It’s 1996 and the World Wrestling Federation is coming off one of the worst years in the history of their company as they headed towards the Royal Rumble. This year wouldn’t be that much better in terms of making money, but they were starting to build a better roster.
While WCW was getting hotter and building its audience, the WWF was still trying to figure things out. I think 1996 was a better year for the WWF creatively than the previous three years, though, so that’s a positive thing looking back on it.
This was the year when future main eventers like Steve Austin and Triple H made their Rumble debuts while Shawn Michaels was in the position to get that big babyface push after years of being a heel. We also saw guys named Rocky Maivia and Mankind show up later in the year. Plus, there were main event stalwarts like Bret Hart and The Undertaker in the main event of this show. All of that means things were getting better for the WWF. There are still a lot of bad gimmicks in this Rumble, though, so be warned because some of the names might scare you.
This was written several years ago. My additional thoughts are in blue font as well because there’s always more to say.
This was the poster they used to promote the event at the time.
WWF Royal Rumble
January 21, 1996
From Selland Arena in Fresno, California
The show began with Sunny in a bathtub and holding a glass of champagne saying, “viewer discretion is advised.” They were not yet pushing the edginess of the product with women on the show, but they were utilizing more women as we’ll see later.
There was an opening video package promoting the big matches at the PPV as well as the Royal Rumble match.
The announcers were Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect, who was just okay as an announcer. Jerry Lawler was a better announcer, but they needed him in the Rumble match. Perfect’s long run in the company was over in November of 1996. He did come back in 2002.
Jeff Jarrett made his entrance for the opening match. They showed clips of Jarrett beating up Ahmed Johnson at the previous In Your House event to set up this match. I don’t remember that angle. Ahmed Johnson got a nice pop from the crowd and he ran down to the ring to start the match.
Ahmed Johnson vs. Jeff Jarrett
Pre-match notes: Johnson was the face and Jarrett was the heel.
Johnson was aggressive early, Jarrett bailed to the floor, Johnson chased after him and got a hiptoss when they got back into the ring. Ahmed countered a headlock by tossing Jarrett across the ring. Johnson was in control with multiple shoulder tackles followed by a forward slam for a two count. Johnson with a jumping clothesline, then he charged, Jarrett moved and when Johnson was on the floor, Jarett hit him with a clothesline. Jarrett whipped Johnson into the steel steps. Back in the ring, Jarrett jumped onto Johnson’s back, then Johnson no sold three double axehandle moves and Johnson hit an atomic drop followed by a clothesline. Johnson hit a spinebuster that looked good. Jarrett to the floor and Johnson jumped over the top onto Jarrett, which was an impressive dive. Johnson went up top for a spinning splash, but Jarrett moved. That led to Jarrett slapping on the Figure Four Leglock by Jarrett although Johnson reversed it after about 30 seconds. Jarrett worked over the left leg of Johnson until Johnson kicked him out of the ring. Jarrett went up top with his guitar, Johnson turned around and Jarrett crushed the guitar on Johnson’s head. The referee Jimmy Korderas saw it, so Jarrett was disqualified at 6:40.
Winner by disqualification: Ahmed Johnson
Analysis: *1/4 This was a boring match. That’s not a surprise when Johnson was involved since he rarely had good matches. The finish was lame too. They were trying to push Johnson during this period, but they didn’t even give him a clean win here, which is a bit of a surprise.
(Bad match that was a terrible choice for an opener. Ahmed Johnson had a lot of bad matches. Awful finish too.)
After the match, Jarrett got to the back while Johnson ran to the back to get him. They showed replays of Jarrett’s intentional DQ finish with the guitar.
Diesel was interviewed by Todd Pettengill in the locker room. Diesel said he didn’t know what he was going to do next, but he’ll have the time of his life. Diesel talked about Shawn Michaels winning last year, Vader is a big guy that has to prove himself and Diesel said it looks like Big Daddy Cool time instead of Vader time. Diesel said he didn’t have a problem with The Undertaker, he just has a problem that he’s the number one contender and said that Bret Hart and Undertaker can’t match up to him.
