Shawn Michaels is highly regarded as one of the greatest in-ring workers in the history of the wrestling business. The Heartbreak Kid was known for his many classic matches including one that is widely regarded as the greatest of all time against The Undertaker at WrestleMania 25. However before 2001, Michaels was known more for his disruptive attitude behind the scenes, even though he was still one of the greatest workers of all time. The main person who was involved in a lot of issues with Shawn was WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart.
During a recent episode of the Grilling JR Podcast, Ross discussed Michaels and his disruptive attitude during 1997-98 and his issues with Bret Hart. Ross talked about Vince’s relationship with Shawn compared to Bret at the time.
“There was only one guy that could pull those guys back in line and get them refocused on the business at hand and that was Vince,” Ross said. “Vince was walking around Bret like he’s on pins and needles and Shawn was Vince’s boy in that era.”
A major issue between Michaels and Hart came on a Monday Night Raw show where Michaels showed up drunk and made assumptions live on television that Hart had been cheating on his wife with WWE star Sunny. Shawn used the words “everyone knows you’ve been having Sunny days” to infer that he’s been having an affair. Ross talked about Michaels taking shots at Hart on television and how uncalled for it truly was.
“That should not have been included in a promo,” Ross said. “The topic was too personal, too close to home. The main issue is that the talent may say ‘I was just trying to make it real.’ Okay, your point can be made but it’s still not the right thing to do. Your reasoning is stupid. Bret had children that were religious viewers of Monday Night Raw. Young influential kids.
“I give a s–t about that. I really do. Being in the talent relations role you have to deal with all those issues. How do I tell Bret how to make his wife calm down? I don’t know. You’re putting me in a position I can’t address well and I can’t solve your problem. I wish I could but I can’t this time. All because somebody wanted to be reality based and be able to pop the boys, especially their boys. I’m sure nobody laughed louder at that ‘Sunny days’ remark than Kevin [Nash] and Scott [Hall] down in Atlanta.”
Ross continued to talk about Shawn showing up to the arena drunk and why they let him go out to do the promo on Hart. He said some things that were said and done by Shawn just never seemed to bother him.
“We knew there was no way he could wrestle,” Ross said regarding Shawn showing up drunk to the show. “He seemed to be impaired. It was no secret because Shawn was getting attention. He was isolated in a locker room, he was moving around the general population. We knew he couldn’t wrestle. I wasn’t crazy about the interview because I knew he was going to use it to forward his own agenda.
“He had to dance to the beat of his own drum. He had to create his own content. All of those things are good in theory, but sometimes the execution of those theories is just detrimental to the team effort, but that never seemed to bother Shawn at that time.”
All the back and forth between Shawn and Bret eventually led to a fight backstage that involved several Hall of Famers breaking it up, including Jerry Lawler and Pat Patterson. Ross talked about the fight between the two and the late Patterson’s love for both Shawn and Bret.
“I got there about 30 seconds after it ended,” Ross said, talking about the brawl between the two legends. “[Pat] Patterson was deep in it. Patterson loved those two guys like sons. Pat would say Shawn Michaels is as close to Ray Stevens as anybody he’s ever seen. Before there was Ric Flair, there was Ray Stevens.
“I remember Shawn lost a lot of hair. Bret was ripping and tearing at anything he could get ahold of. Lawler was in there, Patterson was in there, they took Patterson down. Nobody really got hurt, it wasn’t a fight that saw teeth pulled out and noses broken. It wasn’t that extreme but it was intense. Then you have to handle all of this s–t. Shawn wanted to go home and Bret stuck around. Shows you the difference of mentality Conrad.”
Ross mentioned how Vince would constantly defend Michaels because he saw a lot of himself in him. He said Vince treating Shawn that way was fine, but it was going to anger off the talent backstage because outside of his in-ring work, he was a pain for everybody to deal with.
“We all knew that Vince’s feelings toward Shawn meant it wasn’t going to be anytime soon,” Ross said. “Vince was almost challenged to make this work. We knew he was going to be great bell to bell, we knew he could have matches with anybody. But all the other things, if you had a 20 minute match, all those hours of the day is what you have to deal with [with Shawn]. When is he going to get over his lack of self confidence, his lack of self esteem to straighten his s–t up to become the team player he could be.”
“Which is one of the ways I got him to come back. He could be a great help and never wrestle another match. The bottom line is we need you to come back to help some of these young kids, we’re going through a transition period. Kids that we’re hiring idolize you. You’re there guy. If this guy can help them with in-ring techniques and explain your change of life, it will help them. That was my pitch to get him to come back knowing full well that ego driven wrestlers are not going to come back and stay in the shadows if they can still work.”
Ross continued to talk about Shawn’s return in 2001 after a four year hiatus, during which time he was paid $750,000 per year. He said Shawn quickly became the best worker in the company the minute he stepped foot back in the company.
“When he came back to work, he was the best guy we had,” Ross said. “The day he walked back into the locker room he ascended to the top of the charts of who’s the best worker in this company. After four years off, he walks back in and we ain’t got nobody better.”
Ross also mentioned the paranoia in wrestling from the wrestlers. He said that Micheals was also constantly paranoid about issues regarding pay. Ross mentioned how all of these were just factors into why Shawn wasn’t ready to become the top star in the top company in the world.
“Oh my god yeah, and it’s still that way today,” Ross said. “Because of the subjectiveness of creativity. For years and years and years people were paid off the house, if you didn’t work you got no pie. Today, so many talents are on salary and I have a little problem if thats the only form of compensation that talent receives is because it takes the edge off the incentive to produce more. There should be at least a bonus system where if you accomplish certain goals you get a little bit more cheese on the whopper. I think guys nowadays get these salaries and some of these issues are taken care of.
“When you’ve got a system that has discretionary income pay as your bulk of what you’re earning, a lot of talents worry about that because when are my big pay days going to end? That’s what I think about Shawn. I just don’t think he was mentally prepared to handle the pressure of being the top guy in the top company in the world.”
Ross also said that some wrestlers need to stop complaining about needing more time and working with what they have. He said it’s all about wrestlers feeling the need to take more time to get in all their moves.
“Everybody wants all the T.V. time that they can get thinking the more the better,” Ross said. “That just shows the wrestlers ignorance. I need more time, why? Does it have anything to do with getting your s–t in? Of course it has everything to do with getting your s–t in. If you’re not creative enough to shorten your conversation and dialogue to meet the time restraints, you’re an idiot. You shouldn’t be on television.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Grilling JR with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.