Shawn Michaels on ... stopping the show

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December 19, 2011

Mr. WrestleMania reflects on his legendary Ladder Match with Razor Ramon, and his dream for a second chance to face off against "Stone Cold," before imagining what his career with Bret "Hit Man" Hart might have been like.

What are the ingredients of a showstopping match?
Beats the hell out of me! But first and foremost, I think it’s not focusing too much on stealing the show. The whole thing about me being The Showstopper—and Mr. WrestleMania—is that it was something I said once, and it took on a life of its own from there. Truthfully, I think the idea of going out and stealing the show is something you ought to do every time you wrestle. But if you focus only on that element, you end up doing almost too much.

Do you think there was any pressure backstage on Superstars who had to follow HBK?
I think that’s probably a question better left for those Superstars. I would like to think that, if nothing else, my presence inspires people to be better. I talked a bunch of crap for years, and then went out and worked hard. That’s the extent of it. There’s no magical genius to it, as much as I’d like to think there is. I’m just a guy who works hard—and I hope guys are challenged by that.

 Shawn Michaels
When you came to the ring at WrestleMania XIX, you were firing off confetti guns, some of which didn’t work. How does grace under pressure come into play when you’re stopping the show?
I’ve been able to deal with those types of things much better since my return. Years ago, I was always serious, and now I chuckle and make jokes to create a calm environment, because WrestleMania can be a high-pressure atmosphere. The entrance is important, but it’s the in-ring performance that fans truly remember. My zipline entrance has become so much bigger over time, but I still think fans remember the match more than anything. Plus, as I said, I’m a lot calmer now.

So what should a Superstar focus on when striding to the ring at The Show of Shows?
Going out there and giving it the best effort you can. Everything else falls into place if you concentrate on that. When you over-think things, it all becomes a blur.

Your match against Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X is still an admired favorite. In your opinion, why has it endured?
Over the years, the ladder itself has become the central figure of that particular stipulation, but in our situation, it served as a backdrop for something much bigger. We were two guys claiming rightful ownership of those titles, and the ladder was just there as a way for us to prove who was the best. Now, the ladder is the primary element, and these matches are often about what the contestants can do with it.

When a match is over, do you ever bask in your success?
Years ago, when I was younger, I not only basked in it, I rubbed it in everyone’s face! I was angrier then. Since my return in 2002, I’ve honestly just felt privileged to do what I do. I enjoy the pats on the back, but every year I go back up to my hotel room and sit with my wife and children, and have the traditional pizza and cookies, and feel so unbelievably fortunate. My return in 2002 was a second chance, and a lot of people don’t get that.

Have you ever been surprised by how well one of your ’Mania matches was received?

 Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart - WrestleMania XII's WWE Iron Man Match

There have been a number of them that surprised me—even the Ladder Match, which I knew was special. I just didn’t have any idea of the impact it would have on the entire industry. The Iron Man Match against Bret Hart at WrestleMania XII was another one, and the bout at WrestleMania XIX against Chris Jericho. I walked away feeling those were really good, then people started saying, “Holy cow, it was the best match of the show!”

Speaking of second chances, is there a ’Mania match you wish you could do over?
The one I always come back to is my match against Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV. I just wasn’t in a great place physically or emotionally. That one could have been so much more. Steve didn’t get me at my best. And that’s unfortunate, because it was the last time I got to work with him. Steve went on to such great things afterward, and I had an opportunity to make that match so much more.

Is there a ’Mania match you’ve witnessed and thought, “I wish I was a part of that”?
Not that I can recall, and I say that because I haven’t seen that many of them. One of the things about me is I work until the time I go out. I still get nervous, so I’m busy training, going over details and being by myself. I’d love to tell everyone that I’m completely calm, cool and collected, but that’s not the case. I’m a bundle of nerves. Don’t think I don’t know the image that I’ve stumbled into over the years—I know what I have to live up to every time I go out there.

How do you judge your impact on WrestleMania?
Well, to me, recalling a match is like re-telling a fishing story. The fish goes from an eight-incher to a 15-incher, and it gets bigger every time the story is told. I’ll take all the pats on the back, but I’ve never focused on creating an historical event. I think true greatness comes from never believing you’re great. It comes from always having that need to go out and prove yourself.

Who do you think could emerge as the next Showstopper?
I never like these questions, because I always feel like I’m leaving someone out. But I will say that I could watch Randy Orton and John Cena over and over again. Randy has come so far, and his persona is so strong and dark. I look into his eyes and he’s got me. Some of the matches contested between John and Randy have been phenomenal.

Looking back over your career, is there one Superstar you wish you could have had a chance to face at ’Mania?

 The history between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker

Not really. I find it very hard at this point in my career to have too many complaints or regrets. I got my match with Ric Flair. I got to wrestle Hulk Hogan. I will say that I wish I had been in a better place in my life with Bret. Our matches were phenomenal, but I shudder to think what he and I could have accomplished had we gotten along.

SEVEN MOMENTS THAT STOPPED THE SHOW

HBK’s not the only guy who helped put ’Mania on the map. The following Superstars contested jaw-dropping matches that should also be committed to memory.

 

Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage—WrestleMania III
When WrestleMania III is mentioned, the first image that pops into everyone’s mind is Hogan slamming Andre. As iconic as that moment was, we think this technical classic put on by The Dragon and The Macho Man became the archetype for singles matches at The Show of Shows.

 

The Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage—WrestleMania VII
When Macho Madness collided with the power of Destrucity, Los Angeles crowds experienced a tectonic shift. It wasn’t an earthquake they were feeling, it was Savage’s five successive Elbow Drops. Sweet. 

 

Bret "Hit Man" Hart vs. Roddy Piper—WrestleMania VIII
In one of the greatest I-C Title contests ever, these two warhorses battled it out in a match that left members of the WWE Universe divided. Best moment? When Piper had a chance to nail Hart with the ring bell, and then tossed it aside, opting for the clean win. Who knew he had a conscience?

 

Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart—WrestleMania X
In this fraternal blood feud, who could have foreseen that Owen would turn the tables on Bret to nab the win? This was the moment when Owen emerged from Bret’s shadow to become a contender in his own right.

 

"Stone Cold" vs. The Rock—WrestleMania X-Seven
Austin and The Rock lit up WWE during The Attitude Era, but their kinetic throwdown in Houston still ranks as their best match ever. Tables, chairs, ring-posts—you name it, it was used. And to top it all off, Austin won, and then sided with...Mr. McMahon? Only at WrestleMania.

 

Edge vs. Mick Foley—WrestleMania 22
Foley and Edge put it all on the line (and left it all in the ring) during a brutal Hardcore Match that pushed the limits of how much punishment Superstars could take. Edge’s daredevil leap through a flaming table may rank as the night’s most photogenic moment.

 

Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels—The 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania
OK—we included one HBK match on this list, but how could we ignore this bout? We all held our breath as ’Taker struggled to make it back to the ring before the 10-count, and our minds were blown when he caught HBK mid-moonsault for the Tombstone. And let’s not forget the rematch the following year!

 

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