“One day you’ll grow out of this”.
My Dad was probably correct when he said those words back in 1995. I’d been raving about WWF since a family friend had taped the 1992 Royal Rumble from Sky Sports and handed me a VHS tape saying that ‘this is what the kids seem to like these days’.
There had to be an end somewhere. Hulk Hogan and Flair were in WCW which didn’t get anywhere near the coverage that Vince’s lot did in the UK, the Ultimate Warrior was absent and the majority of larger wrestlers had ran for the hills in the wake of the steroid scandal. The wrestlers who had originally attracted me to the whole show were fading, replaced instead by smaller, technically gifted grapplers. The WWF was changing and I was going along with the ride. The thought was always nagging me, that watching people pretend to fight would soon go the same way as my wrestling action figures had. Wrestling was due to be stuffed in the attic to perhaps be brought out by my Dad as he asked if I seriously wanted to keep it years later. One match confirmed this notion.
Shawn Michaels wins the 1996 Royal Rumble Match: http://youtu.be/GlBeQshE1R8
1996 opened with Shawn Michaels winning the Royal Rumble for the second year in a row. Michaels would go on to main event Wrestlemania XII against Bret Hart who had survived his championship defence against The Undertaker earlier in the night thanks to interference from Diesel.
WWF Royal Rumble 1996 The Undertaker vs Bret Hart…: http://youtu.be/tvhlRgNKDDE
This Wrestlemania main event match would pair together the WWF’s two most agile fighters, this was not a contest based on brute force and muscle. Michaels was the younger man hoping to claim the gold he had failed to get his hands on the previous year. Hart took the role of the company veteran who wanted to deny Michaels his dream. This was before Michaels had lost a smile, before the business seemed to become something Hart was uncomfortable being a part of.
Then the decision was made, by Roddy Piper on TV, to make the match a 60 minute Iron Man match with the most pinfalls in that time winning the belt. It was to be a showcase of each man’s ability and skill. The vast bulk of the show would be handed over to them. The hype beforehand was all about the training both men would go through before wrestling for a whole hour.
WrestleMania 12: Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels Trai…: http://youtu.be/Nby6VzVCxRw
Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels Promo before their W…: http://youtu.be/1MFAezS0u00
Wrestlemania XII wasn’t that bad of a show. It had a perfectly good match pitting The Undertaker against Diesel, the entirely bonkers match/car chase of Roddy Piper vs Goldust, the aforementioned return of The Ultimate Warrior against Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Steve Austin’s Wrestlemania debut against Savio Vega. In the UK, a 15 year old me was sitting up at 3am getting ready for the main event. I didn’t drink coffee back then, I was probably main lining diet coke instead to stay awake. It started so well with Shawn Michaels entering from the upper levels via zip wire, a spectacular entrance for a spectacular event.
Shawn Michaels’ WrestleMania XII Entrance: http://youtu.be/N5mxCv-4dF0
Bret, if I recall correctly, had something of a more conservative introduction befitting his character. What followed was a hour long lesson in rest holds. I recall being tremendously bored after a very short time, made worse by the fact the clock in the bottom corner was ticking downwards, forever reminding the viewer of how long they had left of this.
The score was tied at 0-0 even after 60 minutes. They may have been going for the fact that neither man could be beaten, that a deadlock could not be broken. I knew little of how matches were laid out back then but I knew there needed to be some kind of drama and this was lacking. The only moment of tension came in the last few seconds when Michaels was locked in the sharpshooter knowing that tapping would mean he wouldn’t get the championship. This effect however could easily have been achieved at a 2-2 scoreline.
Michaels did not tap and, once the bell rang, Hart grabbed his belt and began to walk back down the aisle. Then came the even more perplexing part.
Shawn Michaels vs Bret Hart Ironman Match Wrestle…: http://youtu.be/U2z0op713KA
Overtime had never been discussed beforehand, it made little sense to my tired mind back then and less so now. Bret was forced back to the ring before finally falling victim to Sweet Chin Music. Michaels had won, his dream realised. Bret walked away in disgust and I headed for bed.
Within one hour wrestling had lost the magic. Any remnant of passion I had for the business had gone and I too walked away. It was people pretending to hit each other, it looked cartoonish, I was too old for cartoons. I always think, with retrospect, this would have been a time to get into ECW but it wasn’t easily found on British TV. I didn’t get back into wrestling until King of the Ring 99. I missed almost the entire Attitude era, the Stone Colds, the Rock cooking, DX and the Brood all passed me by. It’s the main reason that, no matter how bad WWE programming gets, I try not to give up because the last time I missed the greatest period the company had. I’ve lost the teenage capacity for being embarrassed and trying to fit in.
I’m 33 years old and I love pro wrestling.
That’s a good thing.