March 31, 1996
Announcers: Vince McMahon & Jerry "The King" Lawler
Unfortunately, I don't have the Free For All preview show which features The Bodydonnas going over the Godwinns for the Tag Team Titles and the epic matchup of The Huckster vs. The Nacho Man with Billionaire Ted as special guest referee. The Tag Title match is pretty ugly but the Billionaire Ted stuff is hilarious.
Yokozuna, Jake "The Snake" Roberts & Ahmed Johnson vs. Vader, Owen Hart & The British Bulldog
Wow, sadly it was all downhill for all six of these guys from here on. Two are dead and the careers of the others are. I want to mention that there's a Wrestlemania XII logo on the ring. After the show they cut up the canvas and sold small squares of it for ridiculous amounts of money, which is pretty cool. If the face team is victorious in this opener, Yokozuna gets five minutes with his former manager Jim Cornette. We get the Yoko/Vader confrontation right off the bat. Ahmed comes in and sets up a Pearl River Plunge on the Bulldog, but Owen snipers him with a dropkick off the top rope. He eventually tags Jake, but the heels work on him until Yokozuna gets the real hot tag and cleans house. All hell breaks loose and Jake DDT's Owen. Cornette comes in the ring and Jake grabs him, but Vader nails him from behind and finishes with the Vaderbomb at 13:10. Corny survives for another night. **1/4 That was an energetic match between the formula stuff, and the hot crowd helped a little. When 90% of the talent is on the heel side it's a good thing.
A Rowdy Roddy Piper/Goldust video package is shown. Goldust is the Intercontinental Champion and was supposed to square off against Razor Ramon in a rematch from the Royal Rumble, but Razor got himself in alcohol trouble and interim president Piper was inserted into the feud instead. The buildup made for some really good television. To make a long story short, Piper has promised to make a man out of Goldust.
Hollywood Backlot Brawl: Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Goldust
In the weeks prior to this we were never once told what a Hollywood Backlot Brawl was. An obvious pre-recorded shot of some lot out back is shown, and Goldust drives up in a gold Cadillac. Piper is waiting for him with a baseball bat and immediately goes to work on him. Hot Rod kicks his ass for the better part of four minutes. Goldust scores with a low blow, climbs into the car, runs over a Piper stunt double, and hightails it out of there. Piper hops into a white Bronco and gives chase.
Dok Hendrix talks to Savio Vega before we cut back to the arena where the crowd is dead since they haven't seen anything live in over five minutes now.
Savio Vega vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
Austin is still under the tutelage of Ted DiBiase here, and is carrying around the Million Dollar Title as a result. Vince and Lawler get a call from Piper via cell phone as Austin works on Savio's arm. Austin kicks his ass then Savio comes back and they do a wild series of pinning combinations. Footage of OJ Simpson fleeing from Los Angeles cops in his white Ford Bronco is shown. It's supposedly Piper giving chase to Goldust. I know what you're thinking and yes, that footage was nearly a year old by then. If you're going to go for a topical reference at least make sure it's current. Austin heads up top but eats Savio's boot on the way down. An errant Vega heel kick hits the ref and DiBiase takes the opportunity to slide the Million Dollar Belt into the ring. Austin nails Savio with it, then drapes his throat on the edge of the ring and delivers another beltshot off the apron. Steve gets back in and chokes him out while DiBiase revives referee Tim White with a soda. Vega's arm drops three times, and White awards the match to Austin at 10:07. **1/4 Bizzare finish to an unconvential match to begin with.
More "Piper" footage of OJ's chase is shown. Columbo McMahon notes that it looks strangely familiar. Cute.
Mr. Perfect interviews Diesel, who apparently isn't sweating the Undertaker.
The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
The beginning of Hunter's music gets a big pop only because it means the return of the Warrior isn't far away. Hunter's valet of the day is a debuting Sable, who Vince mentions by name. Lawler stirs up rumors that the Warrior is up to four hundred pounds and bald. Warrior enters to a big reaction, and of course he's in the same shape as he's always been in. Helmsley jumps him and Pedigrees him twenty-five seconds in but Warrior immediately no-sells it before Hunter can even attempt to pin him. The Warrior hulks-up... er, warrior-ups, rather, with three clotheslines, a shoulderblock, the gorilla press slam, and the splash. That finishes it at 1:39. DUD Hunter would have the last laugh four years later at the same arena by walking out of Wrestlemania with his WWF Championship still in tact.
