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  1. #1
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    Apr 2019

    Hardtime: The WM 10 Ladder Match Did Not Make Shawn Michaels A Star

    Hardtime: The WM 10 Ladder Match Did Not Make Shawn Michaels A Star

    The ladder match at WrestleMania 10 is one of the most discussed wrestling matches of all time. Fans watched in awe as they witnessed the first televised WWE match involving a ladder. The match was fast paced, action packed, and both men used the big, red, steel ladder in very innovative ways for the time. It was not only match of the night in most people’s books, but also “Match Of The Year” according to Pro Wrestling Illustrated. And I agree with that distinction. However, I feel many people overrate the importance of this match, specifically when it comes to how it impacted the career of Shawn Michaels. Many years ago, I made a comment on a message board saying that the WrestleMania 10 ladder match did not have any influence besides successfully making a new addition to WWE’s list of possible matches. Someone told me how wrong they thought I was and said the ladder match “made Shawn Michaels”. He was not the only person to argue with me. I disagree with this and still stand by my original comment.

    The match failed to elevate either of the two participants or give them extra star power. Let me start with Shawn Michaels. Ever since Shawn won the Intercontinental Title from the British Bulldog on the last Saturday Night’s Main Event in late 1992, he had been a very strong upper mid carder. The IC title was much more credible back then than it is today, as it truly made you king of the midcarders. He earned himself a Survivor Series match against then WWE Champion Bret Hart and lost. He lost and regained the IC Title to and from Marty Jannetty in 1993, with one of the matches being proclaimed “Match of the Year” by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. While Marty wasn’t exactly a star, the matches between the former Rockers was something everyone wanted to see. Around this time Shawn enlisted the services of a 7 foot bodyguard named Diesel, who would become his sidekick and help him win matches. That year Shawn earned himself a Summer Slam match against the strong upper mid carder and WWE legend Mr. Perfect. Basically put, Michaels wasn’t a main eventer but he was on the cusp of the main event scene.

    Then a blessing in disguise happened. Michaels was suspended for failing a drug test, leading to the IC title being vacated. Razor Ramon was crowned the new champion in his absence, and when Michaels came back he called himself the “real Intercontinental Champion” as he was never beaten in the ring for the belt. This lead to the famous storyline of Razor and Shawn both having legit claims of being IC Champ and both belts being on the line at WrestleMania 10. As we know, Shawn lost that night but the match stole the show. But I need to point out that the amount of star power Shawn had when he famously walked around the ladder on his way to the ring, not under it, is the same amount of star power he would retain for a few more years afterward. This match did not increase his worth.

    In the months afterward, it was time to check into the Heart Break Hotel. As Shawn battled various injuries and mostly stayed away from the ring, he was given his own talk show segment, mostly on Superstars, as something to do. He had a glowing electric sign with the name of the show, and a heart shaped bed with pillows shaped like lips. It was an entertaining segment where Shawn interviewed various people such as Bret Hart and Paul Bearer. And back then, you needed some degree of star power to get your own talk show. Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts, and Brutus Beefcake all had these type of segments. However, even though it was something fun for Shawn to do while he wasn’t wrestling, it didn’t give him EXTRA star power that he didn’t already have. These segments usually focused on the guest, and didn’t promote any storylines Shawn was in. In fact, he didn’t have any storylines.

    And what was his friend Diesel doing all this time? Holding the Intercontinental Championship. Diesel defeated Razor Ramon to capture the belt, the very same thing Shawn failed to do at WrestleMania that year. By the time Diesel lost the belt back to Razor due to Shawn’s interference backfiring, Shawn and Diesel were the tag team champions. But throughout that summer Diesel had built up a lot of momentum and now Diesel was the one getting the spotlight. The roles were reversed, and it was Shawn, not Diesel, who was the sidekick. If anything, Shawn was in a worse spot then he was in before WrestleMania 10.

