OSR: WWE WrestleMania 12 Review
Back at the beginning of 1996, the Monday Night War between WCW and WWE was just underway. To make a mark, the WWE needed to do something unique with WrestleMania 12. But how would they achieve this. In front of a packed crowd of 18,853 in the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California. The main event witnessed Bret Hart defending the WWE Championship against Shawn Michaels, in a 60-minute Iron Man Match. Take a look back at the events of March 31 1996 in the WWE WrestleMania 12 Review.
The 12th edition of WrestleMania saw the WWE step up their showcase of the immortals event. Taking a huge risk, the WWE placed their two biggest men of the 90’s face-to-face in a 60 minute Iron Man match. A complete unknown to the TV era of professional wrestling. Also on the card was a car chase and Undertaker versus Diesel. WrestleMania 12 has never been seen, so not really much can be expected from the under card but the Iron Man Match should be insane.
The opening video package heavily promoted the Iron Man match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. It showcased the near parallel paths both men have taken in their careers, from the days of The Hart Foundation and The Rockers to Intercontinental Championship reigns. The strategic importance for them on that fateful night was surviving for 60 minutes. Inside The Pond, the commentary team for the event was Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler as the show then got underway.
1. Vader, The British Bulldog and Owen Hart (w/ Jim Cornette) vs. Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson and Jake Roberts (w/ Mr. Fuji)
The first match of the show was literally a huge 6-Man tag team match. The stipulation for the match being if Yokozuna’s team won, then Yokozuna would get five minutes in the ring with Cornette. However, Vader nailed the Vaderbomb on Roberts for the win.
Thoughts: This was a really good fast paced match. Ahmed Johnson’s dive off the top rope was rather unexpected! The tease at the end for Yokozuna and Roberts getting their hands on Jim Cornette was a brilliant, which allowed the distraction, for Vader to get the win.
Winners: Vader, British Bulldog and Owen Hart
Match Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0 Stars
2. Hollywood Backlot Brawl: Roddy Piper vs. Goldust (w/ Marlena)
As Roddy Piper was serving as the then-WWE President, Goldust got in the way and forced a match at WrestleMania with Piper. The match started off with Piper in the parking lot. Goldust shown up with driving a gold Cadilac. Piper, smashed the car windows which allowed the match to begin.
Piper eventually got his hands on Goldust, and used various weapons including the Cadillac to his advantage. Goldust managed to escape driving away from the arena. Piper located a vehicle to start a chase throughout the suburbs of Anaheim.
Thoughts: WWE did a great job at reinventing segments during this time. The segment worked really well, the fans in the arena reacted brilliantly. But is this match over already?
3. Stone Cold Steve Austin (w/ Ted DiBiase) vs. Savio Vega
Steve Austin was fully fledged in his Ringmaster gimmick alongside Ted DiBiase. It was rather strange to see this, considering how Austin ran his mouth in ECW. On several occasions during the match, Vince attempted to establish contact with Piper. Austin won with the Million Dollar Dream.
Thoughts: Austin really showed how technically sound he was with plenty of holds. Naturally the gimmick wasn’t suited to his personality. The only gripe is the constant interference by calls from Roddy Piper and video of the car chase, massively interrupted the flow of the match.
Winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin
Match Rating 2.5 out of 5.0 Stars
4. Hunter Hurst Helmsley (w/ Sable) vs. The Ultimate Warrior
It was interesting to note that Sable escorted Hunter to the ring for this match. Even more fun is that Helmsley’s entrance took longer than the match! For The Warrior, WrestleMania XII marked his first appearance in the WWE since Vince fired him in late 1992.
Helmsley blind-sighted Warrior, quickly getting on the attack which stunned the crowd into a silence. Helmsley then nailed a Pedigree, but Warrior brilliantly no-sold the move. Warrior started a chain of shoulder take downs, clotheslines before a big splash finished Helmsley in under 2 minutes.
