Welcome to KB’s Old School (and New School) Reviews. I’ve been reviewing wrestling shows for over ten years now and have reviewed over 5,000 shows. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I’ll be posting a new review here on Wrestlingrumors.net, starting today. It could be anything from modern WWE to old school to indies to anything in between. Note that I rate using letters instead of stars and I don’t rate matches under three minutes as really, how good or bad can something that short be?
Date: March 31, 1996
Location: Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, California
Commentators: Jerry Lawler, Vince McMahon
Much like last year, there’s nothing else to talk about besides the main event. This is all about Shawn vs. Bret and they’re not even trying to hide it. The other big match on the card is Diesel vs. Undertaker but it’s so far behind the World Title match that it’s not fair to mention them in the same breath. Let’s get to it.
Before we get to the show, here’s a bonus that probably should have been on the main card (at least on paper). Occasionally WWF would air a match on their pre-show (known as the Kickoff Show in modern times) and I’ll include them if they’re available. There were dark matches for years before Wrestlemania would go on the air but this is the first that was actually recorded.
Free For All: Tag Team Titles: Godwinns vs. Bodydonnas
This is a tournament final for the vacant titles. The Bodydonnas (Skip and Zip, a pair of exercise enthusiasts) have Sunny, a rather attractive manager and the Godwinns (Henry O. and Phineas I. (get it?), hog farmers) have Hillbilly Jim in their corner. Of note there’s a big blimp flying around over the lower arena, making it practically impossible for fans sitting behind it to see a thing.
Henry and Zip start things off and a wheelbarrow slam gives the Godwinns early control. Phineas comes in and has one of his fits as he clears the ring. The fans aren’t exactly thrilled by any of this. Things settle back down and it’s Henry catapulting Zip over the top and down onto Skip for a nice crash to get the crowd into things a bit. For some reason Phineas tries to come in (he never was that bright) and the Bodydonnas take over with a double slingshot suplex.
Skip drops Zip into a legdrop onto Henry but a Rocket Launcher misses. The cold tag brings in Phineas to clean house and Skip is in trouble. Phineas loads up the Slop Drop (reverse DDT) but Sunny gets on the apron and pulls up her skirt to flash Phineas, allowing Skip to roll him up for the pin and the titles at 5:24.
Rating: D-. Thankfully these things would get better later on because this was terrible. It’s probably better that this wasn’t on the main show as people really didn’t need to see how dismal the tag division had become at this point. There were so many lame gimmick teams like this and they took years to get better, but even then it only lasted for a short time. Terrible match but the right result.
The opening video is entirely focused on Bret vs. Shawn and their contrasting personalities with Bret being all about respect and Shawn being very in your face. They respect each other coming in and this is going to be a great test for both, even though looking back there was no question about which way this was going.
Jake Roberts/Ahmed Johnson/Yokozuna vs. British Bulldog/Owen Hart/Vader
Johnson is an athletic freak who would have been WWF World Champion had he not been so injury prone. Yokozuna is even heavier than ever and is in this match to get his hands on the heels’ manager Jim Cornette if the good guys win. Vader is Cornette’s new charge and really shouldn’t need an introduction. The big guys start brawling at the start and it’s Yokozuna’s team clearing house with Yokozuna launching Ahmed over the top and out onto Vader. That’s good for a better reaction than anything in the Tag Team Title match had and we’re less than a minute in.
Vader and Yokozuna slug it out to start with Yokozuna getting the better of it until Owen and Vader get him down in the corner. Vader pounds him down with rights and lefts but misses a splash, allowing the hot tag to Ahmed. We get some real house cleaning from the powerhouse but Vader gets in a shot from behind. Vince talks about a herd of buffalo until Owen dropkicks Johnson down, allowing Vader to come back in for some more big shots to the head.
