The Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels feud involved two of the greatest artists painting a beautiful piece of work full of layers of emotion that could resonate with any pro wrestling fan. In the process, they created one of the most memorable wrestling feuds of all time.
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"If you’re going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all."
Let’s start at the very beginning. When Shawn Michaels returned at SummerSlam in 2002 to face Triple H in a Street Fight, the match was initially expected to be a one-off. One of the prominent influencers in Shawn’s ear, suggesting that he compete on a permanent basis, was Chris Jericho, a man who idolized the Heartbreak Kid.
As for Jericho, he was already an Undisputed Champion, a main eventer, and arguably at the prime of his career trajectory within the company. His career prospects were brighter than ever before.
Heading into 2003, Chris Jericho became obsessed with ending the career of Shawn Michaels and ultimately proving he was the superior talent. He believed father time had past Shawn by and being of the King of the World. This was Jericho’s era.
We fast forward to January 13th, 2003. During an episode of Raw, Jericho won an over-the-top-rope challenge where he could pick his spot in the Royal Rumble. He chose entry Number Two while Shawn Michaels was the first entry. The ultimate test against his hero.
On January 19th, 2003, the Royal Rumble took place from the Fleet Center in Boston, Massachusetts.
Will the real Chris Jericho please stand up?
After Michaels’s entrance as entrant number one, Jericho entered as the second participant. But something was suspicious here. Instead of Chris Jericho, it was actually his tag-team partner Christian dressed as the King of the World. This allowed the opportunistic Jericho to slide into the ring from behind and attack Michaels. HBK was soon eliminated in 2:31, but he would soon get the last laugh.
Roughly midway through the match, Shawn Michaels rushed back down for the distraction while Test eliminated Jericho. Chris lasted 39 minutes and was the 14th competitor eliminated. Impressive, but simply not enough to win.
As you could imagine, tensions between HBK and Jericho were at an all-time high, but they did not compete one-on-one until WrestleMania 19 two months later.
At WrestleMania 19, Chris Jericho and Shawn Michels put on the best match of the night.
WrestleMania 19 took place on March 30th, 2003, from Safeco Field in Seattle. With 55,000 in attendance, these two superstars put on an all-time classic, and it is widely regarded by critics and fans as the best match on the card.
It was a masterclass in storytelling and psychology that saw both competitors continually attempt to one-up the other. Despite multiple submission attempts that targeted Shawn’s previously injured back, Chris Jericho’s arrogance got the best of him. Not long after kicking out of Sweet Chin Music, Michaels won the match with a roll-up pin.
With emotions running high, the two embraced in the middle of a ring with a hug, but Jericho quickly spoiled by the moment by kicking Shawn in the groin for a low-blow.
On a card that featured Rock vs. Austin 3, which lead to the Texas Rattlesnake riding off into the sunset, Hogan vs. McMahon, along with Lesnar vs. Angle, Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels was easily the highlight of the night.
It’s worth noting that WrestleMania 19 was one of the most critically acclaimed of all-time, and personally, one of my favorites.
Watch: Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels Face-Off at WrestleMania 19
These two competed off and on throughout the next several years, but we now fast-forward to 2008, and the landscape has drastically changed, and yet, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho are still undeniably main event talent.
Fresh off the heels of retiring Ric Flair at WrestleMania 24, Batista set his sights on HBK. The seeds were planted at Ric Flair’s retirement celebration when the Animal stared him down and resented the fact he retired Ric. Jericho found himself in the middle of the feud when he questioned Shawn’s intentions and suggested he took pleasure in retiring the Nature Boy.
Not long after, Chris Jericho was made the special guest referee for the match between Michaels and Batista at Backlash.
In this match, Shawn famously faked a knee injury in order to buy some recovery time then proceeded to nail the Animal with Sweet Chin Music to secure the victory. Very clever, calculated, and resourceful. He would do anything and everything to win the match.
During an episode of the Highlight Reel on Raw, Jericho awarded Shawn Michaels with the trophy for "Best Actor in Sports Entertainment." Jericho called this a masterpiece of performance and believed the injury was a facade. In turn, Michaels denied faking the injury and clarified that he was hurt, and it was legitimate.
