WrestleMania 12: After the celebrity laded previous year, the WWF go in a completely different direction, trusting the entire show to their own talent. There are the first appearances of a couple of future world champions, as well as the last for a former champion, and a divisive main event.

    The opening video package focuses heavily on the main event between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Commentary is once again Vince McMahon & Jerry Lawler, a poor combination. We’re in Anaheim, California for this years show. If there was a performance of ‘America the Beautiful’ then it’s been cut from the Network version.

    WrestleMania 12: Owen Hart, The British Bulldog & Vader vs Ahmed Johnson, Jake Roberts & Yokozuna

    This match revolves around Jim Cornette. He split with Yokozuna earlier in the year and sided instead with Vader and the rest of Camp Cornette (including Yokozuna’s former tag team partner Owen Hart). Yokozuna is joined by Ahmed Johnson and a returning Jake Roberts, who is now a born-again Christian. If Team Yokozuna win then Yokozuna gets five minutes in the ring with his former manager.

    Big brawl on the floor before the match proper starts, the Camp Cornette trio fighting to isolate Yokozuna and get him off his feet. Of the six men in this match Vader and Ahmed Johnson are the newest to the WWF and they both get a few moments to shine and establish themselves. Cornette also interjects himself to help distract the referee at times, cutting off a big run for Ahmed Johnson.

    There are some good sequences where the various combinations cycle through the match. Some of it is a bit sloppy but for the most part it’s interesting. Even when Yokozuna as the most immobile man involved comes in, his strike exchanges with Vader are tough and physical. Jake Roberts his the DDT on Hart but Vader has the referee distracted. Roberts goes to hit Cornette as well but Vader blindsides him and hits a ‘Vader Bomb’ to give Camp Cornette the win. A decent opener, nothing mind blowing but it never gets boring.

    WrestleMania 12: Roddy Piper vs Goldust – Hollywood Backlot Brawl

    Piper is back in the WWF as the acting President of the WWF and has drawn the interest of the ambiguous sexuality of Goldust. Rather than being a standard in ring contest, this is essentially an early cinematic match, taped off site. It’s a big daft brawl really, Piper showing his street fighting side and clearly enjoying the new environments offered.

    This ‘match’ airs in various segments across the evening. The first one ends with Goldust running Piper over before driving off, Piper giving chase in a White Ford Bronco.

    WrestleMania 12: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Savio Vega

    One of the icons of the next boom period makes his WrestleMania debut, and against a regular early opponent. Steve Austin came into the company as the ‘Ringmaster’ alongside Ted DiBiase but soon picked up his defining moniker. He still has DiBiase with him at ringside and is two months away from the birth of ‘Austin 3:16’ at King of the Ring.

    Dok Hendrix (Michael Hayes) interviews Vega. More accurately, Hendrix talks for ages and lets Vega get a short sentence in as response. Straight away Austin and Vega are hammering each other and brawling all over the ring and around it. Momentum shifts regularly and the pace doesn’t drop. There is a brief distraction when Roddy Piper phones in to talk to McMahon on a couple of occasions. This is a shame because the work between Austin and Vega is actually pretty good, it feeling like a more ring-focused prototype of the matches that would make Austin’s legend in the near future.

    The distraction back to the Roddy Piper/Goldust match comes again with aerial footage of what is apparently Piper’s car. This whole segment is a reference to the already 18 month old pursuit of OJ Simpson when he was accused of murder, and uses footage from that chase. A weird choice that doesn’t add anything to the show.

    Thankfully the action in the ring stays compelling, if you can keep your focus on it. The referee is knocked down by accident by Vega and DiBiase brings the Million Dollar Title belt into the match as a weapon. DiBiase pouring a cup of some of soft drink over the referee to try and wake him up is a funny visual. Austin has the ‘Million Dollar Dream’ hold locked in for a grubby victory. A good match, there’s a lot of solid chemistry on show. Shame about the interruptions.

    Speaking of which, we go straight back to the aerial shots of ‘Roddy Piper’ even as Austin is making his exit. Mr Perfect is backstage as an interviewer, he holds a similarly strange interview with Diesel to the one Hendrix had earlier. A very long, rambling, question covered with a video package.

