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WrestleMania Diary: Shawn Michaels, Day 3
HIGHWAY TO HALL, 9:52 a.m.
On Oct. 16, 1984, Shawn Michaels could never have foreseen this 45-year-old version of himself sitting on a charter bus on the morning of his WWE Hall of Fame induction. With two heavily sleeping children still in bed upon his departure, HBK is still busy minded on his journey to WrestleMania Axxess. For any man, let alone a Showstopper, it would be a lofty challenge to compact 26 years into the mere minutes he will have this evening during his induction speech. And as he continues to state in various conversations, he still isn’t quite sure of exactly what he is going to say tonight.
MAKING HIMSELF AXXESS-IBLE, 10:19 a.m.
Roughly 15 minutes away from the hotel containing the most important people in his world, HBK arrives at WrestleMania Axxess, passes through the building’s halls, effortlessly projects a crumbled napkin into a trash can (a perfect shot), then moves toward the entrance stage for a Q&A session.
The booming introduction by Justin Roberts draws The Showstopper through a curtain, down a mini ramp and into the ring. Meanwhile, the lyrics of his widely recognized song haul in charging crowds from all sides of the venue to see Michaels.
A brief pause in between HBK’s responses permits a front row outcry, “We love you, Shawn!” The humbled (former) competitor is soon then overwhelmed by a vigorous “One more match!” chant.
“I came back for one more match in 2002,” Shawn lightheartedly retorts, “and that was nine years ago. I don’t think I have another nine in me.”
The crowd disagrees. Their attention, however, is diverted across the venue to a booth where Michaels’ best friend, Triple H, acknowledges his buddy with a symbolic cross-armed “DX” signal.
TWO WORDS: SIGN IT!, 10:37 a.m.
Hours before The Game has the distinguished honor of inducting his greatest friend, The King of Kings rests atop a different type of elevated seat at Axxess, one with a snaking line of eager WWE fans waiting to meet Triple H. Who’s suddenly cutting in line? The Showstopper. (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)
Years and years of friendship that’s more like a brotherhood are very apparent in their exchange. Michaels forces The Game to scribble his “H” trifecta on an autograph sheet – further personalized with a “S*CK IT! Shawn!” – then HBK hurls himself at his longtime ally for an exaggerated hug.
COMMON BOND, 10:44 a.m.
At the base of Triple H’s autograph station sits a strong-willed Floridian named Robin Dismuke with her DX green wheelchair parked and ready to meet Shawn Michaels.
Robin grips a copy of Michaels’ book, Heartbreak & Triumph, which HBK personalizes for her on the spot before slinging his arm around her for an intimate conversation. A few quick minutes will motivate Robin for miles.
“He’s The Showstopper and you can tell he really cares about his fans,” she explains.“I was a surfer for 20 years until my injury and I live by God, positive energy and a sense of humor. HBK has got that G-O-D in him and that’s what I like.”
“It’s a good code to live by,” she’s told by Michaels, a model example of this philosophy.
(HEARTS OF) GOLDEN TICKET, 11:11 a.m.
Just a little past 11 a.m., Shawn Michaels rides away from the bustle of WrestleMania Axxess on one of its most crowded days. Whereas HBK just met hundreds of awestruck Showstopper fans, the tempo changes when he shakes hands with Dantee and Damaris Benton.
The winners of HBK’s personal raffle and his special guests at WrestleMania XXVII in Atlanta, the couple earned their trip out of countless others to sit down and share a very intimate, uninterrupted meet-and-greet session with The Showstopper. The small talk is not unlike that of friends catching up, simply due to Shawn’s impeccably easy-going attitude and the pleasant manner of Damaris and Dantee, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Quantico, Va.
For good reason, the couple encourages HBK to enjoy his big night and express their intent to participate in next year’s raffle, which benefits three very special causes: Ronald McDonald House Charities, Operation Homefront and Cross Trail Outfitters.
One last set of photos flash and Shawn reaches into his pocket for his cell phone, reading a message from another very special guest who’s here in Atlanta just for this momentous night in Michaels’ life.
LOOK WOOOOO’S HERE, 12:01 p.m.
HBK is killing time, waiting for the dearest of friends when the room lights up with the stylin’, profilin’ arrival of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair – a sight that’s completely unexpected. Not seen on WWE turf since roughly three years ago, “Naitch” jet-flew his way to Atlanta for one reason: Watch Shawn Michaels join him in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Reminiscent of the tear-filled climax to their historic match at WrestleMania XXIV, the tenderness and mutual admiration between both Michaels and Flair – two incomparable ring legends – invokes grins from anyone within a few feet.
Flair vows to watch Michaels’ induction live tonight from within the Philips Arena. The well-wishing culminates with the presentation of something special.
THE GIFT, 12: 06 p.m.
Revealing a handheld wooden chest with Flair’s face on the lid, The “Nature Boy” presents The Showstopper with a token to commemorate his grand achievement, representative of their unbreakable professional and personal bond. Michaels opens the box to find a glistening, one-of-a-kind belt buckle and matching accessories. It’s a perfect gift for the “cowboy” that resides within HBK’s Texas-sized heart.
