Saturday, February 28, 2015

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania XII

For a guy who won five WWF World Heavyweight Titles, Bret "Hitman" Hart really got the shaft when it came to being the standard-bearer, the "face" of the company. His second title reign in 1994 saw Hart exclusively defending his title on the undercard of pay-per-views headlined by The Undertaker and others. And of course, everyone who follows wrestling knows how his final title run ended in 1997. After Hart ended long-running WWF Champ Diesel's 358-day reign at the 1995 Survivor Series, it quickly became apparent that the Hitman was simply keeping the belt warm for the guy whose popularity was quickly reaching a fever pitch among the WWF faithful--"The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels. After his defeat in the main event of WrestleMania XI, Michaels dropped off WWF TV for a short time, re-emerging as a babyface and beginning a year-long road to redemption for his past evil ways and a push that would, around the time of the Royal Rumble, start to focus on Shawn's "childhood dream" of winning the WWF World Championship.

At the same time, Michaels' backstage crew of wrestling buddies, the "Kliq" consisting of Michaels, Razor Ramon, Diesel, the 1-2-3 Kid, and recent arrival Hunter Hearst Helmsley, were beginning to exert influence in booking decisions and the WWF's creative direction, much to the consternation of pretty much anyone on the roster that wasn't those five guys. (At the In Your House: The Great White North PPV, Michaels forfeited the Intercontinental Title to Shane "Dean" Douglas after Shawn was legitimately beat up in a bar fight a few days before and unable to compete. Douglas then immediately lost the title to Razor Ramon in the same night. Standard WWF development, or Kliq-influenced booking?)

Still, no matter how large a part backstage politics played in the rise of Shawn Michaels, the bottom line is that during the 1990s Shawn developed into a premier in-ring performer, able to work matches with nearly anyone the WWF would throw at him (he's really the only reason the title match with Diesel at WrestleMania XI was at least watchable and not straight-up clunky, finish notwithstanding). The fans recognized this and it's to Vince McMahon's credit that he listened to his fanbase, moving away from the Diesel experiment and his knee-jerk instinct to push the largest dudes in the locker room and finally letting two "smaller" in-ring technicians headline his flagship event.

But with Michaels' star on the rise, the Hitman was quickly becoming an afterthought, and after Michaels won the 1996 Royal Rumble to earn the chance to achieve his boyhood dream, there wasn't a single WWF fan that watched the build to the event, the training vignettes, and didn't realize that Michaels' victory was being telegraphed for weeks.

Bret's not being pushed as a heel just yet, but look at the juxtaposition of these two fan favorites--the music gets darker and more dramatic when Bret begins to speak, and after a quick concession to Michaels' growing fan base, he proceeds to spend his time criticizing Shawn's personality and ring antics. "This isn't dancing, this is not a dance marathon--this 60-minute iron man match is going to be the biggest fight he's ever had." Sure, we purist Hitman fans will respond to that, but the majority of the WWF fanbase were sure to see that as sour grapes or jealousy, and it just rallied more fans to Michaels' side.

And how about that choice to give an entire hour of the biggest event of the year to two "smaller" guys? It's almost like Vince McMahon, indignant that the fans wanted to see two natural-looking technicians tear the roof off instead of the lumbering larger-than-life supermen Vince preferred, spat "they want wrestling? Fine, we'll give 'em more wrestling than they can stand! And they can't leave their closet until they've smoked every last cigarette in the carton!"

Well, hey, thanks for that, Vince. After last year's bullshit, a solid hour of one of the best main events in WrestleMania history is gonna be a long, deep breath of fresh air.

Oooh, we start with a black and white montage underneath moody narration: "It is the dream of the challenger to become champion. It is the dream of the champion to achieve excellence. It is the dream of this company to make stupid huge piles of cash. For one hour tonight, two men will attempt to hold the audience's attention and singlehandedly print money for the man who employs them." Or something like that. There actually was a bunch of stuff about exhaustion and crushing dreams and whatnot. Compelling stuff, especially when followed with 1996-era computer animation of cartoon helicopters flying around the WrestleMania XII logo. I think the Lawnmower Man was somewhere in the background of that title graphic.

We're in Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, CA, with a capacity crowd of 18,853, here to witness the WWF's annual Big Shit Spectacle! Even with the main event taking up an hour of the show, the undercard is littered with legitimately hot-shit names making their first appearance at the Big Dance. Goldust! Steve Austin! Hunter Hearst Helmsley, the future Triple H! Vader! They're all here! And so are Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler, on commentary once again, as Vince welcomes us to "Anaheim Pond!" He's running down some of the bigger matches on the undercard, as The Undertaker will be taking on Diesel and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (back competing for the first time since WrestleMania VIII!) will be taking on Goldust in a "Hollywood Backlot Brawl," which, boy, i hope you're heady for that hot mess, gang. But right now Vader's music is already starting up, so we're not wasting any time (because we have a lot to cram into the non-Hart/Michaels segments of the show, so no fucking around tonight!). Let's get to the action!

Match 1: Camp Cornette (Vader, Owen Hart, and the British Bulldog) vs. Ahmed Johnson, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and Yokozuna (w/Mr. Fuji)

Before we get into this match, it should be noted that it's not the actual first match of WrestleMania XII, as the free lead-in show before the proper broadcast featured a tournament final for the vacant WWF Tag Team championship, given up by the Smokin' Gunns after a neck injury. The Bodydonnas, a tag team of fitness trainers or some shit, consisting of Chris "Skip" Candido and Tom "Zip" Prichard, who were considerably less over than their manager Tammy "Sunny" Sytch (who these days is charging money for nude Skype sessions, if that's a thing you're into), won the tag belts by defeating the Godwinns, a team of creepy Deliverance-style hicks named Henry O. Godwinn and Phineas I. Godwinn. HOG and PIG, get it? Get it? Huh? Huh? If that's too sophisticated for you, fear not--we're about a year away from a Road Warrior named "Puke."

But hey, let's focus on this six-man tag.

Remember how i kept saying last time that Bam Bam Bigelow was maybe the most underrated big man of all time? Well Vader was properly rated as a badass. This dude could do it all--fly from the top rope, use power moves, and have entertaining matches with half of Japan and most of the United States. Not bad for a dude who was billed at 450 pounds.

So i'm assuming there was some falling out between Jim Cornette and Yokozuna, since those two are on opposite sides in this match, and McMahon has just pointed out that if Yokozuna's team wins, Yoko gets five minutes in the ring alone with Cornette, during which i assume they'll break out an Uno deck and make each other draw four. In any event, it's super weird hearing fans cheer when Yokozuna's music hits, but it doesn't play long as it quickly morphs into Jake "The Snake" Roberts' music, and then Ahmed Johnson's. Man, Ahmed Johnson--there was a guy i thought had some real potential back in the day. FUN FACT--did you know Ahmed Johnson played Suge Knight in Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story? I didn't know that until just now while browsing his Wikipedia entry trying to figure out just what kept this huge, muscled Vince McMahon wet dream from ever getting a World Title push. (The internet tells me it was his age making him injury-prone, and maaaaybe his refusal to work some more racially insensitive gimmicks. Who knows.) Meanwhile, Jake Roberts is back and working a Jesus freak gimmick, spouting Bible verse to and fro while still carrying the Devil's favorite reptile in a sack. Wrestlers love irony. He's also keeping his shirt/vest thingy on in the ring, because time (and drugs and booze) hasn't been kind to Jake's gut.

