Shawn Michaels and Vader | How HBK Sabotaged Vader’s WWF Career

After the feud of Shawn Michaels and Vader culminated at SummerSlam 1996, Vader’s career in the then WWF was never the same.

While rightfully being considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, Michaels was not an easy person to deal with in the ’90s. According to many within the business, he got to the top not only through hard work and being the best in the ring but also through back-stabbing and politicking. This story is one example of that.

Shawn Michaels and Vader battling it out at SummerSlam '96.
Shawn Michaels and Vader battling it out at SummerSlam ’96.

Jim Cornette on Shawn Michaels Destroying the Career of Vader in the WWF

During a YouShoot interview, a fan wrote in to ask Jim Cornette why he thought Vader was such a flop in the WWF. Cornette, never the one to mince his words, had this to say:

“I don’t think Vader was a flop. I just don’t think he did nearly as well as he should’ve. I think part of the problem was Shawn Michaels. Leon was a very – he’s a big, rough, mean, you know, former pro football player, and he was a stiff, hard hittin’ guy, and he was tough, but he was a little – a little – he was a big teddy bear also, personally. And you could hurt his feelings just like (snaps his finger).

“And Shawn Michaels is used to everybody, or was used to everybody catering to him, and also, was used to people workin’ with him a lot lighter. And I remember one time, it was in fuckin’ Tulsa. It was at a house show in Tulsa. Leon’s got him by the hair, and he’s fuckin’ pepperin’ him with rights, boom, boom, boom, and all of a sudden, I see Shawn gets out of it and grabs some kind of hold, and there’s a conversation, and I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’ And then they go on, and they go to the finish, a couple of minutes later.

“Leon rolls – of course, Leon lost. That’s another thing. Big monster – you know, Frankenstein kicked a few villagers asses first to get over. Um, Leon rolls out, and he’s cryin’.

“Said, ‘Shawn Michaels told me if I yanked his hair that way, that that’d be my job, and he’s gonna get me fired.’ And then at SummerSlam ’96, go back and watch the fuckin’ tape.

“Some way or another, Shawn’s gonna come off the top with a fuckin’ elbow, and Leon’s supposed to move, but Leon didn’t move. And Shawn changes gear in mid-air, and fuckin’ lands right next to him and screams, ‘move,’ kicks him, ‘move, asshole,’ or ‘dumb shit,’ or whatever. Shawn Michaels, he was just unprofessional, he was always on fuckin’ pills, or whatever – and by the way, Shawn, fuck you, too!

“The way you fuckin’ talk to me, the way you talk to Jose Lothario, who got you in the business. For the way you fuckin’ got with your little Kliq and exposed the business in Madison Square Garden, and everybody had to cow-tow to ya, and your whining, and you lost your smile, and you didn’t want to do jobs, and wherever you were pilled up, doing whatever the fuck you were doing.

“You were a fuckin’ asshole and a prick. And if you found God, that’s generally because I’ve noticed, people in this business that find God do so when everybody else hates them so bad they won’t speak to ’em.”

'Adam Bomb' Bryan Clark has some harsh words to share on Shawn Michaels. [Photo: WWE]
“Adam Bomb” Bryan Clark has some harsh words to share on Shawn Michaels. [Photo: WWE]
On the topic of Shawn Michaels finding God and changing his ways, the former “Adam Bomb,” Bryan Clark didn’t hold back, either:

“Shawn, fuck, couldn’t stand him. Still don’t like him. He’s a fuckin’ joke. I know all the cruiserweights around the world, that’s their big hero, man, but if they knew the real Shawn Michaels.

“The real Shawn Michaels is just a piece of shit. Now he’s a Christian, and he’s turned his life around and all that stuff, but man, he was just an asshole. You know, just a bad person. And of course, I’m sure Vince and Pat probably liked seeing him in the shower and him posing for Playgirl, or whatever he did, so that was great for them, you know? They probably kept him around for other reasons besides his work. But yeah, just not, not good. 

“The biggest rib’s on him because he ended up marrying one of the Nitro girls, which was too fuckin’ funny, because she made her rounds ’round the company, and then she ends up going up there and marrying him. And now they got a kid together, so that’s even better.”

Vader Opens Up About Shawn Michaels

Vader gorilla presses Shawn Michaels, Royal Rumble '96
Vader gorilla presses Shawn Michaels, Royal Rumble ’96. [Photo: WWE]
As for Vader, he was much more compassionate when talking about Shawn Michaels in an interview with Hannibal TV interview just a year before his untimely passing:


“You know, I don’t know a whole lot about his personal issues, but I do know that he had a bad back. It was always something I had to be cognizant of, me being 400 pounds and Shawn basically 200 and a little bit.

“The bottom line with Shawn, he was a perfectionist. When things went right, he’d let you know, and you know, I’m a perfectionist. Things were 99% right, but there’s always- when you’re moving that fast, and you’re thinking in front of 10-15,000 people, we were pulling in 10-12,000 people a night on house shows, Shawn and I. House business really picked up.

“The matches [Shawn and I] had were excellent. They just weren’t good; they were excellent. With my size differential, we could make them feel for us, and when we popped, they came because the fans liked Shawn. He was a great champion.

“With the long series of house show matches with Shawn, I think it hurt it. I think I counted 19, and I told this to Bruce Prichard and Vince. That’s just my opinion. Those matches where I was coming up on the losing end, I think they hurt the numbers, and it wasn’t a good number. I think we would have had better numbers for the pay-per-view had we done a few DQs, and if he would have put me over a couple of times, who knows what we would have done there.”

On the topic of Shawn Michaels stopping in the middle of their SummerSlam ’96 match to yell at Vader, Vader said:

“As I said, Shawn’s a perfectionist. There was a spot where he came off the top rope, and he was going to drop an elbow, and I was supposed to move, but I forgot. Hey, he let me know, and we went on.”

As for where he’d rank Shawn amongst the all-time greats, Vader said:

“When you mention Muta when you mention Inoki, Akiyama, Kobashi, those are pretty good wrestlers. Kobashi is limited athletically, but he’s real big. He’s like a machine and goes from one spot to the next rapidly. He knows the Japanese timing, so he creates those big pops from the crowd. I’d also put Shawn at the top of that list alongside Flair and Sting.

“Shawn, in his prime, I don’t know if there is another better worker.”

Shawn Michaels’ checkered past certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of many of his former peers, and there certainly is a long line of people who have plenty of disparaging comments to say about him.

If you’d like to read more about Shawn’s questionable history as well as how he and fellow Kliq members negatively affected the careers of Shane Douglas, Bam Bam Bigelow, Carl Oullet (aka PCO), Chris Candido, and even DX members, Road Dogg and Billy Gunn, be sure to read our highly recommended article, The KLIQ: Tales of their Stranglehold on the WWE Locker Room.

WATCH: Shawn Michaels and Vader face off at SummerSlam ’96

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JP Zarka founded Pro Wrestling Stories in 2015 and is the creative force behind the website as editor-in-chief. From 2018-19, he was the podcast host and producer for The Genius Cast with Lanny Poffo, brother of WWE legend Macho Man Randy Savage. His diverse career includes work as an elementary school teacher, assistant principal, and musician, notably as a singer-songwriter with the London-based band Sterling Avenue. Zarka has appeared on TV programs like “Autopsy: The Last Hours of” on Reelz (U.S.) and Channel 5 (U.K.) and has contributed research for programming on ITV and BBC.