Todd Pettengill, sporting a new crew cut, talks to the Wildman Marc Mero, who's making his first WWF appearance. Helmsley, dejected by his loss, picks a fight with him and the two brawl to jumpstart a feud with one another.
More Piper/OJ footage is shown. Apparently Hot Rod is on his way back to the arena.
The Undertaker vs. Diesel
Diesel tells everyone, "I'm da shit, I'm tellin' ya", on the way to the ring. Taker is quicker to start, but Diesel soon runs through his signature offense. He hits the throatdrop, rope splash, and side suplex for two. They build the drama with a bunch of double knockout spots. Taker makes the big comeback, but Diesel jackknives him out of nowhere and showboats instead of covering. He hits another one, but the Undertaker sits up and chokeslams him. The Tombstone gets a three count and the Undertaker wins at 16:45. *** Solid match that didn't feel as long as it was, as Diesel continues to get jobbed out.
Goldust and Piper conveniently pick now to arrive back at the arena and brawl down the aisle into the ring. Goldust punishes him for a few minutes, but then makes the mistake of kissing him, which of course gets Roddy all offended and riled up. Piper kicks, nay, smacks his ass (quite literally), squeezes his nuts, and plants a big wet kiss on him with the homophobic Anaheim crowd cheering him on all the while. Piper finally strips Goldust down, revealing women's underwear. Goldust gets the hell out of there and retreats to the back as everyone points and laughs at him. This somehow constitutes a victory for Piper, whose music plays. This whole mess didn't even resemble a wrestling match, but it was fun for what it was. Piper brings his son into the ring to celebrate, just because watching Daddy grope, kiss, and strip a 6'6 man in women's underwear and yellow facepaint was such a family moment.
The same Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels video package from the beginning of the broadcast is shown, only this time with comments from the two participants thrown in at the end. For the first time in his career, Shawn is virtually speechless whereas Bret seems confident and subdued. It should be noted that Bret was wearing old-school Hitman style sunglasses which is just plain cool.
Howard Finkel introduces President Gorilla Monsoon, making his return following Vader's vicious attack against him in January. Shawn Michaels' music starts up and his mentor, Jose Lothario, walks down the aisle and into the ring alone. He points to the upper corner of the arena and Shawn makes his famous entrance, swinging down to ringside from the top of the Arrowhead Pond. Bret Hart enters in a more traditional fashion and gives his sunglasses to his six year old son, Blade, seated in the front row. Earl Hebner goes over the rules for the match in detail, Bret kisses the Title before handing it over to him as he always does, and the match is ready to get underway. The man who scores the most decisions via pinfall, submisssion, countout, or disqualification in an hour will be declared the winner and WWF Heavyweight Champion.
WWF Title, Iron Man Match: Bret "Hitman" Hart (Champion) vs. Shawn Michaels
They lockup but neither can gain a decisive advantage and they break. Bret goes to a go behind takedown, Shawn reverses, and they break. Bret goes to a side headlock takedown and Shawn fights out with an arm ringer but Bret reverses back into the side headlock. Shawn goes for the counter again but this time Bret holds on. Beautiful exchange that was really set up and led nicely by Bret. Hart gets a pair of two counts off the side headlock and Shawn rolls him over for two. Shawn gets to his feet and sends him off the ropes for a hiptoss, but Bret kicks up and takes him down with the side headlock. Michaels immediately counters with a headscissors but Bret fights out into the headlock again. Shawn tries for the headscissors again, but Bret won't let him counter the same move the same way twice. Yeah, Bret! Big pop for that. Michaels rolls him over for two again so Bret gets to his feet, at which point Shawn counters the headlock into a wristlock. That sends Hart to the mat, but he counters with a front facelock to maintain control and segue back into the side headlock. Shawn sends him off the ropes and hits two quick armdrags, then holds Bret in an armbar. He drops a leg on the arm a la Bret. Bret tries countering but can't, as Stu Hart and Freddie Blassie look on from the front row. Bret sends Michaels off the ropes and Bret drop toeholds him and quickly moves into a headlock. Shawn rolls out of that right back into a hammerlcok. Bret backs him into the corner, refuses a clean break, and punches Shawn. Shawn fights right back, whips him into the corner, and headscissors him to the floor at the ten minute mark.
