(All screen captures are the property of World Wrestling Entertainment)
March 31, 1996
News & Notes: There is a lot to discuss, so let’s get into it. At In Your House 6, Piper said he wouldn’t stop the Mania main event until there was a winner. He then went a step farther. The WWF booked a 60-Minute Iron Man Match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. The man who scores the most decisions in an hour wins the match. They aired Rocky-like training montages of both men. Shawn returned to his roots in San Antonio. He reconnected with his wrestling trainer, Jose Lothario. (Jose works as Shawn’s manager for a while after this.) He was a Mexican and American wrestling star from the 70s. There were vignettes of Shawn training in the Lucha Libre style. This contrasted with footage of Bret’s training in the Hart family dungeon. They also showed Bret running on icy Calgary roads. Bret felt the videos made him look old in comparison to Shawn. The WWF telegraphed the fact Shawn was winning the title. This was even more evident when Shawn won five Slammys at the Slammy Awards.
Meanwhile, the WWF rehired another big name from the past. They announced the return of the Ultimate Warrior. In the storyline, Piper hired him. The truth is, Vince negotiated with him since December. Part of his deal included promoting Warrior’s new comic book. It was a strange story that pushed Warrior’s new inspirational philosophy. He called it Destrucity. Warrior explained it as a truce between destiny and reality. He fashioned himself as a motivational speaker, but the comic was complete nonsense. In one issue, Warrior kidnaps Santa Claus and puts him in some weird bondage situation. (I’m not joking. Seek out a copy if you can.) They scheduled Warrior’s return for Mania. He faces Triple H.
Next, I want to discuss a major change for Steve Austin. The Ringmaster name wasn’t working. Vince asked Austin to create a new name. Steve watched a documentary on the mafia hitman, The Iceman Richard Kuklinski. Austin wanted that cold-blooded killer persona. He pitched the idea and the WWF returned with a list of proposed names. They were terrible. The creative team took the cold-blooded idea too literally. They suggested names like Ice Dagger and Chilly McFreeze. (Can you imagine the Attitude Era led by Chilly McFreeze!?) Steve stared at the list in dismay for so long his tea grew cold. His wife said, “Drink your tea before it becomes stone cold!” Thus, Stone Cold Steve Austin was born!
Finally, I need to discuss the preshow. Billy Gunn suffered a neck injury, so the WWF vacated the Tag Team Titles. They held a tournament to determine new champions. It included teams like Owen & Bulldog, The Bodydonnas, and The Godwinns. (Yes, that is plural.) The former Tex Slazenger debuted as Phineas I. Godwinn. (Get it? His name is P.I.G.!) Hillbilly Jim manages the team. The Bodydonnas defeated The Godwinns on the preshow to win the vacated tag titles. Also, the preshow saw the culmination of the Billionaire Ted skits. The Huckster faced the Nacho Man in a match. Vince & Lawler provided commentary in an MST3K-style manner. The match ended when both competitors expired in the ring. It was kind of amusing.
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The narrator tells us about dreams and legacies. Shawn Michaels is a maverick who spits in the face of adversity. Bret Hart is a tenacious ring general who stands in defiance of defeat. Two men will endure a grueling hour of guts and athleticism. One will realize their quest and one will breathe loneliness. Who will be stripped of their dream? (It was a bit melodramatic, but it got me excited for the match. Also, I should point out this isn’t the original intro. The music is different. I watched this tape enough as a teen. It’s ingrained in my brain. Why did they change the music? Wasn’t the original a generic stock theme? It’s a song they reused numerous times.)
Then, they show the 20th Century Fox-style WrestleMania logo. (It’s funny they gave this Mania a Hollywood theme. There’s not a single celebrity at this event. Vince decided to focus on his own stars for once.) Vince welcomes everyone to the spectacle of WrestleMania. He then misuses the word notwithstanding. Vince & Lawler discuss the Undertaker vs. Diesel. Jerry says they’re dangerously close to Forest Lawn Cemetery. It will be the Undertaker’s final resting place. Vince also wants to talk about other matches, but Vader’s music interrupts him.
