Iron Man Alumni Part II
As 1995 neared its end there was little doubt that the following year’s Wrestlemania XII would feature a World Championship match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. It seemed like the perfect match for Wrestlemania and felt the most natural. Over the previous year Michaels had quickly become the most popular character in the World Wrestling Federation. While he had fought for the championship in the past, it now seemed like the time was right for HBK to take his place at the top.
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship, Wrestlemania XII
The build to this match was incredible as the two most beloved stars of the sport held a mutual respect for one another complicated by their egos and strive to be the best. The match would no doubt be the biggest of the year on paper alone, but it took an unexpected turn and became even bigger when Roddy Piper, the interim president, made it a one-hour Iron Man match. The idea of a one-hour match on a WWF pay per view in 1996 didn?t seem like it would go over well. The WWF rarely had main events that went over thirty minutes at that point (the same can be said nowadays). However, die-hard wrestling fans? mouths watered at the upcoming Wrestlemania with a chance to see something special. With the match as big as it could be for this go-around, Wrestlemania XII was poised to be epic and memorable.
The match began with a spectacular entrance by Michaels, who came down to the ring on a harness from the rafters of the Anaheim Pond. Bret, the champion, chose a more conservative approach by walking down the aisle like he always had, and handing off his sunglasses to his son. Those two entrances alone were symbolic of how WWF was changing in this match. The bout started off very technical with the competitors trading headlock takeovers and arm bars. What surprised many, and which Vince McMahon pointed out in commentary, was the one dominating the early goings of the match; certainly not something you would expect in a Bret Hart match.
As time wore on you could tell that something special was taking place. HBK went for Sweet Chin Music on the outside of the ring but hit the timekeeper. Later in the bout HBK performed the most high-risk move up to that point in his career by jumping from the top rope the length of the ring to the outside where Hart was standing. The bout was perfect storytelling. Starting off slow then speeding up and slowing down, the rollercoaster effect kept fans at the edge of their seats. The last minutes of the match were fast paced and intense with each combatants pulling out their biggest moves and then some. With a little more than a minute left to go, HBK came off the roped with a drop kick only to be caught by Hart who quickly rolled him over into a Sharpshooter. Michaels held on as long as he could. The fans were on their feet waiting to see if Michaels would give in to the pain. He never did. The bell rang at the end of the sixty minutes, but here was one problem?Neither man had gained a single decision over the other whatsoever in the previous hour. Hart took that to mean he retained the title and began heading back to the showers only for the match to be restarted under sudden death rules.
Hart pounded on Michaels trying to finish him off but he was surprised with Sweet Chin Music. As both men, exhausted and pushed to the breaking point got to their feet, HBK hit one more kick to finish off Hart and take his place at the top of the World Wrestling Federation. One of the most epic matches in WWF history had just occurred. Whenever an Iron Man competition is booked, the HBK-Hitman match always comes to the minds of longtime fans as the standard that other Iron Men must live up to.
Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle
HBK made his return to the Iron Man competition some years later to face Kurt Angle, a man he had tapped out to in a classic match at Wrestlemania XXI. While not the epic outing of their Wrestlemania XXI match, it was still a beautiful wrestling bout. Very fast paced and intense, the match kept the attention of the audience from bell to bell. The end of the fall had both men tied up in decisions. Angle caught HBK and put him in the ankle lock. Shades of Wrestlemania XII, HBK held on, refusing to give up. HBK held on until the time limit expired ending the match in a draw. Angle was not able to duplicate his Wrestlemania win. While draw endings tend to give the audience the feel that they have been ripped off, there was nothing wrong this go around. It was the perfect ending for this particular match and no one would have any reason to feel ripped off.
This Sunday fans will be treated to another Iron Man match when John Cena challenges Randy Orton for the WWE championship at WWE Bragging Rights. The match promises to be a classic and will determine the face of Raw for months to come. Please join us next week here at the Nosebleeds as we look at Cena-Orton as well as a few more Iron Man matches in history in Part III of Iron Man Alumni.
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