Shawn Michaels Helps Train WWE’s Next Generation of Stars: ‘NXT Is Wrestling at Its Best’

The Week in Wrestling: Shawn Michaels on his work coaching at the Performance Center, a special episode of Impact, the Kelly Klein controversy and more.
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Shawn Michaels Reflects on NXT’s Big Weekend

WWE fans saw a familiar face last Friday night on SmackDown when Shawn Michaels appeared just before the show went off the air, leading his NXT troops to battle the best from Raw and SmackDown in advance of Survivor Series.

Michaels helped revolutionize the business, setting new standards of excellence across the industry. He brought WWE’s “Hell in a Cell” concept to life in October 1997 with his match against The Undertaker, crafted the single greatest ladder match with Scott Hall at WrestleMania X and forever changed the tenor and tone of WWE programming with the creation of Degeneration X during wrestling’s “Attitude Era.” Michaels also had success as part of The Rockers alongside Marty Jannetty—not to mention some of the greatest WrestleMania matches of all-time against The Undertaker, Bret Hart, Chris Jericho, and Kurt Angle.

But time did not stand still for Michaels. “The Heartbreak Kid” turned 54 in July, and his long hair is a distant memory. The father of two, once known as the most controversial figure in all of wrestling, is now focused on building future talent in his role as a coach at WWE’s Performance Center.

“I’d rather stay behind the scenes and let the stars of tomorrow take their rightful place,” said Michaels. “My time has come and gone. This is all about them.”

Michaels is also a key contributor to NXT, serving as the top consultant to Paul “Triple H” Levesque for the weekly television show that airs Wednesdays on the USA Network, as well as for Takeover events. Michaels was especially proud of the NXT talent for the way they performed at Sunday’s Survivor Series.

“NXT is wrestling at its best,” said Michaels. “We’re going to continue on that track, and that’s showing people the best talent in WWE, which is in NXT.”

Keith Lee, Shayna Baszler and Adam Cole, who all played starring roles on Saturday at Takeover and Sunday at Survivor Series, were three of the NXT talents who stood out the most last weekend. 

Lee, who was once overlooked by Ring of Honor but bet on himself and turned himself into a commodity at Gabe Sapolsky’s EVOLVE promotion, had the Survivor Series crowd on its feet during his moments in the ring with Seth Rollins and, especially, Roman Reigns.

“You could have said beforehand, ‘Well, he’s never done this before,’” said Michaels. “But you’d never know that from watching.”

Cole and Baszler have starred around the world for different promotions, but as the top two champions, have now defined themselves as NXT stars.

“They deliver every single time they’re out there,” said Michaels. “All three of them all embrace and adapt to big situations. I’ve never seen one of them not look cool, calm or collected when they go out into high impact, highly visible matches. There hasn’t been a time for any of them where the situation was too big or got the better of them, and that gives us a great deal of confidence moving forward. These are all big-time performers.”

Michaels moved from Texas to Florida in 2016 to work every day at the Performance Center, coaching emerging talent in the ring, a role that fits him perfectly.

“When Triple H asked me about working there, I didn’t know everything that the job entailed,” explained Michaels. “Once I got to interact with so much of the talent, it got a hold of me.

“They were a very inspiring group of young men and women, and it reinvigorated my desire and passion to be back in the wrestling business. It was all in the very pure, hungry, wanting to make it to the very top state that NXT has always been. It got a hold of me right away.”

In his pre-WWE days, Michaels developed in pro wrestling’s regional territory system. He made stops in the NWA, Texas All-Star Wrestling and the AWA before he became known as one half of The Rockers, but he never encountered a wrestling training facility—nor did he even dream of one when he ran his own wrestling academy—like the Performance Center.

“The wrestling business has advanced so much since I broke in,” said Michaels. “I broke in during the territory days, and no one knew the global entity that the WWE would become. The Performance Center has tried to be symbolic of every aspect of the wrestling business, from promos to television to production. It just about replicates every aspect of the WWE and life in the wrestling business you can cover, and that’s what sets it apart from any other place.”

Even with all that the Performance Center offers, there are many differences from life in the territory days. Michaels laughed when asked what would happen if today’s talents had to live in a crammed apartment with the Nasty Boys and Marty Jannetty, which he once did.

“Things that I went through are no badge of honor, by any stretch,” said a smiling Michaels. “This generation is a wonderful group with great heads on their shoulders.”

