Date: March 31, 1996
Location: Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, California
Commentators: Vince McMahon, Jerry Lawler
Star Spangled Banner: N/A
This show is a very different direction for the company, and while the match is remembered fondly, this is one of the lowest rated Manias of all time and I think that’s for one reason: there are only 6 matches. You have the iron man match, Diesel vs. Taker, and four other matches that hardly anyone remembers. Razor Ramon is on the box but was less than two months away from debuting on Nitro.
After what apparently was viewed as a big show the year before, tonight was all about Shawn Michaels. Looking back at the buildup, we all should have seen it coming. Shawn was the guy that never quite could put all of the pieces together but for the first time in forever he was healthy, he was trained properly and he was totally ready, but we’ll get to that later on. Let’s get to it.
The opening video is of course all about Bret vs. Shawn which is appropriate since that’s all this show is about. Something about champion vs. challenger or something.
Oh and because there was no time for it, the finals of a big tag team title tournament was held on the preshow with the Body Donnas beating the Godwins when Sunny flashed Phineas.
After no America the Beautiful or Star Spangled Banner, we get our first contest!
Vader/Owen Hart/British Bulldog vs. Ahmed Johnson/Jake Roberts/Yokozuna
Ahmed Johnson was nothing short of a tank. Imagine Lashley but about ten times more awesome. Nothing but pure power all around. Shame he was injured and then left the company. He was supposed to be the first black WWF Champion but that fell through. Anyway, this is because of Yoko turning face and going after Cornette who brought in Vader to settle the score. Hart and Smith were also in Cornette’s stable and Johnson and Roberts are there because they had contracts.
Yoko at this point was just embarrassingly fat. Apparently if Yoko’s team wins he gets 5 minutes with Cornette. He means nothing at all by this point and it’s rather clear. Yoko and Vader slug it out to start but soon it shifts to a big brawl. And then it’s back to Yoko vs. Vader with Vader getting knocked to the floor. Ahmed DIVES over the top to take down Vader.
Total insanity to start us off here so at least it’s fast paced. The giants explode again and it’s Yoko with the advantage. Owen comes in and gets beaten on for a bit until Bulldog saves him. Back to the fat boys here as for some reason they decided Yoko should be in there for three or four minutes to start us off. Vader punches him down in the corner and talks to him for awhile for no apparent reason.
Yoko gets a freaking Rock Bottom of all things and tags in Ahmed. He cleans house, destroying all three evildoers. Sunset flip on Vader results in Vader jumping up and going straight down. Bulldog gets in a few shots and Vince says Camp Cornette is like a herd of buffalo. Sure why not.
Owen gets a missile dropkick out of nowhere to take over. Enziguri to the back (which thankfully they say was to the back) puts Ahmed down. Back to Vader as this is a basic formula now. Is there a reason as to why Jake isn’t getting the beating so that Ahmed can get the hot tag later? Ahmed gets a shot to take Owen down and finally brings in Jake.
Mr. Fuji comes down to ringside as I’d assume he got lost or something. Jake calls for the DDT but Owen grabs the rope. Roberts gets caught in the corner and the beatdown is on. Vader mauls him for a bit as this is starting to get a big long. Top rope elbow by Owen gets two. Just to show what a different time it was, Jake kicks out of the powerslam from the Bulldog like it’s any other move. That’s just wrong.
Yoko finally gets the lukewarm tag and hammers Vader down in the corner. He looked like he was sticking a fork in the top of his head which explains the speed of those shots. Jake comes back in because he’s clearly fine after that long beatdown and Ahmed can’t come in yet due to affirmative action or something. DDT to Owen but Cornette saves. Vader takes Jake down and the Vader Bomb ends him.
Rating: D+. The wrestling really isn’t that bad, but it went on forever. Take 5-7 minutes out of this and it goes way up in value. The psychology made very little sense here which is a weird thing to see in a Roberts match. This went nowhere for the most part and feels really weird for a Mania opener. Nothing to see here.