The bell rings as Yokozuna starts by immediately going after Vader, and it's the big men kicking things off. But just like that all six men are trading blows and the faces clear the heels out of the ring, including Yoko flipping Vader over the top rope with a clothesline. Johnson then pops the crowd with a suicide dive over the top rope and onto Vader, but it results in him getting ganged up by the three bad guys and Jake has to charge in to break it up. Back in the ring, Yoko no-sells some of Vader's punches because he's sooooo intent on getting those five minutes with Cornette, and when Owen sneakily tags in and tries to stun Yoko from behind with a dropkick, Yoko no-sells that as well, dropping Owen with a vicious chop and whipping him into the turnbuckle. Yoko comes charging in for an avalanche, but Davey Boy Smith grabs Owen and pulls him out of harm's way, causing Yoko to charge hard into the turnbuckles and slump to the ground, where the in-laws double team the sumo giant and take the advantage. Vader takes this opportunity to tag in and, after goading Ahmed into the ring to distract the ref, backs Yoko into a corner with Owen's help, peppering him with boxing punches to the sides of Yoko's head. Never has a series of routine punches looked so badass, i swear. But as Vader pulls Yoko to mid-ring, the Samoan rallies by delivering what will eventually be called a Rock Bottom to Vader, shaking the entire ring and enabling him to tag Johnson. Man, i know i'm spending this blog chatting up the smaller dudes in the main event, but these two fatasses are pulling off some impressive shit.

Not very nice to shake the ground in California, is all i'm saying

Johnson starts cleaning house, slugging all three heels until it's just the Bulldog in the ring, eating a sick powerslam from the guy who later in the year becomes the first Black wrestler to win the Intercontinental title. The heels do their best to gang up on Johnson and wear him down, but he threatens to deliver his Pearl River Plunge finisher to the Bulldog until Cornette distracts the ref enough to allow Owen to Pearl Harbor Johnson with a top rope dropkick. Owen keeps working over Johnson, hitting a series of elbows and an enzuigiri before dragging him back into the heels' corner and tagging in Vader. Vader gets in a splash and a couple other shots before tagging in Owen, who bounces off the ropes and connecting with clotheslines that do nothing, because it's time for Ahmed to rally. He sort of hits a clothesline, and Owen sells it like a direct hit, but it looked kinda botched, honestly. "He clipped the top of Owen's head, but it was enough." Vince and Lawler cover for Ahmed, which is nice and sporting of them. Johnson makes a hot tag to Jake and The Snake is on fire, dishing out his trademark shortarm fists to Owen in the ring, and the Bulldog on the apron. He hits the shortarm clothesline and signals for the DDT, but Owen hangs onto the ropes to counter. Jake whips Owen to the opposite corner but eats a knee to the face when he charges after him, and suddenly it's a triple-team on the Snake! 

Vader hits an avalanche in the corner and follows it with a sick clothesline, then tags Owen, who connects with an elbow and gets a quick two-count before Jake kicks out. Now every babyface has gotten a chance to get beat down in the ring! Share and share alike, y'all! Powerslam from Davey Boy--kick out at two! Bulldog can't believe it, so he tags Vader, who hits a splash and--kick out at two! THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS JAKE TO KICK OUT! That's the only logical storyline explanation! After Davey Boy misses a leg drop, Jake staggers to his corner and tags Yokozuna, who lays into Vader immediately! Rapid-fire punches drop Vader into a slouch in the corner, and Yokozuna follows up with an avalanche that forces Owen and the Bulldog into the ring to help. Somehow Davey Boy stays in after Vader gets knocked outside the ring, so he gets absolutely flattened by a Yokozuna Samoan drop. Yoko tags Jake back in and the crowd immediately starts chanting "DDT! DDT!" He gets the front facelock on Owen but the Bulldog interferes, which brings Ahmed Johnson back in to chase Davey out of the ring. Who the fuck is legal now? Isn't it still...uh, Vader? No matter--Jake hits the DDT (still pretty after all these years) and Owen is flat on the mat, but the ref is trying to break up Johnson and the Bulldog outside the ring! Jake covers Owen for the pin, but with the ref's back turned, Jim Cornette runs in to break it up. Jake gets to his feet and teases a DDT on Cornette before Vader gets back in the ring and breaks it up. Oh, and there's the Vader bomb splash on Jake. One, two, and three. A not-altogether-shabby opening match ends with the WWF's Cinderella story eating a 450-pound beast from the second turnbuckle, and Jim Cornette gets to live to manage another day, as Yokozuna doesn't get his five minutes. Drag.

Winners: Camp Cornette via pinfall in 13:08

We now come to a video package on the feud between current interim "WWF President" "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Goldust, which i believe is being narrated by a very young Michael Cole? Have we seriously been dealing with Michael Cole for almost twenty years? Oy. (Wiki check: Apparently Cole was hired in 1997, not 1996, so fine, maybe it's Todd Pettengill--because Wiki is never wrong.) So, ok, it's 1996. Here's the storyline for this feud: Goldust has a crush on Piper, because authoritative power turns him on (he showed no such attraction for "actual" WWF "President" Gorilla Monsoon before he was sidelined as a result of an attack by Vader. What, Piper's cuter than Monsoon? ...Don't answer that, everyone). Piper, according to Colengill's narration, "tried to turn the other cheek," which is a weird thing to say in response to unwelcome romantic advances, but anyway, i think the bottom line here is that Goldust finally slapped Piper out of, i dunno, frustration? So Piper slapped him back, said they were gonna have to fight, and that "I'm gonna make a man outta ya!" Because gay or androgynous men aren't real men, you see.

A sign of the times: i attended a show in Green Bay in 1996 where Goldust was on the receiving end of some very loud and very embarrassing "FAGGOT" chants from the crowd (a scene in which i was very uncomfortable to find myself in, may i add). In 2013, Darren Young became the first WWE wrestler to come out as gay while signed to the roster, and instead of turning it into a storyline, WWE released a statement in support of him and then declined to turn it into a gimmick. Progress happens slowly.

