When Shawn Michaels returned to WWE in 2002, fans were led to believe it was his first return to the ring in over four years. This was not the case!
The Often Forgotten In-Ring Return of Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels is one of the most polarizing figures that ever graced the screen and donned a pair of wrestling boots. His incredible ability to tell a story in the ring, the sheer charisma he possessed, and perhaps most importantly, his pure in-ring talent made him so captivating. That’s not the end of it, either. Shawn’s personal life is one that also polarized fans, whether it be for the right or wrong reasons.
At 1998’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view, The Heartbreak Kid infamously injured himself severely, herniating two discs and crushing one completely after taking a stiff bump to the outside off of Undertaker’s casket.
After his controversial match against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14 a few months later, he didn’t wrestle in WWE again until his SummerSlam 2002 return against his long-time friend (and on-and-off-again rival on air), Triple H. When this match took place, fans were led to believe that this was his first return to the ring in over four years. As the saying goes, don’t believe everything that you hear!
The unsanctioned Street Fight between Shawn Michaels and Triple H at 2002’s SummerSlam pay-per-view is one of the most memorable matches of all time. It had a cocktail for success – a mixture of great storytelling, great pro wrestling, and a miracle in-ring return for the legendary Shawn Michaels.
The match itself would’ve been received positively by fans under any circumstance, but given this was Shawn’s first match in a long time, it just amplified the whole occasion. Seeing Shawn return from having terrible back issues, recovering from even worse inner demons, and performing to such a high standard was an absolute pleasure to witness.
It was indeed Mr. WrestleMania’s first match in a while, but just not as long as many would think. What WWE didn’t tell you was that this was Shawn’s first match in two years, not four.
A Common Misconception About His SummerSlam 2002 Return
On-air, it was massively played out that Shawn Michaels had his last match at WrestleMania 14, where he dropped the WWF Championship to Stone Cold Steve Austin. That is wrestling folklore!
During his hiatus from the then-WWF, Michaels opened up the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy in San Antonio, Texas. He also started a professional wrestling promotion to go alongside the school called the Texas Wrestling Alliance. Notable former students include Daniel Bryan, Brian Kendrick, Lance Cade, and Paul London.
In April 2000, fans of the TWA were in for a huge treat. Their local hero, Shawn Michaels, was to step inside the ring to face Venom [Paul Diamond/Max Moon] in a Hardcore Street Fight! Millions of people undoubtedly would have shown up or tuned in to see Shawn Michaels’ miraculous in-ring return had they been given the option. The only thing though was the match was exclusive only to the fans in attendance or to those who could pick up the local Texas television broadcast.
In 2000, wrestling news didn’t spread as quickly or far and wide on the Internet like it does today. Few people were aware that Shawn had even wrestled this match. (Hell, it wasn’t even mentioned on his Wikipedia page until after this article came out!)
This was his only match between 1998-2002. It was a one-off occurrence. Perhaps Shawn wanted to see if he still had what it took to get back in the ring full-time, or perhaps he wanted to give TWA a huge boost. Likely both. As for the match itself, it was an entertaining bout.
The Hardcore Street Fight saw a variety of weapons used- steel chairs, kendo sticks, ladders, trash cans, crutches, you name it! Shawn did avoid taking any solid bumps in the match and was notably avoiding contact towards his lower back. The pace was slow and methodical, but it worked well. Shawn managed to have a successful return, victorious over his dastardly opponent. Despite taking very few bumps and the slow pacing throughout, the match still thrived.
Original Scarcity of Footage of Shawn Michaels TWA In-Ring Return
This rare TWA match planted the seeds for Michaels’ eventual return in 2002. While there were fewer bumps taken in the ring than his eventual return to WWE two years later, much like with his match against Triple H at SummerSlam 2002, his back played a huge factor in the story played out in 2000.
The commentator, whose name we could not find, did a fantastic job throughout and really added to the occasion with his passionate calling of the match.
“The founder, rightful owner [of TWA], Shawn Michaels, is in the ring against doctors’ orders! There isn’t a wrestling fan alive who does not know the risk that he is taking by getting into the ring one last time!”
Adding to the mystique of this rare event, for over a decade, footage of this match was nowhere to be found online.
Fans on wrestling message boards in 2009 vented their frustrations on the challenge of finding this match.
“I can’t seem to find it online anywhere,” a fan under the alias “Last_Taste” expressed. “You might have to break down and buy it from someplace.”
Four years later, in early 2013, the match still hadn’t made its way to the public domain.
“It would be awesome to finally see this match,” user “KPnDC” expressed on WrestlingForum.com. “We can work out a deal on PayPal if it has to come to that. Just PM me.”
Finally, hardcore fans got what they were looking for as the rare, forgotten Shawn Michaels match began circulating around the web thirteen years after it originally took place.
WWE shielded the existence of the TWA match on television. It’s obvious why they did it. Even if they acknowledged the match, the feat of returning at SummerSlam still would’ve made for a sweet comeback story, but WWE knew that the narrative would be that much sweeter if they went with the WrestleMania 14 match as Shawn’s last.
WWE eventually did acknowledge it, however – not on TV, but through their website.
In February of 2015, WWE.com did an interview with The Heartbreak Kid about the lost years of his career dating from ’98 to ’02. WWE.com would bring up TWA before warming up for the big question that was on their minds.
WWE.com asked, “Did you ever compete in TWA?”
“We did one little thing where I had a Hardcore Street Fight Match,” Michaels admitted.
“I was also the color commentator and producer of the show, but I did do one match, which was a drawn-out decision. When you hear you’ll never wrestle again and if you do, something serious could happen, I wasn’t going to wreck myself. If I’m going to do something to take that risk, it’s going to be for WWE, but we felt like it was the situation where I wouldn’t have to [get very physical]. It was camouflaged quite well.”
Watch the forgotten in-ring return of Shawn Michaels on Texas Wrestling Academy’s Total Impact on April 15, 2000:
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