The 2002 return of Shawn Michaels is daubed in permanent marker as wrestling's greatest ever comeback story. 'The Heartbreak Kid' had already dazzled audiences the prior decade before a devastating back injury expedited an unexpected exit from the industry he'd once arrogantly claimed to own. Then, in the ultimate babyface comeback, he was physically and spiritually reborn. First turning back the clock for a lone exhibition against his best friend, he superkicked Father Time altogether, assembling a superlative second life many preferred to the original vintage.
With a dynamic collection of matches beyond the expectation and ability level of nearly all his colleagues, Shawn referred to himself as 'The Wrestler Of The '90s' immediately following his 1992 heel turn and split from 'Rockers' partner Marty Jannetty and rapidly practiced what he preached. In just six years that came between the 'Barber Shop' window glass smashing around Jannetty's head and the same echoes ushering in Steve Austin's first title reign at his expense at WrestleMania XIV, 'HBK' had lived, loved and lost every inch of the industry. Alongside real-life nemesis Bret Hart, he'd carried nearly all of the in-ring quality during the company's financial and creative nadir with a co-dependent cocktail of narcotics and narcissism.
The coercive crumbling of his physical and mental state in 1998 held true of many that left the business on bad terms, but came with an additional sucker punch - the company exploded back into the mainstream almost literally the day after he departed. Everybody got rich and the happy days were here again, but the Shawn Michaels show had stopped.