Shawn Michaels, one of the most celebrated stars in WWE history, could be wrestling his final match on Sunday at WrestleMania XXVI. He’ll be facing The Undertaker in a highly anticipated rematch from last year’s WrestleMania, and if Michaels does not end The Undertaker’s WrestleMania undefeated streak, he will be forced to retire.
I conducted a phone interview with the man known as “Mr. WrestleMania” last week. Among the topics discussed were whether he is ready to legitimately walk away from the business, his feelings about Ric Flair wrestling again, and what his backstage meeting with Bret Hart in January was like.
You and The Undertaker had what a lot of people say is the greatest match in WrestleMania history, and perhaps one of the greatest matches, period. Do you feel pressure to top it? Can you top it?
Yes there’s the pressure, and I’m not sure [laughs]. Heck, Kevin, you and I speak every year about this time, and I guess it’s a good thing that you ask me, “Well, can you top last year?” I always tell you I’m certainly going to do my best. I do have to say, last year — there aren’t many times I’ve come out of the ring when I haven’t felt like, “Oh, you know, I could have done something better.” I look back at things and I can be real critical of myself — I could have changed this or changed that. That’s one that I don’t know that I can say that with. So we’re there again wondering if Taker and I can do it. I think that with the stipulation and some of the changes, that helps you out. I think what really helps is the emotional connection that both Undertaker and I have with the WWE fans — I think that goes a long way for us.
I think The Career vs. The Streak, the inevitability of that stipulation and knowing that something has to come to an end, helps a bunch and will obviously add to our match. Physically or time-wise will all of those things be the same, I don’t know, but I think as you know, the most important thing to me is for the story and all of that to be profound, and at the end of all of it you go, “Wow, that was special.” I think after a couple days people can go back and analyze it and look at it and go, “Well, you know, it wasn’t as good here, it wasn’t as good there,” but we really have to make sure that we focus on the instant reaction of impacting the audience, and hopefully if we do that, we will have done our job. But it’s a tall order. Believe me, we all are aware of that.
What was going through your mind when The Undertaker had that horrible landing on the dive over the top rope? Did you think that something tragic had happened?
I was pushing one guy and didn’t actually see the impact, but I remember looking over and seeing the little indention and obviously being concerned, but he was moving, so I figured that was good. You hear the gasp of the people. Unfortunately for The Undertaker, we sort of get accustomed to thinking he’s 10-feet tall and bulletproof, and a lot of times that works against the poor guy. I think certainly that’s something that we’re aware of and cognizant of that, even in respect to one another. We’re two guys that a lot of folks see as warriors who can do everything under the sun, and we can pull one another aside and know otherwise. We can do our best, but all you can do in a situation like that is give each other a squeeze and let each other know we’re moving on, and it’s like everything — we’ll worry about it afterward.
Can you describe what it was like to meet with Bret Hart backstage when he made his return?
As he has mentioned, it was pretty brief as far as what we wanted to do out there. That was very brief because we did want it to be as real and as fresh as it could be. In addition to talking to one another about that, it was very open and very honest, and I certainly have to say from my perspective, nice. It was important to me to talk to him face to face. All you can do is sort of bare your soul in front of somebody and let it go from there, and that’s certainly what I did. I remember way back when I first came to WWE and how we used to get along, and it was nice and it was pleasant. And to have that now is nice. I know for a lot of people it may seem strange, but for he and I it’s a nice place to be. I look back on my return in 2002 and so many things have gone full circle, and to be where he and I are at now, it’s one of those things where you say, “Man, second chances are really nice.” Everybody doesn’t always get them. You know me, I’m a little deep and a little goofy about that stuff, but it’s important. In a strange business and in a business that, heaven forbid, you show your heart, you’re going to be called a bunch of stuff and made fun of constantly, but for me, it was nice and it's a great place to be with him.
Did you have any trepidation at all about being face to face with him? He had said on more than one occasion that if he ever saw you again he was going to punch you in the face.
