The voice of AEW, Jim Ross, has spoken about the much documented story of Shawn Michaels and WrestleMania XIV.
In November 2020, The Undertaker gave an interview in which he suggested that ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ was difficult on the day of WrestleMania and initially refused to drop the WWF Championship to Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The news that Michaels had been difficult to work with was nothing new. From 1995-1998, Shawn had been a constant headache for the promotion with his backstage fights and tantrums, to holding Vince McMahon to ransom with threats that he would go to WCW where his friends Scott Hall and Kevin Nash plied their trade.
1998 had been a particularly difficult year for Michaels. Not only had his ego and addition spiraled out of control, but he had herniated two discs in his back in a Casket Match at the Royal Rumble and knew he was on his way out of the company as WrestleMania approached even though that was a fact he couldn’t accept.
Now Jim Ross has taken to his Grilling JR Podcast to speak about the behaviour of ‘Mr. WrestleMania’ on March 29, 1998, having to cooperate with the talent in order to get the strap off of him and the legitimacy of Shawn’s back injury:
“All the crying wolf things start to become literally leery and gun shy. How do any of us say? I’m not him, I’m not in his body. I had doubts, just like everybody had doubts. To say we didn’t have doubts would be lying but we had no proof other than the medical reports. He knew that he could never be himself again with his back in that condition. I didn’t have as much doubt.
It’s a good story if that’s what you’re looking for but there’s no proof that he wasn’t hurting that bad and at the end of the day, he was not going to let the company down by swapping the belt to Austin. Could we get their band aiding this thing up, smoke and mirrors, so we could make the transition and all the while let Shawn’s back heal and improve somewhat. At the end of the day, that’s what we got.”
According to Ross, on WrestleMania night the main problem wasn’t that Shawn had to put Austin over, but that the face of the company wasn’t getting as much attention as the man who had overtaken him in popularity:
“I remember the Austin era began and that was the main thing so we accomplished our primary goal. It worked out very well for the WWE leading the company to go public, Austin winning was big. He was the guy that we were waiting for. I assume [Shawn] was on some sort of pain medications to get through the match. He was miserable because he couldn’t be himself, he couldn’t be the show-stealer, showstopper, all of that stuff.
The spotlight was going to be divided into multiple parts primarily Tyson, then Austin, then Shawn doing his thing. I think that he was immature and childish and just had a bad day. Thank God when we finally got him back [in 2001] he had changed his entire philosophy.”
Regardless of the behaviour of Michaels on the day in question, the fact remains that what he did for Austin in the main event and how he sold despite being in searing pain, made the star look like a million dollars on his ascension.
Staying with the subject of Shawn Michaels being more bothered with attention than losing the gold, Ross spoke about the state of his health in March 1998, both physically and mentally:
“I don’t think it was an issue where he was so vehemently against losing the title. He knew he needed to get off airplanes, he needed therapy, he needed to get himself healthy mentally and physically.
My concern was going to be a lot more about his mental attitude and how he’s going to evolve in this new life of post WWE everyday world as I was his back heeling up. That’s what we kept up in mind all along, that’s why we kept up with Shawn for those 4 years while he was away.”
It came to pass that Shawn Michaels did indeed lose the WWF Championship to Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV and following a right hand by Mike Tyson, the star took a four year sabbatical making only sparse appearances as special referee and commissioner.
Credit for the interview: Grilling JR Podcast
h/t for the transcription: Wrestling Inc.