Thoughts: Bless the Warrior, as humiliated Hunter Hurst Helmsley in his WrestleMania debut. How did he recover from that? No doubt the match was a feel good nostalgic moment, which erupted for the return of The Ultimate Warrior.
Winner: The Ultimate Warrior
Match Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0 Stars
5. Diesel vs. The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer)
Diesel nailed a thunderous Jackknife Powerbomb on the Undertaker. Big Daddy Cool joked around with The Undertaker, who sat up. Despite this, Diesel nailed a second Jackknife. Diesel was loving himself as he taunted Paul Bearer and The Undertaker.
The delayed timing in a pinfall attempted allowed The Deadman to awake and choke Diesel. After a sloppy Chokeslam and Tombstone, The Undertaker continued his WrestleMania winning streak.
Thoughts: Big men matches were, and will always be difficult to pull off. However the contrast in characters really helped the match. Diesel suited a cocky heel, joking around after hitting the Jackknife on Undertaker. This was brilliant story telling.
Winner: The Undertaker
Match Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0 Stars
6. Hollywood Backlot Brawl Finale: Roddy Piper vs. Goldust (w/ Marlena)
Finally, Goldust and Piper returned as they smashed their way back into the arena. A very slow burner with the backstage buildup, finally saw both men arrive in the middle of the ring. As the brawl continued, on several occasions Goldust made suggestive moves to Piper.
This really pushed the boundaries for the audiences shock. Goldust went too far beyond the line as he kissed Piper. An irate Piper grabbed Goldust by the gentlemen’s area. The “match” ended as Piper disrobed Goldust to reveal stockings and suspenders. An embarrassed Goldust rushed backstage.
Thoughts: The award for most unique match goes to Roddy Piper and Goldust. Not exactly a typical wrestling match but a clever way to tell the story. The mid match interruptions were frustrating but the pay off in the end was brilliant. It nicely broke up the seriousness of the matches.
Winner: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Match Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0 Stars
7. WWE Championship – 60-Minute Iron Man Match: Bret Hart (c) vs. Shawn Michaels (w/ Jose Lothario)
Incredibly, the main event saw the only title defense of the evening. Following Vader’s attack on Monsoon a few weeks earlier, Monsoon made his return as the WWE President before the match. Jose Lothario made his way to the ring and revealed HBK high in the sky.
HBK then made an impressive entrance on a zipline from the top of the arena. The referee Earl Hebner talked through the rules of the match in extensive detail and that he would happily count out or disqualify if the rules were broken. At this point, 60 minutes of wrestling kicked off.
First 15 Minutes
Technical wrestling was a key in the first 10 minutes of the match. Literally collarbone neck locks and various stretches were the rage here. “Both individuals are pacing themselves” was the line from Vince McMahon, who empathized that the first mistake will cost victory.
As we closed in on the 10-minute mark, Bret upped the intensity, as he forced Shawn into the turnbuckle. Shawn outsmarted Bret and forced the him to the outside with a hurricanrana.
Second 15 Minutes
Chaos broke out at ring side, as Shawn Michaels tried to superkick Hart but nailed an official outside. The pace was nice so far, whilst there are plenty of holds, they tried to keep the fans interested by mixing up the pace.
Shawn Michaels was able to show great ring awareness and matched the technical abilities of Bret Hart. The Hitman was able to reverse the momentum, as he elbowed Michaels in the turnbuckle.
Bret changed the tune by aggressively attacking Michaels. Shawn was able to counter and take control, putting the focus on Bret’s left shoulder. At the 30 minute mark, Earl Hebner took his standard ref bump, as Bret looked to take the first fall.
Third 15 Minutes
Bret Hart almost got the pinfall after a pile driver. The referee was hazey, so was slow to respond. The match was really hotting up, and picked up the pace brilliantly. Both men were taking a beating and looking exhausted (but in a good way).