Which is not to say that Goldust wasn't a brilliant gimmick for the time. On the contrary, recognizing that the mainstream WWF audience still had homophobic buttons to push was a great way to get heat for this truly bizarre new heel character, and while it's unlikely the top brass had any sort of meta self-aware purpose behind it, using a new, weird-ass take on the classic Gay Heel trope during a time when popular culture's portrayals of homosexuals were becoming less caricaturist (Will & Grace was still two years away, but the groundwork was being laid) was an interesting way to turn a mirror back onto the crowd, displaying their very unfortunate behavior in a venue that the whole world could use to shame them. Of course, this is assuming that the wrestling crowds of 1996 had a lick of self-awareness, and i think it's safe to say that the majority (as is true with any majority) do not. But it's not inaccurate to point out that this was the last time that the WWF used being ambiguously gay as justification for boos (they never did outright say that he was gay, and in fact, they aired an in-ring interview some time later where Jerry Lawler asked if he was a "fag," to which Goldust replied with, "no." They then aired several vignettes discussing his marriage to his manager, Marlena, aka Terri Runnels. Which i think was supposed to make him a babyface, knowing for sure he was "all man." Sigh). "But what about Billy and Chuck, DJ?" Well, it was much grayer in 2003, as they were initially heels because they cheated, not because they acted gay. By the time of their infamous on-air "wedding" that was halted as a "publicity stunt that went too far," they were full-fledged babyfaces that hadn't yet revealed that they were faking it. Basically, what i'm saying is that even in the bawdy carny universe of pro wrestling, homosexual portrayals have become more...well, maybe "nuanced" isn't the right word. Look, it's better today than it was when Roddy Piper wanted to kick Goldy's ass for making a pass, ok?

So we're going to have a "Hollywood Back Lot Brawl," a mostly pre-taped off-site fight between the two men, and after watching a few YouTube promos showing Lawler gay-bashing Goldust, it's weird seeing him back in the traditional heel support role behind the commentary desk.

"Match" 2: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper vs. Goldust (Hollywood Back Lot Brawl)

We cut to the pre-taped footage, and there's Piper in a back alley as Goldust comes screeching around a corner in a big ol' gold-painted Cadillac. Piper uses a fire hose on the car as it approaches (to slow it down? This is already confusing), then gleefully takes a baseball bat and bashes in the driver's side window. Goldust crawls out of the passenger side, but Piper meets him with the bat, choking him with it and "connecting" with at least one blow that even rapidly changing camera angles couldn't cover-up as an obvious intentional near-miss. A whole mess of people are surrounding the scene while the grown men pretend to fight (something that is for some reason way more embarrassing when it's not happening in a wrestling ring). Piper rams Goldust into a catering table. Why is there food spread out where there's a fight planned? After slamming 'Dust into a couple dumpsters (McMahon's commentary here: "Unbelievable. Vintage Piper"), Roddy picks up the fire hose, and, well, gives Goldust what he's always wanted?


"We haven't seen anything like this ever," Vince says, conveniently ignoring decades of Looney Tunes. Although to be fair, not even a cross-dressing Bugs Bunny was put in this position:


Remember what i said about wrestling fans not being very self-aware? That they could seriously believe that Piper was homophobic when he had no qualms with placing himself in such compromising positions is a unique kind of delusion. 

Anyway, Goldust punches Roddy in the balls immediately after that photo is shot, then climbs into his car and promptly runs Piper down with it. Because what, you didn't see that coming? Piper goes careening off the Caddy's hood and Goldust screeches out of sight as Piper looks for a vehicle in which to give chase. OH, THANK GOD THERE'S A WHITE FORD BRONCO NEARBY.

(From Wikipedia: "The O. J. Simpson murder case [officially the People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson] was a criminal trial held at the Los Angeles County Superior Court in California. The trial spanned from the jury's swearing-in on November 2, 1994, to opening statements on January 24, 1995, to a verdict on October 3, 1995." TIMELY HUMOR, YOU GUYS.)

We fade back to the arena (thank god) as Piper tears off after Goldust, so i guess the match is still happening, technically speaking. Cool, i can't wait for more of that shitshow. Dramatic symphonic music hits and out comes the "reigning" "Million Dollar Champion," "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. So we completely skipped the "Ringmaster" gimmick between 'Manias? All right, i'll take that. It's still SUPER weird to see the future "Texas Rattlesnake" with Ted DiBiase at his side and that old blinged-out prop belt on his shoulder.

After a quick interview with Michael "P.S" Hayes Dok Hendrix, Puerto Rican superstar Savio Vega approaches ringside to get even with Steve Austin for his refusal to cooperate with Vega during a match where they were randomly thrown together as tag team partners in the aforementioned tag title tournament. So, they're saying that they had so few tag teams at this point that they were just randomly matching fools together in order to fill out a tournament bracket? No wonder the Bodydonnas are "champs." Oof. 

Match 3: Savio Vega vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (w/"The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase)

These two waste no time establishing how little they like each other, trading blows and rolling outside the ring and back in while wowing the crowd with audible knife-edge chops and a sidewalk slam from Vega, which Austin answers by slamming Vega's shoulder into a ringpost. "Stone Cold Steve Austin, the only competitor worthy of being called the 'Million-Dollar Champion.' Ted DiBiase searched for years," explains Vince, before Lawler clarifies that this is a "non-title" match, so the unsanctioned fake belt isn't up for grabs. Several years later, the WWF will introduce several meaningless sanctioned secondary belts (European, Hardcore) and do their best to render their other belts equally irrelevant (hell, they're on their way here--who the heck is the Intercontinental Champion right now? It's not even being defended on the damn show!), eliminating the need for "fake champion" angles. (In February 2014, WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar has held the title since last August's SummerSlam and has defended it only twice. Compared to that, maybe the Million-Dollar belt is more legit than we assumed.)

(So, i just checked--The Intercontinental Champ at the time of this event was Goldust. This has not yet been acknowledged during the broadcast. These days, the IC champ exists to job to the midcard on every Raw and Smackdown. Welcome to the slow decline of the Workrate Belt, everyone.)

Anyway, Savio Vega and Steve Austin continue to work each other over in the ring while Vince gets a "phone call" from Roddy Piper on a "cellular phone." It's 1996, so being WWF Interim President must pay really well if Piper can afford one of those newfangled "cellular phones." "If that fruitcake thinks i'm gonna let this end that way, he's a hundred kinds of wrong." It goes on like that. After the call drops, Vince and Lawler finally get back to the action in the ring while i'm left marveling that there was ever a time when Steve Austin would be working in the ring while the commentators ignored him. Vince refers to Austin as a "master techtician" while he locks an armbar on Vega, and he either meant "tactician," "technician," or meant to awesomely combine the two. I'm not sure. As Austin connects with a second-rope elbow, Piper calls back and spits out more lines about making "a man out of this fruitcake" until the primitive 90s cellular technology mercifully drops the call again. At least the script writers tried to preserve the technological realities of the time. 

