"You can't find peace halfway. You have to go all in." - paraphrasing Bret Hart on the new DVD WWE: Greatest Rivalries, Shawn vs Bret. If I've made anything clear in the mass of blogs I've accumulated over the years, it's that there is nothing more that I admire than a fellow man or woman growing with age. Someone who constantly works on the faults and demons brewing inside their minds, only to keep trying to find the light that most assuredly exists at the end of their own personal journey.
I seek out this type of trait in everyone I surround myself with- friends, families, and heroes. Yes, I said heroes. I think having heroes is a necessity often overlooked by people of a certain age, resigned to the idea that they can't learn anything from anyone else, least of all someone they don't know personally. I'm just not that way.
Admittedly, finding those that I admire becomes an increasingly difficult task with each year. Two men that have risen to the top in my eyes are Bret Hart and Shawn Michael. Wrestlers.
Wrestlers with a story we could all benefit from following, because my gratitude for their presence has little to do with how exceptional they are in the ring. It has to do with who they are as men.
Years ago, my very first blog entry touched on this subject. Specifically, it focused on Bret Hart and his re-emergence into the WWE and what that meant. I remember feeling anxious about putting it out into the world, as this was my first piece, and wrestling is nothing if not polarizing. But I had a hunch. A hunch that if readers invested the time, they'd come to understand the words had nothing to do with wrestling, and more to do with forgiveness. Wrestling was the backdrop, but one man's journey was the story.
I was overwhelmed with the response, and it continues to be one of my most popular blogs.
For those unaware, here's a brief, albeit vague description of the events that lead to these two men finding mutual salvation in letting past ghosts go...
Bret Hart was a gifted technical wrestler who defied the status quo in the monster-laden WWE during the 1990's. He rose through the political and professional ranks to eventually become World Champion, no small feat for a man of his size. It took him nearly a decade to get his big break, but when he did, he took the ball and ran with it. He was a hard-working, gutsy wrestler from Canada who was beloved the world over.
Shawn Michaels had similar traits to Bret. Like Bret, he could be perceived as undersized. Especially next to giants like Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, and the biggest giant of them all- Andre. But he had skills far ahead of his contemporaries, and it was only a matter of time before Shawn would be afforded the same opportunities as Bret.
Along the way, something started changing in the wrestling world. Even to this day, many of my friends associate wrestling with the mid-1980's, a plodding, character-base style of good vs evil. The kind of wrestling Hulk Hogan essentially globalized. Like everything in art, things must adapt and divert from the norm, otherwise the audience will flee.
Bret and Shawn were at their peak when the wrestling landscape was starting to lose the elementary aspects that fans had been accustomed to for so long. It was a vastly different landscape. For one, there was a rival promotion becoming serious competition, WCW (at one point even trumping the success of the WWE). Secondly, fans were tired of the boring, obvious results that Hogan and his cronies were known for. The audience was ready for something grittier.
Bret was from the old school age of thought. He certainly wasn't Hogan, even comparing the two would do a disservice to Bret and his skills. But, there is no question Bret came out of that initial wrestling surge. Shawn wasn't. Shawn saw what the audience wanted and probably needed at the time. It needed attitude, something Shawn wasn't short on giving.
Now, as a viewer, it's tough to argue with either point of view. Bret's stance was that the more adult-friendly WWE wasn't suitable for kids. He's right. It wasn't. But Shawn's point that storylines had become stale was also correct. I, a lifelong fan, had deserted the product years earlier. There are only so many garbage men, magicians, and voodoo practitioners I could take.
Long story short, Bret and Shawn started a rivalry on television that culminated in an epic 60+ minute iron man match at Wrestlemania.
That was the storyline for fans.
Behind the scenes, things were much more dramatic. And real.
Bret had been offered a contract by the aforementioned WCW. It was an insane amount of money, but Bret felt staying with the WWE was the right thing to. They had given him everything, and he was nothing if not loyal.
WWE Owner Vince McMahon was pleased, as he wasn't losing one of his crown jewels.
Than it all changed.
Bret and Shawn, behind the scenes, started blurring the lines of what was real and what wasn't. They started hating each other. And suddenly Vince pulled his offer to Bret, citing his inability to pay Bret what they had agreed upon.
Bret signed with WCW.
