For a quarter century as a professional wrestler, Shawn Michaels built his Hall of Fame career by being every one of the things he many times boasted to be: the show stopper, the icon, the main event … Mr. WrestleMania. He is was and always will be every one of those monikers.
His list of accomplishments are too many to mention, his impact on pro wrestling too great for mere words. He is one of the most decorated, successful and celebrated athletes in wrestling history.
What made Michaels great was, well, everything. He was enigmatic, charismatic, athletic, fearless, gifted … in short, he had no weaknesses, not even a body that was at times broken from the countless sacrifices he made.
His career was not without controvery, of course. Early in his career, his devotion to the business was questioned; he was the central figure in the infamous Montreal Screwjob involving beloved Canadian icon Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart. He was also part of the so-called Kliq, a faction that held extreme power and sway behind the scenes, often creating controversy off-camera and in the locker room.
But few, if any, could hold the collective attention of wrestling fans the world over like the man known better as the Heartbreak Kid.
These days, Michaels is hoping to translate even a fraction of his wrestling success into success on TV, as his reality hunting show MacMillan River Adventures, which he co-hosts with friend and fellow hunter Keith Mark on the Outdoor Channel, returns for its third season with Michaels in the picture.
“My co-host, Keith Mark, did the show for five years and then he joined two other guys on a different show,” Michaels said in a telephone interview recently. “Keith has been an Outdoor Channel celebrity for quite some time. He just jumped onto a different show. When he and I met, and he saw that I had interest in doing a hunting show, an outdoor show, he said ‘well it’s funny it’s say that, because I was thinking about going back and doing my show again.’ So we just went from there. I think he did the show with other guys for three years and we’ve back back for the last three.”
Mark is more than a co-host to the legendary wrestler. He’s a friend, Michaels said.
“He’s a phenomenal guy and it’s one of those things that just feels right. It’s one of those things that you’re pretty certain — even if you’re not a faith-filled dude — that was meant to be. The circumstances in which he and I met were one of those things that you can’t really look at as just happenstance or a coincidence. Obviously, being around him for the last three years, it doesn’t take long to realize that this is a guy I’m going to be hunting with and hanging out with for the rest of my life regardless of whether we’re doing a television show or not. He’s a great dude and I’ve learned a great deal from Keith and very much enjoy going out on the road with him, hunting with him, hanging out with him.”
Michaels credits Mark for helping him following his retirement as an active wrestler.
“Again, coming from the background that I came from, with the WWE, you begin to wonder whether you can integrate into a regular society or not,” Michaels said with a chuckle, only half joking. “Thankfully for me, I don’t have to worry about that because Keith is very much like the guys that I hung out with in the WWE, so it was a great and very smooth transition.”
After spending the better part of his life hunting for championships and success in the fickle world of wrestling, Michaels faces a huge learning curve when it comes to hunting, something he’s passionate about but never had much time to devote to.
It’s too early, Michaels says, to know which animal is his favourite to hunt.
“I’ve had the opportunity to have a great deal of my first hunts doing MacMillan River Adventures,” Michaels said. “I hunted quite a bit, but with my WWE schedule, a great deal of it — heck, all of it — was limited to the state of Texas and probably within about an hour to two hours tops from my house. With my schedule, it was tough to do anything more than that.
“One of the fantastic things about doing it with Keith is getting to go to places I always dreamed of going but never thought I’d have the opportunity. From that standpoint, I think I’m still sort of figuring out what will be my favourite.”
With season 3 of MacMillan River Adventures set to hit the airwaves (not in Canada, unfortunately, as the network is still in negotiations to broadcast here) on July 2, another adventures looms for Michaels.
“We’re getting to go to Africa here in a couple of weeks, which will be my second time. As of right now, I’ve got to tell you, I enjoy just being home and white-tail hunting, but getting to go to the Yukon for Alaskan Yukon moose is an amazing experience.”
Much as he did throughout his illustrious in-ring career, Michaels tends to leave it all out there when hunting. Sometimes, he even gets a bit emotional, he admits.
“This last year, which will be airing this year, I harvested my first elk, and that was just a phenomenal experience. I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know what we’re going to show on camera, but I practically wept. It was just a great experience.”
Michaels hopes that’s the type of thing he brings to audiences and fans of the show — the raw emotion.
“(I’m) not somebody who claims to know absolutely everything other than the fact that I’ve got a passion for hunting. Perhaps maybe folks who have been doing for a long will remember what it was like going out early in their hunting careers, so to speak, and remember how special that was because that’ what I’m experiencing right now.”
Any fan of Michaels, the wrestler, knows while he boasted an abundance of weapons in his wrestling arsenal, his weapon of choice, or finisher, was a superkick he called Sweet Chin Music.
