Scott & JT’s Vintage Vault Refresh: WrestleMania XII


** Scott & JT’s Vintage Vault Refresh reviews are a chronological look back at WWE PPV history that began with a review of WrestleMania I. The PICs have revisited these events and refreshed all of their fun facts that provide insight into the match, competitors and state of the company as well as their overviews of the match action and opinions and thoughts on the outcomes. In addition, Jeff Jarvis assists in compiling historical information and the Fun Facts in each of the reviews. Also, be sure to leave feedback on the reviews at our Facebook page. Enjoy! ***

WrestleMania XII: Iron Man

March 31, 1996
Arrowhead Pond
Anaheim, California
Announcers: Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler
Attendance: 18,852

Fun Fact: This is the first and only time in WWF PPV history that there were graphics on the ring canvas. The WrestleMania XII logo was in blue across the center of the mat.

Free For All Matches

1) The Bodydonnas defeated the Godwinns to win WWF Tag Team Titles in 5:12

Fun Fact: This was the finals of a tournament because Billy Gunn was injured and the Smokin’ Gunns were forced to forfeit the belts. Here are the results of the tournament: 1st Round: Bodydonnas defeated the Bushwhackers, Savio Vega & Razor Ramon defeated 1-2-3 Kid & Tatanka, Owen Hart & British Bulldog defeated Hakushi & Barry Horowitz and the Godwinns defeated the New Rockers. 2nd Round: Bodydonnas defeated Savio Vega & Steve Austin (substitute for Ramon) and the Godwinns defeated Hart & Bulldog.

2) The Huckster and the Nacho Man fought to a No Contest

Fun Fact: This would be the final Billionaire Ted skit for the WWF after USA President Kay Koplovitz asked Vince McMahon to put an end to the increasingly malicious offerings.

Pay Per View

1) Vader, Owen Hart & British Bulldog defeat Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson & Jake Roberts when Vader pinned Roberts with the Vaderbomb at 13:08

Fun Fact: This was originally scheduled as a singles match between Vader and Yokozuna, but was changed to a six man on the 3/18 Raw when Jake Roberts laid down the challenge to Jim Cornette after a match with the British Bulldog. It was then revealed that the fine print read that if Yoko’s team won, Yoko would get five minutes alone with Cornette.

Fun Fact II: This is the final WWF appearance for Mr. Fuji. Fuji decided to retire from wrestling prior to the show due to injuries that prevented him from traveling, but made a special appearance here at ringside with Yoko. Fuji retired to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he currently resides. In 1997, he sued the makers of the video game WCW vs. nWo World Tour, claiming that the character “Master Fuji” was based on him. Though the base of this character was actually Japanese wrestler Yoshiaki Fujiwara, it was actually close enough to Mr. Fuji that the lawsuit was settled in Fuji’s favor. Fuji also operated two training dojos in Tennessee until 2001. In 2007, Fuji would get inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by his former charge and Fuji Vice co-star Don Muraco.

Fun Fact III: Vader was originally scheduled to miss this show while rehabbing from approved shoulder surgery. However, Vince McMahon pushed Vader to come back five months ahead of schedule to assist with the buy rate for this PPV and his TV ratings as he battled WCW week-to-week. Vader was not happy but his contract left him no choice but to gut it out. 

Scott: This was originally supposed to be the battle of the beef between Vader and Yokozuna but since Vader’s shoulder injury wasn’t totally healed they needed to add some bodies to the match, and it made perfect sense. It’s very strange that Vader was signed to a pretty decent contract with the WWF at the end of 1995 but was so injured he probably wasn’t ready until July or August. With Ted DiBiase slowly falling to the background, Jim Cornette’s faction of heels was gaining steam and would be a force throughout the rest of 1996. Jake Roberts has looked pretty strong since his return, as Vince has sprinkled some veterans on the roster to go along with the bevy of newcomers that are already here and will be arriving in 1996. Because our main event eats up a third of this show, the rest of the matches had to be judiciously timed out and this one got just the perfect length to keep the crowd invested and fired up for the rest of the show. The match was a lot of fun, with energy all over the ring and even the big guys like Ahmed and Bulldog were giving it their all and the action was hot and heavy. Jake had the match won when he DDT’d Owen but the referee wasn’t looking and Vader got the win with the Vader Bomb. He’s kept strong as is Camp Cornette but the singles match with Yokozuna is still on the horizon. Grade: **1/2

Justin: For the twelfth year, we settle in for the WWF’s biggest show of the year: WrestleMania. In 1995, the show was completely built and sold around celebrities and outsiders. A year later, we do a complete 180 and solely focus on the in house wrestlers that comprise the thin, overhauled roster. It partly went down this way because the previous strategy didn’t pay off but also because when it came to the mainstream, pro wrestling was ice cold. Hollywood wanted nothing to do with it and many athletes saw how the football stars had been treated by the press in 1995 and decided it wasn’t worth it. But, honestly it was for the best. They had a good group of burgeoning stars that were hungry to solidify themselves as top players and a pretty good slew of veterans that were working hard to help WWF battle WCW in the war as well. We open with an interesting six man battle that epitomizes the current makeup of the roster. It features a young rising star, solid veteran role players, a top new heel and an old school legend making one last loop around the horn. Camp Cornette’s team is quite strong here and he was banking on a win to avoid being trapped in the ring with Yokozuna after the bout. Vader was working injured, having been rushed back from shoulder surgery to help fill out the card and continue his feud with the mammoth Yokozuna. British Bulldog was embarking on a feud with Ahmed Johnson as the two powerhouses seemed like a natural matchup. Owen Hart is along for the ride and Jake Roberts is just happy to be back. I actually loved that he was back here, as he had good name value but also had no issue putting others over. I should also mention that this is the final appearance of Mr. Fuji. He gets to show up once as a face, supporting his longtime charge, but would head into retirement after the show. It has been a hell of a run for a guy around with us throughout the entire PPV run. The faces would clean house to open the match and Ahmed struck the first big blow with a wild dive over the top rope into Vader. After a brawl on the floor, we got Yoko and Vader tussling immediately. Yoko got the best of it and also beat up his former partner Hart until Bulldog made the save for him. It was interesting seeing Yoko as the face-in-peril, but the three campers took turns smacking the big man around, including Vader rocking him with a series of punches that put him on his back. Yoko came back with a urinage and then tagged in Ahmed, who slugged away at everyone with right hands before taking Bulldog down with a powerslam. Ahmed would load him up for the plunge, but Owen drilled him from behind to break the hold up while also putting his team in control. Ahmed would fight through the quick tags and attack to tag in Jake Roberts, making his first in ring Mania appearance in four years. Owen blocked a DDT but Jake kept hammering away to the excitement of the fans. They have mixed everyone in nicely here, letting them all get some shine and pair off accordingly. Bulldog would eventually go to the arm before tagging in Vader, who peppered the Snake with hard punches and a snug clothesline. After getting trapped and beaten on, Jake still was able to survive a Bulldog powerslam and Vader big splash, putting out a hell of a gutsy showing in his big Mania return. He would finally make the hot tag to Yoko, who exploded with a flurry on Vader in the corner and then wiped out the remainder of his former stablemates to the roar of the crowd. Things broke down from there and Jake would hit the DDT on Owen, but with the referee tied up, Cornette leapt into the ring. Roberts fought him off but Vader made his way in and wiped out the Snake with a Vader Bomb for the win. No retribution for Yoko, but this was the right call. Let Roberts eat the pin and keep the heels strong, giving Vader a solid Mania win. This was a fun opener that cut a solid pace and got all six men some exposure throughout. Camp Cornette has some good chemistry going and are building themselves up into a strong stable. Plus, I will always mark out at Jake working through his old routine to the buzz of the crowd. Grade: **

