Shawn Michaels: Facts Only Hardcore Fans Know About The Heartbreak Kid

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Shawn Michaels is a name familiar to anyone who has watched professional wrestling over the last several decades. Whether a person has been a dedicate fan or a novice who only sampled the product from time to time, it'd be nearly impossible to have not been exposed to the work of HBK at some point in time.


First rising to prominence in the 1980s as part of the Midnight Rockers in the AWA, and later The Rockers in the WWF, Michaels became a singles star when the calendar turned to 1992. He'd go on to win several championships along the way, making himself the first-ever grand slam champion. After a back injury seemingly ended his career in 1998, Michaels returned to the ring in 2002 at the age of 37 and added on another eight years to his in-ring career.

So given the fact that Michaels is a familiar name to most, a man who helped launch one of the most popular periods in wrestling history, what are some facts about the Heartbreak Kid that only the most dedicated and hardcore fans know? Let us explore. 


Wrestling Was Always In His Blood

Wrestling fans have seen multi-generational wrestling families in the squared circle over the years. The Harts. The Von Erichs. The Guerreros. The list goes on and on. Michaels was also a second-generation wrestler, though his style of wrestling was a little bit different from his father's.


Michaels' father, Richard Hickenbottom, was a native of Clinton, Iowa. If there's one thing the state of Iowa is known for in amateur athletics, it's wrestling. Mr. Hickenbottom would go on to serve as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, but before he began his career serving the country in the armed forces, the native Iowan was a good enough amateur wrestler to join the collegiate ranks as part of the Iowa Hawkeyes' wrestling team.

This was before Dan Gable led the Hawkeyes to numerous national titles and one of the most dominant eras in division one collegiate history, but earning a spot on the Hawkeyes' wrestling roster was no joke. Iowa has always been a wrestling state

Michaels spent a lot of time in his father's home state growing up, something he wrote about in the first chapter of his 2006 autobiography "Heartbreak and Triumph." His mother was also an Iowan, hailing from Storm Lake. Michaels recalled in his memoir that his family even moved to Storm Lake briefly while he was young and his father was off serving in Vietnam. 


While Shawn didn't have success in the amateur ranks like his father did, he certainly had a pedigree for athletic excellence which would carry through to his career in pro wrestling.

He Had A Wrestling Match In His High School Talent Show

While Shawn Michaels may not have been one to star in amateur wrestling like his father (Shawn's high school didn't have a wrestling team), he was a standout linebacker for the school's football team. But even though he was a star on the gridiron, the future Heartbreak Kid knew deep-down that he wanted to be a professional wrestler as early as 12 years old.


So when it came time for the 1982 Randolph High School talent show, Michaels took it upon himself to set up a wrestling match with one of his good friends.

"I remember during the match, (my friend) Kenny hit me with a chair, and I fell down under the table and poured food coloring on myself (as blood)," Michaels recalled in an interview with Air Education and Training Command News Service. "It was a lot of fun. He and I even got second or third place for it."

Though he hadn't officially begun training, a lifetime of being a wrestling fan, watching the likes of Southwest Championship Wrestling on television, and now a successful performance in front of an audience during high school had Michaels on his way toward destiny.


He Dropped Out Of College To Train With Jose Lothario

After high school graduation, Michaels enrolled at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas — briefly. In his autobiography, Michaels recalled that he didn't feel a huge draw to continue his schooling. That said, it felt like the thing to do, so he followed his buddies to San Marcos.


After one semester, Michaels found himself with a 1.4 GPA and the prospect of being placed on academic probation. He cut a deal with his parents that if he pulled his grades up, he could explore wrestling as a career.

It didn't quite happen that way, though. Michaels' GPA was an identical 1.4 at the end of college semester number two. However, as he explains in his book, he received an "F" in a class that he thought he had dropped from his schedule, pulling his GPA down from what he thought was a 2.5. Michaels' father believed that Shawn lived up to his end of the bargain, so he proceeded to drop out of college at that point in order to pursue what he was really interested in for a career: professional wrestling.


Michaels had previously met a promoter (Fred Behrend) in the area through a golfing friend of his father's, and that promoter introduced Michaels to legendary wrestler Jose Lothario. Lothario trained Michaels over the course of just two months and then send him on his way toward a career in the industry.

He Was Fired From WWF Just Days After Signing

Following his training with Lothario, Michaels worked his first pro matches in the fall of 1984. It didn't take long for him to start turning some heads, especially after he began teaming with Marty Jannetty as the Midnight Rockers. After the duo lit up the American Wrestling Association (AWA), Vince McMahon and the WWF came calling.


Jannetty and Michaels signed with WWF and worked their first television tapings on June 3, 1987 in Buffalo, New York. They had appeared at a WWF show in AWA territory just a few days earlier (May 30) in St. Paul, Minnesota. That debut appearance featured The Rockers challenging the Hart Foundation for a tag team title opportunity. Obviously, Shawn and Bret Hart's careers would become forever linked in the future.

