The longest match in WrestleMania is next up on the countdown as Shawn Michaels challenged Bret Hart for the WWE Title in an Ironman Match as the main event of WrestleMania 12.
If you’ve missed anything in the countdown so far, the WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.
Who: Ironman Match for the WWE Championship: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
When: March 31, 1996
Where: Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California
Bret Hart was the WWE Champion. He won the title from Diesel at Survivor Series 1995, which ended a long reign for Diesel. Hart was a hard-working face wrestler that had the respect of the fans and was loved by everybody. After being on top for a few years, he wasn’t used properly in 1995. At least they got it right to end the year because he ended it as the WWE Champion.
Michaels turned face following his WrestleMania 11 loss to Diesel in 1995. He was a heel for about three years before that. Fans liked him because he was one of the best in-ring performers in the company and it was easy to root for a smaller guy like him as well. He received a lot of sympathy heat from the crowd later in 1995 when he got beat up by a bunch of dudes in Syracuse. They did a concussion angle after that where he collapsed in the ring during a match with Owen Hart. He returned in time for the 1996 Royal Rumble, which he won for the second year in a row and that set up the match with Hart.
There wasn’t much of a storyline between the two men. The build focused on Hart as the defending hard working champion that had more experience while Michaels was the cocky guy on the rise that was trying to prove he was the better man.
What I Thought Back Then
I know I’ve said this a lot during my reviews of these matches, but I was really excited about this one. By this point I had smartened up to the business for the most part as a 15-year-old and I appreciated the better in-ring performers as well.
I loved both guys. Still do. Michaels is my favorite wrestler ever and Hart is definitely near the top as well. As a Canadian, most people assume Hart would be my favorite. I loved him for being Canadian, but I liked Shawn more since he was more of a unique character, he had that arrogance about him and his athleticism really separated him from everybody else.
The idea of having a 60 minute Ironman Match was cool. I had never seen one in WWE before. Considering how good both guys were in the ring, it was easy to have high expectations because both of them were consistently great. They didn’t let us down very often, so why would they in the main event of WrestleMania?
As for the outcome of the match, I think everybody watching knew Shawn was going to win. It was his time to win the WWE Title for the first time. A predictable match doesn’t really hurt my enjoyment. If the quality is there, which it was in this case, then it’s easy to like any match.
Here’s my full review of the match, which was written in 2012.
We got the video package telling us about how Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels got to this match.
Prior to the main event, Howard Finkel welcomed Gorilla Monsoon, who was the President of the WWF at this time. The Fink introduced Shawn Michaels, but Jose Lothario is the one that walked out. I remember wondering where Shawn was. Jose got in the ring and pointed up. It was Shawn Michaels at the top of the rafters. He took the zip line down and landed in the crowd. It was a very extravagant entrance that was very cool. For Bret’s entrance, he walked down to the ring like he normally did and had some pyro go off as part of the entrance. Ref Earl Hebner explained the rules, noting that they’d be wrestling for 60 minutes and whoever got the most falls in that time would be declared the World Wrestling Federation Champion. Falls could be determined via pinfall, submission, disqualification or countout. Earl asked them if they understood the rules. They did. Bret kissed the title and gave it to Earl, who held it up for the crowd. Bret gave his sunglasses to his son Blade, who was in the front row.
