The Barber Shop Continuity
The betrayal. One of professional wrestling’s great calling cards. But, as Brandon Bethune writes, there’s a thread running through these backstabbing that makes them even more captivating.
Ask people what the sound of glass shattering means in wrestling, and you’ll get a few different answers.
You’ll get Stone Cold Steve Austin’s infamous entrance from most people. Or Kurt Angle nearly murdering Shane McMahon at King of the Ring 2001 from others. From me, you’ll get the Barber Shop.
Why? Because no one action of glass shattering has had more of a distinct effect on wrestlers, their characters, or their stories than that of the betrayals that began with The Barber Shop window in 1992.
The sound of the window smashing has echoed through generations of wrestling, called back upon by WWE during Highlight Reels, Festivals of Friendship, and mostly recently, a blood feud locker room dispute in AEW.
So, with the latest All Elite entry into the lore, I thought there would be no better time than to walk down a memory lane covered in broken glass and broken friendships by addressing what I like to call, The Barber Shop Continuity.
Our story begins in 1992, during an episode of the titular Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake’s segment. During this episode, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannety (together known as legendary team The Rockers) looked to settle their recent differences and decide whether the team would go any further.
Backed by a hilariously hypocritical call by Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, Michaels and Jannety seemingly put their differences to bed, before HBK took Jennety clean out with a superkick.
Shawn wasn’t done there though, and proceeded to lift his now former partner to his feet, only for him to cowardly try and jump through the window to get away and smash it into a million pieces. Okay well maybe Bobby Heenan wasn’t entirely telling the truth there, because HBK 100% smashed his partner’s head right through the window of the Barber Shop, and after that first window shattered in 1992, Shawn Michaels became untouchable.
Moving out of the shadow of ‘The Rockers’ to becoming his own man, the newly christened Heartbreak Kid soon made a name for himself on the blood of his betrayal of Jannety (and in turn established himself so far ahead of Marty that he made the term ‘Jannety’ a negative in wrestling, sorry Marty).
Year by year Shawn added another great moment. WrestleMania 10 vs Razor, WrestleMania 12 against Bret, and losing his smile and being the biggest of all pricks in 1997 before retiring in 1998, then returning in 2002 as a beloved icon.
Maybe a little too beloved however, as just as Shawn had used Marty to make his career in ‘92, he was using the fans to mask his insincerity and underhanded tactics in 2008. That was until Micheals’ years of treachery that began with the betrayal of his former partner began to catch up with him.
Having retired Ric Flair in another classic at WrestleMania 24, HBK engaged in a rivalry with Batista, who threatened to expose Michaels as a selfish liar for his treatment of the legendary ‘Nature Boy’.
Stuck in the middle of this was Chris Jericho, a man beginning to slowly unravel the hypocrisy of Shawn’s character, and the fans blissful ignorance to his wrongdoings. Jericho officiated the Michaels/Batista match at Backlash, where HBK feigned a knee injury to secure a win, pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes once again.
One lie too many, this began a ripple effect that set in motion Michaels’ downfall. Despite getting the better of Jericho at Judgement Day, Michaels was well and truly hammered by Batista at One Night Stand, before meeting Jericho again on the Highlight Reel on Raw a few weeks later.
As Jericho eloquently spelled out in a great verbal precursor to the attack, he explained his actions to the world before he did what he did. For the longest time Jericho wanted to emulate Michaels, and used that fire to try and take him out and define himself through the years, beginning in their 2003 feud following Michaels’ summer comeback and continuing now in ’08.
What’s poetic about all this, is that in the moment that finally allowed Jericho to define himself against Michaels, he did so in the most HBK-way possible. Glass shattering.
Jericho assaulted Michaels during the segment, and after some back and forth, took advantage before uttering one phrase that would soon be added again to the ‘Barber Shop’ lore, ‘the worst is yet to come’. Jericho then smashed Michaels face first through the Jeri-Troon screen, in one of the most beautifully brutal camera shots in WWE history, as the camera was right in there with Micheals and Jericho and followed them through to the smashing of the screen, really making you feel the impact.
Somewhere, Marty Jannety was looking on with a fulfilled and vengeful grin.
Another major part of this continuity is reinvention.
