Fantasy Matchup Series - Shawn Michaels vs The Rock
The next fantasy matchup we will explore is one between arguably two of the all time great entertainers and showmen the business has ever seen. Both men distinguished themselves in their respective tenures in WWE as charismatic, athletic, way over the top in terms of ego, and always delivering on big match performances. The two wrestlers in question are the Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels, and The People’s Champion, The Rock. This is a much talked about dream match, and it is a match that never happened for a variety of reasons. HBK spoke of there never being the right time as The Rock’s elevation to superstardom happened in the wake of the Heartbreak Kids departure from the WWE to recover from back surgery. When he returned, The Rock was beginning his transition to Hollywood, and was no longer a full time wrestler after April 2002. The Rock has given a couple of interviews in the past stating that he had no interest in working with HBK.
There are many theories floating around on the internet as to why The Rock was reluctant to tie up with Shawn Michaels, and judging from his own comments in interviews, and first hand accounts of others, such as Bret Hart, it is easy to see why The Rock simply just didn’t want to go there. The apparent dislike of HBK from The Rock started in the 1980’s when Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty were working for The Rock’s grandmother’s promotion. It is rumoured that HBK disrespected Lia Maivia, planting in The Rock a seed of anger and intense dislike towards Michaels. The likelihood of this rumour being false however, is quite high. The reason for this is detailed in The Rock's autobiography The Rock says. The Rock describes an incident backstage at High Chief Peter Maivia's annual memorial tribute show. The Polynesian champion, Lars Anderson, refused to drop the belt to Bad News Allen, causing The Rock to angrily confront Anderson, despite being only thirteen at the time. It is highly possible that this incident has been falsely attributed to HBK as there are no primary sources online for the apparent disrespect he showed Lia Maivia.
The most likely source of enmity between the two wrestlers would be HBK's behaviour towards The Rock during his early run in the WWF. HBK's attitude, his ego and his backstage politicking are widely known and well documented. Bret Hart has revealed that The Rock was bullied by HBK and Triple H, with Shawn giving The Rock several verbal dressing downs over seemingly trivial things. One such example is when HBK severely scolded The Rock for doing a missile dropkick, telling him not to do it again. Also, Triple H was starting to rise the ranks after being in the doghouse for a while following the infamous Madison Square Garden incident. Thus, The Rock and Triple H were in direct competition to reach main event superstardom. It is also likely that the animosity increased further when Triple H dropped the Intercontinental Championship to The Rock in 1997, shortly after HBK had announced he had "lost his smile" and relinquished the WWF Championship.
Another major factor, and perhaps the final nail in the coffin on the chances of HBK and The Rock ever wrestling, was the Montreal Screwjob. The Rock speaks very highly of Bret in his autobiography. He revealed how when The Rock first joined the WWF, Bret Hart went out of his way to help The Rock. He would sit with The Rock on bus rides and give him advice wherever he could. To be taken under the wing of the then WWF champion was something that The Rock described as "priceless". It is fair to say that The Rock is a "Bret Hart Guy", so would obviously be firmly against what happened to the Hitman at Survivor Series 1997. Knowing that HBK had a hand in it would mean that The Rock would be wise to his antics and give him a wide berth.
The Rock's father, Rocky Johnson, has also revealed that following the Triple H vs The Rock match in the inaugural episode of Smackdown in August 1999, there was an apparent backstage scuffle between HBK and The Rock. Shawn was the special guest referee, and hit The Rock with a stiff Sweet Chin Music as The Rock came off the ropes to hit Triple H with The People's Elbow, costing him the match. According to Johnson, his son was unhappy about the stiff kick, words were exchanged in the locker room, which led to HBK and The Rock fighting. Now, Rocky Johnson goes on to admit that he was not a witness to these events, so they must be taken with a pinch of salt. Was Rocky known for telling tall tales? Was it his son who told him about these events, or was it someone else? Neither HBK or The Rock have commented on the supposed incident, so we can debate until the sun goes down as to the validity of the late Rocky Johnson's account.