2) Roddy Piper vs. Goldust – Hollywood Back Lot Brawl Part I (4:08)

Fun Fact: This match was supposed to be a Razor Ramon/Goldust Royal Rumble rematch, but Ramon had given his notice to the company and also failed a drug test within days of each other, so Vince McMahon decided to suspend him from this show to send a message that the drug tests were taken seriously and also to give the payday to somebody loyal to him instead.

Fun Fact II: With Ramon out, Roddy Piper was inserted into the feud in his place. Ramon and Goldust had actually had a great and memorable brawl on Raw in February to set up the street fight here, but in the end it was the last time Ramon appeared on Monday Night Raw. When Piper was named President, Goldust began coming onto him, saying he was attracted to power. Piper, of course, did not take this lying down and popped Goldust in the face after he told Roddy of his affection. Goldust even went so far as to do a fake “Piper’s Pit” episode, mocking the Rowdy Scot.

Fun Fact III: This part of the match was prerecorded in the week leading up to the show, but was completed in one take.

Scott: As much as one of the top heels in the company was to be showcased here, I don’t think this was a great idea. Sure having Razor Ramon work was not smart since he failed a piss test and gave his notice that he was leaving, but an Intercontinental Title match should have been placed here instead. There had to have been another top flight babyface to get a title match with, but instead there’s a backlot brawl with Hot Rod, his first official PPV match since that snorefest with Jerry Lawler at the 1994 King of the Ring. Once the match started in the back lot of the Pond, I was immediately entertained. Both men really lay into each other with stiff punches and kicks, including a Piper punch that broke his hand. They throw each other into the catering table, and then they jump into cars: Goldust in his gold Cadillac, and Piper in a…WHITE BRONCO? Good grief, how stupid. In any event Piper gets hit with the car and Goldust speeds off. Piper goes off in the Bronco and we’re…done? No not exactly, but now we will get to the point of the show that really torqued me off.

Justin: With Razor Ramon suspended, Roddy Piper was solicited to step in and fill this slot agains the ever provocative Goldust. And with the combination of Piper’s machismo and Goldust’s mind games, the animosity between the two didn’t take long to boil over. Goldust unleashed some…interesting attacks on the Hot Rod, claiming he was attracted to his new position of power. Thus, by the time the match came, Piper was frothing at the mouth for revenge and was brandishing a baseball bat when the IC Champion pulled up in his gold Cadillac. With a few dozen fans surrounding the back lot, Piper went right to work demolishing Goldust with various weapons that were hanging around the area. The fight was really stiff and you could feel the hate oozing from Piper as he laid in tight kicks and a legit hard punch to the face that actually ended up breaking the Hot Rod’s hand. At one point, Piper even sprayed down the now bloody Goldust with a fire hose. Goldust somehow found a way to kick free and dove into his Caddy, which he quickly backed up and then shot forward, careening into Piper, who landed on the hood. Goldust dumped him off with a hard stop and then sped off quickly. Piper crawled to his feet, hopped in a white Bronco, natch, and drove off after him. And that brings an end to this one for now. It was certainly interesting and I think they were wise to keep it fairly short as it had the potential to really meander and possibly kill the crowd sitting in the arena. That one punch from Piper really was tough to watch. Either way, we return to this in a little while.

3) Steve Austin defeats Savio Vega with a sleeper at 10:07

Fun Fact: Savio Vega and Razor Ramon were originally teammates in the tag title tournament, but when Ramon was suspended in late-February, WWF officials assigned Steve Austin to be Vega’s partner after a random drawing. In their match against the Bodydonnas, Austin avoided being tagged in, and then would cost his team the match, triggering an interesting feud.

Fun Fact II: By this time Steve Austin had completely shaved his head, grew out the goatee, and was officially called “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The official name change occurred on the 3/11 Raw before a match with Savio Vega. That match ended in a double count out, leading to the rematch here. This match is where he debuts his black boots, as up to this point he had his white boots with the star on them that he had in WCW. In February, Austin had gone to Vince McMahon and begged him to drop the Ringmaster name and take on the persona of an ice cold serial killer. After the creative services group came up with a number of inane suggestions for a nickname, it was Austin’s wife that provided the inspiration for his new persona when she implored him to drink his tea before it became “stone cold”.

