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For a guy who'd been wrestling for over a decade by 1995, even just at the age of 29, you might have looked at a guy like Shawn Michaels and wonder whether the time for him to be a big star was going to pass him by. While hardly short (Michaels was over 6ft tall), he wasn't a giant that seemed to be Vince McMahon's calling card, nor did he look all that big either - a combination of wrestling style and a lack of size. When the opportunity started to open up near the top of the WWF roster, it was more of a case of Michaels being the only real guy left, rather than the #1 pick.
Hulk Hogan left a huge hole in the WWF when he departed in 1993. Not just as the main drawing card, but he left a significant sink hole in the charisma stakes that nobody else near him seemed to be able to follow. The top of the WWF roster was filled with characters without character - Undertaker, Yokozuna, Lex Luger, Bret Hart. Even guys coming up in the roster like The 123 Kid and Owen Hart were at best work in progress in this regard.
Shawn's character was so believeable; in a roster full of bin men, pig farmers, men of war - Michaels was the guy with the least character of them all, but he was by far the most believe. Perhaps Michaels dialed into that much worn wrestling cliché of "turning the volume up" on your real life character. Shawn the on-screen character and Shawn the person at the time seemed to be interchangeable, it made watching him on television incredibly believable.
Of the guys who could talk, which you could very definitely argue was limited to Jerry Lawler, Ted DiBiase and Michaels himself in the company, the first two weren't full time wrestlers. Shawn, with new bodyguard Diesel, opened up the "Heartbreak Hotel" - a talking segment that was to Superstars what Lawler's "King's Court" was to Raw. Michaels found himself a great niche being able to prop up many of the major feuds that needed them.
Shawn also found a friend in Diesel; a very, very raw 6ft 10" wrestler who was paired with him as the bodyguard. It was a pairing that really made sense for both of them - Diesel could stand there and look like a badass and Shawn could carry the pairing. Given that Shawn could seemingly disappear from in-ring action at the click of his fingers, the pairing gave him the opportunity to stay relevant. Within 18 months Diesel went from the guy in the background to the WWF Championship, having held the tag-titles with Shawn in 1994 too.
When Shawn was working he was busy being excellent. His match with Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania X will go down in the ages. At a time where other acts like Luger and Yokozuna were floundering in major positions, Michaels was often "doing the work" in matches and feuds in 1994. But even when the opportunity came to push himself into the main event picture after winning the Royal Rumble in 1995, it felt more because it was a natural fit with the champion Diesel - Michaels being a guy who had a backstory with him, could take the clean pinfall and make him look like the guy in the process.
But as Owen Hart and Bob Backlund will have been able to attest to, ascending to the top was not a guarantee of longevity. Both should have been kept strong during 1995, in a year when the company was shorn of star power. It would take the company the better part of a year to work out that Shawn was really their best option - having run through Hart, Luger, Yokozuna and Diesel, but it was just reward for a guy who'd been overlooked for stellar opportunities in the past.