Now, bad blood, legit heat, rumours and speculation notwithstanding, let's look at what could have been if these two incredible performers had locked up. As previously mentioned, these two always delivered on big match performances, so it is fair to say that this match would more than live up to the hype. Now, if I was to bust out the flux capacitor and do the time machine jiggery pokery, I would pluck 1997 era heel Shawn Michaels, and The Rock from the year 2000, and zap them both to 2004 at Wrestlemania 20. This match was initially considered, but ultimately called off at The Rock's request, who instead wrestled Evolution in a 3 on 2 handicap tag match with Mick Foley.
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1997 HBK was an incredible heel. He was cocky, arrogant, self assured and cowardly. He disrespected everyone in his path with the help of his DX cronies. You just loved to hate him and watch him get his ass kicked, and his oversells when getting a beat down were a joy to watch. He was in his prime in this era, he was in incredible shape, he had not sustained that awful back injury yet, and the controversy that surrounded him blurred the lines of fiction and reality in the wake of the Montreal Screwjob.
The Rock was in his prime in the year 2000. In Stone Cold's absence, Rocky became one of the torch bearers for the company that year. His popularity had increased to a fever pitch, and his appeal blended over into mainstream media, such as hosting a memorable episode of Saturday Night Live. He had a small cameo in an episode of Star Trek Voyager, where an unfortunate Seven of Nine was the recipient of a Rock Bottom. Hollywood would come calling very soon, and the year 2000 was The Rock's last full year in WWF without any movie filming absences. He was in tremendous shape that year, and his in ring ability had reached its peak. He had some classic matches, most notably with Triple H at Backlash and Judgement Day. His gimmick was firmly established, his promo's always entertaining, and he held the audience in the palm of his hand from start to finish.
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Naturally, if I was to book this match at Wrestlemania 20, I would book HBK as the heel, and to make it interesting, the 1997 era HBK will time travel to 2004 after the Montreal Screwjob, bringing with him a ton of legit heat. The build up to the match would understandably be full of harsh words and personal jabs, ultimately leading to several explosive encounters. Both would get under each other's skin in a way rarely seen. The Rock would accuse HBK of doing everything he could to sabotage his early career, and lacking respect for everyone and everything - including the WWF Title. Shawn Michaels, in turn, responded by saying The Rock only reached superstardom by riding on the back of his family name, and capitalising on the injury and subsequent absence of Steve Austin. Many violent confrontations would occur on Raw in the build up to Wrestlemania, but Good Ol' J.R. would manage to get both men to sit down at opposite ends of a table to discuss their mutual enmity and what they would bring to their upcoming match:
JR: "Gentleman, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to sit with me today, and I appreciate you being professional enough to make it happen, despite the events of the last few weeks. In six days time, at Wrestlemania, the showcase of the Immortals, you two will face one on one for the very first time. Needless to say this is a highly anticipated contest, and there is much interest that surrounds the history and bad blood between you two. My first question is to Shawn: What has led you to feel this way about The Rock, and how will that affect you going into the match this Sunday?"
*HBK leers at The Rock, while arrogantly chewing gum, leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head*
Shawn: "First of all, JR, my personal feelings towards the man opposite me mean nothing when we step into the squared circle. It won't affect me in any other way than the satisfaction of knowing that his world is going to come crashing down on him on Sunday."
JR: "Sounds like you're feeling pretty confident, can you elaborate on the reason for that?"
*HBK snorts and points at The Rock*
Shawn: "The reason is sitting opposite me, JR! He comes out and sings his little songs and catchphrases and the fans love to chant his name. They love him, I get it. That's where he gets his strength from, but it's not enough. You said it yourself JR. No one ever outperforms Shawn Michaels in a big match situation. You've apparently accomplished a lot, Rock, but you've never faced Mr. Wrestlemania, The Headliner, The Main Event, The Showstoppah!"
*The Rock snarls at HBK*
JR: "And Rock, your response?"
The Rock: "Shawn, keep making your little digs. You can belittle The Rock all you want, it's something you've always done, so why stop now? Times have changed Shawn, you've always felt threatened by The Rock, because, despite your false bravado you recognised true greatness. But the days where you can bitch to Vince and pull the strings are long gone. You're alone, you have no one, but The Rock will always have The People."
JR: "Rock, you've made no secret of your loyalty to the Harts. Is there a part of you that sees this match as an opportunity to right the wrong that happened at Survivor Series 1997?"