Analysis: They were planting the seed of the Diesel feud with Undertaker. There will be more on that later in the show.
The Bodydonnas entered led by their manager Sunny. She was easy on the eyes at this point in her life. She was very popular with the male audience, that’s for sure. Sunny did a promo about how Skip (Chris Candido) and Zip (Tom Prichard) were going to win the tag team titles. The Smoking Gunns entered as the champions to a decent pop.
WWF Tag Team Championships: The Smoking Gunns (Billy and Bart Gunn) vs. Bodydonnas (Skip and Zip) w/Sunny
Pre-match notes: Skip and Sunny were the heels although Sunny got cheered a lot because she was a gorgeous woman. The Smoking Gunns were billed as brothers, but they were not related at all. They were the babyface champions in their second reign as champions and they were about four months into this title reign.
Skip with a headscissors, Billy with a back body drop and Skip sent Billy over the top to the floor. Double back elbow by Bodydonnas on Billy, then Bart sent both Bodydonnas on the floor and Billy hit a sloppy looking dive onto the heels on the floor. Billy and Bart took turns working over Skip with punches. Sunny tried to distract the Gunns, she even did a booty shake and Bart worked over Zip with chops followed by a press slam. Skip got the blind tag with a running clothesline, Billy tagged and the Gunns hit a double clothesline into a slam similar to the Hart Foundation’s old finishing move. Sunny was on the apron, Skip was whipped into the ropes and Sunny bumped to the floor. Billy went to check on Sunny, so Skip and Zip attacked Billy. Skip hit a dive over onto Billy on the floor. Skip slammed Zip onto Billy for a two count. Zip also slammed Skip onto Billy for a two count. The heels double-teamed Billy by sending him into the turnbuckle repeatedly followed by Zip slapping on a chinlock. Vince said that Sunny “was very impressive” and I think that’s a good way of putting it. Skip tagged in with a body slam, he actually slipped getting to the middle ropes and then he hit a fist drop for a two count. There was a double team flapjack by the Bodydonnas as the camera showed Sunny jumping around at ringside. Billy managed to get away from the heels leading to Bart getting the hot tag. Bart with punches, then a back body drop on Skip and a back elbow on Zip. Billy went into the ring where Zip hit a back body drop on Skip by accident, body slam on Zip and Billy went to the middle rope for the double team leg drop, but Sunny distracted the referee. Skip jumped off the top with a forearm to the back of Bart for a two count. The Bodydonnas did a double back body drop on Bart, but Billy saved his partner from a double suplex. Bart got a sloppy looking inside cradle on Skip for the pinfall win at 11:14 while Billy tackled Zip to prevent a save.
Winners by pinfall: The Smoking Gunns
Analysis: **1/2 The match was okay with the champs retaining because the Smoking Gunns were pushed the most during this period. The Bodydonnas worked well as a team that benefitted from having a manager. They did a good job utilizing Sunny at ringside for distraction purposes. The finish was a bit flat with Bart getting a weak-looking pinfall to win. They should have booked a better finish there like when Billy hit the leg drop or something that was a bit more creative than this. Anyway, it was solid tag team wrestling.
(Bad finish to this match. Just decent tag team wrestling. It would be another two or three years until the tag team division really got rolling.)
They showed the Billionaire Ted “Wrasslin’ Warroom” videos featuring parodies of Ted Turner, Hulk Hogan (The Huckster), Randy Savage (Nacho Man) and Mean Gene Okerlund. Vince Russo was one of the guys in the office. It was promoting the New WWF Generation.
Analysis: It’s funny how in 1996 the WWF was mocking Hulk Hogan for being old, yet six years later they put the WWE Title on him. This was done because WCW was beating the WWF in the ratings, so WWF felt that by taking shots at WCW’s aging stars that it would lead to fans tuning into WWF more to see their current stars.
They showed a video about the Razor Ramon feud with Goldust. Razor was the champion while Goldust played mind games with him and Razor snapped leading to a vicious backstage attack on Raw.
Goldust made his entrance as the challenger. Goldust was joined by a gorgeous woman in a gold dress. Vince acted like he didn’t know who she was. It was the debut of Marlena, who was smoking a cigar on the way to the ring. The announcers did not have a name for Marlena yet. That became known on Raw.
