Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The History of WWE WrestleMania: XII

Shawn Michaels realizes his Boyhood Dream.....

Arrowhead Pond - 3/31/96

'Mania 12 was a quantum leap over its predecessor in terms of big-show presentation and wrestling quality.  The card featured only six matches (plus one on the pre-show), but the WWF showcased their talented if somewhat shrunken roster plus a few nostalgic stars, with no guest celebrities whatsoever, and the result was a very solid show with few bad spots.

The hot opener was a very strong six-man tag with Vader, Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith facing off with Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson, and Jake Roberts. Yoko had just turned babyface after being scorned by manager Jim Cornette in favor of Vader.  Had Yoko's team won he'd have gotten Cornette in the ring for five minutes.  This star-studded match was fast-paced and helped build the Vader contingent as a dominant heel faction, after Vader took out Jake with a Vader Bomb.

Next up was the bizarre Backlot Brawl between Goldust and Roddy Piper - a very violent, stiff fight shot in the parking lot.  This portion of the "match" taken by itself was pretty solid and accomplished what it needed to.  Unfortunately it led to a lame recurring O.J. Simpson joke throughout the show and ended with Piper stripping Goldust down to his lingerie in the ring.  Not sure you could get away with an ending like this today.

STONE COLD!  STONE COLD!  ST-- Oh wait, that wasn't a thing yet?

In the third slot was the debut of a young lion named Stone Cold Steve Austin, who had a decent midcard bout with Savio Vega.  Nothing mindblowing, but not a bad 'Mania debut for the future Hall of Famer.  Austin won after hitting Savio with manager Ted Dibiase's Million Dollar Belt and slapping on a very bad looking Million Dollar Dream sleeper hold.

The fourth match was the only real throwaway of the night, as rising star Hunter Hearst Helmsley was killed dead by the returning Ultimate Warrior (who would be gone from the company again four months later and did basically nothing to increase ratings).  A pointless 90-second squash on the biggest PPV of the year.  Warrior infamously informed Hunter backstage, "I'm beating you in 90 seconds."  Things would get worse for HHH over the next few months in the wake of his friends Hall & Nash leaving.
In the semi-main slot was a much-anticipated slugfest between Diesel and the Undertaker.  The match moved slowly but was ultimately a very hard-hitting, well-worked big-man match, and the first truly good match in Taker's long WrestleMania Streak.  This would be a prototype for his next two 'Mania bouts against opponents of similar stature.  Taker survived two jackknife powerbombs before hitting the Tombstone for the win.

The centerpiece of 'Mania 12 was a true mat wrestling showcase between the two biggest stars (and coincidentally best workers) of the era, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, who squared off in the first televised WWF Iron Man match.  For a full 60 minutes these two put on a wrestling extravaganza that displayed every facet of their respective games.  And like an evenly-contested hockey playoff game, the final score was 0-0 when time expired.  Gorilla Monsoon then announced a sudden death overtime, in which Michaels finally captured the WWF Title after two minutes.  The Iron Man match was definitely not for everyone and perhaps hasn't aged as well as one would hope, but few WrestleMania main events have felt quite so epic.  Bret played the de facto heel and sold serious dissatisfaction at having an overtime, planting the seed for his full heel turn a year later.

"Yo Shawn.  You best be gettin' your hand out my face."
I'm told that's how Bret talks in real life.
WrestleMania 12 made the absolute most of the WWF's relatively small and largely unproven roster and put the focus on the in-ring product, and the result was a very strong, memorable show that paved the way for the Attitude era.

Best Match: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
Worst Match: Ultimate Warrior vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
What I'd Change: I'd add one fall apiece to the Iron Man match to break it up a bit, as there are times where the match does drag.  I'd also have made the Goldust-Piper match end in the backlot and skip the epilogue.  Finally I'd've given Hunter some actual offense so as to not allow the Warrior to completely bury him.
Most Disappointing Match: Warrior vs. Helmsley - not that I was expecting much from it, but it certainly could've been made into a real match.
Most Pleasant Surprise: That no celebrity guest stars appeared on this show.
Overall Rating: 8/10


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