The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels Backstage Fight That Almost Was

Shawn Michaels was in a bad place leading up to WrestleMania 14. He was not an easy person to get along with at the time, and he was doing everything in his power not to drop the belt to Steve Austin in the main event. Many didn’t take this lightly, including The Undertaker, who stood stoically backstage in Gorilla Position with fists wrapped, ready to confront Michaels.

The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels Backstage Fight That Almost Was

Undertaker, who played the role of resident locker room leader for many years, was often the bridge between talent and Vince McMahon himself. A year before Shawn Michaels was pitted against Steve Austin, Michaels pulled out of a planned loss to Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 due to an injury (which some believe he faked). As a result, The Undertaker was growing tired of seeing Shawn Michaels mess around with business.

Shawn Michaels Loses His Smile

On February 13, 1997, a special episode of Thursday Night Raw took place as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was airing on the then-WWF’s usual Monday night slot. This show is most remembered for Shawn Michaels vacating the WWF Championship due to a supposed knee injury. During a memorable segment on the show, Michaels said he lost many things over the last year, but the most significant thing has been his smile.

Shawn Michaels loses his smile on the February 13, 1997 episodes of Thursday Night Raw.
Shawn Michaels loses his smile on the February 13, 1997 episodes of Thursday Night Raw.

Here is this memorable promo in full (H/T: cagematch.net):

"Well there’s uh, one thing about me is I can’t do anything halfway, and I, and I come here, and I hear the people, and they chant uh, Sid’s name or they chant Bret’s name or they chant a lot of peoples’ names, and one thing’s for sure, you’re going to have all of that in the future, um, and that’s what I want for the World Wrestling Federation fans. In spite of, uh, what people may think about me, what I’ve always wanted for all these people is, is for them to have a good time and to enjoy themselves.

"I’ve always tried to be the one to provide it, whether it was on the good side or the bad side. But what was always important to me was the performance, was the performance so that these people, each time they reached in their pocket, they paid to get a WWF ticket, they didn’t regret it because they knew that if they saw my name on the card, they could yell, they could come, and they could cheer, and they could boo, and they could do whatever they wanted as long as they had a good time.

"Over the last couple of months, uh, there’s been a lot of talk of people, uh, having bad attitudes and a lot revolving around this belt. Uh, all I know today is that one thing that’s not going to revolve around this belt, for a long time, is going to be Shawn Michaels. I don’t know where I’m at right now. I have to, uh, I have to have everything checked. I may have- I may be beyond reconstructive surgery. I may or may not be able to fix it. But if I can’t come back and perform at the level I performed at, before- I can’t, I can’t perform. I can’t come out here and just go half-ass. I have to come out here and I have to romp and stomp, and I have to get tossed around. I have to toss people around, and I have to have fun.

"The schedule over the last year I took on because I didn’t feel like I could say no. I wanted to do everything. I wanted to enjoy my life as the WWF Champion. I wanted to, I wanted to ride in lear jets and ride in limousines and I wanted to be on TV shows, and I wanted to do autograph sessions, and I got to do every bit of that. If nothing else, I have all of that to take with me. Again, and I know right now we’re in the middle of a time where toughness is really big here in the World Wrestling Federation, and unfortunately, all I’ve got right now for you is a lot of sorrow, a lot of tears, and a lot of emotion. I don’t have any toughness for anybody, so I guess, here you go, here’s your belt.

"What I’m going to do is go back home and see what’s left for me, whether it’ll be in this ring… whether it’ll be out of this ring. I know that over the, uh, the last several months I’ve lost a lot of things, and one of them has been my smile. And, and I know it doesn’t mean a whole lot to everybody else, but it means a lot to me. So I have to go back and fix myself and take care of myself, and I have to go back and I have to find my smile because somewhere along the line I lost it and I don’t care, really, I don’t care if it’s unpopular, and I don’t care if, uh, people want to make fun of me because I’m an emotional guy.

"But, um, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do and uh, over the last year I got to do it, and whether you like me or not, I just want to tell you that, uh, last year was the most wonderful year of my life. And, uh, if I never do get to do it again, it’ll be okay because I got to live one full year as being the number one guy in this business, and it was the single greatest year of my life. And I have you to thank, and I have everybody here to thank, and it means a lot to me and, uh, I’m gonna go home now. Okay?"

To this day, there is speculation as to whether Michaels really did injure his knee to the point where he had to give up the title. The abandonment of the title only intensified the tension between Shawn Michaels and many people in the back.

Shawn Michaels would, of course, later go on to ‘screw’ Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1997 in what was a shock to the entire locker room. By conspiring with Vince to change a result without his opposition knowing, Michaels had betrayed the entire locker room – Undertaker was legitimately furious.


Did you know? By forfeiting his WWF Championship on February 13, 1997, Shawn Michaels became the first wrestler to forfeit all three major championships in the WWF in their career. Michaels abandoned the Intercontinental title due to suspension in 1993 and the tag team titles with Diesel in late 1994. It would not be the only time he relinquished a title in 1997, either. Four months later, he forfeited his half of the tag team titles when he was suspended following a backstage fight with Bret Hart.


The Night of WrestleMania 14

When it came to WrestleMania 14, it was the turn of Steve Austin to get a run with the WWF title. Austin was the hottest thing going, and he offered a genuine shot for the WWF to become a financial success again. Would Michaels do the right thing and put the star over?

According to many, Michaels was doing everything in his power to politick backstage and not do Austin the honors, but Undertaker, as the locker room leader, was taking no chances. Before the Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels match took place, Taker got in Michaels’ face and showed his fists. He let the egotistical star know that if he did anything other than putting Austin over, he would face the consequences.