In the wild, it’s not the boot to the chin that the wildlife should fear, but rather his new favourite weapon.
“I’ve really started enjoying the crossbow,” he said. “Carbon Express comes out with a phenomenal crossbow and the thing is, with some of the injuries I’ve had from the WWE — I enjoyed bow hunting, but especially now doing a show, pulling that thing back, my poundage was really starting to go down and finding continued stability with my left shoulder was getting a little tough. I really enjoy the crossbow. It certainly gives me that opportunity to still get close, to get the same thrill that you get from bow hunting, but (without) having to worry about those things that are out of your control when it comes to the fact that I’ve got no cartilage or really much of anything else in my shoulder. I can still enjoy the thrill of bow hunting.”
This writer had to know, what’s more menacing, standing toe to toe with the seven-foot, 500-plus pound Big Show or a grizzly bear?
“Um, I would say, more than likely, it’s going to Big Show,” Michaels said with a laugh, clearly humouring the reporter. “Thankfully for me, he likes me a great deal and you’re just never sure whether you’re going to get ahold of a grizzly bear that likes you.”
Where the conversation turns very serious is when the subject of the United States government’s ongoing efforts to tighten gun-control restrictions, a subject that is obviously near and dear to Michaels’ heart.
“I’d really love for the United States government to stay out of my business,” he said, his voice turning serious. “I’m a law-abiding, legal-gun (and) legal-concealed handgun owner … and honestly, if I want to protect my family, it’s my choice. The Second Amendment gives me the right to do that.
“I guess what bothers me most is that they really try to pigeonhole us into some kind of crazy, radical folks and that just isn’t the case,” he continued, sounding every bit as serious as he did during some of his legendary promos. “Nothing would thrill me more than to go my whole life, die a very old man, and actually never have to draw my weapon on anybody. That would be phenomenal, and 99.9% of your concealed hand-gun licence holders and gun owners would like it the same way.”
Bad people can’t be controlled, Michaels said.
“Honestly, there are some very bad people out there, and you can’t legislate against that. As much as we all wish we could, it isn’t going to happen. We’ve got more laws in the books than we’ve ever had and that’s why they’re called criminals, because the law is irrelevant to them. Whether it’s the IRS or the NSA stuff or the Second Amendment, I’d really like the U.S. government to just focus on what our founders wanted them to do, which was protecting our homeland … other than that, we’re supposed to leave it to the state to decide how they run things, and then people in general. Honestly, stop taking it out on us responsible people.
“None of the things that we’re talking about — all those laws are already there and they wouldn’t have stopped anything. It’s just that there are very bad people in the world and bad people do bad things. There’s nothing you can do against that. I don’t care if you’re an NRA member or not, nobody likes to see bad things happen to good people, but it’s a reality of life that unfortunately we have to deal with.”
The subject gravitates back toward his future, specifically his future in the business he helped grow into a global phenomenon. Asked whether he sees himself some day back in World Wrestling Entertainment, alongside his best friend, WWE COO Triple H, and doing the thing he did so well for so long, Michaels admitted it is inevitable.
“I’ve always thought about it,” he said, when asked if he sees himself working behind the scenes at WWE. “And to be perfectly honest, I thought it might happen sooner,” he said, adding that even his wife thought he’d be back working full time with WWE by now. “I wanted to know what else was out there. I have other interests and you sort of want to explore those. When I feel like I’ve sort of fulfilled that, then I would certainly love to do that. But at the same, I want to do it when I’m mentally and emotionally invested in it. Right now I’m not. Right now, I’m mentally and emotionally invested in my family and sort of just getting an opportunity to enjoy those things that I didn’t get to enjoy when I was working. I know in some people’s minds, it’s like ‘OK, it’s been three years, you should have sewn those oats.’ (But) it’s like well, ‘I had 25 years at the other, so it may take a little longer than three years.’
It’s a good-news, bad-news scenario. Good if you’re a wrestling fan, bad if you’re a white-tail deer.
Shawn Michaels on:
The Undertaker’s streak: Asked if he believes the Undertaker’s epic 21-0 WrestleMania streak will ever be broken, or if he believes it should be broken, Michaels answered quickly and emphatically: “No and no.”
The Montreal Bret Hart screwjob: Asked if at any point during the match did he have second doubts, Michaels said the following: “As best as I can recall, it was very tough to do anything but just — and I guess I can say that for any of my matches, but certainly that one especially — very difficult to think past the moment. It was second by second. You just really can’t grasp it until it’s done and even then, you don’t know that it’s set in until later. I can’t honestly remember or recall doing anything but sort of going second by second.”