On May 5th, 2008, Jericho and Michaels then teamed together against the Miz and John Morrison. Seemingly on only one good leg, Michaels hit John Morrison with Sweet Chin Music, which prompted Jericho to pin Morrison following a Lionsault to win the match. At this point, Shawn was either really hurt or continuing to put on a very convincing performance.
The next week on Raw, Jericho admitted that his mind was completely changed. For questioning his integrity, Jericho intended to make a face-to-face apology. Shawn then admitted he wasn’t hurt, which Jericho now didn’t buy, but ate Sweet Chin Music for his denial.
"Trust me when I tell you, I’m not hurt," proclaimed Shawn over Jericho’s body.
Judgement Day took place on May 18th, 2008, from the Qwest Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Shawn Michaels defeated Chris Jericho in just under 16 minutes after Michaels countered the Walls of Jericho into a straddle pin. Following their competitive match, the two shook hands as a sign of mutual respect.
"As you can hear, the fans will love you, no matter what it is you do."
On June 9th, 2008, Jericho hosted the highlight reel with his guest, Shawn Michaels, who had just lost a stretcher match against Batista the evening before at One Night Stand.
Jericho noted, "As you can hear, the fans will love you, no matter what it is you do." Furthermore, Jericho added, "Case and point, you feigned a knee injury. For almost a month, you blatantly lied about it to me, to Batista–" Shawn cut him off, reminding Chris he promised to do anything and everything to win.
Jericho was visibly annoyed that Shawn was cheered more than ever after super-kicking him to dispel the knee injury over a month prior. Chris believed the fans would rather boo an honest man and cheer for Shawn instead.
Chris then raised a question, "How does Shawn Michaels, HBK, one of the greatest performers of all time and one of the most highly decorated superstars in the history of this business turn into such a lying, cheating, pathetic little worm of a human being? Chris proceed to clothesline HBK and throw him face-first into the Jeritron. Jericho also promised that the worst was yet to come.
This scene was reminiscent of the time when Shawn threw his former tag-team partner Marty Jannetty through the window in the infamous Barber Shop segment.
Following the accident, the story was that Michaels suffered a detached retina.
The next week on Raw, Chris Jericho blamed the entire audience for what occurred with Shawn Michaels. Ric Flair came out to confront Chris Jericho and noted that while he is retired, there’s nothing stopping him from fighting him in the parking lot. Jericho followed Ric to the parking lot but was met by Triple H. The two later squared off.
On the following edition of Raw that transpired on June 23rd, 2008, Shawn Michaels, who was sporting facial bandages, returned to attack Chris Jericho. Ultimately, Chris threw Shawn into the commentary table and further hurt his already vulnerable eye.
On June 29th, 2008, at Night of Champions, Shawn Michaels interfered in Chris Jericho’s match against Kofi Kingston, costing him the Intercontinental Championship.
Recommended reading: Kofi Kingston and the Time Randy Orton Killed His WWE Push in 2010
It is also worth noting, Lance Cade, an individual who was trained by Shawn Michaels, had become Chris Jericho’s protege.
The next night on Raw, Jericho had his rematch against Kofi Kingston but was ultimately DQ’ed after pulling his tights. Chris also challenged Shawn for a match at the Great American Bash.
On the July 7th edition of Raw, despite not being 100%, Shawn Michaels accepted a match against Chris Jericho at the Great American Bash. Jericho joined Michaels in the ring with Lance Cade by his side.
On July 14th, Raw kicked off with Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels attempting to tear each other apart. After Jericho defeated Paul London, Shawn Michaels took to the stage to stop the post-match beatdown.
On July 20th, 2008, Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels squared off at the Great American Bash PPV. Jericho ended up winning by referee stoppage after he relentlessly attacked Michaels’ injured eye.
Throughout this timeframe, Chris Jericho moved away from the over-the-top Y2J gimmick and transformed into a suit-wearing, methodical heel inspired by Anton Sugar from No Country For Old Men. His cadence and vocabulary also started to borrow from Nick Bockwinkel heavily.
Chris Jericho Punches the Wife of Shawn Michaels
Skipping ahead to SummerSlam on August 17th, 2008, Shawn Michaels was joined by his wife Rebecca as they both made their way to the ring. Shawn noted he had a reevaluation with the doctor over his eye, and due to complications along with previous knee surgeries and back surgeries, the doctor recommended retirement.
