That's often been the MO of Michaels: defying expectations. Throughout his wrestling career, Michaels has stunned even his biggest fans and supporters with landmark performance. Even his backstage peers, even physicians, have been astonished by what Michaels has been able to accomplish inside the ring, especially when certain hindrances were in place. Even as he got older, Michaels was no lesser of a gifted artist between those ropes, maintaining his high standard well into his forties.
We'll take a look at some of the most notable cases of Shawn Michaels defying the odds and/or surprising onlookers throughout his professional wrestling career. If we know Michaels the way we think we know him, he'll be bringing his A-Game to Riyadh this November, fixing to show the entire world that he can still be "The Showstopper".
10. Working Without An ACL
Several weeks before SummerSlam 1990, Michaels suffered a horrible knee injury, blowing out his ACL, and tearing his medial meniscus, at a live event in Augusta, GA. Anyone who watches professional sports (especially American football) knows that when a player tears his ACL, he's generally out for the season, and may even miss part of the following season as well. Generally, you're talking about a nine-month injury, minimum.
Michaels ended up returning to the ring after just two months on the mend. Instead of having the ACL repaired, Michaels opted to have the knee scoped, which entailed having loose cartilage cleaned out. He couldn't afford to sit at home for nine months, so for years after the fact, he would tape his knees tight, working without that ACL. Given his high-impact style, that's flat-out crazy.
9. His Performance In The 1995 Royal Rumble
While Michaels' coast-to-coast duration in the '95 Rumble is somewhat diminished due to the one-minute intervals (he needed to last just 40 minutes instead of an hour), what can't be diminished is his actual performance throughout the match. Michaels gets physically involved with every single entrant, bumping around like a human pinball off of each and every wrestler that stepped through the ropes.
To make matters more impressive, the match was considered a critical success, even with one of the weaker fields in Rumble match history (perhaps *the* weakest). It may be an exaggeration to say that Michaels carried 29 other wrestlers, but he's clearly the pulse of the match. As he goes, so too does the match, and Michaels is on his A-game the entire way.
8. The Iron Man Match
Admittedly, it's a bit of a polarizing showing - Michaels and Bret Hart's 62-minute main event for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XII impressed many, while others were bored by the lack of action relative to the duration. While the match isn't without its critics, the fact that so many found it to be an excellent match-of-the-year-caliber spectacle is victory enough for Michaels and Hart alike.
The match also marked Michaels' first World title victory, something that would have been unfathomable in the days of Hogan and Warrior. While a change in attitude toward wrestler body types would help Michaels (and Hart, among others) break through barriers to the main event tier, it's also fair to say that winning the WWE Championship, regardless of era, was a pleasant surprise to those who watched WWE in its dependency on muscle and mass.
7. Gutting It Out At WrestleMania XIV
Michaels wrecked his lower back at the preceding Royal Rumble, taking a flipping bump onto the crease of a wooden casket. Weeks later, Michaels required hospitalization when his back gave out at his home. He was subsequently removed from all bookings, sans WrestleMania XIV, where he would drop the WWE Championship to Steve Austin. And even then, there was no telling if he'd been in good enough condition to do that.
Michaels messed himself up midway through the match, after landing hard against the ringside commentary table. For the remainder of the bout, the defending champion winces and grimaces through every spot, carrying on with the match despite the obvious pain. He made it through to pass the torch to Austin. According to Michaels, his doctor watched the match, and could not believe how was able to perform in his state of agony.
6. The Comeback Match
We had gotten so used to the idea of Shawn Michaels being retired, especially when so many other wrestlers had become stars in Michaels' absence. WWE thrived so much between 1998 and 2002 that Michaels, while almost untouchable in the ring, wasn't universally missed. If he was retired, unable to regain his old form, there wasn't exactly a ton of heartbreak (pun not intended).
But Michaels did make the big comeback, wrestling Triple H at SummerSlam 2002. However, expectations were lowered going into the match, because who could possibly deliver on that level after a four-year layoff? Well, Michaels can, piecing together a virtually-perfect match with a magnificent story. That Michaels could still have that kind of show-stealing spectacle after so much time away was flat-out astonishing.
5. Regaining His Old Form
While the match with Triple H was a genuine all-timer, it was considered that perhaps Michaels couldn't keep up that level of greatness forever, that it could have just been a one-time classic that he would be unable to duplicate. And that was should Michaels ever choose to wrestle again.
Michaels was coaxed into a full-time comeback deeper into 2003, and damned if he didn't continue proving that he was still The Heartbreak Kid. Before his 40th birthday in 2005, Michaels had match-of-the-year-level showings with Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge, Triple H, among others. And he was still capable of being that Michaels, even once north of 40. Even up to his retirement date in 2010, nobody ever thought that Michaels would perform at anything less than at a genius clip.
4. Improving His Image
There are countless virtuosos in sport, film, music, and otherwise that are as brilliant in performance as they are reprehensible as a person. Shawn Michaels in his prime wasn't one of the more well-regarded individuals in the WWE locker room, due to a poor attitude, open disdain for others, refusal to lose (both matches and championships), and for other reasons. Bret Hart is just one of many past stars that had little patience for Michaels, the person.
That's why it was a bit of a surprise (albeit a pleasant one) to see Michaels completely rehabilitate his image, beginning with his 2002 comeback. Michaels has since mended fences with a number of co-workers he'd once alienated while leaving an even better legacy for himself than he did in his first retirement.
3. Gutting It Out Through Taboo Tuesday
One of the gutsier performances that sometimes gets forgotten is the fact that Shawn Michaels worked with a torn meniscus at the inaugural Taboo Tuesday event in 2004. Two weeks earlier, Michaels sustained the injury with Ric Flair on a European tour, and was looking at least a couple months of recovery time. Michaels was advertised as a possible opponent for Triple H at the pay-per-view and, sure enough, fans voted him into the match.
It wasn't one of Michaels' more stellar performances, but he did a good enough job with what he had to work with. The knee injury was worked into the match to explain Michaels' limited capacity, but it was still a much better match than perhaps a number of wrestlers could have on two functional legs.
2. Going An Hour With Cena On Raw
The non-title match took place in London on John Cena's 30th birthday. Michaels at the time was 41, with millions of miles travelled and millions of aches suffered through. His tires had little to no tread left, and yet he could still manoeuvre and corner better than most. The headliners were tasked with having a marathon match on Raw, which had the potential for some dull points, despite each man's capabilities.
At least in my opinion, it's one of the four greatest matches in the history of WWE Raw, keeping the crowd in London glued to the action, despite the epic-length duration. It's the same sort of match Michaels could have executed a decade earlier, a testament to his seeming inability to age as a performer.
1. The Match With The Undertaker
On 5 April 2009, Michael Hickenbottom and Mark Calaway had a combined age of 87. They had each been wrestling for 25 years, and had spent more than their share of time sidelined with injuries. They've also worked through teeth-gnashing pain, maintaining their unassailable statuses at the top of the WWE hill all the while.
To deliver the best match of a given show is one thing. To have that match at WrestleMania is quite special. To have that match be considered among the greatest in WrestleMania history is incredible, and that's where Michaels and Undertaker's match stands. It's been hailed as an all-timer by millions of fans and critics alike, and rightfully so. Credit to Undertaker as well, and it's just another notch in the belt for Mr. WrestleMania, a title he never ceased to deserve.