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God's gift to wrestling: Shawn Michaels

It’s hard to remain humble when you’re the best wrestler of all time. But if you’re not — and, unless your name is Shawn Michaels, you’re not — there’s a lot you can learn on your way toward reaching the bar he’s set. In fact, WWE Magazine argues that everything you need to learn about wrestling, you can learn from The Heartbreak Kid.

See classic HBK photos                           

Learn what it means to fight an uphill battle

Future WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels meets the intimidating One Man Gang.

Shawn Michaels debuts in 1984

“I’m always slightly amused by how people talk about how so-and-so ‘isn’t big enough.’ And how someone is fighting an uphill battle because of his size. You don’t know the first thing about an uphill battle. Try doing it in 1994 and 1995, even earlier than that. Try doing it back when there hadn’t been — with all due respect — me complaining about how size shouldn’t matter. Now there’s a list of guys as long as my arm who complain about getting looked over. When I got here, I didn’t have a name. I didn’t have a legacy. I didn’t have a famous family. And there was only one guy who was gonna kick down the door and moan until — quite frankly, and thankfully — the old man finally relented. Ha ha.”

Watch HBK battle the much larger British Bulldog in 1995

Learn how to break up with someone

The Rockers discuss their differences with a shocking conclusion in one of the biggest moments in wrestling history.

Shawn Michaels turns on Marty Jannetty; Dec. 2, 1991

“Any tag team that breaks up, there’s always one of them who’s focused on bigger things. Breaking up is certainly not a wise choice if you don’t have aspirations past the tag team, because you don’t know how it’s gonna pan out. It’s a sink-or-swim scenario. There have been plenty of people who’ve done it and haven’t fared well. So if you’re gonna go, you’ve gotta go all-in. Failure can’t be an option.”

Relive Michaels defending his Intercontinental Title against Jannetty

Learn how to make an entrance

Shawn Michaels' WrestleMania 12 entrance is arguably WWE's most spectacular entrance yet, as The Showstopper uses a zip line to glide in from the rafters and into the crowd on March 31, 1996.

Shawn Michaels enters on a zipline;  WrestleMania XII

“I just knew that I was getting a special entrance. I hadn’t really given it much thought. I’d heard ‘zipline’ before, but I’m thinking, ‘Maybe from the top of the ramp?’ Not the top of the building. It was huge. At the time, I didn’t have the ability to see the enormity of it. And I think that was a good thing. That worked to my advantage. It was a healthy attitude to have. I’ve put a fair amount of pressure on myself on my own anyway. Had I known things would get that big, it would’ve gotten much more difficult to do. I remember coming to the building and (The Chairman) telling me the idea. He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ve already done it.’ It wasn’t until I got up there and I realized how high it was, but by that time it was too late.”

Learn how to talk

In a memorable Raw moment, Shawn Michaels vacates the WWE Championship.

Shawn Michaels tells WWE: “I lost my smile”; February 10, 1997

“It’s about not having one specific style, and wanting to be well-rounded. I mean, come on — I’ve cried a lot on TV. I get that it’s wrestling, and we’re supposed to be ‘tough.’ And I know there are guys out there who’ve made a lot more money than I have, and all they did was grunt, be angry all the time and punch and kick. And God bless them. But I just wanted to be more well-rounded, and that choice suited me well. That’s part of the reason I can come back and there’s still a connection with the fans. And the same way I chuckle with and at the guy who says he can’t make it because he’s too small. I also chuckle at the notion of a ‘pipe bomb’ being something new. Back in 1994, 1995 and 1996, those were the original ‘pipe bombs.’ That’s one of the things we were pushing for back then — bringing more of the reality of the situation to the forefront. I used to say stuff and The Chairman had no idea what was coming out. It’s just different now. We were also privately owned then. That’s why we just got yelled at, not fired.” [Laughs.]

Check out this heartbreaking HBK tribute

Learn to think outside the box

A hair-pulling Mankind takes drastic measures to try to beat WWE Champion Shawn Michaels before all hell breaks loose during the finish of their match at In Your House on September 22, 1996.

Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind; In Your House 10: Mind Games

“Mick and I wanted that match to be something different. We had no background together. We didn’t know if we were going to have chemistry. Both of us wanted to make a WWE Championship Match that wasn’t typical of the business at the time. Mankind was an opponent with a rugged style that Shawn Michaels had never faced before. Had we not tried to add those extra elements, it wouldn’t have felt special. I wasn’t a fan of having a definite ‘style.’ I get that there are different styles, and some guys do things a certain way but, as a fan, I don’t prefer one over another. So, throughout my whole career, it always made sense to go out and try to mix things up. One of the easiest ways to keep people from saying, ‘It’s the same old thing,’ is to not continually do the same thing.”