Scott: Enough with the stupid Ringmaster name. Steve Austin is still with Ted DiBiase and he’s carrying the Million Dollar Belt, but gone is the crew cut and clean shaven face. Now the black boots and black tights are in with the shaved head and full grown goatee. Vince had been using the adjective “Stone Cold” during his matches on Raw, but now it’s part of his name now. That is a huge upgrade and now he can completely focus on changing his style in the ring to someone much more calculated. Savio Vega is a great complement to Austin, a solid worker who will bump and sell for him and make great comebacks to get the crowd going. The feud started when Austin turned on Savio during the Tag Team Title tournament and then it escalated on Raw. The match was a lot of fun, but sadly you couldn’t really concentrate on it because of the nonsense car chase with Piper and Goldust, even going so far as to use stock footage of the OJ chase from two years earlier with a white Bronco being followed by all the cops. That and Piper on his “cellular phone” talking to Vince sucks all the life out of this match, at least for the viewers at home. It’s hard to concentrate when Vince and Lawler aren’t paying attention either. Austin wins with a sleeper after two shots with the Million Dollar Belt while the the referee is out. I really liked this match and the feud will continue through the next couple of months, but it never gets the true respect it deserves. Just imagine, he could have been “Ice Dagger” or “Chilly McFreeze” Steve Austin. I shudder to think. Grade: **1/2

Justin: The last time we saw Steve Austin on PPV, he was known as the Ringmaster and sported short peach fuzz hair, white boots and arrogantly ran his mouth. Now, he has undergone some changes…for the better. Gone is the Ringmaster and in his place is Stone Cold Steve Austin. His head shaved bald and face bearing a goatee, the more focused, icy cold Austin was ready to start his ascent. His opponent on this night is the stalwart Savio Vega, whom Austin had betrayed in the tag team title tournament after a random draw forced them together. Austin is still the Million Dollar Champion and has Ted DiBiase with him, but his makeover was a godsend. Vega charged the ring, hellbent on revenge, but Austin caught him coming in and went right to work. Vega came back with a sidewalk slam before the two started rolling around trading wild haymakers. Great intensity right away being shown by these two and Vega would dominate on the floor, fight right through a DiBiase distraction. The tide turned when Vega missed a charge and slammed shoulder first into the post. This is a nice spot for Vega, a guy that can go and isn’t afraid to get into a stiff fight with the right opponent. Austin started to work the arm but Vega worked free and landed a side kick to the jaw. As the match wore on, Piper called in from the road, said he was going to catch the “fruit” and continue their street fight. Austin regained control and went back to the arm as Piper’s connection dropped. A moment later, Hot Rod was back and again called Goldust a “fruit” before getting cut off a second time. Vega would nab a near fall with a cross body and the two traded a flurry of near falls. We would go split screen for a moment with footage of the car chase, which was of course old stock film of the OJ Simpson chase, and when we returned Vega caught Austin with a big side kick. The crowd has flattened out quite a bit, which is a shame, because this has been pretty fun. They have battled back and forth with stiff strikes and sneaky near falls. Austin would take a shot by going to the middle rope, but it backfired when he ate a Vega boot on the way down. The two would get back to their feet and trade more right hands in a battle won by Vega, but a moment later things fell apart when Savio cracked the referee when Austin ducked a spin wheel kick. DiBiase would take the chance to hop on the apron and distract Vega, which gave Austin the chance to paste Savio with the Million Dollar Title a pair of times. He would then hook in the Dream as DiBiase rusted the referee, who crawled over and saw that Savio was unconscious, giving Austin his first Mania victory. This was certainly a more successful Mania than last year for DiBiase at the very least. Despite the Piper/Goldust stuff and a flat crowd, these guys worked hard out there and I liked the style they worked. It was snug and they mixed in all sorts of near falls with no real extended heat segment. The finish was OK but a bit too drawn out, but I guess that fit Austin’s calculated manner at the time. Either way, he is officially in the books with a Mania win and Savio heads off to regroup. Grade: **1/2

4) Ultimate Warrior defeats Hunter Hearst-Helmsley with a splash at 1:36

Fun Fact: When last we saw the Ultimate Warrior, he was leaving the WWF after his second firing from the company prior to Survivor Series 1992. Vince McMahon had initially reopened talks with the Warrior to rejoin the company prior to the Royal Rumble, but the two couldn’t agree to terms. However, with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash both giving their notice to the company, Vince was desperate to add some known names to his roster. Thus he finally gave in and gave Warrior unprecedented rights to his character and image, leading to Warrior making his return to the company here.

Fun Fact II: Marc Merowitz grew up in New York where he began learning to box during his senior year in high school under Ray Rinaldi, a Golden Gloves coach. Mero would win four state titles including the NY Golden Gloves tournament. After a broken nose ended his boxing career, Mero began looking at wrestling as an alternative career. He was trained in Florida by the Malenko family. After a few months in the business he went to a WCW taping and was given a tryout. He was later signed on and given the Johnny B. Badd character, a Little Richard knock-off gimmick. After objecting to the direction of a program with Diamond Dallas Page’s wife, he left WCW and signed on with the Federation for a big money deal that ended up angering many of the other midcard competitors. It was revealed afterwards that Vince McMahon didn’t realize the Johnny B. Badd character couldn’t come with Mero, as it had been one of the reasons he was so anxious to sign him.

Fun Fact III: Following closely in tow with Mero was his wife at the time, Rena Merowitz. Before her involvement in wrestling, Rena was a model for Pepsi, Guess? and L’Oréal. When Marc signed with the WWF, Vince saw Rena and wanted to bring her in as well, initially as the valet, Sable. But time will tell, she would become the more profitable of the Meros and overshadow her husband, as was predicted by Jim Cornette at the time of the signing.