Analysis: Goldust and Marlena, who was later known as Terri in the WWF, were married in real life at this point. They had a daughter together. They were divorced about three years after this.
Razor Ramon got a nice ovation as the Intercontinental Champion. The announcers put over how mad Razor was when he attacked Goldust on Raw. There were a lot of closeups of Marlena sitting on the director’s chair with an usher beside her.
Intercontinental Championship: Razor Ramon vs. Goldust (w/Marlena)
Pre-match notes: Razor was the babyface champion while Goldust was the heel challenger. Razor was the champion for about three months going into this match. It was Razor’s fourth and final reign as IC Champion.
There were a lot of mind games by Goldust early on as he touched himself repeatedly to make Razor feel uncomfortable. When Razor grabbed a headlock, Goldust rubbed his hands over his body to make him feel weird. They did it again when they locked up. Vince: “That was a little different.” It sure was. Goldust rubbed Razor’s hair, so Razor shoved him on his ass and Goldust came back with a hard slap to the face. Razor tripped Goldust up followed by slaps to the back of the head and Razor slapped his ass and punched him in the face. Goldust bailed to the floor, Razor chased after him, Goldust hid behind Marlena and then they went back into the ring where the guys exchanged holds until Razor decked him with another punch. Goldust did more stalling by going to the floor, then he went back into the ring and Razor hit a clothesline to knock Goldust out of the ring again. Razor moved Marlena out of the way, so Goldust drove Razor into the steps and into the side of the apron. Goldust with a punch to the face. Back in the ring, Goldust with a double axehandle to the back followed by a bulldog. Goldust with a belly to back slingshot suplex off the ropes for two. Marlena blew some gold dust into Razor’s eyes. Dustin sent Razor face first into the mat followed by a neckbreaker. Goldust slapped on a sleeper hold, which Razor sold for about one minute until he made his comeback with a low blow mule kick after Razor stood face to face with the referee against the turnbuckle. Both guys were down while the referee Tim White counted them down and Goldust covered for a two count. Razor hit a knee to the ribs followed by a Chokeslam and a fallaway slam for a two count. Goldust went up top for nothing as Razor tripped him up on the top to crotch Goldust. Razor gave Goldust a belly to back suplex off the top. Marlena went into the ring, acted like she hurt her ankle, which distracted referee Tim White and that allowed 1-2-3 Kid to sneak down to ringside, he went up top and Kid hit a spinning heel kick on Razor. Goldust covered Razor for the pinfall win at 14:17.
Winner by pinfall AND NEW Intercontinental Champion: Goldust
Analysis: ** The match was just decent and even boring at times with a lot of stalling by Goldust in order to get some heat. When they actually wrestled it wasn’t that bad, but it took a while to get going. The finish was cheap with 1-2-3 Kid costing Razor to build up that rivalry while also getting the title onto Goldust. There were a lot of reports about how Razor didn’t like working with Goldust and you could see it during the match.
Post match, Marlena handed Goldust the Intercontinental Title, and they left together with the title. Razor was still down in the ring selling the attack.
Analysis: This was Goldust’s first IC Title win. He went on to hold the title three times in his career. There were plans to do Goldust vs. Razor at WrestleMania 12 as well, but that was changed because Razor didn’t like working with Goldust and Razor was leaving for WCW a few months after WrestleMania anyway.
(It was a cheap title change. The match wasn’t great, but I like how the finish was booked.)
There were comments from people about the Royal Rumble. It began with Shawn Michaels’ doctor Dr. Jeffrey Unger, who said Shawn Michaels was fine to compete. It was followed by wrestler promos from Owen Hart, Jake Roberts, Jerry Lawler, Barry Horowitz (yes!), Vader with Jim Cornette and Shawn Michaels looking to win it for the second year in a row.
The Royal Rumble match is usually the main event of the Royal Rumble PPV, but that wasn’t the case this year. The Rumble was up next.