Savio Vega ducks an Austin clothesline and connects with a cross-bodyblock for a two-count, and this crowd is DEAD. Again, seeing Steve Austin perform in from of an apathetic crowd is mind-boggling, but this is the last time it'll happen, as his King of the Ring '96 coming out party is a mere two months away and "Austin 3:16" is creeping on the horizon. Austin hits a dick to the face Lou Thesz Press and hammers away on Vega, who counters into a Sunset pin for two. Both men trade more near-falls until Vega sells a back injury during a backslide attempt, and as Austin capitalizes by slamming Vega's head into the mat, Vince interrupts with the news that we now have helicopter camera footage of the Piper-Goldust car chase. Well, that's easily more exciting than in-ring action, so by all means, let's check that out, Vince, you moron: 

Pictured: cheap exploitation

It's easy to see how the WWE has stayed culturally relevant over the years, what with their consistent dedication to subversive social commentary like this.

Vega hits a spinning heel kick to Austin's head and Vince calls it a "devastating maneuver," because he doesn't know what to call it otherwise. Austin tries to rebound but gets rolled up into a small package for a surprise two-count, which he responds to with a stomp to Vega's head. He climbs the top rope and launches himself for an elbowsmash, but he waited too long and Vega counters by getting a foot up into Austin's face. Stone Cold crumples to the mat and the commentators and fans are finally paying attention. Both men get to their feet at the same time, but Savio gets the upper hand in the subsequent punch exchange. A whip to the ropes and Austin eats a nasty chop, a body drop and clothesline, but when Vega tries to follow up with another spinning heel kick, Austin ducks and Vega smacks referee Tim White square in the melon. Great ref bump by White and DiBiase slips the Million Dollar belt into the ring for canny later use. It doesn't take much time for Stone Cold to capitalize, as he brains Vega with it and the impact looks so good that i really hope Vega blades to sell the contact with all those "diamonds." Vega gets rolled to the apron and Austin connects again off the top rope and across the back of Savio's head. The impact sounds kind of sick, actually, and after Austin quickly and not-to-subtly calls the next spot in Vega's ear, he rolls back into the ring for the big finish. He slaps on a reverse chinlock as DiBiase dumps a cup of soda over Tim White's head to wake him up, and the ref crawls over to the competitors, lifting and dropping Vega's arm three times before signaling the submission win for Austin. Stone Cold wins with a reverse chinlock in a match that only got ten minutes so McMahon and Lawler would have time to set up a cheap visual gag. Suffice to say that this will be the last time Stone Cold suffers such an indignity at WrestleMania.

Winner: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin via submission in 10:05

"Look at the smile on DiBiase's face, McMahon! It's like he always says: the rich get richer, and the poor get...children." What?

Let's go backstage to "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig, who is getting ready to interview the former WWF Champ "Big Daddy Cool" Diesel, who is indeed still hanging around the WWF and waiting for his sweet big-money offer from WCW. Diesel has been apparently dealing with some "mind games" from the Undertaker, who in recent weeks has erupted from under the ring to drag Diesel below during a cage match with Bret Hart, and planted a casket at ringside with like a wax figure of Diesel or some shit inside it to rattle him. But Diesel says that since he's "Big Daddy Cool," he doesn't sweat the small stuff OR the big stuff. "And when i get done with the Undertaker, Shawn, you're next." Always smart to look past the Dead Man to what's next when you have a match with him at a WrestleMania, Diesel. Good strategy. How's that land war in Asia working out for you?

After another brief clip of Piper's Ford Bronco, the bell rings and the crowd pops for the dulcet harpsichord strains of Hunter Hearst Helmsley's theme music. Yep, that's Hunter Hearst Helmsley, not Triple H, as he's still working his initial "Northeastern blue blood snob" angle, and escorting him to the ring is the debuting Sable, who will soon be known worldwide as the WWF Diva who refuses to keep her clothes on (no, seriously--that's pretty much all she was known for. She could sorta wrestle a bit, but mostly, the "I'm going to seriously aggravate the USA Network's censors and then pose for Playboy" thing). Hunter eventually makes it to the ring and does that prissy curtsey/bow combo that was his thing before he decided to become a degenerate with Shawn Michaels. That's a while down the road, though--he still needs to spend some time getting shoved down the ladder after the Kliq's Madison Square Garden love-fest in a month and a half. 

Match 4: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Sable) vs. The Ultimate Warrior

That's right--it's time for the Ultimate Warrior's brief yet inexplicable return to the WWF. Goody. The crowd erupts as his music hits and the former Jim "Queering Doesn't Make the World Work" Hellwig runs full-blast to the ring for his not-awaited WrestleMania return. (Note: to the best of my recollection, the Ultimate Warrior never worked a program with Goldust.) After Warrior gets his full entrance out of the way, a clearly pre-roid Helmsley (dude looks waaay smaller than he is today. I dunno, maybe it was all that GNC he shilled way back when. And maybe i could bench press a truck after a shot of Powers) jumps him as the bell rings, taking it to Warrior and, after a few punches and a kick to the gut, immediately hits his Pedigree finisher! ...Which Warrior immediately no-sells by standing straight up and starting to shake. OH MY GOD, HUNTER IS IN DISBELIEF! Or not, because big shock that they'd re-establish Warrior with a squash match so he doesn't run out of gas midway through a grueling ten-minute marathon. He drops Helmsley with one punch, follows it up with three clotheslines, a shoulder tackle, and the classic gorilla press slam/splash for the pin. But hey, one of these guys ended up marrying the bosses' daughter while one became a raving right-wing lunatic, so who really won here?

Winner: The Ultimate Warrior via pinfall in 1:39 

Oh, hey, Todd Pettengill's backstage to introduce us to the newest arrival here in the World Wrestling Federation--Sable's husband, "Wildman" Marc Mero, most recently known as Johnny B. Badd in WCW!

As Mero rambles and rants about the fire in his eyes and his burning desire to compete in the WWF after five years, or whatever the hell he's blathering about, Hunter retreats backstage and knocks into Mero during the interview. "Hey! I'm doing an interview here!" Hunter gets in his face and yells at Sable (whom of course we don't realize is Mero's wife yet) to back off, and then the guys start tussling on the ground, igniting a feud that is sure to burn up the WWF ring in the coming months.

Meanwhile, we get another arial shot of a white Ford Bronco driving down a street as Vince says that Piper is approaching the arena, while Goldust is also on his way to see Marlena. Well, we have just under two hours left in the show and only one more official match before the one-hour Iron Man, so by default i believe that means we'll be getting more Piper/Goldust bullshit. Boy, Hart and Michaels have a tall order ahead of them: save WrestleMania XII before it becomes as bad as the one the year before. Cripes.

Speaking of which, here comes goddamn fucking Diesel, hoping to cut short the Undertaker's WrestleMania winning streak before it becomes a thing. Well, this is sure to rival the main event for...i dunno, lazy clotheslines?

"You can cut the anticipation with a knife!" McMahon exclaims as the Undertaker's bell tolls and the room goes dark for the blacklit Dead Man. These two are feuding because...reasons. Diesel needed something to do before cashing in down in Atlanta, i guess. So, OK, here we go. I guess.

