WWE NETWORK PICK OF THE WEEK: “The Shawn Michaels Story: Heartbreak & Triumph”

By Ryan Tailor, PWTorch Specialist


Hello and thank you for stopping by to check out the newest addition to PWTorch.com’s growing online Specialists Section!

If you’re reading this, then chances are, you’re an avid pro wrestling fan who probably also watches the WWE Network and its many hours of available content. As well as the weekly replay shows of Raw, SmackDown and live pay-per-view specials, there lies a treasure trove of amazing “on demand” content so that, at the touch of a button, you can teleport yourself into any era, any moment in time, or any past show that the WWE has to offer.

Much like with Netflix, there’s so much programming available it can be difficult to know what to watch next. That is where this new weekly feature comes in to play!

Every week, I will highlight a full show, a match, or even just a stand-out moment in time from the WWE Network, and give my own thoughts and opinions regarding the week’s chosen topic.

For my debut article, I knew I had to pick something truly special which personally means something to me as a lifelong pro wrestling fan. This is the reason why my first “Pick of the Week” is a documentary on the professional wrestling career of “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels.

Pick of the Week: The Shawn Michaels Story: Heartbreak & Triumph
Run Time: 118 minutes
First Released: 2008

When the topic of “greatest professional wrestler of all time” comes into play (which it so often does!) there are a handful of names that remain a solid staple in that discussion; Ric Flair, Bret Hart, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and The Undertaker to name but a few. However, for me there is only one man, one icon, one showstopper who will always come out on top in that debate, and his name is Shawn Michaels. This special looks at the long, storied career of HBK, with a first-hand retrospective of his incredible journey from the man himself, along with interviews from a plethora of WWE talent as well as his closest friends and family.

Due to the sheer length of Shawn Michaels’ career, it was always going to be a tall order to condense down his story from rookie years in the AWA, Memphis, and Mid-South territories, to main even prominence in the WWE, but the documentary manages to squeeze just shy of the two-hour mark. One can imagine that even a ten-hour special would still only graze the surface of this one of a kind performer. The creators of this special are wise to more-or-less jump straight into Shawn’s early wrestling beginnings as the viewer will soon find out, there is a LOT of ground to cover! It’s also worth noting that this documentary does not cover Shawn’s entire in-ring career, as this was released in 2008 (two years before his eventual retirement from in-ring competition in 2010) and therefor does not include any highlights from his much acclaimed 2008 feud with Chris Jericho, or his epic WrestleMania encounters with Ric Flair and The Undertaker respectively.

In some areas of the documentary, parts of Shawn’s career are glossed over at break neck speed, in order to keep the pace up, and to fit in as many key moments as possible. This can be a little jarring, jumping from one territory to the next, without really getting a full flavour of how each move to a different company aided him as a performer, or how certain opponents in his early days helped shape his own wrestling style and make him better in the ring. Never the less, some of the video packages shown during this period of his career paint a good picture of what kind of talent Shawn would eventually become, and how even working as an enhancement talent, he raised a few eyebrows in the back with his athleticism and dedication to the craft. Plus, it’s great to see Shawn dishing out some superkicks and top rope elbow drops knowing just how iconic those moves will become later on in his career!

As we all know, it’s his long tenure in the WWE that really cemented HBK as one of the greats, and the viewer is treated to many incredible Shawn Michaels’ moments in this documentary, including his tag team days with Marty Jannetty, his rise to becoming one of the top work horse’s in WWE, as well as his early forced retirement due to injury, and subsequent return to action after over four years removed from the ring.

Unlike some feature length specials on wrestlers, there are no full matches inserted into the story telling, only short clips and montages of in-ring work. Therefore, I would urge you to go and find some of Shawn’s five-star matches (arguably a list as long as my arm!) that are discussed throughout the documentary to really appreciate why many consider him to be the best all round performer in the business. Recommendations include the classic Wrestlemania 10 ladder match with Razor Ramon, the first-ever Hell in a Cell match with The Undertaker at Bad Blood, or my personal favourite, the now legendary Iron Man match against Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 12 for the WWE Championship.

As an aside, the initial DVD release of this special contained 2 extra discs of full length matches spanning Shawn’s career and I would recommend owning this great collection if, like me, you’re a big Shawn Michaels’ fan and want all your favourite HBK matches in one place!

Some of the juicier moments of the feature include Shawn and Triple H (forever the company man!) discussing the part they played in the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” of Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1997, and gives the viewer a small insight into their relationship with Vince McMahon (who features several times in the documentary) as well as the backstage politics that can often be found in the pro wrestling business.

The relationship between Shawn and Bret, both on and off screen, isn’t really discussed at great length during the show. In one regard it’s a shame that such a huge part of the career of Shawn Michaels’ and a pivotal moment for the wrestling business as a whole is only lightly touched upon. This could be due to time constraints of keeping the feature sharp and consistent, and at a faster pace of storytelling. Luckily for any WWE Network subscriber, there are now many other full length features that focus specifically on the intense rivalry between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, that help to plug some of the gaps and uncover some of the obvious tensions that appear throughout course of the programme.

As well as wrestling, another recurring theme is Shawn’s party lifestyle off screen, and how over reliance on drugs became a tool to ignore not only the gruelling grind and isolation of life on the road, but to also keep Shawn from really looking inwardly at himself under the microscope, and finding the cause of his emotional pain and torment. Throughout the special, Shawn tells of various escapades and drug-fuelled antics that got him into trouble with both his employers and his loved ones, and at one point we see Shawn come close to tears as he tells the story of a particularly painful experience involving his wife and son, that occurred due to his dependence on drugs.

The emotion Shawn shows when retelling moments from his darker days is that of genuine remorse and sadness, and that if he didn’t change his ways, it would ultimately be his family that would end up paying the heaviest price. Luckily for Shawn, he found what he needed to fight his demons and emerge a new man, a better man, and one that wanted to find peace within himself and rewrite his destiny.

The Shawn Michael’s story is ultimately one of redemption, and in the world of professional wrestling where so many greats fall victim to their own personal demons and leave us much too soon, it’s heart-warming to know that Shawn made it through the business alive, reborn, and with a true appreciation of the second chance at life he worked so hard to achieve. This is a must-watch documentary not only for HBK fans or for wrestling fans, but for those seeking a real story of triumph and endurance in the face of one’s darkest hour – Thank you HBK.

I hope you enjoyed the first addition of this new specialist column, and I would love to hear your own “WWE Network: Pick of the Week” suggestions to cover in future articles!

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