30-Man Royal Rumble Match
The first entrant is Hunter Hearst Helmsley due to losing a match to Duke The Dumpster Droese in the Free For All match before the show. Droese gets the #30 spot. It would be the first Rumble where we’d get the wrestlers music on their way to the ring. We’re back to 2 minute intervals after the 1995 Rumble had 1 minute intervals.
We’ve got Hunter at #1 and his rival at the time, Henry O. Godwinn at #2. Hunter’s the snobby rich heel while Godwinn’s the babyface. There’s not a whole lot going on with these two. At #3 is the heel Bob Backlund with the “Hail to the Chief” theme song. I loved how crazy Backlund was at this point in his career. It was hilarious. Mr. Perfect tries to theorize that Backlund’s from Princeton University because he’s from Princeton, MN. Not exactly the same thing. Backlund gets close to eliminating Hunter, but he can’t do it. There’s Jerry Lawler at #4, who of course is a heel like usual. There’s a “Burger King” chant for Lawler, who gets Godwinn’s slop bucket. Lawler tries to slop him, but he can’t and all three heels bail to the floor and Godwinn dumps the slop onto Lawler. There’s a “Vince 4 Prez” sign in the crowd. It’s Bob Holly at #5, “start your engines” says Vince. What a brutal gimmick Sparky Plugg was. Not a lot happening.
At #6 is King Mabel, who was no longer a rapper. He was a heel here, after winning King of the Ring the year before and having one of the worst PPV main event matches ever versus Diesel at SummerSlam 1995. Vince marks out for Mabel’s because Vince loves the big guys. It’s Jake Roberts as a babyface at #7. This was his comeback attempt. He takes out the snake. It’s huge. Everybody bails. He puts the snake on Lawler, who freaks out. An attendant takes the snake away. We’ve had no eliminations to this point. Lawler’s still outside the ring while the other six guys go at it in the ring. There’s Dory Funk at #8. I looked it up and he’s 55 years old at this point. The roster was really thin in these days considering Vince had to call in Dory. That’s not a disrespect thing. It’s just that he’s not exactly spry at this point in his career. The crowd chants DDT. The camera shows Lawler hiding under the ring. It’s Yokozuna at #9. He’s a heel former WWF Champion. He throws Bob Backlund out rather quickly. Mabel splashes Yoko and Godwinn in the corner at the same time. Then he splashes Godwinn on the ground just for fun. Poor Godwinn. It’s the 1-2-3 Kid at #10, who you might know as X-Pac or Sean Waltman. Razor Ramon chases him because Kid cost him his IC title match earlier in the show. Kid’s too fast for Ramon, so he never gets his hands on him. Then they went out and got shitfaced after the match most likely.
The #11 entrant is “the Wildman from Japan” Omori as Vince calls him. I don’t remember this guy at all. There’s really nothing happening in this match. Lawler’s still under the ring. Roberts got Yoko down, which drew a pop. Here’s Savio Vega at #12, looking happy that he doesn’t have to be Kwang anymore. He takes Mabel down. Yoko dumps Mabel out. Omori gets eliminated by Roberts. Here’s a big threat to win at #13 Vader, who was making his WWF debut after they promoted him hard. I’m not joking about him being a threat. He was fresh in the WWF at this point because they signed him from WCW where he was a World Champion. He’s managed by Jim Cornette. Vega dumps out Funk. Vader hammers Vega with fists. I loved Vader’s punches. He was always a favorite of mine because he was believable as a badass big man wrestler. They never booked him perfectly in the WWF, though. It’s Doug Gilbert at #14!! I told you the roster was really thin. Roberts hits a DDT on Vega, but the camera doesn’t even show it. The crowd popped huge. Vader knocks out Roberts with a clothesline. There’s still no Lawler in the ring. He’s under the ring, we guess. It’s one of the Squat Team guys at #15. Who? Vince says he’s making his debut. He’s a very fat black man with face paint. He’s no Kamala, that’s for sure. You might know the Squat Team from ECW where they were known as The Headhunters. Vader hits a stiff chokeslam on Gilbert and then throws him out easily. Vader throws out the Squat team dude. In-ring we’ve got six guys, plus Lawler out on the floor.
