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A look at HBK's history as a guest referee
The WWE Universe is still absorbing the history-changing events of WWE Hell in a Cell — namely, Shawn Michaels’ involvement as the special guest referee in the WWE Championship Hell in a Cell Match between Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton.
Though a portion of ring observers is undoubtedly stunned and disappointed by the turn of events, a close evaluation of HBK’s extensive, and checkered, past in zebra stripes reveals Sunday wasn’t the first time the WWE Hall of Famer became active in a match he officiated.
In fact, calling it down the middle has always been a tough task for The Showstopper ...
Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker, SummerSlam ’97
The Showstopper’s first time in the zebra stripes came as he was entrenched in a three-way rivalry involving The Undertaker and WWE Hall of Famer and then-WWE Champion Bret “Hit Man” Hart. And in the first example of a pattern that would play out over the years, HBK could not help but to get involved in the action.
During the contest’s climatic closing moments, Hart struck The Phenom with a chair while Michaels, who was inadvertently knocked down moments before, had his back turned. Although he missed Hart’s illegal use of the chair, Michaels became suspicious when he saw the object in the corner. He then questioned Hart, who spat at Michaels, prompting HBK to swing the chair with Chris Davis-like gusto. “Hit Man,” however, ducked, and HBK ended up laying out The Phenom.
Despite perhaps having the best of intentions, HBK’s instincts took over once he was provoked. It would not be the last time.
By May 1999, HBK — on hiatus as an active competitor due to injuries — had assumed the role of WWE commissioner. During this short but chaotic brawl, Michaels did little to enforce the tag rules, but he also steered clear of direct involvement in the action. After The Texas Rattlesnake downed Shane McMahon with the Stunner, HBK counted the pinfall, without incident.
Triple H vs. The Undertaker vs. Chyna – Raw, Aug. 9, 1999
Michaels’ officiating duties in this match – a no-disqualification, no-countout Falls Count Anywhere bout – were far from exacting. As guest commentator Jesse Ventura quipped, “All the referee's got to do is stay out of the way and count to three.” HBK largely stayed out of the fray, only interjecting briefly in a failed attempt to prevent Stone Cold from running interference.
Triple H vs. Mankind – Raw, Aug. 16, 1999
Forget about having too many chefs in the kitchen; this brawl was afflicted by too many refs in the ring. Here, HBK shared the job — barely — with rival and then-WWE owner Shane McMahon. While The Game and Mankind clobbered each other, the two refs bickered. When Triple H readied to bring a chair down upon Mankind, HBK inserted himself into the action and blocked the attack, leading to yet another argument with McMahon.
In the end, the dual-ref concept proved flawed: After Triple H suplexed Mankind onto a chair, the two exhausted fighters each draped an arm over the other. As McMahon counted down Mankind’s shoulders, Michaels simultaneously counted down Triple H’s, resulting in a less-than-conclusive finish and two No.1 contenders to the WWE Championship.
Triple H vs. The Rock – SmackDown, Aug. 26, 1999
On the premier episode of SmackDown, Commissioner Michaels again found himself called into action as a referee. At first appearing completely impartial, HBK let his true colors show once it looked as though the match was The Rock’s for the taking.
With The Game laid out on the canvas, The Great One removed his elbow pad and signaled for his trademarked People’s Elbow. However, as The Rock sprang off the ropes, Michaels greeted him with a stiff Superkick, enabling Triple H to win the match and retain his WWE Championship. With HBK and The Game apparently in cahoots all along, an outraged Jim Ross decried The Showstopper as a “crooked commissioner.”
The decisive 11th fall was undoubtedly the most significant, and controversial, of the contest. With Triple H’s support team of Road Dogg, Shane McMahon and X-Pac ganging up on The Rock, and HBK recovering on the outside after he was accidentally knocked off the ring apron, The Undertaker came to The Rock’s aid. However, by then HBK had regained his senses. Reluctantly, and to a chorus of boos from the WWE Universe, The Showstopper disqualified The Rock after The Undertaker dropped Triple H with a chokeslam and Tombstone.
