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WrestleMania XII

March 31, 1996

Venue: Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, CA

Attendance: 18,853

Tagline: (No tagline for this WrestleMania – a first!)

Runtime: 2 hours, 48 minutes

RS: WrestleMania XII. The WWF has a lot to make up for after that steaming shit pile of WrestleMania XI. We are in the opening skirmishes of what came to be known as the “Monday Night Wars.” In September of 1995, WCW decided it was ready for prime time, and launched a new flagship program, Monday Night Nitro. Nitro had one big advantage:  it was actually live. Right on the first episode, shots were fired, with none other than Lex Luger showing up ringside at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. With Nitro on the airwaves and Hulk Hogan and Macho Man on the roster, WCW was a serious competitor to the WWF and wrestlers could pit both promotions against each other to milk them for as much pay as possible. Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall, for example, bailed on WWF so close to WrestleMania that he’s actually in the promotional materials, despite being absent from the program itself. (Check out the featured image for this post for proof!) WWF was leaking money so badly, they fired their whole women’s division. Famously, this triggered Alundra Blayze to show up on Nitro and throw the WWF Women’s belt in the trash, live on the air. Nitro also started giving spoilers of what was going to happen on that night’s episode of WWF’s flagship, Monday Night Raw, so that viewers wouldn’t bounce back and forth between the two programs. But WWF also fought back, picking up several underutilized talents from WCW including Steve Austin, Vader, and Mick “Mankind” Foley.

WCW's parody of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage
The height of Vince McMahon’s “sense of humor”

WWF also began to run its “Billionaire Ted” skits, mocking WCW owner Ted Turner for signing old-timer has-beens like Hogan, Macho Man, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Bobby Heenan, Brutus Beefcake, and for recycling WWF storylines from 10 years prior. WCW even introduces Paul “Big Show” Wight as the son of Andre the Giant and has him immediately come at Hulk Hogan, in a rehash of the Hogan-Andre feud from WrestleMania III. Paul, to this day, regrets that gimmick because fans still approach him to say they were a fan of his dad. WCW, for some reason, picked up IRS as a free agent and renamed him V.K. Wallstreet, aka Vincent Kennedy Wallstreet. A name intended to mock McMahon and all his money. Did they forget that they were owned by Ted Turner? Also, I wish I had the problem of people mocking me for making so much money.

While WCW is living in the yesteryear of WWF, WWF itself is pushing the envelope more and more, with even more objectification of women, mocking of LGBTQ, loose rules on their matches, and playing with racial commentary. WWF begins to call it “sports entertainment” and not wrestling. Their talent are “superstars,” not wrestlers. There’s a new attitude towards their product and they’re slowly transitioning into being a spectacle. Enough of the history lesson, let’s get to this nightmare of an anti-political correctness event.

Matches

  • The Bodydonnas (Skip & Zip), with Sunny vs. The Godwinns (Henry O. and Phineas I. Godwinn), with Hillbilly Jim – WWF Tag Team Championship match

TH: This first match was part of “Free for All” — a free preview designed to suck viewers into WrestleMania XII and get them to shell out for the rest of the pay per view. This was the culmination of a tournament for the vacant WWF Tag Team Championship, which was up for grabs when Billy Gunn of the Smoking Gunns got injured. The Bodydonnas defeat the Godwinns to take the titles and give the shaft, once again, to the “wrestling hog farmer” demographic. Unfortunately the Free for All portion of this WrestleMania is not included in the version on Peacock, and we didn’t find it online. Drop us a comment with a link if you happen across it!

Note: We’re also missing a “Billionaire Ted” skit from the “Free for All,” but please don’t send it to us if you find it. We are the violent opposite of interested.

  • The British Bulldog, Owen Hart, and Vader, with Jim Cornette vs. Ahmed Johnson, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Yokozuna, with Mr. Fuji – Six man tag match

TH: The first match of WrestleMania XII proper, then, is this six-man affair, with British Bulldog, Owen Hart, and Vader as the heels and Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson, and Jake the Snake as the faces. We’ve got a few first and last WrestleMania appearances in this match — our first for Vader and Ahmed Johnson, both of whom are really impressive, and our last by Yokozuna and Jake the Snake, both of whom are past their prime here, and Mr. Fuji. Yokozuna continues to get larger with each passing WrestleMania, and by this point he’s starting to lose some of the speed and agility he possessed in earlier PPVs. It’s not quite as bad as those late appearances by Andre the Giant where he couldn’t do much but lean on the ropes, but he definitely lacks some of the dynamism he had in earlier shows. Jake the Snake, for his part, is a little slower, a little heavier, and doesn’t seem quite as edgy and dangerous as in his heyday, but still gets in some good spots and pulls off the patented DDT.

