Shawn Michaels Insulting Dwayne Johnson’s Grandmother Kicked Off a Rivalry That Resulted in a Backstage Brawl and the Missed Dream Matchup Between The Rock and HBK

Simply put, Shawn Michaels and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are two of the greatest superstars in WWE history. Honestly, one could easily argue for either (or both) to be included on the Mount Rushmore of professional wrestling, given the impact both had on the business.

Sadly, however, we never got that dream matchup between “The Heartbreak Kid and “The Great One.” It was certainly possible at various times, but a bit of real-life animosity between the two legends — animosity that led to a legit backstage brawl — kept it from happening. And it all started before Johnson ever joined the family business.

Shawn Michaels insulted a teenage Dwayne Johnson’s grandmother in the 1980s

As most know, Dwayne Johnson grew up around professional wrestling. His father, Rocky Johnson, won several titles in the NWA, and his maternal grandfather was “High Chief” Peter Maivia, a blood brother to the famed Anoa’i dynasty, which produced several WWE stars, including current superstar Roman Reigns.

But it wasn’t just the men in his family who lived and breathed the business. Maivia’s wife, Lia, was one of the first female promoters in pro wrestling and ran the high-profile Polynesian Pacific Pro Wrestling territory in Hawaii.

The circuit attracted many big-name stars in the 1980s, as well as those looking to make names for themselves in the business. A young Shawn Michaels was in the latter category when he came through for an event, and he apparently made some derogatory remarks toward Lia. That obviously didn’t sit well with a young Rock, who certainly wasn’t a tiny teenager, and confronted Michaels, which nearly led to a clash between the two future legends.

And Johnson certainly hadn’t forgotten what happened when he joined WWE in 1996.

Michaels tried to bury The Rock’s push in the late ’90s

When Johnson arrived in what was then the World Wrestling Federation as Rocky Maivia, Michaels held a lot of power backstage. He’d remained loyal to Vince McMahon through some tough years in the ’90s while others jumped ship to WCW.

But Michaels was battling plenty of personal demons back then, and he and his fellow members of The Kliq didn’t make it easy on those trying to take their top spots. Johnson obviously had the lineage when he came to WWE, but he was still very green, and Michaels & Co. made his life quite difficult.

At the same time Johnson was trying to work his way up the WWE ladder, so was Michaels’ young running mate, Triple H, from whom The Rock won the Intercontinental Championship in early 1997. HBK and Triple H, who soon after became the founding members of D-Generation X, essentially tried to bury Johnson whenever possible, which obviously didn’t work.

Thankfully, for all pro wrestling fans, both The Rock and Triple H became massive stars. As for Michaels, a back injury forced him out of the ring in 1998, at which point a new generation of stars carried WWE into the Attitude Era and the famed Monday Night War with WCW.

But the story of The Rock and Shawn Michaels wasn’t over.

The Rock and HBK brawled backstage after Michaels hit Johnson with some stiff Sweet Chin Music

WWE legends Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Shawn Michaels
(L-R) Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson; Shawn Michaels | George Napolitano/FilmMagic; Steve Granitz/WireImage

Despite not being a full-time wrestler, Michaels made plenty of appearances in WWE following his departure following WrestleMania 14. And during one of those appearances, he served as the special guest referee in a match between The Rock and Triple H.

As Johnson went to deliver his signature People’s Elbow, HBK hit him with some Sweet Chin Music that legit landed squarely on Johnson’s jaw.

When the two arrived backstage following the bout, Johnson informed Michaels that the superkick had been a bit stiff, to which HBK responded, “If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be in the business.”

At that point, the clash The Rock had wanted all those years ago in Hawaii finally came to fruition as he tackled Michaels and pinned him to the ground. Things likely certainly would’ve gotten much worse for HBK had the melee not been broken up before things escalated.

By the time Michaels returned to the ring in 2002, Johnson was on his way to becoming a part-timer as his acting career was about to explode. An angle was on the table for the two to finally square off at WrestleMania 20, but The Rock refused.

It took some time, but The Rock and Shawn Michaels are on good terms these days. But, again, we sadly never got the dream matchup. And what a matchup it would’ve been. Chalk it up to yet another “what if” moment in professional wrestling, of which there are far too many.

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