We recap Piper vs. Goldust in one of the most homophobic feuds ever. Piper is president of the company and Goldust is turned on by Piper’s power. This set up the Hollywood Back Lot Brawl, which is just a fight in the back alley. Michael Freaking Cole does the voiceover for this. He was there in 1996? Hokey smoke indeed.
Goldust vs. Roddy Piper
Piper was seen earlier with a bat and a water hose. This was supposed to be Razor vs. Goldust but Razor is in rehab (I’m stunned to) so we get this instead. Goldust pulls up in a gold Cadillac and Piper stops it by spraying it with a gardening hose then beating it with a bat. The smash cuts here are really, really annoying. This is hardcore before there was hardcore and they get fairly brutal out there.
Obviously this isn’t live or anything like that as they filmed this earlier in the day. I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea but it’s certainly not one at all. Piper chokes him with a bat and sprays him down with a high pressure hose. Goldust gets a shot to Roddy’s pipe and drums and takes over.
Goldust just gets the heck beaten out of him for the most part as some of Piper’s punches are either legit or the best fakes I’ve ever seen. The son of the Dream gets in the car and Piper (or an extremely average impersonator) jumps onto the hood to keep from getting crushed. Goldust leaves and Piper chases him in a white Bronco. This doesn’t finish here so we’ll come back to the rest of this as it happens. This was REALLY bad as it was all taped and clearly edited and the crowd is of course silent after five minutes of just sitting around watching a TV monitor.
Steve Austin vs. Savio Vega
These two had a long feud for no apparent reason. Austin was the Ringmaster at the time and the Million Dollar Champion. They feuded for several months and it was just a waste of time. This gets PPV time but the tag team title match doesn’t. Of course it does. Savio is with Doc Hendrix and we get a quick look at them being paired together in the tag tournament and Austin screwing him over. Savio says he’s ready for anything.
It’s a brawl almost immediately and they roll around on the mat. We hit the floor and it’s Vega in control. DiBiase gets involved to give Austin control but that gets him nowhere at all. This is a boring match in case you didn’t get that. Showing the boredom of Vince we go to Roddy Piper on cell phone as he chases after Goldust on the freeway.
Savio hurts his arm on a clothesline as we hear about how great of a technician Austin is. Back to the phone stuff as Austin works on the arm. Middle rope elbow drills Savio for two as Piper yaps away. The sad thing is that this is a pretty good back and forth match but the crowd is dead because of being killed by the parking lot thing.
We continue the idiocy with aerial footage of Piper chasing Goldust. And of course, it’s of the OJ Simpson chase. Savio takes Austin’s head off with a spin kick but Austin takes over again. An elbow off the top (Austin was a completely different wrestler before he became the Rattlesnake and somehow better in the ring) misses and here comes Savio.
Naturally in an Austin match at Wrestlemania the referee goes down, in this case due to another spin kick from Savio. DiBiase slips in the Million Dollar Belt to Austin who clocks Savio with it twice to knock out him cold. Then in something I’ve never seen before, Austin wins with a reverse chinlock. Yes as in the mother of all rest holds. Savio is out so the match is over. Wow indeed. Only at Wrestlemania baby!
Rating: B-. This was a good match actually despite the idiocy of the whole Piper thing. Austin was great back in the day and when he wasn’t hanging out with various other morons so was Savio. This was a good match although they would go on to do some better stuff. Or maybe that had already happened. Yeah it had so this was the finale.
More Piper stuff as Vince says this is familiar.
We recap the whole mind games thing between Taker and Diesel. I think I have Diesel in their match tonight.
Another shot of the cars. Is there a point to this at all? Is it supposed to be tongue in cheek or something?
HHH vs. Ultimate Warrior
This is Warrior’s big return. HHH debuts some new chick named Sable. He’s rather new also here and the difference in size between then and recently is amazing. Warrior is allegedly 400lbs and bald according to Lawler, which shocks Vince. You know a lot of his lines are far funnier knowing what we know now. Naturally he looks like his old self. The fans react….I think. Vince wants you to believe the roof just got blown off but it’s simply not there.