Vader, The British Bulldog, & Owen Hart (w/ Jim Cornette) vs. Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson, & Jake the Snake Roberts (w/ Mr. Fuji)
Notes: Vince realized a one-on-one match between Vader and Yokozuna might not work. Jake Roberts & Ahmed Johnson saved Yoko from a few beatings. They changed the match to a six-man tag. Yoko, Jake, & Ahmed now face Camp Cornette. If the face team wins, Yoko gets five minutes alone with Cornette. It’s a good way to get multiple people on the card at once. During the entrances, Lawler says Vader is ready to WrestleMania. (That’s not a verb, Jerry.) Also, the face team enters to a medley of each man’s themes.
The Match: Vader and Yoko throw punches, so a brawl erupts. They send Vader over the ropes and Ahmed dives onto him. Owen makes a blind tag and Bulldog saves him from a corner splash. Then, Owen & Bulldog double-team Yoko. They use ref distractions to maintain control until Ahmed tags. He cleans house and fights with Vader. Johnson also attempts a Pearl River Plunge on Davey, but Owen stops it with a missile dropkick. Roberts joins the match, but he finds himself in trouble. But, he manages to kick out of Bulldog’s running powerslam. Yoko makes the next hot tag. He gives Davey a Samoan Drop. The match becomes a brawl again and Jake nails a DDT. The brawl distracts the ref, so Cornette interferes. Jake tries to give him a DDT as well. However, Vader stops it and hits a Vader Bomb for the victory.
Thoughts: This was a fun opener. They did a good job showcasing each man. Everyone got in some good moves. It never dragged. Plus, the crowd was hot. It did everything an opening match needed to do. Also, the finish makes Vader look strong.
Winners: Vader, Bulldog, & Owen (13:08)
Next, they recap the Piper/Goldust feud. It includes classic footage of Roddy. (You can tell they re-dubbed this video. Michael Cole narrates it. He wasn’t in the company yet in ’96. He also sounds bored.) Piper’s power as president aroused Goldust. He dedicated poems to Piper and suggestively played some bagpipes. Roddy tried turning the other cheek, but Goldust slapped it. Piper returned the slap and challenged Goldust to a fight. He will make a man out of him.
Hollywood Backlot Brawl: Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Goldust
Notes: They booked this as Razor Ramon vs. Goldust in a Miami Street Fight. However, Razor gave his notice to the WWF. He’s leaving for WCW. In a mere coincidence, Vince suspended Razor for failing a drug test. That meant no WrestleMania for Ramon. The feud shifted to Roddy Piper instead. Goldust showed interest in Roddy. He dedicated innuendo-laden poems to him. He also wondered what was under Piper’s skirt—I mean kilt. They filmed this part of the match a couple of days earlier at a backlot. Marlena isn’t with them. She watches the match from the arena. Marlena has champagne on ice for their celebration. Also, Goldust is still the Intercontinental Champion. The belt isn’t on the line.
The Match: Piper waits for Goldust with a baseball bat in his hand. Goldust arrives in a gold Cadillac. Piper sprays the car with a fire hose and smashes the windows with his bat. Then, he chokes Goldust with it. They also fight around a catering table. (Why is that out in the rain?) Roddy slams Goldust into some dumpsters and sprays him with the hose. Next, they fight on the hood of the car. Roddy legitimately punches Goldust in the face. (He broke his hand in the process.) But, Goldust answers with a low-blow. He then rams Roddy into a trash can and gets in his car. Goldust runs over Piper! (He jumps onto the hood at the last second.) He then leaves the scene, so Piper gets in his white Ford Bronco to chase him. (Oh, no. I don’t like where this is going.)
Thoughts: The first part of this brawl was unique. It was a good hard-hitting fight. (It’s a little too hard-hitting at times.) I liked how they filmed it. It was close to the cinematic matches WWE recently did. For the time, this was unlike anything the WWF presented. Unfortunately, where they go with this match next kind of ruins it.
Winner: To be continued…
During the entrances for the next match, Dok Hendrix interviews Savio Vega. He shows footage of Steve Austin attacking Vega during a match and leaving him. Hendrix asks if Savio has a counter for the Million Dollar Dream. Vega doesn’t answer that question. He says he got the match he wants with Austin. Vega tells Austin to be ready for the fight of his life. Savio is ready for anything! (I hope he’s ready for the commentators to not focus on his match. That’s what he’s getting.)
Stone Cold Steve Austin (w/ Ted DiBiase) vs. Savio Vega
Notes: When they suspended Razor Ramon, it left Savio without a tag team partner for the tournament. Piper held a random drawing and chose Stone Cold to team with Vega. The problem is, Austin and Vega already brawled after a match. They couldn’t coexist. Austin attacked his partner and left him to his fate. Vega now looks for revenge. Unfortunately, this match is a backdrop for something else. But, we will get to that in a moment.