Michaels was transformed by sucking the blood out of Jennetty’s WWE career and breathing new life into his, and Jericho was no different. After a run-through of Y2J’s greatest hits after a late 2007 return, this attack on Michaels signified the latest in a long line of reinventions for the master of them.
Gone was the catchphrases and tights, in was the slow, monotone arrogance and the trunks. This new Chris Jericho entered a blood feud with Michaels for the remainder of the year, with post-PG era bloodshed, unsanctioned and ladder match brawls for the ages, and the odd spot of shoot wife punching for good(?) measure.
What’s brilliant about this too was that Jericho was every bit in the right for turning on Michaels that HBK was wrong for breaking up ‘The Rockers’ sixteen years earlier, and just as much as Kevin Owens was in the wrong when he broke up his best friendship with Jericho nine years later.
Post-’08, Jericho continued reinventing himself as only he can, but reached a point of stagnancy following his latest return in 2012, that lasted until 2016. Here, a partnership with the similarly smarmy, arrogant, and (crucially) backstabbing Owens breathed new life into Y2J once again.
Similarly, Jericho’s childhood love of Michaels, KO had grown up a Jericho fanatic (add false idolisation to the list of themes in this continuity), and right there is your first sign right there that this wasn’t going to end well for Jericho.
It got off to a great start though, with some funny interactions blossoming into a show dominating relationship and a Universal Championship run for KO between 2016 and 2017, with Jericho more than happy to tag along for the ride and save his best friend at every possible moment, even getting himself a United States Championship run out of the deal.
But as always with this continuity, all good things come to an end. On the February 13th 2017 episode of RAW from Las Vegas, Jericho decided to share his love with KO in a ‘Festival of Friendship’. A celebration with all the pomp and circumstance all too familiar with glass shattering settings of the past.
After a rather extravagant segment of Jericho showing his love for Owens and showering him with gifts (including the never to be topped ‘Creation of Kevin’), it came time for Owens to give Jericho a gift of his own. This came in the form of a brand-new List of Jericho, and you know where this goes from here.
Jericho uttered a heartbreaking ‘How come my name’s on this?’, before KO attacked and broke all of our collective hearts and minds in one swift motion. Strikes, list shots, an and an apron powerbomb followed, with Jericho’s past finally catching up to him (just as it did Michaels), with Owens smashing his head through the glass to complete the assault.
Interestingly, it was a conversation with Triple H before the segment that led to KO’s soon-to-be
betrayal, with the glass shattering attack maybe a sly shot of revenge for Michaels by way of ‘The Game’, as I imagine them watching on with that same fulfilled and vengeful grin.
I’ve spoken about the many themes surrounding this continuity throughout this article, with revenge and reinvention being chief among them. However, in adding another wrinkle to these series of attacks, how about rebirth.
The difference between reinvention and rebirth to me is that reinvention details a significant change in demeanour and attitude, while rebirth maintains those things from before the attack, but presents a positive change of heart, rather than a descent into darkness.
Between 1992 and 2017, Michaels had selfishly destroyed ‘The Rockers’ for his own gain. Jericho tried to kill Michaels’ legacy to make way for his own, meanwhile Owens ended his friendship with Jericho by turning heel despite already being one. A true feat if you ask me.
KO is yet to receive his comeuppance by way of a busted head, injured eye or broken heart, but this is because wrestlers seem to have cottoned onto the trend of Owens’ betrayals and neither side wants to get closer to the other in case of history repeating itself. While this has seemingly represented the end of the continuity in WWE, the continuity lives on through AEW.
In the time between 2017 and 2021, the wrestling landscape changed immeasurably, as the Bullet Club following turned into an All Elite revolution, one which Jericho found himself apart of.
Just as Jennetty and Michaels soon had their WWE careers reach an end after their ‘Barber Shop’ moment, so too did Jericho (add to themes and all that), as his days in New York were numbered after Owens’ backstabbing. The story has become legendary by now, if not played out into meme territory.
Did you know Jericho left WWE and along with Don Callis and Kenny Omega boosted ticket sales and NJPW World subscriptions for ‘Wrestle Kingdom 11’? Because I sure did.
Sarcasm aside, this was another major step on the road to AEW’s formation, and it was Jericho at the forefront when the promotion opened its doors in 2019. Beating Omega in an ‘Alpha vs Omega’ rematch at Double or Nothing was followed up by becoming the inaugural AEW World Champion by pinning ‘Hangman’ Adam Page at All Out just over three months later.