WWE World Heavyweight Title in a 60 Minute Ironman Match: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 12
They locked up to start, Bret got a waist lock and Shawn fought him off. The feeling out process lasted a few minutes until Bret grabbed a side headlock. Lawler was trying to put over the idea that half the fans liked Shawn and half the fans liked Bret. It’s a nice idea, but there were fans like myself that loved both guys. Most fans liked both guys. We just wanted a great match. They had a scoreboard on the screen, which told us how much time was left in the match. That was a good idea. There was a nice sequence of moves with each guy trying to get control only for Bret to grab the side headlock once again. Michaels fought out with a back heel trip, which led to Bret getting another headlock. Vince pointed out that Bret was more of a strategist while Shawn was more of an instinct man. Michaels came back with a couple of nice arm drags leading into an armbar. They showed Freddie Blassie & Stu Hart sitting in the front row. The crowd was quiet early on, but that’s because the pace was really slow at the beginning, which makes sense for such a long match. They had another nice exchange that showed Michaels using some technical wrestling moves leading to another armbar. Bret pushed him back to the corner and then Shawn came back with forearms. Nice headscissors by Michaels that sent Bret to the floor. Back in the ring, Shawn hit a fireman’s carry leading to another armbar. Bret quickly got out of it and he threw Shawn over the top. Shawn did the skin the cat move to come back in the ring. Bret hit a knee to the gut followed by a headbutt to the abdomen. Chin lock by Bret. Michaels came back with an arm submission. Back to their feet, Bret ran the ropes and dropped Shawn in a spinebuster like move leading to a Sharpshooter attempt, but Shawn was able to grab the ropes. Bret hit a clothesline that sent Shawn to the floor. Out on the floor, Shawn shoved Bret into the ring post leading to Bret sitting on somebody at ringside. Shawn did a superkick, Bret moved and the poor guy went down via Sweet Chin Music. I think it was actually Tony Chimel there. Bret rolled Shawn back in as we just passed the 15 minute mark.
In the center of the ring, Bret put Shawn in a chinlock as they showed a shot of the knocked out man at ringside. It was definitely Tony Chimel, who got taken away on a stretcher. Nice spot to put over the superkick. Bret had Shawn in the chinlock for about two minutes. I wasn’t a fan of that much time without any action. Michaels got a clothesline. Then Bret got back up and hit one of his own before grabbing another chinlock. Michaels got back up with fists to the gut and hit a dropkick before going for an armbar again. We’re 20 minutes into the match now with Michaels going for a cross armbreaker. Bret tried to stand up to break the hold, but he couldn’t do it. Bret finally got out of it by driving Shawn into the corner and hitting him with back elbows to the head. Michaels countered a whip and shoved Bret left shoulder first into the ring post. Michaels wrapped the arm against the ring post and then swore at a camera guy that got too close. Vintage Michaels going nuts on a camera guy! Michaels hit a shoulderbreaker on the left arm followed by a double axe to the left arm. The announcers put over how Michaels surprised them by focusing on a body part instead of making it a fast paced match. Michaels continued to work on the shoulder by ramming Bret into the turnbuckle multiple times. Bret made a comeback, but Shawn countered with a nice single arm DDT and then put him in the cross armbreaker although it was a right arm so Shawn switched back over to the left arm. Bret got to his feet and stepped on Shawn’s face to break out of the hold. After another armbar, Bret fought back with punches and dropped Shawn’s neck across the middle rope stun gun style. Bret gave him a slingshot into the ring post, which sent HBK bouncing back to the center of the ring. Bret covered for two. We’re nearly 30 minutes in and that was the best nearfall so far. Michaels came back by ramming Bret’s head into the corner. Shawn charged in, Bret moved and Shawn went crashing into the turnbuckle. Bret hit an inverted atomic drop followed by a clothesline for two. Bret hit a bulldog. Bret went to the top, Michaels blocked it and then Bret drove his knee into the back of the head of Shawn, which knocked ref Earl Hebner down as we reached the 30 minute mark.