There’s the other Squat Team guy at #16. They’re identical twins, Vince tells us. They both get in the ring, going right at Vader. He fights them off with fists. He clotheslines him out of the ring. Yoko threw out a Squat Team guy. Yoko looks VERY tired. There’s Owen Hart at #17. He’ll be the best worker in the match as soon as he gets in there. Man, Yoko looks to be in really bad shape. He looks so tired just standing on the ropes. Vader whipped Yoko into Vega and then Vader splashed Vega in the corner too. Vader splashes Vega and Yoko legdrops him. Here’s Shawn Michaels at #18 to a huge pop. He’s a babyface here, coming back from the concussion storyline and the “Tell Me a Lie” video. Vader throws out Savio. Yoko starts brawling with Vader, which makes Jim Cornette angry because he manages both guys. The two big guys are teetering against the ropes, so Michaels grabs their legs and flips them out. Huge pop for that. Michaels eliminates Kid. There’s Hakushi at #19, who is a heel. Vader is pissed off, so he decks Yoko and goes back in the ring. Vader beats the hell out of Michaels. Vader press slams Michaels and throws him over the top to the floor.
Vader does the same to Owen, Holly and HHH. In past (and future) Rumbles if a guy that got eliminated went back in the ring they were still able to eliminate people. In this case, it was an angle to put over how dominant Vader was. They toss Vader out of the ringside area including WWF President Gorilla Monsoon. That was really well done in terms of establishing Vader as a new force in the WWF. Michaels flips Cornette over the top and we’ve got #20 Tatanka. There are six guys in the ring, plus Jerry Lawler also in the match. Hunter is close to eliminating Michaels. I wonder if those two would have good careers. They look like they have potential. Owen eliminates Hakushi.
Cue the terrible music as #21 Aldo Montoya (Justin Credible) enters. Perfect: “He’s got his jock on the wrong part of his body.” Vince: “I don’t know about that.” The mask looks like a jock. I guess Vince loved the gimmick. He’s the only one. Michaels takes a walk around the ring looking for Jerry Lawler. He finds him. No Hornswoggle yet, folks. Shawn throws Lawler back in. Tatanka eliminates Montoya and Michaels throws Lawler out. Here’s a threat at #22, Diesel aka Kevin Nash. Diesel throws out Tatanka right away. Diesel was the World Champ for most of 1995. He would leave for WCW four months after this. Diesel decks Michaels with a punch because he was turning heel around this time although as he entered here, he was still a babyface. It’s the “Supreme Fighting Machine” Kama at #23. You might remember him from such gimmicks as Papa Shango, The Godfather and The Goodfather as well. There are six guys in the right now: Michaels, Holly, Diesel, Kama, Owen and HHH. They had Diesel “inadvertently” hit Michaels. It’s STONE COLD! STONE COLD! STONE COLD! at #24. I almost marked out right there. No…sorry…it’s the “Ringmaster” Steve Austin. He’s a few months away from being Stone Cold. I’ll never understand why they gave him a mouthpiece like Ted Dibiase when he was always a strong talker. Thankfully he became Stone Cold soon after this. Austin eliminates Holly with a knee into the back. Barry Horowitz! Barry Horowitz! Barry Horowitz! The pat on the back! He’s in at #25 and his music in the “can-can” song. I love this man. For those that don’t know, Barry was a lifetime jobber who was in the WWF for a long time. They did an angle where he actually won a match over Skip and it got over pretty big. He also gave himself a pat on the back all the time. It was silly, but you had to love a lifelong jobber like Barry. Diesel launches HHH out. That was random. They had Hunter last the longest in the match at 48:01, but guess how many eliminations he officially had? Zero.