Match 5: Diesel vs. The Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer)

Diesel charges 'Taker when the lights go up and away we go. Diesel's actually got about two inches in height on the Undertaker, which is really saying something. Maybe i shouldn't critique his uselessness in the ring so much; he might start looking for where i live and come find me (although, considering there have been, at press time, a whopping 61 hits on my WrestleMania XI recap, i won't hold my breath). As both men trade whips into the corners and clotheslines, Lawler explains that we won't be seeing much "catch-as-catch-can wrestling from these two." And i was just gearing up for Gotch-Hackenschmidt '96. 'Taker eats a clothesline from Diesel that sends him over the top for his routine "360 onto the ring floor but stay standing" spot, and he drags Diesel out to the floor. "Oooh yeah! Uppercuts to the rib area!" McMahon is WAY too hyped for Diesel's rib area. At this point, the WWE Network video totally farts out for a few seconds as we hear someone hit the ring steps. "Did you see the impact as Diesel hit those steps?" exclaims McMahon. Um, i most certainly did not. They get back in the ring and exchange some surprisingly high-speed maneuvers, 'Taker popping the crowd with an early tombstone piledriver tease that Diesel escapes. However, 'Taker stuns Diesel with a cross-bodyblock for a two-count that surprises the crowd and Lawler equally. "I may have been wrong! I've never seen these guys use moves like this!" 'Taker grabs Diesel's arm and does the walk-the-top-rope thing, then tries a second cross-bodyblock and misses, allowing Diesel to momentarily hint at seizing the advantage, until 'Taker grabs him by the head and drapes his neck over the top rope from below. Ow.

'Taker continues the attack outside, slamming Diesel's back into the ring post and missing a follow-up with a steel chair. Diesel finally grabs an opening, though, reversing a whip and sending 'Taker careening into the ring barricades. Has the ref counted to ten yet? Hell no, this is WrestleMania. Countouts don't end matches unless it's politically expedient. Diesel answers Undertaker's ringpost to the back in kind, smashing 'Taker into the steel twice, rolling into the ring and out to break the count in between, then threatening Paul Bearer before stepping back in the ring to a chorus of boos. (So Diesel turned heel after dropping the title to Bret. Got it.) He absolutely levels Undertaker with a big boot and McMahon claims that 'Taker is being dominated like he's never been dominated before. Well, that's nice, but this is still tedious. Oy, what a slog. Diesel continues his slow, methodical punishment of the Dead Man with a vicious sidewalk slam and by dropping 'Taker headfirst into a turnbuckle, and the boos the cascade down from the crowd wash over Big Daddy Cool like his last Pantene Pro-V hot oil treatment. Diesel runs his hands through his hair (really) as he basks in the heat, then goes back to work with high knees to the chest. After a hard throw into the corner, though, 'Taker starts to fight back, leading to both men hitting simultaneous punches to the head and, hilariously, a mirror spot where both men drop each other with big boots to the face at the same time! Twin Magic! Jerry Lawler has never seen that before in his life!

As the ref progresses with his 10-count, we hear Paul Bearer at ringside pleading with the Undertaker to get up: "The power of the urn! The power of the urn!" And on cue at the eight count, Undertaker sits straight up, compelled by that selfsame mystical energy. Oh, that shit is too funny right there. However, Diesel once again whips 'Taker hard into the corner and then--oh, awesome, it's a bear hug! Thank god, this match needed something to slow the pace a bit. That Irish whip probably winded both these guys. Diesel shifts to a standing side headlock, which Undertaker reverses into a back suplex to gain some separation. "Diesel's just resting!" explains Lawler, in his best Dead Parrot voice. Meanwhile, 'Taker drops an elbow and climbs the ropes for a high-risk flying clothesline that connects for a fast two-count. Suddenly, out of nowhere, as both men bounce off the ropes, Diesel hits the Jackknife Power Bomb from outta nowhere! But instead of going for the immediate cover, Big Daddy Cool plays to the crowd, looking out into the audience while gesturing toward the prone 'Taker. "Eh? Eh? Pretty cool, huh?" He walks over to 'Taker, lightly kicking his body in a taunting faux-effort to get him moving, and when 'Taker finally sits back up and pops the crowd, Diesel responds by running his fingers through his luscious black locks in a nonplussed fashion. What drama! 'Taker's not ready for a rally, though, as Diesel connects with a second Jackknife! Well, now he's just stalling for time, playing to the crowd because he knows they don't have much to fill the show with before the last hour. He's just being a team player, you guys. Lawler cackles, "Paul Bearer better hope he has Folgers crystals in that urn to revive the Undertaker! Hahaha!" No, see, Jerry, you keep the ashes in the coffee can, not the coffee in the ash can. Didn't the Dude and Walker teach you anything when Donny died?

But of course, the Undertaker finally starts his superman comeback, surprising Diesel by grabbing his throat when "Big Sexy" finally bends over for a pin. 'Taker gets to his feet and Diesel slaps the hand away and counters into a back suplex. Jesus, can this end already? Oh, good, 'Taker no-sold the suplex and is back on his feet, slugging it out with Diesel and finally hitting a HIGH leaping clothesline that he capitalizes on with the softest, most ginger placement on the mat of a chokeslam victim that i have maybe ever seen. He gets Diesel in the air and then just...sort of...slowly places Diesel on the mat. It looks brutal. (It does not look brutal.) 'Taker's up first, and he scoops up Diesel into the Tombstone piledriver, and mercifully, it is over. "Perhaps the hardest-fought match in the Undertaker's career," proclaims Vince. Well, to be fair, he hasn't gotten into the ring with Shawn Michaels yet, so that's probably true. Yay, 'Taker wins again. Yay.

Winner: Undertaker via pinfall in 16:46; Streak at 5-0

Todd Pettingzoo is back with an update on the low-speed Piper vs. Goldust car chase, and guessing from the amount of time left in the show, i have a feeling they're finally showing the last of the pre-taped footage before the two combatants get ready to work for the first time today arriving at the arena. "We have our cameras out there! They're here!" exclaims Vince. The gold Caddy screeches to a halt in the rear entryway and Piper's white Bronco pulls up nice and cozy so that Goldust can't get the driver side open. But since we awkwardly cut to a shot of Goldust staggering down the hall with Marlena, i guess he got out on the passenger side. That boat he was driving probably had bench seats in the front, so sliding over wasn't likely much work. No stick to negotiate, much to Goldust's dismay. HA, GET IT? BECAUSE MAYBE HE'S GAY OR WHATEVER?