They got back to their feet and Shawn hit a powerslam for two. Bret’s left arm injury was gone all of a sudden. He didn’t sell it anymore. It was very surprising for him not to sell an injury. Bret hit a piledriver. He did a weak cover and Shawn kicked out at two. Bret went to the top and Shawn threw him off with a slam similar to the Ric Flair bump off the top. Michaels hit a hurricanrana into a series of punches. Michaels got a backbreaker for two. Michaels set up for the Sweet Chin Music. Bret slid out to the floor. As Bret walked around the ring, Michaels climbed to the top and hit an awesome crossbody block off the top onto Bret on the floor. That was impressive. Ref Earl Hebner counted them both out, then Shawn rolled back in and Earl reset the count. Most of the time the ref keeps counting in that situation. Shawn rolled Bret back in and hit a crossbody. Bret rolled through for the two count. Terrific nearfall there. Michaels got a small package for two. Michaels hit a Perfectplex for two. Michaels put Bret in the sleeper, but of course Bret didn’t submit to it. Michaels drove him into the corner and hit a back elbow to the face followed by a mule kick to knock Bret down. Michaels whipped him into the corner, then he charged into Bret and the Hitman gave him a back body drop over the top to the floor. Hebner had the slowest ten count in the history of the business there. Bret went to the floor and rammed Shawn back first into the ring post. Bret gave Shawn a headbutt to the lower back followed by a hard whip into the corner. The Sharpshooter focuses on the back, so it’s good psychology to have Bret work on the back. Bret hit an elbow off the middle rope right into Shawn’s lower back. Bret gave him a backbreaker followed by a leg drop to the face. Bret whipped him into the corner, Shawn flipped upside down, sat on the top rope and Bret gave him a back suplex off the top for a count of two. That was a cool spot. Shawn fought out and had Bret in a pinning predicament for a count of two, but Bret countered with shot to the back. Shawn jumped off the middle rope. Didn’t work as Bret hit him with a punch in the gut followed by a Russian legsweep for two. Bret gave Shawn a hard whip into the corner and it sent Shawn flying over the top rope. His foot hit Jose Lothario in the head. Then Bret whipped Shawn into the steel steps, which also knocked down Jose. That felt unnecessary. Old guys bumping was fun, though. Bret rolled Shawn back in as we reached the 45 minute mark of the match.
In the center of the ring, Bret hit a belly to belly suplex for two. Bret went for a suplex, Shawn countered, drove him into the ropes and rolled him up for two. Bret powered out, knocking Shawn to the floor. Bret charged the ropes and dove over the middle rope right onto Shawn on the floor. Hebner again did one of the slowest counts ever and restarted it again. Bret tried to suplex Shawn in, Shawn fought out of it and Bret hit a beautiful bridging German Suplex for two. Amazing nearfall there too. Bret gave him some kicks to the face and then went to the chinlock again. The chinlock lasted about two minutes as the crowd made a lot of noise while the match reached the 52 minute mark. Shawn got up, ran the ropes and they hit a double clothesline for the double KO spot. Bret put Michaels on the top rope and hit an awesome superplex. Vince proclaimed that “it’s over!” Bret didn’t cover. Instead, he went for the Sharpshooter, which was blocked by Shawn kicking him away. Bret put Shawn in the one legged Boston Crab. Shawn made it to the ropes after about 20 seconds. Bret hit a backbreaker. The elbow off the middle rope was countered by Shawn giving him the double boot to the face. Shawn hit a dropkick followed by a forearm to the head. He whipped Bret into the turnbuckle, which led to Bret doing his patented sternum first bump into the corner. Shawn got whipped into the ropes and came back with a flying forearm to the head. Shawn did a kip up although the camera missed it. Lawler: “Here comes vintage Shawn Michaels!” That’s for all you people that like the vintage word. Michaels hit a back elbow and then a double axe for two. Suplex by Shawn. To the top, Shawn hit a left handed flying elbow for a count of two. Gutwrench suplex by Shawn. He went to the top for a beautiful moonsault press that got him another two count. Off the middle rope, Shawn jumped on Bret’s shoulders, Bret went for a powerbomb, but Shawn countered it into a hurricanrana into a pin for two. Wow that was amazing! Shawn hit a body slam and then he collapsed in pain, selling the fatigue factor as well as the back injury. Less than a minute left. Michaels leaped off the top rope for a dropkick, but Bret caught him. Sharpshooter time with 30 seconds left! The crowd was going wild now while the announcers were yelling that Bret had him and that the match was over. Ref Earl Hebner asked Shawn if he would quit, but Shawn kept saying no. The time expired with Shawn still in the hold. The bell rang. Bret let go of the hold.
