michaels versus Bret Hart, Iron Man Match, WWF title. The WWF seemed hell bent on making HBK the face face of the company. For 15 year old me, that was impossible to swallow. Hart projected this inner strength, especially his background coming from his father’s dungeon. Michaels? He was everything I hated. Was he a brilliant in ring performer? As earlier stated, yes he was. But to push that character as the leader of a new “WWF Generation” was silly. And, as WWF is wont to do, he was pushed down fans throats. Ratings and profits declined. The NWO took over WCW and WCW took over the wrestling world. Everytime Ric Flair opens his mouth and spews WWE rhetoric about how Michaels is the greatest ever, a great draw, a devil grows its horns. Michaels was certainly not solely responsible for WCW defeating WWF for 82 weeks in the ratings and kicking the shit out of them in the PPV market. But he is the face of that period. And with good reason. The man was one of the biggest assholes to inhabit a locker room in any sport. Political backbiting was his forte. He, directly or indirectly, was somewhat responsible for creating Razor Ramon and Diesel, who, as Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, led the WCW takeover in the ratings. He was responsible for keeping good young stars down in WWF during that time period, and also responsible for getting some fired. He was responsible for keeping Bret Hart turfed in the mid card for most of 1995, despite Bret being the most over guy in the company. In short, Michaels was, at that point, everything wrong with pro wrestling. I disdained it then, and disdain it today, many moons later.
I thought it almost karmic that he was injured and put on the shelf in 1998. Especially seeing as once this political nightmare was put on said shelf, the WWF embarked on their most profitable run ever. And it almost seems equally karmic that, since his return in 2002, the WWE has been on a slide.
With all that said, I actually enjoyed Michaels’ comeback in 2002, and was refreshed to see that he was a seemingly changed man. Add in the fact he still displayed a remarkable brilliance as an in ring performer, it seemed almost too good to be true. I was becoming a HBK fan. Until, in 2005, he dropped this steaming deuce of a book.
I wanted to believe, really, really REALLY wanted to believe Michaels was not the same insufferable prick he was in the 90’s. HBK without the somas and political backstabbing. I was wrong. Heartbreak and Triumph put Shawn Michaels very much back into my cynical, jaded crosshairs.
I will say this: for fans of the man, I am sorry for what I have already written, and for what I am about to write. I respect the man’s talents. In-ring, he may be the greatest ever. In ring, he is unparalleled. In-ring, he is better than my childhood hero Bret Hart. There is no way around that. Michaels is that damn good.
Read “Heartbreak and Triumph” though, and you realize he is still that same asshole who fucked the WWF hard in the 90’s.
It starts off innocently enough, with Michaels account of his training and breaking in to the business. To hear it from him, he was great…not good…great, from day one. I can’t deny this. I have seen his early AWA stuff, and he was damn good from the start. We get the stories of meeting Marty Jannetty, their pairing up, and their great series with Doug Sommers and Buddy Rose. We get MIchaels telling us that he and Marty partied WAY past midnight and were abusing alcohol and painkillers and horse tranquilizers and the such. For his early days, HBK is remarkably candid. Its once the book reaches his career in WWF that it takes a downswing.
First off, Michaels maintains that The Rockers were unlike any tag team ever in their double team moves. The Midnight Express and Rock and Roll Express express their differences. The Rockers WERE a tremendous tag team, one of the best ever. But the line of bullshit begins with Michaels over assessment of their worth to tag team wrestling. Influential? Yes, hell yes. The first, the FIRST to incorporate double team moves into their arsenal? No.
We move to the WWF, and we get a brief synopsis of the Rockers split. Still the greatest tag team break up of all time, in my opinion. But Michaels describes it, behind the scenes, as all Jannetty’s fault. I can’t argue too much with that one, but his description of it still comes off as totally self serving.
So Michaels embarked on his singles career. I described a bunch of stuff in my diatribe to begin this review, but, irregardless of what I may say or state, Michaels got himself over as a douchebag heel. The best kind. In the middle of this, the Kliq (or Clique) happened.
This is where the book really becomes a fascinating character study. And it shows how smart Michaels really is behind the curtains. He both accepts and deflects criticisms of he and the clique. He both confirms and denies accusations. I mean, it is masterful, even with a ghostwriter. Just amazing. He says that the clique did not wield the power most say. Yet, as I seem to remember, and as he helpfully unconsciously CONFIRMS in the book, it seemed to be a steady diet of Razor Ramon, Diesel, 1-2-3 Kid and others dominating WWF television while a man like Bret Hart was relegated to side jobs. MIchaels deflects these accusations by stating “WE WERE MORE OVER.” Bull and shit. I watched wrestling then as I still do. HBK was not over, Diesel only got there through eliminating about 55 people in a row during Royal Rumble 1994. It is just stunning that a man who was supposed to be a born again Christian (not Jay Reso) would still, STILL be spewing this nonsense. He maintains that the allure of the clique was farcical. BULLSHIT. Bullshit. I WATCHED that era, I am not a plebeian (thanks Bob) to the wrestling industry and what I have seen. It was the total HBK and Big Daddy Cool show in 1995. No if, ands, or buts about it. MIchaels also states that Bret Hart was not a great wrestler, and that only he, Shawn Michaels, could get a good match out of buddy Kevin Nash. REALLY? Bret’s matches with Diesel were EXCELLENT, both of which I have rated above the WM match Shawn wrestled with Nash. Michaels was only concerned with getting himself over at WM 11, and it showed. Michaels makes a big hoopla over a shitty kick out in that match in his book as a reason why the match didn’t get over. Face facts Shawn, it didn’t get over because your sorry ass was taking advantage of your “best friend.” Trust me, I know all about that scenario.
But the bullshit continues! This article is getting long in the tooth, so I need to hurry here. MIchaels and Bret Hart did not like eachother. That is putting it mildly. Hart says in his book he had no problem putting HBK over in the Iron Man match. I cry bull on that, but Bret did put Shawn over. And then Shawn refused to put anyone not named Sid over. HBK states in his tome that it was just to piss off the smart marks. Bull and shit. Michaels was the epitome of a bad worker. Someone who had tremendous matches but refused the J-O-B. Quick, name me a match Michaels lost in 1997? Took some research, didn’t it? HBK, in 1997, early 1998, was the biggest dick in pro wrestling history. Bar none. It was almost serendipitous that he was forced to retire.
HBK is excellently candid about his drug problems during his “retirement.” He met Nitro Girl Whisper, married her, and had kids. BTW Whisper was absolutely the hottest Nitro girl, so good for him. They had a child, but HBK wasn’t there yet. He still abused painkillers at a Louie Spicolli level, and ws on death’s door in 2001. Until he found God. I admire the full tale of HBK finding God, but I am still skeptical. Someone like Michaels found a new God and seemed to be saved. Yet, I do not remember him losing many matches once his full time commitment became clear. Sure, he did jobs here and there. But Michaels was still the insufferable bastard, albeit in a nicer way, that he always was. Ask Gregory Helms.
All in all, “Heartbreak and Triumph” is a very interesting read. Read it, and know Shawn Michaels is still the insufferable douchebag he has been for years now.