    When the duo split up and the tag belts were vacated, Diesel, not Shawn, immediately won the WWE World Title. Vince McMahon decided for Shawn to be Diesel’s opponent for WrestleMania, but in my opinion, this was a move similar to how Owen had a Summer Slam program with his brother when he was champion. He had a built in storyline with him that could draw money, and neither Owen nor Shawn was intended to be elevated by the storyline. Michaels’s Royal Rumble win came out of nowhere, as he had no recent victories over main eventers going into the match, nor did he have the same momentum most Royal Rumble winners had when they won it.

    Personally, I never expected Michaels to win the title. He never felt like he had the star power to do it. And for what its worth, Diesel and Shawn’s match at WM 11 did NOT go on last. It was said Diesel wasn’t drawing as well as Vince McMahon had hoped, but he was still good enough to main event every other ppv that year, including Summer Slam, when he held the title. If Diesel was wrestling Bret at WM instead of Shawn, I believe it would have gone on last instead of LT/Bam Bam. Shawn carried Diesel to a very good match and even had the match won at one point while the referee was outside the ring, even successfully doing his own three count. But nevertheless, this did not elevate him. Although it did open the door for a huge wave of momentum for him in the mid card.

    That year, starting in the month after WrestleMania 11, WWE expanded their pay per views to once a month, with “In Your House” ppvs happening in every month where one of the big 5 wasn’t scheduled. These were 2 hour pay per views with a fun, new theme. Obviously with Diesel being a long term champion he needed credible heel opponents to wrestle in these main events. However, instead of keeping Shawn a heel after WM 11 and letting him have a rematch or two in the first and maybe second In Your House main events, he was turned face the night after WM. I really think if Vince had thought higher of Shawn at the time, he would have delayed his face turn a month or two and let Shawn wrestle Diesel in more ppv main events. If his face turn was delayed a little bit, Shawn still could have had the same amount of momentum afterwards. But as it was, Shawn came back weeks later, as a face, and in short time regained the IC Title in a classic match with Jeff Jarrett. There he was again, in the Intercontinental Title picture, just where he was before WrestleMania 10. Only this time he had more momentum on his side.

    Shawn’s face turn made him catch fire in the upper mid card in 1995. He main evented an In Your House ppv in a tag match with Diesel as his partner (Shawn was still the sidekick), he defeated Razor Ramon in a ladder rematch at Summer Slam, and became the focus of the WWE during an angle where he feigned passing out during a match and blurred the lines of wrestling and reality. Shawn’s momentum had caught Vince McMahon’s attention. Vince planned for Michaels to win the Royal Rumble again and win the title at WrestleMania 12 from Bret Hart in an hour-long Iron Man Match. When Michaels won the Royal Rumble for the second time in 1996, he then truly did feel like a main eventer. Everyone knew he was going to win the title at WM and there was never any question as to whether his match would go on last or not. In time, Michaels did eventually become a true main eventer, and a legendary one at that. However, he did not achieve main event status until 1996, two years after his famous ladder match at WrestleMania 10. The ladder match did not elevate him, but rather he remained in the same spot he was in beforehand for about two more years.

    As for Razor Ramon, the ladder match at WM 10 did not elevate him either, despite him being the winner. Razor would go on to lose and regain the IC Title a few more times and feud with Diesel when he was a midcarder, and also Jeff Jarrett, Dean Douglass, Goldust and the 123 Kid, among other mid carders. After WM 10 Razor never wrestled in a WWE ppv main event, despite the pay per view schedule being expanded to once a month in 1995. Razor really is one of the best wrestlers never to be World Champion, as he had a great look, gimmick and had tons of charisma. But I guess sometimes it just works out that way.

