The Shawn Michaels and Triple H feud in 2002 was memorable as it wove in many elements from real-life backstage incidents.
Shawn Michaels and Triple H – The Time The Kliq Went To War!
In 1998, Shawn Michaels suffered a supposed career-ending injury during his casket match with The Undertaker at that year’s Royal Rumble. Shawn clipped the casket after being dumped over the top rope.
This innocuous moment would cause terrible damage to Shawn’s back, leaving him in agonizing pain for his match against Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14. The match would be followed by a four-year retirement from the ring for Shawn (except for that one often forgotten match he wrestled in 2000).
While Shawn was seemingly retired from the ring, he would be brought back as an onscreen personality until his demons got the better of him at a taping of Monday Night Raw in March of 2001.
In episode four of “Rivalries” on the WWE Network, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon, and others opened up about the real-life problems Shawn was having at the time.
“In walks Shawn, just gone, you know? Stumbling all over the place — he’s half drooling on himself. Everybody was like, ‘What is going on?’
They all came to me like I was his keeper. They all went to Vince. Vince wanted to talk to him. They had to go wake him up. He was passed out underneath a table in the locker room. He was a mess.”
“Half of that I know from pictures I see, but that’s about it…”
“At that point, we were gonna do something with Shawn and Vince just said, ‘Forget it. I don’t want to do anything with him. Shawn won’t go to rehab. There’s nothing I can do with this guy.’
So, the next day, Vince made the determination that that was it. Send him home.”
“I put up with so much crap from [Shawn], and Triple H looked out for him. There comes a time where, even with your best friend, you have to say, ‘You know what, I’m tired. I’ve been helping you as much as I can. I don’t want to do it anymore.'”
“What do you do? You take it out on the guy closest to you. So, when Vince got done talking, I walked into the locker room, and [Shawn] just went off. We got into a huge fight in front of everybody about how I’m supposed to be his friend, and I didn’t go to bat for him. I stuck the knife in his back. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the best friend trying to help his buddy. I was like, ‘You know what? Fuck you. I’m done. I’m done with this. Now you’re gonna blame me for your problems? I’m done.’
And that was it. We didn’t speak for a long time.”
With the help of his new wife, Rebecca Curci, Shawn Michaels began to find God and clean himself up. He credits his young son Cameron as well for helping him finally kick his addictions.
“Cameron had been born. I made the promise to clean up, but I didn’t.
Cameron was approaching his second birthday. At the same time, Rebecca had gotten herself back into Bible study. Maybe that’s what it is. So, I start reading the Bible a little more, but I don’t know where to start. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to the Bible study.
[Not long later], one night, I thought I was just having a couple of somas. Nothing heavy. But they hit me a little bit more than I thought they would. I was resting on the couch, and Cameron started to crawl up on daddy. He said, ‘Oh, daddy’s tired…'”
REBECCA CURCI (Shawn’s wife):
“Our son was climbing all over him and saying, ‘Daddy’s asleep.'”
SHAWN MICHAELS (while fighting through tears):
“It just became very apparent to me that if I wasn’t careful, I was going to ruin him. That wasn’t anything he asked for. I eventually drifted off to sleep. I woke up the next day, and something was different.”
Shawn Michaels had found his rock bottom and could only make his way up from there. With time, he grew to become the Heartbreak Kid that we know him as today.
Shawn Michaels Finds Sobriety and Makes Peace with Triple H
With all this growth and positive momentum on his side, Shawn Michaels took Kevin Nash’s cue, who made sure Shawn knew that his relationship crumbling with Triple H was on him and not Triple H. So, Shawn made the first gesture and called Triple H to begin the healing.
This takes us to the middle of 2002. The New World Order had returned earlier in the year to WWE at No Way Out. They were supposed to be a “poison” that got injected into the company… by Vince McMahon… WWE’s owner. It was a flawed rehash from the beginning. It didn’t matter, though. People were hyped that the nWo was finally coming in.
