The Law Reviews: Wrestlemania XII

Wrestlemania XII: The Boyhood Dream
March 31, 1996
Arrowhead Pond
Anaheim, California

wrestlemaniaxii

One of the best things about wrestling is when dreams come true. And so they did for Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 12. Michaels had a tough year coming into this match: He was defeated by Diesel at Wrestlemania 11, he got beaten up outside a nightclub and ended up having to forfeit the Intercontinental Championship, and he was concussed by a vicious Enziguri Kick from Owen Hart on an episode of Monday Night Raw. But he recovered from all that to win the Royal Rumble in January and earn a shot at the WWF Championship in the main event of Wrestlemania.

Standing in his way: Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Bret was undoubtedly the top guy in the WWF by this point, having defeated Diesel to win his second WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1995. Bret was portrayed as the foremost technical wrestler in the world, while Michaels was the best pure athlete in all of wrestling. It certainly made for a top-flight match. But something extra was added when interim WWF Commissioner Roddy Piper announced the stipulation for the match: A 60 Minute “Iron Man Match” where the winner would be the wrestler who gained the most falls in one hour. History was set to be made at Wrestlemania.

The build-up was simple, with vignettes of both men training for the match being shown along with interviews about how important the match was to each of them. It was very much in the style of HBO’s “24/7” series where they profile boxers in the run-up to their fights. In my opinion, it was a fantastic build. Very much out of the old NWA.

Something else was going on behind the scenes: Bret and Shawn weren’t getting along very well. The two had been friends at one point, but drifted apart as Shawn started to spend more and more time with “The Kliq” of himself, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, and Triple H. When Bret talked to Shawn about dropping the title to him, Shawn offended Bret by talking about how he planned to work with Nash, Hall, Waltman, and eventually HHH. To Bret, this meant he was only planning to put his friends over. This was the beginning of a fractured relationship between the two that would only get worse and lead to some major events in wrestling history. But for now, they were just two guys not getting along going into the biggest match of the year. Here we go:

Opening package is all about Shawn and Vince, their parallel paths, and the collision tonight.

Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler are our hosts.

Vader, Owen Hart, and British Bulldog vs. Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson, and Jake Roberts

Vader, Owen, and Bulldog are members of the heel stable “Camp Cornette.” Yokozuna used to be but was kicked out. If his team wins, he gets five minutes alone with Cornette. This is the crappy, Bible-thumping version of Jake Roberts. Yoko and Vader go right off the opening bell and we have a pier six brawl as everybody joins in. Ahmed busts out a Plancha, which seems impressive but he botches it and barely touches Vader. Vader and Yoko work an impressive sequence where they slam each other. Owen breaks up a Pearl River Plunge attempt with a Missile Dropkick and the heels work over Ahmed. Jake eventually gets the tag, but Owen escapes the DDT. Now it’s Jake’s turn to get tuned up. Jake manages to make a hot tag to Yoko, who deals on Vader in the corner. Yoko smashes the entire heel team, then tags in Jake, who nails Owen with a DDT. Cornette tries to break up the pin, so Jake tries to DDT him too. Vader takes the chance to crush Jake with an Avalanche and then hits the Vader Bomb for the win.

Analysis: ***. Really liked this as an opener. The crowd desperately wanted to see Cornette get him comeuppance and was mega into Vader, Yoko, and Jake. Heel win in the opener is weird, but it extended the rivalry between Vader and Yoko.

Hollywood Backlot Brawl: Roddy Piper vs. Goldust

The viewer has no idea what a Hollywood Backlot Brawl is because they haven’t been told. Piper is standing out in the parking lot with a baseball bat when Goldust pulls up in a gold Cadillac. Piper attacks the car with a baseball bat and beats up Goldust. Goldust, a big new star for the company, is getting utterly destroyed by a guy who hasn’t been a full-time wrestler in nine years at this point. Goldust gets back in the car and ends up running into Piper. He then drives away. Piper jumps in a white Ford Bronco and pursues.

Just abysmal all around. Pre-tapes like that kill the live crowd. The storyline is terrible and homophobic (Piper is going to beat the shit out of Goldust and “make a man” out of him). And Goldust got his ass handed to him by an old man. All so they can do a lame reference to the OJ chase (which happened two years before this).