Michaels is intensely competitive and wants NXT to defeat All Elite Wrestling every week in the ratings battle, but he is also focused on the larger picture. The move to weekly live television has presented the NXT talent with new challenges in timing, presentation, and on-air presence.

“It’s live, you only get one shot at it,” said Michaels. “People don’t remember that we went on live television once upon a time and things happened that weren’t supposed to happen. It’s a learning process.

“I think one of the things the fans appreciate and enjoy is watching people grow in that respect. That’s what they did with so many of us, especially me, growing from a moderately decent performer into one that got much better. That is going to happen with our talent, too.”

Having worked during the “Monday Night Wars,” Michaels is no stranger to a weekly ratings battle. His focus remains helping the talent around him be more confident on the mic and crisper in the ring, evoking emotion from the audience in a manner that makes them want to come back for more.

“We’re going to do what we always do,” said Michaels. “And that’s put on the best show we can and let the chips fall where they may.”

Working with NXT has allowed Michaels a chance to reignite his love for wrestling, and this time share it with those around him.

“I’ve gone further in this business than I ever possibly imagined,” said Michaels. “It’s been an incredible journey, and it’s still going. Wrestling is what I was built to do. I think the women and men in NXT see my passion and joy, and they see the joy and passion I have to help in any way I can with their advancement in WWE.”

Adam Cole: No Room in Undisputed Era for CM Punk

Adam Cole was on set for WWE Backstage two weeks ago when CM Punk made his return to a WWE program.

“Everyone who has followed me knows that CM Punk has been a major influence of mine, especially on the independent scene,” said Cole, who worked his way up from the independents to Ring of Honor to WWE, similar to Punk. “He was a guy I looked up to and studied, and someone I really, really enjoyed watching. It was so cool to be there and see him on Backstage, and I had no idea that was going to happen.”

Cole shined brightly this past week for WWE. He put forth a very good ladder match Wednesday on NXT against Dominik Dijakovic, entertained in an eight-man tag on Friday’s SmackDown, delivered a breathtaking performance on Saturday in the War Games match during NXT TakeOver, and then defended his NXT title against Pete Dunne on Sunday at the Survivor Series. Combined with his Raw match against Seth Rollins and his SmackDown main event against Daniel Bryan, no one in wrestling enjoyed a better November than Cole.

“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” said Cole, who spoke with Sports Illustrated on Friday. “I’ve worked my whole career to get to this point.”

Despite the admiration, Cole stated that he will not extend an invitation to Punk to join his Undisputed Era faction, which includes NXT North American champ Roderick Strong and NXT tag team champs Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly.

“The Undisputed Era, the four that we are, couldn’t get any better,” said Cole. “We’re the flag-bearers of the NXT brand, and we are perfect the way we are. I wouldn’t add a male, I wouldn’t add a female, and we won’t add CM Punk.”

Eddie Edwards Looking Forward to Impact’s Throwback Throwdown

Impact Wrestling star Eddie Edwards is known throughout the industry as hard-working and fiercely passionate about his craft.

He is also intensely loyal to his friends, and he is especially happy for the success of Kevin Owens, who was in the main event of Raw last night against Seth Rollins.

“Kevin has always looked out for his friends and put his family first, he’s just a genuine guy,” said Edwards. “Being able to watch his stardom rise. Our history goes back to our time together in Ring of Honor, and I’m very happy to see everything he’s doing these days.”

Tuesday night’s edition of Impact is a “Throwback Throwdown” themed episode.

Edwards, who is a devoted Patriots and Tom Brady fan, is playing the role of “Cowboy” Colt McCoy on the show, which is set in the fictional Impact Provincal Wrestling Federation in 1983, and he will wrestle Gama Singh in a blindfold match.

The real McCoy plays quarterback for the Redskins, but Edwards, the longest tenured member of the Impact roster, is more like gritty Patriots receiver Julian Edelman than McCoy.

“I’m more than happy to be compared to Edelman,” said Edwards of the reigning Super Bowl MVP. “He’s a good guy, and we’ve messaged a few times on Twitter.”

Edwards has been through numerous changes in management and ownership with Impact, but he never stopped believing in the company.

“I’m proud to be a part of everything we’ve been through, especially to be at the forefront of it,” said Edwards. “I’m proud to be a part of Impact Wrestling, and I want to be the guy you think of when you think of Impact. That’s the guy I want to be in the back, too, paying it forward as guys did for me.

