Happy Saturday Everyone!
We reviewed a WrestleMania Stinker a couple of weeks ago so we’ll review the show that followed it this week in the form of WrestleMania XII. WrestleMania XII didn’t have a particularly high bar to clear when it came to being better than WrestleMania XI, partly thanks to the WWF having an injection of fresh talent in the following year such as Triple H, Dustin Runnels, Steve Austin and Vader, all of whom featured on the WrestleMania XII card.
The WWF also had a big Main Event match that should have appealed to their fan base with top babyfaces Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels going at it in an Iron Man match. The show didn’t end up being a complete success but there is some decent stuff here, so let’s take another look at WrestleMania XII.
You can view the card by clicking below;
The event is emanating from Anaheim, California on 31st of March 1996
Calling the action are Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler
We don’t get the usual pro-America singalong and instead get a video to hype up the Iron Man match.
If The Babyface Trio Wins then Yoko gets 5 Minutes with Jim Cornette
Camp Cornette (British Bulldog, Owen Hart and Vader) w/ Jim Cornette Vs Jake Roberts, Ahmed Johnson and Yokozuna
Yoko had been one of Cornette’s clients but Vader had pushed him out of the fold, leading to Yoko getting beaten down at the February pay per view. Yoko has since teamed up with Jake and Ahmed so that he can earn himself a chance to squish Cornette.
The babyfaces start this one hot by clearing the ring, with Ahmed even busting out a TOPE SUICIDA onto Vader. The fans do seem into the idea of Vader and Yoko having a big man collision, although by this stage in his career Yoko was something like 600+ pounds, so he just didn’t have enough gas in the tank to really deliver the big match with Vader that the fans would have liked to see.
Surprisingly Yoko is in there for a quite a while fighting all three Heels, which leads to him becoming the babyface in peril. I suppose he wasn’t going to have the spring in his step for a hot tag so selling and then tagging someone else was probably the best idea; it’s just strange seeing the biggest dude in the match being the one who is cut off and worked over.
Ahmed is sloppy but has great energy, so the crowd gets into his hot tag segment, especially when he leaps around with things like clotheslines. Ahmed takes our second heat segment when Owen cuts him off with a Missile Dropkick behind the refs back, as this has been pretty watchable thus far. My memory of this match was that it was quite dull, but from an action perspective it’s had some fun stuff in it and the crowd has mostly got into it.
Jake gets our second hot tag of the contest and runs wild with punches and clotheslines. The difference between Jake’s punches and Luger’s in the previous match is night and day. Jake also gets cut off though, after barely doing anything, which was probably a mistake as the crowd was up and willing to get into the action and two heat segments is probably enough. You don’t really need three heat segments in your opening six man tag match.
Jake of course sells really well, as he was want to do, and the Heels do some nice stuff, including Owen coming off the ropes with an elbow drop and Bulldog delivering his Running Powerslam. It definitely feels like the match is starting to drag a bit though. Yoko gets our third hot tag of the match, clobbering Vader with punches to pop the crowd. They did a good job getting fans into the idea of Vader Vs Yoko I must say. Things break down and that leads to Jake trying to DDT Cornette, only for Vader to get a cheap shot followed by a Pump Splash for three.
WINNERS: CAMP CORNETTE
Thoughts: The babyfaces not winning was a pretty flat finish, as usually when you do the 5 minute stipulation the babyfaces win so as to give the fans the fun of seeing the manager get killed. If you’re going to tease that stip then you probably need to deliver on it. The match itself was fine but it probably went on for too long with the three heat segments, even if some of the wrestling from the Heels was well executed. Vader and Yoko would have their big pay per view singles match in May, where Vader would beat Yoko to take his place as the premier big man in the company. Jake would end up in a terrible feud with Jerry Lawler over the summer. Bulldog got a brief run with Shawn Michaels over King of the Ring season. Ahmed would win the IC Title but then suffer from injury issues.
We get a video package to hype up the next match. Interestingly, they get Michael Cole to record the voiceover for it, even though I think it was originally Todd Pettengill that did it. I’m guessing the music they used meant they had to redub it or something?
Hollywood Backlot Brawl
WWF Intercontinental Champion Goldust Vs Rowdy Roddy Piper
Goldust was actually feuding with Scott Hall at the time, but Hall was having some issues and disappeared from TV prior to WrestleMania XII, so they shoehorned Roddy Piper in there instead, doing the whole gay baiting storyline where Goldust was infatuated with Piper and Piper the manly man wasn’t going to stand for no weird face painted man having amorous designs upon him. The Backlot Brawl essentially means they are brawling in a car park somewhere in Hollywood.