Savio Vega vs. Steve Austin

They’ve already ditched “The Ringmaster” gimmick here and he’s “Stone Cold.” But still with Ted DiBiase as his manager and carrying the Million Dollar Title. So when WWE tells Austin’s story they act like he was The Ringmaster for a long time, but it was actually a month or so. Austin and Savio brawl right off the bell and I love the intensity. It’s a pretty good match, but unfortunately Vince and Lawler are too busy talking to Piper to call it. Austin controls most of the match working on Savio’s arm until Savio misses a kick and levels the referee in the process. Austin takes advantage to drill Savio with the Million Dollar Title, then locks on the Million Dollar Dream. Referee comes to, sees Vega is out and calls for the bell.

Rating: **½. Decent technical match.

Mr. Perfect interviews Diesel, who no-sells all the mindgames Undertaker has played with him in the weeks leading to this.

Ultimate Warrior vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley

Warrior’s return match after being gone since 1992. HHH is managed by Sable, making her WWF debut. Warrior gets a big pop and is in great shape. This match is infamous, as HHH hits a Pedigree almost immediately. Warrior no-sells, then squashes HHH in just over a minute.

Rating: Dud. Warrior was an unreliable asshole, so they have him squash one of their potential stars. Great work, guys.

Todd Pettingill interviews a debuting Marc Mero. He gets jumped by Helmsley and they brawl.

Undertaker vs. Diesel

This program kicked off at Royal Rumble, when Diesel and Taker crossed paths after Diesel had just been eliminated from the Royal Rumble. They had a scuffle, and Diesel returned to cost Taker the WWF Championship in his match against Bret Hart. Then the next month at In Your House Taker cost Diesel the title by dragging him down through the ring (and into the Depths of Hell) during a cage match against Bret.

Taker dominates early, going as far to try to hit Diesel with a chair. Diesel ducks and takes over, wearing down Taker with Snake Eyes, Big Boot, Rope Splash, and a Side Suplex. Then he goes to a Bearhug that lasts too long. Taker breaks out and a Side Suplex leads to a double down. Taker’s up first and he scores with a Flying Clothesline from the top. Diesel comes back with a big Jackknife Powerbomb, but doesn’t cover. Taker sits up, which Diesel doesn’t sell at all. He hits a second Jackknife, and Taker sits up again. Chokeslam, Tombstone, it’s over.

Rating: **½. Not bad, not great. These guys could both move for big men, it would have been nice if they had showcased that more.

Conveniently, Goldust and Piper pick this time to return to the arena. Goldust beats up Piper in the ring for a bit, then kisses him. Piper goes nuts, destroys Goldust, and strips him down to reveal that he’s wearing lingerie. And then Piper’s son gets in the ring and celebrates with him. This was some real shameful shit.  

60 Minute Iron Man Match for WWF Championship: Bret Hart (c) vs. Diesel

Shawn is out first with his classic zip line entrance. Bret is out second with a much more reserved entrance. They go over the rules and we’re off. Methodical pace to start, with both guys getting takedowns. Bret starts to take over and works Shawn with a series of Side Headlocks. Shawn breaks out and goes to work on Bret’s arm. Then the gloves come off and they start exchanging punches. Bret gets dumped outside and takes a break. Bret gets back in the ring and Shawn goes back to the arm. I can’t help but feel like the Iron Man stipulation sucks the drama out of the first 50 minutes of the match. Shawn is really working over Bret’s arm.

They get back to their feet, and Shawn narrowly escapes the Sharpshooter. Bret comes back and Clotheslines Shawn over the top. Bret stupidly follows Shawn to the outside and gets posted. Shawn goes for Sweet Chin Music on Bret, but ends up knocking out the timekeeper. We’re about fifteen minutes in now. Bret goes back to the Chin Lock. Shawn escapes and goes back to Bret’s arm. Bret’s arm should be destroyed by now, but he doesn’t really sell it while he’s on offense. Shawn throws Bret shoulder-first into the turnbuckle, then wraps his arm around the post. Shawn connects with an Ax Handle to Bret’s bad shoulder, then hits a Hammer Lock Slam. Single Arm DDT by Michaels, then a Cross Armbreaker. Bret breaks out, but Shawn quickly gets him in another arm hold.