The Rock: "Well JR, you've raised an interesting point, and one that Shawn has so far refused to acknowledge. What happened that night was a disgrace to this business, and Shawn was all too happy to be a part of it. He loves being the controversial one, he gets off on everyone talking about it. He should have the decency to be ashamed of himself, but knowing Shawn, that's too much to ask. The Rock will say this much: he's not going to dedicate his victory to the Hart's, but he knows they will sure as hell appreciate the ass whooping that Shawn's got coming."
Shawn: "Hold on, Rock - victory?"
The Rock: "Yes, Shawn, your candy ass heard The Rock."
Shawn: "A bold claim, and people call me arrogant."
JR: "Obviously tensions are running high, and again I know this is difficult for you both. Shawn, my question to you is this: Without revealing your strategy, how will you be ready to take on perhaps the biggest challenge of your career to date?"
Shawn: "I wouldn't go that far, JR, I've fought bigger!"
JR: "Well, if we're talking about physical attributes then you would be accurate. You have fought bigger and heavier guys in the past. But Shawn, no disrespect to your previous accomplishments, you have never faced The Rock. This is uncharted territory for you both."
*Shawn shrugs his shoulders and raises his eyebrows*
Shawn: "Why don't you just join his fan club, JR? You seem sold on him. Well I'm not. I never will be. He is only here on the back of his family name. He's had an easy ride to success. I've had to work my way up to where I am now. Why should I care about the fact he's a big 'star'? Everyone loves him, no one has a bad word to say about him. That makes me sick to my stomach. Rock, you're a phony, a fraud and a fake. If Steve Austin was healthy you wouldn't have had the run you've had. Tell me: how many times have you beaten him? How many times have you won the WWE title with help? How many times have you won it as a result of your own efforts? Yes, JR, I've never faced him, but he's never faced me. I'm going to revel in showing the world who the real star is."
JR: "Rock, your mindset to approaching this match, and your response to Shawn?"
The Rock: "Well JR, Shawn's painted his own picture of history that he's clinging to, but it doesn't matter what he believes. The fact of the matter is this: The Rock is bigger than Shawn, he is younger, more powerful, smarter, and much more capable of dishing out an ass whooping. Shawn's biggest problem with The Rock, honestly, is jealousy. Green's not a good colour on you, Shawn. It never has been. The Rock has seen opera divas that bitch and backstab less than you. The difference here is that you haven't got your gang of sycophants and jabronis to make you feel better about yourself. The Rock heard a phrase that sums you up perfectly, and the saying goes: empty vessels make the most noise. But this Sunday, you won't be making any more noise. That hole in your face that you call a mouth will be closed permanently, compliments of The Rock. Get ready Shawn, because The Rock is gonna bring it to your candy ass. If you smell...what The Rock - "
HBK then sat up from his seat and spat in The Rock's face. The Rock tipped over the table, but security intervened before The Rock could retaliate. The stage was set for an all time epic encounter for the ages.
The match itself started with an explosion of violence. Still livid from being spat on, The Rock stormed to the ring and wasted no time in laying the smackdown on HBK, who flew all over the ring, in his classic 1997 overselling style. The Rock knocked HBK to the outside and continued his assault, slamming his head into the ring steps and the announcers table. Upon throwing Shawn back into the ring, HBK quickly recovered and dropkicked The Rock as he crawled under the bottom rope, and began stamping him in the back of the head, followed up with elbow drops and mounted punches. HBK shot The Rock off the ropes, who ducked a clothesline, came off the opposite ropes and nailed Michaels with a clothesline of his own. The Rock was starting to build momentum, but HBK thumbed him in the eyes, and began stomping on The Rock in the corner.
Throughout the match, both men would try to outdo each other, and the momentum changed back and forth several times. HBK was forced to use every dirty trick in the book to regain the advantage, as when The Rock got fired up he would throw HBK all around the ring. Michaels dictated the pace during the middle part of the match, slowing The Rock down with a Short Arm Scissors submission, and a sleeper hold. The Rock tried three times to fight out of the sleeper. Twice he was knocked down by HBK, courtesy of a dropkick and reverse elbow. Both times Shawn tenaciously locked the sleeper back on. The third time, The Rock looked to have finally regained the momentum, coming off the ropes to hit HBK with a clothesline, but HBK was wise to it, ducked the clothesline, and came off the opposite ropes and hit The Rock with a flying forearm. He immediately nipped up and taunted the crowd, and was met with a chorus of boos. With HBK's back turned, The Rock nipped up, and much to the delight of the crowd, hit Shawn with the Rock Bottom when HBK turned around. The Rock covered Michaels, who got the shoulder up just before the 3 count. Recovering, The Rock got to his feet and stalked HBK, and proceeded to nail him with a series of punches, knocking HBK down to the mat with each one. The Rock then taunted HBK, before preparing to land his trademark right hand with added spit, but Shawn ducked and hit the Sweet Chin Music. The Rock kicked out at 2.9.