Scott: In one of the most shocking comebacks in WWF history, The Ultimate Warrior returns after being out of the business proper for over three years. With guys leaving for greener pastures in the south, Vince needed some star power to fill this show up, considering he was taking a chance with the main event stipulation. Sadly there weren’t any other real over mid-card heels to look at the lights here, as Helmsley had continued to go up the ladder and was more over than say anybody in DiBiase’s Corporation and all the Camp Cornette guys were used in the earlier match. So Helmsley drew the short straw to eat the pin here. I hated that Warrior had to no sell the Pedigree but of course that’s my personal opinion, I’m sure many loved that Helmsley got what he deserved (looking back now) but that’s their opinion. Warrior is back but I’m curious how much of an impact he’s going to make in the WWF. Will he challenge for the WWF Title? How welcomed is his creative freedom? Time will tell, but this was nothing more than a nostalgia pop to get the crowd fired up. Grade: DUD

Justin: I am not sure anybody expected this. After just over three years, the Ultimate Warrior was back in a WWF ring. It had been four years since his last surprise return at WrestleMania VIII and five since his last Mania match, which was his classic against Randy Savage. Desperate for stars, the company decided to bring him back and give it another go and off the bat it seemed like a good move since he was immediately super over, as always. There was a fun little running storyline going with Jerry Lawler teasing about rumors that Warrior was 400 pounds and bald, and he perpetuates it here as Hunter Hearst-Helmsley sauntered out to the ring. There was no issue here between Helmsley and Warrior, but Helmsley happened to be the mid carder chosen to put over the legend in his return match. As always, Helmsley is being accompanied by a stunning lass, who Vince informs us is named Sable and also claims is the most beautiful one has had with him to date. Warrior would arrive to a huge pop and the rumors were proven false as he looked the same as always: jacked up, full of energy and ready to clean house. Helmsley jumped him off the bell and actually hit the Pedigree, but Warrior no sold it, ran through him and finished him off with a big splash to successfully close out his return. Well, that was quite the scene. In later years it was revealed that Helmsley was told it would be more of a back-and-forth match, but Warrior flat out told him he wanted it to be a squash, similar to the SummerSlam 1988 whitewashing of the Honky Tonk Man that jumpstarted his run to stardom. Helmsley was hesitant to let Warrior wipe him out so easily, but was advised to take it in stride and due to his team first attitude, he was set to be rewarded with a big push. It was certainly a decision that paid off for him in the long term. Warrior is back and you would assume he would move into the main event picture sooner than later, but the real question is whether he would last long enough to see any big time feuds or matches. Grade: DUD

*** Backstage, Todd Pettingil interviews new WWF signee “Wildman” Marc Mero. Mero is thrilled to have finally arrived in the company after five years and talks about the fire in his eyes. As he is continuing on, Hunter Hearst-Helmsley accidentally bumps into him and then shoves him off as he was in the middle of berating Sable about the loss. Mero would take offense to the shove and the yelling, grab Hunter and ram him into a garage door before taking him to the ground. The two exchanged blows on the cement as we cut back to the arena. ***

5) Undertaker defeats Diesel with a Tombstone at 16:43

Fun Fact: This feud started at the Royal Rumble when Diesel cost Undertaker his World Title match and continued at In Your House #6 when Taker returned the favor. The two would continue playing mind games in the weeks leading up to the show. On the 3/18 Raw, while Diesel was taking on Barry Horowitz, Paul Bearer, who had been beaten down by Big Daddy Cool the week before, wheeled a casket to ringside. After the match, Diesel opened the casket only to find a replica of himself laying there. Diesel was freaked out but tried to play it cool.

Scott: The secondary main event pits the two big monsters of the company head to head. Diesel has had an interesting stretch since losing the WWF Title back in November. His attitude has changed from happy leather-clad foundation to cool, slick and angry tweener. He pretty much cemented his full blown heel status when he smacked Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Undertaker with a chair at an MSG House show earlier in the month. It was a ready made feud as neither had really faced each other in the past few years so it was a fresh matchup. Kevin Nash had also given his notice to Vince that he was leaving for WCW, but unlike Razor who flunked a drug test, Nash did the right thing for business and accepted Vince’s requests to put some guys over. I was looking forward to this match because the Undertaker’s last few Mania matches have been quite forgettable. Giant Gonzalez at IX and King Kong Bundy at XI were real stinkers, so if anything Taker (who wasn’t real happy in the company at this point) was finally given someone he could work with. In 1995 Diesel struggled with big guys like Sid and Mabel but he knew Taker would be active and go power move for power move with him. They went back and forth and hit their big moves with incredible force, and even with the bear hug in the middle of the match the crowd was actually still into it. I’m probably complementing this crowd more than I should, since I always slam California fans but to their credit they stayed in it throughout. I wasn’t sure who was going to win the match but then when Diesel hit the first of two Jackknife Powerbombs I thought perhaps it was over. However, when Diesel took too long to try a pin attempt I resigned myself that eventually the Deadman was going to win. The match went a little longer than I thought and Diesel even hit a second Jackknife but that still didn’t keep the Deadman down. They would continue to battle back and forth but eventually Taker drilled the Tombstone and his Mania record is now 5-0. This was easily Taker’s best match at Mania and Diesel’s best match against someone not in the Clique or named Bret Hart. Grade: ***1/2

