Shawn Michaels: From WWE’s Heartbreak Kid to Hardcore Deer Hunter

Shawn Michaels, left, with his MacMillan River Adventures co-host Keith Mark and a buck Michaels killed while filming a hunt.

Shawn Michaels, left, with his MacMillan River Adventures co-host Keith Mark and a buck Michaels killed while filming a hunt.

Shawn Michaels is a mulitple WWE champion and in the WWE Hall of Fame, won the PWI Match of the Year honor 11 times and still is quite popular among wrestling fans.

Known as The Heartbreak Kid, Michaels hails from San Antonio and now hosts a popular outdoors television show, MacMillan River Adventures. He’s traveled around the world for wrestling and hunting, but enjoys being in a stand in Texas.

Michaels, 48, loves hunting with his crossbow and says he’s in favor of legal, ethical hunting as long as folks are happy, getting outdoors and enjoying life.

He was interviewed by Alan Clemons for this “I’m a Deer Hunter!” feature:

You recently were hunting in Africa. How did that turn out?
Man, that was a really great place with a lot of nice folks and everything under the sun as far as wildlife and scenery. We took a big group of people over there and had a really good time. Africa is such a game-rich environment. We really enjoyed it.

How did you get started hunting?
I grew up in Texas in San Antonio and obviously when you’re younger you have the opportunity to visit ranches and go. I always wanted to go, but in Texas football is king and in high school I played football and then got into wrestling, so I didn’t go.

In 1998 I was 33 years old and had what everybody said was a career-ending back injury. That was the first time that I had any significant time on my hands. A friend of mine invited me to go and I jumped at the chance. The first time I was in a deer blind and woke up with the sunrise, watching the animals and nature wake up, so so to speak, I was just blown away by it and fell in love with it.

All of that drew me to it. Having a life that was so hectic and busy, the peace and tranquility of being outdoors and that being the polar opposite of what I’d been doing for years really drew me to it. I got to experience something new and I’ve always felt, very strongly believed, that hunting and being outdoors is instinctive. I firmly believe it’s in the human DNA and believe you have to be exposed to it in a positive light to really grasp it.

Shawn Michaels, "The Heartbreak Kid," in 2005 while wrestling with WWE. (Copyright Photo: John Giamundo)

Shawn Michaels, “The Heartbreak Kid,” in 2005 while wrestling with WWE. (Copyright Photo: John Giamundo)

It’s quite a difference being outdoors versus your career in the WWE with all the lights, crowds, characters in the ring, jumping off cages and being on television. Did that amplify your appreciation of being outdoors?
I was always a shy kid growing up. No one was more surprised by my character and short of everything I did in front the cameras than my parents and family members. They just knew that was not the guy they had raised. For me, I think there was a part of me that wanted to entertain but was too shy and finally given the opportunity in front of camera to pretend to be who you wanted.

But in my time away from that job, I’m actually a pretty laid-back guy. I’ve always told people I’m not a very good famous person. I did it but it took me a long time … I still have trouble with it. My wife jokes that she’s never met someone who forgets who they are so fast. I go into daddy or husband mode so quickly. Early in my career I struggled with all of that and went through some bad stuff. But there was a great synchronicity of the outdoors, my family, my (Christian) faith … when I had time to slow down as result of my back injury those things came together in my life at the same time. All that stuff saved my life. I wasn’t on a real positive road before that and all those things coming together really helped me.”

And it was new, a new experience. I don’t want to underplay my job in the WWE because I’m proud and honored to have been a part of it, but in a lot of respects we can agree it can be pretty silly. That was a joy of it. But the animals don’t care who you are. Nature doesn’t care who you are. You know there’s no one playing along with you. No matter success or defeat, it’s on you and it’s genuine and real. I think that’s one thing that appeals to me consciously and subconsciously. There’s no pretending, I guess.

The most exciting hunt my wife ever had with me was a three-day turkey hunt. We didn’t kill anything, but we were runnin’ and gunnin’ with a bow, and the interaction and activity … that was like our date weekend. We had a great time. It was sort of the raw, naturalness of it all. It was spectacular. To this day she looks back on it as our favorite hunt.

I just don’t see the downside of it and enjoy passing all that down to our kids. No matter how you come out of a hunt, you come out with some wisdom and knowledge.

Do you prefer hunting with a gun or bow, or is anything good for you?
I started out gun hunting and then grabbed a bow for a little bit. As my (wrestling) career went on, my bow poundage went from 70 to 50 because of my shoulders and that’s when I picked up the Carbon Express crossbow. I have a limited amount of (bow) pulls before my shoulder gets uncomfortable. So I’m all all-of-the-above kind of guy.