The company has slipped off Jericho’s back since then, and with it his guard came down. A world title loss to Jon Moxley mixed with humiliations at the pocketed hands of Orange Cassidy left Jericho at a crossroads and in need of another reinvention for his group, the Inner Circle. Enter, MJF.
Another self-proclaimed Jerichoholic as a youth, Maxwell Jacob Friedman had solidified himself as a top star in AEW in parallel with Jericho’s fall. But once MJF too failed against Moxley, he found himself at the same crossroads as Jericho, with the Inner Circle again being the answer.
But neither were going to give each other the inkling that the next chapter in their careers lay in each other, beginning a fascinating chess game between two men far too alike to let the other win. Jericho saw himself in MJF, similar to how Jericho had those same remnants of Michaels. This included a penchant for betrayal, and the need to surpass those they once looked up to.
But Jericho had played this game before, as while having made this move on Michaels and crucially had it done to him by Owens, he’d also seen MJF do it to Cody Rhodes in HIS aid, so saying Jericho was weary would be an understatement.
Sharing much of the same chemistry of his partnership with Owens, Jericho and MJF did gel together as a duo, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention ‘Le Dinner Debonair’ for establishing these two as a stellar double act. But with all these similarities, it was inevitable that a betrayal and a ‘Barber Shop’ moment would come.
So MJF betrayed Jericho, because of course he did, but this wasn’t the ‘Barber Shop’ moment you’d have expected. As I said, Jericho was wise to MJF’s previous as it followed Chris Jericho 101 (his next book for sure), but nevertheless MJF was always three moves ahead. The tension MJF had attempted to cause in the Inner Circle proved futile, and a trap laid by Jericho to bring the real MJF out, only for MJF to pull an M.Night Shyamalan and bust out one final twist.
Here MJF revealed he never wanted to take the Inner Circle from Jericho, but rather learn from him and build his own group from the IC’s blueprint, The Pinnacle. Learning from the legend and using his own tactics against him? Once more, Chris Jericho 101.
What MJF failed to do though, was finish the job, and here is where we get to the difference between the Barber Shop moments of WWE, and of AEW.
In WWE, the window represented the beginning of the end, with the betrayer always coming out on top. Michaels outgrew Jannetty, Jericho out Michaels’d Shawn Michaels, and Owens out Jericho’d Chris Jericho. For a second time, Chris Jericho had found himself Y2J’d by his natural successor, but now he wanted to change the narrative.
Instead of being put to pasture by Owens AND MJF, he was going to make it so he used the barber shop moment to rebirth the Inner Circle.
In yet another segment for the ages (THEMES!!!), MJF and his new stablemates Wardlow, Shawn Spears, FTR and Tully Blanchard stood in the Inner Circle locker room and proclaimed it as their own, only to find the prior owners themselves standing behind the bathroom door, ready to take it back.
More brilliant camera work (T.H.E.M.E.S.) followed here as they tracked the wild brawl through Daily’s Place, with Dax Harwood getting busted open, Wardlow getting smashed through a table, Sammy Guevara making Shawn Spears eat s***, and Jericho potentially making MJF ACTUALLY eat s*** by dunking his head in the toilet and giving him a swirly. Fun stuff.
Then of course, the Barber Shop moment happened. After all of The Pinnacle received their just desserts, Jericho took MJF in his hands, just as he had Michaels thirteen years ago, and said the exact same phrase, ‘the worst is yet to come’, and smashed MJF head first into the glass window of the Pepsi fridge, before throwing him out the locker room and rebranding the locker room as the Inner Circle’s once again.
Here is where the story ends, as coming up to 2- years after the breakup of The Rockers, the glass breaking betrayals of ‘The Barber Shop Continuity’ remains a rare and brutal sign of progression in wrestling.
It creates blood feuds, it changes wrestlers at their cores, it brings closure to wrestlers’ careers, and from an audience point of view, is consistently a great moment with some smooth camera work.
This is why to me the sound of smashed glass in wrestling is immediately associated with the Barber Shop, as for someone yet to even be born at the time of the first attack, it remains a cherished part of wrestling storytelling.
Here’s hoping nobody turns on Kevin Owens anytime soon…