HHH jumps him to start and I can’t believe how quiet the fans are here. I mean it’s eerie. Pedigree hits maybe 40 seconds in and Warrior beats him to his feet. Warrior hammers away and the slam and splash end this in maybe a minute and a half. He would be gone by late summer.
Wildman Marc Mero, the former Johnny B. Badd debuts here which caused a ton of jokes at his expense in WCW. In exchange he wound up getting the Intercontinental Title and the biggest pushes of his career. HHH comes up to glare at him and Sable stands by. They brawl for a bit and that’s about it.
Piper is on his way back here.
Undertaker vs. Diesel
No backstory given but that’s why I have a job here. Both guys had cost each other the title at back to back PPVs including the famous shot of Diesel being pulled under the ring by Taker during a match against Bret in a cage. Taker played a ton of mind games and this is the result. This isn’t quite a co-main event but it’s the other big match on the card for sure. Diesel is freshly heel here.
From everything I can find this is their first and only one on one match too. That makes sense as Diesel was gone in less than two months and was in WCW for the next five years. Once he got to WWE again he was in the NWO and never feuded with Taker. Once he was out he was on Raw and then Nash left for TNA. I will never get tired of Undertaker’s entrance. It’s simply awesome on so many levels.
They go at it from the opening bell and the crowd noticeably dies as soon as it rings. That’s rather odd. Taker goes onto offense and the fans cheer a bit so they’re definitely into this. They head to the floor and Taker hammers away with those uppercuts. I remember a friend of mine back in the day said Taker definitely couldn’t have had a boxing background. Methinks the punches he throws suggest otherwise.
Taker wants the Tombstone about two minutes in but it’s countered. Nash is moving out there which is very weird to see indeed. Taker with a cross body (???) for two. Old School can’t take Diesel down. The jumping clothesline misses as Diesel uses his training as Super Shredder in TMNT 2 to duck out of the way. Taker gets another uppercut to put Diesel on the floor. A chair shot misses and here comes Big Daddy Cool.
Diesel won’t let Taker get back in. It’s weird to see Nash with so much energy like this. Big boot puts Taker down. Side Slam gets two. Not quite as pretty as his usual ones but still a decent one. Diesel beats on him with his slow and methodical stuff but it’s not boring. Some guys just have a slower pace than others and Nash is one of them. Taker fights back a bit and both guys hit big boots. That was kind of cool.
Taker sits up to a big reaction. Diesel beats Taker to his feet and slaps on a bear hug. He isn’t CM Punk though so he’s not going to get a submission. Taker breaks the hold and it’s off to a headlock? A suplex gets Taker out of it and both guys are down for a bit again. Top rope clothesline and a good one gets two for Taker. He sends Diesel in and like an IDIOT, puts his head down and there’s the Jackknife.
And also like an IDIOT, Diesel doesn’t cover him. He just stands over Taker who isn’t moving an inch. Taker sits up so Diesel gives him another powerbomb. Diesel FINALLY goes for a cover but Taker grabs him by the throat. He must have waited for 40 seconds after that Jackknife so he deserves it. Diesel fights out of the grip twice but can’t do it a third time. He gets a suplex to get out of the choke but Taker sits up. Flying clothesline sets up the Chokeslam which sets up the Tombstone to make Taker 5-0.
Rating: B. This was good stuff and definitely Taker’s best Mania match to date and his best until Mania X7 against HHH. Also this made the Streak seem like it meant something as Diesel had been world champion for almost a year. Power vs. power rarely works and battles of the giants are usually bad but this was one of the best ones I’ve ever seen. Good stuff indeed.
Post match we get the at the time famous shot of Diesel laying on the mat completely unconscious.
Piper and Goldust are back so it’s time for the ending of the Brawl. Both cars get back and Piper parks right next to Goldust so the driver’s door can’t open. Good thing he was already out and into the arena. Roddy drops about 5 F Bombs as he’s looking for Goldie. They head into the arena and the fight is on. Actually Goldust backing away while Piper stalks him with a belt is on but you get the concept
They go into the ring and Piper hammers away. Officially this is still a match I guess. Screw the whole formatting thing as I guess you could call this the longest match in PPV history. Goldust takes over in the ring as he’s an active wrestler and therefore likely in better shape. Piper’s shirt comes off and Goldie chokes away.