Ahmed completely misses a clothesline to Owen (Johnson had a great look and awesome charisma but he couldn’t do the actual wrestling part) and makes the tag off to Jake for his signature punches. Owen blocks the DDT though and it’s off to Bulldog for a front facelock. The heels keep taking turns on Jake and Owen’s top rope elbow gets two. Bulldog’s running powerslam gets the same (that’s a big surprise) and so does a splash from Vader.
Jake finally avoids a legdrop and falls into the tag off to Yokozuna who pounds Vader down in the corner again. Owen takes the DDT but Jake has to intercept an interfering Cornette. That looks to set up a DDT on Cornette but Vader makes the save and Vader Bombs Jake for the pin at 13:11.
Rating: C-. This didn’t need to be so long and the teasing of Yokozuna getting his hands on Cornette didn’t go anywhere. They did however keep Jake in there for the most part and that’s the right idea given how good he was at selling a beating like that. Yokozuna was only good for quick bursts at this point and the weight would lead to him leaving the company. Vader was clearly on the rise as he was a monster but one who could move with very impressive speed, making him a great addition to the main event.
Call the Hotline!
We recap Roddy Piper vs. Goldust, which can be translated to “Razor Ramon had drug issues so here’s Piper instead.” Piper is a man’s man and President of the WWF, but Goldust (still very bizarre in actions here instead of just in name only) is attracted to Piper and his power. That’s not cool with Roddy and it’s time for a fight at Wrestlemania. Not a match mind you, but they’re going to be fighting in a back lot.
Roddy Piper vs. Goldust
This is a Hollywood Back Lot Brawl and Piper is waiting, baseball bat in hand. Goldust drives up in a gold Cadillac, which Piper attacks with a fire hose and then the more logical bat. Piper goes after Goldust with the bat and the camera is jumping all over the place. They break up a concessions table and Piper beats him all over the lot, including some HARD right hands that sounded like they were making some very real impact.
Goldust gets slammed onto the hood of the car and seems to be bleeding from somewhere. A low blow slows Piper down and Goldust runs him over, causing Piper (or more likely a stunt man) to hang on as Goldust drives through the lot. Piper finally falls off and steals a white Bronco to chase after Goldust. No rating due to time but we’re not done with this yet.
Savio Vega vs. Steve Austin
Vega is a Puerto Rican brawler and Austin is the Million Dollar Champion (not on the line here) with Ted DiBiase in his corner. These two had been fighting for a bit but it was made worse when they had to team together in the Tag Team Title tournament. Austin didn’t want to win and laid out Savio instead. We’re ready to go after Savio says he’s ready for anything.
They slug it out and the brawl is quickly on the floor where a DiBiase distraction doesn’t do Austin any good. Back in and Vega’s shoulder goes into the post as Austin takes over on his own. That’s a nice, subtle point and would come into play months later when Austin intentionally got DiBiase sent out of the company.
Austin tries to work on the arm but Savio takes over with some nice kicks. Oh wait though as Roddy Piper calls in to say he’s chasing Goldust down the freeway because this isn’t over. Vega flips out of a chinlock but the arm is still bothering him. Austin comes back with a middle rope elbow as Piper gets on the phone again but his phone keeps cutting off when he’s about to swear. This is a bad sitcom plot.
A pinfall reversal sequence gets a few near falls each but we have an aerial shot of Piper…..which is the video from the OJ Simpson car chase. Back to the match (which shouldn’t have to happen more than once ever) and Austin dives into a raised boot to put both guys down. Savio wins a slugout but a spinwheel kick takes out the referee. The distraction lets DiBiase throw in the title belt goes upside Savio’s head twice, allowing Austin to put on the Million Dollar Dream until the referee wakes up to call the match at 10:03.
Rating: C. The match was entertaining while they actually focused on it but instead we had to sit through Piper calling in (likely from backstage) to advance this stupid idea that no one not named McMahon finds funny. These two feuded for several months and it was a very underrated pairing with both guys getting better as a result. Of course Austin would move on to a much bigger feud later in the year and never looked back, but this was really fun stuff like it lasted.
