WWF WrestleMania XII
March 31, 1996
Arrowhead Pond – Anaheim, CA
Commentators: Vince McMahon and Jerry “The King” Lawler
On The Free-For-All, The Bodydonnas, much to the delight of Sunny, defeated The Godwinns in the Finals of the WWF Tag-Team Championship Tournament. The tag-team division was void of any good teams so Sunny’s sex appeal won out over The Bodydonnas actually being worthy of holding the belts. More to my point, Sunny kept following the belts no matter who wore them throughout 1996. There was also the epic blow-off match between “The Huckster” and “The Nacho Man” as Billionaire Ted presided over it as the special referee. Get this if you don’t remember, all three characters “die” as a result of heart attacks. ‘Snap into a Slim Jim!’ Now on with WrestleMania XII.
A Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels video package preludes the broadcast. These were so well done.
Match 1: Six-Man Tag-Team Match:
* Should Yokozuna’s team win, Yokozuna will get five minutes alone w/ Jim Cornette. *
Camp Cornette: Vader (w/ Jim Cornette), The British Bulldog & “The King of Hearts” Owen Hart
-vs- Yokozuna (w/ Mr. Fuji), Ahmed Johnson & Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Result/Analysis: Vader, The British Bulldog & Owen Hart via pinfall (13:11) when Vader pins Roberts following a Vaderbomb. The six-man was a good choice for an opener. The crowd was into it, especially the parts with Vader and/or Yokozuna. I had low expectations but Camp Cornette wins and being WrestleMania, all of them put on a good effort. Vader versus Yokozuna was the initial plan but given Yokozuna’s weight and his propensity to blow up after short bursts of offense, there’s no way that match could have lasted beyond 5-8 minutes. Jake popped a crowd. Ahmed was the Slammy Award-winning “New Sensation” and Bulldog/Owen weren’t being kept off the card. Thus, a six-man was the right call. 25 years later and the face team is entirely deceased. You don’t think about that until it dawns on you. Snake gets worked over here but his DDT on Owen pops the crowd. Vader continues on with Yokozuna after WrestleMania kayfabe breaking Yokozuna’s leg so Yokozuna take time off to could lose weight. Vader moved on to a feud with Shawn Michaels.
Michael Cole, in a voice over redux from the original Todd Pettengill cut, recaps the ongoings that have led to Acting WWF President “Rowdy” Roddy Piper taking on Goldust. Razor Ramon was set to face Goldust for the Intercontinental Championship in a “Miami Street Fight” but he was on suspension and in subsequent drug rehab. The Piper/Goldust match is broken into two segments. The first is pre-taped in an “alley” somewhere in Hollywood. Part II comes in the ring in a live bit.
Match 2: First-Ever “Hollywood Back Lot” Brawl (Part I of II)
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper -vs- Goldust (WWF Intercontinental Champion)
Analysis: Piper mugs Goldust (4:44) over the near five minutes in his attempt to make a “man” out of him. Goldust drives up in a gold cadillac. Piper smashes out the windows with a baseball bat. He throws Goldust into a dumpster and a makeshift cattering stand. Piper sprays Goldust with a fire hose but Goldust escapes to the car following a low blow. Goldust runs Piper down as Piper lands on the hood of the car before he falls off. Goldust drives away in the cadillac so Piper hops into a white ford bronco and drives off after him. This set in motion the duped video footage of “Piper”driving – – – that was the actual O.J. Simpson police chase reel from 1994. The match concludes, well, sort of, in the ring prior to the Bret/Shawn “Iron Man Match.” The live crowd mostly feels equivocal on what they saw. In other words, what a letdown so far. Vince perfectly sums it up, “All I can say is, I’m happy that’s over with.” LOL. The pre-taped nature of “Part I” certainly made it feel second-rate. Well, the WWF was bargain-basement … Anyway, this gets worse so stay tuned.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin (w/ “The Million-Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase -vs- Savio Vega
Result/Analysis: Austin via submission (10:09) with The Million-Dollar Dream. The crowd couldn’t have given two shits, but this was a good match. They had a match on Raw weeks beforehand that preceded this along with Austin replacing Ramon as Vega’s tag-team partner in the tag-team tournament, with Austin, of course, not interested in that. Given what Austin later became, it’s strange to watch him mat wrestling with Vega here. They trade a series of near falls in a nice little sequence and Vega slugs it out with Austin to hold his own. Knowing how HUGE Austin got within the next year it’s funny to watch this and see an unresponsive audience. He was “Stone Cold” by name only, though, and as I’ve said previously, DiBiase as his manager, starting off as “The Ringmaster,” and being the meaningless Million-Dollar Champion only watered him down from the get-go. Vega was one of the WWF’s better mid-card wrestlers but he had a marginal following at best. Referee Tim White gets bumped off a Vega side-kick which gave Austin the opening to use the Million-Dollar belt to TKO Vega and finish him with the sleeper hold, which resembled more of a choke. Piper called in twice during the match as dubbed footage from the O.J. Simpson police car chase from 1994 was shown as Piper pursued Goldust in the white ford bronco. That distracts from the match for the PPV audience. Moreso, it was an ill-conceived narrative: a double-homocide in real life compared to fictional wrestling with a storyline confronting one man’s homophobia.
