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Shawn Michaels Reflects on His Friendship With Scott Hall: ‘We Had This Incredible Bond’

The two wrestling icons, forever linked by their classic 1994 ladder match, were as close off-screen as they were on-screen.

When Scott Hall died Monday at 63, he left behind family, friends and an adoring fan base.

And four brothers.

That brotherhood included Hall, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Sean Waltman and Paul “Triple H” Levesque. The five were inseparable during their careers, larger-than-life characters on-screen and the closest of friends away from the cameras.

“We had this incredible bond,” Michaels says. “We’d bare our souls to each other. And we didn’t care what anyone else thought. The five of us, we knew we had each other.”

Michaels first broke into WWE as part of The Rockers with Marty Jannetty, then began a singles career in Vince McMahon’s famed territory after he put his former tag partner through a pane of glass. Michaels created a handful of standout moments as a singles performer, but reached a whole new level when building a feud with Hall that culminated in their epic ladder match at WrestleMania X in 1994. Yet the narrative in that night’s broadcast failed to mention that the friendship between Hall and Michaels already extended back nearly a decade, to a point in their lives when they had big heads of hair and even bigger dreams.

“I was 19-just-turning-20 when I met Scott,” Michaels says. “And the first time we met was when we were in the ring together.”

The setting was the NWA Central States in Kansas City, Mo. The year was 1985. And the friendship was instantaneous.

“Scott’s name was Coyote, and I want to say the name of that tag team was American Starship with Danny Spivey,” Michaels recalls. “During the match, I had a double backdrop and I remember Scott saying to me, ‘I’d never seen anyone go so high.’”

They Kliq at Scott Hall's WWE Hall of Fame induction

Collectively, Hall, Michaels, Nash, Waltman and Levesque formed a clique—we know it, more famously, as The Kliq. Their lasting legacy, long after their careers finish (Waltman just made a return), will be the ability to see what wrestling was and turn it into what it could be. They didn’t like the way wrestlers were underpaid. Over time, they changed it. They wanted to add more realism into the product. Ultimately, they revolutionized it. And it all started back in Kansas City, with Michaels and Hall tweaking the format and formula of a captivating match.

“Scott got such a kick out of me selling for him,” Michaels says. “He’d been working with Bulldog Bob Brown and Rufus R. Jones, and I mean no disrespect to those men, but Scott hadn’t worked with many smaller, underneath, selling babyfaces. He just thought that was the neatest thing in the world. That’s when we realized, holy cow, this stuff can be really easy if I just get beat up, and then I finally beat him up when I get the chance later on.”

Despite his size, Hall didn’t catch on in a bigger promotion. He worked multiple big-man gimmicks and traveled to numerous stops, yet none resonated until McMahon presented him with a character named Razor Ramon. Hall seized the moment, oozing machismo and doing more for the toothpick than anyone outside of Forster Manufacturing Co. He flourished as Razor, a credit to his refusal to conduct business the way it had been for decades. He chose not to be the prototypical big man but rather place a new spin on a well-established role.

“Scott was 6'7", 275 pounds, and I’m being conservative—he’d be mad at me if I got his weight wrong—yet I’d knock him down with a tackle,” Michaels says. “He’d work with me the same way [Chris] Jericho would and the same way Bret [Hart] would. He didn’t work the big-man gimmick. He had done that earlier in his career, and he felt that limited him. By the time he got to WWE, he decided he wasn’t going to do that.”

Though that style is quite familiar now, the opposite was the case three decades ago. Hall helped change that.

“I can still hear him in the car, sitting in the backseat, going, ‘Hey, how come the biggest guy in the territory avoids contact?’” Michaels says. “Then I’d turn to Kevin and say, ‘He’s right.’ He had these nuggets of wisdom, and so much of that was from his time being around old-timers and listening and absorbing.

“Scott was laid back and quiet, but he’d listen and absorb. He was effortless in the ring. He had great psychology. He always tilted the story to his opponents. It’s just he wasn’t a big talker about it. Scott was never tooting his own horn about his ideas creatively and his ideas conceptually in a match.”

By 1994, working on the world’s grandest stage, Hall and Michaels created history wrestling each other in a ladder match at WrestleMania X in Madison Square Garden. That memory made Michaels think of Johnny Gargano, a star from the current generation, during one of Hall’s visits to the WWE Performance Center.

“Scott happened to be here when I was coaching, and Johnny Gargano asked, ‘Can we watch the ladder match with you guys?’” Michaels says. “So we did. And we started reminiscing about how there was so much going on back then that we didn’t have any time to go over the match beforehand.”

Ladder matches are now embedded into wrestling’s culture and climate. But it was a brand-new entity in 1994. Even the setup of the match with only one ladder captures the way the match was so foreign at the time.