Austin won’t let the hold go for a long time after the match is over.
More Piper footage which is still from the OJ chase.
We recap Undertaker pulling Diesel through the mat last month at In Your House VI and then Diesel seeing himself in a coffin. Diesel says he’s dealing with Undertaker tonight and then Shawn is next. Yes Shawn and not the title. I guess even Diesel knew what was coming in the main event.
Another half second of Piper footage as the announcers make sure to not say where they’ve seen this before.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Ultimate Warrior
Helmsley has a new valet (like he did every week) named Sable. Warrior is making his return for the first time since 1992 and Lawler had been suggesting that he was 400lbs and bald. Of course he’s his normal (normalish I guess) self and Lawler looks like an idiot again. Helmsley (who is TINY by comparison to what he would become) attacks Warrior before the bell and hits the Pedigree thirty seconds in. Warrior is almost to his feet faster than Helmsley though and it’s time for the clotheslines and shoulders. The gorilla press and splash end Helmsley at 1:39, though I think he’ll be fine. Warrior would be gone again by July.
The debuting Wildman Marc Mero (Johnny B. Badd from WCW) says he’s ready for the competition here in the WWF. Helmsley stumbles in and they get in a fight to set up Mero’s first feud.
In Your House VII ad.
Diesel vs. Undertaker
This is the first time Undertaker has had a really serious challenger at Wrestlemania in a few years and for once he feels like he’s in real danger. These two have cost each other title shots at the last two pay per views and now it’s time for them to go one on one in a marginal dream match. Diesel wins a slugout to start and crushes Undertaker with a running clothesline in the corner.
Undertaker misses his big elbow but sits right back up and they quickly on the floor. A quick ram into the steps looks to set up the tombstone back inside but Diesel slips off the back and kicks Undertaker in the face for two. They’re flying through this so far. Undertaker misses the jumping clothesline and crashes into the ropes, only to snap Diesel’s throat across the top. Diesel is right back though and throws Undertaker into the barricade before stopping to pose.
Back in and the side slam gets two, followed by Snake Eyes (actually called that by Vince, I believe for the only time ever) to keep Undertaker in trouble. In a rare sight, both guys connect with a big boot at the same time (that’s hard to do when you think about it). It’s Diesel up first and we hit the bearhug on Undertaker. Lawler: “YOU GOT HIM BAY-BAY!”
Undertaker suplexes his way out of it but Diesel is up again and scores with the Jackknife. He’d rather celebrate than cover though and Undertaker eventually sits up. That’s fine with Diesel as he hits a second Jackknife but still won’t cover, allowing Undertaker to get up and grab him by the throat. That earns Undertaker a belly to back suplex but he pops up for a bad looking chokeslam. Undertaker plants Diesel with the Tombstone for the pin at 16:37 to make it 5-0.
Rating: B. Diesel was on his way out for WCW but he was actually having better matches every month right before he left. This was by far the best Undertaker Wrestlemania match so far as they were beating the tar out of each other. It’s nice to see Undertaker actually in some trouble instead of just destroying people for a change and Diesel gave him a great challenge. This was much better than I was expecting and a great big man fight.
Ultimate Warrior is on America Online.
Goldust and Piper return in their cars and fight to the ring with Goldust getting the better of it. Another low blow has Piper in trouble and now it’s time for Goldust to strip him. Piper’s bad leg is wrapped around the post but it just seems to fire him up even more. Goldust goes to kiss him but punches Piper in the face instead. That’s fine with Piper as he crotches Goldust on top, only to have Goldust kiss him. Piper will have none of that and he hammers away before grabbing Goldust between the legs. Now it’s time for a spanking, followed by Piper stripping Goldust down to some S&M lingerie to finally end it.
Piper’s son Colt comes in to celebrate with him.