Roddy gets back up and the crowd pops a bit for it. Goldust tries to kiss him and Piper fights back. Goldie goes up but Piper crotches him. And then Goldust kisses Piper. Oh you know it’s on now. Piper grabs him by the balls (does that mean he liked the kiss?) and slaps Goldust around a bit. Off come the clothes and Goldust has S&M stuff on. Piper kisses Goldust. Ok so in other words, he’s kissed him, groped his balls and spanked him. Sweet goodness indeed. Goldust leaves and I guess Piper is the winner. Sadly this gets the biggest pop of the night so far.
We recap the Bret vs. Shawn…feud I guess you’d call it. They’re both faces here but the idea is that Shawn has finally gotten to this point after working his entire life to get here. On the other hand you have Bret who is the best in the world and has been for a good while. It’s pretty clear that Shawn is going to win but the idea is to give a classic on the way.
Now this match has gotten a very argued opinion from the staff as some of us say it’s great and some of us say it’s very overrated. I like the match but let’s see how well it holds up. Both guys say nothing of note at all.
Gorilla Monsoon finally gets the roll he was born for: President of the WWF. That fits perfectly even though he rarely did anything.lding up the Iron Man Match and Shawn’s rise to the main event as a face. Nothing special here.
WWF World Title: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart
We open with a rather good start as Shawn makes one of the most famous entrances of all time, riding down from the rafters on a zipline. That’s definitely one of his most famous moments and is still cool to this day. Bret’s entrance of walking through the curtain is a bit of a letdown by comparison. I like the basic fireworks Bret would get. Simple yet effective.
Hebner gives the instructions to both guys and you have to wonder if he can hear Bret tap already. They’re really playing this up as epic. It’s most decisions in an hour as you know but you can win a decision by count-out or DQ. So could the title change on a DQ only? I’d love to see them do that in a world title match. They used that as a loophole for 2/3 fall matches before.
There’s the bell and we’re off. Jerry says if Bret wins the first decision he’ll win while Vince says that’ll go either way. They hit the mat for a bit and we reach the issue here: you can more or less take a 57 minute nap and you’ll not miss the ending of the match. That’s why you don’t see these on TV. Bret gets a headlock as we get to our first rest hold/time killer of the match. I don’t think calling it a rest hold is fair as both guys have great cardio.
Jerry gets on Vince for being an idiot when he says there are no Bret or Shawn fans but only WWF fans. Preach it King. There’s a nice idea here of Bret wanting to wear Shawn down so he can beat him while Shawn is looking for a fast win and then go from there. Nice little contrast of styles there. Back down to the headlock as they sped things up for a bit.
They’re going slowly here for the most part but to be fair they’re conserving energy so it’s understandable. We get into an interesting debate here: which of these two is stronger? Jerry explains how much a hold like a headlock can take out of you. In other words, he’s using his experience in the ring to give an explanation of what we’re seeing. Almost like he’s analyzing it. What a novel idea!
Shawn works on the arm which is as good as anything else I guess. Stu Hart, Bret’s dad, is at ringside sitting next to Freddie Blassie. Jerry asks if Helen (Bret’s Mom) is here. He thinks it’s unlikely since she went shopping today and went to an antique store and they kept her. That got a chuckle if nothing else. Bret starts hammering away in the corner so Shawn speeds things up to send Bret to the floor.
The idea here is that Shawn is wrestling a very conservative and slower paced match to throw Bret off his game. That’s psychology again there people. Shawn works the arm but Bret throws him over. He skins the cat though and drives Bret down with an armbar again. We’re a little under 12 minutes in at this point.
Shawn goes back to the arm as we waste even more time than we usually do if you can believe that. Jerry suggests that maybe Bret should submit to get out of this armbar but says that probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Bret gets up and gets a modified almost spinebuster to put Shawn down and wants the Sharpshooter but Shawn counters.