I have a great deal of respect for tradition and history, but I think we have to change with the times and adapt. I saw that with the WWE and think we have to with outdoors, too. I think with improvements and knowledge of weapons, I say do it. I get concerned sometimes that the outdoor world will struggle dealing with itself more than outside pressures, be it a bow or crossbow or whatever. If it’s legal in your state and you’re hunting ethically, I say do it. I don’t think we should work each other over because of the method.

I’m not the all-seeing and all-knowing, but I just know that I enjoy it. People who are older, who are young, maybe disabled or just don’t have much time to go … let’s encourage them to get out and enjoy hunting. If they want to use a bow or crossbow or whatever, or they’re on an open ranch or in a 5,000-acre high fence and that’s all they have or the only opportunity they have to get out, then I don’t want to beat up someone and tell them they’re less of a hunter for something.

There are so many places in Texas that are high-fenced, I didn’t know anything different really existed until I started hunting in other states and began learning about different states. I just grew up knowing that’s what we had. I really didn’t.  We (outdoors industry) have such big fights in front of us; I don’t see us needing to argue over small things. Most of the mighty nations crumbled from within. I just don’t think that’s a good thing for us to do. We have so many threats to the Second Amendment that I don’t think it’s good for us to be fighting about something like a crossbow or a high fence when we have bigger issues facing us.

What are some of your favorite or memorable wrestling stories?
The absolute hardest question for me to answer is about a favorite match. I look back on 25 plus years and realize, honestly, that not being able to pick just one or two is a really good thing. I’m so fortunate, for a guy who weighed a buck-90 in a business where people said you had to be 6-foot-4 and weigh 250 or so, and I made it and achieved so many things in WWE. I’m flattered and humbled that I was able to do those things and have the opportunities.

My matches against Razor Ramon are the ones that put me on the map. My first world championship in 1996 was big.  I had such big matches with guys the promoters said I was too small to be wrestling against — Undertaker, Big Van Vader, Triple H. Being chosen for “Match of the Year” so many times. My matches with Jericho. Darn near every WrestleMania that I was in, I tried my best to make sure no one remembered anything else but me.

From a sentimental standpoint, my last two matches with Undertaker were memorable. They were spectacular, they were with WrestleMania, with a guy who along with me was with WWE the longest. We both came in at 23-years old, had respect and admiration for each other, had grown from kids to men. For a lot of reasons those two were very special for me. I had a lot of very memorable things … to be with Triple H starting Generation X, bringing a new style of WWE and bringing in a new era.

When I go to appearances now and grown men and grown women show me photos of them when they were kids … to have shared that with them is pretty special. I’m a kid from San Antonio who wanted to be a wrestler. I never grasped that you could be that big or be a big part of something. It’s inspiring and humbling. To pin down to one moment, I don’t have that ability. I’m at a state in life where I’ve come to appreciate it more deeply.

Shawn Michaels prepares to land with devastation during a WWE match. (Copyright Photo: WWE)

Shawn Michaels prepares to land with devastation during a WWE match. (Copyright Photo: WWE)

What was it like to have come from when you started to what it is now? Thirty years ago we had regional wrestling on television from small gyms or National Guard armories, small crowds, guys like the Anderson brothers and Tojo Yamamoto who were carrying on regional wrestling from the very early days. Now it’s stadiums and mega-money and gigantic events.

I started in 1985 when we had what they called territories. I first started wrestling in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas and was there for about six months before going to Kansas City for about three months. Then I went back to Texas for a year. Then I got what I would call my break when I moved to Minneapolis and started a tag team with Marty Jannetty as the Midnight Rockers with AWA and we were on ESPN. That’s when WWE saw us and things took off from there.

Even the WWE was different then than now. It’s gone from privately owned to publicly owned, from Saturday morning or Sunday evening to prime time and is now anchoring USA Network with Monday Night Raw. It’s pretty amazing.

I got into it aspiring to do what you saw, not in a stadium in front of 80,000 people and millions on pay-per-view. That hadn’t happened yet. My idea of success was being a top guy in his territory who drove 3-4 hours from his apartment one night, worked in the armory or gym, and made $1,000 or $2,000 a week and that was gigantic money. That was huge.

Now, to be flying first class around the world, people knowing who you are … I went through my young, dumb phase where things can affect you negatively, but I came around and now I’m stunned at what happened. I look at it as an amazing, awesome experience and remember the days of wrestling in the Junction in San Antonio with duct taped turnbuckles and 50 people, and I thought I’d made it then.

 

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