Bret is frustrated, but remains composed. He climbs back in and locks up but Shawn does a fireman's carry back into the armbar. We're witnessing some excellent basic mat wrestling along with some beautiful counter wrestling. Everything is crisp and has a purpose, as Shawn is trying to wear down Bret's arm for the latter stages of the match and Bret is trying to fatigue Shawn with all the headlocks. Every time either man fights out of the other's hold, they grab the advantage and then go right back to the basics. Lawler provides some excellent analysis on color commentary to boot, explaining the psychology behind both men's attacks and the preparation that goes in to such a long match. Bret fights out of the armbar and sends Michaels off the ropes. Bret sidesteps him and tosses him over the top rope, but Shawn skins the cat back in and rushes back to apply the armbar to Bret. That spot was a little anti-climactic, as the crowd went nuts when they saw him flip back in the ring with Bret unaware of it. He could've rolled him up for two and then gone back to the armbar, but this worked well too because it shows that Shawn is doing everything he can to wear Bret down. The announcers point out that Shawn's ground attack is the opposite of what Bret probably expected from him. Hart stands up out of the armbar, sends him off the ropes and scores with a knee to the gut. Bret legdrops him and goes to a reverse chinlock. Shawn counters with a jawbreaker, then leg drops him in Bret fashion and goes back to the arm bar. Bret kips up and hooks the side headlock again. Michaels sends him into the ropes and leapfrogs him, but when he tries it again, Bret catches him and spinebusters him. He holds the legs in place for a Sharpshooter, but Shawn squirms to the ropes. Michaels makes it to his feet and Hart clotheslines him over the top to the floor. Bret follows but Shawn sends him into the steel post. Bret lands in the timekeeper's lap and Shawn decides to go for the superkick right then and there, but Bret moves and the poor timekeeper ends up eating Michaels' foot. Ouch. Bret slugs away at Shawn and tosses him back in the ring. He applies a chinlock while officials come down and wheel the timekeeper away. Shawn battles out with an armdrag and follows it up with a clothesline but Bret responds in kind and goes back to the chinlock. Shawn fights out and Bret goes for a bodyslam, but Shawn floats over and waistlocks him for a rollup attempt. Bret shrugs him off and walks right into a Michaels dropkick. He armdrags him into the armbar again and proceeds to get about five one-counts with Bret's shoulders down on the canvas.
We're now twenty minutes in. Bret rolls out into the side headlock but Michaels wiggles into the hammerlock. Bret elbows out and hits a few european uppercuts. Shawn reverses a Hitman whip into a vicious short knee, then drives Bret's left shoulder into the post. Ouch, that was brutal. Shawn takes Bret's left arm into the ringpost and yells at the camera man to, "get the fuck out of the way" in the process. Shawn destroys the arm (which had already been softened up with all the armbars) and rattles off a shoulderbreaker, an axehandle off the second rope right into the shoulder, and a hammerlock slam all in rapid succession. He then takes Bret's shoulder into the turnbuckle twice. Bret slugs back and hits a single arm DDT, but Shawn goes back to the arm with a cross armbreaker. Bret fights up and stomps him in the face to break. Shawn charges him in the corner, takes him over with a snap mare, and goes back to it, but Bret punches his way out and hotshots him onto the second rope. Bret slingshots him to the post and gets a two count off it. Shawn takes Bret to the buckle hard, then dives for him in the corner and misses. Bret hits an inverted atomic drop and clotheslines him for two. Bret bulldogs him and heads up top, which seems suspiciously like Bret trying to set Shawn up for a different move. Sure enough, Shawn pops up and Bret nails him, then bulldogs him off the top rope. Hebner takes a minor bump in the process but gets right back up again as we hit the thirty minute mark.
Shawn catches Bret with a big powerslam for another two count, but Bret battles back with a piledriver for a two of his own. The crowd boos the fact that it didn't get the three. Lawler: "How'd he kick out of the piledriver?!" Bret heads up top and Shawn slams him off. That was very uncharacteristic of Bret. Shawn hits a huricanranna and sends Bret off the ropes, but Bret holds on to take a breather. Shawn stays on him, however, scoring a backbreaker for two. Shawn hits an elbow and sets up for the Superkick, but Bret bails to the outside and walks around the corner of the ring as Shawn goes to the top rope. Shawn delivers a monster bodypress about three quarters of the way across the ring from the top rope all the way to the floor. Bret, in a dazed state, walked right into that one. Shawn rolls Bret back into the ring and scores with a crossbody from the top rope, but Bret rolls through the cover for two. Michaels goes for a hiptoss but Bret counters into a backslide attempt. Shawn flips out of it and small packages him for two. Bret is just feeding Shawn his own moves here. Shawn connects with a Perfect-Plex for two, then goes to a sleeper. Bret drives him back into the corner, but a persistent Shawn goes right back to it. Hebner checks his arm, but after it drops twice, Bret fights up and tries to back suplex his way out of it. Shawn flips out and elbows him then uses the corner to prop himself up and boot him in the face. Shawn whips Hart into the corner, but when he charges Bret backdrops him all the way out to the floor. Bret breaks the count and takes Shawn back-first into the steel post on the outside to further soften him up for the Sharpshooter. Bret brings him back in and whips him hard into the corner. Shawn's selling reminds me of how Bret would sell it. Bret measures Shawn with an elbow and hits a backbreaker.