Triple H vs. The Rock – Judgment Day 2000, May 21, 2000
HBK’s prowess as a referee was put to the test, as The King of Kings and The Most Electrifying Man in Sports-Entertainment locked horns in an epic WWE Iron Man Match in which the winner would be the Superstar who scored the most falls in a 60-minute period. Before the night was over, HBK had called a total of 11 falls – six in Triple H’s favor, and five in The Rock’s.
Triple H vs. Rob Van Dam – Raw, December 2, 2002
Standing tall in late 2002 as the World Heavyweight Champion, Michaels was in the catbird seat when he was called upon to officiate a No. 1 Contenders Match between Triple H and Rob Van Dam. Throughout the bout, HBK did his best to derail The Game, be it by deliberately slow-counting pinfalls or blocking the ropes (thus, preventing a rope break) whenever Triple H was locked in a submission hold. After RVD inadvertently kicked Michaels — momentarily incapacitating The Showstopper — The Cerebral Assassin blasted RVD with a chair. Again, it was with tremendous disappointment that HBK counted the fall and declared Triple H victorious.
Elimination Chamber – New Year’s Revolution 2005, Jan. 9, 2005
For the fourth time in his career, Michaels guest-refereed a match won by Triple H. In this case, The Game topped five other Superstars — including Chris Jericho, Randy Orton and 2012 WWE Hall of Famer Edge — to win the vacant World Heavyweight Championship. As was the case in several previous outings, it was not long before HBK unwittingly became swept up into the action. At one point, Michaels Superkicked Edge after getting into an argument with The Rated-R Superstar, who had accidentally Speared HBK only moments before.
Later in the match, Ric Flair — who was at ringside, acting as Triple H’s second — fought with Michaels, distracting him long enough for Batista, another of The Game’s allies, to attack Orton. The run-in set up Triple H for the win and left HBK scratching his head in frustration.
Kane vs. Rob Conway – Raw, May 1, 2006
HBK offered no pretense of objectivity here. Prior to the contest, Conway irked Michaels, prompting HBK to do all he could to channel Kane’s rage against the arrogant Conway. Although Conway at one point tried to run through the WWE Universe to escape Kane’s wrath, Michaels corralled him back into the ringside area, feeding him to the destructive Big Red Machine.
John Cena vs. Kenny of the Spirit Squad – Raw, May 1, 2006
The Spirit Squad — a five-Superstar troop of trampoline-bouncing male cheerleaders — had thoroughly annoyed the soon-to-be reunited D-X team of HBK and Triple H by the time Kenny sought to unseat WWE Champion John Cena. Although Triple H started out as the match’s referee, he left the festivities midway, allowing HBK to put on the black-and-white stripes for the second time that night. After repeat interference from the rest of the Spirit Squad, and being verbally berated by Kenny, HBK unleashed an onslaught to even the odds for Cena.
The Undertaker vs. Triple H - Hell in a Cell – WrestleMania XXVIII
In the WrestleMania rematch between Michaels' best friend, The Game, and The Phenom, HBK was determined to call it down the middle. When The Undertaker accidentally locked him in Hell's Gate in the height of the highly emotional showdown, however, Michaels reacted instinctively, dropping The Deadman with Sweet Chin Music. Though he clearly regretted his action and The Undertaker emerged victorious in spite of it, the Superkick serves as another reminder that HBK will step over the line as an official.
Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton, Hell in a Cell 2013
With the WWE Title trapped in abeyance for weeks, guest referee Michaels vowed that a new WWE Champion would be crowned following the Hell in a Cell Match between Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton. What HBK didn’t promise in this bout pitting his former student (Bryan) against his former nemesis (Orton), however, was objectivity. Watching on all the while was WWE COO — and Michaels’ best friend — Triple H, a vocal Orton booster.
Michaels called it fairly for most of the match, though events took an ominous turn after Bryan shoved off an RKO attempt, inadvertently causing The Viper to collide with HBK. At that point, The Game entered the Cell. When Bryan neared Michaels to check on his mentor’s condition, Triple H pushed him aside, giving The Beard all the motivation he needed to demolish the partisan WWE COO with a Running Knee Smash. Shockingly, The Showstopper then rose to his feet and Superkicked WWE’s “Yes!” man, leading to an Orton pinfall.
Though he was directly responsible for Bryan’s loss, the look of regret — or was it disbelief? — on Michaels face suggested thing had indeed not gone the way he’d hoped.