As Shawn delivered his heartfelt speech, Chris Jericho interrupted and noted he would not allow it. He wanted Shawn to admit that he’s walking away from the business because of Chris Jericho.
Shawn, in turn, asked Chris to sit his wife and kids down and let them know daddy will never, ever be Shawn Michaels.
Chris then went to punch Shawn, but he ducked and struck Shawn’s wife Rebecca instead.
Chris Jericho, in his highly recommended book, The Best in the World: At What I Have No Idea, he wrote:
"As Shawn and Rebecca turned their backs to walk away, I spun him around and threw a punch at his head. He ducked out of the way, leaving his wife directly in the line of fire, and I smacked her full force in the mouth.
"They carted her out on a stretcher, and when they got backstage, I kept repeating over and over again, ‘I am so sorry, man. I am so sorry.’ The doctors tended to Rebecca as Shawn stared at me blankly like he wanted to kill me.
"He finally broke the silence, ‘I should’ve never allowed this to happen. This never should’ve happened. I can’t believe I brought my family into this.’ If it was possible to feel worse than me, he did. We were both staring at our feet in silence, waiting to see if Rebecca was okay when she suddenly sat up off the stretcher and looked me in the eye.
"‘Is that the best you got, Jericho?’ she said with a crooked smile. Shawn and I looked at each other and started laughing as he gave his wife a hug."
The next evening on Raw, Chris Jericho was in the ring and refused to apologize for what happened at SummerSlam. In fact, he blamed Shawn and the fans for the incident.
On August 25th, 2008, Shawn Michaels appeared on Raw to update everyone who has asked about his wife, Rebecca. She’s hurt but is going to be okay, he reassured the fans. Shawn tried to tell himself that the Chris Jericho punch was an accident, but after watching Raw and seeing Chris put blame on him and the audience while showing no remorse, he knew something had to be done.
Shawn offered to sign anything, any weaver, any release. No rules. No liabilities. He didn’t want anyone responsible for the revenge he would exact on Chris Jericho.
Chris Jericho did an excellent job of highlighting the sheer danger of this match. "Shawn, if I accept this unsanctioned match, forget about your career-your entire life is going to change."
Shawn interrupted, "Are you going to accept this match or tell me what I already know?"
Chris ultimately accepted but advised that Shawn’s wife and children skip watching the match as they will be horrified by what they see.
Shawn wasn’t looking to steal the show; he wanted an eye for an eye.
It was a highly effective promo from both men.
"I hope God will forgive me for what I do to you!" – Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels Unsanctioned Fight
On September 1st, tensions reached a breaking point when Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels met for a contract signing.
Shawn Michaels also delivered one of the best and most effective lines of his career: "I hope God will forgive me for what I do to you!"
Lance Cade attacked Shawn in support of Jericho, but it backfired. In a frightening moment, Shawn attempted to grab Chris on the outside of the ring and seemingly landed on his neck but appeared to be perfectly fine.
Unforgiven took place on September 7th, 2008, from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
As advertised, it was Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho in an Unsanctioned fight. Translation: Anything and everything is allowed.
Much like their previous battle at the Great American Bash, the result ended with another ref stoppage after Jericho was deemed unable to continue.
In a complete twist, the battered Chris Jericho replaced an injured CM Punk after he was attacked by Legacy and entered the World Heavyweight Championship Scramble.
While Batista was distracted with Rey Mysterio, the opportunistic Jericho pinned Kane as time ran out. Chris Jericho was once against King of the World as he was your new World Heavyweight Champion.
As Michael Cole stated, "Jericho had the presence of mind to take advantage. To bleed off the damage done by others, including Batista, Jericho snuck in the back door."
The rationale behind this move was based on the fact his feud with Shawn Michaels was so hot that Vince McMahon felt a title deserved to be up for grabs.
"I’m not Shawn Michaels. I’m better." – Chris Jericho
On the September 8th, 2008 edition of Raw (which took place the night after Unforgiven), Jericho opened the show with a beaming smile on his face and bragged about his new championship reign.
Chris also noted that since it was an Unsanctioned match against Shawn, it never really existed.
He further reminded us that he is an honest man, a righteous man, and now he is the champion. We are now forced to recognize just how good Chris Jericho is.
