Today, I woke up with a big smile on my face because it occurred to me almost immediately, “I get to see Shawn Michaels win the WWF Championship today.” Not only do I get to see it, we get to see him win it on the grandest stage of them all, but only after an hour of wrestling Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Yesterday, I discussed how close Shawn Michaels got to capturing the gold at the last Wrestlemania against Diesel. Honestly, with the celebrity involvement, the match quality and the historic match that follows here at Wrestlemania XII, I’m glad it goes down the way that it does in the history books. In my opinion, this is the best match of Shawn Michaels’ career and it is fitting that “The Boyhood Dream” comes true at Wrestlemania.
This is the match that turned Shawn Michaels into the greatest in-ring performer in WWF history. The ladder match was unbelievable and a game changer, but winning the Championship after an hour with Bret Hart is an amazing accomplishment. The Hitman is the best technically gifted wrestler there has ever been. He is the best there is, the best there was and the best that there ever will be. Hart was the standard by which everyone else was measured. He was the John Cena of his time.
The Heartbreak Kid kept up with the kid who grew up in the Hart Dungeon for just over an hour of wrestling. Their Iron Man match is the only one of it’s kind. It’s the most beautiful story I’ve ever seen in wrestling. Every time I watch, I learn something new. This match is why they call Shawn Michaels, Mr. Wrestlemania. This match is why I call Shawn Michaels, the best ring performer I have ever seen. Everything Shawn Michaels does after this match is pure gold. He isn’t going to have another good match at Wrestlemania, everything is going to be great. I see the Iron Man match with Bret Hart as the pinnacle of Shawn Michaels’ career. Mr. Wrestlemania reaches the top of the mountain and then he just stays at that level no one else can touch. I’m excited right now. I know this match is going to be long, and grueling, and exhausting, but I know that Shawn Michaels is becoming the man that a little boy wished he could be one day. He could be the Champion.
At Wrestlemania XII, in the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, almost 19,000 strong saw history. History began when on screen President of WWF Roddy Roddy Piper announced that Bret Hart would defend the WWF Championship against The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels. Michaels had won his second consecutive Royal Rumble in early 1996 to earn the honor despite a year full of let downs and blown opportunities to earn the gold. Between the betrayal of Diesel, their match at Wrestlemania XI, a concussion from Owen Hart, being accosted outside a New York nightclub in real life, forfeiting the Intercontinental Championship to Dean Douglas and failing to reach the WWF Championship, there was only one way to satisfy The Heartbreak Kid’s desire to become champion. Shawn Michaels proving without a shadow of a doubt he is the best performer in the industry in an hour long Iron Man match against Bret Hart at Wrestlemania XII in the main event is the only way Shawn Michaels could ever win the WWF Championship. That is just the only appropriate way for The Heartbreak Kid to win the title for the first time. It is the only way he could become Mr. Wrestlemania. Frankly, at the end of this, I’m going to let the match and the story speak for itself. I believe this was the best match of the 1990’s era, and I promise that you are going to believe that Shawn Michaels can do anything. He’s the best there ever could be.
“I’m just a Sexy Boy” The Boy Toy’s music plays through the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. You can hear it echo through the arena, but tonight is not for play. Jose Lothario makes his way down the aisle. He climbs in the ring, gets on the bottom rope and points to the heavens of the arena. From above everyone in the arena is The Heartbreak Kid. The crowd is ecstatic as he glides down from the top all the way down to the sea of people down on the bottom. He reemerges from the crowd, passes through to the ring and as only he can, Shawn Michaels electrifies the Anaheim before the match of his career.
The WWF Champion walks down the aisle comfortably and confidently as only Bret Hart can. The Hitman isn’t the showman that Michaels is. He steps into the ring, acknowledges the fans, takes his time getting comfortable and stares deeply into the Championship. Hart has the focus and Michaels has the determination. These men are polar opposites as characters. The two set into the middle of the ring with the stare down as Referee Earl Hebner explains the rules for the next hour.
“Gentlemen, this match is for the World Wrestling Federation Championship. This is an Iron Man match. You’ll be wrestling for sixty minutes. The man who wins the most decisions will be declared the winner, and the World Wrestling Federation Champion. A decision can be earned by a pinfall, a submission, a count out, or a disqualification. You must, MUST break on the count of four. I WILL disqualify you on the count of five. If you leave the ring, or if you’re thrown out, you have ten count to return, or you will be counted out. Do you both gentlemen understand the rules?”