Forty minutes in without a decision, Bret continues to work on Shawn's back. Shawn Flair Flips off a corner whip and remains in the corner, leaving himself wide open to a quick back suplex off the top by Bret. Bret goes to the rear chinlock but Shawn fights out and gets a sunset flip for two. Shawn avoids a superplex and tries coming off the second rope, but is met with a fist to the gut by Bret. Bret's side russian leg sweep follows, as Bret picks up another two count. Shawn takes his corner bump to the floor off a Bret irish whip and ends up nailing his own cornerman, Jose Lothario, with his foot on the way down by accident. That gets a big pop. Bret follows him to the floor and whips Shawn into the steps and Lothario at the same time. Vladimir, seated front row, applauds, as Bret yells at Jose. Lawler seems surprised at Bret's agressive demeanor and likes it. Bret shoves Michaels in the ring and belly to bellies him for two. Shawn shows signs of life with several fists but Bret wins a slugfest and lays in some vicious european uppercuts. Shawn floats over on a spulex attempt and rolls Bret up for two out of nowhere. Bret kicks out, sending Shawn to the floor again. Bret follows with a pescado to put Shawn down once again. Shawn beats the count in and Bret tries to suplex him into the ring from the apron, undoubtedly setting up the next sequence of moves in his head. He knows Shawn will try to floatover again, as Shawn does, but this time Bret is expecting it and he reverses Shawn's waistlock into a german suplex to grab a close near fall. Shawn fights back with fists again but Bret wins another slugfest and just pounds on him. He headbutts him and settles into a rear chinlock in a final effort to wear Shawn down now that there are just ten minutes remaining and it's becoming increasinly apparent that the first fall is going to be the one to win this thing.
Shawn struggles to his feet and breaks the hold. They go off the ropes and a double clothesline puts both men down. Shawn scores with some weak punches but Bret shrugs them off and puts Michaels on top for a superplex. That puts both men down again. There are only six minutes left so Bret goes for the Sharpshooter but Shawn kicks him in the face to avoid it. Bret tries setting up a Figure Four but Shawn wiggles away and ends up on his back, so Bret settles for a Half Crab instead. Shawn grabs the ropes to break it, but Bret keeps up the offensive attack, burying a backbreaker. He heads to the second rope to drop the elbow, but Shawn instinctively gets his foot up and Bret eats boot. Now there are only five minutes left. Shawn dropkicks him, causing Hart to collapse in the corner. Shawn stays on him like a madman and lunges for him to maintian his assault. He whips Bret hard into the corner so Bret can take his sternum first bump, then scores with a flying forearm. Shawn kips up and hits a reverse elbow. He throws everything he can possibly think of towards Bret in an effort to beat him, as he slams him and goes to the top rope for a reverse double axehandle. He covers, but gets only two. Shawn suplexes him and hits his (lefty) elbow drop off the top rope. That gets a two count as well. He plants Bret with a gutwrench powerbomb and delivers a perfect moonsault off the top. He comes off the second rope with a huricanranna, but that too only gets a two count. Shawn bodyslams Bret with one minute remaining and climbs to the top rope. The crowd is going insane as the clock is rapidly running down. Shawn jumps off the top with a dropkick attempt, but Bret catches him on the way down and hooks the Sharpshooter with only thirty-four seconds left a la their Survivor Series '92 finish. The crowd is having a collective heart attack. Earl Hebner gets down there to check for a submission from Shawn, but Michaels shakes his head no as the crowd counts down the remaining seconds on the clock. 5-4-3-2-1... 0. The bell rings after sixty minutes of war and both athletes collapse as Bret relinquishes the hold. The score after sixty minutes is 0-0, which one would assume would mean the match is a draw and Bret retains his Championship.