Justin: A year removed from his WrestleMania World Title match, Diesel is back at Mania in a feature role but a whole lot has changed in these twelve months. A year ago, he was the franchise player, carrying the World Title and hobnobbing with C-list celebrities and well known athletes. Eleven months later, he gave his notice that he was heading to WCW to accept a big money offer from the increasingly dangerous Eric Bischoff. It was a major blow to the WWF, but before he left Vince McMahon asked him to do a few favors and Big Daddy Cool obliged. On screen, his feud with Undertaker had been raging since the Royal Rumble where a skirmish in the aisle led to Diesel costing the Deadman the WWF Title. He did so again on Raw and Undertaker paid him back at IYH6, setting us for a clash of the big men here. It was also really good to see Taker get lined up with an opponent that could actually move and add some intrigue to a Mania match. His last two Mania battles have been hot messes and he was ready to prove he could deliver something better. And that was proven within minutes when the two titans clashed in the center of the ring, trading big blows and ebbing back and forth with aggressive strikes. Diesel would clothesline Taker to the floor, but the Deadman landed on his feet and yanked Big Daddy Cool to the floor, where the two continued to trade blows. Back inside, Diesel slipped out of a Tombstone but Taker caught him with a cross body for a near fall. That move showed that Taker was ready to open up the playbook and mix it up a bit. After hitting an ax handle off the top rope, Taker missed a leaping clothesline, but was able to maintain control by snapping Diesel’s neck across the top rope before driving him to the outside where he ran him into the ring post. The suddenly aggressive Taker grabbed a chair but came up empty on the swing, drilling the ring post instead. Diesel shot him into the barricade and regrouped as he took control of the bout. He would start in on the back, beginning to set up Taker for the Jackknife and that would be his main focus over the next few minutes. As Big Daddy Cool methodiclaly worked Taker over, the crowd fired up a “Rest in Peace” chant, trying to rally the Deadman. Diesel unleashed a sidewalk slam and snake eyes before crunching Taker with a legdrop while he was draped across the middle rope. Diesel remained keyed in, slamming into Taker’s skull with forearms but stumbled a bit when Taker caught him with a back elbow and right hand. That led to a double big boot that knocked both men to their backs. As they both got back to their feet, Diesel struck first, shooting Taker hard into the corner and then locking him in a bear hug. Taker eventually broke free and took to the air, heading up top and wiping Diesel out with a flying clothesline. Diesel kicked out of the cover and quickly struck with a Jackknife but instead of covering, he strutted around the ring and smugly posed for the fans while mocking Taker by kicking his prone body. As he did, Taker sat up as expected, so Diesel calmly cracked him with a right hand and hit a second Jackknife, again followed by some posing. Taker would again sit up, this time grabbing a choke as he did. Diesel didn’t freak out or back down and just kept calmly pelting Taker with right hands. However, Taker sat up and grabbed the choke again but Diesel busted it with a back suplex. That was a nice tease and I love how Diesel is staying cool and fighting through this expected run from Taker. The Deadman again rose, but Diesel went right at him with a big knee to the gut. Taker would duck a clothesline and hit his flying version. He followed that up with a chokeslam and Tombstone to put Diesel away for good and remain undefeated at WrestleMania. That was a really solid power match between two well protected big men. They played their roles well with Taker mixing it up a bit and Diesel staying true to his character by remaining relaxed and focused, fighting through all of Taker’s comebacks until the Tombstone finally got him in the end. Diesel has been a lot of fun since he broke free of his WWF Title shackles and I loved his attitude throughout this one. The way he played to the crowd and executed his gameplan worked well and he had been booked strongly enough to be a believable threat to the Deadman. Taker’s renaissance continues as he delivers his best Mania bout to date and I was happy that this one ended up being as good as it was as it easily could have went south when you consider all the factors in play. Grade: ***

6) Roddy Piper defeats Goldust in the Hollywood Back Lot Brawl when he ripped off Goldust’s clothes in 9:45 (Part II was 5:36)

Fun Fact: Following this match we say goodbye again to Roddy Piper until the end of the Monday Night War. As with many other former WWF brethren, he would travel down south and join WCW. He will reappear in the WWE in 2003.

Scott: After all that crap with the car chase and OJ innuendo, Goldust and Piper are back to the arena and we get some semblance of a wrestling match. Goldust takes advantage and really lays in the mind games but Piper rebuffs them. It’s apparent they really didn’t go over what to actually do in the match because it seemed like a lot of posturing and stalling. Goldust kisses Piper on the mouth and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Piper goes bonkers and it concludes with Piper ripping Goldust’s outfit off to reveal…well something. Something men generally wouldn’t wear. The match, I guess, is over and the crowd does go crazy for the Hot Rod’s win, which included a claw to the balls and more than a few nut shots. The whole thing was a real mess but the crowd loved it and it was pretty entertaining, but my only gripe is that this drama came at the expense of a really great match between Steve Austin and Savio Vega. Grade: **

Justin: Before we get to our main event, we had to wrap up business on our Back Lot Brawl. After a lengthy car chase through Orange County, Goldust and Piper arrived back at the arena where Hot Rod stalked the golden one back into the ring. Piper would wrap up his busted hand and then charge Goldust, leading to a quick punch and kick brawl. Goldust would finally take control and hammer and choke away at the President. He then continued his mind games by sliding onto Piper’s prone body and teasing a kiss before smacking away at him. Goldust would head up top, but Piper shook the ropes and crotched him. Never one to be deterred, Goldust planted that kiss on Piper, which only served to fire up the Hot Rod, who then grabbed a testicular claw that drove Goldust to the mat. The crowd was all revved up as Piper dropped a knee to the groin and then yanked off Goldust’s bodysuit, revealing black lingerie. Well, that was surely an interesting choice. Another low blow sent Goldust scrambling, officially ending the brawl and giving Piper the victory. Well, the crowd sure loved it. The brawling in the back lot was stiff and effective and while I could have lived without the constant cut-ins from the highway and the bizarre lingerie decision, the second half was fine too. Piper rides off into the sunset a victor and this marks the final time we would see him at WrestleMania for quite a while. Grade: **

7) Shawn Michaels defeats Bret Hart in an Iron Man match to win WWF World Title with a Superkick at 61:53

Fun Fact: This is the first ever Iron Man Match on WWF TV, and the first ever Sixty Minute Iron Man Match on PPV. WCW had done two Thirty Minute Iron Matches in the past: Rick Rude vs. Ricky Steamboat and Rick Rude vs. Dustin Rhodes. It is also the longest non-Royal Rumble match in WWF PPV history to this point.

Fun Fact II: This is the PPV debut of Jose Lothario, who would remain Michaels’ manager until January of 1997. We first saw Lothario in the extensive training videos that were shown for both men during the build up of this match. Lothario had trained Michaels in San Antonio when he first broke into the business.

Fun Fact III: After winning their matches at IYH6, the stage was set for two of the best in-ring workers in wrestling history to meet each other for the WWF championship. Rocky-esque vignettes began airing on WWF programming after the Iron Man stipulation was added showing both Hart and Michaels in intense training sessions. Michaels’ story was one of overcoming adversity, from having been defeated by Diesel one year earlier at WrestleMania XI to having to forfeit the Intercontinental title after sustaining injuries in a bar fight in Syracuse. The stage is now set for a boyhood dream to come true.

Fun Fact IV: Before the match, The Fink introduces Gorilla Monsoon, who is now officially reinstated as the President of the WWF after convalescing from the beatdown at the hands of Vader. 