We look back at the history of Bret vs. Shawn with a focus on both of their (singles) history in the company. Shawn has been rising through the ranks and is looking to fulfill his boyhood dream. We also get a focus on their training style with Shawn learning under high flier Jose Lothario and Bret being taught submissions by his father Stu Hart. This worked very well and summed up the entire idea in about a minute and a half.
Shawn says everyone knows the story and now it’s time for the final chapter.
Bret says he just wants to wake up tomorrow morning with the title.
Gorilla Monsoon is introduced as the new President of the WWF.
WWF World Title: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
Bret is defending and this is a sixty minute Iron Man match, meaning the most falls (pin, submission, countout, disqualification) in the time limit wins. Lothario comes out with no Shawn but he points to the top of the arena for Shawn’s famous zipline entrance into the crowd. That shot of him riding down into the arena was shown on a lot of highlight packages for a very long time. Hebner explains the rules in full, even down to how a countout works, and we’re ready to go.
Feeling out process to start as Shawn grabs some quick takedowns to frustrate Bret just a bit. Bret holds on to a headlock to slow things down as Vince tries to say there are no Bret or Shawn fans but only WWF fans. Lawler is all over him for sounding stupid as this headlock continues. In this case though it makes sense as both guys would want to conserve energy.
Shawn fights up into a top wristlock but Bret reverses into a front facelock. That goes nowhere so Shawn escapes into an armbar. They get to their feet and try to pick up the pace but it’s right back to the mat for more arm cranking on the champ. Bret takes him into the corner for some shots to the ribs but Shawn forearms him in the jaw and headscissors Bret to the floor.
We’re ten minute in and you might think that headscissors would start the second gear but instead it’s right back to the armbar from Shawn. Bret stops to yell at Lothario and the distraction lets Shawn crank on the arm all over again. The hold stays on so long that Vince and Jerry actually talk strategy and analyze the match. Back up and Michaels gets caught in a spinebuster but fights out of a Sharpshooter attempt. They head to the floor and Bret is sent into the timekeeper’s area where a superkick takes the timekeeper’s (who looked a lot like Tony Chimmel) head off.
Back in and Bret grabs a chinlock to slow things down all over again. Shawn FINALLY fights up and hits a hard clothesline but Bret nails one of his own and it’s right back to that chinlock. Another comeback from Shawn includes a dropkick and there’s another armbar. We’re twenty minutes in and this already isn’t boding well. Shawn pulls on the wrist with his foot in Bret’s face before switching to a regular armbar. Good thing too as the fans might have been interested in something different.
Back up and they get a bit more aggressive as Bret’s shoulder is sent into the post. A shoulder breaker and hammerlock slam (shades of the Andersons) have Bret in even more trouble but Shawn isn’t following up. There’s a cross armbreaker on the wrong arm so Shawn quickly switches to the proper version. Shawn switches up to a seated armbar for a good bit until Bret fights up with a Stun Gun for the break. The arm keeps giving him problems though and Shawn sends Bret face first into the buckle. Bret isn’t done yet though as he comes back with the Five Moves of Doom.
For some reason he goes to the top rope and Shawn is ready to catch him, but Bret puts his knee on the back of Shawn’s head and drives him down onto the mat. Shawn comes back with a powerslam for two as there are thirty minutes to go. A slam brings Bret off the top again and a hurricanrana lets Shawn hammer away. That’s one of the first lucha style moves Shawn has used after basically promising to use a bunch of them. Nice little head game there and not something you often see work on Bret.
The threat of Sweet Chin Music sends Bret to the floor but Michaels goes to the top and LAUNCHES himself down onto Bret. That was one heck of a dive and always impresses me whenever I see this match. Back in and a PerfectPlex gets two on the champ. We hit a sleeper, which is smart but annoying after everything we’ve sat through here. Bret fights up (the arm injury disappeared a long time ago) and backdrops Shawn WAY over the top for a huge crash. Lothario comes over to check on him but somehow it’s not a countout.
