Speaking on his ‘Grilling JR Podcast’, Jim Ross revealed the story behind the 2-year in-ring hiatus by Shawn Michaels, suggesting that there was a plan to bring him back sooner than he actually did.
In 1998 Shawn Michaels hung up his wrestling boots believing that his time was up, a back injury forcing the decision. At the 1998 Royal Rumble, in a casket match, Shawn took a back body drop by The Undertaker which caused him to herniate two discs and completely crush another in his spine. Michaels went on to win the match, but it subsequently forced him into retirement a night after losing the WWF World Heavyweight Championship to Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14.
Co-Host Conrad Thompson (son-in-law to Ric Flair) was talking about Shawn Michaels, asking JR “what do you remember about 2001, Vince saying “we want to bring him back”, Shawn saying “I want to come back” but for some reason, it doesn’t happen for a whole other year later?”
JR opened up about the entire story, claiming he made several trips to San Antonio to talk to Shawn and his then manager Skip McCormick. JR’s pitch to Shawn was always “you can’t let your legacy end this way. You have put a bad taste in people’s mouth, right now the perception of you is not so positive.”
In JR’s words, for a guy who, alongside Ric Flair, are considered to be one of the greatest in-ring performers of all time this way to end his wrestling career was just not right. But, JR could see by a ‘twinkle in Shawn’s eye’ that he loved the idea, the challenge of returning in-ring.
In the year 2001 however, JR revealed that everyone at WWE was “becoming impatient waiting. They needed Shawn back, and wanted to see him on a card.” The Royal Rumble 2001 was imminent and Shawn Michaels who was 35 years old at the time was deemed fit to return.
“There’s no doubt that he wanted to be back in the ring. He had the ego – which is great. The confidence, and ego to prove that he can still do this.”
To JR’s knowledge, It was only a matter of time before Shawn returned. But it took a while for Michaels to get past his medical issues and physiological issues. JR frustratingly knew the only solution was to give Shawn time:
If WWE gave him time and had the patience for the return to become HIS idea and say he’s ready, he will do.“
After an 18-month absence from TV, Shawn Michaels returned in June on an episode of RAW when Kevin Nash announced Michaels as the newest member of the recently reformed nWo. This began a long, successful storyline feuding with his D-Generation X compadre Triple H over the next few years which ended with DX reforming.
It’s fascinating to know that even back in 2001, the WWE were heavily reliant on Shawn Michaels and the impact his name had on the card. Shawn did eventually return, yet we’re left wondering what storylines he would have been involved in, had his return been a year sooner than it was at the 2001 Royal Rumble – which was subsequently won by Stone Cold Steve Austin.