The Match: Austin attacks Savio and they trade punches. They brawl to the floor and Vega uses chops. He then rams Austin into the apron and returns him to the ring. Austin responds by sending Vega shoulder-first into the post. He then focuses on Savio’s arm. (While this happens, Vince gets a phone call from Roddy Piper. He’s chasing Goldust. You hear police sirens.) Meanwhile, Savio uses a crossbody. Austin answers with a Thesz Press. Then, both men trade pin attempts. (Vince interrupts again because they have aerial footage of Piper’s chase. Oh, no! Is that what I think it is!? More on that in a moment.) Both men block each other’s diving moves and fight back and forth. But, Vega wipes out the ref with a wheel kick. DiBiase places the Million Dollar Belt in the ring. Austin clocks Savio with it. He then puts Vega in a chokehold. (Lawler calls it the Million Dollar Dream, but it isn’t.) Referee Tim White checks Savio’s arm and awards Austin the match.
Thoughts: This was a basic match. It was solid and the action was good. But, they knew it was a backdrop for the Piper/Goldust stuff. I felt bad for them. The one positive is the finish made Austin look vicious and crafty. Thankfully, this feud gets better from here.
Winner: Steve Austin (10:05)
After the bell, Austin refuses to release the choke. DiBiase taunts Vega while Austin continues attacking him. Tim White is too dazed to stop him. Vince calls it lousy officiating. More refs arrive, so Austin finally lets go of the hold.
Meanwhile, they show more footage of Piper chasing Goldust in his Bronco. Vince says the footage is awfully familiar. (Are you kidding me!? They used legitimate footage from the OJ Simpson Bronco chase. What is Vince’s obsession with OJ Simpson? It’s creepy.)
Next, Mr. Perfect interviews Diesel. He shows him footage of the Undertaker’s mind games. He drags Diesel into a hole in the ring. He appears and disappears. Then, Diesel sees himself inside a casket. Perfect asks if it affects Diesel. He says he doesn’t sweat the little or big things. Diesel calls the Undertaker a big obstacle. He says, “Tonight, Big Daddy takes cool of you.” (Huh? Did he mean to say care or is he trying a new catchphrase?) Diesel then turns his attention to Shawn Michaels. He says he’s coming for him next. (Way to spoil the main event, Diesel.) Perfect then ends the interview because that’s all Diesel has to say. He’s wrong. Diesel yells some random nonsense as they go back to the commentators.
The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/ Sable)
Notes: Triple H enters the arena with a familiar-looking blonde woman. Hey! It’s Sable! (Johnny B. Badd/Marc Mero’s wife.) Vince gushes over her. Lawler claims he wants to show her his military medals. Also, Lawler says his sources claim the Ultimate Warrior is 400 pounds and bald. But, he’s proven wrong when the Warrior arrives. He runs through some pyro shaped like his face paint. Warrior shakes the ropes and poses while Lawler bemoans his terrible sources.
The Match: Hunter jumps the Warrior and punches him. He then kicks Warrior in the gut and nails a Pedigree! But, the Warrior immediately pops up to his feet. Triple H uses more punches, but Warrior hulks-up. He gives Hunter clotheslines and a shoulder tackle. The Warrior then does a press slam and hits a splash for the win.
Thoughts: Poor Triple H. This was his first loss. It ended his undefeated streak. It also explains so much about Hunter’s mindset over the years. I get they wanted a big win for the Warrior’s return, but why Hunter? The crowd enjoyed it. However, this Warrior stint doesn’t work. He’s out of place in the current WWF. Plus, the Warrior is unreliable. We will see him for a few more PPVs, but he’s gone by the summer. As far as this match, it was a squash. There’s not much to say.
Winner: The Ultimate Warrior (1:39)
Todd Pettengill is backstage with a newcomer to the WWF. It’s the Wildman Marc Mero. (He’s the former Johnny B. Badd. Todd pronounces it as Morrow by mistake.) Mero says, “I have arrived! I have arrived!” He waited five long years to come to the WWF. (He doesn’t say where he was during that time. We all know.) Todd asks him about potential opponents. Mero tells Todd to look into his eyes and see the wildness in his soul. However, Triple H bumps into Marc. Hunter argued with Sable, so he didn’t watch where he was walking. Mero takes exception to this and brawls with Helmsley. They slam into the garage door and scuffle on the floor as they cut back to Vince and Lawler. (Vince hired Mero because he wanted the Johnny B. Badd character. WCW trademarked that persona, so Vince renamed him the Wildman. Marc Mero is his real name. The gimmick isn’t the same and doesn’t work as well.)