A clothesline puts Shawn on the floor but Bret doesn’t want a countout. Bret is sent into the post and at 15 minutes into the match Shawn kicks the timekeeper’s head off! That looked great and he is DEAD. Back into the ring and Bret gets the chinlock again. The timekeeper is taken out on a stretcher. Bret yells at Hebner to check Shawn because it’s not a staring contest.
This is getting really boring really fast as these rest holds are going on for like two or three minutes at a time. This particular one is about two and a half. Shawn comes back with a clothesline but his neck hurts and he can’t follow up. Bret gets one of his own and down goes Shawn. Vince goes into a speech about how awesome the WWF and Wrestlemania is while we’re in ANOTHER chinlock. It’s always cool to hear Vince talk about how great wrestling is as his love really comes out in his voice.
O’Connor Roll is blocked and Shawn gets a dropkick to go back to the armbar. Twenty minutes in now and of course we’re still in a hold. Shawn rams some knees into the arm and shoulder. He gets a wristlock on using his arms for leverage which results in Bret’s face being shoved into Shawn’s boot which looks cool. Vince talks about Jerry’s Kiss My Foot match with Bret which was always kind of funny.
Bret tries to reverse but gets rammed into the post. Shawn drops an F Bomb at a camera in his face. A shoulderbreaker has Bret reeling and is followed up by a double axe to the shoulder. Hammerlock slam as Shawn channels his inner Anderson. The shoulder goes into the buckle a few times as this is still very slow paced.
Twenty five minutes in and it’s still arm work. Bret hammers away but Shawn gets a DDT on the arm and hooks a cross armbreaker to kill the crowd again. Before the hold was on Vince suggested that Bret should submit. Why? It’s not like there’s a rest period or at least there isn’t one announced. Bret punches out of it and gets a second rope Stun Gun to break the hold.
Slingshot and Shawn “hits” the post. That gets two for Bret whose arm is kind of hanging there. So much for that as Shawn rams him into the buckle to take over again. Bret fights back again and there’s a bulldog. He goes up though and takes way too much time. I think they botch something as Bret grabs Shawn’s hair and rides him down kind of like a bulldog but with the knee in his back. The referee goes down in the collision which I don’t think was intentional. Thirty minutes even left and the referee is up in maybe 20 seconds so yeah that was unintentional.
Shawn gets a powerslam for two. Bret’s arm is magically better somehow. What a shock: Shawn does a ton of work and Bret makes it look like nothing. Bret gets a Piledriver for two. He goes up again and Shawn catches him one more time. Shawn starts drilling Bret, possibly out of anger for the total lack of selling.
Sweet Chin Music is ducked and Bret hits the floor for a bit. Shawn is like screw that and hits a HUGE dive to the floor to take him down. That’s the first big spot of the match and the crowd definitely reacted to it. Shawn goes up and hits a cross body but Bret rolls through for two. The fans are staying into it. Small package gets two for Shawn as they’re definitely picking things up here.
Perfectplex gets two for Shawn. Twenty five minutes left. Shawn gets a sleeper on which is a smart move. That gets broken up and Bret goes into the corner. Now we get the momentum changer of the night as Shawn gets backdropped over the corner and wipes out a cameraman with the only visual we see being Shawn flipping over his head.
Shawn gets rammed into the post on the floor and is reeling badly. Bret drops an elbow into the back. Backbreaker hits as we have 20 minutes left. This is getting close. Bret gets a Banzai Drop down onto Shawn’s back in an oddly cool move. In another cool spot Shawn does his flip in the corner and sits on the top so Bret runs up and does a belly to back off the top for two. Crowd is getting into these kickouts now.
Chinlock by Bret as we need to kill off more time. Shawn gets a sunset flip out of nowhere for two. They kind of just fill time in for a few minutes with nothing special going on. Russian leg sweep gets two. Shawn gets whipped over the corner and over the top, kicking Jose in the head as he goes down. That can’t be good. Is there a pile of dust anywhere? Bret whips Shawn into the railing and Jose goes down again! This is getting awesome!
