Don't write HBK off!
SCOTT ZERR - Edmonton Sun
For the Showstopper, the show had seemingly come to an end. With a body battered and broken by years of outrageous "bumps," in and out of the World Wrestling Entertainment ring, Shawn Michaels's career appeared over. He needed major surgery on his back just so he could walk for the rest of his life, and the only thing one of the most energetic and outrageous characters in the business could do was pack it in.
"I believed I was done and I was OK with that," Michaels recently told the Sun.
But after a four-year layoff, Michaels declared himself ready for action again. He's been back on the scene for nearly two years and is now looking to reclaim the heavyweight championship in a triple-threat match during Backlash tomorrow at Rexall Place against reigning champ and hometown hero Chris Benoit and Triple-H.
"I'm very pleased and quite surprised. The body is an amazing machine," said the 38-year-old native of San Antonio, Texas. "My body seems to react better if I'm being more physical. I don't think I'd be as healthy if I was just sitting on my porch doing nothing.
"I've made a lot of changes in my life and I feel I'm where I'm supposed to be. I'm on a certain plan and when I feel that plan has changed, whether I'm healthy or not, I'll leave when I'm told by the Almighty to leave. I'm going to stay until I'm told differently."
As much as his body has strengthened itself in the past six years, Michaels's state of mind has made even greater alterations. The born-again Christian is not the man he was when he was unrivalled in the world of professional wrestling for amazing athleticism mixed with panache, a wild flair and those nearly X-rated antics, all of which made up the role of the Heartbreak Kid.
The new Michaels has a soulful and responsible take on a profession that has been often criticized for chewing up and spitting out its performers with little care for their personal demons.
"We in the business blame the business for individual choices, but they are the fault of the individual. Some say they are robbed of their choices but that's not true at all. It's BS to say you weren't able to have friends; you chose not to have friends."
When Michaels decided it was time to take a long look in the mirror, the reflection was not one he liked, particularly in a spiritual way.
"I talk like I was a horrible guy," chuckled Michaels. "But everything in this business is a little unreal, even the reputations, and mine was far bigger and worse than anything I did on my own.
"But for me, the time I looked the mirror, it was a very humbling experience. I would guess that's why a lot of people don't do it. I made the decision I wanted to lead a better life."
The Michaels of 10 years ago would never have admitted that witnessing Benoit earn the championship gold for the first time and having such a huge role in that storyline at Wrestlemania 20 would sit among his personal collection of great moments.
"That was a really amazing experience for me," said the star simply known to his fans as HBK.
"I had always thought that it was better to be the guy who won the belt, but having the opportunity to watch another guy win it for the first time was one of the coolest things that's happened to me in the business.
"Wrestlemania 12 was so incredibly special to me and that was only outshone by watching Chris enjoy it that much. I talked to Stone Cold (Steve Austin) the next day and I told him that I was sorry I wasn't in at a place where I could do that with him at Wrestlemania 14. I was so stressed and hurt and full of anger and in real physical pain that I just couldn't do that for Steve."
Coming to Alberta (the WWE invades Calgary for RAW on Monday) means Michaels walks back into the firestorm of controversy that will never die. Bret Hart's faithful fans aren't likely to let Michaels ever forget his role in the match that stripped Hart of the title, before the Hitman's departure to the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling. The bitterness has endured for seven years.
"I regret the situation but life goes on," said Michaels of the so-called Screwjob in Montreal. "I don't think about it much, but I recognize it will still be there and that's all OK with me. I've certainly come to a point where it's concluded to me, but I still have not spoken to Bret. I've publicly apologized, but for two years he's questioned my sincerity about that and about my faith and the changes I've made in my life.
"But I serve a God, and it's not Bret Hart."
March 2004: Shawn Michaels, still the show-stopper
Aug. 21, 2001: Past follows Shawn Michaels around