Following their first WWF matches at the June 3rd television tapings, Michaels and Jannetty went out to the bars with the rest of the WWF crew. According to reports, Michaels smashed a beer bottle over his head in an effort to fit in with the hard-partying crew.

Reports of Michaels and Jannetty tearing up the bar made it back to McMahon, and although he told them both that he believed the reports were probably embellished, he thought the incident indicated they weren't quite mature enough to be part of the WWF. The two were unceremoniously fired.


The Rockers WWF Tag Titles And The Match Was Never Televised

Following their 1987 exit from the WWF, The Rockers returned to the AWA and captured the promotion's tag team titles. It wasn't long before the WWF came calling again, and Shawn and Marty re-signed with McMahon in the summer of 1988, roughly one year after their firing. The team very quickly became one of the most popular duos in the entire company.


On October 30, 1990 in Ft. Wayne, Indiana during a "Wrestling Challenge" taping, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty (The Rockers) faced Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart (The Hart Foundation) in a best two-out-of-three falls match for the WWF Tag Team Championships. The match was won by The Rockers as the duo hoisted WWF tag team gold above their heads for the first and only time as a unit.

The problem? A ring rope broke during the match. Though both teams amicably worked around it, they didn't end up having the type of bout that they had hoped. Given the eyesore of the broken ring rope, Vince McMahon made the call to not air the match on television.

The bout was later officially released on a WWE DVD, but the title change was never officially acknowledged at the time. As The History of WWE notes, a TV segment was filmed and aired in the Ft. Wayne region which showed "WWF President Jack Tunney officially reversing the decision," but nobody else outside of Indiana had any reason to think the titles had changed hands and it was never mentioned.


It's still kind of amazing that one of the most influential tag teams in WWE history never held tag team gold, but they would have if it wasn't for that pesky broken ring rope.

He Faced Bret Hart In The First-Ever WWF Ladder Match

Prior to WWF's SummerSlam 1992 PPV event being announced for Wembley Stadium, the company was considering holding the event in Landover, Maryland (just outside of Washington, D.C.). At one point, Bret Hart was scheduled to defend his WWF Intercontinental Championship against Shawn Michaels at the show. Of course, it would end up being "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith when the event was moved to England. 


While wrestling Michaels throughout 1992, Hart had the idea to bring an old Stampede Wrestling staple to the WWF: a ladder match. Vince McMahon wasn't familiar with the match, so he wanted to see it demonstrated. Bret picked Shawn Michaels to be his opponent, and the two had the first-ever ladder match in the company on July 21, 1991 in Portland, Maine. The match was filmed and later released on the Coliseum Video "Smack 'Em, Whack 'Em."

Despite Hart's role in introducing the match to McMahon and a live WWF arena crowd, Michaels became the pioneer of the ladder match in the eyes of fans at the time since he had the first televised WWF ladder match at WrestleMania X in March 1994. On that night, he faced good friend Razor Ramon for the WWF Intercontinental Championship in what became one the most iconic matches in WrestleMania history. 


A Fight Could Have Prevented DX From Ever Happening

The real-life heat that developed between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart throughout the 1990s is no secret. The two were originally friends during their tag team days, but by the time the calendar hit 1997, the two men were feuding both on-screen and off.


During the May 19, 1997 edition of "Raw," Michaels said during a promo segment that Hart had been having "Sunny days." This was a direct reference to Tammy "Sunny" Sytch, and it was quite clear Michaels was inferring that Hart was having an affair.  Not surprisingly, Hart took offense at the remark, which was uttered on live television and witnessed by Hart's family back home, including his kids who asked him about it when he returned from the road. The anger boiled over into a locker room in Hartford, Connecticut on June 9, 1997 — the night after the King of the Ring PPV event. Hart and Michaels brawled backstage before "Raw," with Hart reportedly pulling out a large clump of Michaels' hair in the process.


Michaels stormed out of the arena, citing an unsafe work environment. He briefly talked about trying to get out of his WWF contract so that he could join his friends, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, in WCW. However, cooler heads prevailed and Michaels was brought back to the promotion by July and added in as the special referee for the Bret Hart vs. Undertaker SummerSlam main event.

He didn't admit he was in on the Montreal Screwjob until 2002

It is pretty much common knowledge at this point that Shawn Michaels was in on the "Montreal Screwjob" that occurred at WWF Survivor Series 1997. However, that wasn't always the case.

As can be seen on the "Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows" documentary, Michaels swore to Bret Hart that he wasn't in on Vince McMahon's double cross immediately after the match in the Molson Centre's locker room. Michaels held to this for many years. For one, he crossed one of the boys and you have to imagine he wasn't exactly comfortable with it. For two, his bosses told him to keep it a secret.


Eventually, Michaels revealed he was in on it too during an episode of "WWE Confidential" in 2002.