Only, he was still WWE Champion. As I said in my earlier piece, WWE and WCW were like Coke and Pepsi. You can see how this was a conflict of interest for Vince and everyone involved.
Making matters worse, Bret was set to face Shawn at their annual Thanksgiving-time pay-per-view, Survivor Series. It also happened to be in Canada, Bret's hometown. For the title.
All parties agreed upon an ending to the match that didn't involve Bret losing the title to Shawn, as their real-life hatred of one another wouldn't allow Bret to lose in Canada on that night. There's obviously a lot more to it, so feel free to read up on it BY CLICKING HERE for those uneducated about the specifics.
In the end, it didn't matter, as what has now become the most controversial moment in wrestling history, Bret lost the belt to Shawn. How? Well, Vince and Shawn had concocted a plan to put Bret in a submission hold (the Sharpshooter, his own nonetheless), and while Bret lied there helplessly, they had the referee ring the bell. Thus, the Montreal Screwjob was born.
Just to reiterate, this wasn't planned. This was very, very, real. Bret was legitimately angry, and even allegedly knocked McMahon out with one punch in the dressing room afterward.
Bret left for WCW, and Shawn continued on in the WWE.
That was over a decade ago.
CUT TO- Today. The WWE has released a new DVD, entitled WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs Bret Hart.
In it, Bret and Shawn talk candidly for the first time together about what led up to that night, and how things have changed. For any wrestling fan, it's gripping.
Both men tear up several times, as neither one realized how much that one moment would forever affect their lives.
And yet, wrestling aside, it's unbelievably beautiful. Bret and Shawn were friends long before their animosity started. Shawn very much wanted Bret to like and respect him, something it's clear Bret did. However, misinterpretations and misunderstandings exacerbated the situation, and things spiraled out of control. It's so wonderful to see these two come together and forgive one another that it literally makes you reflect on your own grudges with those you were once close with.
In my original blog, I focused on Bret. But in reality, Shawn's journey has been just as fascinating. Make no mistake about it, I fully stand on Bret's side when it comes to what did and did not happen that night in Montreal. Shawn, for all his talents, certainly had a reputation. And yet, I can't help but feel I know that guy. That guy who feels the world is against him and no one is giving him the respect he deserves. To be frank, I had similar undesirable personality traits at one time in my life as well.
There's a moment in the interview when Shawn makes a point to address the fact that he wishes he could have traversed the waters in a different way, but that "his head wasn't screwed on right."
Now really, who hasn't related to that at some point in their life?
For these two men, to sit down and shake hands after all that's happened, shows us all what the definition of forgiveness is. Their in-ring, unscripted embrace months earlier was a triumphant moment that showed the world what can happen if you just lay down your sword.
Bret talked about metaphorically walking around for years with a "bag of rocks" on his back.
During that time, Shawn found Jesus Christ and religion. He changed. He became a better man.
Bret, however, wasn't involved in the WWE, and thus always kept a wary eye on this new Shawn Michaels. But sometime during his stroke, Bret received a call from Vince McMahon, and old wounds started to heal. Although he doesn't say it, it's fairly obvious Bret feels his stroke gave him a second chance.
And so, with a step filled with unbelievable faith, he moved forward. Calls were made, and soon enough, these two onetime friends turned bitter enemies, realized life was too short.
Bret found in Shawn truth. He saw how much Shawn had grown, as a man.
Many people have said that it was the WWE fans who got the most out of their reconciliation, but I think that's too narrow-sighted. The real winners were Bret and Shawn themselves.
The ability to forgive someone, to make peace, and to admit that perhaps you made mistakes... that's a gift some people aren't capable of. Bret, and Shawn, each admit to faults within the piece, and in the end they provide many of us fans closure.
Hopefully, their story can be the impetus for you to remove your own proverbial bag of rocks.
As Bret and Shawn showed, life is sweeter when you aren't filled with anger and sadness. That's why I admire these two men more than anything else, because they grow.
Thanks fellas, you once again led the way, much like you always did. Kurt Edward Larson just published his first book, Finding the Super-Hero Within. It also deals with his own journey of forgiveness, and how it led him to the love of his life Nicole. In fact, Nicole had never watched wrestling before, but Kurt is happy to report she cried during Shawn's Hall of Fame Speech.