By Mike Mooneyham

Aug. 21, 2005

Tasteless storylines, offensive characters and ridiculous angles have marked this summer’s pro wrestling scene.

Mat fans can take solace, however, in the fact they finally have a match they can sink their teeth into.

That’s not saying that it’s going to be a bout that will ever be mentioned in the same breath as Flair-Steamboat or Funk-Brisco. Far from it. But it’s carrying more than its share of intrigue, curiosity and star power.

Tonight’s Hulk Hogan-Shawn Michaels clash at Summer Slam is the first-ever meeting between two of the industry’s biggest names.

Hogan is undeniably a larger-than-life icon who transcends the wrestling business. He’s also the shrewdest businessman, manipulator and backstage politician the game has ever seen.

Michaels, at least the previous version of the Heartbreak Kid, has left behind his own share of wrestling roadkill. He’s a born-again Christian now, though, and from all accounts hasn’t veered off the path of the straight and narrow since turning his life around nearly five years ago.

Shawn Michaels

But Michaels is still savvy enough to play the game at a level like few in the business. Unlike The Rock, who appeared to be taken aback and even star-struck after experiencing Hogan’s popularity firsthand during their Wrestlemania match several years ago, Michaels isn’t awed or intimidated by Hogan’s presence or his mass appeal. He’s not likely to pay homage to the Hulkster, either, and simply become the latest on Hogan’s long list of big-star victims.

At one time Michaels was one of the most controversial figures in the business. His boy-toy image, prima donna attitude and double-cross of Bret Hart to capture the WWE title in 1997 at the Survivor Series pay-per-view alienated many of his peers.

His time away from wrestling following spinal-fusion surgery produced an entirely different individual. Now a married father (he wed former Nitro Girl “Whisper” Rebecca Curci) with two young children, the 40-year-old Michael Shawn Hickenbottom is a humble man who does charity work for his church and lives his life in accordance with his religious doctrine.

“Jesus Christ changes people’s hearts. He did it 2,000 years ago and he did it to me,” he said in an interview earlier this year.

There’s no denying that the one-time wrestling party animal has changed dramatically since his days of posing nude for Playgirl and taking part in some of wrestling’s most controversial segments on WWE television as part of the edgy D-Generation X faction.

But it’s abundantly clear that he doesn’t take wrestling – or his place in the business – any less serious. Proud of his reputation in wrestling circles as the “Showstopper,” Michaels realizes how important his match with Hogan is. He wants it to be more than a footnote in a remarkable 20-year career that has had more than its share of twists and turns.

Current storyline aside, Michaels hasn’t been thrilled with Hogan’s less-than-flattering characterization of him.

Michaels turned the tables on Hogan several weeks ago when he delivered a spot-on parody of an actual appearance Hogan had made just days earlier on Larry King Live. Michaels parodied Hogan’s age, mannerisms and backstage clout before delivering his “Sweet Chin Music” kick to the Larry King look-alike.

Michaels added fuel to the fire by enraging an already rabid and incensed Montreal crowd last week on Raw by taking shots at Hogan and local hero Bret Hart in one of the most impassioned promos of his career.

Michaels said recently that “the Heartbreak Kid lays down for absolutely nobody.” Tonight we’ll find out.

– Marty Jannetty, another reputed born-again Christian and former teammate of Shawn Michaels as The Midnight Rockers, recently revealed why he was released from the WWE contract he signed earlier this year.

Jannetty, no stranger to out-of-ring problems over the past decade, admitted that he simply let his past sneak up on him and was arrested on a domestic dispute charge.

“Had I not been on probation it would not have been magnified the way it was,” Jannetty explained on the WWE Web site. “And I had to go to jail. And I stayed in there long enough that after signing the contract I was unable to fulfill bookings. And the obvious thing was a release.”

Jannetty, who apparently remains oblivious to the reward and punishment concept, went on to call his release a “raw deal” and said he had hoped that WWE would overlook the incident.

“Probation is ridiculous here (Florida). And that’s what I was placed on a while back for a DUI that I received, which was again that partying lifestyle. I don’t hide the fact that I used to party, I used to do it all, and that was a DUI I was on probation for.”

“I had a late-night argument with my girl, the police were called by the neighbors because we were screaming and hollering, and that was all it took,” he continued. “Being on probation, that was enough to put me in jail, because of the violation of probation.”

Jannetty claims to have been on the verge on suicide a year ago when he got an “out of the blue” call from his former teammate. Michaels baptized him weeks later at an Athletes in Ministry conference in Phoenix.

– The main event for WWE’s Smackdown show Aug. 29 at the North Charleston Coliseum is Batista defending the WWE title against Eddie Guerrero, although commercials on the Raw and Smackdown TV shows continue to advertise Batista against Mohammed Hassan. The Hassan character was dropped from the Smackdown roster a month ago.

– Pro wrestler Chris Cash (Christopher Bauman Jr.) was killed Thursday night in a motorcycle accident near his home in South Jersey.

– Chris Tolos, one half of the famed Greek-Canadian Wrecking Crew with brother John during the ’60s and ’70s passed away Aug. 13 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, at age 75.

– Quote of the week comes from Jim Cornette concerning Vince Russo’s new Christian-based Ring of Glory promotion: “If there was a God, Vince Russo would never be allowed in the wresting business … It would take divine intervention for Vince Russo to come up with a good idea.”

– Peter Vailahi, son of longtime pro wrestler The Barbarian (Sione Vailahi), has been released from his Brigham Young football scholarship. The offensive lineman was released a week before he was to report for fall camp. Vailahi, a 6-4, 290-pound offensive lineman, signed with the Cougars in February and is expected to pursue other playing opportunities closer to his home in North Carolina.

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Summer Slam pay-per-view tonight at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $7.