Mr. WrestleMania is moved and beyond touched by the gesture, but more so elated by his friend’s presence. A handshake turned strong embrace exposes Flair’s wrist, which bears a diamond coated Rolex watch that’s identical to the one worn by HBK.
According to Michaels, these items have been on their wrists since the night of WrestleMania XXIV, mere moments after their epic clash. A gift from Shawn, who defeated Flair that night and retired him from WWE, the timepieces each bear a glistening “24” on their faces. They also have equally meaningful inscriptions; Flair’s engraved with “To be The Man” and Michaels’ bearing the statement’s completion, “You’ve gotta beat The Man.”
This afternoon, Ric has reciprocated the thoughtfulness reverentially shown to him by HBK in 2008.
“You know what I was going to put on the back of the buckle, but it wouldn’t fit?” Flair states, “‘Being the man and staying the man are two different things,’” he jokes with an explosion of laughter.
The men share yet another hug and a humbled HBK makes plans to see “Naitch” at some point later this evening, at which point Michaels, too, will be wearing the ring of an honored WWE Hall of Famer.
IT’S “HALL”-MOST TIME, 3:14 p.m.
Around the corner from some heavy foot traffic near the gathering area for Hall of Fame inductees, a refreshed Shawn Michaels is treated to some last-minute mane primping prior to departing for Philips Arena, the site of tonight’s induction ceremony, just 24 hours before WrestleMania XXVII.
“I’m more nervous now than I’ve ever been,” Michaels admits, in a much more anxious state than has been seen all week.
“KLIQ” HERE, 5:24 p.m.
Just when Shawn Michaels’ anxiety reached its peak, he peered down the deep corridor in the alcove of the Philips Arena to see a large, hulking individual moving in his direction. A grin instantly grows on HBK’s face at the sight of his 7-foot friend, Diesel (Kevin Nash). Not too far behind is Sean Waltman or, as Michaels repeated refers to him, “Kid.” At last, the final piece for this scene arrives as a finely suited Triple H approaches his time-tested circle of friends.
They are The Kliq. And in the center of Atlanta on the eve of WrestleMania, they have reunited.
Brotherly embraces, conversations only they would understand, jokes about fanny packs and ensuing guffaws tell the tale of WWE’s most notorious locker room crew. The Game, X-Pac (a.k.a 1-2-3 Kid) and the ever-towering Diesel engulf their celebrated comrade and pose for a snapshot, throwing up their trademark insignia. Call them a pack, though tonight, they’re more appropriately a pride. (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)
“When I found out that Shawn was being inducted, it brought tears to my eyes … we’d been through so much over the years,” says Waltman. “I get goosebumps talking about [our reunion today],” he continues, pausing to look at his arm while tears well up. “Today brought back a lot of memories. It was like we all saw each other yesterday.”
Waltman concludes, “I’m just really grateful to be here and be a part of this. I couldn’t be happier for Shawn. Nobody deserves it more than he does. He’s a wonderful human being and a tremendous friend.”
MEETING WITH THE BOSS, 6:09 p.m.
Away from his Kliq cohorts, HBK heads for the private room reserved for WWE’s Chairman, Vince McMahon. After more than 20 years in the employ of the entertainment mastermind and an abundance of cherished (and contentious) moments, Shawn Michaels has no reservations about knocking on the door of the boss.
Inside the office of the man Michaels once clashed with on The Grandest Stage of Them All in 2006, HBK levels with the CEO and after years of loyalty and impeccable performances at the spectacle McMahon devised, the esteem flows equally in both directions. More important, Shawn expresses his sincerest gratitude for the opportunity McMahon gave him to once again share a moment with his closest friends, The Kliq.
The Chairman – in between a multitude of ’Mania week loose ends – holds all business, focuses on Shawn and strongly encourages the notably restless HBK to truly enjoy his night and embrace each emotion that comes with it. As far as McMahon is concerned, tonight’s commemoration (and much more) is well deserved.
“I’m very happy about the relationship I have with Vince McMahon,” Michaels asserts after their encounter. “I drove him crazy for many years, but over that time, he and I grew very close. He knows the real me and I know the real him … he truly understands the validation I’ve gotten from this job and my career.”
RING MASTER, 6:45 p.m.
Along with fellow inductees including Road Warrior Animal and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Shawn Michaels is summoned for a moment he’s been anxiously awaiting. HBK enters an undisturbed room that bears a table with a perfectly lined row of WWE logo-emblazoned Hall of Fame class rings.
In full tuxedo with tattoos that peek out from the sleeves each time he fretfully adjusts his hair, The Showstopper scans the perimeter and describes his gut feeling to a room full of camera crew members. (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)
“In 20 years, you guys never made me nervous,” he discloses. “Now, I’m nervous. It’s a little too real for me.”
With that, the WWE Chairman enters the room for Michaels’ personal, one-on-one ring ceremony. Already affected by the weight of the scenario, McMahon gnaws back a clear swell of sentiment and simply tells Shawn, “Thank you.”
