Creature vs. Creature: Best Match Ever
Professional wrestling has existed for decades. Men have come and gone, helping to perfect the art of what WWE now simply calls "sports entertainment." During those many long years, countless matches have gone by.
Legends have met in epic confrontations. Icons have collided head on. There are very few match-ups in professional wrestling that have not been seen in some form over the years. However, there is a certain feel that comes from legendary matches.
When you sit down and watch that match, the build-up may help orchestrate the contest. The feel you have had from these competitors may help you become invested in the contest. But you don't need either of these things when the match is all said and done.
Announcers and crowds can fuel emotion or bring a spark that was lacking otherwise, but they don't drive the match. A legendary contest comes down to the men in the ring. Put two ring generals together with a story in their minds, and they will give you everything they have.
"Art is the desire of a man to express himself, to record the reactions of his personality to the world he lives in." — Amy Lowell
A wrestling match is an art form in which each star involved is allowed to express everything they wish to express. The greatest of contests bare the very soul of a performer on the stage for the world to see. Yes, timing, location, and opportunity can influence the match, but the greatest of matches overcome all and excel through the performances of the individuals present in the contest.
In the end, while many contests have come and gone, the greatest of them all was the Iron Man match between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart at WrestleMania XII. A story between the two slowly budding rivals centered around the WWE Title that brought them to that stage, but it doesn't matter because the match itself told the true story of the greatest contest in wrestling history.
It was March 31st, 1996. WrestleMania XII, hosted in Anaheim, California, had been host to some strange matches up to that point, but the crowd at the Arrowhead Pond was completely ready for the huge main event.
Before a single blow was thrown, the crowd was already being given a show as the flamboyant Shawn Michaels would forgo his usual entrance and zip line down from the roof. Bret Hart was never about flash, but he was still given a huge reaction from the crowd as the three time WWF Champion made his way to the ring.
Before Hart handed the belt over to the referee, he reminded everyone what this match was all about as he kissed the WWF Championship. After Hart was given a final good luck from his young son Blade, Hart and Michaels stood face to face as the bell rang.
The two traded holds and exchanges as neither gained an advantage until Hart finally snapped on a headlock to Michaels. Both men would amazingly play off that headlock which would sometimes transition into a facelock for about five minutes as they would pull off big moves with Hart always coming out on top.
Michaels would eventually find the upper hand and decide to pace himself by using his own brand of technical wrestling with control of Hart's left arm. Right before the ten minute mark, the pacing picked up as Michaels and Hart got the crowd pumped with hard shots, leading to Hart being thrown outside of the ring.
While both men would continue to grapple, they had a penchant for timing and would pull out big moves at key point, keeping the crowd invested and alive for every minute of the contest.
One moment in particular sticks out at the fifteen minute mark as the two battled on the outside.Hart fell upon a young Tony Chimel, and Michaels pulled out a sudden Sweet Chin Music that Hart dodged and Chimel took head on. To sell the shot, Chimel was even carted out of the ring.
For a good portion of the match, each man managed to almost completely go for one part of the body. Hart entirely focused upon Michaels' neck while Michaels went after the left shoulder of Hart. With Hart being a technical master and a young Michaels stepping up his game in that regard, this match showed an absolutely perfect ring psychology that you will never see in matches today.
As the time passed, huge spots became more plentiful including a piledriver by Hart on the worked-over neck that the entire crowd believed would garner the first fall. By that point which was 30 minutes into the contest, the crowd that had been warming up as much as the wrestlers came alive, completely behind the action. Each punch and throw was given cheers or outright excitement.
An amazing top rope crossbody to the outside by Michaels would truly highlight the change in the match as the two completely hit a second gear. As their fatigue showed upon their faces, their actions only sped up.
A sleeper hold transitioned into a backdrop over the top rope. A quick whip into the corner turned into a perfect combination leading into a hard drop straight on Michaels' neck. So many quick shots leading to beautiful reversals.
While this match is over fifteen years old, some of the moves in this match have never been seen in any other match before or after it. After about 40 minutes, there was not a single pinfall attempt that the crowd didn't give full energy toward. Both men perfectly straddled the line between their incredibly tired state and their ability to still pull out huge moves as if they were just getting started.
Even in all the big spots and the perfect selling, one moment that truly stood out for the whole match was a simple exchange between the two stars. Hart would battle Michaels who was on his knees with punches with Hart getting the edge, yet, instead of backing away, Michaels would motion for Hart to give him his best shot which Michaels certainly got.
The exchange highlighted the powerful story that these two told. Each man played their roles as fan favorites with one solid goal: to take out their opponent and walk out the WWE Champion. Hart was the veteran who lead the match, but neither man ever backed down or looked weaker than their counterpart.
The final 10 minutes were a beautiful exchange of heart and perseverance with the final minute being one of the most suspenseful you will ever see. Michaels seemed poised to win, but his lack of speed would allow Hart catch him as he flew off the top rope. Hart would then use his positioning to pull Michaels in for the Sharpshooter.
For 35 seconds, Michaels, who had been beaten, brutalized, and destroyed, held on, shaking his head violently and crying out in pain. He would never submit as the crowd was going wild, and time expired.
The legendary finish still poignantly expresses wrestling at its finest in watching to this day. Hart, who was leaving the ring contented and still champion, was forced by acting WWF President Gorilla Monsoon to continue the match under sudden death rules.
A broken Michaels could not even stand as Hart beat down upon him in overtime until a sudden, amazing turn of events lead to a Superkick. Michaels, still unable to stand, could not manage to even attempt a cover. When both men finally would get to their feet, a second Superkick sealed the match with Michaels realizing his boyhood.dream.
This would be Michaels' first WWE (WWF at the time) title reign. The emotion on his face as he sat there with the WWF Title on his knees was and still remains an iconic moment to behold.
While Hart left angrily, selling the whole story from his side extremely well, the crowd and the announcers helped put over this monumental moment. Even more monumental for Michaels, Jose Lothario, the man who trained Michaels, was there for Michaels for the whole contest and was one of the first to be able to congratulate the young star on his first World Title victory.
This match was wrestled fifteen years ago, and it still stands as the greatest match ever wrestled. Two of the greatest of all time stepped into the ring, and they put on a clinic of perseverance, technicality, heart, and in-ring chemistry.
The first Iron Man match in WWE history, the first WWE Title reign of the legendary Shawn Michaels, a match that made the WWE Championship mean more than any other in history, the beginning of a great renaissance in WWE where the big men of the business fell to the wayside for the smaller athletes of the likes of Michaels and Hart. Legendary, historic, perfect.
While many matches have come before and many can and will come after, no match will ever reach the level of this contest. For this Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.
Thanks for reading!
For those who don't know, this entry is part of the "Creature vs. Creature" competition going on right now. Please leave your comments on the match and the article.