Fifteen minutes left now. Belly to belly gets two. All Bret here. We finally get an answer about what the Sharpshooter hurts: the back. Shawn gets all pissed off and throws big bombs but Bret gets a shot to the back to take him down. Bret sets for a suicide dive on the floor and it looks rather stupid as Shawn has to stand up in a hurry to get hit by it.
Bret is willing to take a countout. He changes his mind though as he’s not quite ready to turn to the dark side. German suplex gets two as the crowd is getting into this. Shawn tries to fight from his knees so Bret KICKS HIM IN THE FACE. Freaking ow man! Back to the chinlock now with ten minutes left.
Nine minutes left and we’re still in the chinlock. Shawn fights it off with 8 minutes left. Shawn hammers him about the head and shoulders with seven minutes left. They’re moving VERY slowly. BIG superplex gets no cover as Bret wants the Sharpshooter instead of the relatively easy pin. Shawn is crawling away as Bret holds the foot with 6 minutes left.
Half crab is on for a bit. Backbreaker hits as we have five minutes left. Bret does the I HATE THIS SO MUCH spot as he jumps into a boot. Shawn hits a dropkick to send Bret into the corner. Bret’s chest eats buckle as Shawn can barely move. Four minutes left with both guys down. Forearm and nipup (camera missed it) and Shawn is all fired up.
Jumping back elbow to Bret. Jerry: Shawn Michaels has just gotten his 19th wind! Spinning double axe off the middle rope with three minutes left. Suplex sets up the big elbow for two. Gutwrench sitout powerbomb gets no cover with two minutes left. Moonsault press gets two. 90 seconds left. Kind of a botched rana off the top gets two.
Shawn slams him but collapses with a minute left. He goes to the top but Bret gets up. A dropkick misses though and Bret locks on the Sharpshooter with 33 seconds left! What a shock that it’s tied up and Bret finally gets his hold on with 33 seconds left! Shawn doesn’t give up as the time runs out and Bret collapses. Shawn is DEAD.
Gorilla gets into the ring as Bret is handed the title. Bret walks out and then the Fink says that it’s not over yet by orders of Gorilla. It’s sudden death! Bret is MAD and asks a very good question: why? Why should Shawn get another chance? The ruling was that there would be a 60 minute time limit and Bret survived that. This actually wasn’t fair to Bret at all.
There’s the bell and Bret goes off on Shawn. Jerry and Vince agree Bret is going to have to pin Shawn. Bret whips him into the corner and in one of my all time biggest mark out moments, Shawn grabs the ropes and vaults up, landing behind Bret and kicking Bret’s head off with Sweet Chin Music. The crowd pops and when I was watching live I JUMPED off my couch. Bret staggers up and Shawn kills him dead with another superkick to win his first and by far most famous world title.
Rating: B. Ok now this is going to draw some issues, but this match is not the masterpiece it’s built up to be for multiple reasons. First and foremost, WAY too many rest holds. There are two ways you could make this better. First, make it 30 minutes. Second: drop the Iron Man aspect. Imagine if those near falls were at one fall to a finish. This would have been otherworldly.
Bret’s lack of selling also kills this match badly. His arm was perfectly fine about 40 seconds after Shawn stopped working on it, making that whole 25 minutes TOTALLY POINTLESS. It’s certainly a good match, but this needs to lose about 20-30 or even more than that minutes to work as well as it could.
Finally, this isn’t even the best iron man match the company has ever had, at least not in the same universe as Rock vs. HHH. The reason that was better is simply that you had a reason to keep watching. Here it’s way too dull with the rest holds and the sitting around for so long. Good match, but definitely not a classic or even great for that matter.
At first he’s very reserved and stunned, but then Shawn celebrates like crazy to end the show.
Overall Rating: C-. Looking back, there’s really very little to this show. You have an overly long six man, a non match, a squash, a midcard match that went nowhere, a solid match, and a main event that was 40 minutes too long. That adds up to very little in my eyes. Check out the last 20 minutes of the Iron Man, the Taker/Diesel match and if you’re bored the first half of Piper/Goldust. There’s just nothing special here.