The incredible career of WWE legend Shawn Michaels revealed from backstage brawls to the Montreal Screwjob

 WWE legend Shawn Michaels has spoken exclusively to SunSport

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THE Attitude Era was hugely successful for WWE – and remains fiercely popular with old school fans.

But few can agree on the exact moment that kick-started WWE’s Attitude.


WWE legend Shawn Michaels has spoken exclusively to SunSport
 The founder of DX has revealed all about the Attitude Era


The founder of DX has revealed all about the Attitude Era

One thing that can’t be argued is that 1997 was a pivotal year, pulling back the curtain on the business during the height of WWE v WCW TV ratings war.

The rise of Stone Cold. The formation of DX. The anti-American crusade of Bret Hart. The unmasking of Mick Foley. And the birth The Rock.

Now WWE is releasing a DVD and Blu-ray documentary – 1997: Dawn of the Attitude – to celebrate the year, featuring a roundtable discussion with five key superstars from the time.

Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Ron Simmons, The Godfather, and Kane all appear to tell candid backstage stories on how the wrestling business changed forever.

And though the Attitude Era belonged to Stone Cold, Michaels was central to WWE’s biggest moments and controversies in 1997.

In February he vacated the WWE title ahead of a planned match with Bret Hart, claiming he had a potentially career-threatening knee injury and that he’d “lost his smile”.

 HBK has spoken about the Montreal Screwjob


HBK has spoken about the Montreal Screwjob
 He was part of a ploy to screw Bret Hart out of the world title


He was part of a ploy to screw Bret Hart out of the world title

In the summer he was involved in a real-life fight with Bret backstage. In October he competed in the first ever Hell in a Cell. With DX he broke the rules on taste and profanity.

He also faced Bret in the Montreal Screwjob, secretly scheming to screw “The Hitman” out of the WWE Championship live on pay-per- view.

It’s well documented that along with his “Kliq” buddies – including Triple H – HBK had lobbied Vince McMahon for years to change the direction of their TV product.

But for Michaels there as no one moment that transformed the business – instead it was a combination of factors in WWE.

 Michaels faced the Undertaker in the first-ever Hell in a Cell


Michaels faced the Undertaker in the first-ever Hell in a Cell
 The match was one of the best ever


The match was one of the best ever
 It also saw the debut of Kane


It also saw the debut of Kane

Speaking exclusively to Sun Sport, Michaels said: “As I look back I don’t know that I remember any one moment that sparked the Attitude Era so to speak.

“There was all that all the stuff that went down in Montreal, Hunter and I starting to tag together, and certainly the surge of Steve Austin – so many things, as I look back on it.

“You combine that with all the different, really strong personalities – and not just in the ring, but also in real life.

“All those strong personalities in the locker room began to come out and blossom. And a really amazing TV product came as a result of that.

“You like to believe that because it was all very natural, all organic, that’s why it worked.”

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The strongest personality of all at the time was undoubtedly the beer drinking, hard-hitting, middle finger-giving rattlesnake – Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Austin’s rise was meteoric. In 1997 he was destined to become the biggest name in WWE.

But while Michaels famously fell out with Bret Hart as they competed for the top spot, he says there was never any backstage tension with between him and Austin.

He remembers that he liked Austin’s ability to call a match in the ring, without mapping it out beforehand.

Michaels said: “When Steve came in as the Ringmaster, he and I were working together quite a bit on smaller live events when I was the champion.

“I remember Steve being one if the first guys in such a long time who came up to me and said, ‘Hey man, do you just want to lay it out there and just go how we feel like going?’

 Shawn Michaels was one of the greatest in-ring performers of all-time
Shawn Michaels was one of the greatest in-ring performers of all-time
 He reveals all about the Attitude Era in a brand new DVD


He reveals all about the Attitude Era in a brand new DVD

“I said, ‘That would be great’. I hadn’t been in the ring with someone like that for so long.

Honestly, Steve and I actually had a great deal in common and got on really well.”

And while Austin’s rise in popularity was a blow to the ego, it also coincided with Michaels’ own life and mental state spiraling out of control.

The pair with eventually meet at WrestleMania XIV, when Austin defeated Michaels for the WWE Championship – which Michaels believed would be his last match due to a back injury.

He said: “Of course, as you get near the time – the rise of Stone Cold and him coming into his own – clearly everyone recognised that he was the big thing coming up.

“You see the writing on the wall and – not to make any excuses – with me not being at a great place at that time in my life, it was a bruise to the ego, a big pill to swallow.

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“But there was certainly no denying it by any stretch.

“Clearly there were uncomfortable moments, but honestly it was more show and leverage and me trying to being difficult from a company standpoint.

“I think I was trying to ease my bruised ego and deal with the fact WrestleMania XIV was going to be my last match – and the rest of my life, the rest of my career.

“You add all those things together… I made it uncomfortable for everyone, that’s for sure!”