Meanwhile, “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel is with Mr. Perfect. Diesel isn’t concerned with the mind games being played by The Undertaker over the last several weeks. He says he doesn’t sweat the small stuff (or the big stuff either). Diesel is confident he’ll take care of The Undertaker tonight and he wishes Michaels good luck and says he’s next. Diesel had already signed on with WCW so he was playing out the string on his contractual obligations and giving nothing more.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/ Sable) -vs- The Ultimate Warrior
Result/Analysis: The Ultimate Warrior via pinfall (1:39) following a big splash. Following weeks of endless hype, Warrior’s return reached its crescendo with “The Ultimate Squash.” Both entrances double the length of the match. It’s funny to circle back on HHH’s HOF career and see him job to a bygone era has-been that literally had been living in “Parts Unknown” for nearly four years, but, that’s a footnote for him. Warrior no sells the pedigree (shocker) after HHH jumps him at the bell. He hits three clotheslines, a flying shoulder tackle, does his gorilla press slam and caps with the big splash. No one figured an actual match would happen as why would The Warrior sign back for anything but a sizable payday and squash? The WWF was desperate for a draw but The Warrior’s fandom had waned in his years away plus he was unreliable as he soon again proved himself to be.
Rating: 1/4* (the return aspect alone warrants a partial credit)
Todd Pettengill introduces us to the newest WWF SuperStar. Yes, it’s “Wildman” Marc Mero, aka the departed Johnny B. Badd from WCW. And since Sable, aka Rena Mero, was his real life wife, Mero and Helmsley, who just so happens to bump into him during the interview, get into a scuffle. This, of course, went nowhere except Sable naturally becoming Mero’s manager in due time.
That transitions to Piper in pursuit footage, uh, I mean O.J. seemingly ready to blow his brains out.
“Big Daddy Cool” Diesel -vs- The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer)
Result/Analysis: The Undertaker via pinfall (16:46) following a tombstone piledriver. If you were to stack The Undertaker’s WrestleMania matches from his first at WM VII (1991) up until his first epic go around versus Triple H at WM X-Seven (2001), his WM match with Diesel was his best in that initial 10 year period. Even as Kevin Nash was on his way out of the WWF, to rival WCW no less, he didn’t go through the motions just to collect a paycheck and do the job to The Undertaker. This is a better match than either had worked in a while – with anyone else. Diesel dominates to fit the narrative of The Undertaker coming back no matter what the punishment. Two jackknife powerbombs, Diesel’s finishing move to which no one got up from, or kicked out of, couldn’t keep The Undertaker down because, of course, he was “inhuman.” From there, despite still seemingly holding an advantage, Diesel succumbs to defeat: the flying clothesline, chokeslam and tombstone piledriver. The pin actually felt important. I’ve always liked this match as I credit Nash for following thru on his contractual committments all the way to the end and Taker allows him to carry the load.
