411’s Top 30 WrestleMania Matches of All Time: #10 - Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (WM 12)
Posted by Larry Csonka on 03.27.2014
411 continues its look at the top 30 matches in the history of WrestleMania with the iron man match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 12!
Welcome back to 411Mania, and welcome to 411's official countdown to WrestleMania 30! Every year, the 411 staff comes together in some way to bring you, the fine readers of our site, a special countdown to WrestleMania. In past years we have done special countdown columns, ranking the shows, rating them overall, discussing special aspects of the big event, and even columns that have served as odes to the matches and moments that are etched into our minds.
To some fans, WrestleMania is the biggest show of the year, and the way that WWE has transformed the event into a near weeklong party, it may as well be a holiday to the fans that love our special brand of entertainment. Call it sport or call it a specially designed male soap opera, we love it and we love to talk about what makes things special. WrestleMania is an institution, and this year, as the WWE gets prepared to put on their 30th WrestleMania event, we decided to go big. Starting on March 7th, and running all the way to April 5th, 411 will present the top 30 matches in WrestleMania history.
Each writer on the 411 staff was given the opportunity to nominate 30 matches of their choosing. #1 on their list received 30 points, #2 received 29 points, and so on and so forth. Writers were asked to base their lists on both match quality and historical significance to create their nominations. The final list was created, and there was a ton of competition for the top spot. In fact, the voting was so tight that the top FOUR matches were separated by a mere 16-points.
Each day we will present a match from the list, which will include a full recap of the match from the 411 archives (from Scott Slimmer, JD Dunn, and Robert Leighty Jr.) as well as thoughts from the writers. Thank you for reading, and we hope that you enjoy our presentation…
First 20 Minutes:
Bret gives his sunglasses to his son Blade before the match gets started. As expected a very slow start to the match as they are trying to pace themselves. Shawn controls early with some basic wrestling moves and that frustrates Hart. Bret reverses to a side headlock, and works that for a few minutes. Shawn tries to push off, but Bret holds on and rides Michaels to the mat. Our first two count of the match comes for Bret off the side headlock. Shawn tries to escape again, but Bret maintains the hold. Shawn gets his first two count when he rolls Bret back on his shoulders. A small flurry occurs with various counters much to the crowds delight, but it all ends with Bret regaining control with the side headlock. Shawn gets another two count before both men get to their feet. Michaels breaks with a back heel trip, but Bret switches to a front facelock. He switches that right back to the side headlock, but Shawn finally quickens the pace, and drops Bret with 2 arm drags. Shawn now works his hold of choice: an arm bar. We are about eight minutes in, and Lawler starts breaking out the age jokes on Helen and Stu Hart. Shawn reverses Bret's attempt at another side headlock into a hammerlock. The story so far is that Shawn has been able to match Bret on the mat, which nobody expected going into the match. Lawler has done a tremendous job of putting this fact over. Bret starts to go heel as he won't break clean in the corner. He tosses Michaels, but he uses the top rope to counter with a head scissors that sends Bret to the floor. The move had little effect on Bret physically, but his reaction shows it frustrated him. Shawn gets sent over the top, but skins the cat, and rides Bret back to the mat with the arm bar. Bret quickens the pace and buries a knee into midsection of Shawn. He drops a head butt to the abs, and goes right back to the neck. Shawn breaks a chinlock with a jawbreaker, and grounds Bret with a cross arm breaker. Both men get to their feet, and things pick up as Shawn tries a leapfrog. Bret catches him though and drops him with a spinebuster. Shawn gets clotheslined to the floor and Bret follows. In the chaos on the floor the poor timekeeper eats Sweet Chin Music. Perhaps that's why he had no problem ringing the fucking bell some 18 months later. He was pissed at Bret for moving out of the way of the kick. The medics stretcher out the timekeeper as Bret controls things in the ring with another chinlock. Bret screams "ask him Earl, this isn't a starring contest," in a funny moment. Bret hits a sweet hooking clothesline that damn near killed Shawn, and we go right back to the chinlock. The crowd has hung with them so far and starts rallying behind Shawn. He responds with a dropkick and takes Bret right back to the mat with another arm bar.