This is a good intense brawl for the most part, with Goldust showing up in a golden Cadillac, leading to Piper smashing the card up with a baseball bat. Piper controls things for the majority of the fight, as he cycles through a series of weaponry, including metal bins and a four pack of beer at one stage. Piper also hoses Goldust down with a literal hose at one stage, which I’m sure was fun for Dustin Runnels to have to take.
Goldust takes an almighty battering at certain points, with Piper just plain clonking him in the face with a closed fist at one stage, which leads to Goldust deciding he’s had enough of this gosh darn Scotsman on this Monday to Friday pay per view, before escaping in his Cadillac. Not before running either Piper or a stuntman over first. I’m guessing it was a stuntman because it was a meaty bump but you never know with the WWF in 1996 as they might not have had the budget for a stuntman and just made Piper take the bump himself. Piper gives chase to Goldust in a nearby van and we’ll come back to this later.
WINNER: WE’LL FIND OUT LATER
Thoughts: This was a bit on the short side but it had good intensity and it was pretty hardcore for the WWF in 1996
Savio Vega is backstage with Michael Hayes, where he cuts a fired up promo to hype up the next match. That wasn’t a bad promo from Savio in all honesty.
Million $ Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin w/ Million $ Man Ted Dibiase Vs Savio Vega
Vega had been feuding with Dibiase since Dibiase got Father Christmas to turn Heel back in December, with Dibiase now sicking his new protégé on Vega. There was an additional storyline thread where Savio and Austin had been partners in the WWF Tag Title tournament and Austin had basically caused his partner to lose.
They start this one at a quick clip and it’s good action as these two had solid chemistry together as opponents. Savio gets the babyface shine to start, but Austin flings Savio shoulder first into the ring post for the cut off and then starts working some heat. The crowd reactions for this one are disappointing but the wrestling is decent and it’s a good way to heat up the feud between the two.
Sadly the match ends up becoming a backdrop to Piper ranting on the phone, which doesn’t help with making this match seem like it’s important. It makes it feel like you’re watching a match on Superstars or something. Austin does a number on the shoulder of Savio, with Savio selling it well, but Piper comes on the line again and continues to rant.
We also get some video footage of Piper driving in his fan, with it deliberately being shot as a way to parody OJ Simpson being on the run from the cops back when he was arrested. By the time of April 1996 that was hardly a timely reference. Again it takes away from what has been a solid undercard match. Indeed, both wrestlers have worked very hard and they’ve started to garner some reactions from the crowd after they’d previously just been sitting on their hands.
Savio eventually gets his foot up in order to block an Austin attack from the top rope and makes a nice comeback. Things go awry for Savio though when he accidentally takes out the referee with an errant spinning kick, meaning that Dibiase is able to throw the Million $ belt in to his client. Austin clobbers Savio with the belt a few times and then locks in the Million $ Dream for the knockout victory when the referee finally awakens.
WINNER: STEVE AUSTIN
Thoughts: This was a solid undercard bout that might have rated higher if the crowd had been more invested in it. It was still a sturdy effort from both wrestlers and they’d go one to have some very good matches together including a show stealing performance at the May pay per view event
Austin won’t release the hold following the bout, just to be even more of a jerk. I’m thinking that locking someone in a sleeper for minutes on end like that could potentially be fatal; especially after you’d clonked them with a metal belt a bunch of times first. Thankfully within the world of wrestling logic it just means you need the refs to help you out of the ring, so Savio should probably be grateful that real world logic doesn’t apply in this situation.
Mr. Perfect is backstage with Diesel for a promo ahead of his match with Undertaker tonight. Diesel cuts a very calm promo where he says he’ll take out Undertaker tonight and then Shawn Michaels later once Shawn has won the WWF Title.
More nonsense is going on with Roddy Piper and his van.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley w/ Sable Vs The Ultimate Warrior
Warrior returning was Vince McMahon desperately rolling the dice in the face of WCW starting to nip at his heels with the advent of Nitro. This was actually supposed to be a relatively competitive match so that Hunter could gain something from it, but Warrior instead thought he’d look better in a quick squash, so that’s what we get. In all honesty, he was probably right, as I don’t think the fans would have had the patience for a long match between these two and Warrior squashing him in quick fashion gets possibly the biggest pop of the night.