Watch The nWo Debut in WWE at No Way Out 2002:
That didn’t last very long. The huge, nostalgic reaction for Hulk Hogan put a wrench in everyone’s plans. Hogan couldn’t stay within the nWo if he was going to keep getting cheered.
The Hulkster was out of the group and back to his red and yellow in no time, leaving a hole in the black and white-clad New World Order. They kept on for months, growing staler and staler. Eventually, Scott Hall’s personal demons saw him released from the company.
By the time we saw the return of The Heartbreak Kid, the nWo was down to Kevin Nash, X-Pac, The Big Show, and Booker T. The group was floundering and needed a breath of fresh air. Soon, Kevin Nash promised an announcement that would rock WWE to its core. It would be a new member of the New World Order.
The time finally came, and Nash took to the ring. X-Pac, Big Show, and Booker T were all at his side, ready to welcome the new member. That’s when the familiar entrance theme hit and outdanced none other than Shawn Michaels.
Watch Shawn Michaels Join the nWo:
The inclusion of Shawn Michaels into the nWo made sense, given Shawn’s history with Nash and X-Pac. It wasn’t long before Booker T caught some sweet chin music and got booted out of the group.
The former five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time WCW Champion, Booker T, had managed to jump on the first lifeboat out of the sinking Titanic. The nWo was dead within a month.
It all came to a crashing end when Kevin Nash tore his quad while making his way across the ring in a ten-man tag team match on the July 8th, 2002 episode of Monday Night Raw. This is an infamous injury that occurred on national television, which Nash still gets flack about until this very day.
The biggest issue with this development was that Shawn Michaels and the nWo had already teased that Triple H would be joining their ranks. Nash’s injury came before that angle could be paid off. Luckily, HBK and The Cerebral Assassin were founding members of another famous faction you might have heard of.
The Reforming of DX
Eric Bischoff made his shocking debut in WWE around this time, and as one of his first promises, he claimed he was going to be bringing Triple H to Monday Night Raw. To ensure he could deliver, Sleazy E attempted to use the friendship between Shawn Michaels and Triple H to lure The Game to the red brand. It appeared successful, as Bischoff left Vengeance 2002 with Triple H committed to WWE’s flagship program.
The following night, on July 22nd, 2002, was Bischoff’s first full episode as General Manager of Raw. Eric brought out Shawn Michaels and Triple H, explaining that from now on, Shawn would be Triple H’s manager. Wherever you saw Triple H, you’d see HBK in his corner.
Unfortunately, Shawn was never one to take orders very well. That was the whole reason DX started. The man was a rebel through and through. It was over the moment Eric Bischoff TOLD him he would be Triple H’s manager, instead of asking. In response to what he saw as an abuse of power, Shawn apologized to Triple H and walked.
What he didn’t realize is, he was committing what The Cerebral Assassin saw as a betrayal. The way Triple H took it, he didn’t understand why Shawn Michaels couldn’t put aside his pride and help manage him to heights he had yet to reach. If they were together, they’d surely be unstoppable. After everything Triple H had done for Shawn, he couldn’t stand in The Game’s corner?
One can hardly blame Triple H for his anger. Instead of talking about it with Shawn like a person — this is wrestling, after all — The Game quickly put together a plan. He lulled Shawn Michaels into a false sense of security, allowing him to believe they could restart D-Generation X and be as anti-authority as ever.
“Oh my! Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the ol’ grapplin’ show… LOOK WHO’S BACK IN TOWN! The boys who were rebels before being a rebel was cool… D-GENERATION X!”
– Shawn Michaels, Monday Night Raw, July 22nd, 2002
We got as far as seeing Shawn Michaels and Triple H in the middle of the ring, wearing green and black for moments. Then it happened. The dastardly Triple H turned on Shawn Michaels and planted him with a pedigree in the middle of the ring.
(He seriously planted him, too. Triple H got some air on this pedigree.)
Swerve! Triple H Turns on Shawn Michaels
It was now on like Donkey Kong.
