Torch Today MAR. 31 IN HISTORY: WM12 features HBK vs. Hart 60 minutes, Taker's Streak continues, Warrior vs. Triple H, more
Mar 31, 2014 - 8:35:25 AM
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This Day In Wrestling History - March 31
Date: March 31, 1996 (18 years ago)
Feature: WrestleMania 12 featured Shawn Michaels defeating Bret Hart in a 60-minute Iron Man match to capture the WWF Title for the first time. The PPV also featured The Undertaker extending The Streak over Diesel (Kevin Nash), Ultimate Warrior returning to WWF/E to squash Triple H, and the Goldust vs. Roddy Piper backlot brawl...
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PWTORCH COVER STORY
HEADLINE: Michaels defeats Bret after 60-plus minutes
SUBHEADLINE: Highly anticipated main event falls short of expectations, Warrior's return met with cheers
By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor
Shawn Michaels defeated Bret Hart one fall to none less than two minutes into a sudden-death overtime session. No falls took place in the initial 60 minute period. Michaels pinned Bret after two superkicks. Hart left the ring without congratulating Michaels, uncharacteristic of what traditionally happens after two babyfaces wrestle such a long, grueling match. The storyline is Hart was upset because WWF President Gorilla Monsoon ordered the match to continue; after all, had the match been ruled a draw after 60 minutes, Hart would have retained the title. That bit of controversy can be used down the line as the main controversy for what appears to be a marketable re-match after Bret Hart's hiatus.
By walking out of the match without personally handing Michaels the belt, Bret may have been showing the legitimate undercurrent of legitimate heat he has over having to drop the belt to someone with whom he shares personal and professional animosity and friction. There were no blow-ups backstage to confirm that the tension was a shoot, but Michaels's reaction after the match also lent credibility to that theory.
After being handed the WWF Title belt by the referee, and after having been through the longest and most important match of his career, Michaels's facial expression seemed to be fighting back the same feeling many viewers have voiced: letdown. The match fell short of what had been grand expectations. Michaels tried to cry for the camera as he clutched the belt, but either exhaustion or disappointment prevented it.
The match built slowly - very slowly - and for many viewers, it wasn't the type of match they were expecting. It was rarely not well executed, but the highspots (some of them very good) were not plentiful and the lack of falls took away a tool for generating crowd heat, something lacking throughout because the pacing was so deliberate.
Bret Hart clearly dictated the style and pace of the match. Michaels, it seems safe to assume given his pre-match hype, would have preferred a faster-paced match, but being the junior of the two wrestlers, went along with Bret's call of the match. Bret kept the action on the mat for most of the match and at a pace that, had the two wrestlers not been so over to begin with, would have made for a pretty boring match.
The intent of going 60 minutes without a fall was to build and build and build anticipation of the inevitable first fall, so near falls and submissions would be as entertaining as a breakaway in triple overtime of a hockey game. While many marathon matches lose credibility by having pinfalls too early, this match was unrealistic in that there were no falls well beyond when one would have been expecting them. The crowd may have even caught onto the plan as the pops for near falls and submission holds weren't what they would have been had there been some falls earlier in the match.
At the 59:30 mark Bret caught Michaels coming off the top rope by grabbing his legs. He then quickly wrapped Michaels into the sharpshooter. It was the loudest moment of the match as the fans cheered either for Bret to win or Michaels not to give up. When Michaels didn't give up, though, there was no pop from the crowd, no standing ovation, no sense of relief, just confusion. They were asking the question that sensibly should have been answered well ahead of time: What happens in the case of a draw?
Gorilla Monsoon ruled that the match would continue, but not until Bret Hart had walked down the aisle toward the locker room with the title belt over his shoulder. When Howard Finkle announced the match would continue, Bret turned around, acted shocked, and walked back to the ring complaining the whole way. He threw the belt to the ground just before re-entering the ring.
Less than two minutes later, perhaps too short a time to re-entrench fans into the match, Michaels hit two superkicks in a 60 second span to score the pinfall. After Bret left the ring and Michaels clutched the belt, Michaels did not get the overwhelming ovation he probably dreamed of. The clean finish was marred by the controversy of whether going to overtime was fair to Bret.
The friendship and mutual respect between Michaels and Razor Ramon was clear in their ladder matches. The tension and jealousy between Michaels and Bret was clear in this match. That took away from what - all that notwithstanding - was still a memorable match worthy of its main event position.
In what could turn out to be a big story, Pat Patterson returned for this show and was said to be involved somewhat in its booking, although he was not formally reintroduced to the wrestlers in an official capacity. There were fingerprints of Patterson's booking style throughout the card.
Wrestlemania, earning a 7.6 average Torch reader score, was a good show, but not a classic. It had a little bit of everything, from Warrior's return squashing Hunter Hearst Helmsley (and receiving the biggest pop of the night in the process) to Roddy Piper's stiff brawl with Goldust in the backlot match followed by a tongue-in-cheek O.J. white Bronco chase and Goldust being stripped down to his strange undergarments.
The surprise of the night was the quality of the Undertaker vs. Diesel match. While Diesel doing a clean job may hurt the buyrate of the next pay-per-view, his willingness to do the clean job and his effort throughout the match was a testament to his professionalism.
- READ MORE: Keller's WM12 PPV Report HERE for VIP members.
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PWTorch editor Wade Keller has covered pro wrestling full time since 1987 starting with the Pro Wrestling Torch print newsletter. PWTorch.com launched in 1999 and the PWTorch Apps launched in 2008.
He has conducted "Torch Talk" insider interviews with Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Eric Bischoff, Jesse Ventura, Lou Thesz, Jerry Lawler, Mick Foley, Jim Ross, Paul Heyman, Bruno Sammartino, Goldberg, more.
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He hosted the weekly Pro Wrestling Focus radio show on KFAN in the early 1990s and hosted the Ultimate Insiders DVD series distributed in retail stories internationally in the mid-2000s including interviews filmed in Los Angeles with Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara and Matt & Jeff Hardy. He currently hosts the most listened to pro wrestling audio show in the world, (the PWTorch Livecast, top ranked in iTunes)
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