The pro wrestling legend that is Shawn Michaels is the driving force behind NXT and has been for many years—either standing beside Triple H, or sometimes standing in his place. Many have credited his advice as the reason for their development in the company, or rather that specific brand of WWE.
Shawn Michaels, along with Bret Hart and certainly Steve Austin, revolutionized the sport of professional wrestling during the Attitude Era (each being the face of the company at one time during that era and after), and paved the way for the stars that now shine on NXT and have shined on that platform in the past.
Since his retirement from in-ring competition, Michaels has raised the bar as far as coaching goes, and it shows in the final product. Of course though, Shawn Michaels wasn’t always as passionate about the business as he is today.
There was a time when he was so done with the business. His body was riddled with injury and his very soul was in shambles. But after a debilitating back injury in 1998 caused him to break free from the business that made him into the household name he undoubtedly became, he took the time necessary to heal.
Of course, he was also drenched in controversy during the nineties, or rather his name was…. There were even allegations at the time that he wanted to jump ship himself, the rumor started by Bret Hart that Shawn wanted to go to WCW with his friends Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. Of course, he was stuck in his contract. But his back injury stopped all of that, and when he seemingly retired after passing the torch to Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14, he did just that: retire, and without any fanfare. He was just gone, and for a long time.
He got married, started a beautiful family, and became a born-again Christian. And it was in 2002 that he would make his triumphant return to WWE after a few false starts, officially cementing his name in the annals of pro wrestling history, to become the legend he now is known as being.
It was during that last run that he would have impeccable matches and battles with the likes of Kurt Angle, John Cena, Triple H, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, and that list goes on and on from there. He retired from that run in 2010 after being defeated in a match by the Undertaker at WrestleMania 26—a rematch from their epic battle at the previous year’s WrestleMania event.
He found that passion for wrestling again eventually, even after it dwindled after his aforementioned retirement in 2010 (he would have another match in 2018, he teaming with Triple H to go against the Brothers of Destruction (Kane and Taker) at Crown Jewel, but stated that that was it at that time), he exhausted with pro wrestling all over again.
That passion came back again in the form of NXT, he attaching the Michaels name to a new role…the role as coach and mentor to the future stars. It was in an interview with Denise Salcedo that he revealed what he feels about the influx of NXT stars he helped train going over to AEW. He said:
“We still keep in contact, but yeah it is bittersweet, those young men were a big part of my life, they were a lot of the reason that I sort of got back into this line of work. I was happily retired. When it came to Johnny, Tommaso, Adam, those guys, even way back, the Revival Boys, Shawn Spears who was Tye Dellinger at the time, all those young men sitting in a room with them; their passion, their excitement, their desire to be better was just hard not to love…
They are the reason that I came back, and fell back in love with Sports Entertainment, with this line of work. As you’ve heard and everyone has numerous times, in NXT at the Performance Center, is where it’s still pure, it’s still all the reasons we get into it before it becomes business, and money and negotiations and things of that nature…
To fast forward your question, I miss them. One of the things I always try to instill on all of them is ‘your happiness, your contempt, your peace, is the most important thing to me.’ Because I learned that, yes mine all happened in the WWE but when everything was set and done that’s why I think that leaving and walking away was so much easier for me than it was for everybody else…
I got all the answers to the questions that I had coming into this line of work and as long as they are at peace with that, that’s cool. At the very least, I tell them ‘if you’re not gonna be at peace with it at least have a big bank account.’ At least it makes you feel better a little bit.’…
I miss them, but I am very happy for them. Some things gotta be real life, Hunter and I, we love this stuff, same thing our real lives take precedence over everything else and it’s the same whether its Johnny, Adam, Kyle and whoever else, he’s now Malakai but Aleister, all of those guys I want them to be happy.
Do I miss them? Yes. Would I prefer they be with us? Absolutely. But again you’re getting the opportunity to establish new relationships with Bron and Tony, The Creed Brothers, Carmello and Trick; they have just been a joy to work with. Gigi and Jacy, I absolutely adore. It’s an ever evolving thing and that’s what this job is but it doesn’t mean that you can’t still have good relationships in the meantime.”via Shawn Michaels /Wrestling Inc (Transcription)
It is quite evident that he sees the ceiling presented to the NXT stars. They can only go so far in NXT before being forced out. The main roster in WWE is a fickle thing and so many epic NXT talents had bad starts there. It doesn’t happen to everyone, no, but so many of them have terrible debuts.
Gargano, O’Reilly, Cole and others saw that ceiling, and decided to “bank on themselves,” as Gargano stated so poetically recently. And clearly, so does Shawn Michaels, a WWE guy through and through; he quite obviously sees that ceiling.
The AEW platform overall can give stars like these quite the landscape to showcase their skills and in essence, by going with AEW they went from the Performance Center of WWE’s to the main roster without having to jump through ridiculous hoops and character changes. They made it to AEW’s main roster by their own merits and the canvas is theirs to paint their respective masterpieces on.
In the background though, is Shawn Michaels. Watching proudly from afar, no doubt smiling that charismatic smile of his that got him into so much trouble in the past, he happy at their success, as he himself has stated.