It’s Fatu (Rikishi) at #26 in his “man making a difference” gimmick. He was a babyface that was going to help the kids in the streets. It didn’t work very well. Barry Horowitz is still in there! “If Horowitz wins this match I quit,” says Perfect. He actually left soon after this for WCW! Owen tries to suplex Shawn out, but HBK hangs on. It’s KANE! No, Isaac Yankem at #27. The dentist music. Owen dumps out Horowitz. Yankem goes after Diesel, which is funny because after Diesel left they did a fake Diesel and he’s the one that played fake Diesel. Owen hits an enziguri to HBK and Shawn sells it like he’s hurt bad. It’s the same spot that hurt Michaels. They show a replay of that and while that happens Shawn & Diesel throw out Owen. Way to miss the elimination, director. Austin cheapshots Michaels and then he does the HBK flex pose. That was great. It’s Marty Jannetty, still coming out to the Rockers music, at #28. Michaels hangs on from a near elimination. Austin beats on Diesel and he taunts him too. Small pop for Michaels and Jannetty doing a double KO spot. It’s The British Bulldog at #29, who has the short hair here unlike the long hair from the year before when he was the runner up. He’s a heel now. Bulldog dumps out Jannetty. We’ve got 7 left. Yankem is still in there! Austin gets eliminated by Fatu although we never see it except in the background. It’s a preview of the angle where Rikishi runs him over in a car over 3 years later! Not exactly. Same two guys in different gimmicks, though. Perfect asks what happened to Ringmaster. Vince doesn’t know. Yankem eliminates Fatu. There are five men left with one more entrant, who is #30 Duke “The Dumpster” Droese. “Imagine that, a garbage man goes to WrestleMania to face the WWF Champion.” No Vince, nobody can imagine that. It’s a terrible gimmick. What the hell were you thinking?
Michaels and Bulldog go through the ropes. Owen Hart comes out to attack Michaels. This set up a match on the February PPV that was very good. Diesel saves Michaels from a Bulldog press slam and Michaels dropkicks Yankem out of the ring. Diesel and Kama eliminate Droese.
The final four are Diesel, Kama, Michaels and Bulldog. They pair off, Michaels avoids an elimination from Bulldog, slides under the ropes and clotheslines him out. Kama clubs Michaels in the back, but Shawn skins the cat back in. What a sequence from HBK there. He’s too good. Diesel shoves Kama out. Diesel is standing by the ropes, he turns around and Michaels superkicks him to send Diesel over the top. He’s out as Michaels is announced as the winner of the match.
Winner: Shawn Michaels
The match ended at 58:49.
FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS on the Royal Rumble match
– The lack of talent wasn’t very good here, but it was slightly ahead of the 1995 Rumble. Some of the guys were a major reach in terms of their inclusion in the match. You could tell they called some people in for one time appearances. That’s a sign of a ridiculously thin roster. It was not the best of times for the WWF. Things would get better, though.
– Much like the year before, Michaels’ talent is so far ahead of everybody else in this match. In the second half of his career the roster was much better. There’s no doubt about that. It makes me think about how good the first half of his career could have been with better opponents. He had a few, but not as many as you might think. This was his last Rumble appearance until 2003, by the way. See ya soon, HBK.
– They booked Vader really well. He was the star of the first half of the match. It would have been cool to see him last a little longer just because he’s a great talent, but I understand picking his spot with him. He’s one of the best big men wrestlers ever.
– Poor Yoko. In 1993 he was in pretty good shape for a guy his size. He was mobile and fresh. By this point he looked even bigger and was tired almost as soon as he got in the ring. He lasted another year or so, but he wasn’t the force he was during his initial push. And he would die four years after this.
– I think Barry Horowitz deserves a pat on the back for his performance.
FACTS & OPINIONS about the Royal Rumble
Person that lasted the longest: Hunter Hearst Helmsley at 48:01. He eliminated nobody!
Most Eliminations: Shawn Michaels with 8.
Best Performers (3): Shawn Michaels – Obvious choice because he was by far the biggest star of the match.
Vader – Great debut for him.
Diesel – There was a lack of star power in the match, but when he got in there he made a huge impact.
Best Elimination: Michaels dumping out Yokozuna and Vader at the same time was very impressive.
Match Rating: **1/2 It was not very exciting due to how obvious it was that Michaels was going to win. The stuff with Vader was pretty good and some of the Michaels/Diesel interaction. Other than that, it was just an average Royal Rumble match.