    WrestleMania 12: The Ultimate Warrior vs Hunter Hearst Helmsley

    The undefeated blue blood Hunter Hearst Helmsley, accompanied by a debuting Sable, faces an icon of the previous generation making their return. Looking back at this combination of talents, it’s a very strange clash of eras. Both Helmsley (after shortening his name) and Sable would go on to be top stars of the Attitude Era, whilst Ultimate Warrior would pretty much be persona non grata after this brief run until just before his death in 2014.

    Warrior’s entrance is longer than the match that follows. Helmsley gets the jump on Warrior, who still has his jacket on. Helmsley goes for his ‘Pedigree’ finisher and Warrior just stands straight back up and no-sells it completely. Warrior goes for his usual series of running clotheslines, jumping tackles, press slams and a splash. The pin, the win, Warrior is victorious.

    Given the direction both men’s careers would go from here this match layout is baffling, but it could have been much worse if it was a long match.

    Todd Pettengill introduces the debuting Marc Mero backstage. He gets into it with a passing Hunter Hearst Helmsley, setting things up for Mero’s eventual feud with his real-life wife Sable. There’s a bit more footage of ‘Roddy Piper’ before we move on.

    WrestleMania 12: The Undertaker vs Diesel

    Only a month out from the end of his WWF deal, Diesel has become embroiled in a feud with the Undertaker. Lawler compares Undertaker to a Biblical plague during his entrance. There were plenty of mind games in the build up and the match starts off physical from the get-go.

    For two men of their size both Taker and Diesel are incredibly agile at his point in their careers, Taker having sped up a little from the slow paced ‘zombie’ vibe of his early days. They brawl to the outside and around the ring. Taker tries to use a chair but misses and Diesel takes over for a stretch. It’s a bit one sided for a touch too long, Diesel has some good offense admittedly but its mixed  in which a bit too much stalling. And then we get one of the worst moves in wrestling, the bear hug. Diesel and Taker have a nice little cuddle in the ring before Taker fights out and the pace picks back up.

    Diesel hits the ‘Jack-knife powerbomb’ on Taker but chooses to taunt instead of going for the pinfall. Taker sits up and Diesel hits a second powerbomb. Still no pinfall and the Undertaker fights back. It’s finally Taker’s time. He hits a rough looking chokeslam before an impressively smooth tombstone piledriver for the pin and the win. Probably the best match of the streak so far. It’s still not a patch on his later efforts but it’s a step in the right direction at the least.

    We go straight from this to the return to the venue of Roddy Piper and Goldust. They fight back into the arena proper, Goldust begging Piper off but Piper not holding up. The match finishes off in the ring, Goldust in charge in contrast to the earlier portion on the night. Goldust kisses Piper at one point which brings out the fight in Piper and he takes back over. Piper strips Goldust down to reveal Goldust is wearing lingerie before kissing Goldust himself. The match just sort of ends here with Goldust fleeing and Piper standing tall.

    An interesting idea for a match, pre-taped segments blending into live ones. There’s a bit of an uncomfortable angle to it with the homophobic overtones of some of Piper’s offense but it’s ultimately entertaining stuff.

    WrestleMania 12: Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels
    60 Minute Iron Man Match for the WWF Championship

    We move on to the main event, the first real chapter in the defining feud of the transition to the Attitude Era. The video package that precedes the match breaks down both men’s training and their route to this point. Good solid stuff.

    Immediately before the match we get the announcement of the new WWF President, Gorilla Monsoon. Michaels’ manager Jose Lothario appears but there’s no Michaels until he points to the rafters. In an insanely iconic entrance, Michaels ziplines across the arena to the ring, an epic visual. Hart’s own entrance is more understated, in keeping with his character of course.

    There’s a breakdown of the rules from referee Earl Hebner before we get started. A rather long breakdown it’s worth saying. It’s probably not worth trying to break down the action in a match such as this but obviously the pace is fairly slow going. Commentary predict that whoever gets the first fall will win the match. There’s an onscreen scoreboard and timer, useful in the most part even if the score becomes superfluous as the match continues and it remains 0-0.

    There’s a surprising lack of outright stalling early on, the action isn’t fast paced by any stretch but there aren’t too many long static holds or anyone running to the outside. It takes ten minutes before Hart becomes the first man to spend any time outside of the ring. The story of the early going is Michaels surprisingly grounding the match and utilising mat wrestling rather than his signature high flying. There are some bursts of high impact work from both men, but the pace generally stays methodical. Michaels makes the first big misstep fifteen minutes in by missing Hart with a superkick and nailing one of the ringside officials.