Ahmed Johnson, kneepad enthusiast
“I heard you like kneepads, dawg. So I put some kneepads above your kneepads.” — Ahmed Johnson

Of the new guys, Ahmed Johnson is a freaking beast; he’s even bigger than the British Bulldog (who admittedly is looking smaller here — I’m thinking he had laid off the steroids at this point.) When he faces off with Owen, Ahmed looks like he could eat the baby Hart for a mid-afternoon snack. Vader is also a monster — when he and Yokozuna square off it’s a wonder their combined weight doesn’t collapse the ring. There are some great spots throughout — a nice elbow drop by Owen, Bulldog’s trademark running power slam, a big splash from Vader, and a chokeslam of Vader by Yokozuna that made me wince. I especially liked the extended beatdown of Jake the Snake, him kicking out of one finisher after another (How does he do it?!?), before finally making the hot tag to Yokozuna. Yoko beats Vader like an overstuffed pinata before hitting him with a huge Samoan Drop that made my teeth rattle. Jake gets tagged back in and manages to land his DDT on Owen, but the ref is distracted and Jake can’t get the pin. Cornette distracts Jake and Vader capitalizes, eventually landing the Vader Bomb (such an impressive move for a big fat guy!) to get the win. Solid start to our 12th WrestleMania, and good showings from some new faces and old favorites!

Yokozuna choke slams Vader
Can you guys feel that?

RS: We got some of our favorites in this match:  Owen, Bulldog, Jake, Yokozuna, Jim Cornette. Yokozuna is now a major face. We have new blood with Ahmed Johnson who is an absolute physical specimen. Vader gets choke slammed by Yokozuna and they brilliantly switch to a mat-level camera so we get to feel the massive impact. Ahmed literally looks like a He-Man action figure. At one point we have a dream match for this blog in Owen vs Jake the Snake, and those moments do not disappoint. Jake kicks out of the Bulldog’s power slam and there’s shock from the crowd. He then kicks out of a Vader splash! Jake still got it, until he got it again.

  • “Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. Goldust, with Marlena – Hollywood Backlot Brawl

TH: Oh boy, where to start with this one. The lead-up is that Goldust has had a crush on Piper (who’s acting as WWF President for some reason? I must have missed that swearing-in ceremony) and making Piper increasingly uncomfortable with his overtures. Obviously, then, the next step is for them to beat the shit out of each other in a back alley with an assortment of objects, and some attempted vehicular homicide for good measure. This is our first WrestleMania for Goldust (Dustin Runnels, aka Rhodes, son of legendary performer and booker Dusty Rhodes), as well as for his manager Marlena (Dustin’s real-life first wife Terri Runnels.)

Goldust and manager Marlena, who's holding the second most famous cigar of the 90s.
Goldust and Marlena, holding the second most famous cigar of the 1990s. Nominee for Best in Show, Awkward Family Photos dot com

His gimmick is pure genius — an androgynous, pansexual, “Hollywood freak” in a skin-tight gold body suit, wig, and gold face paint — but what really makes it work is how hard Dustin leans into it. It couldn’t have been easy, in the openly homophobic 1990’s, to go out in front of huge crowds and play that character; in some parts of the country it could have been outright dangerous. But Goldust Goes. For. It. It’s a thing of beauty, only marred by the discomfort generated by the predictably homophobic storylines that result. The crowd is clearly on Piper’s side to beat up this Hollywood deviant, though of course now he just comes across as a braindead macho d-bag. But we’ll try not to impose our modern values on wrestling fans of two and a half decades ago, when kids thought Pogs were an entertaining pastime and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were still popular.