Scott: Besides the histrionics of Shawn Michaels rappelling down to the ring, I love how Earl Hebner went through all the rules that we as wrestling fans knew already. There were a pair of short Iron Man matches in WCW a few years earlier but for the WWF diehards this was completely foreign to them. This was a big risk for Vince because fans are used to good length PPV matches but that’s probably 20 minutes, 25 tops. A full hour? That’s a big risk and again we aren’t in a big time wrestling hotbed either. So it had to be done right for the crowd to stay engaged. They do have the right two guys to do this with as they are both exceptionally talented and have the stamina to not look gassed 25 minutes in. Gorilla Monsoon was officially reinstated as WWF President following his injuries at the hands of Vader and now with Piper’s storyline done he’s off camera. That plays a big factor later on. Let’s get into the match. Watching all the RAWs leading up to this show, it’s definite that Shawn was going to win. He’s the one with the boyhood dream, and he’s the one who’s battling back from losing in Hartford last year and getting beat up by Syracuse thugs. While Bret sits back with his shades on and the belt over his shoulder going “Well that’s nice but I’m still gonna beat him up.” The training vignettes also skewed a bit towards Shawn as his workouts are tough, cardio battles while Bret jogs lightly, swims like a porpoise and gets mangled by his 70-something year old father. So going in, Bret already looked like the dead Champion walking. But he was definitely going to get his pound of flesh. The first ten minutes are another example of how the entire storyline skewed in favor of Shawn as Michaels starts taking Bret down with grappling maneuvers, which is Bret’s specialty. So Vince is saying that Shawn is outthinking the Hitman by using his moves on him, like Bret is some sort of idiot. They continue to go back and forth and clearly the early portion of the match favors Bret because HBK has to conserve his energy so all the “Mexican Flying Around” that Bret said Shawn does had to be put on the backburner for fear of making a mistake. So a good hunk of the first half hour is Shawn trying to outwrestle Bret while conserving his energy. Bret’s philosophy is simple; regardless whether this has a finite time, if he survives the 60 minutes, it’s a draw and he leaves as Champion. We will get more into how he was wrong on that a little later on. So in reality Bret’s approach is to wear Shawn down and get him into grapple predicaments (submissions) that will eat up time on the clock. Michaels needs to stick and move while wearing Bret down as well. The first quarter of the match ends when both are on the outside and Michaels drills the timekeeper with Sweet Chin Music as Bret ducks out of the way. It’s still a pretty sweet moment even after all these years. The next thirty minutes is both men going back and forth with a combination of grapples and the occasional outside maneuver. There’s a couple of smart moments by Bret where Shawn goes outside the ring (including one where he knocks Jose Lothario down on the outside) and instead of going after him Bret sits back and waits for the countout, as it is considered a decision. Lawler had to take sides here somehow since both guys are babyfaces so believe it or not he was slightly siding with Bret, even after all they’ve gone through since 1993. With about ten minutes left Shawn starts pulling out the stops with his usual maneuvers while Bret spent time grinding Shawn to the mat with leg submissions to prepare for the Sharpshooter.

Vince and Lawler ditch the dopey jokes with ten minutes left and got down to business as Bret really started to ratchet up the submission moves but hasn’t been able to get the Sharpshooter on. The other big storyline hook was that Shawn didn’t take any crazy risks in the match, until there was about :50 left. Bret is on the mat and Shawn goes to the top rope, but Bret gets to his feet and is waiting and when Shawn flies, Bret moves and Shawn drops to his back. That gives Bret the chance to hook the legs and get the Sharpshooter on. Many think that Shawn would tap out, but Bret was thinking if he keeps Shawn in the move he can’t lose. Well the clock hits zero, Shawn didn’t tap out and Bret takes his belt and leaves. In his eyes, the match ended in a draw, Shawn fell just short and he’s leaving with his title. Well in steps Gorilla Monsoon, who reminded everyone that one month earlier at In Your House #6, Roddy Piper said “There must be a winner.” So we start sudden death, and Bret is pretty pissed off. Shawn is hurt and Bret really works the back over with angered vigor. Then Shawn hits a superkick out of nowhere, but he’s too beat down to go for the pin. So he somehow gets up and hits a second superkick and gets the three count he’s waited his entire career for. Now here’s where the fun begins. There’s an urban legend that after the match Shawn supposedly told Earl Hebner to get Bret “the fuck out of my ring.” Bret takes his time like the spiteful prick he is and walked defiantly out of the arena. Shawn gets his four-five minutes of the spotlight ala Hulk Hogan in the first few Manias. Watching up close, you can definitely tell that Shawn told Earl something. Earl walks around the ring with the belt very awkwardly. On the Rivalries DVD, Shawn doesn’t remember saying anything but I think either denial or drugs may have clouded his memory. Bret remembers it very well, as he has the memory of an elephant. The match is great, and even the middle part of the match which for years I always thought was dreadfully boring wasn’t actually that bad on another watch. But it’s evident that Shawn Michaels as WWF Champion is going to do things his way whether you like it or not. As for the Hitman? Maybe he’s due for a long needed vacation, having pretty much worked non-stop since 1985. As for WWF vs. WCW? It’s back and forth right now but in a few months some major shots across the bow put the WWF on the defensive for a while. Grade: ****

Justin: This was a bold choice by all involved. The time had finally arrived for Shawn Michaels and he was in peak physical condition, as evidenced via the packages in the buildup. But, to finally cash in on his Boyhood Dream and win the WWF Title, he would have to wrestle an hour and outlast the stalwart Champion, Bret Hart. The Hitman was dinged up after a grueling overseas tour and a long stretch on the road without a break, but there was little doubt he would be up to the task. The question that really remained was whether they could engage the crowd for sixty minutes. I love that they went for this as they had the two perfect guys and a the optimal story to set it up. Also, with the thin roster, there was no better time to fill up a third of the show with one match. Michaels got the festivities started with an epic entrance, riding down from the roof on a zip line, where his mentor and trainer Jose Lothario awaited his arrival. The Hitman was the antithesis, stoic and focused as always, no fanfare needed. The way both made their way to the ring told the entire story of their styles and careers. After Earl Hebner read through the rules, we got underway with some mat work. Lawler and Vince both agreed that the first fall was crucial in determining who would win this one, a sound analysis that is hard to disagree with. Michaels started to work the arm a bit with Bret focusing more on grinding a headlock and it was clear that they were going to work a slow, paced build to ensure they lasted the full sixty. As we ticked close to the ten minute mark, the trading of holds continued. We also got to see Stu Hart and Freddie Blassie chilling in the crowd, watching the match unfold. As Vince wondered aloud if Bret was surprised at Shawn’s wrestling acumen, Lawler noted that he thought he would be doing all that “Mexican flying around”. Welp. Shawn picked up the pace first, clocking Hart with some forearms before dumping him to the floor with a headscissors takeover, which Vince classified as one of those “Mexican maneuvers”. The Hitman tried to target the midsection in advance of the Sharpshooter, but Michaels grounded him again, going back to the arm.

