The Best Version Of D-X Was Without Shawn Michaels
The final bell ring of 1998’s WrestleMania XIV signaled not just the end of the show’s main event, but also the end of a career. Thanks to a back injury, Shawn Michaels, the man who had just lost his WWF Championship to brand new megastar “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, would be forced into a indefinite leave of absence that would ultimately last four years. As a result, the future of his now-legendary stable known as D-Generation X was uncertain.
Shawn Michaels Takes A Break
Michaels had hurt his back during a Casket Match with The Undertaker at the Royal Rumble just a few months prior, and his temporary retirement left a big hole in the company’s roster. Thankfully, WWE was about to enter one of its most lucrative and culturally relevant eras, and though The Heart Break’s Kid’s in-ring presence would be missed, his absence wasn’t as damaging as it may have been a year or two earlier.
In fact, there were quite a few positives to come out of HBK’s lengthy sabbatical. Take the aforementioned D-Generation X, as an example. Not only did the group quickly recover from the loss of its leader, but it would eventually become a more powerful, and more entertaining force than it had been when he was still around.
The night after WrestleMania XIV, Hunter Hearst Helmsley announced that Shawn Michaels was no longer a member of D-X. The dastardly Triple H became the group’s leader, and immediately expanded its ranks by recruiting his old friend Sean Waltman, who had recently left WCW. The WWF Tag Team Champions “Bad Ass” Billy Gunn and “The Road Dogg” Jesse James (collectively known as The New Age Outlaws) also joined D-X in the wake of HBK’s departure.
The New D-Generation X
The new and improved D-Generation X became so popular with fans, that WWE was forced to start booking them like babyfaces. The group would have memorable feuds with The Nation of Domination, led by The Rock, and later, The Corporation, led by Vince McMahon. Some of the most entertaining and unforgettable moments of D-X’s existence occurred during this period. In fact, so many people got into (or got back into) WWE during the Attitude Era (which ostensibly began the second WrestleMania XVI concluded), that it wouldn’t be a stretch to refer to the HBK-less D-X as the definitive incarnation of the group.
Not all of these moments are memorable for the right reasons. The less said about the infamous segment which featured X-Pac attempting to parody Mark Henry by wearing blackface, the better. The segment is tough to watch, but was representative of the crass, uncouth, and politically incorrect antics that made D-X so popular in its heyday. Though almost unwatchable now, the Attitude Era audience ate it up.
“It was just us having fun. You look back at it now and your like, ‘wow, that would never go across today.’ Back then no one was thinking about it being racist, we didn’t think that way. We were just having fun,” former Nation of Domination member and WWE Hall of Famer The Godfather stated in a 2018 interview with WrestlingINC.
Godfather’s comment that such antics would not go down well with modern day audiences partially speaks to why subsequent attempts to revive D-X — which all involved Shawn Michaels — were poorly received, or at least failed to fully recapture the energy of the faction’s glory days.
Invading WCW With A “Tank”
Of course, the thing that no doubt every wrestling fan thinks of when they reminisce about D-Generation X is the time the group went to war with WCW. In a series of pre-taped video packages, D-X could be seen attempting to get under the skin of WCW’s higher-ups by making visits to the company’s live events, as well as its headquarters in Atlanta, GA. On April 27, 1998 Raw Is War and Nitro were taking place fewer than 20 miles apart in Virginia. The jokers of D-X travelled to the arena where Nitro was being taped in an army jeep (often erroneously referred to as a tank in WWE documentaries and retrospectives). They were unable to infiltrate the arena, but the moment took its rightful place in the halls of wrestling lore regardless. The attempt to invade WCW is perhaps the most unforgettable moment of the group’s history, and Shawn Michaels was nowhere to be found.
You don’t have to hate Shawn Michael’s to acknowledge that D-Generation X thrived in his absence. As soon as HBK’s sabbatical began, Chyna, X-Pac, Billy Gun and Road Dogg became valuable assets and cemented their legacies as WWE legends, while Triple H was ready to assume the role of leader, which would set the stage for his eventual run as the company’s top heel.