Near the conclusion of this fantastic promo was Chris’ most poignant line. "Shawn Michaels told me a month ago that I would never be him. He’s right. I’m not Shawn Michaels. I’m better."
On the September 15th edition of Raw, Chris Jericho’s No Mercy opponent was revealed. General Manager Mike Adamle took to the stage and noted that JBL and Batista would square off to determine the number one contender against the champion. A confused Chris Jericho wondered what he meant by the champion.
Adamle noted the championship needed to be defended at No Mercy and that an individual approached him about a match against Jericho. He simply couldn’t pass up.
As Adamle promised to introduce the challenger, he walked backstage, which led to a pregnant pause.
As Shawn Michaels’ music played, the arena came unglued.
Shawn asked, "What more could you and I possibly do to each other? Is there any way we can top ourselves? More importantly, is there a match that is not only thrilling, not only exhilarating but will allow me to permanently disfigure you in ways that even I can’t imagine? And then it hit me. There is a match that some people say I put on the map. There is a match that some people say I revolutionized. And it is a match that will allow me to beat you for the World Heavyweight Championship. So, at No Mercy, it is going to be the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship in a…"
At that point, a few crew members brought out a ladder as Shawn Michaels screamed ladder match from up top.
Chris Jericho looked visibly concerned as he hid behind the much larger Lance Cade.
During the Monday Night Raw episode on September 22nd, Chris Jericho opened the show with the World Heavyweight Championship hanging above a ladder that was positioned in the middle of the ring.
Jericho climbed the ladder and sat on top with his microphone in hand.
"Leave it to HBK to once again attempt to rewrite history."
Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels Ladder Match at WWE No Mercy
WWE No Mercy took place on October 5th, 2008, from the Rose Center in Portland, Oregan.
Headlining the card was the epic ladder match between Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels.
After 30 minutes of hellacious action that included Jericho slamming Michael’s left shoulder into the ring post, multiple ladders, Sweet Chin Music, a Lionsault onto a ladder that on top of Michaels, and interference from Lance Cade, it led to a final dramatic sequence.
With both men grabbing the championship in a glorified tug of war match, Jericho landed a headbutt that forced Michaels off the ladder, thus landing on the floor.
Jericho retrieved the championship to prove once and for all that’s he’s not Shawn Michaels, but better.
Their ladder match earned Match of the Year from the Wrestling Observer.
In describing this epic feud with Arda Ocal and Jimmy Korderas on the "Right After Wrestling" show in 2011, Shawn Michaels had the following to say (H/T ProWrestling.net for the quote):
"Chris was talking about it while we were doing it. He kept saying, ‘Geez, they need to make a DVD on this.’ The thing is we love working with each other. We’re very similar in our creative process—and we’re two guys who push each other and challenge each other and love every second of it."
Michaels continued, "And I think the greatest thing about that rivalry was that nobody had a game plan. It was something that just sort of came about, and each week we (Chris and I) just sort of got together and would just do this process—he and I spent countless hours in the writers’ office with ideas. I don’t know if you can hear it in our voices—but we just really enjoyed working with each other.
"Both the Wrestling Observer and PWI, along with countless other publications listed Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels as the best feud of 2008.
Watch: Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels in a Ladder Match at WWE No Mercy 2008
What Made the Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels Feud One of the Greatest Feuds of All Time?
So what propelled this story to be revered as one of the greatest feuds of all time? One word: Believability. After going back and re-watching countless promos and matches, you believe every word, every action, every match.
Shawn lied to Chris about the knee injury, which led to a blow-off match.
Chris accidentally struck Shawn’s wife, Rebecca but showed no remorse.
Plus, there was an underlying tone of morals and ethics. Shawn was an opportunistic liar, yet he was still revered by fans while Chris was the bearer of truth, but his self-righteous led him to become hated.
And of course, it was Chris Jericho proving that he wasn’t Shawn Michaels, but better. Which in the end, he ultimately proved.
There are only a couple of feuds in recent memory that invoke the same emotional response as this feud, and the first one that comes to mind is Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa.
When reflecting on the greatest feuds of all-time, Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels should be placed within the Top 5 of any list.
One thing is for certain; these were two of the greatest artists painting a beautiful piece of work full of layers of emotion that could resonate with any pro wrestling fan. I, for one, feel truly grateful to have witnessed it and then to have relived again.
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