On a special episode of the Grilling JR Podcast dedicated to the career of Shawn Michaels during 1997 through 1998, Jim Ross talked about the bond and relationship between Michaels and his boss Vince McMahon. Ross went in depth as to why they had such a bond and conversations he had with McMahon about Michaels.
“Vince told me one time, ‘I see so much of myself in Shawn Michaels’,” Ross recalled. “He’d give all of these descriptions: he’s defiant, he’s creative, he’s high strung. Yeah and both of you are insecure, both of you are afraid of your own shadow, both of you are wondering when the other shoe will drop. So yeah, maybe you are right.”
During a special episode of Raw on a Thursday of February 1997, Michaels walked down to the ring and relinquished his WWF Championship in the infamous “lost my smile” promo. Michaels dropped the belt because he had to supposedly rehab a knee injury. Ross discussed when he first found out that Michaels would be forfeiting the belt and the backstage response.
“I guess earlier that day,” Ross said. “He was volatile Conrad. Anything you heard about Shawn was not going to be a total shock, you kind of got used to it. I’m not sure if he lost his smile because he was injured, or lost his smile because he couldn’t handle the pressure. He was influenced by outside sources that would like to pour gas on the fire. I knew that day and I was very uncomfortable with it.
“Once you get the message it’s going to happen in a production meeting, it was like jeez, that’s pretty extreme. Maybe give him the benefit of the doubt and something really is wrong, didn’t know. I always thought his feelings were hurt more than his knee or his back and I don’t know if that’s why. He had a hard time handling and accepting being the top guy in the territory.”
Ross noted the issues that so many talents had with Michaels. He said Michaels was just treated by McMahon differently than anyone else.
“He was protected,” Ross said. “He was in his own little sphere that Vince built for him so nobody said nothing, not to his face. I had endless conversations with talent about ‘What are you going to do about Shawn? Why does Vince tolerate that s–t? How can you let that go?’ All the time. You can’t give them any valid reason, other than to say that’s the boss’ decision and my job is not to question his decision but to make his decision happen. I’m doing my job.
“If you have an issue with how Vince McMahon is managing Shawn Michaels, may I suggest you go meet with Vince McMahon, don’t confront, converse and let’s see where you get with it, then come back and tell me what the results were. I don’t think anybody ever took my advice or tried it. They’d like to b—h about it Conrad, but nobody wanted to die on that hill.”
Michaels left WWE in 1998 and did not return as a wrestler until 2001 as a completely changed man. Ross talked about what happened with Shawn’s contract when he left the company for four years. He strongly believes Shawn just wanted to leave WWE and join WCW but Vince McMahon wasn’t going to let that happen.
“I don’t know if it was pressure from Vince, Vince loved him,” Ross said. “It’s proven. We paid Shawn $750,000 a year for about 4 years to do nothing because he was Vince’s guy. Every time we’d go over budgets and things [I’d say] what do you want to do about the Shawn contract? ‘Nothing. Leave it alone.’
“Vince didn’t have to do that. All Shawn wanted to do was go play with Kevin [Nash] and Scott Hall. It would’ve been nice for WCW to get the gift of Shawn Michaels wouldn’t you think? So [Vince] took good care of him. I really believe he wanted to go have fun working a very limited schedule with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in Atlanta for WCW and he was trying to get there. McMahon says ain’t no way in hell this is happening. If I have to pay you to sit your little ass at home, I can do that and I will do that. Shawn got blocked on what he wanted to do, he didn’t get his way to leave WWE.”
Ross noted how well it’s worked out for Michaels since he came back to the company in 2001. He said that Michaels not going to WCW and taking those four years off to find himself was the best thing that could have ever happened to him.
“Look how it’s worked out for him,” Ross said. “He’s got a job, I’m sure he’s getting benefits, I’m sure he’s making a damn good living, he’s moved his family to Florida. At the end of the day, it really came out good for him in that respect. That was all because Vince’s dedication and commitment to taking care of Shawn once again reverting back to Vince saying I see a little bit of myself in this guy and for some reason, I’m drawn to him.”
Over the years there have been unfounded rumors that Michaels and McMahon were secretly lovers, which Bret Hart once referenced on ?, although Hart admitted that he did not know that for sure. Ross absolutely destroyed those rumors and denied ever even hearing them. He said it’s probably just something made up by a wrestler to try and make an excuse for as to why Michaels accomplished more than they did.
“Are you kidding?” Ross asked when the story was presented to him. “I’ve never even heard that. I swear to God, I’ve never heard that. Are you serious? I think it’s laughable as hell. That’s the funny thing about the business, the talents that make up these stories and excuses about their own downfall because they can’t accomplish what they want. They are just as much a nuisance and a plague as the guys that are stirring all the s–t. One feeds the other.
“It’s none of your business how Vince manages Shawn. That’s not what you’re here for. You are not here to evaluate the chairman of the board’s managerial ability and leadership qualities. That’s not why we hired you. You’re here to become a viable member of this company, get better at what you do, improve your skill sets, and help us draw money. Worry about your own s–t and not everybody else’s.”
On several occasions Ross said Michaels would say things or do things that were distasteful to so many backstage but never was punished for because of his relationship with the boss. Ross explained why Michaels never punished Shawn and stated the reason being his potential with the company.
“It’s like defending your son who continually gets in trouble,” Ross said. “Simple as that. He was always going to be the protector of Shawn Michaels. I believe it was because he knew out of all those clouds and distractions, Shawn was going to be one of the biggest stars we ever had sooner or later.”
Ross finally stated that he doesn’t think anybody has ever had that type of relationship with McMahon that Michaels did. He said it was just a unique bond that nobody could ever understand and even though Michaels raised hell, McMahon would always be there to have his back.
“I don’t think he had that father-son type thing, uncle-nephew deal like he had with Shawn in my run there,” Ross said. “I know he was very close with [Steve] Austin for a while, Taker of course and still to this very day. But Shawn’s relationship with the old man, in my opinion, was a little bit different than a lot of the other talent.”
“It was just a very unique bond that they had, I don’t see anybody else that was ever there that Vince felt as strongly about and tolerated as much. Vince has said to me ‘I don’t know how much longer I can do this, he’s driving me crazy.’ He’s just dedicated, he’s loyal to Shawn. He saw that Shawn could help the company in a big big way if he just got his head on right.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Grilling JR with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.