Camera flashes and bright lights further illuminate the poignant moment between individuals sharing a bond much richer than employee-employer, much deeper than friendship. During such a symbolic moment, their complex relationship expresses itself in a powerful hug and emotion-reddened eyes. The gold ring is slipped on and its snugness alleviates the breath-holding moment as Shawn charmingly states, “OK, I’m going to go find my wife and kids and cry some more.”
SHOOT INTERVIEW, 7:35 p.m.
Mr. WrestleMania is terribly close to taking the stage and all he wants to do is see his family. On the hunt for his kin – for once, sans camo – Shawn finds Game alright, though just not the wild variety.
As if on a McMahon family marathon, HBK stumbles into Triple H and receives yet another shimmering gift that coincidentally matches the belt buckle given to him nearly eight hours earlier by Ric Flair.
“It’s so beautiful,” exclaims Michaels while opening a very personal token from his friend. “You know you’re a redneck when your best buddy gives you a revolver as a sentimental gift.”
His levity aside, The Showstopper is captivated by the Colt .45 caliber revolver he’s holding. HBK examines every aspect, from its sterling silver body to the ivory hilt. For a recreational hunter like Michaels, this rare, never-been-fired classic firearm is genuinely meaningful and will find a suitably special place in his home.
LOST AND FOUND, 7:51 p.m.
Even with the pistol in his possession, the bravado begins to evaporate when HBK realizes his family is still absent from what’s about to be the most triumphant night in his career. Out through the curtain, the arena is near its largest capacity – filled with WWE fans, Legends and Superstars, even his parents and siblings – but three people are missing. In search, dips in and out of various rooms in the locker room area are of no luck for Shawn. But then, one last hall peek reconnects the “HB-Clan,” each of whom is fashionably attired, perfectly outfitted for their patriarch’s event. This is exactly what Michaels needed: A curiosity-piqued Cameron, sweet talk from Cheyenne and, finally, some sugar from the lips from his radiant wife, Rebecca.
A contented HBK escorts them to the porthole that leads out to their Philips Arena seats, which happen to be within earshot of WWE Champion The Miz, John Cena and countless others who hope to have careers as astounding as The Showstopper’s.
ARE YOU READY?, 10:13 p.m.
With his wife and children seated out on the arena floor, Shawn soon starts to feel the effects of his family’s absence again as it draws perilously nearer to his time. Michaels moves from available room to room in the Philips Arena locker room, pacing and fidgeting with his fingers, twisting and turning the new symbol of excellence on his right ring finger.
Drew Carey wraps up when Michaels is again joined by The Kliq, this time all in dapper tuxes. The foursome feels the immensity of the moment and expresses their time-tested affinity with few words, only a symbolic hand gesture that connects all of their hands, like a secret handshake for their exclusive club.
Michaels waits to cross through the curtain and X-Pac empties a tissue box while watching the video compilation of HBK highlights. A moment later and The Cerebral Assassin takes the stage, putting Shawn in his crosshairs for several minutes in a roast of sorts.
The mood loosens up substantially when Shawn’s so-called “googly eyes” and infamous boot-tucked blue jean farmer overalls are mocked on stage by The Game, Michaels’ “road wife.”
MR. HALL OF FAME, 10:32 p.m.
At last, The Showstopper takes a deep breath as The Cerebral Assassin ceases fire and warmly invites his best friend out for his official induction. “Mr. Hall of Fame” hits the stage and steps into an enveloping haze of camera flashes at the podium. The charisma kicks in, perhaps as a defense mechanism for lingering nerves, and HBK has the crowd chuckling in between “Thank you, Shawn” chants.
“I can say I’m going into the Hall of Fame with no regrets,” a reflective Michaels reveals, attributing his successes to his parents, God, the WWE Universe and his family, who are just about 25 feet ahead to his lower right side.
No matter who fills the remaining seats in front of him – even some men who’ve tried their best in some of Shawn’s most grueling bouts to ensure that this moment didn’t happen – they gaze in admiration of an incomparable performer. They are all part of the fraternity to which Michaels is proud to have belonged for so long.
HBK is so appreciative and humbled by a night where the marquee moment is a celebration of The Showstopper, The Main Event. And though it seems like an impossibility to suitably cover the grounds of 26 years inside the squared circle, as always, Shawn delivers.
CURTAIN CALL, 10:49 p.m.
The Showstopper completes the rite of a WWE Hall of Famer and makes history in the Philips Arena. A center stage squeeze shared by DX’s founding members is embellished when the two direct the crowd’s attention to the entrance of both Sean Waltman and Big Daddy Cool, Diesel. An impressive ovation somehow rises in level as The Kliq reforms on WWE television for the first time since 1996.
How it began, it concludes. It’s a befitting scene since HBK’s earliest rise in WWE was beside these men and now that Michaels arguably cannot climb any higher in the mythos of sports-entertainment, The Kliq can share their friend’s feeling of triumph.
This stage has bore something perfectly special tonight. This evening of April 2, 2011, has defined the legacy of The Showstopper and been a veritable aligning of several moons that HBK will perpetually cherish and none will soon forget.