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Classic Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon
Shawn Michaels wasn’t always The Showstopper, The Icon and Mr. WrestleMania. Long before his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, HBK was just another competitor hoping for a shot at superstardom. That all changed on March 20, 1994, at WrestleMania X. On that night, he found himself standing atop a ladder in the middle of The World’s Most Famous Arena, New York City’s Madison Square Garden, with his close friend Razor Ramon lying prone on the mat beneath him.
Michaels was motivated heading into the unique Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match, but he never could have expected the reaction people around the world would have when he took a leap of faith from the top of the ladder and into sports-entertainment history.
“You always go into WrestleMania wanting to have the best match,” Michaels told WWE Classics. “But we didn’t go into the match thinking we were going to create history or revolutionize the business.”
As he flew through the air, Michaels had no idea that he was altering the course of sports-entertainment. By the time he came crashing down to the canvas, a new generation of Superstars had been inspired to climb to new heights.
“They redefined the Ladder Match,” Cody Rhodes said. “They set the bar so high that guys probably wouldn’t want to have [a Ladder Match] because it couldn’t be better than what Shawn and Razor did.” ( PHOTOS | VIDEO PLAYLIST)
The relationship between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon is much, much deeper than a single WrestleMania moment. Many are familiar with The Kliq, the infamous union between Michaels, Ramon and Kevin Nash. However, their friendship goes further back than that, to when Michaels was 19 years old, working his way up the ranks in the Kansas City, Mo., territory. With just six months of in-ring experience, the competitor who would become a WWE Champion found himself on the opposite side of the squared circle from a mountain of a man named Scott Hall, who was teaming with Dan Spivey as American Starship.
“We hit it off right away,” Michaels said of Hall. The two gelled inside the ring and out, which carried over to their time in AWA, where Michaels teamed with Marty Jannetty and Hall paired up with another legendary star, Curt Hennig. Soon, the pals parted ways, with Michaels heading for WWE and Hall for WCW. They’d reunite in 1992 and slowly start on a path toward revolutionizing sports-entertainment.
Surprisingly, it was HBK’s notorious attitude that kick-started his rise to the top. During his Intercontinental Title reign in 1993, Michaels nearly got himself kicked out of WWE for “failing to make contractual obligations.”
“It was me being a big pain in WWE’s butt,” he explained. “I was getting in trouble and got suspended.”
In a bind, WWE vacated the title, holding a mini-tournament over two weeks on Raw. Hall, then known as Razor Ramon, emerged victorious and was crowned the champion, which created a perfect storm for Michaels and Hall to get back in the ring and work their magic.
“Being the troublemaker that I was, I had literally taken my title home and wouldn’t send it back,” HBK said.
When his suspension was lifted, Michaels returned with his Intercontinental Title and claimed to be the true champion, having never been beaten. Razor quickly disputed HBK’s claim to the throne and challenged Michaels to step in the ring and find out who the real champion was.
Initially, though, their dispute wasn’t going to be settled on The Grandest Stage of Them All. “At the beginning, we were just going around, town to town,” HBK said. “It wasn’t suggested for pay-per-view or WrestleMania, it was just on [live events].”
Still, the two friends had unmatched chemistry in the ring and ended up stealing the show every night on the road, turning heads, which paid off for the pair.
“Vince [McMahon] was a little resistant, because they just didn’t know how our match would come across on pay-per-view,” Michaels recalled. “But Pat Patterson wore him down and our match got put on WrestleMania.”
Even though they had made it to The Show of Shows, it didn’t quite sink in for Michaels and Hall until they got to The Garden.
“I don’t think it was pushed heavy,” Michaels said. “Not a whole lot of emphasis was put on it because I think it was sort of a trial.”
When they hit the ring, the rivals unleashed a level of brutality on each other that was foreign to the WWE Universe at the time. The New York City crowd gasped as HBK stood over Razor Ramon and forcefully jammed the ladder into his sternum. They cried out as steel met skin once more when Michaels swung for the fences, hitting The Bad Guy in the back. ( WATCH THE FULL MATCH)
The crowd along with announcers Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler watched in awe as HBK made his now legendary leap from the top rungs of the ladder onto Razor Ramon. The two friends waged war for more than 20 grueling minutes, when it seemed like Michaels had the bout won. He was at the top of the ladder, his fingers inches away from the belt, when The Bad Guy tipped the ladder. HBK teetered back and forth before the steel contraption gave way, sending him crashing into the ropes. Michaels’ leg was tangled in the ropes, leaving him unable to stop Razor Ramon from retrieving the titles.
The WWE Universe exploded as The Bad Guy claimed victory, crashing to the mat with both titles in hand. The two friends had gone into WrestleMania hoping to have a great match. Mission accomplished. However, they had no idea just how important their match would become in the history of sports-entertainment.
It took a new generation of Superstars to emerge before the influence of the WrestleMania X showdown would be felt.
“It’s the one that started it all,” Kofi Kingston said. “They did some pretty innovative stuff.”
For Cody Rhodes, now a former Intercontinental Champion, the match provided him hope. “It gave smaller guys the belief that they can overcome odds,” he said.
Michaels is still taken aback by the impact that one match has had on the industry.
“It’s sort of tough to grasp the enormity of what we did there,” he explained. “I never went in with the idea that I’m going to do something magnanimous.”
The rivalry between Michaels and Razor Ramon died down slightly following WrestleMania X. HBK took on a mouthpiece role while his bodyguard, Diesel (aka Kevin Nash) challenged Ramon for the Intercontinental Title. Things wouldn’t pick up between the two until SummerSlam 1995 when Michaels, once again the Intercontinental Champion, found himself without a match. WWE officials decided to set up a ladder rematch between HBK and The Bad Guy for the title. Surprisingly, the two weren’t on board with the idea at first.
“We thought it wouldn’t be as special the second time, it’s not going to be quite as impactful as the first one,” Michaels explained.
And though he had gained notoriety as a backstage mover and shaker, HBK denied he would have been able to get out of the match.
“Despite what many people believe, yes, I’ve been able to make suggestions over the years, but I don’t run the company,” he said. “The match was made and that’s that.” ( WATCH THE FULL MATCH)
In another grueling battle, it was Michaels who emerged victorious. He took advantage of his friend’s cockiness, dumping him out of the ring following an attempted Razor’s Edge, which allowed HBK to scale the ladder and grab his championship. Despite their concerns, they knew they had done something special once again.
“Afterward, we thought it was great because it was very different from the first one,” Michaels said.
Looking back on his rivalry with Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels knows that it’s what helped launch him into the main event.
“I lost the match at WrestleMania, but it’s the one that people identify with, saying I was ready for the next level,” he recalled.
“It was a huge contributor, if not the number one reason why I got there.”
Some have said that Michaels was the sole reason for the Ladder Match’s success, that anyone could have been in the ring with The Showstopper and been part of history. HBK, however, disagrees.
“I get a lot of the credit because I’m the guy that bounced around, but if you don’t have a guy to bounce off of, it makes a difference,”Michaels said emphatically. “I couldn’t have done it without Scott.”
Catch Shawn Michaels on season 2 of "MacMillan River Adventures," premiering Tuesday, June 26 at 11:30 p.m. ET on The Outdoor Channel. You can follow the WWE Hall of Famer on Twitter @ShawnMichaels.