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Shawn Michaels went from the “Heartbreak Kid” to one of the founding members of one of the most revolutionary factions the pro wrestling industry had ever seen at the time.
Michaels and other members of D-Generation X will be featured on A&E Network’s “Biography WWE: Legends” at 8 p.m. ET. The episode chronicled the start of the faction in the midst of WWE’s (then known as the World Wrestling Federation) Attitude Era to combat their rivals, World Championship Wrestling.
D-Generation X was formed in 1997 with Michaels, Triple H (also known as Paul Levesque) and Chyna (also known as Joan Laurer) as their response to the direction of the company. Michaels and Triple H chose to push the envelope with their personas on and off the screen.
Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels. (J. Shearer/WireImage for BWR Public Relations)
X-Pac (also known as Sean Waltman), Road Dogg (also know as Brian James) and Billy Gunn (also known as Monty Sopp) would later become key members of the group.
In a recent interview with Fox News Digital, Michaels said it was a seamless transition to go from his “Heartbreak Kid” gimmick to the “degenerate.”
“It certainly was because, as I stated on a fair amount of occasions, it was a part of who I really was at the time,” he said. “I was very uninhibited from a performance standpoint. And at that time, there just wasn’t much that I was afraid of and even (Triple H), as everyone knows is probably the most sensible out of all of us, he was also as equally as frustrated and just felt like this was his time and truly felt passionate about the direction we felt the business was going. It was something we were going to do kind of regardless of whether or not we were going to have a lot of support doing it because we believed in it.”
The idea of rebels within the company pushing back on the closely guarded tradition of pro wrestling didn’t sit well with everyone at first. While fans have seemingly fond memories of joining in unison and yelling “Suck It!” in sold-out arenas during “RAW is War” shows, Michaels told Fox News Digital there were some issues with fans at first.
Shawn Michaels poses with Triple H. (WWE)
“It was heat, and certainly really early on it got what we still term today as ‘old school heat.’ Because the WWE is so entertainment based, a lot of the times now it becomes the idea of ‘I’m booing you because you’re a bad guy,’” he said. “Look, we were having issues in some buildings early on where people were throwing stuff, and it got to the point where it got a little dangerous and, you know, we would just leave.
“And then, of course, the people would really get upset and riot. We got escorted out of Little Rock (Arkansas), a police escort to the city limits because fans were throwing stuff, and we decided we’re walking out, we’re not wrestling. And then they started lighting little fires in the building. Upfront, it was what we called ‘good old-fashioned heat’ and that was hard to come by. It was very difficult then to get that real life kind of heat where people generally, when they saw you in public, might want to punch you, not get your autograph.”
While Michaels and his DX cohorts were getting heat from the fans, those wrestlers with long legacies in the industry did not exactly like it either even as going against the grain proved to be a shrewd business move in the midst of the Monday Night Wars with World Championship Wrestling.
“Everybody looked at what we were doing as unprofessional, not respecting the business, it all went against tradition, the purists and everybody else. Now, everybody thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world … It started there was just a lot of animosity because they thought we were exposing the business and breaking the fourth wall,” Michaels explained.
Shawn Michaels and Triple H roll out on a tank. (WWE)
“I get it because it just went against the traditional values and saying things that were really real and that’s just something you don’t do. This was all before reality television. If you did anything that wasn’t, you know, what everybody was wanting you to do, you were gonna get heat for it. We didn’t help the matter either by not informing people of what we were going to do. But at the same time, we were looking for real visceral reactions. And a lot of time, the only time you can do that is when it’s straight out real.”
As the stable’s popularity began to soar with their fans, so did a gesture that likely landed a lot of kids in detention when they were in grade school – the crotch chop.
The crotch chop is not only seen among pro wrestlers these days, but it emerged among pro bowlers, NFL players and even in the UFC. Michaels admitted he had no idea it was going to be as big as it turned into.
“There were times we were getting national coverage because children were getting put in detention because of saying ‘suck it’ and doing the crotch chop at school. And we had no idea, I certainly didn’t, that it would sort of harness that kind of appeal to that kind of rebellious attitude that was going on at the time,” he told Fox News Digital. “We did it. We thought it was funny. But we had no idea that it would get as big and as popular as it was.”
WWE personality Shawn Michaels appears at a news conference announcing the WWE Network at the 2014 International CES at the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas on January 8, 2014 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Michaels said he hoped the WWE Universe takes away the difficult journey of achieving that level of fame and notoriety at the time and with every up there was a down.
“Man, did we love to go out there. When we were inside those ropes with each other it really was a lot of guys just having fun with their buddies,” he said. “And I think that’s what really made it work. It was 100% a stone-cold blast.”
Ryan Gaydos is the sports editor for Fox News and Fox Business. Story tips can be sent to Ryan.Gaydos@fox.com.