Bret Catapults Shawn into the corner and we have a double down. Shawn kicks out at two. Inverted Atomic Drop, then a Bulldog, then Bret goes to the top and drives Shawn’s face into the mat with his knee. We’re 30 minutes in, 30 minutes to go. Powerslam by Shawn gets two. Shawn telegraphs the Back Drop and gets stuck with a Piledriver by Bret. Somehow, Shawn kicks out. I think the crowd is booing the fact that the Piledriver didn’t get the pin. I agree. Bret goes to the top and gets thrown off by Shawn. Backbreaker by Shawn gets a two count. Shawn sets up for Sweet Chin Music, but Bret bails out of the ring. Shawn catches him with a Cross Body all the way to the floor! Back in the ring, Shawn goes up top and hits another Cross Body, but Bret rolls through for a near pin.

A Small Package from Shawn gets a two count. Perfect Plex from Shawn gets another two. Shawn locks on a Sleeper Hold. Bret nearly passes out, but manages to escape. Shawn charges Bret in the corner and gets Back Dropped over the top! Bret goes on and gets Shawn, then rams his back into the ring post. Bret spends the next few minutes destroying Shawn’s back. We’re forty minutes in and Bret is in complete control. Bret hits a Super Back Suplex, which Shawn somehow kicks out of. Shawn escapes the Camel Clutch and gets two with a Sunset Flip, but Bret retakes control. Shawn fights off a Superplex attempt, but Bret catches him with a shot to the gut as he comes off the top. Shawn does a Flair Flip to the floor and ends up knocking out Jose Lothario. Bret whips Shawn into the steps.

15 minutes left. Big Belly to Belly Suplex only gets two for Bret. Just a relentless attack on the back. Shawn escapes a Suplex attempt, gets an O’Connor Roll, but Bret kicks out with such force he sends Shawn to the floor. Bret scores with a Suicide Dive, probably an unnecessary risk at this point in the match. Bret scores with a nasty German Suplex as Shawn makes it back to the ring. Aside: the commentary from Vince and Lawler has been surprisingly good. They’re calling this like a sporting event. Bret applies another Rear Chin Lock as we tick down to ten minutes. Michaels gets out and a Double Clothesline levels both men. Seven minutes left. Bret hits a Superplex, but can’t cover. Shawn blocks the Sharpshooter as we hit six minutes.

Bret manages to apply a Single Leg Crab. Shawn makes the ropes but gets hit with a Backbreaker. Bret goes for the Diving Elbow but eats Shawn’s boot. Down under five now. Dropkick by Shawn. Four minutes left. Shawn scores with a Diving Forearm and kips up. Shawn slams Bret and goes to the top for an Ax Handle. Still can’t keep Bret down. Under three minutes now. Shawn hits a Suplex and then scores with a Flying Elbow. Gutwrench Powerbomb by Shawn at the two minute warning. Shawn scores with a top rope Moonsault and Bret still kicks out. Shawn gets a Diving Hurricanrana, but Bret kicks out. Slam by Shawn. One minute left. Shawn goes to the top for a Missile Dropkick, but Bret catches him in the Sharpshooter! Jesus, that’s a great counter. Shawn can’t see the clock, so he doesn’t know how long he has to last. Time runs out without Shawn submitting. 0-0 after sixty minutes of unbelievable action.

Bret grabs his title and goes to leave, but Gorilla Monsoon stops him and announces they’ve going into sudden death overtime. Bret goes to work on Shawn’s back. Huge Back Drop, then a Backbreaker. Shawn springs over Bret in the corner and hits Sweet Chin Music! Bret actually beats Shawn to his feet, indicating he didn’t hit him full force. Shawn levels Bret with another Sweet Chin Music and gets the pin to win the title.

Rating: ****3/4. Fantastic match. While sixty minute matches were once fairly common, they were pretty damn rare by this point. And it’s hard to think of many matches that length with these kinds of high-flying and impact moves. I knock it a little bit for the fact that they mostly forgot about Bret’s arm getting destroyed for the first half of the match, but no other complaints.

Shawn celebrates with the title, as the “boyhood dream” has come true. Bret walks out without a handshake.

Overall: A pretty good show. ⅓ of the show was Bret Hart wrestling Shawn Michaels for an hour, so there’s only so bad it could be. The Warrior squash was shit and Piper/Goldust was embarrassing, but the rest of the card was quality.

Grade: B-

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