He has been known by many nicknames during his singles career like The Showstopper, The Headliner, The Icon, The Main Event and Mr. Wrestlemania. He was loved and hated both inside and out of the wrestling ring. He is one of the most decorated champions in WWF/WWE history. To think it all started for ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels over cereal.
Yeah, you read that correctly…cereal was the catalyst that helped launch the successful singles career of Shawn Michaels. Up until that point (which we will get to shortly) Shawn Michaels was a part of a very popular and successful tag team with Marty Jannetty known as The Midnight Rockers, The Midnight Rock N Rollers and simply The Rockers. The team wrestled throughout various promotions and territories like the AWA, Memphis, Alabama and of course….the World Wrestling Federation winning some titles along the way. Their career as a tag team in the WWF had some ups and some downs, including “winning” the promotion’s tag team titles. All of that seemingly changed in one day. Enter the breakfast cereal.
The Rockers along with other stars like the Road Warriors were booked to do an ad for breakfast cereal. After the commercial shoot ended, Marty and Shawn received $5,000 total for their work. Not bad, until they discovered that Hawk and Animal received $5,000 each. When Marty and Shawn found out that the Road Warriors individually received five grand and they had to split their five grand….the Rockers became enraged. So much so that they talked about quitting the WWF and jumping ship to WCW.
According to Shawn Michaels, Marty led the way, saying that he could get a big money deal with World Championship Wrestling. Marty called up Magnum TA, who led him to WCW’s front office and attempted to negotiate contracts. WCW apparently made the duo a low ball offer…but Michaels had his doubts that Jannetty was telling the truth. Michaels became nervous about the lack of opportunities outside of the WWF, so he placed a call to Vince McMahon. Vince supposedly requested that Shawn stick around and become a singles wrestler. McMahon saw star potential in Shawn Michaels and convinced him to stay. Shawn then called Marty and told him that he decided to remain with the company and asked that Marty consider doing the same.
Both Michaels and Jannetty met with Vince in person and discussed how each wrestler could be successfully utilized as singles wrestlers and also talked about how they would do their break up. The original plan was for Shawn to turn on Marty during a match against the Nasty Boys. Shawn felt that was an angle that was done to death and wanted to do something a bit different. The three men came up with the now infamous ‘Barber Shop’ segment.
It took place on January 11, 1992 on a syndicated episode of ‘Wrestling Challenge.’ For weeks, the Rockers were teasing dissension between themselves and it all culminated with an interview on Brutus Beefcake’s weekly talk show called ‘The Barber Shop.’ Beefcake was finally going to get to the bottom of the tag team’s issues and see if it could be resolved. After talking and seemingly making amends, the team hugged and then Shawn Michaels superkicked Jannetty cementing the split. Both Michaels and Jannetty recalled that day and how the two were dealing with real life issues with each other stemming from the earlier problems with quitting the company.
Shawn admits that he laid the kick on Marty a little stiff to send a message that the partnership was truly over. Jannetty admitted that the kick was a bit stiff and really made him groggy. The icing on the cake was when Shawn picked up Marty and through him through the Barber Shop window. Marty did a “blade job” to make the move look even more devastating. The idea for the window attack was Shawn’s to add another layer to their break up. The segment ended with Shawn tearing a WWF magazine in two with the Rockers on the cover. Shawn Michaels was now a certified heel and ready to begin his singles career.
During the initial days of Michaels heel singles run, many veterans wanted to take liberties on the then 26 year old. Wrestlers would work snug and stiff to send Shawn Michaels a message. The decision was made to pair Shawn Michaels up with ‘Sensational’ Sherri Martel as his valet. Sherri and Shawn had been friends since their days working against each other in the AWA. Before she agreed to work with Shawn, she called his then wife and asked her for permission. Sherri was well respected in the locker room and helped ease tensions between Shawn and many of the veteran wrestlers. She also had a hand in teaching Shawn subtleties of how to work and act like a heel.
Backstage, Sherri told Shawn it was nice to have a new boy toy to work with…referring to her time working with Randy Savage and Ted Dibiase. Manager Jimmy Hart overheard Sherri call Shawn that and wrote the theme song ‘Sexy Boy’ for Shawn with Sherri doing the singing. The new theme song added yet another dimension to Shawn Michael’s new gimmick.
What wasn’t working with Shawn’s new gimmick was his lifestyle outside of the ring. He was still partying hard after shows and missing curfews. After failing a drug test, Vince McMahon scolded him and told him he was about to lose the biggest opportunity of his career. The stern talk seemed to work and Shawn placed more focus on getting his singles career off the ground floor. Sherri would say in interviews years later, that she saw a fire in Shawn that simply wasn’t there before. Of course, we all know that once Shawn reached untouchable status with the company…those old partying demons would return.
The other part of what made the new persona of Shawn Michaels take off, was his nickname. ‘Sexy’ Shawn Michaels was way too generic to be effective. It was none other than ‘Mr. Perfect’ Curt Hennig who came up with the nickname of ‘The Heartbreak Kid.’ Hennig called Shawn that in the locker room and it stuck for his wrestling character. ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels was born and his career really took off.
Shawn Michaels singles career would see him win almost every single title the WWF had. He had some of the greatest matches in the promotion’s history. Yes, he was also a jerk and extremely difficult to work with behind the scenes. Perhaps, his wrestling persona became him outside of the ring or maybe vice versa? Whatever the case, The Heartbreak Kid might not have even existed and be considered one of the all time greatest WWE superstars if not for that cereal commercial.