The Hitman winks at his children, while Michaels appears to have divine focus. Neither men needs to ask any questions, so the men separate and Bret Hart kisses the title perhaps for a kiss goodbye. Hart gives his sunglasses to his son and returns to the ring. The atmosphere is not just electric, it is deafening with anticipation. President Gorilla Monson and the other men clear the ring. Right now, there is only The Heartbreak Kid and The Hitman. The bell has rung; start the clock. (Watch)
The two men stirred around the ring then locked up for the first time. The two men struggled with one another until the break in the corner. They reset and locked again. Michaels gets a takedowm, Hart reverses him and take control of his back. Michaels escapes and the feeling out process continues. Hart has to worry about Sweet Chin Music. Michaels is concerned with the Sharpshooter. Michaels is able to take down Bret a few times which throws the Hitman slightly off. Shawn has established that he is the faster of the two. Bret Hart is able to hold a chinlock on Michaels and then secure it through a radical reversal spin attempt. He also held it through another reversal sliding Michaels across the ring in the process. Hart has a secured headlock on Michaels. Shawn is having some trouble breaking Bret’s grip. He tries a pin, but Hart relocks in. Michaels gets up to a knee, he stands and finally pushes Hart off towards the ropes.
Michaels locks and delivers a hip toss to Bret, but he kicks Shawn away. Bret gets a takedown, but Michaels locks his head. Hart escapes and reapplies the headlock and secures Shawn back in. Michaels tries a pin, but Hart kicks out quickly. Michaels thinks of something, he escapes the headlock, gets Hart’s arms into a wrist lock and then strengthens Hart back down to the mat for Bret to react and get a front face lock. Michaels kicks his foot in frustration, but Hart’s mat skills are unmatched by anyone. Hart and Michaels make it to their feet, but Hart tightens the facelock until he gets Michaels grounded yet again with a simply headlock. Michaels is being controlled at this point in the match. The Hitman is looking good in the ring. Michaels needs to make a stand early.
Michaels gets up picks up the pace with a few punches to the gut, a push off, a pair of arm drags and an armbar. HBK works on the arm next, but keeps the armbar tight. Shawn is able to counter an armdrag attempt to keep momentum. Bret would fight out, chuck Michaels against the ropes. Michaels hits an armdrag, but Bret is able to get a drop toe hold. The game goes to the ground as Hart applies a headlock, but Michaels gets out of it into an impressive hammerlock reversal. He would work on the arm a little bit, until Bret brought Shawn up and into the corner. Hart began to beat on Michaels in the corner, until HBK reversed THe Hitman amd got him with stiff forearm shots. An Irish whip into the corner turned into Michaels sending Hart out of the ring with a head scissor. Just like that, ten minutes have gone by. Michaels is more explosive than Hart which is good. He needs to be.
Hart paces on the outside and taking a breather. Michaels has kept the momentum neutral for now. Hart is back in the ring and the match continues. Only Michaels brings Hart right back into the armbar. After Bret’s escape, he went to throw Michaels over the top rope, but HBK would skin the cat and surprise Hart right back into an armbar. The two men stand, get back into the running of the ropes and Bret got Shawn with a knee to the gut, a headbutt to the abdomen, a leg drop and finally a reverse chin lock. Michaels took a fury of offense into a bridge on the arm. Michaels works on the arm for a few minutes, until Bret Hart nips up and the two men struggle, but Hart gets a spinebuster and attempts the Sharpshooter. Michaels scurries to the ropes and gets the rope break. Still no first fall here in this match. It’s been a defensive game, but someone has to blink first.
Instead of a Sharpshooter, Michaels got a stiff running clothesline to the outside. Hart tries to work on HBK outside, but he is pushed into the ringpost and falls on the lap of a crew member. However, Michaels attempts Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere! Hart ducks out of the way, but Michaels knocks out the poor bystander. Hart takes control of Michaels, gets him back in the ring and goes back to the reverse chinlock. The man lies helpless on the outside. Sweet Chin Music is fast as well as deadly.
The crowd stirs as Michaels stays in the hold. HBK tries to escape the chinlock a few times, but Hart has it locked in deep. The bystander is stretchered out of ringside. Eventually, an armdrag takedown releases the hold and a hard clothesline puts Hart on the mat. Shortly, Hart answered with one of his own and followed it up with another chinlock. Michaels stays in the gold, but escapes with punches, a pin attempt and a dropkick. Then like clockwork, he goes back to the armbar on Hart. This match has 100% been about holding onto the big moves and risks while taking control of the match. Michaels uses knees to the ribs to ground The Hitman as another ten minutes have passed and no one has a fall yet.