Lawler suggested to send your opponent to sleep and constantly pin him. Vince unsure if that tactic was legal. In a beautiful spot, Michaels was launched airborne onto the floor landing on his shoulder. Bret waited for the count out, however resists and instead threw HBK into the turnbuckle.
Final 15 minutes
As we rolled into the final 15 minutes, Shawn Michaels was launched into Jose. Bret continued to break down Shawn’s back, hoping to lock in the Sharpshooter later. Lawler reminded the fans as we closed into the final 15 minutes that a decision was critical to victory right now.
Michaels tried once again to roll up Hart, but was unsuccessful. Michaels was launched ring side following the kick out. Bret continued to assault with a shoulder dive to the outside. Bret again broke the 10 count. At the 11 minute mark, both men are slapping and punching the hell out of each other.
Michaels begged Hart to give him all he had, taking plenty of energy out of the Hitman. Bret locked in the Camel Clutch onto Michaels for nearly 3 minutes.
With less than 7 minutes to go, Bret delivered a devastating super plex from the top rope. Bret saw victory and tried to lock the Sharpshooter. Michaels was able to counter and crawl to the ropes. A single leg crab was executed onto Michaels, who was able to break the hold.
Bret maximized the referee counts before he released the hold. As we closed in on the final few minutes, Michaels stepped up the pace massively and tried everything in his arsenal to get the victory.
With Hart down, Michaels went to the top rope. Hart reversed Michaels dive into the Sharpshooter, holding on for the final 35 seconds but to no success. This resulted in a 0-0 draw.
Sudden Death Overtime
At this point, Gorilla Monsoon returned to the ring and declared the match a draw. He then declared the match will continue until there is a victor under sudden death rules. Hart continued the assault on a knocked out Michaels. Shawn nailed a Sweet Chin Music, but was not able to capitalise.
Both men got to their feet, another Sweet Chin Music was delivered. Shawn was then able to get the pinfall, and became the WWE Champion after 61 minutes 25 seconds.
Thoughts: 60 minutes of wrestling, was such a brave move for WWE at the time. Michaels and Hart sold every second of the match. The pace was great, slow to begin but it had meaning. Slowly but surely it picked up, but never did you think this was dull.
Both men sucked you into the match and believed everything they did. Of course, a broadway draw in an Iron Man match was a bit of let down but it worked perfectly. The final few minutes of the match were incredible.
How Bret Hart reversed Shawn into the Sharpshooter following the top rope dive was genius. Put your phone on silent, remove all distractions and enjoy this stellar match, the longest singles match in WWE PPV history.
Winner: Shawn Michaels, to capture the WWE Championship
Match rating: 4.5 out of 5
WWE WrestleMania 12 Conclusions
Given the talent the WWE had at the time, there was an expectation that the undercard would be a little bit of a drag. How wrong you can be, as every match on the card felt in place. They all told a great story and fitted brilliantly into the event. Goldust versus Roddy Piper displayed genius, the whole car chase throughout the show was brilliant. Admittedly, it outshone the match between Stone Cold and Savio Vega. The pay off when the match returned to the ring was worth its weight in gold. Goldust pushed boundaries which shocked the audience, having it all come back on him from Piper was perfect justice. This was perfect mild relief before the marathon main event.
The Undertaker and Diesel shockingly, had a great match. The Undertaker big men matches generally always disappoint, especially in his early days. However, Diesel really matured in the twilight of his WWE career. The two big men really gelled together, which was easily Takers best WrestleMania match to that point and possibly of the 90’s.
No words can really sum up the main event, honestly put some time aside and watch Bret Hart versus Shawn Michaels. It’s wrestling 101 in it’s purist form. The story, exhaustion and desperation was brilliant. Never at one point was boredom experienced, as it flowed with greatness despite the lack of pinfalls. Overall WrestleMania 12 was very enjoyable, its quick pace in the undercard was re-freshing. Not really a bad match on the card, even The Warriors quick squash had its own merits of some description. Definitely watch the show for the Iron Man, but happily watch the remainder of the show as well.