Gorilla Monsoon, who was seated ringside for the entire match, confers with Earl Hebner and Howard Finkel as Bret takes his WWF Championship and retreats down the aisle, slapping the hands of his fans. He's more than half way to the back when Finkel announces that Gorilla has ordered the match to continue under sudden death rules and there must be a winner. Bret clearly mouths, "Why?", much as I was doing at the same time. Bret walks back to the ring about two minutes after the match had ended and asks Gorilla about his decision. The bell rings to restart the match and Bret drives his knees into Shawn's back. Shawn is still in bad shape from the Sharpshooter, so Bret handles him pretty easily and hits a big backdrop. Bret hits another backbreaker and tries to whip Shawn into the corner, but Michaels grabs the corner and hops over and behind a charging Bret. Bret turns around and Shawn nails him with the Superkick out of nowhere. He didn't catch all of it, however, and is still fatigued himself, so they both kind of lay there for awhile before slowly getting up. Bret actually beats Shawn to his feet but staggers around as Shawn winds up and plants another Superkick right into his jaw. Shawn collapses onto Bret, hooks both legs and Hebner counts three to crown a new World Wrestling Federation Champion in Shawn Michaels at 61:56. ***** Shawn's music starts as Bret watches Hebner present Shawn with the WWF Title before leaving. Hebner helps Shawn strap the Title around his waist. The belt conveniently matches his white and gold tights. Bret sulks down the aisle to the dressing room as Michaels celebrates his first WWF Championship while the crowd goes nuts. Shawn goes to the floor and shakes hands with several ringsiders including Bret's father, Stu, and oldest son, Dallas, as the show goes off the air.
I had forgotten just how breathtakingly good that match was until I sat down to review it. It's an unbelievable sixty minutes of action and storytelling at its best and is easily one of the best matches of all time. I've had people that have had wrestling training tell me how easy it is to be in top shape and still get blown up after eight minutes of wrestling. These two went sixty-two. And they did so after being on the road for weeks at a time. Bret has spoken about how worn down he was heading into this match since he was bumping around for either Diesel or The Undertaker, taking powerbombs and chokeslams and Tombstones every night on the house show circuit leading up to this. Think about the shape these two had to be in both mentally and physically to develop that match and then carry it out without flaw. The match was beautifully crafted and contained just about every imaginable element a wrestling match could have. From the opening strategic games between the two, to the fast-paced middle portion, to the extremely hot ending, the match was as close to perfect as a one hour match could possibly be. This should be required viewing for all up and coming wrestlers. The fact that it's such an epic match as it is with the Iron Man gimmick and the fact that it's the main event of Wrestlemania is the culmination of all the spectacular matches Bret and Shawn produced in the early 90's and their fight to prove that small guys can be on top too. Many consider them to be barnone the two greatest workers of the 90's, if not ever, and I completely agree. Watching them have one of their best matches ever for over an hour with the WWF Title on the line in the main event of Wrestlemania on the biggest stage of all is mind-boggling. And talk about going over in a big way; Shawn Michaels went sixty-two minutes without losing a decision and beat a three-time WWF Champion (who everyone considered to be the best pure wrestler of all-time and in his prime) at the biggest show of the year to finally become Champion himself. He couldn't have written a better script for himself, and I'm sure he tried. Can you name one other first time Champion that's gone over to win the Title in a more dramatic and epic fashion? Of course you can't, because there are none. Certainly not Bret or Hulk Hogan, who won their first Titles suddenly and in an obscure manner. Not Savage, not the Warrior. Not even Ric Flair, who was already a proven draw and World Champion from the NWA, and lasted an hour to capture his first WWF Title (but didn't do so in a one-on-one match with the spotlight on him the whole time). No, Shawn's accomplishment outshines them all and in many ways this one match and victory alone cemented his legendary status once and for all.
Bottom line: The rest of this show is very forgettable, but every wrestling fan should watch and appreciate this match for what it was.
The aftermath of the match led to Bret taking a well-deserved six month break from the road to spend with his family while Shawn went on to have some awesome Title defenses as Champion. When Bret came back he engaged in his memorable feud with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin before turning heel. This is about the time when his behind the scenes problems with Shawn started and by the time they cooled down enough to the point where the two could actually work together at the 1997 Survivor Series, Bret had been driven to leave for WCW. The eventual rematch between Bret and Shawn turned into one of the most infamous matches in history as a result.
Wrestlemania XII Key Stats
Total Wrestling: 103:57
Average Match: 20:47
Average Match Rating: **1/2
Top Moments: The Backlot Brawl stuff, Warrior's return, Mero's debut, the Undertaker's big blowoff, and the final eighty minutes of the show which featured one of the greatest stories ever told by Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels
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