I think I’m cute, I know I’m sexy
I’ve got the looks to drive the girls wild
I’ve got the moves, to really move ’em
I’ll send chills, up and down their spine
I’m just a sexy boy…
If you watched professional wrestling at any point during the past 20-odd years, you probably recognize that refrain as the iconic entrance music of “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, whom many consider the greatest sports entertainer of all time. His mix of technique, showmanship, athleticism, charisma and sheer energy made him a showstopper during a career that spanned over two decades.
Not to mention, his good looks and coolness made him an object of desire for legions of women and gay men (you may not think of that as a pro wrestling demographic, but there must be a fair share of them, considering that wrestling involves well-built men rolling around with their shirts off). And of course, you can’t forget the chills he sent up the spine of every wrestling fan (including my brother Rob and I) who had the privilege of watching his sensational, often-dangerous ringmanship.
But you’ve gotta wonder, would any of this success have been possible if he stuck with his birth name, Michael Hickenbottom?
I’d wager that it wouldn’t.
Now don’t get me wrong: as keeper of a funny-names list for over five years, and as co-founder of the Funny Names Blog, I appreciate a good, silly-sounding name more than almost anyone else on earth. However, like any good theorist, I recognize there are limitations, and Michael Hickenbottom is a name that just doesn’t work for someone who exudes sexuality.
Perhaps it’s an extension of the theory that funny-named guys like Kermit Cintron and Dick Butkus develop otherworldly toughness – perhaps his very unsexy name was the necessary impetus for Michael Hickenbottom to develop such a winning, compelling personality.
Born in Arizona as the youngest of Dick Hickenbottom’s four children, young Michael Hickenbottom was raised in Texas
and disliked his name growing up – but not the one you’d expect. He wanted people to call him Shawn Hickenbottom – true story. As a poor young Texan with questionable academics, Michaels found his calling in wrestling, thanks in many ways to his mentor Jose “Super Sock” Lothario.
Yes, a Sexy Boy named Hickenbottom was brought under the wing of a Lothario* known as Super Sock. Even the most inventive Wrestlecrapper couldn’t make this stuff up.
*For those who don’t know, “Lothario” is a term used to describe an unscrupulous seducer of women.
For one reason or another, the formula worked. Between 1988 and 2010, he began (along with Marty Jannetty) as a mullet-wearing member of the tag team The Rockers. Then, a fame-hungry Michaels would turn heel (aka “bad guy”), throwing Jannetty through a barbershop window and revamping himself as The Heartbreak Kid and wrestling alone. In 1996, WWF rebranded him as a face (“babyface” is wrestling slang for “good guy”), and – with Super Sock in his corner – he won the world championship in a grueling 62-minute match with Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 12.
Over the next 14 years, Hickenbottom would battle through several career-threatening injuries as one of the sport’s marquee stars, morphing into a vulgar iconoclast before returning as a born-again Christian, then coming back as a born-again iconoclast, and ultimately a living legend.
Due to an ill-fated “wager” (at least according to the spurious wrestling storyline), Michaels’ character was forced to retire after losing to The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 26 – a match Rob and I saw live. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame immediately after his retirement, and began working behind-the-scenes in WWE.
At his Hall of Fame induction, WWE said “Ask any Superstar on the WWE roster who the most gifted sports-entertainer of all time is and nearly everyone will have the same answer — Shawn Michaels.” It’s hard to argue with that. Eleven times, Pro Wrestling Illustrated chose one of Michaels’ matches as “PWI Match of the Year”, including seven straight between 2004 and his 2010 retirement. Those are both mind-blowing records that may never be matched.
Michaels left a legacy far larger than his 6’0″, 200-lb frame would indicate. Not bad for a kid named Hickenbottom.