Middle 20 Minutes:
-Michaels continues the arm/shoulder work, and after Bret rolls to a facelock, Shawn casually counters to a hammerlock. They get to their feet, and head to the corner where Bret breaks with two pretty vicious back elbows. Shawn reverses a whip, and sends Bret shoulder first into the ring post. He wraps Bret's shoulder around the post, and has time to curse at a cameraman who got a little too close. Classy! A sweet shoulder breaker continues the damage, and things get better with a nasty looking hammerlock slam. He sends Bret shoulder first into the turnbuckle this time. I think the post worked better, but still effective. This first twenty-five minutes has been all about Shawn. Bret starts to fire back, but sets to early on a backdrop and eats a single arm DDT to further damage the shoulder. He goes back to the cross arm breaker, but Bret escapes by raking his boot on Shawn's face. A stun gun on the middle rope finally gets Bret a chance to regroup. He slingshots Shawn into the post, and because of a delay he is only able to get a two count. Things pick up as Bret starts taking over on offense. He hits a nice bulldog, and heads to the top rope. That doesn't go so well though as Shawn catches him. They fight there for a few seconds before Bret rides Shawn down into the ref. Shawn is able to snap off a powerslam for a two count. He attempts a backdrop, but he also sets early, and Bret hits a piledrive much to the delight of Lawler. Hart goes to the top rope again as Lawler questions his logic, and again it fails, as Michaels slams him to the mat. They seem to blow a spot as Bret hooks the ropes earlier than Shawn had thought. They repeat the spot after a backbreaker, and it ends with Bret bailing to the floor. He walks around the ring and Shawn greets him with a cross body off the top rope. Bret stated in his book that he practically had to catch Shawn because he was heading for the railing. Shawn fires Bret back into the ring, and heads to the top rope. He hits another cross body, but Bret rolls through for a hot near fall. That seriously should have been in a pin in any other Iron Man Match. Shawn actually has the balls to bust out a perfect-plex, but it only gets two. I guess that proves Shawn's not perfect. He slows things down again with a sleeper. I always loved how this decided a fall in the Rock/HHH match, but not here. Shawn sends Bret across the ring with a mule kick. He charges at Bret, but in a crazy bump he gets back dropped over the post and to the floor. Shawn got some serious elevation on that one, and took a sweet bump as he hit the floor. Bret goes out to greet Shawn and rams him back first into the post. He fires Shawn back into the ring and goes to work on the damaged back. He heads to the middle rope and drops an elbow into the lower back. They seem to botch another spot, but they cover well enough as Bret hits a backbreaker.
Final 20 Minutes
-Shawn gets sent into the buckles and does a flip to end up sitting on the turnbuckle. That's perfect for Bret as he brings him down from the top rope with a belly to back suplex. That easily could have been a fall as well. Bret locks in a camel clutch, but Shawn is able to break. He gets a fluke two count off a sunset flip, but has nothing to follow it up with. Shawn finds the strength to come off the middle rope, but Bret calmly buries a fist into the midsection. He nails a side Russian leg sweep, and sends Shawn into the buckles with such force that Shawn flips to the floor and lands on Jose. There were some big cheers from some in the crowd for that one. Bret follows to the floor and fires Shawn into the steps where he runs into Jose again. Bret has time to yell at Jose before getting back in the ring. The two men start trading blows in the center of the ring, but Bret cuts him off with a timely shot to the back. Bret attempts a suplex, but Shawn flips out and gets a roll-up. Bret kicks out at two and it sends Shawn to the floor. As Shawn gets to his feet he is met by Bret diving through the ropes. He looks to pick Shawn up, but changes his mind and decides to get a count-out. Shawn is able to get to apron, and Bret tries to suplex him back in the ring. Again, Shawn lands on his feet, and tries a suplex of his own, but Bret reverses and hits a sweet German suplex. Bret fires away, and Shawn tells him to bring it. That only pisses Bret off and he stiffs the shit out of Shawn with a boot. Awesome! We reach the 10:00 mark with Bret controlling with a modified camel clutch. Shawn is able to get to his knees to relieve the pressure on his back, but Bret is content to control from that position. The fans again rally Shaw, and he breaks the hold with some elbows. They do the double clothesline spot to leave them bout out with 7:30 remaining. They start trading blows again in the middle of the ring as they are doing a great job of selling their exhaustion. Bret is able to hook Shawn on the top rope and deliver a super-plex. He goes for the sharpshooter, but Shawn blocks. The Hitman keeps hold of the ankle, and goes for a figure four, but Shawn blocks that, so Bret settles for a single leg Boston crab. Shawn is too close to the ropes though, and is able to break things rather quickly. He continues the work on the back with another backbreaker. He heads to the middle rope, but all he finds is Shawn's boot as he lands. A beautiful dropkick from Shawn hits Bret squarely in the face. Bret takes his sternum corner bump as Shawn starts to build steam. The flying forearm leads to the nip-up, and now Shawn is controlling things. He lands a flying back elbow, and gets a two count off a twisting double axe from the top rope. A snap suplex sets up the flying elbow (still not as good as Savage's) and that gets another two count. At the two minute mark Shawn hits a gutwrench powerbomb for two. A moonsault press from the top rope gets yet another two count. Shawn is throwing all he has to Hart to get the much needed pin fall, and it's not working. He heads to the top rope for a final time, but Bret catches him and locks in the sharpshooter with 35 seconds to go. The fans erupt as half are begging Shawn to hold on, while the other half are hoping he squeals like a pig. The match ends 0-0 and Bret receives the title from Hebner. Gorilla gets in the ring, and lets the ref know that there must be a winner. Finkle lets everyone know we are headed to sudden death OT much to the chagrin of Bret. I got to side with Bret on this one.
-This was all set up when Piper announced that there had to be a winner one way or another. The bell rings and the OT starts with Bret pounding on the injured back. A backdrop kills Shawn, and a side suplex doesn't help the bad back. Shawn floats over Bret in the corner and gets Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere. Bret actually beats Shawn to his feet, but he walks right into a second Sweet Chin Music and that finishes things at 61:53.
