Only A Few Matches But A Great Show – WrestleMania XII

WrestleMania XII (1996)Event: WrestleMania XII
Date: March 31, 1996
Venue: Arrowhead Pond (Anaheim, California)
Attendance: 18,853

Still coming to you as the World Wrestling Federation.  Damn if I can’t remember when the switch came.  I could have sworn it was around this time.  We start off with a Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels promo and go right into the action – No America The Beautiful or National Anthem.

Camp Cornette (Vader, Owen Hart and The British Bulldog) (with Jim Cornette) defeated Yokozuna, Jake Roberts and Ahmed Johnson (with Mr. Fuji)
Jake Roberts looks REALLY out of place on his team.  The Sesame Street One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others song ran through my head when I saw it.  Yoko’s team is playing face here and we start off with all 6 guys in the ring with the baby faces getting the upper hand.  I can’t for the life of me remember what happened between Owen & Yoko.  The last WrestleMania they walked out as champs.  * Shrugs *  Apparently, if Yoko’s team wins, he gets 5 minutes alone in the ring with Jim Cornette.  We KNOW that’s not going to happen, so the outcome here is a foregone conclusion.  The Bulldog looks rather small here… must be off the roids at this point in his career.  Pretty standard 6-man stuff here which is to say rather boring.  Is Jake EVER going to tag into this match?  Yep… finally he lumbers in wearing his full body gear to hide his gut.  He promptly starts getting his ass handed to him.  Bulldog hits a power slam on Jake and he actually kicks out – WOW.  Jake kicks out of a Vader splash as well (what the hell?) and manages to make a tag to Yoko.  After a few minutes, Jake is inexplicably tagged back in and hits a DDT on Owen but Cornette comes in to break the count.  Vader bomb on Jake and it’s over.  Thank God.

Stone Cold Steve Austin (with Ted DiBiase) defeated Savio Vega
Stone Cold is the “Million Dollar Champion” here playing the heel in a match before he absolutely blew up (see WrestleMania 13).  Quick start to the match with a ton of punches and slaps.  Austin takes over with some good heel stuff from Austin.  Even here you can tell he’s definitely on his way.  Roddy Piper calls in on his cell phone (see Hollywood Backlot Brawl) and he and Vince talk over Austin/Vega for far too long.  Austin in full on methodical mode here keeping the upper hand.  We’re shown some footage of Piper following Goldust but it’s just recycled OJ footage… groan.  Meanwhile, Vega hits Austin with a huge kick and sends him down.  Quite a few pin attempts by both guys.  Austin goes to the top rope (huh?) and gets caught when Vega gets a boot up.  Vega works up some good momentum until he inadvertently kicks the ref.  Austin nails Vega with the Million Dollar belt and the slaps on the Million Dollar Dream.  DiBiase wakes up the ref who sees Austin with Vega in the hold in the middle of the ring.  Austin gets the win.  Decent match for a mid card (minus the crappy Piper/Goldust storyline).

The Ultimate Warrior defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley (with Sable)
HHH here in full blueblood getup escorted by Sable before she was Sable. The Warrior is returning to the WWF after an extended layoff and naturally has the same shtick as always: fly down to ring, shake the ropes, bandannas, etc.  HHH attacks from behind to start the match.  Whips Warrior to the ropes, boot to midsection and hits the Pedigree.  Warrior no sells it and stands straight up.  Clotheslines, shoulder block, gorilla press slam, splash and pin.  Squash win for the Warrior for his return match.  HHH must not have been fucking Stephanie at this point or he would never have been asked to do a job like this.  Looking back this was a pretty terrible “match” but at the time I remember absolutely loving it.

After the match, we get an interview with new Superstar Marc Mero.  Ahh, so THAT’s why Sable was on HHH’s arm.  For those of you that don’t know, Sable and Marc Mero were married at this point.  Right on cue, HHH busts in to interrupt the interview and Mero and he get into it.  We cut away from that to some more annoying Piper/Goldust footage.

The Undertaker (with Paul Bearer) defeated Diesel
Diesel is announced as being 7 feet tall.  Taker is dressed in the purple gear with black greasy hair.  This match contains some absolutely unbelievable moves from two big guys.  Cross body block by Taker followed up by the old school rope walk.  This is SUCH a better match than Taker/Gonzalez from WrestleMania IX it’s not even funny.  The crowd is totally behind Taker here but Diesel is in control for the majority of the match playing the heel quite nicely.  Taker makes a comeback and they go with some “big men mirror” moves such as the “same time punch/kick” spot.  Taker is up first and goes to the top and hits a big clothesline.  Quite literally out of nowhere, Diesel hits a Jackknife, taunts the Undertaker and then hits another.  More taunts and then after a minute finally goes for a pin attempt only to be grabbed by the neck.  Diesel pummels Taker back to the mat.  UT works his way back up and Diesel hits a nice looking side suplex (RIP Dino Bravo).  Undertaker works his way back and they’re slugging it out.  Taker hits a clothesline followed by a weak ass looking choke slam and a Tombstone for the win.  Good big man match as I’m a huge fan of Taker and have always enjoyed Nash in a heel role.