One funny thing from the match is Jerry Lawler legit cracking Vince McMahon on commentary at one stage by saying that he’s going to impress Sable by showing her his “congressional” medal of honour. That is a pretty good gag in all fairness. Lawler also reveals that his sources revealed that Warrior was 400 pounds and bald, only for Warrior to run out ripped with a full head of hair. I do like how Lawler was perfectly happy with looking like an absolute goon when playing the Heel colour commentator sometimes.
WINNER: THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR
Todd Pettengill welcomes Marc Mero to the WWF. Mero cuts a pretty cheesy promo and gets interrupted by Triple H coming and yelling at Sable, acting like that loss was her fault somehow. Mero comes to his then real-life wife’s rescue though and a new feud is started between the two.
Piper is still on his way to the venue.
Big Daddy Cool Diesel Vs The Undertaker w/ Paul Bearer
This one came about because Diesel cost Undertaker the WWF Title in January and Taker returned the favour in February, thus we have a match to settle the issue. Works for me! Taker runs wild on Diesel to start, and it’s good action as Diesel has his working boots on and the two have decent chemistry together. Kevin Nash did usually work well with mobile big guys actually, as his matches with Paul Wight and Goldberg in WCW were usually decent.
It’s funny how the independent wrestling magazines would often do big “who would win if WCW guys wrestled WWF guys” articles and this was always a match they’d list, even though by then we’d already seen it. Diesel is eventually able to take the fight to the floor and rams Taker spine first into the ring post in order to cut The Deadman off and work some heat. They were gradually humanising Taker more in 1996, meaning he would sell more and show more emotion, which works well when you need him to sell someone like Diesel as an imposing physical threat.
Diesel shows some good Heel charisma whilst working Taker over and his work looks decent as well, making for a strong heat segment. It’s funny hearing Vince refer to Diesel as “Big D”, as that would obviously mean something else to most people today. I was going to make a joke about Wet Leg being big Diesel fans and that’s what inspired the lyrics for “Chaise Longue”, but I doubt they were even alive in 1996, and if they were they probably weren’t old enough to watch wrestling. I’m old is the basic thrust of my point here.
Anyway, Diesel and Taker do the double big boot spot that so many people hate but I inexplicably love, and that’s our double down, followed by a Diesel bear hug. Taker sells that well, even though the terrible Anaheim crowd doesn’t really get behind him and instead decide to chatter amongst themselves. Taker manages to eventually fight out of the bear hug and heads up top for an impressive big clothesline, which gets a two count.
Taker makes the mistake of lowering his head on an Irish Whip following that though, which allows Diesel to get a big Powerbomb and seemingly set himself up for a victory. Diesel doesn’t go for the pin following that though, being that he’s a cocky Heel and all, which allows Taker to recover and fight back up, only to take another Powerbomb. I’ve just realised how much this match mirrors Undertaker’s battle with Kane in 1998, although this has been a better match overall due to Kevin Nash being a better wrestler in 1996 than Kane was in 1998.
Diesel again doesn’t go for the win even though he’s hit two Powerbombs, which allows Taker to recover again and go for the throat. I like how they’ve protected the move there, as Diesel never went for the pin and took an inordinate amount of time taunting, thus giving Taker a logical amount of time to recover without taking away from Diesel’s finisher. Taker just keeps coming and gets a running leaping clothesline before following up with a Choke Slam and then the Tombstone for three.
WINNER: THE UNDERTAKER
Thoughts: This was a good outing, as they had solid chemistry together and it gave Undertaker a battling win without making Diesel look weak in the process as he got plenty of offence before losing and it was suggested he might have won if he’d forced the issue following the Powerbomb. I like how when Undertaker had Diesel on the ropes he went straight to the finish with the Tombstone as well, as it showed that he had his eyes on the prize more than the cocky Heel Diesel and that’s why he ultimately prevailed in the end
Goldust and Roddy Piper show back up at the arena so that they can finish their match, with them fighting down to the ring. Goldust works a bit of heat on Piper but Piper eventually fights back and strips Goldust down to his sexy underwear before sending him packing for the moral victory. The crowd seems to accept that so we’ll move on. The reactions to Piper were possibly some of the best all night, which suggests that the Anaheim crowd just came to see the old names they knew rather than the newer stars. I know some like the show-long storyline they did with the match, but personally I think it was more of a distraction than it needed to be and took away from other aspects of the show. The actual brawling from both wrestlers was good though, so it had that going for it if nothing else.
We get a video package for the Main Event, with Michael Cole again doing the voiceover.
60 Minute Iron Man Match for the WWF Title
Champ: Bret Hitman Hart Vs The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels
I really don’t want to watch this match again so I’ll just reuse a write up I did for it when I was reviewing every WrestleMania Main Event here on the Blog.