Piper chases Goldust into the arena as the fans start chanting for something (i can't make it out...sound like "you suck" honestly, which is a bit of refreshing candor from the audience) and 'Dust begs on his knees for mercy. Piper starts whaling on Dustin at ringside and tosses him into the squared circle for maximum audience and camera visibility, which is what any good shoot fighter would do. Goldust starts to get the upper hand, backing Piper into the corner as Lawler asks, "should we get a referee in there?" "There's no such thing!" is McMahon's response. There's no such thing as referees? general? Is this some sort of Sixth Sense swerve he's pulling as we hit the end of the show? "There's actually been neither law nor order in the WWF since 1963! It's all been a dream!"

Goldust drops a leg across Piper's crotch and the crowd "oooohs" as the bizarre one puts Roddy into a piledriver position (i.e. with Piper's head all up in his party bits) and taunts the crowd and Piper by rubbing his ass. The fans canNOT stand this level of overt homoeroticism! They prefer a thin veneer of deniability when watching grown men rub against each other! Anyway, this lights a fire under Hot Rod and he fights back until Goldust tears Piper's shirt off (YEAH), wrapping the tatters around Roddy's neck and dragging him about the ring. "Piper claimed he had one good fight left, or at least one," McMahon says. Well, maybe it'll come when he fights Hogan in a cage in WCW in a couple years. (SPOILER ALERT: No, it doesn't.) Goldust straddles a prone piper, rubs himself, and goes in for a kiss--to the LOUD consternation of the fans--and when Goldust climbs the top rope, Piper heads over to shake him off, leading eventually to the liplock that revolts the fans and finally sparks Piper's comeback. How DARE he gay up the joint! This is a wrestling ring! Piper starts going off on Dustin, grabbing his junk and leading him around the ring by it. But not in a gay way, because only Goldust does that. The fans are going bonkers for this, by the way. He drops Goldust to the mat then drops a knee into his lame' As the audience screams their approval of The Death of Goldust's Little Dust. After a quick spanking, the boys finally get down to it: Piper strips off Goldust's outfit, revealing lacy underthings, and lays a big ol' smooch on Mr. Glitter, in a completely chaste Bugs Bunny slapstick sort of way that is not intended to be homoerotic at all. Nope. Not a bit gay.


Shout out to the dude to the immediate left of Goldust who's standing and pointing at the ring as if to say, "MAW! Them's two dudes KISSIN' in thar!" No worries, dude--it's the good guy smooching the bad guy, so no one's getting boners.

As the disrobed Goldust flees with Marlena in tow, Piper's music starts, so i guess...he wins? Is there a winner? Was there ever going to be a winner declared? What just happened? 

Winner: Piper via...Christ, i can't find it. To hell with it. 

McMahon moves on to the Iron Man match, asking Lawler who's going to win. Lawler's response? "What could follow that, McMahon?" Indeed--what could the two most talented athletes in the WWF possibly do that could top Merrie Melodies Burlesque?

So, after a whole lotta hot nonsense, it's finally time to get right down to it. After this joke of an undercard, i can't possibly imagine why the WWF felt that they needed two guys to take up an entire hour of the show. Couldn't they have thrown in a Divas pudding match or like a chamber of horrors match or something? This show is suffering from a severe lack of Doink. Where's Doink?

Credit where it's due: when the WWF shifts from cornball slapstick to serious wrestling, they pull out the stops and give it a nice "big fight" feel. From the video package building the match, to the last-minute interviews with both men showing right now, this is being presented like the big deal that it is. After over a decade of larger-than-life musclebound slowpokes stinking up the main events of this show, we're finally going to get two technically advanced ring generals tear the roof off the sucker for 60 minutes, upping the level of athleticism and raising the stakes for every WrestleMania to come. It's about damn time.

Match 6: Bret "Hitman" Hart(c) vs. Shawn Michaels (w/Jose Lothario) for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship

Returning WWF President Gorilla Monsoon is in the ring to greet the combatants for our main event, adding to the feeling that this match is supposed to be a Big Effing Deal. Shawn's music hits and as Howard Finkel announces Michaels' name, his trainer Jose Lothario makes his way to ringside, Michaels nowhere to be seen, until Jose points toward the rafters and the music starts again. McMahon is in full gravel-voice mode. "WHAT'S HE POINTING AT--THAT'S A HUNDRED FEET IN THE AIR! IS THAT WHO WE THINK IT IS? THERE'S ONLY ONE HEARTBREAK KID, SHAWN MICHAELS!" And with that, Michaels makes his famous decent from the rafters on a cable down to the arena floor amongst his adoring fans, with just a little more success than Owen Hart a few years later (TOO SOON). 


Fireworks erupt as the 3-time WWF World Heavyweight Champion, Bret "Hitman" Hart, makes his way to the ring (walking, because he's an adult with dignity). Honestly, with the entrance Shawn made compared to Bret's more casual "I will walk to the ring wearing my belt like a god damned champion" stroll, was there anyone who thought Bret might actually win this? The WWF was laying the Michaels love on pretty damn thick at this point, all "it's his childhood dream" and shit. Anyway, let's at least enjoy all the pink lighting in the ring for now as Gorilla Monsoon and referee Earl Hebner meet the opponents in center ring. 

"Gentlemen, this match is for the World 'Rassling Federation Championship. This is an Iron Man match. You'll be 'rassling for sixty minutes. The man who wins the most decisions will be declared the winner and the World 'Rassling Federation Champion. A decision can be earned by pinfall, a submission, a countout, or a disqualification. You must--MUST--break on the count of four. I will disqualify you on the count of five. If you leave the ring or if you're thrown out, you have a ten count to return, or you'll be counted out. Do you gentlemen both understand the rules?"

I mostly transcribed that so i could giggle at Earl Hebner using the world "'rassling."

The bell rings, and here we go--sixty minutes to a result. Unsurprisingly, both men start slowly with a collar-end-elbow tie-up in the corner. They move to some chain wrestling until Michaels forces a break at the ropes, and the men continue to feel each other out. They're not going full-force in the early minutes, knowing they have to work for a full hour and want to avoid getting blown up early. McMahon makes a story of Michaels matching Bret hold-for-hold and perhaps having a speed advantage, but eventually Bret takes control with a side headlock. The crowd's quiet in the opening ten minutes as Bret continues to work the side headlock, picking up some early two-counts but no threes as of yet. A box shows up in the lower right corner showing time remaining and a running total of decisions for each man, which is pretty convenient for us. I don't see any scoreboard in the arena, though, so i hope that the audience is able to follow what is certain to be a rapid-fire volley of madcap pins, submissions, and certain DQs. I mean, this is sure to go to, like, a 15-14 result with a full hour to work, right? Right?

We get the first build to a substantial sequence at around the 10 minute mark as the boys start bouncing off the ropes, Michaels eventually catching Hart with a legscissors and tossing him out of the ring. But make no mistake--as slow as the match has been moving, it hasn't been boring. What's always so fascinating about matches that are designed to go 45 minutes or longer is how as their pacing slows down, it often makes the match fly by faster. These two guys could have started out at a barnburner pace, all flurry and fury, but the crowd would have been winded in the first five minutes. There's no way anyone could keep that up over an hour, and even if they did, it would feel like three. So the pacing here is flawless in the opening ten. 