The Heartbreak Kid shifts Bret’s arm into a crossarm breaker. Hart tried to escape by stepping on Shawn’s face, but Michaels applied enough pressure to take him back to the mat. Hart tried to escape again into the headlock, but Michaels reversed it into the hammerlock again. Michaels has become the one in control. The one pushing the pace. Right now, he has all the answers against The Hitman. HBK twisted the arm and retched the elbow of Hart’s arm. However, Hart fought his way up and into the corner and regained control with a pair of stiff elbows. The Excellence of Execution continued with very hard strikes to Michaels, but he was reversed by Shawn into a knee and a throw into the ringpost. Shawn worked the arm and then the delivered a harsh shoulder breaker to The Hitman. A double ax handle would be delivered as well and a hammerlock slam for good measure.
Michaels continued to work on the elbow for several minutes. Every time Hart tried to fight back, HBK had an answer that involved hurt his left arm. Hart was struggling on the mat to escape, but Michaels applied the pressure to ground the Hitman. Hart finally escaped by stomping on the face of Michaels after some time of leveraging position. The pace of this match is slow, but it is pure technical wrestling on the mat. Michaels pounded Hart back into another arm submission. Hart needed time. He fought out and gave Michaels an alleyoop which drives Shawn’s throat into the top rope. That should buy Hart some time. He used it to regain control and catapult Michael’s head from the mat to the corner of the ringpost. Michaels has lost control. Hart pins Michaels for two, but it is clear the fatigue is becoming an issue quietly. Bret brought Shawn over to the corner, only to be reversed into having his head slammed down into the top turnbuckle three times to slow him down. Michaels missed a running crossbody in the corner and Hart made him pay for it with an atomic drop and running clothesline combo for a two count. Hart hit a running bulldog. Hart uncharacteristically doesn’t go for the cover and he’s going to the top rope. Michaels recovers and goes to Hart. The Hitman strikes him down, but HBK fights through. Hart beats Shawn to the top and hits bulldog, but it gets more of the referee than Shawn Michaels. The pressure builds in this one. Hart and Michaels are evenly matched right now. They are starting to get tired and the battle for the winner is only getting more difficult for both men as we are now thirty minutes into this match, but there is no half time. The match continues.
Hart checks on the Hebner, and the gesture costs him as Shawn Irish whips him into a powerslam for a two count.
Hart retaliates with a stiff kick and a piledriver that HBK is somehow able to kick out of. That move had to take a lot out of Michaels. The crowd is back into it as Hart goes back to the top rope after a leg drop, only to be caught and thrown off my Michaels. The crowd can feel a fall coming. Michaels continues the fury with a hurracaranna into a fury of punches to boot. HBK Irish whips Hart into the ropes. Bret hangs on to slow the pace. He is hit with a strong punch and a deep backbreaker for a two count. The Hitman is winded. He gets hit with an elbow. The crowd roars. Michaels is setting up for some chin music, but Bret sees it coming and ducks out of the way. Bret Hart paces around ringside, not noticing Shawn Michaels waiting for him with a diving crossbody to the outside as he turned the corner. Both men are hurt. Michaels makes it to his feet and slides into the ring trying to get the count out fall, but at about six, he changes his mind and gets Bret back into the ring. Michaels tries for a beautiful crossbody that Hart uses the momentum to lock into a pin attempt that only gets to a nerve racking two. These men are close to a first fall. It is just a question of who will blink first.
This was the image as both men expelled more and more energy trying to one up another for a single fall. The two battles for positioning on an overarm bridge pin, but Michaels would surprise with a small package for two again. He’d also hit a fisherman suplex pin that Bret would kick out of at two. The Heartbreak Kid locked in a sleeper hold to keep The Hitman down long enough to at least rest and think of something big to gain a fall. Michaels was persistent as Hart tried to unlock it. Michaels kept control for several minutes in the sleeper until Hart fought back, but he did it backwards and Michaels sent him flying into the top turnbuckle. Shawn went back to the sleeper hold. Hart tried to stuff Michaels into the corner again, but Hart got stuffed with hard kicks to the face and head before being thrown into the buckle. However, Bret Hart had a great move backdropping Michaels over the ringpost and ropes and onto the concrete floor. This is a fall for sure.
An exhausted HBK was on the outside. Hart saw the opportunity and picked him up on the outside and rammed him into the ringpost before throwing him back into the ring. Rather than go for the pin, Hart focused on the lower back with strikes and the turnbuckle. An elbow from the ropes did a far great amount of damage to Michaels back. It appears at this point that Bret Hart has more stamina and is using it conservatively. A backbreaker and knee to the lower back of Michaels kept him down and another ten minutes have passed without a fall. Time is starting to tick away as Bret Hart firmly has control over a tired Shawn Michaels. HBK is going to find out how much heart he has.