I guess there is a certain amount of that, but I suppose that’s one of those areas where that rebellious attitude that I had years ago allowed me to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t ordinarily do, and although its toned down and not nearly as obnoxious as it once was, it’s still there in the form of boldness. I have to be honest: It helps knowing that if it does happen, it’s halfway justified or understandable. I’m really way OK with stuff like that. There was the, “Hey, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” but the desire that something was going to happen is better than it being out there forever and never truly resolved.
What are your thoughts on Ric Flair wrestling again? Are you disappointed? Did he talk to you about it?
He did call me. He called me once to let me know he was going to do the [Hulk] Hogan match in Australia. He wanted to know if it was OK and I of course told him that it was. Then he called me again when he was going to sign with TNA and asked the same thing. There’s nothing you can say. I certainly don’t have what it takes to look at somebody and say, “Don’t go make a living.” I told him that, for me, nothing can take away that special moment. It will still always be to me that I had Ric Flair’s last match. I tried to do the best job I could for him. I think it was a special moment. Anything after that [pauses]. I feel for him, but I’m certainly not angry or disappointed or anything. I would like to think that Ric probably would have liked that to have been his last match, too. The fact that it couldn’t be, I understand. Those are circumstances that I certainly can’t control.
One of the things you have to understand is that if you’re going to be a friend of Ric’s, you sort of know that there’s some baggage that comes along with that. Certainly the older I get the more I’m learning about conditional situations, and the difference between that and unconditional — unconditional friendship, unconditional love. All those types of things we can talk about but it’s a whole other thing to put them into action. I do my best to put them into action. I want what’s best for Ric, even if Ric might not always be aware of what that is, I still want that for him. Nothing will take away from that moment. It’s sill truly special. I still wear my watch every day, so it’s still something I’m really proud of. [Note: Michaels had matching diamond Rolex watches made for he and Flair to commemorate their match.]
Can you talk about what life was like for you between 1998 and 2002 — the four years that you weren’t wrestling — and the changes that you made?
I didn’t go through a lot of missing the ring and missing being out there. The anger was more about not being able to finish something on your own terms that you started. Being forced out — even if its your own fault — is probably the area where I struggled the most. It never really occurred to me that, “They’re going into the biggest economic boom we’ve ever had and you’re missing it,” because I’ve truthfully never done it for the money. I mean it was a plus, but it wasn’t the main reason. The start of the change for me came with meeting Rebecca. Starting there, seeing something that was more important than you and more important than wrestling and more important than having to leave something when you didn’t want to. And then the stakes got upped with the birth of our son. Again, there’s something else that’s more important than you, more important than wrestling. That slowly led to my salvation, and that’s the ultimate to where you sort of find out that it isn’t all about you. I think for me, everything that I went through came from a severe case of insecurity. Insecurity comes from wanting affirmation, and I think the idea that through salvation I had this affirmation from the end all be all of dads and fathers.
Again, for me, it was constantly seeking someone’s approval, and trying to find that in wrestling and wrestling matches and then even trying to find that in Rebecca and then in our son. As wonderful as all of those were, they’re not going to measure up. You end up putting what sometimes is put one me in the wrestling business — an unattainable standard. Rebecca’s a human being, my son’s a human being — they’re flawed. And seeking approval in the wrestling business — heck, it’s a flawed business, it’s just not going to happen. So the idea that you then go to Almighty God for your affirmation and the realization that, “I like you for the way you are.” I can remember us reading a book to our son when he was very little, and it was, “God made you and God doesn’t make mistakes.” So for whatever reason, as screwed up as I was, he built me this way for a particular reason, so then the only thing was for me to figure out what that reason was. I think through time I’ve slowly started to figure that out.