Learn to challenge the best

Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle finally meet in Los Angeles at WrestleMania in their their first-ever one-on-one encounter. The two all-time greats perform a battle for the ages.

Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle; WrestleMania 21

“I’ve never been intimidated going into a match with somebody on the basis of skill. But I’ve been plenty intimidated as far as the expectations of the crowds. And I knew that the expectations of the Angle match were really high. That was a match people wanted to see. Kurt was really talented. He’s incredibly technically sound. I needed to be able to match and enhance his technical attributes. That’s not something I do on a regular basis, so there was a lot of pressure. Whether it was earned, I had a WrestleMania reputation. And Kurt had one, too. So if we hadn’t delivered on the match, it probably would’ve made more news than we actually ended up doing. My WrestleMania matches weren’t graded the same way as anyone else’s. If I fall below ‘good,’ I’m in big trouble. Looking back, I’m very proud of that.”

Learn how to cross the boss

HBK finally gets his hands on Mr. McMahon, and punishes The Chairman at WrestleMania 22 while also keeping Shane McMahon at bay.

Shawn Michaels vs. Mr. McMahon; WrestleMania 22

“People just wanted to see me fight Mr. McMahon. He knew everything about power, money and fame. And those things interested me years ago. But now, my faith and my family are what’s important, and it became hard for him to conceive that. I’m not sure Mr. McMahon’s aware there is a life outside WWE. Over the years, he and I butted heads many times behind the scenes. And honestly, I think there was a part of him that liked those confrontations. So when I came back (in summer 2002), and had re-prioritized my life, I was actually sort of a ‘model employee.’ That’s what sent him over the edge with me. The biggest upside for me was knowing I could just go out and do it. That’s what happens when you take a beating from someone for such a long time. No matter how decent you are, when you can unleash all that rage, animosity and anger inside of you, you’re going to let it rip.”

Learn that an old dog can still have new tricks

Tag Team Champions Shawn Michaels and John Cena clash over the WWE Championship.

Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena; WrestleMania 23

“Going in, I think the majority of the people weren’t concerned with whether John could have a good match. It was more, could he have a good match with me? If he did, that was going to make people believe he was for real. Toward the end of my career, I never looked at myself as a ‘ challenger.’ At that point, with my reputation as Mr. WrestleMania, people looked at every opponent I had on the way in, and on the way out. Specifically, how they were different. What happened in between? As an individual, I think, of course, ‘Can I hang with these young guys?’ If I screwed up, that’d be on me. But in that bout, it was about something feeling different all around when that other guy stepped out of the ring.”

Learn how to retire a living legend

At WrestleMania 24, Ric Flair loses a retirement match to Shawn Michaels.

Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair; WrestleMania XXIV

“The match was more about the fact that, if Ric Flair’s last match wasn’t perfect, the weight of that disappointment would fall on my shoulders. And both he and I knew the reasons for that, which is why I take such huge pride in being the one who was in there with him. With Ric Flair, there’s a lot on the line for him in having a great match. None of it’s not real to him. If it didn’t go well, and exceed expectations, that would’ve affected his entire life. See, people think I don’t love the business as much as I should because I won’t get into the nitpicking. But if you hit the ball out of the park, you don’t have to worry about stealing or getting thrown out. That’s how I approached the match with  Ric. I thought, ‘I’m just going to have to hit a home run.’ ”

Learn how to go out on top

Shawn Michaels puts his career on the line for a chance to end The Undertaker's Streak.

Shawn Michael vs. The Undertaker; WrestleMania XXVI

“At the time of that match, and knowing it was going to be my last, I think I might have been able to see some sort of downside in my career. But now, all these years later, I don’t. There were ups and downs, sure, but as I look back now, all I see is absolute joy and pleasure. He and I didn’t know we could get any closer after the first (WrestleMania match). We were wrong. We could, and we did. And it’s one of those things I’ll have forever. To me, nothing compares to putting on a good show. And I mean that with respect to this entire business. But, truthfully, the wins, the losses, the championships — none of those things are as important as putting on a good match. He and I sat in the same locker room forever. We were just two, battle-worn warriors who had been going at it for a long, long time. And that match was just a great final memory to have. Because of that, the peace of my retirement is only greater now.”

See photos from HBK’s final bout                          

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