By Mike Mooneyham

Feb. 6, 2006

Final of two parts

Shawn Michaels, whose cool and cocky “boy toy” antics fit in well with WWE’s racy and envelope-pushing “Attitude” era in the ’90s, is a creation of the past.

In his place is a changed man who now walks the walk and has no problem separating wrestling from reality. It’s a far cry from his previous reputation as an arrogant, flamboyant, pill-popping prima donna who had no problem with doing over-the-edge segments on TV or posing for the likes of Playgirl. Once blasted by the wrestling press for being manipulative and refusing to do jobs or put other wrestlers over, today’s version of the Heartbreak Kid sees wins and losses as largely inconsequential and taking a back seat to doing what’s right for the business.

“A couple old men anchoring the show,” Michaels, 40, laughs about himself and the 56-year-old Ric Flair, still two of the top draws for Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment.

But he’s finally at peace with himself, and that’s made all the difference in the world.

Shawn Michaels

Shawn Michaels

“I have to say that the company is so much better than it was. But I’m also very different. I’m not as insecure as I once was. I’m in a different environment now. From a company standpoint to the television standpoint, it’s an environment that is not so intimidating. There just doesn’t seem to be as much manipulating, politicking and backstabbing. Everybody knows their role, and we’re all starting to work within that now. The industry seems to be a lot gentler than it once was.”

Michaels readily admits he was no choirboy for most of his career. He pulls no punches in his new book, “Heartbreak & Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story,” which discusses his addiction to painkillers in the 1990s, as well as his spiritual transformation.

But he says he has learned from his mistakes, is more humble and tries to live his life in accordance with his religious doctrine. The born-again Christian regrets the one time since he’s been back that he compromised on doing something that was against his better judgment – when he was asked only a couple of months after he returned to say the word “damn” in an interview. He balked at first, but later relented for the sake of the angle. “I did it, and I went to my Bible study that week and told the story. My group leader told me he saw it, and we got into this long conversation,. By the end of it, I told him he was right. I went back to TV and said never again, and they said OK. And that was the last time. They don’t ask me to do anything in that respect. I’m so blessed in that I get the luxury to say yes or no.

“That’s what’s changed. There’s talent up and down. It isn’t just that Shawn Michaels gets away with that. Guys can say that now and it’s OK. It doesn’t mean they’re right all the time, but they’re certainly allowed to express their opinion. That’s what I’ve always enjoyed about working for the guy (Vince McMahon).”

Michaels says he recognizes that he lives in a secular world, and that he worries about doing his best to raise his children and living his life as faithfully and spiritually as he can in that environment.

He pauses when asked whether WWE programming is something he’d let his children watch.

“No,” he finally offers. “But I say that with the fact that we’re … ‘crazy’ Christians. There’s a lot of TV they’re not going to get to watch. I know there are a lot of moms and dads that will disagree with that. But I say that because my son’s only 6. I’d let my son and daughter watch me. But right now it’s very hard to explain what it is. They worry about me getting hurt.

“Is there racy stuff on our show with things like the girls that I wouldn’t let them watch? No I wouldn’t, but that goes for a lot of TV shows that I wouldn’t let them watch. It’s not because it’s WWE, but it’s because I don’t want my kids seeing any of that and becoming desensitized to that and thinking it’s OK. It’s all about being a parent. It has nothing to do with our television show.”

Party animal to family man

Michaels, whose real name is Michael Shawn Hickenbottom, still keeps in touch with some of his old friends in the business. In the company he remains closest with Flair and Triple H (Paul Levesque). He says he hasn’t talked to Scott Hall (who spent three months in a Florida jail last year for domestic violence) in a long time, but he communicates with Kevin Nash on a regular basis.

“Kevin and I have shared a ton of stuff over the years. Kevin really changed his life around. He’s thrilled to be home.”

He also keeps tabs on ex-Kliq colleague Sean Waltman (X-Pac). “I talk to Sean once in a blue moon. Hunter (Triple H) keeps a little better contact with him. I think he’s doing a little better too.”

One wrestler from his past with whom he keeps in close touch is longtime Rocker stablemate Marty Jannetty. The two earned well-deserved reputations as party animals during a tumultuous partnership that ended when the two came to real blows outside the ring.

Two years ago Michaels helped baptize his former teammate.