“I want to bring Impact to the next level on AXS [TV]. I want to be at the forefront, delivering in the ring, and do everything I can to help the company.”

Problems Between Kelly Klein and Ring of Honor Highlight Issues in Wrestlers’ Safety

Ring of Honor’s upcoming Final Battle pay-per-view in December is becoming more notable for who is off the card than for who is on it.

Missing from action will be Women of Honor champion Kelly Klein, who is being non-renewed—effectively fired—by ROH at the end of the year.

Klein was among those who publicly supported Joey Mercury, who recently quit the company and has continued to make serious claims of negligence and abuse of power against ROH GM Greg Gilleland. Mercury, best known from his time in WWE, has subsequently backed up his claims with evidence on Twitter.

Mercury posted the email from ROH COO Joe Koff, who referenced a clause in Klein’s contract that prohibits her from sharing confidential documents and emails “with another contractor, who used the material to defame and slander the company and one of its key officers, Greg Gilleland.”

The story is further complicated by the fact that Klein is still recovering from a post-concussion syndrome following a concussion she suffered in an ROH match on October 26. Klein has stated that ROH has no concussion procedure for talents injured in the ring, nor is there medical staff present at the shows to treat the wrestlers.

Klein will be featured in a Sports Illustrated story next week further detailing her health, as well as her fractured relationship with ROH.

The (Online) Week in Wrestling

  • The decision to subtly turn Seth Rollins heel was brilliant, and placing him in a program with AOP immediately benefits all three performers. 
  • AEW returns to Chicago this week for Dynamite with the chance to see “Diamond” Dallas Page present the “Dynamite Diamond” ring to the winner of MJF-Hangman Page–which means that we’re in for quite a show from MJF during the ring ceremony.
  • Speaking of MJF, this was one of his best recent tweets.
  • Steve Austin and The Undertaker combined to deliver an outstanding premiere of the Broken Skull Sessions Sunday on the WWE Network, and the parts about Taker’s WrestleMania 30 loss to Brock Lesnar, and the concussion from the match, as well as Taker actually thinking WrestleMania 32 was going to be his send-off, were fascinating. 
  • Hopefully Mauro Ranallo is back on television this Wednesday following his Survivor Series absence after receiving criticism from Corey Graves. (Or, as Michael Cole said on the broadcast, because he “blew his voice out.”) 
  • If this Rusev storyline somehow ends with him in the world title picture, or, better yet, as the champion, then I’ll be fully behind it. 
  • Kylie Rae finally addressed her departure from AEW.
  • Cody Rhodes took the high road when asked whether the WWE’s Intercontinental title was changed because Rhodes reintroduced the classic model in 2011. 
  • Whether you love or hate Jim Cornette (and, apparently, there is no in-between), I thought Championship Wrestling From Hollywood promoter David Marquez’s defense of Cornette, posted here with the author’s permission regarding Cornette’s resignation from the NWA, was a situation where Marquez had nothing to gain yet still chose to support someone he respects, which speaks volumes about the character of Marquez.
David Marquez post

Big Time Wrestling Looking to Expand in 2020

Big Time Wrestling’s last show of 2019 took place on Saturday in Webster, Mass., as Scott Steiner defended his BTW title against death match extraordinaire Nick Gage. The card also included Dan Maff vs. Rhyno, an appearance from Kane, as well as Paul Roma vs. Richard Holliday, who stars in Major League Wrestling’s Dynasty faction alongside MJF and Alex Hammerstone.

The combination of current stars and ones from past generations helps Big Time stand out as one of the most exciting indie brands in the entire industry.

“This is the way it used to be, and that’s the way we do it,” said Big Time Wrestling owner Steve Perkins. “Our shows are an opportunity to see stars from MLW, ROH, top indie talent, all alongside WWE Hall of Famers and rare appearances, like Paul Roma. We’re one of the few companies that provide that mix.”

Perkins got his start in the business by working on ring crews for independent shows across New England, and his style as a promoter has connected with fans and gained respect from wrestlers, including legends like Bret Hart.

“Big Time is a very old school, upright promotion,” Hart told Sports Illustrated. “It reminds me a little bit of when I was a kid. I wrestled in front of crowds like that for the early part of my career.

“They try to give wrestling fans old school wrestling matches. They cater to wrestling fans, and that’s a good way to run a wrestling company.”

