In years gone by wrestling commentators might have described WWE megastar Shawn Michaels as brash or vain but in his first ever UK Q&A sessions, the Heartbreak Kid conveyed a kind-hearted, fun and humble spirit which somewhat belied his on-screen persona.
This UK debut comprised of shows in London and Manchester with PSI events. This impressive company is receiving positive reviews for their well-oiled shows, which will next feature Chris Jericho on 12 and 15 June in London.
As for HBK, he looked at ease, clearly pleased to be amongst UK fans (for whom he professed his affection) and was readily joking with the audience: "it takes guts to call yourself Mr. Wrestlemania with a losing record like mine" and "No, I won't sing my entrance theme for you, they had to vocally enhance it the first time!" or on being asked whom he'd like to 'Superkick': "Would I get in trouble if I said Obama... you could pick any of the presidents..".
There were however more reflective moments, which showcased a mature and considerate side to Michaels. Reviewing his career which he had "always enjoyed and was never a chore", he said it had been fluid rather than rigidly planned. Whilst acknowledging it would always be a longer road to the title for wrestlers like him and Daniel Bryan, he suggested that fans would enjoy the product more if they could accept that both life and wrestling aren't always fair. Michaels also opened up about career challenges such as falsely portraying himself as a pauper for WWE TV but argued that Vince McMahon (of whom he does a wonderful impression) whilst not always right, has built a successful company using alluring storylines and should be given the benefit of the doubt.
Now nearly 50, Michaels boasts a maturity which enables him to see things in the round. He plays down the high praise of colleagues like Stone Cold Steve Austin because to his mind he's still "a 19 year old kid that wants to be a wrestler". Whilst not careful not to over-egg the point himself, it became clear that Michael's faith played a major role in his rehabilitation and growth. He pointed to that faith as an enabling tool for his return to WWE in 2002 after a 4 year hiatus. Whilst "early into my faith journey and feeling motivated" he had asked to wrestle a small programme with Vince and admits to being surprised by the counter-offer of a high-profile programme with Triple H and the degree of punishment his body could absorb.
HBK relived that and other matches, giving the inside track on some of his greatest rivalries. Fighting the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 25 felt "wonderful" and it was "great" to add to their rivalry at WM26 and end things with him. HBK also related tales of 'Hell in a Cell' 1997, a gimmick which Michaels claimed to have initiated with WWE having been inspired by a bout he had seen in Georgia featuring a cage with a top on it. HBK believes both he and 'Taker "killed the concept early on" by not staying in the cage but rather going on top of it to do "cool stuff". HBK also explained that the 1997 match was due to last 40 minutes but just before going on, they were told they had an extra 15 minutes. 'Taker reportedly turned to HBK and said "I'll walk slow" (delivered sotto voce, another immaculate impression).
He also talked about Bret Hart. Since the infamous 'screw job' Michaels and Hart have "genuinely" made up and are back where they started - "mutual respect". Their competition to be the best caused faults and problems says Michaels but they have been "fortunate enough to meet and ask for forgiveness". He paid credit to Natalya and Tyson Kidd, current WWE talents, for helping bring them back together and was pleased that the disagreements between he and Hart didn't affect the professional product. Interviewer Rob McNicol suggested Hart sees 2 different HBK's, the pre- and post- make up models. Michaels admitted to seeing himself somewhat like that but said they "can only put this behind us and move on".
There was so much covered in the short session that it is difficult to do it justice in this blog. On CM Punk: "I understand it, it doesn't surprise nor bother me - if you're not enjoying things it will show". On Marty Jannetty: "We still speak; it's nice to hear he's doing good". On over-selling for Hogan at SummerSlam 2005: "The whole thing was overblown, it wasn't a scheme. I was poking the bear but did the right thing in the end. I'm at an age where it's liberating to mess around a bit" and on pal Triple H: "I provide a break from wrestling for him. We can discuss normal things like family." He remembered Andre the Giant fondly, recalling a two-year rib played on the Rockers by the legend and he marvelled at the utility of the internet. Michaels argued that when TNA talents near contract termination, a well-placed story about a WWE return will have TNA come calling. He joked that the same internet fan base had enabled his return year-on-year at 'Mania.
HBK deftly handled the question of retirement, arguing it's better that fans asked for 'one more match' than not but he didn't foresee a return. He did take issue with criticisms of other wrestlers who retire only to return, pointing out that: "It's like the movies, there are shades of grey and people come out of retirement for various reasons but you don't see TV shows being blamed when they bring a character back". If he were to return, Michaels would opt to appear in WWE's breakthrough NXT show, stating that it would be the most enjoyable path for him. He put over a number of NXT talents including Sami Zayn, Bo Dallas, Adrian Neville and Emma - with particular credit for the latter: "it's much braver for woman to go and do a dance and make fun of self than for a guy. Very Gutsy".
Ultimately though, in retirement Michaels can spend time on the 'significant' things in his life: family, health, kids, faith. And so having expected Mr. Wrestlemania, we left with a very different perception of the diverse and brilliant Shawn Michaels, one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.