Bret was given the title and walked up the aisle while WWF President Gorilla Monsoon talked to Hebner in the ring. Ring announcer Howard Finkel announced that the match would continue under sudden death rules. “There must be a winner!”
The overtime period began with Bret back in the ring talking to Monsoon about it. Vince put over that the “must be a winner” idea was agreed upon before the match. Bret restarted the match by working on Shawn’s back. Back body drop for Bret. Bret whipped him in the corner, Shawn countered by jumping over him and Shawn hit the Sweet Chin Music superkick to knock Bret down. Shawn was still out after hitting it because he was still selling the back injury. Bret was dazed by it because Shawn didn’t hit it cleanly. Shawn stood up in the corner, Bret stumbled over towards him and Shawn hit him again with the Sweet Chin Music. Shawn covers for the one…two…three for the win at 61:52. Longest match in WrestleMania history.
Winner and New WWE World Heavyweight Champion – Shawn Michaels
Post match, we would later learn that Shawn told ref Earl Hebner to tell Bret to get out of the ring. He used some profanity when he did it too. Bret’s reaction to that wasn’t very favorable just from looking at his face. They also showed Bret’s son Blade singing Shawn’s “sexy boy” song at ringside. That was funny. Bret walked away angrily, even tossing aside a Canadian flag that was thrown to him. Michaels was very emotional in the ring while Vince McMahon delivered the famous line: “The boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels!”
Analysis: ****1/2 I love this match. It’s not a five star match for me, but it’s still very good and one of my favorite matches ever featuring two guys that made me the fan that I am today. The first 20 minutes were done at such a slow pace that it hurt the match a little bit. The last 40 minutes of the match were absolutely fantastic, though, so to me it’s not a big deal as far as how slow the first part was. It was about pacing the match. What I would have liked are some falls because the 1-0 finish wasn’t as good as something like 3-2 or even 2-1. They should have each got a countout win if they weren’t willing to take pinfalls. Ego got in the way here. As for their work in the ring, both guys worked at an extremely high level. Michaels showed off everything by using his speed, taking some big bumps, hitting some big offensive maneuvers and even using technical wrestling to help the flow of the match although I do think he went to the armbar a little too much. Hart was fantastic too by working more of an aggressive heelish style although not going all out in terms of being a heel. Like I said earlier, I was a bit surprised that he totally ignored the arm injury that was being worked on early. That’s not like him. Obviously, the animosity between them was a factor in how they worked the match and there were times where it appeared as if they were working stiffer than you’d expect. As good as their matches were, if they got along better and didn’t have clashing egos there’s a chance that they really could have put on the best match ever. That’s not taking anything away from this match. I just wish it could have been booked a little better.
Post match, Shawn celebrated in the ring and Vince was going nuts: “Go on! Celebrate!” He was cheering him on. Vince was way too excited. Michaels did his poses with the title to end the show.
You can read my full recap of WrestleMania 12 right here.
What They Said
There are so many comments about there thanks to several DVDs about both men, books that were written and a lot of interviews as well.
Here’s Bret Hart talking to Sports Illustrated earlier in 2017:
“As for my finest WrestleMania moment, that happened at WrestleMania XII with Shawn Michaels. I think it stands as the best pro wrestling match. Kudos to Shawn, too. We both made that a classic match that will never, ever lose its shine. There were no wasted moves, and the precision in every move, right down to Tony Chimel getting kicked off his chair—I’ve watched it maybe 10 times in the last 10 years—and the beauty of that match was that Shawn and I had put a lot of thought into different aspects of the match. I remember there was a certain point when I had to be setting up a move with exactly five minutes left in the match. I remember setting up on the second rope and looking at the score clock, and there were exactly four minutes and fifty-nine seconds left in the match. It was those little details where we were exactly on cue, on the second, that made the “Iron Man” match unlike any other live drama. The amazing stuff I did with Shawn that day eclipses anything I ever did in terms of timing and thinking on my feet. The drama of me staggering back up to my feet, still fighting, then taking the big boot for Shawn’s finish, and the drama, frustration, and emotion my fans must have felt was huge. It still stands as one of the most dramatic matches in WrestleMania history.”
