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Posted in: LOP Hall Of Fame
2015 LOP Hall of Fame Inductee: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart Ironman Match at WrestleMania XII
By Super Chrisss
Mar 27, 2015 - 7:22:28 AM

Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart Ironman Match at WrestleMania XII
Class of 2015

Last year, I had the privilege of inducting what many feel – myself included – the greatest wrestling match in WrestleMania history: Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat for the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania III. Whether Steamboat vs. Savage truly is the best ‘Mania match of all-time is a topic that fans debate, even to this day, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any wrestling fan out there who doesn’t consider Steamboat vs. Savage ‘really good’, at the barely least.

Well, this year’s entry is a tad more controversial. There have been only a handful of Ironman matches in WWE history, and truth be told, they were all a lot of fun. Some people love the intensity in Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle from an episode of SmackDown; others are huge fans of the psychology shown during Randy Orton vs. John Cena at Bragging Rights. Me, personally, I’m a sucker for the very first Ironman match in WrestleMania history - Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship in a 60-Minute Ironman Match at WrestleMania XII, which also happens to be entering the 2015 LOP Hall of Fame.

So, why the controversy? Well, let me put it this way. Anyone who has watched the Bret vs. Shawn in its entirety either loves the match or hates it. There’s not really any middle-ground to be found when it comes to the WMXII main-event. Those who do not hold Michaels/Hart in high regard call it too ‘slow’, too ‘methodical’, and too reliant on rest-holds. I think it’s amazing that two wrestlers managed to wrestle for over sixty minutes without giving up a single pinfall or submission loss to the other.

Think about that for a second. Prior to WrestleMania 25, when Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker wrestled an absolute clinic, very few matches in WrestleMania history had eclipsed the twenty, twenty-five minute on the Grandest Stage of Them All. In matches such as HBK/’Taker and Steamboat/Savage, the action was high-paced, filled with reversals, and had plenty of near-falls. Yet, would either of two matches had been as epic had they continued to wrestle for an additional thirty minutes? I’m not too sure. Obviously, the performers know ahead of time how many minutes they have to work with, but both Michaels/Taker and Steamboat/Savage would have been structured very differently if given more time. Both matches were the perfect length and I would change almost nothing about either contest.

That’s why I consider Michaels vs. Hart a masterpiece. Despite both men being in-ring generals and not strangers to the wrestling game, they didn’t have a blueprint to follow when planning their WrestleMania XII contest. They had a tough task to complete: construct an entertaining, hour-long wrestling match without either man being pinned or tapping out. Shawn and Bret could have simply took a twenty-minute match formula and repeated it twice – but they didn’t. Shawn and Bret could have taken the Rock/Cena II approach and made the final fifteen minutes of their match nothing but finishers and false-finishes – but they didn’t. Shawn and Bret could have spent at least half the match doing nothing but chain-wrestling and mat-wrestling – but, again, they didn’t. Rather, they took us on an hour-long, rollercoaster ride filled with emotions.

Simply put, Shawn vs. Bret had something for everyone. There was some chain-wrestling (after all, it IS Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels), there were rest holds so both men could catch their breath, and there were near-falls. If you want to complain about the pace being too ‘slow’ at times, what were you expecting? Both men to go all-out for sixty minutes? Keep in mind that there is a fifteen-second interval between falls in Ironman matches, but since Shawn vs. Bret didn’t have that luxury, they had to find a way to wrestle for over an hour without an hour. It’s one thing to have proper in-ring cardio to wrestle for over twenty minutes; being able to hang in the ring for sixty-plus minutes is another story.

That, ladies and gentlemen, makes me respect both competitor’s efforts even more back at WrestleMania XII. Shawn and Bret had no guideline to follow, few opportunities to rest, and a capacity crowd to entertain. I think they succeeded, and with flying colours. It’s a shame that both men had such an intense falling out following the Montreal Screwjob, as their in-ring chemistry was truly special, and fans got a good taste of it back in 1996. The moves and exchanges were crisp, the psychology was on point, and the near-falls were wisely reserved. On that night, Shawn Michaels emerged as the better man when they had to go to overtime after neither man could best the other during the time-limit. HBK fans rejoiced as Michaels celebrated with his newly won championship, while Vince McMahon famously said on commentary, “The boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels.” Indeed it had, and of course, Shawn was just getting started.

Shawn vs. Bret at WrestleMania XII isn’t the best match in wrestling history. In fact, I’d argue that Shawn vs. Bret had a better match at Survivor Series 1997. But in this writer’s opinion, their Ironman match is one of the smartest and best-worked matches in WrestleMania history. Does it have its faults? Certainly, but what match is perfectly flawless in execution? Given the circumstances, Shawn and Bret did absolutely fantastic. Furthermore, much like Michaels helped put the ladder match on the map two years earlier at WrestleMania X, he and Bret gave wrestling fans an hour-long clinic by introducing the Ironman match to a televised audience at WrestleMania XII.

You don’t have to like the inaugural Ironman match at WrestleMania XII. You don’t have to like Ironman matches in general. Hell, you don’t even have to like either The Hitman or The Heartbreak Kid. But you do have to respect what both men did for the wrestling business over the years, especially at WrestleMania XII, where they went above and beyond all expectations by delivering a classic, hour-long match without the referee counting to three or ringing the bell to signal a tap-out, forcing the match to go to overtime. That feat to me, even to this day, is incredible.

This year, WrestleMania 31 pays homage to the inception of the Money in the Bank ladder match introduced a decade earlier at WrestleMania XXI by hosting a multi-man ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship. Well, next year’s WrestleMania will mark the 20 year anniversary of the Ironman match making its televised debut. How awesome would it be if WWE books an Ironman match for WrestleMania 32? Maybe not an hour-long, but only thirty minutes, as it would take up too much time on the card. I for one would love to see a tribute to Shawn and Bret’s Ironman match, as it is certainly a match worth remembering.