The Excellence of Execution does tireless work on Shawn’s lower back in the corner. A big Irish whip spun Michaels to the top of the turnbuckle and Hart dropped him all the way down with a backsuplex that sent Michaels inside out and motionless on the mat. That heart of Shawn Michaels must still be beating because he finds a way to kickout. Michaels knows that a fall for Hart at this point is a loss. Michaels cannot fall to Bret Hart, no matter the punishment. Hart puts on a camel clutch to stretch HBK even further. The crowd cheers for Michaels and he responds. He stands up somehow and delivers a running sunset flip that only gets a two count. Hart attacks the lower back again and sets up Michaels for the superplex. Michaels fights out of hit, but his high risk maneuver from the top fails with a Hart right hand to the gut. The Hitman begins to show the frustration as Michaels kicks out of a Russina legsweep. Hart uses all his strength to Irish whip Michaels over the top rope and spinng out of the ring and into Jose Lothario. Master and student law on the outside as The Hitman taunts the crowd. He is in firm control. Hart wasn’t done either. He Irish whipped Shawn directly into Lothario again and into the ring steps. Hart brought him back into the ring looking for the first fall of the match. He still focused on the lower back with a belly to belly suplex, but Michaels refused to stay down. The Hitman threw a punch with the intention of pounding on Michaels with strikes. The heart of Shawn Michaels is too big and he ended up being the one throwing haymakers, but they are out of desperation and Hart retakes control by targeting the back again. A few uppercuts in the corner by Bret must have woken up HBK because he reversed it into a front roll up off the ropes for two before being pushed to the outside again.
Bret Hart has really been conquering Michaels with the same moves all night. He’s kept him grounded and it’s stopped a lot of Shawn Michaels’ offense. Hart dives through the ropes onto Shawn. Bret thought that was enough for a count out fall that the fans did not appreciate after near fifty minutes of stalemate. Hart broke the count and he must have agreed. By the time Michaels got the apron, Hart was thinking suplex into the ring, but Michaels twisted it around and The Hitman had to change gears and positions for a German suplex bridge that Michaels still kicked out of. It seems that not matter what happens, Michaels just won’t stay down. The Hitman did what he could, but Michaels heart is coming through in the fourth quarter. The two trade bombs back and forth, but Hart holds the high ground. Michaels is on his knees taking blow after blow from Hart as if he is asking for more. A headbutt hurts both of them, but the exhaustion factor is a severe concern now. Bret Hart capitalizes with a camel clutch as the time ticks down to ten minutes. There are now ten minutes left in this bout without a single fall. HBK needs at least one to bet the Champion. A draw for Hart is the Champion’s advantage. Shawn Michaels is so close to his dream, but time is not his friend. He needs to fight and fight quickly, but will fatigue beat out the dream of a little boy in the final minutes?
This crowd can’t believe what they are seeing. Shawn Michaels is exhausted, out of ideas and over his head in the ring against The Hitman, yet he is still toe to toe with him and the only thing keeping him in the match right now is his heart and his dream. Bret Hart doesn’t need to dream. He is the WWF Champion and he hold Michaels in the clutch just running down the clock. The Heartbreak Kid is stuck and he is struggling to get out. Suddenly, he is nine minutes away from never becoming Champion. Michaels fights into a chinlock, then to his feet and he is trying to break free for a last stand with eight minutes left. HBK breaks the hold with elbows to the midsection. Michaels runs, ducks but ends up thinking the same thing as Bret Hart. The two share a double clothesline that sends them both to the mat exhausted. Michaels and Hart get to their feet and Hart gets hit with punches with seven minutes left. The Hitman puts Michaels to the top of the turnbuckle and hits a huge superplex that no doubt knocked them both out. Hart goes for the Sharpshooter, but Michaels blocks and kicks his way out of it. Michaels blocks a figure four attempt as the clock moves to six minutes, but falls for a Boston crab. The time is ticking. The fans are getting restless. Shawn Michaels’ dream is dying.
