Shawn Michaels on the lost years of his career
Shawn Michaels stands in rare company. We’ve seen him face “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Jeff Hardy, and hit Sweet Chin Music on Yokozuna and Goldberg in a WWE Hall of Fame career that spanned across three decades. But sandwiched in between were four years away from in-ring competition while he overcame his addictions and a back injury that forced him into temporary retirement at age 32. Before the release of his book “Wrestling for My Life: The Legend, the Reality and the Faith of a WWE Superstar,” in stores Feb. 10, HBK reflects on the lost years of his career, conquering his demons, whether he considered joining WCW and more.
WWE.COM: Let’s start with WrestleMania XIV. You have torn discs in your back and badly needed surgery. How did you physically prepare for that match?
SHAWN MICHAELS: We were doing [No Way Out] in February, and we worked it so I would have that one off. It would give me time to do everything I could to get into the best condition I could get in. Even though I was pulling a bunch of hi-jinks with the company, I had every intention of going to WrestleMania and making sure the company could continue on with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. At that time, we had this guy in California who could do deep tissue massage. He came down to my place in Texas, and between that and modern medicine, I was able to get to WrestleMania and make it through that match. Obviously, it was pretty uncomfortable. I didn’t have the mobility in my legs I normally have.
WWE.COM: One year after stepping away from the ring, you founded the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy and the Texas Wrestling Alliance.
MICHAELS: At first, it started with training. At that time, going from being on the road 300-plus days a year to doing nothing was a big adjustment — and one that I didn’t handle well. Training guys seemed like it would fill that void at the time. And truth be told, it was getting back to the purest form of wrestling before money comes into the equation. As I was doing that, I realized one of the things that would be more help to the young guys and girls coming through was to get them real experience. That progressed to: If you can do that, why don’t you at least try to get them a little experience in doing TV? Then it progressed to getting guys booked out to ECW and trading talent with Tommy Dreamer and Paul Heyman, and also getting some guys some gigs in Japan so they could see different styles. I was sincerely doing my best to give them a decent resume in getting into the wrestling business. Even in a strange sort of way, [the students] realized that this wasn’t something I had a great deal of experience in, and they knew that I was taking it on as it came along. None of it was a big business plan beyond the school. Everything else just sort of grew.
WWE.COM: Did you ever compete in TWA?
MICHAELS: We did one little thing where I had a Hardcore Street Fight Match. I was also the color commentator and producer of the show, but I did do one match, which was a drawn-out decision. When you hear you’ll never wrestle again and if you do, something serious could happen, I wasn’t going to wreck myself. If I’m going to do something to take that risk, it’s going to be for WWE, but we felt like it was the situation where I wouldn’t have to [get too physical]. It was camouflaged quite well.
Next: Michaels on his relationship with WWE back then
WWE.COM: You would occasionally pop in to WWE TV from ’99 to ’02 — sometimes as Commissioner Michaels or a special guest referee, etc. How did those appearances come about?
MICHAELS: They were just random calls — much like the appearances that I have now. Back then, it might have been a little bit more in advance. But for the most part, it was just somebody in creative having an idea and thinking there was a role that would fit me.
WWE.COM: How would you describe your relationship with the company during that time?
J.R. said he didn’t know what the future held for me.
MICHAELS: It wasn’t great, but there was very little communication. They were thriving and doing well and I was doing what I was doing.
WWE.COM: Did you still watch regularly?
MICHAELS: I did for a while early on. As we moved out to the country, our son grew a bit, and the year or two-year journey of my salvation, that took precedence over being a wrestler or a wrestling fan. I wasn’t great at a lot of stuff, but I was good at not worrying about being a wrestler.
WWE.COM: Of course, two of your close friends were top stars in WCW. Did WCW ever reach out to have you appear?
MICHAELS: I was always under contract with WWE. There were times when one contract was ending and another had not been discussed moving forward. And yeah, there were talks and opportunities [with WCW]. I remember Jim Ross reaching out to me and coming down to Texas to visit me. J.R. said he didn’t know what the future held for me, but he thought there was a role for Shawn Michaels [in WWE] somewhere. If it wasn’t now, it might be a year or two. Jim always believed in me. I ended up re-signing with WWE with no real plan in sight, but still being sewn up by them.