The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer) vs. Diesel
Notes: After In Your House 6, the Undertaker continued playing mind games with Diesel. He appeared and disappeared at will. Taker cost Diesel matches by doing so. Diesel responded by destroying one of Taker’s caskets with an ax. Then, Paul Bearer wheeled a casket to the ring. Diesel opened it to find himself inside! (It was a cool visual. The closeup shots were Nash inside the casket. They used a mannequin for the wide shot. Editing made it seem like he was in both places at once. I love the build for this feud!) I want to point out something from Diesel’s entrance. You hear him say, “I’m the shit. I’m telling ya!” (I’m sure Vince loved that. They edited it out of the network version.) Also, Diesel completed his heel turn. He attacked Shawn Michaels with a chair during a house show.
The Match: Diesel throws forearms, elbows, and knees. He also whips Taker around the ring. But, Taker surprises him with a boot and a clothesline. They brawl to the floor where Taker rams Diesel into the steps. (He makes an amusing face while selling it.) Taker tries a Tombstone, but Diesel escapes. However, Taker answers with a crossbody and Old School. Then, they fight to the floor again and take turns ramming each other into the post. Taker even grabs a chair, but he misses with it. Diesel then takes control of the match. He gives Taker a side slam, snake eyes, and a running knee attack. But, both men go down to a double-big boot. Diesel recovers and puts Taker in a bear hug. He breaks free and gives Diesel a flying clothesline. Diesel responds with a Jackknife, but he doesn’t cover Taker. He waits for him to rise and gives him a second one. Diesel hesitates to cover and Taker keeps grabbing him by the throat. Diesel fends him off, but Taker nails a jumping clothesline. He then does the chokeslam and a Tombstone to end the match.
Thoughts: This was a great big man match. It was Taker’s best Mania match to date. They paced it well and gave Diesel enough offense to look strong. This match doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves. They worked the crowd well with the action. I enjoyed this. You can see Taker’s style changing. He’s about to get a new opponent that will change it even more.
Winner: The Undertaker (16:46)
Todd is backstage in security. He watches a monitor as Goldust and Piper arrive. Piper crashes into Goldust’s car. Marlena meets Goldust, but Piper chases him to the ring.
Hollywood Backlot Brawl (Part 2): Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Goldust (w/ Marlena)
The Match: They trade punches until Goldust attacks Piper’s leg. He also nails Roddy in the balls more than once. Goldust then sets up Piper for a piledriver, but he grabs Roddy’s butt. Piper breaks free, but Goldust goes after his leg again. He rams it into the post. Then, Piper catches Goldust on the top rope only for Goldust to kiss him! It infuriates Roddy. He uses a flurry of punches and grabs Goldust by the crotch. Piper returns the favor on the ball attacks and spanks Goldust. He then rips off Goldust’s bodysuit to reveal—women’s lingerie. Next, Piper returns Goldust’s kiss and drags him around the ring. Goldust has enough. He runs away while Marlena covers him with a robe.
Thoughts: I guess that makes Piper the winner. The rules were unclear. I enjoyed the first part of this brawl, but this second half was weird. They popped the crowd with some of the antics. Some of it was amusing. But, the OJ Simpson stuff soured the match for me. It’s hard for me to like it because of that. Plus, it didn’t have an actual finish.
Winner: Roddy Piper? (N/A)
Piper’s music plays while he celebrates. Roddy mimes for Goldust to kiss his butt. Vince tells Lawler it’s safe to look now. Then, they discuss the Iron Man Match. Jerry asks how it can follow that.
They recap the Bret/Shawn feud. (Michael Cole re-dubbed the video again.) They show Shawn training in San Antonio. We also see footage from Shawn’s career. Then, there are clips of Stu Hart training Bret in the Hart family dungeon. The narrator talks about who is the best in the WWF. We also get words from both Shawn and Bret. Shawn says everyone knows the story. Now, it’s time for the final chapter. Bret says it’s do or die. They’ll find out how good Shawn is. Everyone knows how good Bret is. Bret wants to wake up tomorrow with the belt.