There are other interviews where Bret will say his WrestleMania 13 match with Steve Austin was his best and I agree with that. I love Bret, but he’s said some different things at different times depending on the person.
This is a clip from a two hour interview they did together on WWE produced DVD about their rivalry.
What I Think Now
It’s an amazing match that holds up very well 21 years later. I can see why Hart thinks it’s the “best pro wrestling match” ever because from a technical standpoint it’s outstanding. There are not many wrestlers than can go for an hour, hold the attention of the audience the way these guys did while having no falls in 60 minutes and then conclude with a dramatic ending. I don’t think it’s the best match ever, though, obviously judging by where it’s on my list.
I feel wrong to even criticize them because of how good they are. However, I think there were too many slow parts in the first 30 minutes. I also think that there were some issues with the selling in terms of Michaels not grabbing the knee enough after Hart worked on it a lot. I know that’s something Hart talked about a lot when he didn’t like Michaels. Now that he likes Michaels, all of a sudden, he’s praising him heavily for it again.
There are different stories of the post match incident. Shawn telling Hebner to tell Bret to get out of the ring for his moment was a jerk move by Shawn. Bret has also told the story that he suggested that Shawn do that to make people think they had problems worse than they were.
This match is a perfect example of how great they were when they were on the same page working together. Sadly, the relationship suffered over the next year due to ego, jealousy and a lot of petty bullshit that I think both guys regret.
What Happened Next
There’s a lot to get into here, so I’ll just keep it simple.
Hart sat out most of 1996 because he wanted a break from being on the road, he tried acting a bit and just needed a break. Michaels saw it as Hart not wanting to support him while he was on top. Hart came back in late 1996, started an amazing feud with Steve Austin, got back the WWE Title a few times in 1997 and obviously dropped it without his blessing to Michaels at Survivor Series 1997. They became friends again in 2010 when they hugged it out on Raw.
Michaels had a pretty good run as WWE Champion, but he wasn’t a huge draw. He turned heel later in 1997, suffered a major back injury in 1998, dropped the WWE Title to Steve Austin and missed over four years of action until finally getting back in the ring at SummerSlam 2002. He retired in 2010, just a few months after reconciling with Hart.
One of the greatest “what ifs” in wrestling history is “what if Shawn and Bret got along when they were on top?” It would have changed so many things in the years that followed. At least we got this great match to remind us why they are two of the best wrestlers ever.
Rankings So Far
- Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart @ WrestleMania 12
- Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage @ WrestleMania 7
- Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle @ WrestleMania 19
- Money in the Bank Ladder Match (won by Edge) @ WrestleMania 21
- Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho @ WrestleMania 19
- The Undertaker vs. CM Punk @ WrestleMania 29
- Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista @ WrestleMania 30
- Edge vs. Mick Foley @ WrestleMania 22
- The Undertaker vs. Triple H @ WrestleMania 27
- Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair @ WrestleMania 8
- The Undertaker vs. Edge @ WrestleMania 24
- John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 23
- Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H @ WrestleMania 30
- Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit @ WrestleMania 17
- The Rock vs. Steve Austin @ WrestleMania 19
- Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (vs. Seth Rollins) @ WrestleMania 31
- Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle @ WrestleMania 20
- The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 18
- Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair @ WrestleMania 24
- Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch @ WrestleMania 32
- Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper @ WrestleMania 8
- Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 6
WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.
Thanks for reading. My contact info is below.
John Canton – [email protected]