WWE.COM: Your life changed so much in those four years. What was your final straw to get clean?
MICHAELS: The final moment was when my son was 2 years old and I was half-in-the-bag on the couch, and him thinking I was tired. I realized, “My goodness, he’s starting to notice. This isn’t something you’ll be able to hide from him.” It broke my heart. I just could not bear the thought of this innocent baby being ruined by something he had absolutely nothing to do with. I decided there needed to be a change — and a drastic one.
WWE.COM: You also had a life-changing phone call with Kevin Nash. What did you talk about?
MICHAELS: Basically, he said, “Look, you need to stop that stuff, and while we’re at it, you need to make amends with Triple H.” Triple H and I had not talked in a year. I had been in not-great-shape the last time I was in WWE. It had been a year since then. It was Nash saying, “You owe him an apology,” the incident with my son and me waking up later that night and thinking this can’t continue. All of these happened the same night. And all of it started the next day. I called Kevin back first, saying, “You’re right, and give me Triple H’s number; I’ve got to call him.” Then I called Triple H, asked him to forgive me, and both of us wept on the phone like a couple little girls. We re-kindled our friendship.
Next: Michaels gets inspired to return and issues a challenge
WWE.COM: How did you know it was time for you to step back into the ring?
MICHAELS: It wasn’t until 2002 when I returned to WWE and until I had physically been out there — it was during the match when Kevin Nash blew his quad [Raw; June 8, 2002]. That next morning, I was sitting on the plane, reading my Bible and the Book of Joshua, and this feeling came over me that I was back here for a reason. God built me to be a wrestler. The words “be strong and courageous for I am with you” jumped off the page at me. That’s when I made the call to Mr. McMahon and suggested a similar-type of match — with hardcore rules — against him. And he said, “Are you serious? Do you really think you can do it? Let me think about this and call you back.” So he called back and said, “Look, if you can do this with me, I’m not very good. Would you think about doing this with Triple H?” In my mind, Triple H was a main-event guy. We were buddies, obviously, but I just didn’t see me coming back into a top role and wrestling a top guy. So [Mr. McMahon] discussed it with Triple H.
Don’t be so timid about it. Get in there and train.
WWE.COM: How did you get ready for the ring?
MICHAELS: I remember training and looking for the right way to work out with my back and sometimes being too overly careful. Finally, one day I told myself, “You’ve been an athlete your whole life. You just need to get back in there and train like you used to and see what happens. You can add some cardio and yoga, but don’t be so timid about it. Get in there and train.” As I did that, I got in better shape. With the match getting closer, it was more a concern of whether I could go physically and cardiovascular-wise. You do your best, with the realization that nothing gets you in ring-shape better than being in the ring. Triple H was the same way. I even made the trip up to Connecticut and we both went to get in the ring. I ran on those ropes one time and did a sunset flip with him, and I told him, “I can’t do this. I can’t get in the ring and practice.” So we said it’s going to have be there come ring time. The result was better than both of us imagined.
WWE.COM: What was the most trying part of writing “Wrestling for My Life: The Legend, the Reality and the Faith of a WWE Superstar”?
MICHAELS: It’s a look at my faith and more of an autobiography on my second life. I can’t say it was difficult [to write]. It was an opportunity to stay in that place where it’s nice and away from the hustle and bustle of everything. Since 2002, [wrestling] was a great job, enjoyed doing it, worked hard doing it, and did it well, but my family and my faith were a much bigger part of my life from 2002 to 2010 when I left. It was nice to be able to focus on what really was the majority aspect of my life.
WWE.COM: Why is this a must-read for anyone in the WWE Universe?
MICHAELS: It’s a must-read for anybody who has the ability or is at that space when they’re man or woman enough to say, “I need to make a change” and not to be afraid of it. There’s no one of us that’s perfect; there’s no one of us that can’t do just a little better. That’s what I’m hoping this book will do.
Check out “Wrestling for My Life: The Legend, the Reality and the Faith of a WWE Superstar, available now on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, iTunes and anywhere books are sold.