The result went off without a hitch: Michaels lost to Austin clean and the most successful era in the business was started.

Meanwhile, Undertaker unwrapped his wrists and carried on with his business as normal.

Steve Austin Gives His Take

In our recommended article, Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels – The Shocking WrestleMania 14 Story, Austin goes into detail about this memorable passing of the torch.

"It was a real pain even getting to the match, and Shawn will tell you this, he wasn’t in a good place, physically or mentally," Austin said of their WrestleMania 14 match. "He had a real bad attitude on him and didn’t feel like dropping the strap." Austin would, of course, go on to win the WWF Title at the event.

Steve Austin elaborated on HBK’s attitude, specifying an open workout in Boston in which Michaels was hit with a battery which sent him over the edge. Neither he nor Mike Tyson, who was also present, knew if Michaels would come back to the workout after leaving.

Despite the outcome of the WrestleMania 14 match, Austin wasn’t happy with it.

"I walked out of that thing as WWE Champion, but I told Vince that match was the drizzling shits," Steve Austin said. He noted that Vince assured him it was fine, and they accomplished what they needed to.

So what was Michael’s psyche at the time?

Shawn Michaels makes his entrance at WrestleMania 14. On the left is long-time WWE music composer Jim Johnston with fellow DX member Triple H to the right. Moments before this, Undertaker approached him backstage with fists taped.
Shawn Michaels makes his entrance at WrestleMania 14. On the left is long-time WWE music composer Jim Johnston with fellow DX member Triple H to the right. Moments before this, Undertaker approached him backstage with fists taped.

Shawn Michaels Shares His Side of the Story

In an interview on the Steve Austin Show, Shawn Michaels opened up about why he tried to resist dropping the belt to Austin and why he was difficult to deal with at the time.

"You’d have to have been a dummy not to know that [Austin] was coming on hot. For me – and again, just being 100% totally honest – it’s one of those things where, like, you know it’s cool, all of the stuff that’s happening is big, but you’re not a part of it, and that was admittedly a tough pill to swallow…and obviously not being the great guy that I am now…" (laughs)

Michaels continued, "The thing is, the animosity was never [towards Austin]…it was at the situation, it was at Vince; the career is over, I’m dropping the title, it was palpable that this was going to be big…there was absolutely nothing good going on with me, so I was a d**k to everybody."

Shawn Michaels was in a lot of pain in the build-up to WrestleMania 14.

"I have to be honest. I was on a fair amount of stuff. I can tell you that going into [WrestleMania 14], when the whole thing started, it was excruciating. You have had that unbelievable pain going down your leg, the leg feels like it’s dragging, and I guess for me that was the thing that… pain for me – mentally, I could always deal with pain.

"Mobility and feeling heavy- that more than anything bothers me, frustrates me, and that’s the thing that also added to my frustration and my attitude and everything then…knowing that, the one thing that I always had, even if I was the biggest prick in the world, I could always go out there and just rip it down and tear it up, and I knew that was not going to happen this time.

"That more than anything bothered me and affected my psyche more than anything else, you know what I mean? Does that make any sense?"

As for if he had any regrets, Michaels said, "Honestly now, years later, it’s still the one question people always ask me: ‘If you could change anything…’

"I’m not big on the whole ‘regret’ thing…I don’t like to change anything because it might change where I’m at [now], but if you could have one do-over, that match has always been one of those things. I don’t know if you can remember, but I remember creatively, I was always good, as [was Austin]."

Opening up about Undertaker taping up his fists and threatening him before the big match, Michaels admitted, "Back then, Mark (Undertaker) didn’t like me. But at no time has he ever claimed that he said anything to the face of Shawn Michaels, and that’s because he didn’t. Mark went to everybody and told them, ‘If this doesn’t go down the way it should, I’m going to have a big problem and Shawn is going to have a big problem. I’ll go over there and beat the heck out of him.’ But he never had to say anything to me.

"My whole intention at WrestleMania 14 was to drop the belt to Steve, but I was going to make everybody sweat it out and make them think I wasn’t. Obviously, I got that accomplished. That’s extremely unprofessional, but that’s exactly who I was and what I was doing."

Undertaker Reflects on His Dislike of Shawn Michaels in the ’90s

Speaking on WWE Untold, The Undertaker opened up about his disdain towards Shawn Michaels at the time.

"Where Shawn Michaels and I are today and where we were back then on a personal level, it’s taken a complete 360.

"If Shawn Michaels back then was on fire, I probably wouldn’t piss on him to put him out.

"But, that being said, there is no one that I would rather be in the ring with than Shawn Michaels.

"When it came to bell time, and we were looking across the ring at each other, we knew it was going to be something really special.

"It’s not like there was a bunch of animosities. We were just two very different personalities."

Shawn Michaels had this to add. "I was very outgoing, which is to say I was overly obnoxious, and Mark’s always been a very quiet, laid-back kind of guy. A very Cool Hand Luke, very Clint Eastwood-ish type, and I was not."

Thankfully now, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels — as well as Michaels and Austin — are in a much better place.

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JP Zarka
JP Zarka is a teacher, singer/songwriter, producer, executive producer of The Pro Wrestling Stories Podcast, former co-host of The Genius Cast with Lanny Poffo podcast, and editor-in-chief of ProWrestlingStories.com. Originally from Chicago, he has called London home since 2008. He can be reached on Twitter @pws_official.