WWF Monday Night Raw – March 25, 1996
WrestleMania XII is six days away but Raw is pre-taped from San Antonio, TX (3/11/96)
Commentators: Vince McMahon and Jerry “The King” Lawler
Match 1: Leif Cassidy vs. “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels (w/ “Supersock” José Lothario)
Result/Analysis: Michaels via pinfall (8:34 shown) following Sweet Chin Music. This is a surprisingly good TV match. Cassidy played the role of the goof ball sidekick to Marty Jannetty in The New Rockers. They were heels in the non-typical way. Speaking of Jannetty, he came to ringside part-way through to back his tag-team partner, and to be someone Michaels had to think about. Bret Hart sat with Vince McMahon for commentary and he wasn’t just good, he was great. Hart discussed his plans for Michaels at WrestleMania in their “Iron Man” Match. He spoke about punishing Michaels for 60 minutes as a way to counteract Shawn’s athleticism and high-flying aerial moves. Bret could be respectful while also throwing in the occasional dig, such as referencing how Michaels got his ass kicked by nine “cheerleaders” in Syracuse, NY or that the Mexican-style of wrestling is exciting but rolling around the ring in a ball doesn’t mean you’re tough. Simply put, Bret believes, how can Shawn possibly hang with him for one hour? Cassidy hangs with Michaels throughout. Al Snow was really fit here and a workmanlike wrestler at this point in his career. Jannetty involves himself at the end holding back Michaels against the ropes. Bret lends an assist by pushing Jannetty aside which frees Shawn and gives him the opening for the superkick. Michaels doesn’t take kindly to Bret’s helping hand as they exchange words outside the ring before Lothario has their cooler heads prevail. It’s a fast-paced match that’s easy to get into with Bret masterful on commentary to boost the entertainment value. Really, there couldn’t have been a better pairing in WWF history up to the present day in 1996 to contest a 60-minute match for the belt. Given the roster, it was needed, too.
Match 2: “The Portuguese Man o’ War” Aldo Montoya vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
Rating/Result: Helmsley via pinfall (4:33) following the pedigree. McMahon and Lawler discuss The Ultimate Warrior the whole match – – – Helmsley’s WrestleMania opponent – – – as Montoya gets grounded before a flurry of offense by him sends Hunter reeling. Add a couple of near falls for The Man o’ War before Helmsley finishes him off with the pedigree. Hunter again had a blonde bimbo with him at ringside. Sable would be Helmsley’s escort at WrestleMania versus The Ultimate Warrior as his ring entrance far exceeded the length of the match. Helmsley had wrestled Henry Godwinn in pig slop and would now job to a by-gone era has-been in 30 seconds. That’s paying your dues.
Located in a “Hollywood Back Lot,” Goldust seduces a Roddy Piper mannequin. He explains in rather explicit and sultry detail how they’ll become one entity at WrestleMania. Creepy. He smashes the mannequin as a final curtain of what’s in store for Hot Rod, though. Goldust was getting himself the feels and then some here. The match was thrown together on the fly but it had good build-up.
The debut of Mankind is next week on Monday Night Raw. Yes! Finally!!!
McMahon introduces The Undertaker as a man who will face his “Gravest Challenge” at WrestleMania when he opposes “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel. Now wait, wasn’t that the Hulk Hogan match at Survivor Series in 1991? Oh yes, the past was all but written off by 1996, how silly of me. Paul Bearer first recaps the ongoings – – – for those that need a reminder – – – of what led to the match. Diesel, he says, is on the eve of destruction. Taker mentions his creatures of the night and tells them to prepare for a feast at WrestleMania. He says all that will be left of Diesel is his battered carcas. He notes at one time he’d have been satisfied with just beating Diesel but after Diesel laid his hands on Paul Bearer, that corpse of himself he saw in the casket, will be his future. Diesel will look into the eyes of “The Grim Reaper” and realize his soul and fate lay in his hands. Rest. In. Peace.
It’s time for the hard sell now with training montages for Michaels and Hart. These are the same packages previously shown a few weeks back. Anyone that still preferred the WWF was already locked in on WrestleMania. This was attempt to bring back those that had left for WCW or on the fringe. For myself, being invested in both products, I didn’t need these. But, they were well done.
Match 3: “The King of Hearts” Owen Hart (w/ Jim Cornette) vs. Ahmed Johnson
Result/Analysis: Johnson via DQ (5:45 shown) following outside interference from The British Bulldog. Nothing match. Johnson works sloppy as usual. The guy was a total bust. Diana Hart watched from ringside. Why she cared I have no clue. Vader joins Owen and Bulldog after the bell for a three-on-one but of course, Yokozuna and Jake “The Snake” Roberts come down allowing the faces to stand tall before the six-man tag at WrestleMania.
A Bret Hart tribute video airs to end the show. As it turned out, Bret’s match with Shawn was his last televised WWF match for a near eight months before he returned as a tweener to feud with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin come Survivor Series.
The Verdict: The hard sell fell flat on its face. Bret vs. Shawn WAS the WrestleMania card with the other matches mere filler. At the time, I was half-invested. I favored Bret, but the handwriting was on the wall for Shawn finally winning the belt. It was the how, however, which left the intrigue. The year before, with Lawrence Taylor headlining against Bam Bam Bigelow at WrestleKania XI, I was checked out. At least there was improvement in 1996. It’s now been 25 years since “The Boyhood Dream” came true. It’s time next to look back on an iconic moment from the 12th “Showcase of The Immortals.” At least WWE, now exclusively on Peacock, has it at the ready for the masses. Sheesh.