    And while the WM 10 ladder match did not impact the careers of Shawn or Razor, I need to point out it did have impact on WWE booking. It was a fantastic match, as we saw both wrestlers, specifically Shawn, use the ladder in some very creative ways. At least at the time they were considered creative. In addition to this, there was good storytelling and psychology, as you always got from Shawn Michaels even back then. The fact that this was such a phenomenal match made it possible to be used again for future matches. Face it, if the match was boring or full of botches with the ladder, Vince McMahon probably never would’ve booked it ever again. Even if it was just an average, so so match, Vince still probably wouldn’t have booked it again because he wouldn’t see the potential match quality for it. But that was not the case. Shawn and Razor were both at their best on this night and made for another regular addition to WWE’s list of gimmick matches, which back then was much shorter. Before 1999 the ladder match was still used sparingly, but that’s because there just weren’t as many gimmick matches back then.

    But I should note that for Shawn, the WM 10 ladder match was the first inclusion on what would become a long list of 5 star matches for him. And, it was his first great WrestleMania match, which would someday add to his resume for being considered “Mr. WrestleMania” Could he still call himself “Mr. WrestleMania” if this match never took place? Absolutely, as he went on to have many spectacular WM matches. Putting on an hour long clinic with Bret Hart, stealing the show with Chris Jericho, the triple threat with Benoit and Triple H, carrying Vince McMahon and John Cena to entertaining matches, and the list goes on and on. But the WM 10 ladder match definitely contributed to that reputation as much as any other match on that list.

    Shawn and Razor’s match at WM 10 was excellent and certainly deserves the praise it gets for being a spectacular match. However, I disagree with anyone who says the match “made Shawn Michaels”, It didn’t give Shawn any extra star power or immediately elevate him in any way. Shawn eventually was elevated to main event status, but that happened two years later, long after he did his famous splash off the top of that red, ten foot ladder onto Razor.

  2. #2
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    May 2018
    I agree with you, for the most part. I think the match that really elevates Shawn is the Wrestlemania main event. He gets himself over at his buddy's expense, and it's really the moment that the Diesel reign starts to founder and it's the moment that Shawn's rise through the ranks in 1995 and 1996 becomes inevitable.

    Well-written as you'd expect, though if I'm going to give technical pointers I suppose I'd say I hate people using capital letters for emphasis. I was always taught that you should trust the quality of your writing to provide emphasis on its own, but I'm a bit kinder than that and don't really worry about italics being used for it. But yeah, capital letters always puts me off.

    Good column, pleasure having you back.

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  3. #3
    Hey. Good discussion-driving column. As I can see multiple perspectives on it. I give to you that it alone did not directly elevate the two. I do think that it directly cemented Razor as the top IC guy, as the Title always made it back to him up to his loss to Goldust and subsequent departure from WWE.

    As for Shawn, I don't agree he was in the same place for two years straight, while I don't disagree that the ladder match alone didn't elevate him. I don't know off my head if any 5 star match elevates anyone, as McMahon is stubborn and won't allow his plans to be so easily disrupted (as he probably shouldn't for one match.) I will say Shawn was in a better place at wrestle-mania 11 since he was in the world title match. And from then on, he began a journey to elevate himself to winning the belt the next year.

    So after the ladder match, he continued to climb so to speak. What I think the ladder match did was become an example of a body of work that could not be denied. I'm sure Vince would have wanted Diesel to be the guy with HBK as a supportive character. Still, times were more competitive and Diesel's time as champion not fruitful. While business hurt during Big Daddy's reign, HBK continued to put on great work like the ladder match. The ladder match was just one rung in HBK's journey, but he made another rung with the great mic work on the heartbreak hotel, another with the 1995 Royal Rumble, another with the Wrestle-Mania 11 World Title match, another with the successful face turn when he gave Sid the night off, another with his return, another with the way he always appeared vulnerable and beaten in his matches but made spectacular comebacks, another in adding the kip-up to his taunts, another in his win over Jeff Jarrett, another in his second ladder match with Razor. Make no mistake his baby-face IC title win was bigger than his heel Title win, because it was part of a Wrestle-Mania journey. HBK was in a far better place by the time he received his title shot against Bret.