HBK gets to the ropes a half a minute later. You can feel the draining of the audience. Hart had certainly drained Michaels and hit him with another backbreaker. Bret Hart has something in mind on the top rope as the time moves down even more. Five minutes left of opportunity left for Shawn Michaels. Hart takes a change, but Michaels hits him with a boot to by some time. Michaels explodes with a big dropkick sending Hart into the corner. Michaels is revving up for his last stand. He hits a forearm on Hart and Irish whips him as hard as he can into the opposite buckle. HBK is doing everything he can to gain the energy to retaliate. Four minutes left in the match. Michaels has the momentum. A flying lariat puts both men down, but is too much for Shawn Michaels to make a quick comeback, or so we thought. Michaels nipped up somehow and he is using everything he has left in the tank. He quickens the tempo with a running elbow. He slams Hart and connects on a flying double axe handle from the top rope. There are only three minutes left as The Heartbreak Kid makes his stand.
Michaels covers for a two count. The crowd is counting down the seconds. This is a one fall match now, but it has been the whole time. HBK hits a suplex in the middle of the ring and ascends to the top rope. The Show Stopper hits the vintage HBK flying elbow right on The Hitman’s heart. It appears that Michaels has more heart and he is racing to the end. A gutwrech suplex on Bret Hart keeps him down as everyone else in the arena is standing. The clock isn’t going to stop. Michaels needs to finish it now. There are only two minutes left.
Shawn Michaels climbs the top rope as Bret Hart staggers to his feet. Michaels tries a huge chance with a moonsault. He connects for a long two count. The two men haven’t budged one inch, or made a significant mistake in this match. This is a stalemate and it is going to come down to one big move. Bret Hart needs to survive. Michaels hits a hurracanrana onto The Hitman for another two count. The two men refuse to lose for anything. Neither man is going to give in. Michaels hits a body slam onto Hart and he slowly makes his way to the top rope one more time to end it. There is only one minute remaining.
This is it. This is the finish. Michaels is on the top rope. Bret Hart is struggling to his feet. Arrowhead Pond is deafening. Anaheim wants to see a winner. Michaels tries with one last big top rope feat of magic to make “The Boyhood Dream” come true. Bret Hart stands and waits for the move. Michaels leaps off the top with everything he has and The Hitman blocks his move. Michaels falls in the wrong position. Hart moves quickly and there is nothing Michaels can do now.
Bret Hart has locked in the Sharpshooter with thirty three seconds left. Shawn Michaels isn’t going to win. He has thirty three seconds to realize he has failed. His dream isn’t going to happen on this night. The only thing left of this match is the pain of Shawn Michaels. For thirty three seconds, in pure exhaustion and in complete pain, Shawn Michaels refused to give up. He lets time expire and the match is a draw after an hour. At the end of the time limit, there were no falls for either man. A stalemate with Bret Hart makes HBK look better than he has ever been, but a draw doesn’t get him the Championship. Hart retains. Michaels has lost.
Bret Hart grabs his Championship as a fallen Michaels lays in defeat. Hart is on his way backstage to continue his title reign as Gorilla Monsoon returns to the ring and discusses something with Hebner. Soon after, The Fink is on the microphone and announces to Arrowhead Pond, “The sixty minute time limit has expired. However, this match has been ordered to continue under sudden death rules. There must be a winner.” The crowd in Anaheim is going to see a winner. Bret Hart is livid and somewhere in Shawn Michaels’ body is his beating heart and the drive towards his dream. The Hitman protests as Michaels tends to his wounds as there is still a shot, but he needs to act quickly. The longer this match goes on, the more he is likely to fail.
The bell rings again as Bret Hart goes in to finish off Shawn Michaels. Hart focuses heavily on the lower back of Michaels. He hits a big backbody drop on Michaels. The Hitman is still in control. A backbreaker puts down Michaels again. Bret Hart is looking towards the end. Now, it is just about winning. He Irish whips Michaels into the corner, HBK jumps over him and lands a Sweet Chin Music to Hart in the blink of an eye. Michaels falls to the ground unable to retaliate. The crowd has erupted. Is there a chance? Michaels and Bret Hart struggle to get to their feet.
The miraculous element of this story is that on this one exchange. Just this one last sequence, Shawn Michaels through heart, perseverance and a dream delivered a second Sweet Chin Music that finally put Bret Hart down long enough for The Showstopper to cover him for the night’s only 1-2-3. Michaels buried his hands into his face as “The Boyhood Dream” of becoming the WWF World Heavyweight Champion had become a reality. Shawn Michaels went to an hour stalemate with one of the most dangerous technical wrestlers of all time. He outlasted years of trial and error, tag matches at Wrestlemania, a historic ladder match and a full year of struggle to become WWF Champion on the grandest stage of them all. Shawn Michaels became more than just The Showstopper, or The Heartbreak Kid. He had become more than WWF Champion. At Wrestlemania XII, Shawn Michaels became Mr. Wrestlemania.