Forever one of pro wrestling’s all-time greats, Shawn Michaels showcased a rare blend of charisma, athleticism and in-ring precision during his iconic career. He delivered an unmatchable slate of matches, particularly at WrestleMania, creating a timeless body of work in the ring. For the past five years, Michaels has worked as a coach at the WWE Performance Center, where he has also become an integral part of NXT.
Since its inception, Paul “Triple H” Levesque has been NXT’s driving force. But a health scare last month temporarily removed Levesque from his post, and it has been Michaels helping to carry NXT while his friend takes every step needed in his recovery.
“Trying to step in and fill his role is impossible to do,” says Michaels, whose official title is vice president of talent development. “Everybody here misses him unbelievably, especially me. But I always go back to this—everything in real life takes precedence over everything else. This was a situation where my best friend needed my help and needed me to step in, so I look at this as an opportunity, in a small way, to thank him for everything he did for me earlier in my career.
“Taking over the responsibilities here is a drop in the bucket compared to what he did for me all those years back. I’m honored to at least have the opportunity to pay him back a little bit and be there for him. That’s what this whole company does—this whole relaunch has been everyone pulling together, and I’m energized and inspired to keep this NXT territory going strong during his absence.”
NXT just rebranded from its trademark black-and-gold look to a colorful “2.0” version. Michaels noted that change is an inevitable, unstoppable force in the business of professional wrestling.
“Doing this now for 35 years, I’ve seen constant change,” Michaels says. “And change is certainly not new to us in WWE. It’s constantly evolving and changing. I’ve heard people call this a refresh, but it’s still the same crew, which is great because they’re so damn talented. It reminds me of he Attitude Era. We had the same roster the day before he Attitude Era started, and I still remember Vince coming into the locker room and making that speech, inspiring us and making us hungry for the future. That’s what this is—turning over a new leaf, restructuring a few things and putting a brand-new coat of paint on a dominant and incredible brand. It’s chummed the waters, so to speak, and that’s fun to be around.”
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NXT’s Halloween Havoc show will take place on Oct. 26 (at 8 p.m. ET on USA Network), featuring a loaded card. Tommaso Ciampa defends the NXT title against Bron Breakker, women’s champ Raquel González meets Mandy Rose in a spin-the-wheel-make-a-deal match and MSK puts its tag titles against Imperium. There is also a Scareway to Hell triple-threat ladder match for the women’s tag titles, pitting champions Io Shirai and Zoey Stark against Toxic Attraction and the team of Indi Hartwell and Persia Pirotta.
“This is a match that exemplifies NXT,” says Michaels, an expert in ladder matches. “There is the season and skill of Io Shirai, and then there’s Zoey Stark, who has just come to prominence. Gigi [Dolin] and Jacy [Jayne] are coming onto the scene, and I think they’re going to become big, and Indi’s made herself into of the greatest characters in NXT. From her work in the ring to all of her work with Dexter Lumis, Indi’s work has taken her so far, well beyond her experience. And she knew Persia from Australia, and that friendship is real. These are some of the most dynamic people you’ll see anywhere, and that’s what will make this match so special.”
Michaels also envisions future greatness for Breakker. The 24-year-old Bronson Rechsteiner, the son of Rick Steiner and nephew of Scott Steiner (who formed the legendary Steiner Brothers tag team), has immediately captured people’s attention in NXT.
“Tommaso is the epitome of the guy that’s done everything, and once you see Bron, you very quickly realize that he’s going to be the guy that’s done everything,” Michaels says. “The genes run deep in that family, and he’s got all of them. He is one of those individuals who has it. He’s an unbelievably wonderful, passionate, hardworking young man, and he is everything that is great about this line of work.”
Before donning the multicolored singlet, Breakker was a successful collegiate football player as a fullback at Kennesaw State. He signed with the Ravens in April 2020 as an undrafted free agent, and he joins a distinguished list of football players that later became pro wrestlers.
“He’s a throwback,” Michaels says. “He took the same path that Wahoo McDaniel, Ernie Ladd, John Bradshaw, Ted DiBiase and Big E took. They went far in their collegiate career, but they always had this desire to be a WWE superstar. That’s Bron, and he’s taking this place by storm. And it’s even better when you know there is a great young man behind that person.”
The main-event spot is an opportunity for Breakker to reveal the depth of his skills. Michaels is eager to see how Breakker responds to the magnitude of the moment, on live television, in an NXT ring.
“We’re going to find out where he measures up at Halloween Havoc,” Michaels says. “Win, lose or draw, he’s going to show the world that he’s the real deal.”
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.
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