Part II – “Rowdy” Roddy Piper -vs- Goldust (w/ Marlena)
Result/Analysis: Piper with Goldust fleeing (6:05). There was time to kill before the next hour+ and the main event so Goldust and Piper return to the arena for the off-the-cuff finish. Goldust gets the better of Piper when they hit the ring but his focus is mostly on groping, straddling and then kissing Piper. The seal of a kiss sends Piper bonzo gonzo. He grabs Goldust’s nuts, knees the crown jewels, kisses him back, and of course, the unforgettable WrestleMania moment for all-time, the coup de grâce – the stripping of Goldust to reveal he’s wearing bondage gear underneath his suit. When you know that’s what’s coming, there’s not the shock value of the first time you see it. Context. Anyway, Goldust flees with Marlena covering him after a final blow to his bulging man area, and Piper revels in his conquest. When you think of Piper at WrestleMania you think of Adrian Adonis first at WM III, Piper’s Pit with Brother Love and Robert Downey Jr. at WM V and this “match” with Goldust. He, of course, wrestled a classic match versus Bret Hart at WM VIII but lost so it’s his WM moments of embarrassing others that carry on in people’s consciousness.
Rating: * (hot garbage in total but Piper was the only one that could have made this work)
Michael Cole again voices over the original Todd Pettengill take that tells the narrative of Shawn Michaels versus Bret Hart. What? Did Pettengill’s storytelling have an expiration date? Bret sums up the match perfectly. He says, “The way it look at it is this. One man’s sunset is another man’s dawn and I just want to wake up tomorrow morning with this (tapping the WWF Title on his shoulder.”
Match 6: First-Ever 60-Minute “Iron Man Match” for the WWF Championship
“The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels (w/ “Supersock” José Lothario) -vs- Bret “Hitman” Hart (c)
Result/Analysis: Michaels via pinfall following sweet chin music (1:01:55). The boyhood dream has come true. Half a century later, this match holds it’s immense exceptional quality. Today’s wrestling can’t hold a candle to the storytelling, drama and psychology that’s on display here from two all-time greats in arguably the greatest match in WrestleMania history. To truly appreciate it, despite knowing the end result, you need to watch and study it. This go around was probably take five for me and the ramifications historically set in motion the WWF transitioning from its “New Generation Era” into the “Attitude Era” as the product developed a sustained edginess to it that produced must-see weekly content for years. Bret vs. Shawn. The Iron Man Match. Two titans of the sport from completely different walks of life and wrestling styles. Egos that hardly saw eye-to-eye. When you know what resulted a year and a half later, seeing the beginnings of it all – the end of Bret’s run as top babyface and the wheels set in motion for his departure – this match holds tremendous significance. Now the great recall to the match other than the one and only fall for Michaels, is the last 40 seconds and sudden death period. There’s far more to unpack than just Bret locking the sharpshooter on Michaels as he catches him coming off the ropes and Michaels squirms in anguish but doesn’t tap out as the 60 minute time limit expires. And that Gorilla Monsoon orders a restart to the match to thereby give Michaels the additional chance to win, which, the first time you watch even has your brain thinking that’s assuredly the outcome. I was all for Bret all the time is his day. To that end, while I appreciated Michaels, as a babyface he represented a threat. Time has taught me that Michaels winning the belt here was totally the correct decision. The Iron Man Match made Shawn Michaels’ career. He had the two ladder matches – both excellent – with Razor Ramon but otherwise was the guy Vince didn’t go all the way with. At WrestleMania XII and beyond, Michaels ceased being “The Heartbreak Kid” and became his other credo, “The Showstopper.” For all of his great to legendary matches, this was Michaels’ finest hour +. Now his initial title reign disappoints, but that’s another dissection for another time and place. As for Bret, the fans, or in the case of 1996 … The Kliq … let it be known that his time as the top dog, as in babyface and standard bearer post-Hulk Hogan, was over in the WWF. Yes, Bret took his ball so to speak and went home to Calgary for six months following WrestleMania, to reboot himself, lick his wounds, check his ego and flirt with overtures from rival WCW, but he had to be done as a babyface and thankfully, the ascension of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and after that, DX, is what jolted his career as the company’s #1 heel – which, Bret was fantastic as. Literally, 18 months of storyline plot resulted from this match and Michaels winning his first WWF Championship. As for the meat and potatoes of the 60 minutes that ended in a “draw,” let me give all of that its just due. Over the duration of the