As we continue down the road to the biggest show of the year, I’ve been going through each event to prepare for the big day.
Instead of doing recaps for every WrestleMania (other people here do that much better), I’ve been putting together a Top Ten list of WrestleMania matches and have been updating it after each show.
WrestleMania XII – March 31, 1996
After a tumultuous (and rather crappy) 1995, it seemed like the WWF was able to right the ship a bit going into WrestleMania XII. With the WWF Title back around the waist of Bret “Hitman” Hart, the quality of the main event scene was much improved from the previous year and the midcard got rid of a lot of the chaff that was holding down the quality of the shows.
The company was still reeling from a depleted talent roster, though, and the departures of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were looming over the WWF. WrestleMania XII was the last hurrah for the “New Generation,” as the seeds for what would eventually be known as the Attitude Era were slowly being planted as the WWF struggled to find ways to counter WCW and Monday Nitro.
With a main event WWF Title match guaranteed to go an hour, the majority of the focus of the show was on that match, with only five other matches on the official Pay-Per-View. So with all the focus of the show going to one match, the next section should be little surprise.
Best Match: Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. Shawn Michaels – WWF Title Iron Man Match. Much like the Michaels-Razor Ramon ladder match from WrestleMania X, a match like this had never before been attempted on a WWF pay-per-view. It really is a technical masterpiece, and something I think only Michaels and Hart could do. Michaels’ rise to the top of the card had to go through Hart, the man who traveled a similar path but beat Michaels to the goal by about three years. For a Broadway, the match pacing never really takes a break and does actually flow quite well. Some would argue that the match needed a couple of pinfalls to make the match more exciting, but I don’t think it was necessary, honestly, and the “sudden death period” leads in to Hart’s feelings of being screwed the following year. It’s not the best match in the history of WrestleMania, but it’s definitely close.
Worst Match: Goldust vs. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper – Hollywood Backlot Brawl. Giving this a “match” designation may be generous, as it was really an excuse to be “edgy.” Goldust in a teddy under his costume, the OJ Simpson Ford Bronco footage in between segments and the general idea that Piper was beating up Goldust for acting like he was gay adds up to a lot of questionable decisions. Had they left the segment alone with the stiff brawl after the first match, this would have been a lot better, but once they returned to the arena, it was just terrible.
Say Goodbye To The Bad Guy: The Goldust match was supposed to be against Razor Ramon – he’s even featured on the poster up above. The match was set up around Goldust hitting on Razor, after all. But having given his notice to the company and apparently failing a drug test, Ramon was held off the show and replaced with Piper. Razor would make one more pay-per-view appearance at next month’s In Your House: Good Friends, Better Enemies, jobbing to Vader. But I wonder if the WrestleMania XII match would have been improved if Ramon was involved instead of Piper.
5-0 is Best: For all the jokes about Diesel’s and Undertaker’s work rates at this point, the two of them put together a hell of a big man match at WrestleMania XII, making it easily the best match in the so-far short history of The Streak. Diesel would of course join Razor Ramon in leaving after “Good Friends, Better Enemies” the next month, after an even better WWF Title match with Michaels. And Undertaker would go on to have much worse WrestleMania matches the next few years (spoilers, I know).
Rise of the Preshow: WrestleMania XII was the first to feature matches televised before the actual pay-per-view started. A month-long tournament to crown new tag team champions ended with The Bodydonnas, Skip and Zip, beating the Godwinns and the “Billionaire Ted” vignettes mocking Ted Turner and WCW ended with “The Huckster” and the “Nacho Man” having heart attacks in the ring. Because these matches were part of the pre-show and not part of the actual event, they do not get rated as such and are considered “dark matches.”
Bad Night For Hunter: The man we now know as WWE World Heavyweight Champion Triple H had a bad night in his WrestleMania debut. He lost in about 90 seconds to a returning Ultimate Warrior and then got into a brawl backstage with a debuting “Wildman” Marc Mero (WCW’s Johnny B. Badd), who would eventually steal his valet, Sable. It’s amazing to think that 20 years later, this guy is not only a multi-time WWE Champion and WrestleMania headliner, but also COO of the company. But he did have a great head of hair back in the day…
The Top Ten
1 – “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat – Intercontinental Title Match (WrestleMania III)
2 – Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior – WWF Title vs. Intercontinental Title (WrestleMania VI)
3 – Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. Shawn Michaels – WWF Title Iron Man Match (WrestleMania XII)
4 – Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. “The Rocket” Owen Hart (WrestleMania X)
5 – Ultimate Warrior vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage – Career Ending Match (WrestleMania VII)
6 – Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon – Intercontinental Title Ladder Match (WrestleMania X)
7 – Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff (WrestleMania I)
8 – “Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. Bret “Hitman” Hart – Intercontinental Title Match (WrestleMania VIII)
9 – Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake vs. The British Bulldogs – Tag Team Title Match (WrestleMania 2)
10 – Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant – WWF Title Match (WrestleMania III)
No celebrity involvement, no musical numbers. So no change in the bonus lists, presented here for completion’s sake.
Bob Uecker – WrestleMania III/WrestleMania IV
Mary Hart – WrestleMania III
Cyndi Lauper – WrestleMania I
Alex Trebek – WrestleMania VII
Vanna White – WrestleMania IV
Burt Reynolds – WrestleMania X
Regis Philbin – WrestleMania VII
Jonathan Taylor Thomas – WrestleMania XI
LT’s All-Pro Team (Reggie White, Steve McMichael, Carl Banks, Rickey Jackson, Chris Spielman, and Ken Norton Jr.) – WrestleMania XI
Muhammad Ali – WrestleMania I
Top Five Musical Performances
Ray Charles, America the Beautiful – WrestleMania 2
Little Richard, America the Beautiful – WrestleMania X
Fife and Drum Corp performing Piper’s entrance – WrestleMania I
Steve Allen rehearses in bathroom with the Bolsheviks – WrestleMania VI
Aretha Franklin, America the Beautiful – WrestleMania III