June 28, 2014
For Shawn Michaels, life in the fast lane was good.
From the late 1980s until his retirement in Dec. 2010, the San Antonio, Texas, native was in many ways the face of professional wrestling's WWF (World Wrestling Federation) and the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).
With one of the most successful runs in sports entertainment history, Michaels won numerous titles that led him to four world championships, three as a WWF competitor and once as a World Heavyweight Champion (WHC) contestant.
Along the way, there were lots of lights, lots of TV cameras, lots of adoring fans, lots of worldwide fame and plenty of financial reward. But when Michaels walked away from his lucrative career, he knew that a change was in order.
He wanted to return to the simple values that had become the guiding forces of his life, values that included a love of God, a love of family and a passion for the outdoors.
And that's where Keith Mark entered the picture, meeting Michaels and his wife Rebecca at the 2010 SHOT Show. A chance encounter there would soon turn into a friendship, a new direction and a new career path.
Fast forward to 2014 and Michaels is now a different man, firmly entrenched as the co-host of Shawn Michaels' MRA (MacMillan River Adventures) on Outdoor Channel. The first show of the new MRA season premieres this upcoming Tuesday, July 1, at 11:30 p.m. ET. The show also airs Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. ET.
"I've learned quite a bit over the last few years," said Michaels. "That's one of the very exciting things about doing this, is the new challenge. I went from being a fan watching it to being someone on the other side of the camera."
Michaels, a father to son Cameron Kade and daughter Cheyenne, is quick to point out that he has had a good teacher.
"All of this started almost like my wrestling career did," he said. "It was something that I watched, something that I had a passion for, but I didn't know how to do it.
"Hooking up with Keith was the very best thing I could have done," Michaels added. "He's been very patient with me and a great mentor."
Mark said that Michaels is being a little too kind.
"It's been a satisfying run, but he gives me far too much credit for what I bring to the mix," laughed Mark. "Really, what I have and what Shawn didn't have was just many more years of misses, of blown stalks, of thinking that's the right path and it wasn't."
Mark said that in the outdoors, in life, and in business, experience is the greatest teacher.
"I'm a better husband now 29 years after my wife and I married than I was when we started," he said. "And my faith is stronger now, I've been to church a few more times and read the Good Book a few more times.
"It's really simple, we just get better with experience and that's what I bring to the mix."
With a new season of MRA episodes looming, Mark said it's an exciting time for both he and Michaels since they are stretching the edge of the envelope a bit more this season.
"We're really excited about this season's MRA episodes," he said. "It's the best hunting video we've ever gotten; this year's big game video is unbelievable.
"And each episode has a story in it that will stand by itself. But they will also all be interconnected too. All 13 episodes will weave together to tell one singular story by the season's end. We're very excited about it. In fact, we're not sure that anything like this has ever been done before on the Outdoor Channel."
"We will do some things that other shows might not do this season," he said. "Viewers will see some personal things that other shows might not show and might keep out.
"So this season of MRA will show far more personal things than we have before, far more than most other shows do. We decided to go with it because it's real."
Which is exactly what Michaels and Mark say they are trying to be on MRA each week, real. Even if it has taken the pair of friends a year or two to convince other people of that.
"Shawn has gotten some resistance from some of the rank and file in the outdoors industry, people who might have been wondering 'Why he is crashing this good-old-boy party?'," said Mark. "I think some people, who only knew Shawn as a professional wrestler, might have thought that he would be a flash-in-the-pan, do this outdoors television thing for a year, and then go on to something else."
What such detractors didn't know according to Mark was who the real Shawn Michaels actually was and is.
"I had a coach many years ago who told me that what you do when no one else is looking, that's the real you," said Mark. "Well, I can tell you that Shawn doesn't just talk this talk, he walks this walk.
"He lives on a ranch in Texas, he does the ranch work himself, he and his wife home-school their children, they eat what they kill, and if they harvest more than they can use, they donate it to a program like 'Hunters for the Hungry.'"
Mark said that in the 2014 season, he believes that fans of the show, industry members, and even people outside of hunting's mainstream are going to see more of the " ... Shawn Michaels that the hunting community needs to see."
And that's a far different man than the loud, brash, powerful WWE personality that helped make Michaels famous. Instead, they are going to see more of the good husband, the good father, a man of faith, a good friend, and a man who is enjoying the simpler pace of the life he is now leading.
"I'm just a guy that has hunted the state of Texas for many years prior to this show," said Michaels. "I've chased whitetails, some pigs and turkeys over the years.”
Now, he's getting to expand those hunting horizons in front of OC television cameras that are allowing Michaels' wrestling fans to see who was always under that alter ego that the world of wrestling created.
"I would hope that if you were a true fan of mine, you would want to see what else I'm doing in my life now that my career is over," he said a bit sheepishly. "I hope that what we're doing will allow people to see a little bit more of who the real Shawn Michaels is.
"I hope people see that the real me is not necessarily who they sometimes saw in WWE. What they are seeing now, this is the real me."
None of this means that Michaels and Mark want to abandon the many years of fame as one of the most recognizable wrestlers on the planet. Instead, they want to leverage that celebrity from the wrestling ring for the greater good of hunting.
"The HBK (Heartbreak Kid) persona of WWE, we want to tap into that," said Mark.
"I think Shawn appeals to a wider audience, to a wider group, all over the globe just like Nugent did 30 years ago," he added. "I think having Shawn as a part of MRA can help us try to take hunting to a more mainstream audience."
That's an ambitious goal, but one that both Mark and Michaels believe that they can accomplish. In the meantime, the two Outdoor Channel personalities have plenty to keep them busy.
This week, they're off to the stunningly beautiful island of Bermuda to fish in the world's richest fishing tournament - the Blue Marlin Cup - so that Michaels and Mark can film a MRA episode.
The filming will feature the two MRA co-hosts along with retired wrestler and current WWE commentator John "Bradshaw" Layfield and current WWE commentator Michael Cole.
The group will fish aboard Paradise One, a 54-foot rig that is manned by the experienced marlin fishing team of Allan and Delvin Bean.
With filming scheduled for July 3 and on the tournament day of July 4, Michaels and Mark hope to help the boat land the biggest blue marlin in the one-day, worldwide tournament that will net prize money upwards of nearly a half-million dollars that goes to the winner.
Is this a little bit out of the comfort zone of either MRA co-host?
"Yeah, this will be a whole new ball of wax," laughed Michaels.
Mark said ditto for him too.
"I'm a catfish fisherman back home," he said. "In fact, I had never been on the ocean until Shawn took me out on the Gulf (of Mexico) a couple of years ago when we went to Louisiana to fish for redfish.
"I've never done anything like this, so you talk about a learning curve, yeah, we've had to order the manual."
But that takes this story full circle, back to the idea of how Michaels and Mark want to present viewers with MRA episodes that not only show some compelling hunting action, great video footage, and beautiful scenery, but also the real life character and friendship of both men.
"It's taken three seasons for us to get our fingers on the pulse of that," said Mark. "But we want our show to be brutally honest and take viewers behind the curtain.
"Our viewers this year will see the good, the bad, the ugly," he added. "They are going to laugh, they are going to cry, and in our opinion, they are going to see the best big game hunting on the network."
Tune in to the OC on Tuesday, July 1 at 11:30 p.m. ET to watch the season premier of MRA and to see if Mark and Michaels have hit the mark that they are aiming for this season.