From the extra flair he showed for fashion, to his penchant for outshining his contemporaries on the brightest stage -- acquiring the nickname of "Mr. WrestleMania" for his efforts in the process -- Shawn Michaels built his legacy by frequently standing out from the crowd.
Michaels, 51, who retired shortly after WrestleMania XXVI in 2010, continues to stand out from his peers by keeping a relatively low profile in the seven years that have followed. Outside of an ambassador role for WWE, in which he occasionally has made appearances on Raw and a brief cameo or two at WrestleMania, Michaels has avoided the temptation of coming back to soak up the adulation of fans and bank one more big check in professional wrestling.
An inability to stay retired and remain content is an addiction that has plagued many in combat sports (both real and fake) over the years, but unlike so many others, Michaels has quite calmly fought off the itch to reopen the door.
"I'm going to hurt my greatness over the years because I don't continue to hint and bait, and make people anticipate, or milk it and put everything over, but there is no itch to scratch," Michaels told ESPN.com. "I'm one of those people who would be OK with fading back into the background a little bit."
The buzz regarding a possible WWE return for Michaels has spread like wildfire of late, for a handful of seemingly unrelated reasons (or so we think). As sincere as Michaels' words appear to be regarding his lack of interest in wrestling one more match, this is still sports entertainment, after all. Never say never.
The pop that a wrestling crowd can generate for a shocking return remains a vital part of the fabric that keeps pro wrestling fans so youthfully engaged -- and nowhere is this element of surprise more effective than at the Royal Rumble.
This year's event takes place on Jan. 29, in Michaels' hometown of San Antonio. The event also marks the 20th anniversary of the last time this event was held at the Alamodome, when Michaels captured the WWE championship from Sycho Sid.
A Jan. 9 return to Raw had many fans hopeful Michaels would announce his entry into the Royal Rumble, but his appearance simply served to promote his first acting role, in the film "The Resurrection of Gavin Stone" -- a movie co-produced by WWE Studios, which opened in theaters Thursday.
Michaels plays Doug, an ex-con who, after going through a dramatic change in his life, turns his focus to serving his family and church. Both the role and script for the Christian comedy-drama appealed to Michaels because of the parallels he saw in his own life.
"Acting is something I always wanted to try after wrestling and I felt like this was a perfect fit," Michaels said. "It was a role that clearly I could identify with, in an environment I knew I would be comfortable in."
The idea of WWE supporting such a wholesome and faith-based film didn't surprise Michaels at all.
"It's not a huge stretch for them, because I know how they have dealt with me over the years in respect to faith and family, and things of that nature," said Michaels, who returned to WWE in 2002 following a four-year retirement because of a back injury, unwilling to engage in storylines that would compromise his new-found Christian beliefs.
Michaels' recent Raw return also included a backstage interview with WWE.com in which he mentioned he would be in attendance at the Royal Rumble -- but he once again reiterated he had no plans to compete, saying, "If I have done nothing in the last seven years, I have done my best to show people how to actually retire from this line of work." He then closed the interview by saying, "Of course in the WWE, you just never know what is going to happen, right?"
Asked about the quote Thursday, Michaels said it was merely him "just being silly" and poking fun at the obvious, considering pro wrestling fans have become trained to doubt the sincerity of any retirement. Michaels said the reality is that he hasn't felt any pressure by the WWE to return -- "absolutely none," in fact -- since he called it quits to spend more time with his children.
"It's funny because the two guys who really make the decisions, which is Vince [McMahon] and Hunter [Paul 'Triple H' Levesque], in seven years have never even approached me," Michaels said. "I guess I'm semi-amused that people think 'Vince is saying this' and whatnot because those are the two people that understand why and respect why I retired and understood it."
Another element that fueled speculation of a Michaels' return came from the Twitter account of WWE champion AJ Styles, whose in-ring skill set often is compared to that of "The Hearbreak Kid." Styles posted a photo in October of himself and Michaels in what appeared to be a poster for the Royal Rumble.
Interesting photo..... is it not? pic.twitter.com/MKgF4XoAF1
- AJStyles.Org (@AJStylesOrg) October 20, 2016
Michaels was not only flattered by the gesture, he was impressed by what Styles was trying to accomplish.
"My reaction was that he's a bright young man," Michaels said. "I think he's not only gifted in the ring, but he understands that the work doesn't stop there. It's about creating talk and constantly being the topic of conversation. He understands that.
"I have no doubt that LeBron James would've loved to have played against Michael Jordan, but that simply is not going to happen. But I've got to tell you that I appreciate the free press. I'm a guy that has absolutely no problem flying under the radar and not being talked about. My name has been out there for the last three months thanks to him doing that."
Michaels says he met Styles briefly just once but was honored that both "The Phenomenal One" and Seth Rollins have mentioned publicly the idea of dream matches against him. But Michaels has a different superstar in mind when asked who he could imagine himself facing in a hypothetical last match at WrestleMania, should he ever get the urge to change his mind.
While he understands the desire for fans to see him matched with opponents who possess a similar amount of athleticism and flair for the dramatic, Michaels sees it much differently.
"I look at Samoa Joe and I've told him a number of times that I see his stuff at NXT and think to myself, 'Man, I could have a great deal of fun with you,' " Michaels said. "He's a guy I have sort of enjoyed, and one of those sleeper guys that no one talks about.
"We have contrasting styles. I get that everybody wants to see me and AJ or Seth or Dolph [Ziggler]. From my standpoint, I think really telling a great story out there [is most important]. I could do it with a guy like Samoa Joe. His stuff looks really good, and sometimes he just looks like he's beating the tar out of somebody."
What Michaels enjoys most about his returns to the WWE these days is working with young talent, including occasional trips to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. At Raw earlier this month, he was overjoyed by how eager cruiserweight TJ Perkins was to do a brief backstage segment with him and how Enzo Amore and Big Cass showed Michaels a picture of themselves with him when they were teens.
Michaels admits it might be "nerdy" and "not pro wrasslin' " to be so unmoved these days by the size of the pop from the crowd or whether a segment he was part of came off as well-received. While he was quick to point out how much he still appreciates his fans, it's the opportunity to be the "old guy" in the locker room each time he returns that leaves him the most satisfied.
"It's young guys going, 'Can we do the crotch chop out there? I know it's not part of what we're doing but we always wanted to do that,' " Michaels said. "It's creating moments for them, because I understand what it's like when you're a grown man, but you're in the wrestling business and have that opportunity to be a kid again. I got to have that with Tully Blanchard and Ric [Flair], so I can appreciate it."
Being different is something with which Michaels is secure. With his lust for the spotlight gone, he's far more concerned with the future of the business than reliving his past glory.
"I'm comfortable with the fact that this is about the WWE moving on past a lot of us," he said. "It may diminish my 'specialness' over the years, but I'm OK with that because that's exactly what every sport and form of entertainment is supposed to do. It's more about that than it is about scratching some mythical itch that is supposedly in all of us. I suppose it is [in all of us] -- but maybe I just don't have it."