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The final Showstopper

March 30, 2010 - Keith Frederick

 If you are among those who consider professional wrestling nothing more than a sideshow, you should probably click the "back" button now.

Because this post is going to be all about the greatest professional wrestler ever to step into the ring: "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels. At Wrestlemania XXVI on Sunday, Michaels lost a retirement match to fellow WWE great The Undertaker, ending a nearly 30-year career at the event he dominated for so long. 

HBK was my favorite wrestler almost from the moment I first saw him. Shawn was the link between the old generation and the new generation of wrestling. He was a "ring general" as they used to say, skilled as a technical wrestler and in the use of ring psychology and selling. (Defined simply, that means he knew how to make things look believable at all times) But he also took the classic cocky heel (bad guy) role and took it into the stratusphere. 

His image was everything. He wore outrageous entrance gear, a man walking to the ring simply engulfed in sequins and mirrors, tassels and leather. But - though he sometimes looked ridiculous - it always fit his character. He was the best - he knew it, his opponent knew it and the audience knew it. 

And they hated him for it.

As "The Heartbreak Kid" in the 1990s, Shawn was the WWE's first "cool heel" to really catch on with the audience. People loved to see him lose... but they loved to see him win, too. Just to see what he would do. That didn't really happen with other bad guys in the WWF at the time. There were dominant, popular heels like Ted DiBiase and Rick Rude, but none were a real "fan favorite."

Throughout the decade, Shawn dominated first one level, then the next - as both a good guy and a bad guy - stealing shows left and right, no matter who they put in the ring with him. Finally, he took the top prize in the company, winning the WWE Championship against his archrival, Bret Hart, at Wrestlemania XII in 1996. With the belt cradled in his arms, Shawn fell to his knees and cried in the middle of the ring after the match. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps to this day.

After helping usher in the WWF's "Attitude Era" - known for its dependence on shocking amounts of sex and violence - as part of the iconic group Degeneration X, Shawn retired from wrestling in 1998 due to a nearly crippling back injury. He popped up on screen every now and then, to often deafening applause, but he was gone.

Then, shockingly, Michaels returned to wrestling in 2002, locking horns with his best friend, Hunter Hearst-Helmsley in a series of brutal matches that included him winning the WWF (now WWE) title once more. I have to admit I was a bit worried when I watched HBK wrestle during the second part of his career. Here was a man with a surgically repaired back once again throwing himself off cages, ladders and anything else within reach.

But my fears proved groundless as he once again became the best in the business. After cutting his teeth during the end of the family-friendly WWF days against people like Bret Hart, Psycho Sid, Diesel and Razor Ramon, Michaels was once again having spectacular matches with the new stars of the business. He had unbelievable matches with Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, HHH again, Edge, Christian, Chris Benoit ... the list goes on and on. He even got a great match out of the only man to challenge him in the "greatest ever" category - Ric Flair, who was approximately 264 years old at the time.

This time, I thought, he'll last forever.

But Shawn Michaels had other ideas. Privately, he'd been planning on Wrestlemania XXVI to be his final match for a long time. So he climbed into the ring with one of his greatest rivals, The Undertaker, and once more gave the world a fantastic match. 

I'm not sure what Shawn will do after this. Maybe he'll take a job backstage at the WWE. Maybe he'll restart his wrestling school, which he sold in 2001 to friend Rudy Gonzalez. (He helped train some of the best young talent in the business during his school's brief run, including current WWE rookie Daniel Bryan) Or maybe he'll simply return to his beloved hometown of San Antonio and be a family man and go to Spurs games for the rest of his life.

Whatever he does, I'll be happy for him. For all the smiles, laughs and joy he's given me during his career, he certainly deserves it.

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Shawn Michaels, probably the greatest professional wrestler ever, retired on Sunday after a match at Wrestlemania XXVI.