Anyway, the match starts with a recorded segment meant to be a “Hollywood backlot” behind a film studio. Goldust arrives in his gold Cadillac (natch) to find Piper waiting for him with a bat. This is uncomfortable already — I’m not trying to see somebody getting gay bashed. He tosses Goldust around for a bit — into the craft services table, onto the hood of a car — sprays him with a fire hose, hits him with a trash can. You know, the usual wrestling moves. Piper seems out of shape, and at one point has trouble slamming Goldust onto the hood of his car. Now there’s blood coming from somewhere; I think it may be Piper’s nose from an accidental collision. Piper hits Goldust in the head and it looks a legit punch. Supposedly, Goldust wanted to get some color for this match but was forbidden from doing so by Vince; instead he asked Piper to bust him open the hard way, and Piper actually broke his hand in the process. You can tell it must really hurt by the way he keeps opening and closing it. Oops! Goldust climbs back in the Caddy and damn near runs Piper over with it, taking off with Roddy on the hood, action movie style. Vince reports:  “This has really gotten out of hand.” LOL. Piper gets in his Ford Bronco and tears off after Goldust, and we cut back inside for the next match. To Be Continued!

GIF of Piper getting hit by Goldust's gold Cadillac
We’re all rooting for the Cadillac

RS: Goldust is probably the bravest gimmick ever done. Piper finally reaches his career climax of homophobia, beating Goldust with a baseball bat. It’s too bad Goldy didn’t have the courage to really run over Piper at the start with his gold Caddy. Vince McMahon even says this is “Vintage Piper.” I wonder how many other androgynous folks Piper beat up in the past. Piper really connects with a punch, it sounded like slapping meat on a butcher block. Both men are bloody. Goldust finally does the right thing and hits Piper with the car. Piper hops in a Ford Bronco to chase after a fleeing Goldy. Clearly an OJ reference is coming.

  • “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, with Ted DiBiase vs. Savio Vega
Stone Cold smashes two beers together and chugs them, like a goddamn hero
Tim when he heard this was the WrestleMania debut of Stone Cold Steve Austin

TH: Some more WrestleMania first appearances — “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Savio Vega. Hot damn, I’m as hype for this as Rich was for the first appearance of the Undertaker back at WrestleMania VII. Stone Cold is my dude. After my early period of wrestling fandom (call it WrestleManias I through VI,) the next time I tuned in regularly was during the mid-to-late 90s in college, at the height of the Monday Night Wars and when Stone Cold and The Rock were riding high. To me he’s one of the best ever at getting over. His “Austin 3:16” speech (delivered at the PPV after this one, the 1996 King of the Ring) was a stroke of inspiration, and still the all-time best-selling WWF/WWE t-shirt. I still say “Oh hell yeah” out loud at least 500 times per week, much to my wife’s chagrin. I have a custom license plate with a variation of “Double Birds” as an homage to Stone Cold’s two-finger salute. (Not joking.) Needless to say, I’m excited for more Stone Cold appearances as we get deeper into the 90s WrestleManias. His epic, blood-soaked match against my other wrestling crush, Bret Hart, is coming up at WrestleMania XIII.

Stone Cold as the Million Dollar Champ, accompanied by Ted DiBiase
Fun fact: The shine on Stone Cold’s head is patterned off of the gleam of the Million Dollar Belt

Oh right, this match. Well, Stone Cold is the Million Dollar Champion here, so he’s accompanied and managed by Ted DiBiase and carrying that cool belt with the dollar signs. In his pre-fight interview, Savio is asked a direct question by Dok Hendrix about whether he’ll have an answer for the Million Dollar Dream sleeper hold, but Savio just gives his standard promo instead as if he didn’t hear the question. I don’t remember Savio, but he’s pretty nimble for a heckin’ chonk. He reels off an impressive roundhouse kick that misses, and the two men go back and forth on some half-assed pin attempts while Vince and Jerry Lawler talk about the ongoing car chase between Piper and Goldust. I wonder how Stone Cold feels now about all of that nonsense during his WrestleMania debut match? Maybe he’ll call me up to be a guest interviewer on his Broken Skull Sessions and we can “rap” about it, as the kids say. (Editor’s Note: The kids definitely don’t say that.) There’s a ref bump that requires DiBiase to dump an orange soda on the ref to wake him up, Stone Cold hits Savio with that dollar sign belt a couple times, and slaps on the Million Dollar Dream to choke out his opponent. Guess Savio should have given Dok’s question a little more thought, it might have better prepared him for this eventuality.