One of Michaels’ biggest moments in 1997 was his Hell in a Cell match against Undertaker at

Badd Blood.

Though perhaps overshadowed by the two legends’ epic encounters at WrestleManias 25 and 26 – when Taker retired Michaels – Hell in a Cell is a masterful piece of wrestling storytelling.

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It was also the debut of the Deadman’s deranged brother Kane, who tore the door from the cell and hit Taker with a Tombstone to give HBK the win.

Michaels said: “I love that match. It will always be one of my favourites.

“It’s funny, because he and I always had such good chemistry. But we hadn’t been in the ring with each other much.

“Because from a WWE standpoint, they didn’t ever think was going to be a match that would work. Obviously that’s pretty ironic now.

“To me that Hell in a Cell had a feeling of that old school, small town territory cage match that you didn’t get to see that much of in WWE.

“It was just such a blast to do. And clearly it was foreshadowing something that neither one of us had any idea would happen years later.

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“Because of the blood and the cage and me falling off it through the table… there were so many things in that match that were a great deal of fun.

“As young kids who wanted to be wrestlers when we grew up, that match encompassed every aspect of why – it was all the reasons you get into the wrestling business.

“Everything that was cool and nifty about the job happened in that match.”

Michaels and Triple H’s D-Generation X would also be huge part of creating WWE’s Attitude

– WWE’s answer to WCW’s New World Order.

Interestingly, the nWo included other members of the Kliq – Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Sean Waltman (who’d later jump back to WWE and join DX).

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It was almost as if DX and the nWo were opposing extensions of the same real-life backstage crew.

Michaels said: “I think they did end up being extensions of the Kliq. It’s one of those things that was never devised as a master plan but just sort of happened.

“But I think that makes it even more genuine, appealing and cool as you look back on it.

“The nWo was unbelievably innovative, new, and different. But I felt like DX was totally different.

“The nWo was a group of grown men. I feel like DX was more juvenile adolescents, pranksters, troublemakers. And I think that was the appeal to DX.

“DX was more mischievous and had more smartass humour, which was more Kliq-ish that the nWo was.

“That was more of a genuine aspect of us back then – and I think that was something that made it different than the nWo.”

In most earth shattering moment of 1997 – and arguably in the history of professional wrestling – came at Survivor Series: the Montreal Screwjob.

The incident saw Vince McMahon conspire to get the WWE Championship off Bret Hart, before the Hitman departed for WCW.

Some argue it was just a power play, as Bret had refused to lose the title to Michaels in his native Canada.

Only a handful of people were it on Vince’s scheme, including Michaels, Triple H, and referee Earl Hebner.

It changed the face of WWE forever – and was the origin of the evil boss character that McMahon would play in his feud against Stone Cold.

Michaels was much vilified for his role in the incident and remembers being rocked by the reality of what they’d done directly after the match – and still wrestles with the magnitude of it 20 years later.

He said: “In some ways it was chaotic backstage but it was sort of surreal too.

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“I can remember being sat in the hotel room with Hunter… and for me the strangest thing about all of it was trying to wrap my head around it.

“There’s a lot of big talking that goes on in the wrestling business and 99.9 per cent of it never happens – but that did.

“The enormity of that was the biggest and most difficult thing to get past, to take it in and absorb.

“All this chaos, controversy, and anger and all these different things and emotions were going on.

“I was sort of in my own place I guess, in my head, just trying to grasp, ‘Oh my god, it actually happened, it’s been done, and I’m a huge – if not the biggest – part of it.’

“On one hand, I didn’t grasp that it would last forever… I don’t know that you ever think you’ll ever be a part of something that will absolutely never ever be forgotten.

“It’s a hard thing to wrap your head around when you’re really at your core you just wanted to wrestle.

“Every now and again I’m still that 15-year- old kid sat in front on TV saying, “Gosh one day I want to be a pro wrestler!”

“When things get that big and that real, sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming.”

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The one big moment in 1997 that Michaels did miss out on was WrestleMania 13, when he was out action with the knee injury (and lost smile) that forced him to vacate the title.

That night Stone Cold battled Bret Hart in one of the greatest matches of all time – their infamous, blood-soaked I Quit match.

The match had a famous “double turn”, with Bret and Austin switching babyface and heel roles.

Legend has it that Shawn should have faced Bret at ‘Mania 13.

But he doesn’t regret missing the show or think about what might have been had he battled real-life rival the Hitman that night.

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He said: “I got so caught up in that match, how good it was, and the sort of momentum that Steve garnered from it.

“I’ve been a part of plenty of things I never thought I’d be a part of in the wrestling business.

It’s very tough for me to have any regrets.

“Nothing would have thrilled me more to make better decisions and not make bad choices… I’m like any other person.

“But at the same time I feel like if I took one domino out of the way, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now – and I wouldn’t change where I’m at now for anything in the world.”

1997: Dawn of the Attitude is on DVD October 2 and Blu-ray October 9 from

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