After a minute or so of Michaels working over Bret's arm (including a sequence where Bret forces himself to his feet and tosses Michaels over the top rope, only for Michaels to do the ol' "keep grabbing the top rope and pull yourself back in with pure strength" bit, catching Bret unawares and locking the armbar again), Bret finally fights back and levels Shawn with a knee to the breadbasket and a diving headbutt between Shawn's legs--connecting not with his batch, but with his lower abdomen. After the move Bret looks at the ref and motions to his own abdomen, Hebner confirming that it was a legal move. Nice little touch there. He slaps a chinlock on once again, and we're twelve minutes in with no decisions as of yet.

Amazingly, as Michaels locks in a nasty armbar and cranks away, looking for a submission, McMahon and Lawler actually provide intelligent commentary; Lawler observes that Hart may want to submit just to get out of the hold and avoid serious injury, but McMahon calls back to an earlier comment in which they agreed that the man who wins the first decision will likely win the match. They're calling it like actual sports announcers! So weird! 

Finally, 15 minutes in, Hitman delivers a sick slam to Michaels that jars his head, and as the ref checks on the Heartbreak Kid, Bret stuns him with a clothesline that sends him out of the ring and causes some fans to start booing the Hitman. Sure, he snuck up on Shawn, but it wasn't a particularly heelish move. Bret heads out in pursuit and Michaels manages to shove Hart's shoulder into the ringpost. Bret spills into a chair to catch a breather, but he's actually on the timekeeper's lap--which is bad news for the timekeeper, who eats a superkick to the face when Bret dodges the attack! Whoopsie! Interestingly, with Bret's sneak-attack clothesline and dodge to avoid the superkick, Hart *is* assuming the role of "heel" in this match, even if he's still officially a babyface. Note how Shawn pauses to stare at the timekeeper, feeling immediate remorse for kicking a bystander, which Bret uses as an opening to sneak in some shots on Michaels once again. Bret gets the upper hand because he capitalizes on Shawn's concern for the timekeeper. Not a heel move, per se--but still less noble than Michaels, the "pure" babyface in this contest. These guys know how to subtly play to a crowd's allegiances and work them into the reaction they want. It's pretty amazing, actually. As the timekeeper is wheeled away, Bret slows the pace again, putting the chinlock back on and yelling at the ref to check Michaels for a submission. "C'mon! It's not a staring contest!" More not-quite-heeling. Awesome. 

At the twenty-minute mark we get more chain wrestling, as Shawn keeps working on Bret's arm. Bret tries to get up and stomp on Shawn's head, but Michaels twists him back down to the may, at which point Bret manages to float over Michaels and slap on another chinlock, which Michaels immediately snakes out of, putting Bret in a wristlock. It's way more exciting than it sounds, believe me. 38:49 remaining and STILL not one pin, submission, or decision of any kind. Which is believable in that these two wouldn't reach a pin in 25 minutes of a normal match, much less an Iron Man match. (Ever notice how in a two out of three falls match, the first fall always seems to happen WAY faster than the pin in a normal one-fall match? Funny, that.) With 36 minutes to go, Michaels makes an opening for himself, as he charges Bret's shoulder into the ringpost and follows that up with a shoulderbreaker that gives Michaels a new sore spot to exploit. McMahon is certain we'll be seeing the first decision soon as Michaels delivers a hammerlock slam on the Hitman. 

We start getting believable nearfalls just after the 28 minute mark, when the Hitman finally fights back from his shoulder's beatdown to slingshot Michaels into the ringpost. He collapses flat on his back on the mat and the crowd is certain that Hart's going to pick up the first fall, but Michaels is out at two! At this point the crowd is starting to wonder what happened to all the pinfalls they were promised, and when Michaels' head hits the post AGAIN, Bret follows up with a reverse atomic drop and a cover for...another two count! The pace picks up as Bret starts to show some frustration, connecting with a bulldog and climbing the ropes, where Michaels meets him. After a brief scrum in the corner, Hart positions Michaels and drives a knee into the back of his head and down onto the mat, but Hebner gets caught as well and ref-bumps into unconsciousness a half hour into the match. Well, what shenanigans are sure to be afoot now?

Hmm, nothing much, as Hebner is back to his feet pretty quickly. Man, that's how you know two babyfaces are wrestling a clean match--when Earl Hebner takes a bump and doesn't stay down. Bret connects with a sick piledriver for a two-and-three-quarters count, and i'm left remarking that ever since the piledriver was banned by the WWF in, what was it, 2000? makes me wince every time i see it now. Oy, my neck. "How did he kick out of a piledriver?" asks Jerry Lawler incredulously. (The piledriver, of course, being one of the five wrestling moves Jerry Lawler knows, along with right handed punch, left handed punch, eye rake, and fist drop.) 

Now we're getting into it, as both men are laying into each other, Michaels gaining the upper hand with some stiff-looking elbows to the head and a backbreaker that's good for two. An elbow to the face and Shawn makes his first attempt at the Sweet Chin Music superkick since the timekeeper was taken out. Bret sniffs it out, though, and rolls out of the ring to avoid going down 0-1 in the decision column. The crowd boos as Hart takes a breather, and again, the fans are subtly interpreting Hart's strategy as a heel tactic. However, Hart walks around the corner of the ring and immediately eats a flying bodypress from Michaels, who's launched himself off the top rope and halfway down the length of the ring! It looks absolutely insane and both men are on their backs on the arena floor. If they go to a double countout, is the score then 1-1? Both men get back into the ring and Michaels connects with another top rope bodypress that Hart immediately rolls into a pin! One! Two! No! We're still scoreless! What is this, soccer?

The fans are starting to get hot for every near-fall, as they want the first decision and they want it NOW. Michaels hits a fisherman's "Perfect-plex" suplex for a two count, and eventually slaps on a sleeperhold. "If you knock your opponent out, do you wait until he wakes back up?" Lawler asks. "Or can you just pin him over and over? I think if you put the man to sleep you win this match." Holy crap, is this the night Jerry Lawler suddenly morphs into a competent analyst? Nearly 37 minutes in now as Michaels whips Hart hard into the turnbuckle, and as Michaels charges in, Hart stuns him with a backdrop that Shawn takes with such altitude that he caroms so high that the cameraman fails to follow Shawn's trajectory back to earth, which makes the fall to the arena floor look perhaps even more spectacular than it is. The crowd gets LOUD for that one as the ten-count is on. Will Hart win the first fall via countout? As Hebner counts, we get a replay from a different angle and Shawn's fall is simply ridiculous. Sickest bump of the match to date. Hart breaks up the count, though, which is a completely idiotic move, even though he left the ring to ram Shawn's back into the post. He rolls Michaels into the ring, picking him up by his hair and starting to work over his back, perhaps setting up for the Sharpshooter with 21 minutes to go. He whips Shawn HARD into the turnbuckle, then drops an elbow from the second rope square into Shawn's lower back. The momentum is now all with the champ as he hits a backbreaker and continues to soften up the challenger. 

