During an episode of the Grilling JR Podcast on Shawn Michaels’ career from 1997-98, Jim Ross talked discussed Michaels’ back injury that forced him to take a 4 year hiatus from the company. Ross noted how some people backstage questioned the legitimacy of the injury ,but knew they needed to cooperate with Shawn until they could get the title on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14.
“All the crying wolf things start to become literally leery and gun shy,” Ross said. “How do any of us say? I’m not him, I’m not in his body. I had doubts, just like everybody had doubts. To say we didn’t have doubts would be lying but we had no proof other than the medical reports. He knew that he could never be himself again with his back in that condition. I didn’t have as much doubt.
“It’s a good story if that’s what you’re looking for but there’s no proof that he wasn’t hurting that bad and at the end of the day, he was not going to let the company down by swapping the belt to Austin. Could we get their band aiding this thing up, smoke and mirrors, so we could make the transition and all the while let Shawn’s back heal and improve somewhat. At the end of the day, that’s what we got.”
WrestleMania 14 featured Stone Cold Steve Austin defeating Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship with special guest enforcer Mike Tyson. The finish of the match solidified perhaps the biggest star in company history. Ross mentioned how Shawn had issues with the fact that he wasn’t the guy getting the most attention and wasn’t able to put on a show stealing match due to his back injury.
“I remember the Austin era began and that was the main thing so we accomplished our primary goal,” Ross said. “It worked out very well for the WWE leading the company to go public, Austin winning was big. He was the guy that we were waiting for. I assume [Shawn] was on some sort of pain medications to get through the match. He was miserable because he couldn’t be himself, he couldn’t be the show-stealer, showstopper, all of that stuff.
“The spotlight was going to be divided into multiple parts primarily Tyson, then Austin, then Shawn doing his thing. I think that he was immature and childish and just had a bad day. Thank God when we finally got him back [in 2001] he had changed his entire philosophy.”
Ross believes that Shawn never had an issue dropping the title to Stone Cold, despite reports over the years suggesting that he didn’t want to. Ross said Shawn knew the business was catching up to him and that he needed a break with the injuries and health issues piling up.
“I don’t think it was an issue where he was so vehemently against losing the title,” Ross said. “He knew he needed to get off airplanes, he needed therapy, he needed to get himself healthy mentally and physically.
“My concern was going to be a lot more about his mental attitude and how he’s going to evolve in this new life of post WWE everyday world as I was his back heeling up. That’s what we kept up in mind all along, that’s why we kept up with Shawn for those 4 years while he was away.”
Michaels’ suffered the back injury during a casket match with The Undertaker when he took a bump resulting in him landing on the edge of the casket. Ross said nobody backstage ever blamed Taker for the injury including Michaels. Ross noted that Taker was someone who controlled the locker room and was ready to get involved if Shawn didn’t want to do business with Austin at WrestleMania 14.
“Part of doing business,” Ross said. “Nobody blamed Taker. It was Shawn’s bump, Taker didn’t make him do what he did. This is fiction folks. It’s a stunt show in a lot of ways. Taker gave Shawn the bump but Shawn took the bump, that’s the whole deal.
“Taker’s issue was going to be if Shawn had not done business at WrestleMania in Boston with Austin. I was told Undertaker was sitting there waiting for both guys to come through the curtain. He was the caretaker. I used to call Undertaker the conscious of WWE. He really was, he was the keeper of the gate. He was god damn Clint Eastwood.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Grilling JR with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.