Hollywood Backlot Brawl
Roddy Piper defeated Goldust (with Marlena)

The coverage of this “match” actually begins after the first match of the night and continues throughout the entire show.  We’re given a nice recap which is good cause I really don’t remember the storyline at this point.  Piper is the acting president of the WWF and apparently Goldust has become enamored with him.  This “match” begins with Piper beating the hell out of Goldust’s Cadillac.  Um… OK.  Piper drags Goldust out of the car and beats the snot out of him for about 5 minutes.  Goldy gets a low blow, gets back in his car, hits Piper with the car and speeds away.  Piper jumps in a white Bronco (come on WWF, you can do better than that) and follows him.  [Insert Austin/Vega match]  After the Austin/Vega match, we’re shown some more OJ footage.  Vince actually says something to the effect of, “This looks familiar.”  No shit Vince.  Its one thing to try to be clever and show us OJ footage but it’s another thing to actually call it out on your own show.  More footage after the HHH/Warrior match and after Diesel/Taker we’re back with live footage.  Why in the hell would Goldust ever come back to the arena?  Naturally, they make their way to the ring.  Goldust takes over beating on Piper’s legs.  Goldust is SO gay at this point it’s completely over the top.  He rips of Piper’s shirt and chokes him with it.  Goldust is all over Piper and the kisses him (WTF) which sends Piper over the edge.  Piper grabs Goldust by the balls (yep… you read that right) and proceeds to knee him in the nuts, spank his ass, strip him down (Goldust is wearing lingerie) and kiss him back.  Jesus H Christ, I can’t believe I just had to write that sentence.  Another ball shot from Piper and Goldust leaves the ring.  So, I guess Piper’s the winner?  One thing’s for sure… we lose.  Some WWF writer is so homophobic it’s not even funny.  I know this was at the beginning of the “Attitude Era” but this was just way over the top and completely ridiculous.

Iron Man Match for the WWF Championship
Shawn Michaels (with Jose Lothario) defeated Bret Hart (c)

One of my Top 10 WrestleMania Matches of all time and it definitely holds up well.  We get a nice intro to the Iron Man Match and Gorilla Monsoon is introduced as the new President of the WWF.  This seems out of place, but is important later in the night.  Jose Lothario comes out to Shawn’s music but he’s by himself.  He takes a couple of steps, stops and points to the rafters.  At this point, we see Shawn on a zipline and he takes the ride we’ve seen in every WWE promo since.  In Vince’s words, “Ahhh, what a ride!!!”  Shawn showboats for a while and then it’s time for the Hitman to make his entrance.  Interesting to see Shawn clapping for Bret as he makes his way down.  We get an old school knee pad check and instructions.  Per Earl Hebner this is an “Arn Man Match” and we’ll be “Rasslin for 60 minutes”.  Bret kisses the belt, gives his shades to his son and we’re off and running.  The crowd is pretty dead early on but I’m not sure I’d be all that psyched at the start of a match that I knew would be 60 minutes.  Speaking of the crowd, they’re definitely behind Shawn in this one.  King and Vince keep referring to the importance of the “first decision”.  Bret goes into a headlock spot for a good couple of minutes.  There are some very good “wrestling” sequences in here.  You totally expect that sort of thing from Hart but not necessarily from Michaels.  Very impressive.  King and Vince keep referring to Shawn’s “Mexican” moves – shows just how far wrestling has come since 96.  At the 45 minute mark, Bret finds himself sitting on the outside in the timekeeper’s lap (don’t ask).  HBK goes for a super kick, Bret moves and the timekeeper takes the kick right to the face – nice spot.  The stretcher is brought out for this poor dude and we’re back to a rest hold in the ring.  This spot was clearly there to show the “power” of Shawn’s super kick.  Back in the ring, some very good storytelling going on here with HBK continuing to work on Bret’s shoulder.  Shawn in control mid match with a ton of great back and forth action throughout.  Absolutely amazing that these guys aren’t just gassed by the end of this thing (or halfway through for that matter).  Huge props to both guys for the effort level. HBK goes over the corner turnbuckle to the outside in an amazing spot that allows Bret to take over and work on the back at about the 20 minute remaining mark.  Bret’s in charge big time and with about 13 minutes remaining King and Vince first mention the fact that one fall might win this thing.  Classic double clothesline spot with 7:30 remaining and Shawn manages to make a comeback at the 4 minute mark. The last 3 minutes of this match are absolutely unbelievable with a TON of near falls with Shawn really pouring it on trying to get the victory.  With 34 seconds remaining on the clock, Shawn goes off the top ropes but Bret catches him and locks him in the Sharpshooter.  Time expires with Shawn in the hold but he never gives up.  The ref gives the belt to Bret and he leaves the ring.  Gorilla (remember, the new President) gets in the ring and announces that the match must continue in sudden death until we have a winner.  Bret’s all kinds of pissed off (rightfully so in my opinion) but he’s back in the ring going to town on Shawn’s back.  HBK whipped into the corner, leap frogs Bret and hits Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere but is too injured to capitalize and get the pin.  He hits Hart with another and gets the pin clean in the middle of the ring for the title.  Historic match that every fan needs to see with an amazing climax to regulation and overtime.

General Thoughts

  • There was a Free For All match between The Bodydonnas (with Sunny) and The Godwinns (with Hillbilly Jim) for the vacant WWF Tag Team Championship.  The Bodydonnas won both the match and the award for better looking valet 😉  Kind of shocked that a title match was put on a Free For All but I’m not going to complain cause couldn’t care less about either team.
  • One word: Marlena.  Damn.
  • The Hollywood Backlot Brawl is an interesting idea, but they way they have it interspersed within the entire show gets really annoying. The fact that WWF went with OJ chase footage is in poor taste even for them.
  • Shawn was a legitimate dick at this point in his career (self admitted).  If you read his lips after he’s won the title and is being presented with the belt, he says something to the effect of, “Get him out of my ring” referring to Hart.  If my memory serves me correctly, Hart recounts this in his book.
  • With only 6 matches on the card including a 60 minute match to end I thought this would be a slow show to watch – to its credit it’s not.
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