There are moments of my childhood that I look back on with great fondness. For those of you who know me, you know how few and far between they were. And, some of my best ones involved, what was then to me, the mesmerizing sport of professional wrestling. When I was a kid, my friends and I created a stable (an industry term meaning wrestling crew) in my 4th grade class; it consisted of a bunch of dudes who thought they were the elementary school version of the NWO Wolfpac. We had the attitude, the will, and the camaraderie which fostered a type of friendship that I’ve since failed to replicate. We had our Sting, our Stone Cold Steve Austin, an Undertaker, a Kevin Nash, and me, the HBK of the group. Back then, wrestling was everything; and, in our minds, these guys were bigger than life itself, life-sized megaliths who towered over the rest of the feeble world, especially with us included.
For me, there was none other as important, and as highly regard, as the kid who broke each heart, the man who stole each show, the icon who shattered each barrier in the sport of professional wrestling; in my mind, he was the absolute best to ever step in the squared-circle, and he was my childhood hero. I’ll never forget each moment I spent watching Shawn Michaels wrestle, and how much his matches meant to me. In those days, it was my dream to become a professional wrestler, and more so than anything else, it was my dream to become the next Shawn Michaels. He was everything that I wanted to become: he was cool, charming, charismatic, athletic, and garnered the attention of every girl who laid eyes on him. I yearned for the great treasures of the world, and it seemed that being like Shawn would help me get them.
For a skinny kid with thick glasses, Shawn embodied my ideal conception of manhood and what it meant to be desirable. But, most importantly, he personified resilience and what it meant to be strong. If you ever get the chance to watch any of Shawn’s matches, you’d notice a thread running through each one of them. Michaels, who was an undersized, in your face, wrestler, spent most of his matches getting his ass kicked by guys who were much bigger, and stronger, than he was. And Michaels, like a pit-bull dog, as Jim Ross would say, never knew how little or limited he truly was; Shawn simply didn’t care. Like Shawn, I was undersized, being bulled in childhood as a result. However, each time I was picked on, I pictured his matches in my mind, and they gave me hope for a brighter outcome. I recall picturing Shawn in his matches against Sycho Sid, reminding myself of the moments in which he was severely beaten by a monster, and still got up to fight again.
The beating, the visual darkness, his body spread unconsciously across the mat; Shawn always seemed down and out, ready to lose his world championship belt at any moment. You lived and died with each punch, each clothesline, and each power bomb he took. But, you always knew that there was something special there: inside was this intangible, ineffable flame that would never allow him to surrender. Each moment of darkness and each sign of despair was countered with a kip up. And each time, the hero lived to fight on, with his resilient spirit shining through. Shawn instilled a sense of hope for my childhood that frequently helped me through some of my darkest days in school, and for that, I’ll always remain grateful.
And then, there was the boyhood dream: Shawn’s twelve year journey, culminating with a championship victory at WrestleMania 12. Although I never became a professional wrestler, the moments during, and leading up to, the bout are still stuck with me. The training, the perseverance, the iron-man match: all of it concluding with the ending of a lifetime, the manifestation of a man’s heart, which resiliently trudged through adversity. Throughout his entire career, Shawn was always the underdog, being written off by every analyst who considered him to be too small to lead the company into a new age; yet, he kept on going. No matter what I’ve done in the subsequent years professionally, I’ve always considered myself to be like Shawn: an underdog and a fighter.
If you were to take a look at the trajectory of his life, Shawn’s biggest accomplishments weren’t in the ring, but outside of it; and, I felt like I grew up with him. In those days, I envisioned myself as an immature kid, trying desperately to find my place in the world, just like Shawn was. To build character, Epictetus noted, it is necessary to emulate worthy role models; and with Shawn, that was exactly what I did. In him, I found a role model who helped me become the person who my mom had always wanted me to be. The person Shawn became during his sabbatical from wrestling was a model better than most others. He fought demons, and addiction, transforming himself into a virtuous person throughout the process.
What initially drew me to Shawn was his brashness, his arrogance, and his ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude, which made me want to become him. What caused me to respect him was his kindness, his charity, and his humility of spirit. When I was a kid, Shawn’s actions inspired me to lack tolerance for mistreatment, especially from those much bigger and stronger. When I was a teenager, Shawn’s actions inspired me to self-reflect and to show compassion for others, despite my struggle and accompanying pain. Shawn Michaels was many things to many people throughout his life. To his fans, he was their icon, laying his body on the line, each and every week. To his kliq, he was their leader, exhibiting what it took to become the world heavyweight champion. And to me, he was my idol, providing me with hope when I needed it the most.