Teenage me was absolutely devastated, as I’m sure plenty of other fans were too at the time. We almost had those lovable degenerates back to it, but that jerk Triple H just HAD to ruin it! Who cares if he had a perfectly justifiable reason for snapping on the glory hound he called a best friend? Be friends again and tell people to suck it…
Alas, it was not to be. The week after the implosion of the original DX, Shawn Michaels showed up to Monday Night Raw on a mission. He was after Triple H, and no one would stand in his way. Somehow, he missed The Game, who would make his way to ringside later in the night, completely untouched.
Here, he explained his reasoning for attacking his best friend, Shawn Michaels.
As earlier mentioned, Triple H was rightfully angry that Shawn could not swallow his pride and manage him. HBK couldn’t even stick around long enough in the opening of the previous week’s show to find out that it wasn’t Eric Bischoff’s idea. Triple H wanted it. He wanted to be managed by his best friend and take over the wrestling world together, as they once had. The humiliation of being rebuffed by your best friend is bad enough. Add on top that Triple H was Shawn’s rock (in the storyline and in real life). He spent years of his career being HBK’s second, carrying him to bed when he was too intoxicated or injured to do it on his own. Triple H cared for Shawn Michaels like he was his own brother.
Why couldn’t Shawn just do this for him?
That’s when word hit the headset of a nearby cameraman. He got up onto the apron, distracting Triple H from his impassioned monologue. The Game went over to find out what the hell the cameraman wanted, only to leave the ring suddenly and rush backstage.
Shawn Michaels was laid out and bloodied, having had his head driven through a car window. A noticeably head-sized hole was left behind in the glass, as Shawn was out cold on the ground wearing a crimson mask. Who could have done this?
Obviously, you assume it was Triple H. However, through the night, Shawn encountered various red herrings, such as Big Show and Booker T. When Show rushed up to Shawn in a huff to talk about what happened to him out in the ring, HBK explained he didn’t have the time and walked off. This angered the 7-foot tall giant even more, who watched Shawn Michaels walk off as he menacingly said, “Oh, now you don’t have time? Maybe I oughta MAKE you have time for me, then.”
Could it be? Did the Big Show put HBK through that window?
This came after HBK ran into Booker T and explained what happened in their past was not personal, but purely business. The Heartbreak Kid had delivered stiff superkicks to the chins of both Booker and Show in previous weeks. As a result, both men were suspects. As were Test, Christian, and Lance Storm, who teased a mysterious piece of business they had to take care of on the same night Shawn Michaels was attacked.
This was a well-executed “whodunnit?”
There were multiple solid suspects. The payoff came the following week. Triple H spent the whole show confronting possible assailants. He ran through the list. He was dead set on finding out who attacked Shawn Michaels.
Or so we thought.
Later in the night, Eric Bischoff and Triple H hit the ring, and Bischoff explained that he had arranged for Shawn Michaels to call in via satellite. It was during the following exchange that HBK explained that the police used some ZOOM AND ENHANCE technology to clean up the security camera footage of his assault.
The perpetrator? You guessed it. It wasn’t the Big Show, nor Booker T, and it damn sure wasn’t The Un-Americans.
Triple H committed the attack. He even gleefully admitted as such, as soon as he was caught on tape. There was no use lying at that point. The Game spit out his gum, and an evil grin spread across his face.
Allow me to take you back to the segment. It took place on the August 5th, 2002, episode of Monday Night Raw.
Triple H has just been revealed as HBK’s attacker.
“It was you, Hunter.”
“You’re damn right it was me, Shawn. You’re damn right. And I’m glad you found out, I’m glad you know the truth. You know why, Shawn? I was trying to prove a point, and the point is, Shawn, that you are weak. You are vulnerable. That’s why you need me, Shawn. That’s why you need to be by my side. That’s why I wanted you as my manager, Shawn. So, I could protect you.
Shawn, I could have protected you, but no. Your ego, your pride, wouldn’t let that happen, would it, Shawn? No.