(It’s a boring Rumble match. We all knew Michaels was going to win, so that hurt it a bit for sure. I loved the Vader booking because even though he didn’t make it to the end of the match, he had a big impact because of the way he attacked people after Michaels eliminated him. There just wasn’t a lot of drama in this match.)
After the Royal Rumble match, Diesel was about to be interviewed by Dok Hendrix in the aisle. Diesel punched the British Bulldog to knock him down. Diesel went back into the ring as Michaels was teasing taking off his pants. It was a weird time for Michaels. Anyway, Diesel teased like he was going to punch Michaels, but then he held his hand in the air and Michaels gave him a high five like they used to do when they were tag team partners. Michaels went around the ring to celebrate the win with the fans. Diesel looked frustrated.
Analysis: This was all about building to Diesel’s heel turn because he was frustrated about the loss. It also led to an awesome match between Michaels and Diesel at the April 1996 “Good Friends, Better Enemies” PPV that was one of my favorite matches of that year.
It was main event time with The Undertaker making his entrance along with manager Paul Bearer. As Undertaker made his entrance, Diesel stood in the aisle as Vince reminded us that Undertaker and Diesel had words with eachother at their last PPV in December 1995. Undertaker and Diesel exchanged punches as officials tried to break it up. Diesel was escorted to the back as Undertaker made his way down to the ring. This was Undertaker with a mask on his face to protect a broken orbital bone injury he suffered several months earlier.
Analysis: The way they built to Undertaker vs. Diesel at WrestleMania 12 was really well done. It was a slow storyline that took months to develop.
Bret “Hitman” Hart made his entrance to a huge pop with the WWF Championship around his waist. The fans loved Bret as one of the biggest faces in the company.
WWF Championship: Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer)
Pre-match notes: Bret was the babyface WWF Champion and Undertaker was also a babyface. Both guys were faces for most of the decade. Bret won the title two months earlier at Survivor Series 1995. As mentioned earlier, Undertaker had a protective mask on his face.
Undertaker was in control early as he worked over Hart with punches. Undertaker with a hard whip into the turnbuckle followed by a claw hold on the face. Undertaker held on this face palming move for like two minutes until Hart got to the ropes. Taker did his rope walking routine leading to the punch to the back of Hart. Taker slapped on the face palm claw move again, which killed the crowd a few minutes into this match. Hart came back with a clothesline, then another clothesline sending Taker over the top to the floor. Hart hit a dive over the top on Taker, who sat right up, caught Hart and Taker drove Hart back first into the ring post. Hart countered a slam on the floor by driving Taker into the ring post and then Taker came back with a boot to the face. Hart reversed a whip on the floor and sent Taker knee first into the steel steps. That was a huge bump by Taker. The referee Earl Hebner stopped his count, then went back in the ring to start counting again, so Bret draped Taker’s leg against the steps to work over the legs. Hart stretched Taker’s left leg and splashed on the left leg repeatedly. There was a “Bring Back the Warrior” sign in the crowd. They did and it failed miserably. Hart with an elbow drop to the left leg followed by a knee bar. Hart slapped on the Figure Four Leglock as Vince wondered if Undertaker would ever submit to a move. Taker reversed the hold and Hart grabbed the bottom rope to break the hold. Vince keeps saying “facial appliance” instead of mask because he must really like that term. Hart slapped on another knee bar submission that led to Taker powering out of it while Hart tried taking the mask off, but Taker punched him to stop it. Hart grounded Taker again with a leg lock as fans chanted “rest in peace” to support Taker and after about a minute of that, Taker broke free. Taker sent Hart out of the ring and choked him with a cable connected to a camera while Bearer distracted the referee. Taker whipped Hart into the small table that had the ring bell on it. Taker hit Hart in the ribs with a chair, which should be a DQ, but Vince told us that the referee was distracted by Bearer and then we could see it.