RS: Whatever you do, don’t look Tim in the eyes right now, he may mount you, then deliver a stunner when he finishes. Both men come out fast. Stone Cold is one of my favorite personalities ever in wrestling. Savio could just never quite get going. First, he was martial arts master Kwang, and now a Puerto Rican hero. Roddy Piper is calling in from the Bronco, in the chase with police sirens blaring behind him for some reason. Vince doesn’t care that Stone Cold and Savio are having a solid, good match. And there it is, lifted aerial footage of the OJ car chase. Though it’s a dirty ending, this match is the first time I can remember seeing a match end with the old “three arm drops for unconsciousness” test.

  • “Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. Goldust, Part II: The Getaway
OJ Simpson's white Bronco flees from police in 1994
WWF, always with its finger on the pulse of current pop culture

TH: While the previous match is going on, Vince gets a call from Piper on his “cellular phone” and shares the audio with us, the viewers, whom he obviously dislikes and disrespects. We can hear sirens in the background, because even in the 90s it wasn’t ok to get into a car chase because a gay guy hit on you. He cuts in a second time with another “cellular phone” call in which we hear Piper yelling at someone (presumably police trying to stop him? #whiteprivilege) that he’s “here to make a man out of this freak.” When they cut in a third time we get “aerial footage” that’s clearly from the OJ Simpson police chase, which had been broadcast nationally in 1994. (Kids, ask your parents.) OJ had been acquitted in October 1995, six months prior to this WrestleMania. Apparently WWF hadn’t had an opportunity to work a reference into an earlier pay per view, so they thought we’d appreciate it here. Sure. To Be Continued again, I guess…

RS: The only thing missing here is Vince saying “I have a friend who happens to be black…”

  • The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley, with Sable

RS: We have HHH’s first ‘Mania and the comeback of the Ultimate Warrior. Warrior’s physique is still there despite a lackluster sparkler display. The crowd gives him a huge pop. I think it’s ironic that at this time WWF is mocking WCW for signing old timers like Hogan and Macho Man, but decide to bring Ultimate Warrior back. HHH gets off to an early jump but Warrior shakes off the Pedigree and goes on to squash him. I guess this was just for nostalgia?

Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Ultimate Warrior in the ring
Thoughtful young man, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, helps an aging Ultimate Warrior find his way to the turnbuckle

TH: Another first appearance for this WrestleMania — we’re racking them up! Hunter Hearst Helmsley, aka Paul Levesque, later Triple H, is making his WrestleMania debut in his “New England blueblood” character, accompanied by sexy manager, Sable, also in her first WrestleMania appearance. Hunter’s entrance takes forever and is set to super slow, sleepy classical music. By contrast, the Ultimate Warrior comes sprinting in for his usual high-energy entrance, but he doesn’t even get his weird sleeveless coat thing off before Hunter attacks and the match starts. It’s a short-lived affair, though — he lands a straight hand to drop Hunter, then a couple of stiff, short clotheslines, a diving shoulder block, the overhead press, then the splash and a pin with his knees on Hunter’s chest. Wow, a squash match for a guy who made his pay per view eight years ago at WrestleMania IV — odd choice. Warrior’s return to the WWF didn’t last long, though — this WrestleMania was actually his first event back after his initial departure in 1992, and he’d be gone again before the June 1996 In Your House ppv after a dispute with McMahon over missed shows, or a percentage of merchandise sales, or some combination thereof. At this point, though, the crowd is loving his gimmick and they are super-hyped for his appearance. He would return for one more WrestleMania — XXX — just a few days before his death in April 2014.

TH: Wow, interviewer Todd Pettengill has a buzzcut and a diamond stud earring these days. It’s called fashion, look it up. He’s backstage to introduce Marc Mero, who gets into a shoving match with Hunter Hearst Helmsley. (Sable and Mero were married IRL at this point.) Oh good, more OJ chase footage purporting to be news coverage of Piper’s Bronco chasing Goldust. Clearly this joke hasn’t been milked dry yet. (Editor’s Note: Yes, it has.)

