WWE doesn’t give out an MVP award every season like the NFL or Major League Baseball. Technically, WWE doesn’t even have seasons, but I digress.
It occurred to me after watching the Raw Homecoming show last Monday that if the federation did give out an honor to its top performer, and members of the wrestling media got to vote, I’d have to give my support to Shawn Michaels.
On the surface, that probably doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Despite his status among some of Canada’s wrestling fans as the guy who “screwed Bret”, most people I talk to acknowledge the Heartbreak Kid as one of the best in-ring performers in the history of the WWE. As Jim Ross might say, he’s a surefire, first ballot Hall of Famer. So to shout him out as the best in the game right now probably doesn’t seem like going out on much of a limb.
But this is 2005, not 1996, and despite his long-running entrance theme, Michaels is a few years removed from being the Sexy Boy. He’s no longer in his prime, and probably would have to admit that he can’t do everything between the ropes that he could at his peak. Despite that fact, week in and week out he’s the best thing going on WWE television.
Part of the reason for that is the current state of the WWE locker room. The departure of stars like Steve Austin, Mick Foley and The Rock has left a void at the top of the card, and talented youngsters Batista, Randy Orton, John Cena and Shelton Benjamin aren’t quite ready to fill it by themselves. Fortunately, HBK has been there to be the go-to guy, cutting the big promos, working the main event matches and, increasingly, helping the younger guys get over.
It amazes me to be typing this column for several reasons. For starters, I was pretty sure I saw Michaels in his last main event when he gutted his way through his title match with Austin at WrestleMania XIV. If my memory serves me correctly, there was some talk that Michaels’ back was so messed up that he would never wrestle again, and even if he did, it surely wouldn’t be on a regular basis.
Of course he did return, to feud with occasional friend, occasional rival Triple H. The build-up to their meeting at SummerSlam 2002 made it appear that HBK was coming back for just one last big match. He sure seemed like he left everything in the ring that night, so I didn’t feel too gullible thinking I had seen him play his Sweet Chin Music for the last time… again.
Instead, Michaels went on to produce quite a few more highlights. Just a few months ago, he was part of the best Raw match in quite some time, bringing the best out of Benjamin when they met during the Gold Rush tournament. He sucked up his pride and gave Hulk Hogan a win in their Legend Vs. Icon match, and even made Chris Masters look good at Unforgiven. Not bad for someone who was finished seven years ago.
Notice I’ve been careful not to call Michaels the best WWE wrestler. Chris Benoit stands out as the man I’d pay just to watch wrestle, and when he’s healthy and hitting all his spots, I find Benjamin to be more exciting. I’d accept arguments for Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero and a couple of other guys if we’re debating who’s currently tops in pure in-ring ability. I’ll take Michaels – even at, say, 80 percent of his prime – over anyone else in the locker room right now, and his ability to entertain on the microphone earns him bonus points.
In any event, Michaels doesn’t need to be the best to earn my hypothetical MVP vote. In stick and ball sports, the player with the best stats doesn’t always take the MVP award, because voters take into consideration who is truly “most valuable” to his or her team. I’m applying the same logic here, and as SLAM! Wrestling Raw reporter Dale Plummer and I have discussed on numerous occasions, it’s hard to imagine Raw over the past two years without Shawn Michaels. That’s my definition of most valuable.
I’m not trying to nominate Shawn for sainthood. I’ve never met the man; but every indication is that he was every bit the prima donna he seemed to be back in the Kliq and DX days. Flashes of the old Michaels still shine through on occasion, most notably during his sarcastic comments following the Hogan feud that showed his true feelings about jobbing to the “Immortal One”. But he’s even improved in this area, generally doing what’s right for business and proving to be the best WWE superstar since The Rock at realizing that wins and losses in the ring are largely inconsequential.
In the end, I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinion of Michaels, simply trying to give credit where credit is due. Attempting to summarize the feeling that I had last Monday when I realized that the Iron Man Match that featured HBK and Angle was the best part of the show, and that I’ve been having that feeling a lot over the past few years.
I wouldn’t be surprised if wrestling fans everywhere outside of Montreal have that same feeling a few years from now, looking back on a Hall of Fame career and concluding that the things Shawn was doing were largely taken for granted. It takes a great performance to pull that off.
It takes an MVP performance. At least hypothetically.