He’s regarded by many as THE best in-ring performer in WWE History. But does this collection of Unreleased matches from the archives prove that Shawn Michaels is the man? Courtesy of WWE Home Video, Matthew Roberts takes a look to find out.
In one of the first new interview interludes on this 3 disc set, Shawn Michaels expresses surprise that WWE Home Video have found any matches that cover the definition of “unreleased”. His tongue is firmly in cheek but if there’s one thing the WWE Universe has, it’s a number of previous DVD’s that have been based around the extraordinary career of the Heartbreak Kid. Those of you paying attention will notice that the “Unseen” tag that was added to the recent Macho Men set is missing here; there is a reason for that. A lot of the matches here (especially as we move through the discs) are TV matches that may well have never been released on Shawn Michaels DVD’s but have been seen on TV. Still, it’s not as if everyone (least of all me) has a microscopic memory of 25 years of televised matches. And, as many a talking head pops up to say on this release, Shawn was the best in-ring performer that the WWE have ever seen. So there must be plenty of hidden gems to discover.
We start with a couple of matches from his early days in Mid-South Wrestling. A tag team match where he teams with Tim Horner to take on Hector & Chavo Guerrero is little more than a squash showcase for the Mexicans and as such has a curiosity value only. More interesting is a singles match against Jake Roberts. Again, the match is to showcase Michael’s opponent but it’s a more competitive affair and if it’s over-stating it to say that you could see the legend HBK would become during a match like this you can certainly see the promise right from the beginning.
From there we hop to the AWA and Shawn’s famous tag team with Marty Jannetty. A couple of good old-fashioned tag team encounters with the team of Doug Sommers and Buddy Rose offer up plenty of excitement and entertainment. A third match from the AWA merely offers curiosity value as Dennis Stamp gets a booking and a young Brian Knobbs looks as slim as you’ve ever seen him.
From there Shawn and Marty make it to the WWE. As this is the late 80’s and early 90’s the Tag Team Division is packed with names. Over the course of the remainder of disc 1 they clash with the likes of The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, Demolition, The Brainbusters (Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard), The Natural Disasters and the Legion of Doom. Unfortunately as this is the late 80’s and early 90’s our boys don’t pick up many clean wins and a number of the matches end in frustrating dq or non-finishes. Kudos to the researchers though for finding a previously unreleased match between the Rockers and The Hart Foundation in amongst the TV taping matches here. It’s not the best, but it’s always quite fascinating to see Shawn and Bret go at it in any format.
By the time disc two commences, Shawn has thrown his former tag team partner out of the window, quite literally, and is embarking towards solo stardom. A January 1992 match against Jimmy Snuka merely shows a work in progress on that front, and a Piper’s Pit segment from a few months later doesn’t really zip like you’d hope. Things get much better as Shawn defends his Intercontinental title against Mr Perfect from April 1993. It’s a spirited affair (even more so considering it’s a dark match never intended to air on TV) and is arguably better than any of their matches that did make it onto our screens. A tag match pitting Shawn and Diesel against the Headshrinkers is decent, but mildly disappointing given the rave reviews their house show matches were getting at the time whilst HBK’s “Face to Face” confrontation with Diesel from New York City in the build up to WrestleMania XI is hardly a must-see (even if it provides a change of pace on this match heavy compilation).
Dark matches where Shawn teams up with Bret Hart (to take on the Blu Brothers) and with Diesel & The Undertaker (to take on the Million Dollar Corporation’s Sid, Tatanka & Kama in an elimination match) are again matches that have more curiosity value than any in-ring merit. Still, if you were a fan of the WWE in the mid 1990’s you’ll get a buzz out of them nevertheless. Shawn then realises his “Boyhood Dream” by lifting the WWE World Title and we get a series of matches from his first reign as champion. TV matches with The 1-2-3 Kid and Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw are pretty much what you’d expect. A dark match from April 1996 against Steve “The Ringmaster” Austin is another one that perhaps had more curiosity value than anything else (though is far from a bad match) whilst a match with Yokozuna taped in Kuwait goes on a little bit too long given Yoko was one half of it. A dark match with Vader is better, even if it will remind some of just how the WWE wasted Vader.
Disc two rounds off with one of the most remarkable matches on the set. Now you may think to label a match with The Brooklyn Brawler from an MSG house show as such means I’m drunk. But I’ve never seen anything quite like it. With Shawn in full-on “prick” mode, HHH and Chyna at ringside putting their oars in and Shawn selling for the jobber as if he was the top man in the promotion you cannot fail to get some perverse entertainment over it all.
Disc three takes in the “second” part of Shawn’s career, after the back injury that had put him out of action from the WWE for over four years. To the astonishment of most, Shawn not only came back but was inarguably better than he had been in his previous “prime”. Whilst the collection of Raw and dark matches on this disc don’t represent the very best of him they do offer up some gems.
Raw matches with the likes of Rob Van Dam, Chris Jericho and Christian are all perfectly acceptable TV matches. A match with Ric Flair from a February 2005 Raw in Japan obviously cannot hold a candle to their WrestleMania classic but the unique atmosphere certainly adds to proceedings. A dark match where Shawn teams with Batista to take on Triple H and Edge is fun in an “after hours” way, as are the two other dark matches on the final disc, a tag team title defnce for Shawn and John Cena against Rated RKO from February 2007 and a World Title Triple Threat match between Shawn, Batista and Chris Jericho from November 2008. A TV match against Kurt Angle from January 2006 is good, without ever threatening to overshadow their more famous meetings and a Texas Tornado tag team match from October of that year provides little more than the answer to “what WWE Home Video release features Viscera and The Highlanders in the same match”. We round things off from March 2009 where the “dream team” of JBL and Vladimir Kozlov tackle Shawn & The Undertaker.
In some ways this is a strange set; it seems obvious to say about a DVD release dedicated to one superstar, but you really will have to be a fan of Shawn Michaels to get the most out of this. Whilst the range in terms of time and opponents is vast, you never really feel like you are seeing the VERY best of HBK and there’s no real standout, previously hidden, gem that really stands out. But even second tier Shawn Michaels is very good and as an overview of his career still offers plenty of entertainment.
Although there is an interview with Michaels peppered throughout the matches there isn’t much to learn that fans won’t already know. The look at his current job in the Performance Centre, and backstage at Takeover events, is interesting but not essential. But at the end of the day it was all about the in-ring work for Shawn. And whilst you may get blasé about the sheer number of times in the segments between the matches that legends and modern-day wrestlers say Michaels was the best ever and you might (rightly) think that this collection isn’t him at his very best this is still a vastly entertaining set that shows you how great he was, and for how long.
Format reviewed: DVD
Photos courtesy of Fetch and WWE.
Thank you to our partners, WWEDVD.co.uk and Fetch for providing our review copy of Shawn Michaels: The Showstopper Unreleased which is out on DVD Monday 1 October. You can buy your copy from WWEDVD.co.uk now by clicking here