HBK’s inclusion in the class of 2011 comes as no surprise. In an industry where hyperbole is the norm, there may not be enough ways to describe the greatness of Shawn Michaels. He is considered by many of his peers to be the most talented performer to ever set foot inside a ring. His matches with the likes of The Undertaker, Bret “Hit Man” Hart and Razor Ramon are on a shortlist of sports-entertainment’s greatest bouts. And in 2010, he was voted the No. 1 competitor in WWE history on the controversial “Top 50 Superstars of All Time” DVD.
Born in the summer of 1965, Michaels first made an impact on sports-entertainment alongside partner Marty Jannetty as a member of The Rockers in the mid-80s. A flashy, high-flying duo, the team formed in Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association before making the move to WWE in 1988. Although they never officially held the World Tag Team Championships, The Rockers earned a strong fan following thanks to their memorable rivalries with The Hart Foundation and The Brain Busters. Arguably, Michaels & Jannetty could have gone down as one of the great pairs if they had chosen to remain in tag team competition. But a superkick that sent Jannetty through Brutus Beefcake’s Barber Shop window severed a popular partnership and started Michaels on his journey to legendary status.
Now a singles competitor, the talented Superstar became wildly egocentric, adopting the nickname “The Heartbreak Kid” and staring at himself in a mirror before entering the ring. Although this arrogance earned the animosity of the WWE Universe, HBK’s ability couldn’t be denied and by October of ’92 he’d earned his first Intercontinental Championship by beating British Bulldog. The title would be the first of many for Michaels as he’d go on to become WWE’s first-ever Grand Slam Champion, winning the WWE Championship, Intercontinental Championship, European Championship and World Tag Team Championship, amongst many others.
By 1994, HBK began to earn a reputation as one of the most exceptional athletes in sports-entertainment. This status was cemented on March 20 of that same year when Michaels battled Razor Ramon in an unforgettable Ladder Match at WrestleMania X. Although not his first match on The Grandest Stage of Them All, the bout was the beginning of HBK’s amazing series of classic WrestleMania matches. In the years that followed, show stealing contests with the likes of Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Ric Flair and Undertaker would earn Michaels the well-deserved moniker of “Mr. WrestleMania.”
Following the Ladder Match, Michaels legend continued to grow as he won the 1995 Royal Rumble after entering at No. 1. The following year, he won the Rumble again and went on to defeat Bret Hart at WrestleMania XXII in a grueling 60-Minute Iron Man Match to win his first WWE Championship and achieve his childhood dream. Physically smaller with a flashier offense than previous champions like Hulk Hogan, Yokozuna and Diesel, Michaels opened the door for future Superstars like Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio to achieve this main event status.
Now WWE’s top star, HBK engaged in heated bouts with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Hart — including 1997′s infamous “Montreal Screwjob” — while forming an alliance that would come to redefine WWE — D-Generation X. A brash, controversial, anti-authority outfit that first consisted of Michaels, Triple H, Rick Rude and Chyna, the group would become infamous for their over-the-top interviews and racy pranks that had television censors pulling their hair out. In many ways, DX helped usher in WWE’s “Attitude Era” boom in the late ’90s, but Michaels would not be around to enjoy much of it.
After suffering a devastating back injury in a Casket Match against The Undertaker at Royal Rumble in ’98, HBK lost his WWE Championship to Austin at WrestleMania XXIV and disappeared from the ring. It would be four long years before Michaels emerged again in 2002. Spiritually cleansed and physically invigorated, The Showstopper immediately entered into a rivalry with his former ally Triple H and defeated him in a brutal Street Fight at SummerSlam that year.
In the decade that followed, Michaels displayed none of the flaws that have plagued many Superstars in their final years in the ring. Instead, The Icon continued to have career-defining matches, from his epic showdown with John Cena at WrestleMania 23 to his series of brutal battles with Jericho in 2008. At the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania in 2009, HBK had not only one of the best matches of his life, but one of the best matches in WWE history when he lost to The Undertaker in an absolutely thrilling encounter.
The following year, The Deadman ended Michaels’ career by defeating him at WrestleMania XXVI, but HBK’s final few months in the ring were also some of his brightest. Enjoying a run as a Unified Tag Team Champion alongside his longtime friend Triple H, HBK truly went out on top. The Game, who does not give praise easily, summed up Michaels’ legacy like this:
“If you were to ask me who’s the greatest I’ve ever been in the ring with, that’s easy. It’s Shawn.”
Undoubtedly, this sentiment is shared by a countless amount of Superstars who have stood across the ring from Shawn Michaels. And on April 2, 2011, World Wrestling Entertainment expressed the same reverence for The Showstopper when HBK joined the WWE Hall of Fame.