RS: WCW lost its Johnny B. Badd (Mero). He is immediately jumped by HHH, who is also a fairly recent WCW expatriate. More OJ chase. Should we count OJ and AC as celebrity cameos? There’s a weird blackout and continuation. I wonder if something was edited out. This is our first watch using Peacock.

  • The Undertaker, with Paul Bearer vs. Diesel
Diesel gives Undertaker a bear hug
It’s nice to see big guys get in touch with their feelings. Roddy Piper would never be this brave.

TH: I’m looking forward to this one. Undertaker’s WrestleMania matches, thus far, have been a bit underwhelming. (Sorry, Rich.) With Diesel we actually have an opponent who can match up with ‘Taker in terms of size, strength, and athleticism. Let’s see how it goes. I like Diesel’s drums & harmonica-centric theme music and his trucker video. Makes me want to watch Over the Top again. (It combines the intense emotional drama of a child custody battle with arm wrestling!) Undertaker has lost the unfortunate mask gimmick from the last few PPVs, thankfully. He’s showing off more of his agility here than just his usual slow power moves. These two behemoths go back and forth beating the snot out of each other, with Diesel mostly in control. He hits his signature Jackknife, a modified Power Bomb in which he folds his opponent up like a man reading a newspaper on a crowded subway. Arrogantly, he nudges ‘Taker with his foot, inviting him to keep fighting. Undertaker obliges and gets Jackknifed again for his trouble, but then goes into his comeback, choke slamming Diesel and landing the Tombstone Piledriver for the pin and the win. The Streak continues! This is probably the best Undertaker match at a WrestleMania so far and a good showcase for both men’s abilities.

Kevin "Diesel" Nash jackknifes Undertaker
We’d say “RIP Undertaker” here but, you know, he’s already dead. And in case he’s not, Diesel does this to him a second time.

RS: No need to apologize. I acknowledge that Undertaker has been underwhelming thus far, but I partially blame the booking for that. Anyways, Diesel interfered in a rare title shot for the Undertaker at the Royal Rumble. When Diesel then faced Bret in a cage, that didn’t stop the Undertaker from getting revenge by coming up through the mat and “dragging Diesel to hell.” The Undertaker is still shockingly agile for his size. Normally, it’s boring when the Undertaker is fighting another big guy, but Diesel and the Undertaker are really putting on a good show with moves that are equally nimble and powerful. Diesel is surprisingly fast. There’s a  pretty spectacular spot when both men go for and connect on a big boot. Jerry Lawler is legit impressed by the moment. Diesel lands an amazing jackknife powerbomb on the Undertaker that stuns the crowd. The crowd can’t believe that Diesel does it a second time! I am legit impressed. ‘Taker is not a small dude. But still, that’s not enough to bury ‘Taker. The storytelling in this match is pretty amazing. Taker gets Diesel up for a tombstone and that’s all she wrote. This was a prime match. Maybe the best Undertaker WrestleMania match we’ve seen thus far.

  • “Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. Goldust, Part III: The Crying Game

TH: Well, finally time to wrap this damn thing up. Piper and Goldust have arrived at the arena, and Piper is backstage looking for his unwanted suitor. The two fight their way out to the ring and into it, though there’s no bell or ref so this is still basically a beatdown and not a match. Goldust gets the better of Piper this time, though — presumably he does better when his opponent doesn’t have a baseball bat or a trash can. He strips off Piper’s shirt and chokes him with it, and sensuously rubs Piper’s butt and chest during the match. Like I said, the dude Goes. For. It. Sitting on the turnbuckle, he plants two headbutts, then a big kiss on Piper. Fearless! Piper gets his comeback though (after doing the wiping his mouth and spitting disgustedly thing, obvs) — he gives Goldust the no-sell, grabs him by the crotch, drops a knee to the family jewels, and spanks Goldust’s ass. He strips off Goldust’s suit, revealing the big man’s black lingerie underneath, then plants a big kiss of his own. (Apparently the women’s lingerie was Dustin’s idea, and Vince loved it. I have to admit it’s a pretty spectacular touch.) Is anyone else starting to notice a pattern here, and maybe suspect that Piper’s response to Goldust’s sexual overtures may be a little more complicated than we originally thought? I’m not a licensed therapist, I don’t want to conjecture. Piper lands one more knee to the crotch, then Marlena helps Goldust split from the ring, leaving Piper behind for a big ovation from the crowd. This would be his last WrestleMania appearance, and I’m sort of glad to leave his outdated antics behind.

