This column is part one of a three part series title The Barbershop Trilogy. After you have read this, why not check out the second and third episodes here.
For years, many superstars have spoken about breaking the glass ceiling. They all seem to forget that Shawn Michaels, considered by some the greatest of all time, launched his career by eschewing the ceiling, and going straight for the window.
Nearly six years into his partnership with Marty Jannetty, Shawn ended the existence of the team known as The Rockers with the most famous defenestration in sports entertainment history.
Michaels, after weeks of bickering with his tag partner Jannetty, appeared to patch things up with Marty on Brutus Beefcake’s ‘Barber Shop’ talk show segment, only to grab Jannetty’s head and launch him through the window.
What that did for Shawn’s career is well-known; Marty’s may have stuttered afterwards, but much of that was self-inflicted rather than the consequences of being hurled through Brutus’s shoddy double-glazing.
Filmed in December 1991, the incident was broadcast on January 12, 1992. For an indication of just how long this has stood the test of time, and remained an oft-discussed topic, consider that it occurred two weeks before Sasha Banks was born.
The eleventh hour had come and gone for the former Midnight Rockers, whose relationship was firmly on the rocks.
They had a great run, for sure, having tangled with the likes of the Brain Busters, Fabulous Rougeaus and the Orient Express, the latter team their opponents in a bit of a forgotten classic from a Royal Rumble undercard.
The Rockers had also had an aborted title run, as their ‘win’ over champions the Hart Foundation occurred on a taped Saturday Night’s Main Event that had to be edited because of a rope malfunction, and was never aired by the WWF.
Time was up for the pair, though, and what followed was the most heinous attack in a hairdressers since Sweeney Todd.
A gimmicked barber shop night seem an odd setting for a wrestling angle, but this was an era for curiously set-up talk show concepts. Roddy Piper’s ‘Piper’s Pit’ was followed by a series of more esoteric variations, including ‘The Flower Shop’ hosted by Adrian Adonis, Paul Bearer’s ‘Funeral Parlour’ and The Brother Love Show.
Many significant angles setting up major stories took place on these plywood sets, and after Brutus Beefcake was forced into a lengthy hiatus because of a severe facial injury, he was given the microphone and a platform to host.
Following some friction between Marty and Shawn, the pair appeared on Beefcake’s show, neglected a shampoo and rinse and got straight to business.
As they entered the set, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan set the stage. “Maybe we’ll get this thing straightened out, Brain,” says Gorilla. “These two guys haven’t been getting along too well of late.”
That is about as big a foretelling as when someone gets engaged on Eastenders and says “I’ve got a feeling everything is going to be just fine.” Before you know it they are fighting on Arfur’s allotment while women with bad dye jobs yell ‘leave it aaaht’.
With about four minutes until their partnership was to end, the duo stand either side of the future Booty Man. In hindsight, there was a huge giveaway.
Marty, with a red shirt and stonewashed jeans, looked every bit the early 90s babyface, but Shawn, in a black leather jacket, may as well have been shown trying to sneak out of a girl’s bedroom window, hopping onto his motorcycle to escape her apoplectic father.
In a nice little bit of storytelling, Brutus shows a photo of the team in the latest WWF Magazine. Not only a plug for the publication, but a set-up for a bit of iconography yet to come. Where did he get that magazine from, though? Why is it not a tatty edition of GQ from three years ago like every other barbers?
Shawn speaks first, and while the flags were out that he had the potential to be a great in-ring star, Michaels had not yet found his feet, promo-wise.
Possibly nervous about his career about to take a major turn, the soon-to-be HBK mumbles his way through an assurance that the team would be fine.
However, he drops that perennial nugget – the ‘captain’ of the team. Just who in WWF was obsessed with ‘captain’ storylines in the 1990s? Anyway, Shawn says he was the Rockers’ captain, and the man responsible for everything good about the team, which upsets Jannetty and his ludicrously-large single earring.
Babyface Marty, easily the more comfortable on the stick here, gives a realistic speech acknowledging the friction, dismissing the notion of a captain, and referencing some examples of The Rockers not getting on.
Shawn interjects, with an acting range midway between The Fonz and Danny from Grease, saying “chicks dig me” before lecturing Jannetty about a mistake Marty made during a match Shawn had with…Ric Flair.