That’s why I came back. I had a gift to do this. It just wasn’t used in the right way. If we’re not a good steward of what God gives us, he takes it away. I think that’s what happened. I wasn’t a good steward of the gift that he gave me in this line of work. I abused it so he took it away. I’ve tried to come back and use it in a positive way. It’s him, family and then your job. I work on being a good husband and a good father after that, and then what’s left over from those things, I apply to my work. It’s not the end all be all anymore, but I still feel like I’ve done a good job at it and I’ve been faithful at it. But everybody does understand that at 11:06 on Monday, I’m done. You can call all you want during the week, but I don’t take part in it and when I show up Monday, I will be there and I will do my job to the best of my ability, but then after that I’m done again.
I’ve read that one of the reasons you have always wanted to be on Raw and not Smackdown is because the Smackdown schedule would conflict with your bible study group. Is that true?
Yeah. Tuesday nights was my Bible study, Wednesday was mine and my son’s that we went to, and my wife and daughter’s. It would throw a monkey wrench into that, and that’s a big part of our life. You can switch my schedule around but I may not be the employee for you that I’ve been — you tell me which one you want more [laughs]. Yes, that is the reason. I also understand that I get held to a different standard than other Christians do in this business. It isn’t like I’m the only one. But other ones can play bad guys on TV and people can say it’s a character. I do something and they go, “Oh, he’s compromising on his faith.” [laughs]. Heck, I get in trouble with a bunch of church folk every time I do the DX thing. I know that people are as sure as they’re standing there that they know about my life, they know who I am and they know how I am — and that’s cool. All I can do is tell them at the end of the day is, you don’t [laughs]. What you see on TV and even what you see in the airport, when I walk out the door, Shawn Michaels takes over. But unless you’re inside this house every day, you don’t know. And that’s OK. But it’s important that my wife and children get the man that they bargained for.
First, how banged up are you at the moment? Second – and I realize that you can’t give anything away about Sunday’s match — do you feel like you're ready to retire?
One, I feel OK, but getting banged up and certainly getting to the point where feeling OK is not always good enough anymore. The bottom line is that’s why I agreed to the stipulation. I’m ready for whatever decision people want to make. With a lot of guys there’s a lot of anxiety and emotion when they make that decision [to retire]. I don’t want to say it’s not emotional, because it is, but I feel very peaceful about it. I guess that’s why I feel no matter which way the pendulum swings, it’s OK. It’s like laying there on the machine and the machine’s keeping you alive and you just know when somebody’s at peace with going and they flip the switch. It’s important to me to not jerk the fans around — I don’t want to do that. So whatever decision is made I’m going to go with that. I suppose in a perfect world I’d like to be able to say farewell and do a little go-around and say goodbye, but if that isn’t in the cards, that’s OK, too. If I gotta go, I’m gonna go, and I will be up front. If I come back, I’d look at people and go, “It’s because I need the money.” [laughs] I feel like Shawn Michaels, that character, could get away with that, and that would be the only reason.
I don’t think I’m going to go through the “He’s gotta have that feel. He’s gotta go back to it.” I think you can have that stuff without getting in the ring. Heck, I can still walk out there and do something and get to kick somebody and get that feeling, so I don’t necessarily buy into that one. I will tell you this, Kevin, honestly, as much as I enjoy the question every year of how are you going to follow last year, it gets to be a tough thing to live up to on a regular basis, and I mean that with as much humility as you can say it with. I’m very thankful that I get that question, but it’s just, you know, you get to be 44 and it gets harder to do. It’s like a guy on a wire, for the first time he looks down and he realizes he’s on a wire. All these years I’ve been going along and I’ve never really looked down from the wire. And then you wonder, “Well, if I slip will they catch me or will they watch me fall?” I’ve got an opportunity that most people don’t get — to go out with my head held high and be able to hear, “He didn’t stay around too long. His last “x” amount of years were really special.” I don’t know anybody that gets that opportunity. That’s important to me and I’d like to do that before I slip on that wire.
To read a Q&A with Michaels from March 2008 click here
To read a Q&A with Michaels from November 2007 click here
Photo courtesy of WWE