Piper attacks Goldust, who's in his black lingerie
Piper’s actions and words say “homophobe,” but his studded belt says, “I could be convinced.”

RS: Goldust and Piper have stormed into the arena like madmen. Kayfabe gets broken a bit when we see Diesel walking around backstage. Piper is backing Goldust down to the ring. Goldust is brilliantly kicking Piper in the leg that took the brunt of the car. Goldust plants a big kiss on Piper and Piper isn’t selling anymore. Piper grabs Goldust by the Oscar, then strips Goldust to reveal he’s wearing women’s lingerie. Having proudly sexually assaulted, outed, and properly kink-shamed Goldust, Piper celebrates to his bagpipe theme.

  • Shawn Michaels, with Jose Lothario vs. Bret Hart – 60-minute Iron Man match for WWF Championship
From left:  Bret Hart, Gorilla Monsoon, referee Earl Hebner, Jose Lothario, Shawn Michaels
The main event is Very. Very. Serious.

TH: This is a big moment in WrestleMania history, and it really feels like it. It shatters our previous record for the longest match time (nearly tripling the 22:51 time of Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior from WrestleMania VI.) We get low-key intro videos from Bret and Shawn in requisite black and white for Bret, both guys looking pensive AF. Shawn’s entrance via zipline in his mirrored outfit, flashbulbs popping like firecrackers on Chinese New Year, is pretty damn impressive, but makes me deeply uncomfortable thinking about what happens to Owen Hart three years later. He lands in the middle of the crowd, right near a lady in white tiger print who’s really into him. Bret’s entrance by contrast is a study in minimalism, the Hitman looking extra tough in predominantly black tights, leather jacket, and shades, all badass attitude. In the ring we get a ton of ceremony like it’s a boxing title fight — referee Earl Hebner doing the checking the bottoms of Shawn’s boots thing and painstakingly explaining the rules while WWF President Gorilla Monsoon (who I guess took over from Piper in the past half hour? Another inauguration ceremony I missed) looks on. The setup is that they will wrestle for 60 minutes, and whoever gains the most pinfalls, submissions, or countouts during that time will be declared the winner. Got it? Good. Shawn stares down Bret while Bret winks and gives a thumbs up to people in the crowd, gives away his glasses to a cute kid in the front row, and gets a high five. Clearly one of these men is taking this more seriously than the other. This might not be a good sign for our guy, Bret.

Michaels twirls in the ring like a loon
The hills are alive with the sound of us calling
Shawn Michaels an a-hole

RS: I swear the voice over during the video lead up package is Jimmy Kimmel. Shawn ziplines from the roof of the arena to the ring. The video package and entrance completely telegraph the winner of this Iron Man match — with Shawn hiring Jose Lethario to train him in prep, it’s so obvious. Along other obvious indicators, such as winning the Royal Rumble for a second time in a row (only Hulk himself had pulled that stunt) and Shawn winning 5 “Slammy” awards the night before, it’s in the cards. This is going to be tough, an hour long match. I’ll be impressed if they keep me engaged for that long, despite how much I love Bret.

TH: They start slowly and methodically with lots of reversals, Bret taking Shawn to the floor repeatedly for wear-down moves. Oh look, “Classy” Freddy Blassie is in the audience next to Bret’s dad, Stu Hart. Couple of living legends there (who, interestingly, both died the same year, 2003.) Vince calls out Shawn for “one of those high-flying Mexican maneuvers” after a half-assed hurricanrana that tosses Bret out of the ring. I don’t think you’re allowed to say that, Vince. These two really work well together and bring out the best in each other — they’re close in size but different in build and style. Shawn is longer and leaner with more acrobatic moves; Bret is shorter and more powerfully built with more strength and submission moves. “Styles make fights,” as they say in boxing, and it works to their advantage. After the half hour point, Bret really starts playing up his exhaustion, making us wonder how he’ll go on. He hits all of his signature moves — the bulldog, the elbow from the second rope, the backbreaker — but can’t put Shawn away. Michaels takes a huge flip over the turnbuckle, Ric Flair-style, and the cameraman loses track of him so we actually need a second camera angle to see what happened. Yeah, that was still a pretty huge drop. Several times one man is close to being counted out, but the other goes outside of the ring to break the count and continue the fight. Clearly these guys are committed to pinning or submitting each other to get this win.

