Written by: J. Johnson
“For the first time, reality had set in: My son was beginning to notice who I truly was, and that was going to affect him. I was in the process of ruining not only my life, but also my son’s. ‘Lord,’ I said. ‘Please change me.’”
As the former WWF Champion began rehabbing his broken back, he also began reinstating a sense of spirituality though a renewed conviction in his faith. In the years between 1998 and 2002, HBK would make some appearances on WWE TV in the form of a referee or authority figure, but he had yet to get the itch to become a competitor again. Then, in 2002, a passage from the Bible convinced him to make a call.
“I was sitting on the plane, reading my Bible and the Book of Joshua, and this feeling came over me that I was back here for a reason,” he told WWE.com. “God built me to be a wrestler. The words ‘be strong and courageous, for I am with you’ jumped off the page at me.”
Michaels made the call to Vince McMahon, and at first pitched an idea to fight the chairman himself. But Vince had another idea: How about coming back to wrestle Triple H? HBK and Triple H had a storied history together. Behind the scenes, they were best of friends, traveling around the world on top of the WWF’s roster. On TV, they were both apart of D-Generation X, a group of bad guys who would spit in the eye of any authority figure. WWE set the stage for the comeback match by having Triple H turn on his friend during an episode of Monday Night Raw.
At SummerSlam 2002, the match was on, a street fight with Triple H was the return of Michaels to the ring since he left in 1998 for retirement due to back problems and drug addiction. The quality of the match from a storytelling aspect was one of the best ever in HBK‘s career, which means it was one of the best ever in wrestling. Many were wondering if Michaels’ back would be able to withstand another bout. Others wondered if HBK could still perform at the same level he was at four years earlier, when he would easily have the best match of every card he was on.
It was billed to be a one-night return and from reading HBK‘s book, I believe that he really did think this would be a one-off return. Therefore, nothing was left for him or anyone to say in terms of “I wish they would have done this.” There wasn’t anything left to be desired. There was something in this match for everything. Every style, every emotion and every possible weapon was featured.
He withstood Triple H’s assault on his back — several times, he was dropped back-first on a steel chair — and even dove from the top rope to the outside like the HBK of yesteryear. Michaels eventually won the match, but the win that night was largely symbolic of a greater struggle that he endured in his years away from the ring.
The ending was dramatic, with Michaels getting the win and celebrating his triumph. It was a proud moment, and HBK made sure he helped make the monster heel Triple H was even bigger following his victory. Vicious blows with a sledgehammer would interrupt Michaels’ celebration, including one of the most brutal shots that the back of any wrestler has ever taken with the notorious weapon.
Michaels would end up fighting three months later at Survivor Series in the first-ever Elimination Chamber match, where he would win the World Heavyweight Championship (RAW’s exclusive major championship at the time) for the first time in five years. It would launch the second run/chapter in HBK‘s career at age 37, and it was arguably his best run and string of matches ever.