"From a professional standpoint, reputation standpoint, even though I wasn't the most lovable guy back then, it was still just an absolute miserable day, [a] very uncomfortable day," Michaels told ESPN in 2019.

Michaels and Hart eventually reconciled when Hart returned to WWE in 2010. During an episode of "WWE Rivals" earlier this year, the two revealed that they keep in contact now and both regret the way their relationship had deteriorated over the course of their wrestling careers.

Elvis Presley inspired his ring entrance

Shawn Michaels always had one of the more memorable entrances in wrestling, complete with a catchy theme song and pyro. It turns out that his entrance was somewhat inspired by one of the biggest music stars of all time.


Michaels' entrance pose where he would stretch to his right in a varied squad position and flex was taken directly from a stage move that Elvis Presley used to do during his live shows. "I stole that from Elvis," Michaels affirmed to Sports Illustrated. "Elvis was a really big influence early in my career."

Michaels was 12 years old when Presley passed away in 1977. Though he may not have been a huge fan at the time, he listened to more and more Elvis as he got older. This came by way of traveling the road with Al Madril, a veteran wrestler who would often play Presley's music while they shared a car together.

"I developed a real appreciation for the work that Elvis did," Michaels said. "And I always loved that pose I would see Elvis do at the end of his concerts. He wouldn't flex, which I felt comfortable doing, but he'd use that stance, so I have to give the King of Rock and Roll the credit for that one."


Of course, that wasn't the last time Michaels would pay homage to Elvis throughout his career. Early on during his initial singles run, an announcement would made on television by Bobby Heenan that "Shawn Michaels has left the building" after his matches. He also hosted a television segment called the "Heartbreak Hotel" on WWF television. 

Randy Savage Wanted A Two-Year Feud With Him

"Macho Man" Randy Savage left the WWF in 1994 for an opportunity at wrestling more with WCW. While WWF was intent on transitioning him into commentary, Savage believed he had more left in the tank as an active wrestler and wanted to prove it.


One of the feuds he most yearned for to close out his in-ring career was with Shawn Michaels. Savage's exit to WCW made that impossible, but the two of them did wrestle some singles matches during the early days of Michaels' singles run in 1992 and 1993.

That was just a taste of what Savage wanted to do, though. As Lanny Poffo, Savage's brother, recalled, Savage wanted a two-year feud with Michaels. "He (Savage) was always known for his match with Ricky Steamboat," Poffo recalled on "X-Pac 1-2-360" (h/t Uproxx). "So he thought that he could possibly start a little something with Shawn Michaels, and then have a two year program, then have the showdown at WrestleMania. His intention was to have a Hair vs. Career match, where Shawn Michaels would shave his head or Randy would give up his career and go to the announcing booth. Randy would drop the match, go back to the announcing booth, but he wanted to end his career with a better match than he had with Steamboat."


His Son Helped Him Kick His Drug Habit

It's no secret that Michaels had substance abuse problems throughout his career; it's something that he has been vocal about on numerous occasions. His issues got so bad that Vince McMahon once personally reached out to Shawn's father to have him assist in seeking treatment for his son. After Michaels' in-ring career first ended in 1998, he had an on-again, off-again relationship with WWF television. He would return intermittently over the years but never stay around consistently. Some of this was due to his drug problem


Ultimately, Shawn credits his first born child for saving his life and helping him end his addiction issues. "It's sort of dawning on me that he (his son) was now being able to recognize clearly my state of mind," Michaels said during his A&E Biography special, recalling his son finding him passed out on the couch.

Michaels' wife Rebecca recalled that the next morning, her husband made the decision to never touch drugs or alcohol again. After kicking that habit, as well as becoming a born again Christian, Michaels returned to wrestling in the summer of 2002 for what became a successful eight year run that capped off his career in the best way possible.

He Requested Jim Ross Call His Final Match, but Vince McMahon Denied It

When the calendar turned to 2010, Michaels was ready to hang up his tights for good. One year after stealing the show at WrestleMania 25 with The Undertaker, the duo locked up for one final encounter at WrestleMania 26 in Arizona. This was to be Shawn's retirement match, though he did ultimately return to the ring in 2018 for a one-off match in Saudi Arabia at WWE Crown Jewel. 


There was one catch to the WrestleMania 36 encounter, though. According to the April 5, 2010 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, both Michaels and The Undertaker made a personal request to Vince McMahon that broadcasting legend Jim Ross call their match. By this time, Ross was out as the lead commentator for WWE and McMahon wanted to keep it that way.

Despite the request from two of the biggest stars in the history of his company, McMahon wouldn't back down from his stance. Ross was not allowed to call the match. McMahon held firm that his time as a full-time commentator was over and they needed to stick with the current crew. So Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and Matt Striker called that final encounter between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. It was still an excellent match, but it might have been that much better with one of wrestling's all time greatest announcers on the call.