You see, Marty had tried to help Michaels by rolling a semi-conscious Shawn into the ring for Flair to pin.
Jannetty does not apologise. To think, had he said “I’m sorry, I love you” after that match, he might not have been picking glass out of his mullet until well into the Clinton administration.
Shawn visibly gains confidence as the segment rolls on, at least he does during the bits when you can hear him. There is a reason they get a microphone each on Miz TV or the like these days. Brutus just cannot keep up.
In case you were wondering which seeds were being planted, a hushed Gorilla says: “Shawn has an attitude problem,” but Bobby just shushes his primate partner.
Marty, meanwhile, is accepting some blame, in forgettable dialogue which makes a case for why SOME people probably should be scripted a little.
Sloppy syntax aside, Marty is being an excellent babyface here, saying the right things and being the bigger man. He offers to turn his back and let Shawn walk away, as Heenan remarks: “They need each other.”
Shawn spins Marty round, seemingly aggressively, but smiles and offers a hand. The pair hug, Brutus says “Ladies and gentleman, the Rockers!” and all is right with the world.
“Tag team specialists,” says Gorilla ‘Empty Platitude’ Monsoon, while Heenan says “one without the other isn’t any good”.
Around the second ‘o’ of the word ‘good’, Michaels hits what was yet to be termed a superkick (a Reverse Crescent Kick Party does not really have the same ring to it) and the team is no more.
“I just knew he was going to do that,” says Heenan, with better timing than Paul Merton’s metronome. “He don’t need Jannetty.”
Michaels puts the bad mouth on Marty, then in what was a genuinely shocking moment, rams Jannetty’s head through the window, shattering the glass, as an audience member emits a perfectly-timed scream.
Everything here is perfect. Gorilla is outraged, Heenan is hilarious in defending Shawn – “Jannetty tried to dive through the window to escape!” – and Brutus tends to a bleeding Marty.
Shawn, meanwhile, retrieves the magazine that was planted in our minds a few minutes earlier, and with perfect symbolism, rips it in two. Shawn throws the picture of Marty at his stricken former partner, and mugs to camera, holding a picture of himself.
The scene continues to be a textbook example of a break-up. Shawn struts off, Barber yells for help, as we cut to shocked-looking audience members, then we see a reverse angle of Marty coming through the glass that looks genuinely devastating.
The whole thing is almost faultless. Yes, the dialogue between the pair before the violence is less than Shakespearian, but it’s a minor quibble. You are left with no doubt as to who is the villain of the piece, who is the nicer 50% of the duo, and his reason for wanting revenge.
However, we would have to wait some time. We shall never know how special Michaels v Jannetty could have been had the instant heat been there, and whether Marty could have emulated his erstwhile partner. Jannetty was fired before January was out, not returning until October.
By then, Michaels was Intercontinental champion, and the feud with Marty was reignited as Jannetty leapt a guardrail to confront his nemesis.
Continuing the motif, this time Shawn’s valet, Sensational Sherri, had her head put through glass, as Marty attempted to nail Shawn with a mirror, but Michaels pulling Sherri into harm’s way.
As another aside, Michaels’ association with Sherri lasted barely nine months, yet it did wonders for Shawn’s early heel credibility, and left a lasting legacy for a union so relatively short-lived.
Marty and Shawn would wrestle at Royal Rumble 1993, in January, with Shawn retaining. Marty disappeared again, only to once again shockingly pop up on Raw in May 1993 and win the IC title. His reign lasted a week, before the belt returned to Shawn.
That, really, was that. The pair would brawl when faced off in Royal Rumble matches, have the odd match here and there, but never again wrestle in a meaningful way.
Nostalgia angles in the mid-2000s would see Jannetty reappear, often to face imminent opponents of Shawn’s. However, the pattern of Marty appearing, impressing, signing, then leaving, seemed to pervade.
In the end, one cannot help but feel that this could be the best ever angle that led to relatively nothing, albeit not the fault of the story itself.
There is a certain irony in the fact that part two of our Barbershop Trilogy, which took place 16 years later, was part of one of the greatest feuds in company history.
The original, though, never blossomed into the timeless personal issue that it ought to have done. It would be hard to argue, though, that chapter one of the story was anything other than absolutely smashing.
This column is part one of a three part series title The Barbershop Trilogy. If you enjoyed this, why not check out the second and third episodes here.