Shawn, I could have crippled you in that parking lot, but I didn’t. I stopped. I didn’t finish the job. But you know what? Nobody else would have stopped. They would have finished the job. They would have crippled your ass. Then what, Shawn? What would you have done then, when you were a crippled mess, huh? What would you have done when you could no longer walk?”
“You think I’m weak? You think I’m vulnerable, that I can’t defend myself anymore? I recognize that I’m not in the best of shape right now, but the doctors have told me that I’ll make a full recovery. In fact, they say I’ll be a hundred percent. A hundred percent by say, uh… SummerSlam?”
“SummerSlam, Shawn? What is that, some kind of challenge?”
“You’re damn right.”
Triple H tried to talk Shawn Michaels down from there, but it was not to be. HBK couldn’t be talked out of it. He was going to make his return at SummerSlam 2002, and a ton of Kliq fans rejoiced all over the world (myself included).
Shawn Michaels and Triple H had years worth of history to build off, both inside the ring and out of it. The chemistry was thick from the very moment Shawn Michaels and the nWo ran into Triple H at King of the Ring 2002.
Now, here we were, less than three months later, and Shawn Michaels was getting ready to do the impossible. He was going to make his WWE return from an injury that should have left him retired for good. The HBK we saw before us was a changed man.
Would that extend to his in-ring work?
SummerSlam 2002 – The WWE In-Ring Return of Shawn Michaels
SummerSlam 2002 went down on August 25th in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The listed attendance was 14,797, and it boasted a stacked card. That’s no exaggeration. The first three matches alone were Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio, Ric Flair vs. Chris Jericho, and Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero.
Other roster members on the card included The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, The Rock, Booker T, Goldust, Rob Van Dam, and more.
The headliner was Brock Lesnar vs. The Rock for the WWE Undisputed Championship. That didn’t stop the show stopper from doing his thing. Unbelievably, Shawn Michaels looked like he didn’t miss a beat with Triple H.
Shawn Michaels and Triple H put on an absolute masterclass in storytelling. The in-ring psychology was incredible. Triple H spent the whole buildup to the match, trying to prove he was better than Shawn Michaels. He’s focused on Shawn’s back, intending to do what he promised in crippling HBK and taking him out of the equation.
Shawn Michaels, however, came in with the attitude that he will do whatever he has to. That includes risking life and limb to jump off the top turnbuckle and put Triple H through a table on the outside of the ring. That also included a picture-perfect elbow drop onto Triple H from off the top of a ladder. The non-sanctioned match was the perfect way to go for this one. It helped sell the intensity on camera, allowing various weaponry to be used.
Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross were on fire during this match, too. They helped to sell Shawn’s vulnerable back while pushing forward the story that this was not an official sanctioned match, and it could cause great harm to either one of the competitors involved. After all, Shawn Michaels and Triple H weren’t there to hug it out. They were there to beat the living hell out of each other.
“You never hit anybody harder in the ring than you hit your friends.”
– Triple H
Somehow, it all came down to a rollup. Shawn Michaels managed to keep his foe down for the three-count and emerge victorious from his first battle in a WWE ring in over four years.
Of course, the evil Triple H wouldn’t be put down that easily. After the bell, he took his trademark sledgehammer to HBK’s back in an attempt to cripple his former best friend, because The Game doesn’t make empty promises.
This one wasn’t over, far from it.
Shawn Michaels and Triple H would battle each other for years more. Their fights ranged from a Last Man Standing match at 2004’s Royal Rumble to the first Elimination Chamber along with four others at Survivor Series 2002, as well as a Hell in a Cell match at Bad Blood 2004, plus so many more. It even went to the main event of WrestleMania XX.
A couple of years after that came that reunion of D-Generation X.
Nowadays, Shawn Michaels and Triple H work together on the NXT brand. All this time later and they’re still bouncing around together.
They truly are best friends and even better enemies.
Watch Shawn Michaels and Triple H Face-Off at SummerSlam 2002 (full match):
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- The Kliq | Tales of Their Stranglehold on the WWE Locker Room