This was back before Shawn and Bret legitimately hated one another in real life, and both men were still babyfaces at the time of this match. Bret had been booked as a pretty weak Champion since 1996 had begun, so the result wasn’t especially in doubt here. Lothario was Michaels’ trainer and a former wrestler in his own right, so they decided to add him to Shawn’s act here in an effort to give Shawn a more mature and human edge due to having his mentor with him. Shawn gets the big special Mania entrance, coming down on a zip line, which is something you could actually get your wrestler to do in career mode of Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth.
The big issue with this particular match is that Shawn and Bret wanted to do an hour Broadway, but the WWF decided to promote the match with the Iron Man stipulation, even though they had no intention of having either man drop falls during the actual Iron Man portion. Thus the crowd is all geared to see falls take place and then gets progressively more bored and annoyed when they don’t get them. It also kind of telegraphs the draw, due to the crowd being constantly aware of the time remaining, whereas a normal Broadway would be less likely to have that issue.
One thing I’ve never actually noticed about this match before is how loudly the ring is miked up, with both men’s movements echoing around the building. It could just be that it just seems louder because the Anaheim crowd are so quiet. We get a timer and scoreboard on screen for the match, which does at least give the match the authentic feel of being an actual sporting event. The first ten minutes or so is mostly stuff on the mat, and it’s well done. Eventually both men start throwing some strikes, which leads to Shawn sending Bret outside with a head scissor.
I actually like the dynamic of Speed Vs Technical wrestling that is going on here, although I tend to prefer matches between these two when there is a clear heel and face, which is probably why I like the Survivor Series 97 match so much because it’s a good hate filled brawl where Shawn is drawing mega heel heat just for breathing. Bret does slide into the role of “subtle heel” here though, such as when he sends Shawn flying out of the ring with a big clothesline before trying to cause further damage out on the floor. Shawn fights back however and goes for the Sweet Chin Music, but Bret dodges it and Tony Chimel ends up taking it instead. Chimel sells the move big and has to be taken away on a stretcher, which is a clever way of showing off how devastating the kick is, but it does kind of grind the match to a halt as Bret has to sit in a chin lock whilst Chimel is taken away.
We get some more technically proficient wrestling following that, with Shawn actually getting the better of things for a bit and working over Bret’s arm with some nice looking submission holds. Sadly it all ends up meaning nothing as Bret essentially just ignores it and it never gets referenced again for the rest of the bout. It’s annoying because Shawn catching Bret with something like a Fujiwara arm bar after all the arm work for a flash submission would not only have been an interesting way for Bret to drop a fall, but it would have also been a big twist in the story to see the speed wrestler actually manage to make the technical wrestler submit. You could then have Bret catch Shawn with a cross body block or something to just totally turn the world upside down.
We’re not getting any falls though, so it just ends and they move onto the next section of the match, which is a shame because there’s a spot where Shawn catches Bret with the Divorce Court arm breaker and the crowd really wakes up because they sense that they might actually get to see something, but then nothing happens and the excitement just dissipates. In another spot that feels kind of pointless, Bret rallies on the half hour mark and gets Shawn with a kind of face buster from the top bump, only to knock Earl Hebner down in the process. Earl is pretty much immediately back up however and him being down doesn’t lead to him missing a pin or cheating, so it was either a botch or a completely unnecessary spot.
Bret gets a nice piledriver and makes the cover for two, with the kick out getting audible boos from the crowd, who just want to see a fall and are starting to lose hope that they will. Bret heads up but Shawn throws him off, but Bret is able to bail outside before Shawn can connect with Sweet Chin Music, so Shawn just dives out onto him instead. Shawn goes for a cross body block from the top back inside, but Bret rolls through for two, in another spot that would have worked great as a way for someone to lose a fall without looking bad. Shawn tries going to a sleeper next, which leads to Lawler baffling Vince by asking him what would happen if Bret goes out here and can’t be revived. Vince just stutters and changes the subject. I love how Lawler could get away with doing that to him.
Bret eventually gets out of the sleeper and back body drops Shawn out to the floor, which Shawn sells big. Bret rams Shawn spine first into the ring post and then puts him back inside to continue working that part of his body over. Mechanically you can’t really fault this match, as both men have been working hard and everything has looked good. Bret gets a super back drop from the second rope for two and then settles into a camel clutch, which brings the crowd down once again after they got excited over the big move. I really think they’d be gripped if this was just a normal match but they’ve come expecting an Iron Man match and they aren’t getting one.
