By Nick Matthews

Last Sunday, March 28, 2010, the 25-year professional wrestling career of the Heartbreak Kid (HBK), Shawn Michaels came to an end.

Since his World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) debut in 1988, Michaels dazzled fans with a new innovative and fast-paced style of professional wrestling that paved the way for numerous future wrestlers of small stature.

Standing 6’0 tall and weighing just over 220 lbs. for most of his career, Michaels had to rely on his incredible work rate, and in-ring ability in order to be a success, because he did not have the size or body of past WWE torchbearers, such as Hulk Hogan (6’8 300 lbs.), Randy Savage (6’2 250 lbs.) or The Ultimate Warrior (6’5 295 lbs.).

Michaels made waves in the wrestling world with his remarkable in-ring performances as a mid-card wrestler for long enough that there was no doubt he would one day be a main event wrestler.

Before he ever reached main event status, HBK had shook the wrestling world with his shocking turn on his former tag team partner, Marty Jannetty, and proceeded to amaze fans with memorable matches against the likes of “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, The British Bulldog, Randy Savage, and a legendary ladder match with Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania X.

At Wrestlemania 12, it was Shawn Michaels’ time. The reigning champion, Bret Hart put his WWE World Championship on the line in the first ever “Iron Man” match against a young and hungry HBK. The match would be an hour long, and whoever had the most pin falls by the end of the hour would be declared the winner.

By the end of the hour, neither Michaels nor Hart had scored a pin fall, and the bout went to sudden death. Two minutes into sudden death, Michaels hit Bret Hart with his super kick (dubbed “Sweet Chin Music”), and was the new World Champion.

Due to being considered small by wrestling standards, Michaels had to fight hard to get to the top of the wrestling world, and relished his role as the underdog. He would spend much of his career battling giants such as Diesel (6’11 300 lbs.), Sycho Sid (6’9 310 lbs.), and The Undertaker (6’10 320 lbs.).

Michaels was on the top of the wrestling world when he suffered what appeared to be a career threatening back injury. After losing his championship to Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 14, he left wrestling for what appeared to be forever.

During his time off, he would make non wrestling appearances for the WWE, while dealing with his own personal demons. Michaels had begun overdosing on prescription medication, painkillers in particular. He had a reputation among other wrestlers as being an arrogant prima donna as well.

With a wife and kids at home, Michaels decided he needed to change his ways. He has since been born again, and is a very religious Christian. He cleaned up his act, and only good news seemed to follow.

Michaels was cleared to come back and wrestle in 2002, after a four year hiatus, on a limited schedule. He came back as a new, humble man, and the rest of the wrestlers had clearly seen that he had changed. He had kicked his drug addiction, adjusted his attitude problems, and worked to further his legacy in the WWE.

Since returning in 2002, Michaels has had a major impact. He picked up where he left off, having intense feuds and outstanding matches with the likes of Triple H, Chris Jericho, The Undertaker, Kurt Angle and John Cena. His match at Wrestlemania 24 with Ric Flair is the match that inspired me to pursue a career in professional wrestling. At Wrestlemania 25, Michaels fought to end the 16-0 undefeated streak that The Undertaker held at Wrestlemanias. Even in a losing effort, Michaels proved once again, why he has come to be known as Mr. Wrestlemania, and the Showstopper.

Last Sunday, at Wrestlemania 26, Michaels once again challenged the Undertaker, and put his own career on the line in what was built up as a career vs. streak match. At the end of the night, after three tombstone piledrivers, Undertaker had improved to 18-0 at Wrestlemania, and the career of Shawn Michaels was over.

Whether he won or lost, Shawn Michaels always gave the performance of a lifetime, and the fans were always on their feet during his matches.

He helped pave the way for wrestlers of smaller stature so that they would be able to make it as a success. Stars such as The Hardy Boys, John Morrison, Kofi Kingston, A.J Styles and Evan Bourne all say that Shawn Michaels was a major influence on their careers.

Shawn Michaels has reached wrestlers and fans of all shapes and sizes. Ric Flair has called him the greatest in-ring performer of all time. Virtually all of today’s wrestling stars hold Michaels in high regard, including Edge, Randy Orton, Triple H, Batista and even the man who ended his career, The Undertaker.

HBK, Shawn Michaels is a wrestling legend, and will, one day, undoubtedly be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He has been an institution in wrestling for the last 20 years, and his impact will be felt for years to come. Most importantly, without Shawn Michaels, it’s possible that Mr. Amazing Nick Matthews would not currently be wrestling professionally, and that wouldn’t be good for anybody.