Frustration was building for HBK, who briefly argued with the referee, and then began to "tune up the band", preparing to hit another Sweet Chin Music. The Rock countered the attempt by grabbing Shawn's leg, tripping him up, and applying the Sharpshooter. HBK writhed in pain as the crowd began the "Tap! Tap! Tap!" chant, but he eventually made it to the bottom rope, forcing The Rock to break the hold. The Rock began to stomp and kick HBK's legs as he tried to get back up, with Shawn again selling it in his '97 overselling style, dramatically falling down to the mat with each kick and stomp. Michaels made it to the corner, and the ref tried to stop The Rock and get him to back up, but The Rock didn't listen, and angrily shoved the referee aside. This proved to be an error in judgement, as with the referee's back temporarily turned, HBK used the opportunity to hit The Rock with a low blow. The Rock crumpled to the mat, allowing Michaels time to recover. He hit The Rock with a clothesline, a swinging neckbreaker and a scoop slam, and then hit his signature elbow drop. He tuned up the band for the Sweet Chin music again, but The Rock ducked the kick, shot HBK off, but pulled him back for a spinebuster. The Rock then went for The People's Elbow, but HBK countered into a School boy pin, which The Rock kicked out, ducked a clothesline and hit HBK with a DDT. HBK kicked out of the pin after the 2 count. The Rock stalked HBK for the Rock Bottom, but Michaels elbowed his way out of it, pinned The Rock with an Inside Cradle, The Rock kicked out and reversed HBK's Irish Whip, and hit the Samoan drop. He went for The People's Elbow again, but HBK rolled out of the way and rolled The Rock up, who kicked out, tried a magistral cradle pin, and The Rock kicked out again. HBK slapped The Rock in frustration, who then grabbed Michaels by the hair as he tried to flee. He shot him off into the turnbuckle, with HBK turning upside down in the process. As Michaels staggered back to the centre of the ring, The Rock hit him with a Tilt-a-whirl powerslam, and finally managed to hit The People's Elbow. HBK kicked out at the last millisecond.
The Rock went to lock in the Sharpshooter again, but Michaels raked his eyes, got to his feet and hit The Rock with a Sunset Flip. The Rock kicked out, ducked a clothesline, they then both came off the ropes and clotheslined each other. The referee began to count them out, and both wrestlers made it to their feet at the count of nine, and began a slow, back and forth brawl. HBK won the exchange with an eye gouge, then hit the Piledriver on The Rock, who kicked out just before 3. Michaels stalked The Rock, and attempted a Rock Bottom, but The Rock elbowed his way out and hit a Rock Bottom of his own. Shawn kicked out. The Rock and Shawn, completely exhausted, briefly lay motionless, and when they recovered to their feet, HBK hit a Sweet Chin Music before collapsing. Michaels could only manage to drape an arm over The Rock's shoulder for the pin, but The Rock kicked out again. Shawn got to his feet and tried to lock in the Sharpshooter, shouting "This is for you, Bret!" at the nearest camera. The Rock kicked HBK off, nipped up, and applied the Sharpshooter on Michaels. Shawn screamed in agony as The Rock did everything in his power to keep HBK away from the ropes. His efforts paid off, as after an epic struggle, Shawn finally submitted.
Well, there you have it. The Rock gets the win over Shawn Michaels, and what better way to do so than using the Sharpshooter - a key element of the Montreal Screwjob controversy. Poetic justice is a powerful tool, and when done right, it can make a match so much more meaningful. This article has been a long time coming, and there were a number of reasons for the delay, and I wanted to do it justice, given the history between these two terrific wrestlers. I debated long and hard over the finish, as it was really hard to decide who would go over who, and in what way. I hope you found it an enjoyable read, and I'm sure you'll have plenty to say about the outcome, and as always, I'm all ears.