They went back into the ring with Hart kicking the leg of Taker to knock him down again. There were some boos for Bret as the announcers noted there were “mixed emotions” in the crowd. Hart rammed Taker’s left leg into the ring post two times as Vince pointed out the cheers and boos in the crowd. Hart slapped on another knee bar submission to ground Taker. When Taker got back up, he connected with a headbutt, leg drop and a clothesline leading to a mixed reaction. Taker punched Hart out of the ring. Hart choked Undertaker across the top rope, but then Taker kicked him in the ribs and Hart bounced off the ropes with a DDT for a two count. That looked good. Hart with the side Russian legsweep that he loved to do in every match followed by a running bulldog. Taker kept sitting up after every move, which drew cheers. Hart with a backbreaker followed by the diving elbow drop off the middle ropes. That sequence of moves were what Hart always did in this era. Taker blocked a Sharpshooter attempt with a choke, a knee to the ribs and they ran the ropes leading to a double clothesline spot to knock both guys down. Hart took off the top turnbuckle pad, which the referee didn’t see and Hart managed to take off the mask aka “facial appliance” that Vince kept saying. The referee tossed it out of the ring. Taker whipped Hart into a turnbuckle and then Hart sent Taker into the exposed turnbuckle two times, so the idea is it hurt more than normal because Undertaker had the facial injury. The fans booed that tactic by Hart. Hart charged at Taker, who caught him and Taker hit the Tombstone in the middle of the ring. Taker was slow to cover, which led to Diesel going down to the ring and pulling the referee out of the ring. Hebner called for the disqualification giving Undertaker the win at 28:31. Bret remains the champion.
Winner by disqualification: The Undertaker (Bret Hart retains the WWF Title)
Analysis: **1/2 This was a slow, methodical match that went too long and it wasn’t as good as you would think considering the wrestlers in the match. Hart was great in long matches with a lot of different opponents, but this match with Taker didn’t work that well. This first half of the match is bad, but they did pick up the pace and it improved by the end. I really liked the spot with the exposed turnbuckle, taking off the mask and the fans reacted to that in a big way. The ending hurts as well because it was a case of not wanting either guy to do the job, so they went with the cheap Diesel interference ending.
(This wasn’t their best match as you probably know if you’ve seen it and seen their other matches. It happens sometimes. Can’t always deliver a classic no matter how good you are. I think it went too long and that was a big reason why it wasn’t that great. Booking a DQ finish isn’t something that fans like either.)
It was announced that Bret Hart was disqualified as a result of outside interference from Diesel, so the winner of the match was The Undertaker. However, the WWF Championship cannot change hands due to disqualification and Diesel smirked about it. Diesel gave Undertaker the middle finger and walked to the back.
(Classic image. I remember it so well.)
The Undertaker left the ring to go after Diesel with Taker slowly moving since he was selling the left leg injury. Vince: “He was robbed of the WWF Title!”
Analysis: There’s the Diesel heel turn officially. The Diesel feud with Undertaker was furthered here with Diesel costing Undertaker, who the fans loved. That would lead to Undertaker costing Diesel the WWF Title at the February 1996 PPV and then it would lead to Undertaker vs. Diesel at WrestleMania 12.
Hart’s music played as the WWF Champion celebrated with the title in the middle of the ring while also greeting fans at ringside. That was the end of the main part of the show.
There was more to the broadcast as part of Royal Rumble Plus, which was part of the tape that they sold after the show.
The Royal Rumble Plus featured interviews with Gorilla Monsoon, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Diesel, Jim Cornette talking about Vader.
A video package aired showing highlights of the show. That was the end of the broadcast.
This event had a runtime of 2:49:02 on WWE Network.
Show rating (out of 10): 4
This was a bad show that was hurt by not having a standout match. The Rumble match was just decent with a predictable winner in Michaels and not a lot of exciting moments aside from a few things. I forgot how long that Hart/Taker match was, but it sure was boring for most of it. If you looked at this card on paper there might be some matches that don’t look bad, but they failed to deliver in the ring.
Best Match: Royal Rumble Match (**1/2 out of 5) – I had three matches with the same rating, so I picked the Rumble match as the best.
Worst Match: Ahmed Johnson vs. Jeff Jarrett (*1/4)
Five Stars Of The Show
- Shawn Michaels
- Bret Hart
- The Undertaker
That’s all for me. Check out the full list of my WWE PPV Review archive right here. Thanks for reading.