“I talk with Marty and actually got a call from him after my match on Raw with Shelton (Benjamin) telling me he couldn’t believe I was still doing that. Marty was a big part of my past, and I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for him and will never forget him. We’ll probably always keep in contact. Marty struggles, too, but he’s very open and he at least knows what the answer is, and I think that helps.”

“I’m not real good at talking to people who are struggling only because I don’t know how to relate,” adds Michaels. “For me , it was kaboom, and that was it. I don’t have temptation because I look in the eyes of my beautiful wife and I look at those kids, and I say, ‘Easy decision.'”

Michaels credits wife Rebecca, a former WCW Nitro Girl (Whisper) whom he met through Nash, with playing a major role in his conversion. Less than two years after their marriage, Michaels became a born-again Christian, something he attributes to his wife.

“I do love that woman,” he says.

The two, who wed a month after meeting, have a daughter, Cheyenne Michelle, who turns 2 in August, and a son, Cameron Cade, 6.

New priorities

The charismatic Michaels still loves wrestling, but his passions are his faith and his family. A sure-fire Hall of Fame candidate once his career is over, Michaels says he would like his legacy in the wrestling business simply to be that of “a good wrestler.”

“They throw around the words legend and great a lot, and I’m honored to be thrown in among that. But it’s much more than that.”

It’s things that extend beyond the wrestling ring. Things as simple as what he witnessed at a recent show in the Carolinas.

“I love the Bible Belt. When I came out (of the dressing room), I saw four teenage guys holding a sign that said, ‘HBK Loves Jesus.’ Those were four 16-year-old guys who weren’t afraid to take the heat. And I think that’s very cool. That’s the stuff that I enjoy. I still like going out there and tearing down the house, but if it doesn’t happen now, it doesn’t bother me at all.”

The San Antonio resident, who began his pro career in 1984 after being trained by Mexican star Jose Lothario, is now a few years removed from his “Sexy Boy” image despite his popular long-running entrance theme. But he continues to perform at an extremely high level, and can still carry the “Showstopper” label.

He admits the wear and tear of a full-time schedule is beginning to take a toll. He plans on reducing his rigorous schedule in the coming months.

“I’m doing OK, but I have to admit I’m getting a little banged up as of late, doing a full-time schedule every week. For me, the heart is good, the spirit is good, the body will soon follow. It’s just the wear and tear of the road. Hopefully after the stretch to Wrestlemania, I can look forward to a little rest.”

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The four-time WWE world champion made nothing short of a miraculous return to the ring in 2003, five years after suffering a back injury so severe that at one point he couldn’t even walk. The injury required spinal-fusion surgery that doctors told him would end his career.

“I’m thankful to be doing it. I wouldn’t continue to do it if I didn’t feel I was good at it. And if it starts to suffer, I will step away. The only reason I decided to continue and take on a full schedule is because I felt I could still be good at my job. But then again, I’m as surprised as the next guy, and I thank the good Lord for that.”

– Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio will headline the No Way Out pay-per-view Feb. 19 with the winner getting the shot at the Kurt Angle-Undertaker winner at Wrestlemania.

– With Edge now seemingly out of the title picture. despite drawing strong ratings during his short reign, he is rumored for a match with Mick Foley at Wrestlemania.

– Sting’s first appearance on national television since the demise of WCW helped TNA Impact scored a 1.1 rating for last weekend’s show. The number shattered all existing records for the series.

Even better news is that Spike TV reportedly is offering the company a primetime weeknight slot. The days being discussed are Monday and Thursday, with the latter being the most likely since TNA could lead into UFC programming.

– Stacy Keibler scored the first perfect score of the season on “Dancing with the Stars” Thursday night. The WWE diva posted a 30 to lead all dancers.

– New Generation Wrestling will debut in Pickens at 8 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Pickens Recreation Center. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The Rock ‘N Roll Express (Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson) will meet Terry Taylor and Dr. Tom Prichard in the main event. Also on the card: Tracy Smothers vs. George South. The Lightning Express ( Brad Armstrong and Tim Horner) vs. The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey); Krissy Vaine vs. Amber O’Neal; The Patriot vs. The Masked Superstar; and others.

For more information, contact www.epwt.com , e-mail ngwmatt@yahoo.com or call (864) 878-9239.