one hour, you could say in parts that Bret does pound Shawn into the mat. However, Shawn hangs with Bret in the first 20 minutes that’s a mat wrestling portion consumed with rest holds. Bret wrestles the stiffer match over the next 20 minutes as begins to soften Michaels back for the sharpshooter while he mixes in stiff elbows with European uppercuts. Michaels turns the tide off a viscious corner whip and he consistently works Bret’s shoulder with moves such as a shoulderbreaker, hammerlock slam, single-arm DDT and cross arm-breaker. HBK was winning the title but he showed up to wrestle “The Excellence of Execution.” That’s what made this match as awesome as it was. The final 30 minutes are edge of your seat good. Near falls come aplenty and either man could have netted a fall or two, yet the 0-0 score continued to accentuate each move and pinning attempt as the clock wound down. The kitchen sink was thrown out here in terms of Bret’s moveset, Shawn’s moveset, suplexes, submission holds, Michaels flying through the air doing superhuman bumps, etc., but nary a decision. Everyone remembers the Bret back body drop of Michaels over the ropes onto the floor or Michaels catapult outside of a corner whip and colliding with Lothario as eye-popping moments. The last 10 minutes gave the impression that one fall, and one fall only, would decide the match. The sharpshooter? Or sweet chin music? A double clothesline momentarily grounds both before Shawn gets a flurry offense over five minutes that nets him several near falls. The last 40+ seconds with the crowd at a fever pitch come as Bret, groggily at his feet, catches Shawn coming off the ropes to apply the sharpshooter. Michaels withers in pain and fights with all he has to not submit but had he, and Bret retained the title, no one would have said boo given the climax occurs at the very end. Shawn doesn’t tap and the bell rings. Referee Earl Hebner looks around. Bret grabs the belt and starts to walk off, receiving handshakes and applause for going the full hour without getting beaten … only Gorilla Monsoon, back again as WWF President appears to order Hebner to restart the match because “there must be a winner.” The Bret heel turn begins here. He frustratingly returns to the ring, tossing the belt down on his way back in. He asks for the bell and immediately attacks a withering Michaels and his lower back. Despite the punishment, from the sharpshooter and a back body drop and suplex, Shawn staggers himself to his feet and hits Bret with sweet chin music out of nowhere. He can’t make the cover, though, so Bret sells it (somewhat anyway) as he e crawls to the corner. Bret jelly-legged gets on his feet but he’s met with a second sweet chin music as Michaels had time to wind up. Shawn covers and at last wins the WWF Title for the first time in an epic WrestleMania moment. Michaels celebrates in tears on his knees as his face is buried in the belt. Bret gets up after a minute. He stares on in disbelief then walks off in disgust (at the situation and no longer being Vince’s #1 honestly). He tears down the straps on his tights and walks off heated. Michaels at last celebrates the win with his Kliq as WrestleMania XII comes to a close.
Rating: ****3/4 (one of the best matches in wrestling history and the greatest WrestleMania Main Event – for me – other than being topped by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin versus The Rock at WrestleMania X-Seven in 2001).
The Verdict: WrestleMania XII has often had a lukewarm reception to it. On the whole, that’s understandable. Bret vs. Shawn. The 60-minute Iron Man Match – the first of its kind, however, IS the event. The historical significance to a single match may begin with Andre The Giant putting over Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III to make and cement Hulk-A-Mania but no match has had the staying power or drove more storyline content, transitioned eras, like Hart and Michaels and all that resulted from it. The match has aged exceptionally well despite the end result and knowing there aren’t any falls in the actual time limit. I believe it’s Michaels all-time greatest match. Bret had better matches prior to or even after, for different reasons, and the one knock you can give him was that he was 80 percent invested to Shawn’s 100 percent. It takes multiple sit throughs to notice the intracacies hidden therein. It’s all quite remarkable to study. Outside of the epic Main Event, Diesel and The Undertaker had a good match and Austin was just getting started. 25 years later and WrestleMania XII while an average show amongst the 36 altogether, delivered because Bret and Shawn delivered. Often times, that has failed to happen. The WWF sprung forward from their match after a two/three-year malaise period of just scraping by as WCW passed them by – and would more for a while yet – to re-invent their product and give wrestling fans “attitude.” If the WWE ever recognized singular matches in its Hall of Fame, the Iron Man Match should be enshrined first.