Back in and Bret works on the back with an ax handle and backbreaker. There are twenty minutes left and Bret drops him with a belly to back superplex. We hit the reverse chinlock for a bit until Shawn fights up, only to have Bret throw him to the floor and into Lothario. With fifteen minutes to go, Bret even screams at Jose as he tries to get up and belly to bellys Shawn down for two. That’s rather heelish of him. The yelling, not the suplex.
Shawn’s right hands don’t get him anywhere as Bret counters a rollup by kicking Michaels outside again. This time it’s Bret diving through the ropes to take Shawn down again. Bret is willing to take the countout now but then changes his mind and breaks it up. Lawler: “He’s his own worst enemy! No, not as long as I’m still alive.” Back in and a German suplex gets two for the champ and Shawn can barely stand. He’s still able to slug it out from his knees though, telling Bret to bring it on.
A big headbutt puts Shawn down but Bret can’t follow up. After a few shakes of his head, Bret grabs another reverse chinlock and we have ten minutes to go. Shawn fights up yet again but it’s a double clothesline to reset things all over again. There’s a superplex from Bret as Vince declares it over at the six minute mark. He’s wrong on both counts as not only does it not get a fall but there were nearly seven minutes left.
Shawn kicks Bret in the face to block a Sharpshooter so Hart has to settle for a half crab instead. Unfortunately Shawn is right next to the ropes for the save and we’ve got five minutes left. Bret dives into a boot and both guys are down again. Shawn comes back with a nice dropkick to send Bret into the corner and there’s the Irish whip for Bret’s chest first buckle bump. Four minutes left and Shawn forearms into the nipup (which the camera misses) as it’s time for a comeback. Lawler: “Michaels has just gotten his nineteenth wind!”
With three minutes left, Shawn gets two off a top rope ax handle. The top rope elbow gets the same and Shawn plants him with a gutwrench powerbomb. He goes up with two minutes left and a moonsault press gets another near fall. A middle rope hurricanrana gets the same and Shawn is winded. With a minute left, Shawn goes up top but misses a dropkick and gets caught in the Sharpshooter. Bret cranks back on it but the time limit expires at 1:00:00.
We’re not done yet though as Bret goes to leave, only to have Monsoon make a ruling that we’re getting sudden death because THERE MUST BE A WINNER. Bret is ticked and starts hammering away on the back but Shawn jumps over him in the corner and hits Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere. Everyone (including me when I was watching live) jumps to their feet but Shawn can’t follow up. Both guys stagger to their feet and another superkick gives Shawn the first fall and the title at 1:01:50.
Rating: B-. This is a really tricky one to grade but the first twenty minutes ruin whatever else they could have had here. It’s just a bunch of laying around in rest holds, which may make sense but that doesn’t mean it’s entertaining. This would have been much better off as a regular match running about forty minutes as it increases drama and lets you believe that something might happen at any given moment.
The match is fondly remembered and it’s certainly not bad, but it’s definitely nowhere near a classic. Allegedly neither guy wanted to job multiple times to the other and it caused the match to be a bunch of waiting around for the first and decisive fall, which made for a dull match until the last five minutes. Unfortunately that’s the case with almost all Iron Man matches and it certainly happened here too. Good match, but not as great as it’s hyped up to be.
Bret is all ticked off and leaves, not to be seen for over seven months. Vince gets in the great line of “the boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels.” Shawn is stunned but finally celebrates like you knew he was going to do.
A highlight package takes us out.
Overall Rating: B. This was a one match show but the Diesel vs. Undertaker match was more than enough to help push it up to a higher level. This was still a bad time for the company but they were smart enough to go with a new direction. Shawn’s success as champion would be hit or miss on his best day but there was no question that this was the right move at the time. It’s not a great show, but when nearly half of it is spent on an entertaining enough match, the show is a success.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books. Get the latest and greatest in professional wrestling news by signing up for our daily email newsletter. Just look below for “GET EXCLUSIVE UPDATES” to sign up. Thank you for reading!