    Good column. And in short I do agree that the match alone didn't elevate, either. I suppose we could stretch this conversation to a discussion on if any single match has done such. I'm sure there have been examples, while there's other examples of WWE staying the course
    Last edited by Benjamin Button; 3 Weeks Ago at 02:39 AM.

  4. #4
    The Brain
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    May 2018
    Another good one, Ripper! I think I'm aligned pretty well with Benny here. The match didn't make Shawn, and anyone arguing that is too caught up in the WWE Approved Narrative, since the match has been canonized in hindsight by the company (and, in fairness, by the fans).

    It reminds me to some extent of the Austin 3:16 promo or Mick Foley crashing off the top of the Cell. It was a significant moment for the character and added to their legacy, but it didn't make them overnight, as both Austin and Foley fell back down the card before rising to the top.

    I agree on Razor as well, it didn't make him as he was already well made at the top of the midcard, and the story goes he could have gone higher but personal issues and preferences held him back. Still, it's one piece of a legacy that helps Razor's profile survive today.

    Last thought, interesting question if Bret/Diesel would have main evented over LT/Bigelow. I tend to think not off the top of my head, WWF was heading for trouble and Vince seemed keen to push something "mainstream" to try to recapture viewers, but I can't say for sure so it's an interesting what if!

  5. #5
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    May 2018
    I'm inclined to agree, not necessarily because I don't believe that specific match made that specific wrestler, but because I believe no one match can ever make a wrestler.

    It was a step along the way, and probably a fairly significant one, but it was just that - a step.

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  6. #6
    Cero Miedo Mystic's Avatar
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    May 2018
    I have never heard these claims (though I don't doubt it), but how very foolish!

    Anyone who lived this knows Michaels happened in increments. His throwing Marty through the window (and not the other way around) already signified something big. His feuds and matches with Marty, Perfect, etc. also established him further. The ladder match showed that Michaels and Razor were for real on the biggest stage, sure. But he would going on to level up again and again. His first Royal Rumble win, for example, leveled him up beyond anything WM X could do, but it didn't even level him up like his second RR win.

    So it happens here and there, more and more.

    For me, the moment that made it most clear to me might have been when he beat Jeff Jarrett for the IC title. I knew he was a damn good IC champion, but I wasn't ready to call him a world title guy. (There's something about the HARD push WWF gives that, for a bit of time, turns me off to even my fav. wrestlers.) Yet, when I witnessed his match with Jarrett and his being IC champion again, something in me said, This guy is so good that, even as IC champ, he has maxed out the IC title and is beyond it.

    What does that leave?

    That next level.

    So, objectively, it happened again and again, and he was so good he kept meeting moments (WM X and many others), but, personally, something about that night with Jarrett did it for me.

  7. #7
    Junior Member
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    Apr 2019
    Prime Time- I'll try not to use capital letters from now on.

    Benjamin Button- I feel Shawn's spot on the card was pretty much the same as it was after WM 11 as it was before WM 10. I think there's a difference between being elevated and gaining momentum.

    mizfan- I was actually thinking of writing columns debunking those myths about Austin and Mankind before your feedback. I really think Diesel/Bret would have main evented, as Bret had just main evented 2 WM's before that.

    DynamiteBillington- You're right, no one match makes a wrestler.

    Mystic- Shawn did grow in increments, but the WM 10 ladder match did not give him many extra star power right away. That Jarrett match is a classic.

  8. #8
    Senior Member
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    Sep 2018
    Although I never watched during that era, based on your argument I have to agree that Shawn only became a main eventer when he finally won the title at Wrestlemania 12. The ladder match did serve it's purpose in the discovery of Shawn though.

    One thing that I never see something people talking about is the irony of Diesel winning the belt before Shawn. The term Jannety'd came from Shawn turning on Marty and become the successful One of the tag team. That makes me think that Shawn almost got Jannety'd himself! From Diesel being his sidekick to winning the champion before him and Shawn then becoming Diesels sidekick you have to wonder how close Shawn was from being Jannety'd.

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