WrestleMania 12 took place a few months before Hulk Hogan and WCW would shake up the wrestling business with the heel turn heard around the world. It was a real interesting time in that some major roster changes were about to take place that would have totally spoiled if they were to happen today. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, aka Razor Ramon and Diesel, would be leaving the WWF soon as would Rowdy Roddy Piper. And before long the ascension of a midcard guy named Stone Cold Steve Austin would begin in earnest. It was still a down period for the business as a whole, one that would be ending soon for WCW but would continue on for another year in the WWF. It was also the midst of an era when WCW had superior midcards but the WWF had better big time main events. And this would be no exception. While WCW was running with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage vs a menagerie of stiffs, here we got an Ironman match between maybe the two best workers in the business at the time in Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels.
But as had been proven since 1992, workrate did not hold a candle to names and characters when it came to business. WCW’s revenues went up significantly after bringing in Hogan and Savage despite both guys being past their primes, while the WWF was still struggling despite having Bret and Shawn putting in great in work on different spots of pay per view shows every month along with other guys like Ramon and 1-2-3 Kid to fill in other slots. Since rolling out Monday Nitro to go head to head with Monday Night RAW WCW was scoring it’s share of ratings wins even before the formation of the NWO and it’s 80-plus week winning streak. Vince was quickly running out of options for a man to be his top guy. Bret Hart had gotten a few opportunities and didn’t deliver at pay window as needed. Diesel was even worse at the box office and not as good in the ring to boot. Yokozuna came and went in a rare heel champion run and Lex Luger’s would be coronation ended before it started due to the interest just not being there.
And at this point the roster was flat out depleted. Hall and Kid were not on the show, Nash and Roddy Piper would be gone soon, Jeff Jarrett was back in WCW for the moment, Bam Bam Bigelow was gone to ECW,
Yokozuna, Jake Roberts, and Ahmed Johnson vs Vader, Owen Hart, and The British Bulldog
I was ready to skip this one, but I’m glad I stuck with it. When you see the names on paper in 2018 it looks like a train wreck. Johnson is known today for being sloppy and injuring people, Roberts was washed up in 1996, and Yoko was on the downside of his career. And then on the other side Vader didn’t have the best of runs in the WWF either. But everyone put in good work here and the match was good. Jim Cornette even got involved on behalf of his charges (Vader, Owen and Bulldog). Considering the depleted state of the roster they could have done a lot worse than this to open things up.
Goldust vs Roddy Piper (Part I)
This was a Backlot Brawl, and the first part was pretty brutal (in a good way). Piper was always intense when it came to these kind of fights and went into this like it was a deleted scene for They Live. Parking lot fight matches are usually pretty damn silly so it was cool to see them play it pretty straight here. It did get a little silly here when both men got into cars and went on a highway chase.
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Savio Vega
Austin was still managed by Ted DiBiase and still toting around the Million Dollar Belt here; a few months later he’d be winning King of the Ring and uttering that now famous catchphrase of his. Savio Vega was a good enough worker but nobody you would rush to your TV to see in action. The match was just kinda there. It went 10 minutes and I guess that was the right amount of time. If it had gone too much longer I would have probably dozed off.
Ultimate Warrior vs Hunter Hearst Helmsley
This was a flat out burial. Hunter got sacrificed here to the Warrior in a minute and a half to get over what would end up being a brief WWF return for the Warrior. We even got the full no sell of the finisher to boot. Yikes.
Diesel vs The Undertaker
This was Nash’s last big match with the WWF. It started off in a fashion reminiscent of Taker’s WrestleMania VIII match with Roberts, where he dominated and didn’t sell anything. But after that beginning things settled into a decent big man fight between the two before Diesel did the honors on his way out the door.
Goldust vs Roddy Piper (Part II)
Piper called in from the road a few times during the other matches to give an update on the chase. As these matches go they ended up back in the arena for the finish. The whole thing was silly but entertaining.
Main Event: WWF World Title Match: Bret Hart (c) vs Shawn Michaels
This match occupies a weird place in history. Fans who only watched WWF wrestling had never seen anything like it in recent memory, but if you watched NWA stuff you were unimpressed at the idea. Because hey, Ric Flair went 60 minutes all the time and on many occasions not with guys like Bret or Shawn but with Sting or Lex Luger or local territory guys who were better entertainers than workers. So there’s a good chance you either didn’t know what to make of it (and weren’t sure if you could make it through), or you were like ‘and? so?’ when it was announced. The stipulation that whoever got the most pins in the hour would walk away with the belt was meant to add some intrigue and suspense to things.
The match itself was quite good. The slow build in the early stages and kicking things up later was the right, more realistic way to go. They got in plenty of near falls and suspenseful moments, and made this much more than a ‘get all your stuff in’ affair. It’s definitely worth watching on it’s own even if you skip the rest of the show, and in the lore of great WrestleMania matches it doesn’t get it’s due. Some of the that is from the unimpressed who’d seen hour long matches plenty of times before, but I think the finish plays into to it’s reception as well. Going the full hour with no falls, and then having a minute and change long overtime was a little too clever by half for my tastes.
If the overtime was a thing that just had to be done, then why not have it tied 1-1 or 2-2 at the end of the hour? Under normal circumstances they would have had a 20 to 25 minute match so each guy getting a pin in an hour is completely reasonable. Sasha Banks and Bayley got multiple falls in a great half hour Iron Woman match so two falls apiece in an hour isn’t crazy at all.
To me this reeks of Vince’s then aversion to top guys taking pins as anything other than a last resort. Shawn and Bret were the only top guys who were sticking around so either of them ‘losing’ a bunch of times in one night probably seemed like a horrible idea to him. In reality it was just fine for a WrestleMania main event, and there was no need to protect either one of these guys like that. All that being said if you want to watch two top level guys in their prime go for an hour you can do a lot worse than this match. In fact, it was probably the best show ending match for a WrestleMania show up to that point.
Not a bad show at all. The depleted roster led to a shorter match card, and may very well be why we got the Ironman match to start with. No way we would get one at a WrestleMania show now. You can skip the Austin match if you are so inclined but the rest of it is good stuff worth checking out.