Perkins’ goal for 2020 is to keep expanding and continue to find new markets for Big Time.

“There are wrestling fans that haven’t linked up with us yet but we travel the country and have all kinds of fun matches,” said Perkins, who has been running the promotion for the past 12 years. “People are talking now about the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express setting the wrestling world on fire in AEW. Before that, we did a six-man tag with Ricky Morton, Robert Gibson, and Cody Rhodes in Spartanburg, S.C., in front of a sold-out building of 1,800 people. You don’t just get legends or just get death matches, we’ve always prided ourselves on having a little bit of everything.”

Kevin Nash also wrestled his last match in wrestling for Big Time, defeating Flex Anderson for the BTW title in August 2018.

“We knew that was going to be his last match, and he relinquished the belt in the ring during a Big Time Wrestling show in Long Island while he was being interviewed by ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund shortly before Gene passed. We treat Kevin like family, and he treats us the same.”

Steiner won the title this summer in a match in Pawtucket, R.I., against Rhyno, and he will enter the new year as champ.

“Scott Steiner is a great talent, and he’ll continue to tour for us as long as he’s champion,” said Perkins. “So many fans have memories of Scott, but it goes both ways. The talent come back to the dressing room touched from the stories they hear from the fans—they have a genuine appreciation for the times they had. In addition to that connection, you’ll get world class action in the ring, too. There’s something for everybody here, and people should come out and see what we do.”

Conrad Thompson Previews “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard”

Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard are teaming up on “Something to Wrestle” for their own Thanksgiving tradition, which is their third straight Thanksgiving Day watch-along.

Thompson will ask Prichard to inspect every aspect of the 1989 Survivor Series, which took place at the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Ill., which is also where this year’s Survivor Series took place.

“There is such a cast of characters involved here that are really synonymous with the era,” said Thompson. “There is Randy Savage working as the ‘Macho King,’ and he’s the captain of a team that also includes the Canadian Earthquake, who is about a year away from the program of his career. The Hart Foundation is also split up, with Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart a part of different teams, and there’s Dusty Rhodes, Roddy Piper, Rick Rude, the Ultimate Warrior, and Andre the Giant. It’s an amazing collection of talent.”

Thompson wants Prichard to take a close look at the match pitting The Hulkamaniacs against The Million Dollar Team. Hulk Hogan was paired with Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Demolition, and Thompson will seek the truth on whether all four men were originally planned to bring a giant snake to the ring.

“That’s Jake’s story,” said Thompson. “But he didn’t want anyone stealing his gimmick. And they went up against Ted DiBiase, Zeus, the Warlord, and the Barbarian, and you really feel here for DiBiase from an in-ring standpoint with those guys being his teammates. We’ll spend a lot of time talking about Jake Roberts.”

The Ultimate Warrior teamed with Jim Neidhart, Marty Jannetty, and Shawn Michaels to wrestle the Heenan Family, captained by Andre the Giant.

“This was Arn Anderson’s swan song with the WWF, it’s his last match, and he showed up a month later just in time for Starrcade ’89,” said Thompson. “At this point, there was still talk on the dirt sheets that Zeus could main-event WrestleMania VI, but we’d know by January, through that Royal Rumble standoff between Hogan and the Warrior, that that spot was going to the Warrior. That was also the show that Tully Blanchard was removed for a failed drug test, whether it was legitimate or not, and replaced by Bobby Heenan. Also, how interesting would it have been had Vince put Bret Hart on that team instead of Anvil, placing Bret and Shawn together?”

Thompson’s other slate of podcasts include a look at Starrcade ‘84 with Tony Schiavone on “What Happened When?”, Arn Anderson discussing Survivor Series ‘88 on “Arn,” World War 3 from 1997 on “83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff,” and an in-depth look at Jerry “The King” Lawler on Jim Ross’ “Grilling JR.”

The Prichard podcast will also spend time examining the commentary of Jesse “The Body” Ventura, who was apoplectic during what he considered officiating that favored Hogan.

“There is a lot of meat on the bone with Survivor Series ‘89, and Jesse plays a role in that,” said Thompson. “Jesse had his own style and often did what he wanted to do, and there wasn’t much negotiating with him, and we’ll closely look at that as well.”

Tweet of the Week

Yes, that is Booker T and Macaulay Culkin casually tweeting to one another before Sunday’s Survivor Series.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.