-Hebner goes to give Shawn the belt, but he won't take it. He tells Hebner to get Bret out of the fucking ring because this is his moment. Bret storms out pissed, and at the time I thought he was legitimately pissed. In his book he stated this was done as a way to set up future matches between the two. I'm sure it was part of the story, but that "get out of the fucking ring" comment probably rubbed Bret the wrong way so he didn't have to try too hard to be pissed. In a funny moment the camera pans to Bret's son and they catch him singing "Sexy Boy." Tremendous!
- By Robert Leighty Jr
Jeremy Lambert: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart is one of the greatest rivalries in wrestling history and it truly started at WrestleMania 12 when Michaels and Hart wrestled for over 60 minutes in an Iron Man Match. By 1996, one-hour matches were a bit of an anomaly. Aside from Ric Flair, who seemed to go an hour every night in the 1980's, wrestling for 60-minutes just wasn't very common, especially in the 90's.
Michaels and Hart set a new standard at WrestleMania 12 when they competed in the first ever WWF Iron Man Match. While some feel that the match suffered due to the lack of finishes, I felt that it added more drama to things. For an hour they hit each other with everything they had and couldn't score even one fall. It was like the great Stanley Cup Final Game 4 between the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers as the teams went 60 minutes with no goals on the board before the Avalanche won in triple overtime. It didn't take Michaels another 44:31 to score the pinfall, but the drama in the first 60-minutes were something special.
Both men put their all into this match and this really solidified Michaels as Mr. WrestleMania. He'd had great matches in previous years against the likes of Razor Ramon and Diesel, but he'd come up short in those matches. This time he put on another classic, picked up the victory, and won his first WWF World Title. It takes two to dance though, and Bret was every bit apart of this classic as Michaels. He wrestled with his usual smooth technical brilliance, hooking the fans into believing everything they were seeing, especially all the false finishes.
I say this was the true start of the Michaels/Hart feud because prior to this match, the two always seemed to have a mutual respect for each other outside the ring. Even leading up to the match, everything between the two was cool for the most part. But when Michaels won and told Bret to "get out of my ring," Bret took that as a sign of disrespect that he wouldn't stand for. That moment really ignited the rivalry that played out in front of our eyes through November 1997.
Despite the flaws of the match, to this day, Michaels/Hart remains my personal favorite WrestleMania match because of who it involved, the setting, and the fact that it was the first ever WrestleMania that I watched live.
Samer Kadi: Arguably the most polarizing match on the list. In fact, it is perhaps the most controversial North American classic. To this very day, opinion remains highly divided as far as this match's quality is concerned. Depending on whom you ask, it is either the most overrated wrestling match in history, or a one-of-a-kind technical masterpiece. Critics have often labeled it as dull, citing the contest's opening thirty minutes, which were contested at an extremely methodical pace. Likewise, the lack of pin-falls throughout has been another knock on the match, with many adding that it took away from the drama.
Admittedly, there is some truth to the second statement, as once the match reached the final ten minutes (give or take), it became apparent that one fall was all it is going to take. Therefore, it was difficult to buy into the near falls and submission attempts until the very last two minutes or so. In that regard, the format may have indeed hurt the match. Iron man matches are always tricky business, due to the different approach the wrestlers have to adopt, the different psychology employed, etc... Not to mention, the fact that everyone in the audience knows how long the match is going to last kills some of the drama and tension throughout, and may even lead to a bit of disinterest until the final stages.
Nevertheless, great wrestling is great wrestling, and this match was nothing short of phenomenal in that regard. The formula was simple: the two biggest stars in the company – and the two most talented wrestlers – facing each other on the biggest stage, for the biggest prize, in a 60-minute match. How could you go wrong with that?
The first 30 minutes were actually my favorite portion of the match. In the scope of the feud, they made complete sense. They served to highlight how evenly matched both men were, as they traded wrestling holds and reversals and slowly built the match up. Even from a strategic standpoint, it made sense that they would be looking to pace themselves while slowly wearing each other down. The first half of the match is what ultimately made the faster paced second half all the more spectacular. Not to mention, headlocks, armbars and some of the other mat wrestling stuff they did are pretty timeless, which means that the match will always age well.
The way in which they managed to slowly build things up before switching gears was absolutely masterful. The overtime might have seemed a bit excessive (and was no doubt a result of backstage egos, while serving as a means to protect the loser), it nonetheless made sense, and set the tone for Bret's heel turn the following year, as he felt he should have retained the title after the 60-minute stalemate. Whenever someone questions the quality of the match I ask them to think of it this way: had it not been an Iron Man match, and the action unfolded exactly the way it did, it would have been among the absolute best of all time (which I believe it is, regardless).
The match holds much historical significance, both for what transpired inside the ring and the backstage drama that surrounded it, and would culminate with one of the most infamous events in pro-wrestling history the following year at the Survivor Series.