As the clock hit 45:00, Hart almost nabbed the Sharpshooter out of nowhere and then clotheslined Michaels hard to the floor. Hart followed him out but Michaels shoved him into the post, with the Hitman bouncing off and landing in the lap of the timekeeper. Michaels took a chance and launched into Sweet Chin Music, but Hart dodged it and the poor timekeeper took it flush in the face. That was a great, random spot that popped the quieted crowd. Back inside, Hart went back to his chinlock as things settled back down. Twenty minutes in, Michaels made his comeback, slipping free and landing a flurry, capped by a dropkick and ending with the Hitman’s arm trapped. Vince really harped on how Michaels was executing the basics so well, saying he would be ahead on points right now and that Hart was getting frustrated. The champion made a comeback but that ended swiftly when he crashed hard into the ring post, rattling his now tender shoulder. Michaels pounced, hitting a shoulderbreaker in front of what has become a very quiet crowd. As Shawn pounded the shoulder, Vince noted how Michaels won a load of Slammys the evening before. Lawler noted that he gifted one to Lothario and that it would be “in a Mexican pawn shop” very soon. Hart again made a comeback, but one shot to the shoulder put him back down. I am enjoying the role reversals here, with Michaels working as the technician and picking apart the shoulder while Hart made the big comeback attempts. Hart finally found daylight at the 32 minute mark, launching Michaels up into the ring post with a slingshot.

As we reached the halfway point, Hart was firmly in control, slamming Michaels to the mat with a bulldog. He would head up top and nearly get caught but Hart fended Shawn off and drove him to the mat with his knee pressed to the back of the challenger’s head. On the way down, Hebner got bumped but he was back up in time to count the first near fall of the match: a Shawn Michaels powerslam over 30 minutes into the match. Hart came back with a piledriver for his first near fall and for the first time in over 15 minutes, the crowd popped big. The Hitman went up top again, but Michaels caught him this time and slammed him to the mat before landing a head scissors takeover. A moment later, Shawn went for SCM a second time, but Bret ducked it and bailed to the floor. As he took a minute to regain his bearings, Michaels flew off the top tope with a big cross body that wiped both men out. Back inside, Hart regained some momentum and the pacing is really picking back up and with it has come the crowd. Instead of trading off on limb work, the two stalwarts now started trading pin attempts, with each racking up near falls. Michaels busted out a perfectplex for a two count as he continued to mainly stay a step ahead of the champ. That included a sleeper, that Michaels locked on in the center of the ring, pushing Hart down to the mat but unable to score a fall off it. At the 23 minute mark, momentum shifted swiftly when Michaels charged hard but Hart ducked him and sent him flying high, over the ring post and out hard to the floor. The Hitman followed him out and after running him into the post, he pitched him back inside to work over the back some more. As the clocked ticked to 20, Hart landed a backbreaker before slinging Shawn into the corner and stomping stiffly on his lower spine. A big Hart back superplex grabbed another near fall but Shawn stayed alive. After a camel clutch, Hart went for a standard superplex but Michaels fought him off before coming up empty on a leap from the middle rope. Hart would shoot Michaels hard into the corner, causing him to tumble to the floor again, wiping out Lothario in the process. Hart followed and whipped Shawn into the steps, leading to Lothario getting bumped again. That was a cool looking stair bump.

With 15 minutes left, the match continued in the ring and the champion was solidly in control. It was starting to look like just one fall was all that would be needed. After eating a series of uppercuts, Michaels grabbed another near fall with a roll up but when Hart kicked out, he was launched back outside. Hart took advantage and as soon as he saw Michaels get to his feet, he dove into him with a suicide dive. Hart slid back inside and with Michaels badly damaged, it looked like the first fall may come as a countout. But it wasn’t meant to be as Shawn barely slipped back inside just before ten. Hart blocked him from entering and tried for a suplex, but after a switch it led to a bridging German suplex for a close Hitman near fall. Shawn tried to land some shots but they were too soft to matter, which allowed Hart to just lay a series of stiff shots in, capped by a headbutt. Michaels looked defiant but Vince was certain he was just out on his knees. Hart took a minute to gather himself before going to a rear chinlock as we ticked under 10 minutes. I must say I have enjoyed Lawler throughout this match as he has really gotten into the analysis of the match, explaining here what Hart was doing with the hold and discussing the strategy of a potential deep freeze if a pin could be garnered. Michaels broke free but after he hit the ropes, both collided and collapsed in the ring. Hart went for the Sharpshooter with just over six minutes left, but Michaels kicked free before he could apply it. Shawn desperately tried to crawl away, knowing if Hart hooked that hold on, it would likely be the end game. Instead, Hart went to a half crab but Shawn eventually forced a rope break.

With less than five minutes to go, Michaels made his last ditch comeback, shoving Hart off and sending him flying hard into the corner sternum first. He followed with a flying forearm and after a gutty nip up, he went right to work, landing a back elbow and an ax handle smash from the second rope. After a suplex, Michaels headed to the top rope and crashed into Hart with his flying elbow for a near fall at 2:20. He would grab another close one with a moonsault press from the corner. Hart tried to slip away and gain some separation but Michaels was all over him. Shawn would kick Hart away, head to the middle rope and hit a hurricanrana into a roll up for a two count. As we dipped under a minute, Shawn headed to the top rope. He tried for a dropkick, but Hart caught him and twisted him into a Sharpshooter with 30 seconds to go. That had to be it, either Shawn survived and we end scoreless or Michaels gives out and then runs out of time. With the crowd going wild, Michaels would hold on, definitely refusing to quit as the clock hit zeroes and the bell sounded.