Bret whips Shawn into the turnbuckle again, but this time Shawn flips upside-down into the corner and ends up seated on the top rope facing the crowd. Bret capitalizes and hits a top rope back suplex that pops the crowd.! The crowd goes nuts again as Michaels kicks out. Bret slows things down with an almost Camel Clutch-style chinlock, sitting down on Shawn's lower back as the Hitman cranks back on Shawn's neck. Michaels fights out and gets a quick two-count with a sunset flip. This match is heating up big time, now, but it still doesn't feel like it's been 43 minutes long! It's crazy! So good!

Shawn gets whipped to the turnbuckle again, and as he once again goes flying out of the ring, he accidentally legdrops his trainer, Jose Lothario! The crowd goes nuts and half actually begin to boo  Hart pretty loudly as he plays to the audience, strutting a bit while the old man lays on the floor. Once Lothario gets back to his feet, he gets leveled again when Bret whips Shawn into the ring steps, which he naturally flies over, careening into his mentor. More "accidental" heeling from the Hitman as Lawler endorses Hart's tactics: "i never thought i'd be impressed by anything Hart does!" 

After a suicide dive out of the ring that levels Michaels, Hart rolls back into the ring and the boos rain down as he lets Hebner count Shawn out of the ring. Michaels makes it back in and eats a back suplex into a bridge for a two-count, but not before Hart looks incredulously out at the fans who are starting to boo him. Hart hasn't been this aggressive and borderline heelish since 1988, but his inability to pin Michaels is starting to really frustrate him. With ten minutes left, Hart slaps on one more chinlock and cranks back with all his strength. At this point he's got to be simply running out the clock and hoping for a time-limit draw, and simply working the chinlock is working the crowd, as they know there are only eight and a half minutes left and dammit, when is there going to be a pin?

With six and a half minutes remaining Hart goes all the way to the top rope and brings Michaels back to earth with a superplex that seems to knock Shawn unconscious. And finally, with 6:17 remaining, Hart goes for the first Sharpshooter of the match. Michaels fights it off and kicks Hart in the face, but the story now is Bret frantically trying to get one decision to put Michaels away as the challenger desperately fights for his life. Hitman applies a single-leg crab and when Michaels reaches the rope, Hart doesn't release it right away. He's playing for either the submission or the draw, and the crowd doesn't like it when he waits until the absolute last second to break. 5:20 left now. A backbreaker into a second-rope elbow that misses its mark when Shawn gets his foot up and kicks Bret in the face, but Bret's still the first to his feet, although Michaels responds with a dropkick and a HARD whip into the ropes that crumples Hart to the mat. Michaels is now on the offense as he hits a flying forearm and kips up onto his feet, popping the crowd HUGE and gaining a fifth wind. "Where does he gets this energy?" asks a flummoxed Lawler. Michaels is on the fast attack now, hitting a springing elbow as Bret springs off the ropes, slamming the champ to the mat, and connecting with a double axehandle for a two count. 2:50 to go and the crowd is hot! Shawn hits a flying elbow from the top rope, which is STILL only good for a two-count! With two minutes left, Michaels dazzles the crowd with a moonsault onto a standing Hitman, rolling him up for another two. 1:44 left! 

With 40 seconds left, Michaels climbs the ropes, but as he leaps, Bret catches him, slams him to the mat, and locks in the Sharpshooter! The clock ticks down to zero and Shawn, his face a grimace of agony, refuses to submit! The bell rings and we hit the one hour mark with a scoreless tie! The referee hands Bret the WWF World Championship as President Gorilla Monsoon enters the ring to discuss the ending with the referee. As Bret walks down the aisle with his title, slapping hands with his fans, Howard Finkel takes the mic: "Ladies and gentlemen, the time limit has expired. However, this match has been ordered to continue." The camera doesn't leave Hart's face, resulting in the money shot of Hart mouthing an indignant "why?" in response. "Under sudden death rules, there must be a winner!" 

Bret heads back into the ring and begins jawing with Gorilla on the floor. Bret's beef is legit if there was no mention of sudden death beforehand, but regardless, the bell rings again and Hart goes on the attack. He buries his knee in Shawn's back as McMahon commends "Roddy Piper" for wanting to have a decision, but questions his concern for Michaels' well-being. Hey, Vince--Gorilla's the President again, didn't you hear? Bret hits a backbreaker, whips Michaels to the ropes, and Michaels vaults over the Hitman. And has Bret turns to face his opponent, he eats a face full of SWEET CHIN MUSIC. Hart is on the mat and the crowd is going MENTAL. Both men fight to get back to their feet. Michaels crawls over to the corner and uses the ropes to pull himself upright as Bret staggers to his feet in the middle of the ring. Michaels tunes up the band, zeroes in, and hits the superkick one more time for good measure, falling onto the Hitman and hooking both legs as Hebner dramatically counts one...two...THREE. "Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of this bout, and NEWWWWW World Wrestling Federation Champion, The Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels!"

Winner: Shawn Michaels, 1-0, in 1:01:52 via pinfall to win the WWF World Heavyweight Championship

This should be a very touching and tender moment, and it is, as Shawn kneels on the mat with tears in his eyes as Hebner presents him with the championship belt. Of course, then you see Michaels angrily mouth something to Hebner, which, if you've read Bret Hart's autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, you know has gone down in legend as this:

"Tell him to get the fuck out of the ring! This is my moment!"

There's your new standard-bearer, everyone. As the now-former champ motors to the locker room, having passed the torch to the most popular man in the company, Michaels poses and celebrates in the ring, drinking up his "moment" after crassly screaming at the man who put him over to "get the fuck out." What a babyface.

Bret took some much-deserved time off from the company after this match, and when he came back, the seeds planted in this match began to grow. In both kayfabe and, to a degree, in real life, Hart began to resent the fact that the fans were embracing a star who had seemingly little respect for anyone outside of his "Kliq," someone who has crass, cocky, and in many ways still behaved like a heel in front of the cameras and behind. It began a slow burn that culminated in the Hitman's legendary double-turn submission match with Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 and an absolutely killer run as a righteous heel hated by American audiences that saw him as a crybaby and worshipped by the Canadian fans that saw him as a hero that was getting shafted by the man. 

But that's a story for another time. For now, Shawn Michaels--the man who allegedly refused to drop the I-C title unless it was to one of his buddies, who exerted influence backstage to hold down anyone who wasn't in his inner circle, was now the most popular man in the WWF, and its champion, after a brilliantly performed sixty-minute wrestling match that brought out the absolute best in both workers. It was easily the best WrestleMania main event to date, and still holds up as one of the best 'Mania main events of all time.


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