Bret applies the Sharpshooter to Shawn
Hang on, Bret! You’ve almost got him!

Bret hooks the Sharpshooter with 6:15 remaining but Shawn won’t quit. Bret catches a boot coming off the turnbuckle, then it’s Shawn’s turn to take over. He lands some big moves of his own, including an elbow drop, but there’s only two minutes remaining and Bret just won’t go down! You can hear the crowd getting hotter and hotter as the timer counts down to zero. There’s an incredible move where Shawn jumps off the second rope, lands on Bret’s shoulders, gets power bombed, then rolls Bret up for a near pin. Shawn is clearly exhausted, making his way to the top rope with less than a minute to go. He misses and lands on the mat, right into the sharpshooter with 30 seconds to go! Bret’s got him dead center in the ring; there’s no chance for a rope break. The ref looks for a submission from Shawn while the crowd counts down, then there’s the bell! Holy shit, what a finish. Was that the time limit bell, or because Shawn submitted? Either way, Shawn didn’t take the victory, so the ref presents the WWF Championship belt to Bret, who begins making his way to the locker room tunnel. 

RS: There’s a live mic on the ring mat. I don’t think it’s intentional. There’s a lot, A LOT, of holds. The time keeper ate a big kick from Shawn. Both men are selling the holds. Over 20 minutes in and my attention is still held. Can’t say the same for the dude in the front row who decided it was time to visit the merch stand. Vince McMahon doesn’t know the name of any move. He just says “look at that!” And “wow, what a maneuver!” At 31 minutes, Bret lands a devastating piledriver and near fall that sends the crowd into a frenzy. A few minutes later, Shawn jumps from the top rope to splash on Bret on the outside in an amazing spot. There really is nonstop action to the end. That hour flew by. What I love about Bret is that he always starts the match clean, but as it goes, he gets meaner and more deliberate and serious. But, at the same time he never runs out of moves and keeps surprising you with different holds, suplexes, and slams. Meanwhile, I always have felt that Shawn didn’t have that much depth and doesn’t develop quite as much over time. What I will say is that for the most part in this match, Shawn avoids my biggest complaint about him; over selling. 

Shawn nails Bret with 'Sweet Chin Music"
Dammit

TH: But wait! Gorilla Monsoon is in the ring, and Howard Finkel announces that this match will continue under “Sudden Death Rules — there MUST be a winner!” Plot Twist! The next man to get a pinfall, submission, or countout will be the winner and new champion. Bret returns to the ring, pissed; Shawn’s still down, twisted up from the Sharpshooter. Bret calls for the bell and goes after Shawn with shots to the midsection. He lands a huge back body drop and a backbreaker, and whips Shawn to the corner, but Shawn hops over Bret and catches him with his trademark superkick, “Sweet Chin Music.” Now Bret is down but can’t clear his head enough to get up. When he finally does he walks right into a second superkick, and Shawn gets the pin and we have a new champion! Wow, what a finish. You can see Shawn talking to the ref, who waves off Jose Lothario as he’s about to climb into the ring. He says something to Bret too — according to Bret’s autobiography, it was something along the lines of “Get the fuck out of the ring, this is my moment.” What an a-hole. Bret ducks out of the ring, looking legitimately pissed, and stalks back to the locker room. Someone throws a Canadian flag to him and he tosses it aside. Shawn’s on his knees in the ring, clutching the belt, then goes into an extended posing  session while the credits roll. Just like that other a-hole, Hulk Hogan.

RS:  An incredible finish and we see Shawn start his title reign. This is potentially the best WrestleMania match to date. The post match celebration is getting into Hulk Hogan levels of narcissism but it was a match that went over an hour. I guess the delay was giving them time to finish the highlight reel.

