- Shawn Michaels knows what the fans want to see, but AJ Styles isn’t the only WWE wrestler he pulls for.
There is a reason why The Undertaker was never in the Kliq.
“’Taker has always been a calm, cool, and collected guy,” explained Shawn Michaels. “But the Kliq? We were loud and obnoxious.”
The Kliq, of course, is the infamous faction of Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, and Sean “X-Pac” Waltman. The only member of that crew still active on the main WWE roster is Levesque, and he is scheduled to wrestle at WrestleMania 33, but the other four Kliq members will also be part of WrestleMania weekend.
Michaels, Nash, Hall, and Waltman are delivering an exclusive One Night Only with the Kliq in Orlando on April 1st, just one day before WrestleMania. Michaels, who is a WWE Hall of Famer and rightfully known as “Mr. WrestleMania” for all of his heroics at the yearly spectacle, is looking forward to reconnecting with wrestling fans and sharing more behind-the-scenes stories from his time atop the wrestling world.
“’Taker was great friends with Kevin and Scott Hall,” said Michaels. “We’ve always got along, too, and clearly now we’re closer than ever, but ’Taker had his own crew. He ran with Yoko and the Godwins and some other guys, and we hung out with them a bunch.”
Pro wrestling, in its essence, is storytelling. Michaels explained that the very same type of storytelling exists outside the ring, which makes it very hard to separate fact from fiction in the business of professional wrestling.
“The wrestling world is unique,” said Michaels. “There are things that happened and there are things that didn’t happen, but in wrestling, you just say they all happened. Some of it’s fun to let stay out there—it adds to the mystique and wrestling lore.
“The Undertaker wasn’t in the Kliq, and it’s the same with John Cena and me. We’ve always gotten along well, but we never rode up and down the road together. Scott and I have known each other since the ’80s in our days wrestling in Kansas City. I specifically asked to work with Kevin and wanted to have him on my side, so he comes in the door and started riding with me. Everyone knows the story with Hunter—he came in and knew that we weren’t well-liked, but he wanted to hang us with us anyway. Scott worked with Sean on his first night on Raw, and he sort of has that Curt Hennig gene in him. Curt always grabbed a young guy and said, ‘You’re jumping in the car with me,’ and that’s what Scott did with Sean.
“That’s how all of that happened, and we were all just running around, and then, one day, somebody called us a name, and it stuck. This faction of people turned into this ominous thing in the wrestling business, and that’s what is great about the wrestling business. You can become anything you want.”
Michaels, now 51, admitted that he and the Kliq could not resist playing into all of the rumors that constantly hovered over them. When WWE talent would complain one night, for example, that the Kliq owned the locker room, they would then see a sign the very next day that read “KLIQ ONLY” on the locker room door.
“Sometimes, and I don’t mean it disrespectfully, the easiest people to work in the wrestling business are the people in the locker room,” said Michaels. “One of the things we were never very good at was when something appeared to bother someone—or someone started to say something that may not have been true—well, then, we’d just make it true. There were times that we’d be in the locker room there before everyone else, and a guy would walk in, say, ‘Is this the Kliq locker room?’ So we’d draw with a sharpie on the back of a program and write ‘Kliq locker room’. I can promise you that none of those signs were ever on WWE letterhead.”
Michaels is still involved with the WWE as a coach at the Performance Center in Florida, which is where he was introduced, first-hand, to the wrestling style of Samoa Joe. Although people have been clamoring to see the “Heartbreak Kid” versus AJ Styles at WrestleMania 33, Michaels explained that the “Samoan Destroyer” would be the better-suited opponent for “Mr. WrestleMania”.
“I think everybody would like to see me against AJ Styles at WrestleMania,” said Michaels. “That’s one that people have talked about, but I also really like Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins. I saw Samoa Joe when he was down here at NXT and his stuff looked really good. It’s one of those things, from an older guy’s standpoint, you think, oh my god, it would be a piece of cake.
“The thing I do best is get beat up. Samoa Joe’s stuff looks so good and crisp, and he’s a pretty tough, rugged-looking dude, so that would work to my strengths. It’s a different kind of match than an AJ-Shawn match. An AJ-Shawn match would be something that you’d expect to be like what you saw with Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle. That’s a lot of fun to do, but it is also a lot of work. I guess I speak more of Samoa Joe because it is one of those things that can be good, like a Shawn and ’Taker, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to do physically. Of course, when you get up there in age, those are the things you think about. It’s more about the story you’ve got to tell and it’s a little less physical. That’s when I think, ‘That would be a piece of cake and be a lot of fun.’ But there are a number of talented guys out there, and the world of the WWE is in good hands with the talent at the top.”
Michaels first debuted with WWE in 1988, which was shortly after the “Macho Man” Randy Savage won the championship at WrestleMania IV in Atlantic City. Now, 29 years later, Michaels remains genuinely excited to watch WrestleMania 33.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Kevin Owens and Jericho,” said Michaels, who wrestled Jericho in an all-time classic at WrestleMania 19. “I don’t know who AJ is wrestling, but I always look forward to watching him. I don’t know if it’s been advertised, but I think there is going to be something between Triple H and Seth Rollins, and I think that will be pretty good. And I’m always interested in seeing what happens with The Undertaker. I’m always blown away that he is still out there doing it.”