“Back then, we didn’t know to even think we’d possibly break the ladder or that we’d need a backup,” Michaels says. “There was only one. We were so used to calling it in the ring. Scott remembered calling that heat spot outside the ring when he lifted up the pad. Everyone couldn’t believe we called so much of it on the fly. But we’d worked with each other for long enough that we knew where the other was going and never had to say a word.

“We weren’t aware, at that time, of what we were creating. We wanted to create something special and tear the house down. But we never had the depth to think it would be historic or stand the test of time.”

The Michaels–Razor Ramon feud of the mid-1990s became a highlight of WWE programming, and both were focal points of the company’s “New Generation” campaign. They also created an outstanding sequel a year later at SummerSlam. By ’96, when Hall and Nash were departing WWE for WCW, the bond between the men could not be broken.

“For all five of us, all that mattered was that we had each other,” Michaels says. “I was young and brash back then, and not everyone appreciated that. I remember Scott saying, ‘If someone’s going to whip your a--, he’s going to have to whip both our a----.’ We looked out for one another. I mean, we grew up together.

“I wasn’t even 21 when we met. I was still getting carded and couldn’t get into bars. Scott would sneak stuff out to me. We were with each other all the time. The business was everything to us, and that friendship was equally important. And we thought, if we could all do this together, how cool would that be? We became family.”

After Hall and Nash left for WCW, they set the industry aflame with the NWO. Michaels had a couple of different runs atop WWE, both continuing his run as a babyface champ and then later the leader of D-Generation X. And though Michaels was busy making magic of his own with Triple H and Chyna, he took immense joy in watching The Outsiders turn the business upside down, applying so many of the ideas they had discussed during endless car rides across the nation.

“Kevin and Scott, those are two extremely creative guys that both oozed cool,” Michaels says. “They were two legit bada---- that were cool and handsome, and they knew it. There were a lot of people who wished they were them. That’s sort of what brought all of us together. They used to joke, ‘Shawn, it wouldn’t be good for the world if your attitude was in one of our bodies. At least we have a little bit of restraint.’ And what you saw with them was real. It wasn’t an act or something they put on. That was who they were.”

In a field where the championship is so meaningful, Hall never needed to be world champion. Michaels explained how that added even more to Hall’s character.

“The title can put you in a box creatively because it becomes all about the title,” Michaels says. “Scott generated his own excitement and made himself an attraction. He created his own greatness. The NWO, he never made that about him. He never had to.

“Scott used to say, ‘I don’t need to be No. 1. I just need mine.’ So Scott was always that guy. The one that was consistent, who didn’t need all the glory or all the fame, the one who was always in the mix. Creatively, he wanted to be free.”

Shawn Michaels and Scott Hall together in the 1990s

Shortly before Hall died, Michaels, Nash, Waltman and Levesque each FaceTimed him in his hospital room. This was private and intimate, but aware of how much Hall meant to wrestling and its fans, Michaels was willing to share a piece of that moment.

“We wanted to let him know that we were there for him,” Michaels says, choking up. “We had the opportunity, one more time, to tell him how much we loved him.

“A long time ago, we decided that we were going to be there for each other. If we were wrong, then we’d be wrong together. You hear the term ‘I have your back,’ but when the rubber hits the road, that doesn’t always happen. We weren’t perfect, but we made that commitment to do it till the end. It was like a marriage, and it stuck. And that’s what makes this so hard.”

No longer able to hold back his tears, Michaels spoke about what he would like the world to remember about his brother.

“That we loved him,” Michaels says. “He was easy to love. There was a pure soul there, and I think everybody knows that now. There was an unbelievably wonderful human being inside that big ol’ body.”

After Michaels and Hall first met in Kansas City, they parted ways when Michaels returned home to Texas. Three weeks later, Michaels was genuinely surprised to receive mail from Hall.

“I got a postcard from Scott,” Michaels says. “I certainly wasn’t expecting that, and it meant a lot to me. It read something like, ‘Thanks for everything. Good luck, and maybe I’ll see you down the road.’”

History now repeats with that postcard. Hall and Michaels again drift apart, each knowing they will meet again down the road. Until then, the eternal spirit of their friendship will endure, fighting off even death’s cold attempt to remove some of its bright shine.

“To us, what we had was different,” Michaels says. “We believed in what we had, and we felt it. That’s never going to change. People will remember the five of us forever. That was never our intent, but we’re proud of the way it all happened. And we did it together.”

In the ring, Hall and Michaels didn’t need to speak a word. Raw emotion and next-level storytelling allowed the two to bring out the best in each other and keep those watching on the edge of their seats. Those are cherished memories for Michaels, who wishes Hall could see an overwhelming outpouring of love from the wrestling community.

Yet death is inescapable, even for the invincible. And with Hall now departed, it is a painful loss for his band of brothers.

“This moment, for Scott, it means a lot that he’s getting the love he always deserved,” Michaels says. “The four of us, we’ve all talked a lot since this happened. A part of us understands that this happens in life, and we know we’re lucky to have so much time together. But it still wasn’t long enough.”

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