How does one qualify the greatest wrestler of all time?
The epithet is assigned often and debated with even more frequency.
Take a look at any website, any newsletter, any magazine devoted to professional wrestling and you will find a variety of names touted, a myriad of arguments that seem to have no definable foundation, and an array of eras from which the wrestler hails.
Here on Bleacher Report, the Creatures are taking a slightly less ambitious, but no less difficult, approach. The topic at hand is the greatest WWE Superstar of all time, and that question can have but one definitive and resounding answer.
Shawn Michaels, the Heartbreak Kid, whose monikers include The Headliner, The Showstopper, The Main Event, The Icon, and Mr. WrestleMania.
When discussing the criteria for the greatest of all time, the standard categories tend to include wrestling ability, charisma, a connection with the fans, microphone prowess, and memorable moments.
The question is: What sets one performer apart from the outstanding wrestlers throughout the years?
Before providing an answer, this Creature will first create an airtight case for The Heartbreak Kid in the accepted qualifications.
Jose Lothario needed only a few short months to determine that Michaels had something special. Michaels needed only six months wrestling for Mid-South to learn to call matches.
Advice from legendary veterans such as Terry Taylor, Buddy Rose, Doug Sommers, and Rowdy Roddy Piper, among others, bred an impassioned student of the business. That student has the honor today of being hailed by Jim Ross as the best big match worker in the history of the business.
The recently released Legends Roundtable: Texas, as seen on WWE Classics On-Demand, provides an outlet for Michael Hayes, Gene Okerlund, Cowboy Bill Watts, and Dusty Rhodes to whole-heartedly agree.
Michaels combines a high-flying luchador style with precision technical wrestling. The most recent tally of Match of the Year awards for Michaels includes 1 Slammy award, 2 Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards, and a record-setting 9 awards from Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
Bruno Sammartino holds 5 Match of the Year awards from Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and Ric Flair was so honored 4 times; these two greats must be combined to equal Michaels.
Undoubtedly, Michaels possesses the elusive level of charisma that few wrestlers can claim. Stars such as Ric Flair, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, The Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, and Dusty Rhodes have a right to be lauded for standing out in a sea of talent.
So, too, is Shawn Michaels. What these men have in common is a distinctive personality that the fans remember and cherish. No matter which side of the fence Michaels is on, he is capable of manipulating the emotion of the fans on an epic scale.
Whether as a heel or a babyface, Michaels can tap into the emotion of the fans. One principle has guided him ever since Tully Blanchard spoke this gem to a young Michaels starting out in the WWF.
“Shawn, let me tell you something about psychology. Psychology is about who can make them yell the loudest the longest.”
There is no doubt that Michaels is among the elite in making the fans yell the loudest for the longest.
The key to greatness in a cutthroat industry such as professional wrestling is to create a connection with the fans. Whether the wrestler is loved, or loved to be hated, the greatest Superstars are cared about by the fans.
As part of the Midnight Rockers in the AWA, later simply The Rockers, through his singles career, his career-ending back injury, and his triumphant, emotional return, Michaels has always elicited an emotional tie between himself and the fans of professional wrestling.
Look back through his years with the WWF/E and be amazed at the number of HBK, The Kliq, and Shawn Michaels signs and merchandise appearing in the audience. Michaels has brought the crowd to laughter, intense support, extreme hatred, and even incited many in the audience to tears.
The fans are invested in Shawn Micheals, and it shows.
The Rock is beloved for his sardonic wit and interactive catch phrases. Stone Cold Steve Austin is embraced for his unique attitude. Ric Flair has but to throw his head back for a signature “Wooooooooooo” and soak in the crowd response.
Shawn Michaels is cherished for his uncanny ability to whip the crowd into a frenzy, no matter which role he plays. Exceptional verbal encounters are as much a trademark for Michaels as his legendary in-ring capability.
Reference his emotional promos with JBL, Chris Jericho, Batista, John Cena, and Ric Flair over the course of 2008. Watch the antics of D-Generation X, both the initial run and in 2006 to see his natural ease on the microphone.
Better yet, find the Youtube video of his Montreal 2005 gem while promoting the SummerSlam match with Hulk Hogan.
Michaels inflamed the crowd for nearly 17 minutes, stoking the frenzied fury of the sold out arena with every deliberately chosen barb, every shift in demeanor, and every perfectly orchestrated facial expression.
Michaels can take any storyline, any concept, any feud, and transmute it into pure gold simply by picking up a microphone. An alchemist would trade anything for such talent.
No one else has provided as many memorable moments as Shawn Michaels. From RAW to Pay-Per-Views, Michaels has the cornerstone on unforgettable snapshots in the WWE.
From the Barber Shop heel turn and forward, Michaels has been involved in the most remarkable moments of WWE history.
The literal street brawl with Curt Hennig, the surprise Intercontinental Title defense against Marty Jannetty, the ladder match at WrestleMania X and at No Mercy 2008, the Montreal Screwjob, his emotional and exultant return at SummerSlam 2002, and the heartrending retirement of Ric Flair at WrestleMania 24 are a mere few of the moments that the Heartbreak Kid has given the world of professional wrestling.
Even when Michaels is not considered the main attraction, such as WrestleMania XIX with Chris Jericho, he steals the show.
Michaels puts his heart and soul into every match, every promo, and every segment that he is in and it is the fans that benefit.
The Defining Characteristics
What sets Shawn Michaels apart from every other Superstar in the WWE? What makes him the greatest WWE Superstar of all time?
Particularly in big match events, Michaels consistently has the best match on the card. His ring psychology is second to none; each of his matches tells a unique story, on top of his vaunted technical acumen.
Michaels is adept, more than any other Superstar, at manipulating the crowd reaction to suit his role. He is equally effective and brilliant as both a heel and a babyface...a feat that no other Superstar can assert.
The fans hate him or love him at his whim, unlike The Rock and Stone Cold who were turned by an ever-increasing positive fan reaction.
Others, like Vince McMahon, Kurt Angle, and Edge are spectacular heels, but lackluster babyfaces.
Michaels has a versatility that is unmatched. He is capable of comedy and sarcasm, attitude and solemnity, and a flair for the dramatic that brings realism into suspect storylines.
Unlike many of the candidates for the greatest WWE Superstar, Shawn Michaels is capable of getting a good match out of almost anyone.
Batista once said, “Shawn Michaels can make a broomstick look like a World Champion. Come to think of it, that’s what he did with me.”
In his New York Times Best-Selling autobiography, Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, Mick Foley said that his Mind Games match with Michaels was on the short list of the three greatest things he’d ever done in wrestling, following it up with “I’ve never been that good again.”
Ric Flair, who hand-picked Michaels for his final match both in and out of storyline, has said that Shawn Michaels had a five-star match with a ladder at WrestleMania X, there just happened to be another guy in the ring too.
There is only one man who can lay claim to every element attributed to the greatest WWE Superstar of all time, as well as possessing multiple defining characteristics that set him apart from the pack.
The Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels.
If you have not done so already, please check out the following participants:
Demetrus Stokes: Hulk Hogan
AkD: Ric Flair
Ray Bogusz: Andre the Giant
Ross: The Undertaker
Josh Swell: Edge
Josh Swell bonus: Trish Stratus
Kumar: Kurt Angle
Kevin Canny: Bret Hart
Shane Howard: Vince McMahon
Special Thanks to TJ Duncan for his organization of this fine event.