Michaels, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and Mick Foley beat up both the League of Nations and the New Day at WrestleMania 32, and Michaels is ready, if needed, for a cameo at this year’s WrestleMania.
“Like everything with me, I like to think they know they could tell me at the last possible moment and I can hopefully not screw it up,” said Michaels. “I want to say somebody mentioned something to me about being on the WrestleMania pre-show, but that is pure speculation on my part. As of right now, I don’t know. Right now, we’ve got the big Kliq event, and the Hall of Fame. I’m very excited to see the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express get inducted and Rick Rude, among other folks.”
Kurt Angle is headlining the Class of 2017 Hall of Fame inductees. Angle and Michaels delivered one of the most compelling WrestleMania matches of all time at WrestleMania 21 with a 27-minute thriller.
“There has never been anybody that I got in the ring with that I felt I needed to specifically train for,” said Michaels. “There was never even a possibility that someone could have more gas in the tank than me, but Kurt was different. I confessed to myself that Kurt was that guy, and I knew that match had to live up to extremely high standards, so I made sure I prepared extra.
“Kurt was the one guy I wondered if he could actually blow me up, so I had to work to make sure that didn’t happen. A lot of my other WrestleMania matches get talked about, and somehow this does get overlooked. Part of that is because, with my other WrestleMania matches, I had long-standing programs with my opponent. Kurt was on Smackdown and I was on Raw, so my matches with Kurt were like special attractions and there wasn’t as much storyline to them.”
Michaels is thrilled to see Angle come home to WWE.
“Kurt is a WWE guy and his best stuff was on the WWE stage,” said Michaels. “That is absolutely not to take anything away from anything he’s done in any other places, but it’s nice that he can come back and get recognized for his contributions. I’m so amazed that he could go from this gold-winning Olympian and transition so flawlessly into our line of work. Nothing was out of the ballpark for him. He could wrestle, he could be silly, he could out-wrestle guys. Kurt adapted to the world of the WWE unlike anybody with his unbelievably legitimate credentials behind him.”
In addition to his role with the WWE Performance Center, Michaels has also made a foray into Hollywood. He will be working with WWE Studios on future films, and he was pleased with his performance in The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.
“It’s definitely different from wrestling,” said Michaels. “In the WWE, they almost never made me memorize a script. There were certainly bullet points to hit, but as long as you got the overall message across, you could put it any way you wanted. I was comfortable in front of the camera, but it’s a totally different role in the movie. It’s an environment I’m still learning and getting more comfortable with. It’s a new process and venture, but I wanted it to go so well that it took some time for me to relax and get in the flow. Thankfully, everyone was so great to work with that it happened pretty quickly.”
New ventures are particularly challenging for Michaels as greatness is expected of him in every walk of entertainment—and part of that is the pressure he puts on himself.
“You want to get some wood on the ball and get a standup double, but then you want to start hitting some home runs,” said Michaels. “In the wrestling world, I got grace one time, and that was when I came back in 2002 after missing four years. The minute that went well, the grace was gone. Everything from that point had to be at a certain level. I’d set a certain standard for myself, and I wanted to live up to it. I’ve always been pretty good about setting my own standard. I know I need to lighten up and not expect a home run every time like I used to in everything I do, so I think time and age have helped me with that.”
Michaels broke barriers while redefining success for a main event talent under 6'4". His nonstop competitive edge was equivalent to oxygen, as both were necessary in order to survive and succeed in wrestling.
“Certainly there were times that I went way too overboard and put way too much pressure on myself,” Michaels admitted. “But it’s true, I felt like I had something even more to prove because of some of the, quote unquote, limitations I thought I had in the eyes of certain people. I knew there were people who didn’t think I belonged there or didn’t want me there.
“Even though I had an obnoxiously big chip on my shoulder, I have to admit it did help me in that respect. It did garner me a lot of backlash, but I don’t know if I would have been as successful had I not done it that way. I did it totally differently in 2002, but I’d argue that was a totally different time. There is still a part of me that does believe that, had I not done it that way, I would have been overlooked and not given the opportunity that I got had I not pushed as hard as I pushed.”
An often overlooked part of Michaels’s success is his connection with wrestling fans. Michaels connected for over three decades with audiences worldwide, and he believes honesty and vulnerability were responsible for a great deal of that sturdy foundation.
“I felt like people who enjoyed my career never judged me,” revealed Michaels. “I never forgot that. I was in that ring with them, and as silly as this sounds, that was my safe place. In there, with them, was where I found the most joy in my life for the longest time.”
Michaels shared a genuine connection with the fans through his highs and lows while wrestling in the ring and with life.
“I think people recognized that and appreciated that, and also they took part in helping me through it,” said Michaels. “When I try to speak to the next generation, and so many people focus on the match aspect of it, but I always try to convey that the thing people enjoyed about me was they knew the joy I had being in front of them was important to me. I didn’t hide a lot of my real self from them, and I think there is a part of the people who appreciated that. They saw the struggle when I tried to climb my way to victory.”
Michaels admitted that there will forever be an intimate connection between himself and the people who have invested so much time in his career.
“I don’t take my second chance lightly,” said Michaels. “There are a lot of guys I used to run around with who aren’t here anymore, and I don’t take that lightly – so don’t think for a second that I don’t know why I’m still here, and the people were a big part of helping me through all that stuff. Deep down, in places they may not even want to talk about it, it meant something to them, and it certainly means something to me.”