Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Ramblemania Rewind 12 - WWF Wrestlemania XII (1996)

Date: March 31st, 1996
Venue: Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, CA
Attendance: 18,853

(Note: The following post was written prior to the McMahon lawsuit from January 2024).

When someone brings up Wrestlemania 12, chances are the only thing people can recall about that show is the hour-long Iron Man match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. And that would be totally justified because the better part of Wrestlemania 12 is pretty forgettable for the most part.

Wrestlemania 12 lacked celebrity stars of any kind. Some would argue that the WWF wanted to showcase the talent themselves rather than have any outside influence, but I would think that no celebrity wanted to be a part of Wrestlemania or be associated with the company after they witnessed a string of mostly terrible television shows. The PPVs didn't necessarily fare all that better, especially when it came to Diesel defending his world title against guys like Sid or King Mabel, resulting in some really mediocre matches even by those days' standards. All things considered, if Nash had been given credible opponents who could work, his reign wouldn't have been a chore to sit through... but what would I know? I wasn't watching at the time.

Wrestlemania 12 was about the 60-minute Iron Man match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels... the very same match that made Shawn's career and marked the beginning of Bret's downward spiral. The Iron Man match, for me personally, hasn't held up all that well. Despite some of the quality wrestling and athletics on display here, the sad truth is that nothing happens in this match worthy of merit and I often find myself fast-forwarding just to see if anything is going to happen. And while it's still a good match, each time I watch it, I find myself getting more bored and the match loses quite a bit of its luster as a result. Besides, the only other significance of this match is that it set the stage for a year and a half's worth of real life drama that would culminate in Survivor Series 1997... and we know what happened there.

Perhaps this is why I've warmed up to the undercard a bit in recent years. I hadn't considered it all that great years ago, but watching it again, the handful of matches on display did provide some decent matches... even if they weren't anything special. I guess if you wanted to check out Steve Austin's first 'Mania match or the Ultimate Warrior's squashing of a young HHH, then this would be worth it. Even Undertaker/Diesel was surprisingly good. Go figure.

Vader, Owen Hart, and Davey Smith defeated Jake Roberts, Yokozuna, and Ahmed Johnson in a six-man match. If the other team had won, they'd get five minutes with Jim Cornette... but they didn't, so nobody gets five minutes with Jim Cornette. Yoko was gigantic at this point and wasn't able to do much; he'd be gone from the WWF by year's end. Meanwhile, Vader looks like a monster with incredible speed and could've been - nay - SHOULD have been a bigger deal down the road if not for frail egos in the back derailing his whole deal.

Next up is the Hollywood Backlot Brawl, which saw Roddy Piper and Goldust fight in a backlot brawl... which, if I'm being honest, wasn't too bad. There were things being used, a hose being sprayed, and then Goldust would flee the scene in a gold Cadillac, prompting Roddy to hop into another car to give chase. I can't imagine this part being fun for the live crowd in the arena, but I didn't mind this one bit. Sadly, the chase would be ongoing, leading us into our next match...

Million Dollar Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin (w/ Ted DiBiase) defeated Savio Vega in a match that happened while we were cutting away to the OJ Simpson Car Chase footage, er, I mean, the exciting chase between Roddy Piper and Goldust.

The Ultimate Warrior returns to the WWF and squashes up and coming star Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a minute and a half, practically no selling Hunter's pedigree and then doing his own thing. Warrior came back to promote his awful, awful comic book and then he'd be gone by the summer, so at the very least, he got ONE Wrestlemania moment worth talking about. As for Hunter... well, I think he turned out fine after this. I don't recall. I remember this been a guilty pleasure of sorts during the whole McSon-In-Law Reign Of Terror period, but now I'm like... eh, whatever.

The Undertaker pinned Diesel in a perfectly acceptable hoss fight. It's two big fuckers beating the fuck out of each other and even though Big Daddy Cool was on his way out by this point, he sure as shit wasn't winging it. Some people tend to not like this match, but I don't know. I thought it was alright for a typical big man match... and certainly better than the one we'd get the following year.

And then Roddy and Goldust make their way to the ring, where a couple lowblows are traded before Roddy gets the better of Goldust and strips off his tights, causing the gold one to flee and I guess Roddy won the match... I would've been happier if this were just one segment and it took place entirely in the backlot.

The 60-minute Ironman match between WWF Champion Bret "Hitman" Hart and Shawn Michaels ended in a draw, with neither men scoring a fall. Bret takes his belt and makes his way to the back, but newly-anointed WWF President Gorilla Monsoon orders the match to continue under sudden death rules, which angers Bret and he comes back and beats the piss out of Shawn for a bit before Shawn gets the upper hand and a Sweet Chin Music to pin Bret and win the WWF title for the first time to make the boyhood dream come true. This is one of those matches where people seem to love it or hate it... and honestly, I'm somewhere in the middle. The issue is that a lot of the match is nothing but seemingly endless restholds and this results in glacial pacing. The slow spots make this match seem longer than the one-hour that it was advertised to be. But once the action really gets going, that's when it starts to get good and that's when you see two talented workers of differing, clashing styles do wonderful things together and start to piece together a bit of a good story. There are instances where this match strives to reach that level of greatness that it promises, but then a lot of it is bogged down by the slow periods that drags things out further than needed to be, all for the sake of filling an hour's time.

Ironman matches are notoriously difficult to pull off and I can probably count - on one hand, no less - the number of Ironman matches that I've legitimately enjoyed from start to finish. The few good matches are able to keep the viewer engaged in the story being told or the action taking place while the rest feel like things are happening because we need to fill an hour. Even when they reduced the matches to thirty-minutes, it gets to a point where you pretty much have an idea on how the match is going to play and you can pretty much turn off your brain until the last five minutes of the match. The only reason I don't outright despise this match is because it was the first of its kind - at least at this grand a stage - and usually the first time out is not going to be the best. The first time is what you use to learn what works, what doesn't, and then try to do a better job the next time around. So based on that alone, I'm willing to give this match a pass and again, when things are happening, I find myself enjoying it more. Hell, the last stretch of the match and the overtime period are probably the high point and some folks argued that maybe this would've been better off as just a 40-ish minute long match contested under the usual 1-fall-to-a-finish rules.

Wrestlemania XII was all about the Ironman match... and honestly, I give a nod to Taker/Diesel for being an entertaining enough match and it's always fun to see Steve Austin's early WWF days... and yes, I will concede that I still get a kick out of Hunter getting squashed by Warrior, even if I don't have the same annoyance with him these days... that might change if the booking for the current product starts to suck, but I digress. The rest of this show, on the other hand... eh, take it or leave it, but it's really nothing special.

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