After the match, Hart started to leave, assuming he had retained with no falls being achieved. However, Gorilla Monsoon came out and decreed that the match would continue under sudden death rules. Vince reminded everyone at home that Roddy Piper had decreed that the match must have a winner and that both men agreed and Monsoon was upholding that. An angry Hart started right in on Michaels’ back as the bell sounded, looking to end this quickly. The crowd quieted back down, unsure how long they may be here as Hart rocked the challenger with a backbreaker. However, Michaels avoided a charge, floated over and hit a superkick. It wasn’t struck with full authority and Hart was actually the first to recover as Michaels was worn out. Both men would slowly pull themselves up and when they did, Michaels tuned the band and nailed the kick to win the bout and his first WWF Championship. A dejected Hart stormed off angrily as Michaels basked in the moment he had long dreamed of. After clearing the ring, he strapped the title around his waist and soaked it all in while McMahon decried that the boyhood dream had become a reality. Shawn Michaels was finally the top player in the WWF.

The match itself was much better than I have ever really appreciated it for. In fact, I think it got so overrated that it swung back around to being underrated. I liked how they split the match up with two dueling, lengthy heat segments to give each guy plenty of shine and also opportunities to build heat. They also structured it to ensure something major happened around every 1/6th checkpoint of the bout to keep the crowd from fully checking out. The psychology was on point and everything made sense with them slowly building to big spots and then whenever they pulled back, it led to a different style of control segment. Once they hit 30 minutes, things kicked into the next gear and went well into the closing moments. I also thought the commentary was really on point with both Vince and Lawler doing a solid job with the story and thought process being worked in front of them. It was a strong showing for the booth. Honestly, even though the lack of falls felt like a miss, it was really the sudden death that hurt things as it killed the hottest part of the match. Instead of a stop and restart, if the match flowed into the extra period seamlessly, the crowd would have stayed hot. Instead they cooled down because they didn’t know how much longer things could go. I get why it went the way it did, to allow Hart a gripe, but it could been executed more crisply. As is, it was a good experiment and the two stars gave it their all in telling a well worked in ring story that was also dripping with real life tones as well. After a long wait, the era of Shawn Michaels is upon us. We will now see if the wait was all worth it as we move into another new era for the company. Grade: ****

Final Analysis

Scott: Vince had the same problem in 1996 he had in 1995: A very thin roster of true bankable stars. Well instead of like at WrestleMania XI which relied on celebrities and fluff intertwined between some awful matches, he took his biggest stars and tightened the card to a neat group of matches, then took his main event and got as much mileage out of it as he can. I still don’t get why the WWF went to such a vanilla site like Anaheim for his biggest show of the year. I know they were spreading to all over the country, but for your biggest show of the year you may want to pick a site with a more rabid fan base, and if it didn’t want a second straight year in the Northeast perhaps to go to Texas or Kansas City. In any event, the show was much tighter than last year and every match had some significance. I liked the opener with six good workers, even the (at the time) reformed Jake Roberts but it was all about setting up the eventual Vader/Yokozuna match. I really liked Steve Austin vs. Savio Vega and still think it got screwed by all that car chase nonsense with Goldust and Piper. That should have been one neat tidy match with no long lag in the middle. That pretty much exposed that the show was light on talent and thus they had to wrestle in essence two matches. They could have had one backlot brawl that went 10-12 minutes and been perfectly fine instead of all the cheap OJ parlor tricks. The Ultimate Warrior return was nice but honestly I don’t know where he’s going to fit in this WWF landscape. I can’t see him just filling mid-card feuds, as he was probably given carte blanche to return. You think he wasn’t eyeballing that Winged Eagle belt? The Undertaker/Diesel match was better than anybody expected and I think broke Taker out of his in-ring slump that really breaks the next night on Raw and throughout 1996. Diesel is doing the right thing and doing favors out the door to the South for a payday. Unlike his buddy Razor Ramon who, even though he is one of the biggest stars in the company was left off the card for reasons that will plague Scott Hall for the rest of his career. The Iron Man match is really good but not perfect as some would lead you to believe. It’s also not dreadfully boring as others would have you think either. It’s a great match with two expert workers who did their best with a quiet crowd to keep things going. A big debut the next night and some other workers who take a big step will advance the year creatively and when a main eventer takes some much needed time off, it gives others a chance to shine. This show isn’t spectacular but it’s better than last year. Final Grade: C+

Justin: Well this WrestleMania was certainly quite the dichotomy from a year ago. This year’s edition had no celebrities and very little time wasted as it cruised from match to match, with only the Back Lot Brawl spread throughout cutting its way into the proceedings. With the main event slated for over 1/3 of the show, it was an event that would be made or broken by its top match. Heading to the Iron Man bout, the show was about as average as it gets. There was nothing bad, but nothing truly stood out beyond some nice stiff action in the Vega/Austin match, some hard hitting brawling with Piper and Goldust and a surprisingly spirited Diesel/Undertaker battle. The rest was all sort of there, just doing its thing in front a fairly subdued Anaheim crowd. They popped time to time, but otherwise sat and watched quietly, bringing back memories of Atlantic City and Trump Plaza. Through this rewatch, I do feel the main event saved the show and buoys it up for the final score. It was a ballsy attempt and in front of a better crowd, I think it would be remembered more fondly. It was expertly worked and not nearly as boring as recent talk would lead you to believe. Both guys were on point and built to what would have been a red hot crescendo in the final moments. However, the overtime bit definitely dulled the crowd, they woke back up for Michaels’ big finale. This isn’t an all time classic Mania, but it also isn’t one of the worst. It came at a crucial time for the company, a time where they were finally figuring out that big changes were needed. That more aggressive, faster paced and hard hitting style was on display throughout this card. The focus was on athleticism and desire and not on playing to low level celebrities and dying for newspaper coverage. The WWF has again spun around into a new direction and for better or worse, has attached itself to the back of Shawn Michaels. Final Grade: C+