Bret flings Shawn outside again, and he actually clatters Lothario on the way down. This is to try and pretty much officially push Bret over the line as being a heel in the match, but the crowd doesn’t really care and Lothario gets up pretty quickly after it anyway, so it again feels like a spot that didn’t need to be there. Bret does bust out a suicide dive though, which leads to a count out tease. Shawn makes it back in, where Bret catches him with an absolute beauty of a German Suplex for two. That looked fabulous. With ten minutes to go, Bret locks in another camel clutch and the crowd eventually starts to a clap a bit for Shawn to get out, but it takes them sitting in it for a while first.
Shawn does finally get out of the camel clutch, only for a double clothesline to kill the momentum once again. Bret recovers first and gets a superplex, but goes for The Sharpshooter instead of making a cover. Bret can’t apply it though, so settles on a single leg Boston Crab instead, but Shawn makes the ropes as we hit the five minute mark. Bret goes for his trademark elbow drop off the second rope, but Shawn gets his feet up and then gets some near falls with an axe handle smash and an elbow drop, both from the top rope.
Shawn actually busts out Shinjiro Ohtani’s Spiral Bomb before heading up for a moonsault press, which gets him another two count. We hit the one minute mark as Shawn ascends to the top rope, but he misses whatever he wanted to deliver and that allows Bret to lock in The Sharpshooter. Shawn teases tapping but lasts the thirty or so seconds he needs to do in order to see out the time limit. Bret decides that his work is done and leaves with his belt, but WWF President Gorilla Monsoon demands that the match must continue in sudden death extra time. Bret trudges back and the extra time starts.
Bret gets a flurry on Shawn and seems to have things in hand, but Shawn manages to catch him with the Sweet Chin Music for a double down. Shawn just gets another once both men get up however, and that’s enough for him to get the three count and make his boyhood dream™ come true.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: SHAWN MICHAELS
Thoughts: This was the wrong stipulation for the two men to work in front of the wrong crowd for them to work it in front of. This crowd wanted to see an Iron Man match with falls and excitement, whilst Shawn and Bret wanted to do a classic World Title hour draw, and thus the crowd was ultimately deflated by what they got as it wasn’t what they signed up for. The actual wrestling was very good for the most part, with Bret’s no selling of all of the arm work from Shawn being the only bit that I found egregious or unreasonable.
However, as good as it was it just wasn’t what the crowd paid to see, and it showed in the crowd reactions. Granted, the Anaheim crowd was pretty lousy all night, but there were enough crowd reactions during the exciting spots of the match that I think they could have had them way more invested if they’d just done a different match. I appreciate the effort of both men, but this is not the all-time classic Match of the Year contest that it’s often credited as being in my opinion.
Personally I would have had Bret take a 2-0 lead with about twenty five to thirty minutes left, thus leading to Shawn having to claw his way back even before eventually winning it in extra time. Bret and Shawn were never going to do falls in this though, so the point is moo. My personal favourite Iron Man match would probably be the thirty minute Rick Rude Vs Ricky Steamboat one from Beach Blast 1992, but if you want an example of a really great hour long Iron Man match then I’d recommend Triple H Vs The Rock from Judgment Day 2000, as they not only work it well but also have interesting ways to decide falls, such as Triple H getting himself intentionally disqualified so that he can weaken Rock and then pick him off with two easy falls afterwards.
Shawn celebrates with his belt following the match and supposedly demands that Bret get out of the ring so he can have his moment. The image of Shawn cradling the belt has been shown many a time of course and has become iconic over the years.
I think whether you’ll enjoy this show depends on how much you like the Iron Man match. There’s nothing on the undercard that is actively bad and the Semi-Main is very good, so if you love the Iron Man match then this show is an easy thumbs up. If you’re not as high on the Iron Man match then this is closer to a thumbs in the middle. It’s certainly not a Stinker or anything and Shawn Michaels winning the Title is an iconic moment, but I personally think the match itself is a bit overrated and I think I could happily go the rest of my life never watching it again.
A special mention needs to go to the Anaheim crowd before I close this review though, as they were atrocious all night and then sat on their hands all through WrestleMania 2000 as well. The Trump Plaza crowd deservedly gets a lot of stick for contributing to two lacklustre Mania events but this Anaheim crowd is horrendous and I’m SHOCKED they gave this city another WrestleMania after they were such a rubbish audience for WrestleMania XII.
Overall the show is mildly recommended, but how much you enjoy the Iron Man match may change that in one direction or the other depending on your own personal preferences.