Shawn looks at the belt after winning the 60 minute Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII
Seriously, what a tool

Best Match

TH: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels, all the way. An epic match between two Hall of Famers, and I get to watch my man Bret Hart do his thing for a full hour. Shawn Michaels is a shitty person IRL, but working with Bret he was truly great. It’s incredible to me that this match never once starts to drag or get boring despite its length — we’ve seen WrestleMania matches way shorter than this with way more dull and dead spots.

RS: Shawn and Bret. Shawn does his best to resist overselling for the first 40 minutes or so, but then he starts to get flippy in the corner. My only real complaint about this match was the finish  telegraphed by the Shawn hype. Damn it, that has to be Jimmy Kimmel narrating that video.

Worst Match

RS: Ultimate Warrior and HHH. I hate squash matches on pay-per-views. HHH is fairly fresh to the company and got a coveted spot on the biggest card of the year, but you can’t let him get over in the slightest to a legit aging ‘roid monster? Yeah, I liked Warrior in his earlier appearances, but this just made no sense. He’ll join the other old timers in WCW soon enough. 

Roddy Piper with a baseball bat, from his backlot brawl with Goldust
Police are looking for this man in connection with a hate crime
that occurred in Anaheim, CA on March 31, 1996

TH: Honestly this WrestleMania lacks any really bad matches. Most of them are good to great, I’d say. But I’m giving Worst Match to Roddy Piper vs. Goldust for the rampant homophobia and “gay panic” bullshit that was such an unfortunate part of the wider culture through the 90s, as well as for the dumb prerecorded portion and “chase scenes” made up of OJ Simpson footage. Although the final, in-ring portion of the match wasn’t terrible, I’d rather watch the fight scene from They Live for the 1,000th time than watch this whole match again. Bonus points to Goldust for an amazing performance that elevates the rest of this dumpster fire to make it (mostly) watchable.

Oh Sh!t Moment

TH: There are lots of great spots in this one, but one that made me gasp was when a 600+ pound Yokozuna picks up a 450 pound Vader and puts him in a Samoan Drop. Stunning move.

RS: That was a really great moment, but I think the double Jackknifes on the Undertaker. ‘Taker is like 320 pounds and Diesel pops him up over his head like one of those Tonka Wrestling Buddy pillows.

Overall Rating

RS: I think I need to go with a 4.25. I remember watching this in 1996 and even wondering why Piper had such an issue with Goldust. Other than that and the Juice being loose, the card for this event is solid, and really foreshadows the joy that we are about to enjoy. The key players of the Attitude Era, minus one big Samoan, are in place and about to really shine. Then a main event that is probably one of the greatest matches of all time. It’s the Hogan/Andre match of the 1990’s. Just a note, the Goldust/Piper story gets repeated, but sub in Ahmed Johnson for Piper because Goldust gives him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Sigh.

TH: I’m giving this a 4.5. It’s one of the strongest WrestleManias we’ve seen yet. We’re right on the cusp of the Attitude Era, and we’ve left behind the growing pains of WrestleMania XI (even if not quite reaching the ladder-assisted heights of WrestleMania X.) Amazing performances by Bret Hart and (I’ll begrudgingly acknowledge) Shawn Michaels, as well as Undertaker, Diesel, and Goldust, as well as the debut of my main man, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Good stuff, would watch again.

In Memoriam

  • Paul Bearer, d. 2013
  • “Classy” Freddy Blassie, d. 2003
  • Skip Bodydonna (Christopher Candido), d. 2005
  • Vic Damone, d. 2018
  • Howard Finkel, d. 2020
  • Mr. Fuji, d. 2016
  • Owen Hart, d. 1999
  • Stu Hart, d. 2003
  • Jose Lothario (Guadalupe Robedo), d. 2018
  • “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, d. 2003
  • “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, d. 2015
  • “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, d. 2002
  • Ultimate Warrior, d. 2014
  • Vader (Leon Allen White), d. 2018
  • Yokozuna, d. 2000
RIP Stewart “Stu” Edward Hart, May 3, 1915 – October 16, 2003 and Owen James Hart, May 7, 1965 – May 23, 1999

4 thoughts on “WrestleMania XII

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