If anyone knows what it’s like on the grandest stage of professional wrestling, it’s Shawn Michaels. “Mr. WrestleMania” headlined five events, including the 1996 Iron Man match versus Bret Hart in Anaheim.
WrestleMania takes place at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, a two-night event April 1 and 2. Wrestling in SoCal and in a huge stadium presents unique challenges, Michaels told OTBR in a Zoom interview.
“When you’re talking about LA … that speaks for itself. It’s a different kind of town for sure,” Michaels said. “The West Coast, Los Angeles, WrestleMania, they kind of go hand-in-hand with everything that is big time in Hollywood and larger than life.”
The SoFi Stadium Factor
The time difference is also a factor. The sun will set at 7:15 p.m. on April 2, about the start time of the main event. Michaels says the mood can be different when its not a darker atmosphere.
“Sometimes that may cause you to be a little bit more reserved than you might normally be,” Michaels said.
But, those differences will quickly melt away.
“You lose yourself in the performance and obviously just do everything you can to enjoy the experience,” Michaels said.
Wrestling in a football stadium also present differences from a 20,000-seat arena.
“Probably the sound is the thing that affects your performance, because it just sort of carries out as opposed to an arena. It’s much more sort of on top of you,” Michaels said.
But wrestling in front of a mega crowd of 70,000 people is something any wrestler “would easily trade” over a smaller crowd, Michaels said.
“Getting the opportunity to perform in front of 60- to 70,000 people is one of the reasons, one of the big reasons, why people get into this line of work … I can tell you, being fortunate enough to do it, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” Michaels said.
Main Event Pressures
This year’s main event features Roman Reigns defending the unified WWE and Universal championships against Cody Rhodes.
“It isn’t easy by any stretch. It’s an anxious time. It’s a stressful time,” Michaels said.
Performers have to balance all the demands of the week with preparing for a career making moment.
“The best thing that you can do is prepare. Dot every ‘I’, cross every ‘T’ and trust in your process, whatever your process is that you go through to make these kinds of matches and moments happen. If you’ve done it in the past, you do that again, and then you have to trust the process and then go out there and let it fly,” Michaels said.
What is life like during WrestleMania week? Busy, Michaels said.
“They don’t care about your personal schedule. You have a number of appearances, interviews, a number of different things that you have to do,” Michaels said.
There are the media appearances, charity and school visits, and the additional shows. Smackdown and the Hall of
Fame ceremony take place the day before, on March 31. The following morning, hours before the show, NXT — WWE’s developmental territory — has an event. Both emanate from Crytpo.com Arena in downtown LA.
“We sort of almost take over a city, if you will, and they spread superstars all over the place. So I think more than anything, I’d say it’s different from a schedule standpoint where you sort of have to work. You don’t get a lot of sleep and you have to work your workouts and eating around all of your all of your appearances,” Michaels said.
Michaels on His LA Matches
Michaels wrestled three times in southern California WrestleManias. He says his best match was the instant classic versus Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 21 (2005) at Staples Center (now Crypto.com Arena).
Angle forced Michaels to tap out to an ankle lock in a 27-minute match that included a mix of mat wrestling, high flying, brawling, and a table.
“The time limit, what we got to do, The placement on the show, the story we were in, a number of different elements add to that … just the unbelievable chemistry that he and I had,” Michaels said.
The Iron Man battle in 1996 receives mix reviews now, as it did 27 years ago. Some marveled at its pacing. Others have criticized it for the same reason. After 60 minutes, neither Michaels nor Hart scored a fall. The match went into overtime, with Michaels scoring the win.
“Hindsight is 20/20, especially for the people that didn’t do it. You know what I mean? Understanding the business now and just the the tempo of the business now certainly was different,” Michaels said. “Do I think (the criticism is) a little unfair? Obviously, I do. I think if it were somebody else other than myself, and Bret was doing it with somebody else, I think they probably might not get quite the hard time.”
Michaels is still proud of the Iron Man match, calling it “fantastic.”
“I always more so appreciated the risk that we were willing to take as performers to go out there and do that hour match at that time, again in the business, that was that was a huge risk from a company standpoint. It’s very challenging from a performance standpoint to do that. For anybody … to knock it, obviously, as somebody who’s never done it,” Michaels said.
Michaels wrestled one other LA WrestleMania match, VII (1991) with Rockers partner Marty Jannetty. In a speed versus power match, The Rockers defeated the mammoth duo of Haku & The Barbarian.
One More Match?
Michaels is no longer an active wrestler, holding a management position as Senior Vice President of Talent Development. That means he oversees NXT, the WWE’s developmental territory.
His only official role at WrestleMania is at NXT Stand and Deliver, April 1 at 10 a.m. Then, it is off to the big show at SoFi Stadium.
“I’m just going to go support my buddy and support the performers who will perform at WrestleMania,” Michaels said.
He has no desire to compete again.
“I have no urge to have any more matches. I’m very, very pleased with the career that I had. And I’m enjoying helping the future stars get themselves to weekends like the ones we’re about to have,” Michaels said.
Michaels’ SoCal WrestleMania Matches
|WrestleMania VII (1991)||The Rockers: Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty d. Haku & The Barbarian|
|WrestleMania XII (1996)||WWF championship/Iron Man match: Shawn Michaels d. Bret Hart in overtime to win championship|
|WrestleMania 21 (2005)||Kurt Angle d. Shawn Michaels|