    The holds start to get a little longer at this point, the pace visibly slower as they push towards the twenty-minute mark. Commentary starts to talk about the lack of falls so far in the match. The match has just passed that twenty-minute mark by the first time there’s a sequence of attempted pinfalls. Jerry Lawler on commentary continues his long running feud with the Hart Family by mocking Bret’s parents at any opportunity.

    We tick over the half hour mark with no falls still for either man, the pace still ebbing and flowing. Almost exactly as we pass thirty minutes, the referee gets knocked down before recovering in what must be record time for a referee in such circumstances. Hart hits a piledriver that looks like it might get the first fall but he doesn’t hook the leg and Michaels kicks out. Michaels takes over for a spell, Hart avoiding ‘Sweet Chin Music’ but getting decked by a dive to the outside. We finally see some bursts of Michaels’ high flying manoeuvres, something that helps bring the crowd back into it after they seemed to sag for a while. We reach the 40 minute mark without a fall, Hart back in control after Michaels takes a nasty spill on the floor.  

    With fifteen minutes left Jose Lothario at ringside gets knocked down twice in short succession, so he’s finally done something in the match. Given that a match of this length was so unusual in this time period in the WWF, the crowd seem to adapt to it pretty well, they do go quiet at points, but they pick up for the bigger moments.

    Ten minutes to go and still no falls, Hart on top again but Michaels showing plenty of fight to respond with defiance in the face of the offense of the Champion. You can sense that both men are definitely at the edge of their endurance, the higher paced bursts of action getting spread out a little more at this point. Hart has a couple of chances to get a pinfall but is too tired to do so. He finally decides to go for the ‘Sharpshooter’ hold but Michaels fights him off, Hart pivoting into a single leg Boston Crab instead, Michaels reaching the rope just as five minutes left comes up.

    Michaels gets some offense of his own and kips up to take over, impressive physicality after 55 minutes of wrestling. As the timer ticks ever closer to the hour mark, Michaels gets a big run of offense but still Hart kicks out and gets some counters in himself. Michaels looks exhausted but still goes to the top rope willingly on a couple of occasions. A dive goes wrong and Hart locks Michaels into the ‘Sharpshooter’ as we reach 30 seconds to go. A long hold as the crowd start counting down along with the timer. The hour passes with Michaels still not having given up and we end 0-0.

    President Gorilla Monsoon gets in the ring as Hart starts to leave with the belt, thinking he has retained. Monsoon restarts the match with a ‘sudden death’ period, a decision Hart looks pissed off about as he’s already halfway down the aisle.

    The match restarts with Hart looking very angry at having to continue. A desperation superkick from Michaels puts Hart down but he can’t immediately capitalise. A second ‘Sweet Chin Music’ and Michaels gets the pinfall to finally win the match 1-0. Michaels is the new WWF Champion, his first reign with the title.

    This is a very divisive match, understandably given it’s length. The final stretches were packed with tension but it perhaps would have been better served as a half hour match instead of the full hour. There’s a few too many lull periods for it remain truly engaging, the layout working against both men. Either a shorter contest or one that featured a few falls earlier on would have been more engaging. Ultimately, your level of enjoyment will completely be up to you, it’s not going to be for everyone for sure. Michaels getting his first world title victory is a historic moment and is probably worth witnessing at least once.

    Overall – WrestleMania 12

    Ultimately this show pivots on how much you enjoy the main event. It dominates the show to that extent. Match quality wise the undercard is generally pretty good, only the one absolute stinker of a match.

    The commentary is poor. Vince McMahon is definitely going for a ‘big time’ vibe but it comes across as breathless and is actively distracting at times. Generally though, WrestleMania 12 is pretty good, none of the pointless filler that we’ve seen on other Mania’s and a complete lack of celebrities keeps the focus on the actual talent in the matches. Your mileage will undoubtedly vary based on the main event. Was it incredible? Was it dull? You decide. That was WrestleMania 12, one in a very strange time period with the Monday Night War just about waging and we move onwards to the Attitude Era!