60-Minute Iron Man Match for the WWF Title: Shawn Michaels (w/ Jose Lothario) vs. Bret Hart (c)
Notes: Before the match, the Fink welcomes Gorilla Monsoon. He’s back as the president of the WWF. Shawn’s music plays and out walks the boy toy—Jose Lothario! (Oh, wait.) Lawler thinks Shawn is scared. But, Jose points to the ceiling.
Shawn is in the rafters. He rides a zip line down to the crowd. (Could they make it any more obvious who is winning this match?) Bret gets a more normal entrance. He gives his sunglasses to his son Blade. Earl Hebner explains the rules. (It sounds like he calls it an Earn Man Match.) They will wrestle for sixty minutes. The man who scores the most decisions wins the bout.
The Match: The match starts with a lot of mat wrestling. Bret expected Shawn to use high-flying moves, but he shows he can do holds. They trade takedowns, headlocks, and armbars. Shawn surprises Bret by getting the advantage. The fight spills to the floor a couple of times. Shawn sends Bret into the post and Bret lands in Tony Chimel’s lap. Shawn tries Sweet Chin Music. Bret moves, so Shawn nails Tony in the face! (He got him good. Kudos to Tony. Also, I’m experiencing the Mandela Effect. I swore Mark Yeaton ate the kick.) They return to the ring and go back to mat wrestling. Shawn works Bret’s arm and shoulder for a while. Bret evades another superkick. Shawn avoids the Sharpshooter. They then trade many near falls.
The second half sees the pace quicken. They fight at the apron and reverse through a suplex. Bret goes into his routine and works on Shawn’s back. He locks him in various submissions when he can’t get a Sharpshooter. Shawn fights back and uses a flying crossbody and a flying axehandle. He also does some hurricanranas and a moonsault. Michaels even busts out a gut-wrench powerbomb. It isn’t enough. With less than a minute left, Shawn tries a missile dropkick. Bret catches him and locks Shawn in the Sharpshooter. But, the time expires.
Bret thinks the match is a draw, so he leaves. But, Gorilla Monsoon says the match will continue under sudden death overtime rules. Bret doesn’t understand why. He reluctantly returns and calls for the bell. Bret attacks Shawn’s back again. However, Shawn leaps over him and nails Sweet Chin Music. He’s too exhausted to cover. They rise to their feet and Shawn hits a second superkick for the win.
Thoughts: I know this is a polarizing match. It’s not for everyone. But, I love it. I was a big fan of both men in 1996. This was a dream match for me. I thought they paced it perfectly and took the fans on a roller coaster ride. There were good ups and downs in the bout. Plus, there were some nice high spots. My only gripe is the lack of falls. They could have still ended in a tie with more falls. It’s still a great match either way.
Winner: Shawn Michaels (New Champion) (1:01:56)
Shawn is exhausted, but he celebrates. Hebner takes a moment before handing him the belt. Bret is still on the mat. Shawn then says something to Earl. (According to Bret’s book, Shawn said, “Tell him to get the fuck out of my ring.” Shawn denied this for years, but he later admitted to it.) Bret leaves without shaking Shawn’s hand. That was the plan. It would set up a rematch down the line. (Bret left for a few months after this PPV. He wanted to heal some injuries and try his hand at acting.) However, Shawn’s little tirade wasn’t planned. Hebner gives Shawn the belt once Bret is watching. Bret leaves without a word. (I should also point out they show Blade Hart mouthing the words to Shawn’s song. That’s a nice touch.) Shawn continues celebrating while Vince says the boyhood dream came true. Shawn places the belt on the mat and bows to it. He also shakes hands with Stu Hart and Bret’s kids.
The main event was great.
Taker/Diesel was quite good.
The opener was fun.
The first half of the Backlot Brawl was unique.
The OJ Simpson footage.
The second half of the Backlot Brawl was weird.
The Ultimate Warrior match.
Performer of the Night:
I have to give it to Shawn Michaels. This was his night and he did great in the Iron Man Match. It’s impressive to wrestle for that long.
I have a soft spot for this event. I wore out the tape when I was younger. It’s a solid show with some memorable moments. There are some good to great matches on the card. It has a couple of missteps, but none of them ruin it. I will say it right now. 1996 is an underrated year for the WWF. It doesn’t get the love it deserves. That’s because WCW overshadows it with what they have coming.
Thank you for reading. My next review is ECW Massacre on Queen’s Blvd. ’96. Look for it next Sunday.
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