(Here’s the link for the match on the WWE Network: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31317649/?contentId=31317649&contextType=wwe-show&contextId=in_your_house)
In his autobiography, Mick Foley calls this match against Shawn Michaels his favourite match. It’s debatable, of course, but I tend to agree with him purely in the sense that it’s probably his best ‘wrestling’ match. It’s not the usual Foley hardcore match. For almost half an hour, Foley/Mankind and Michaels (mostly) wrestle without liberal use of weapons. Mankind’s probably in the shape of his career here, and he runs about just as much as HBK does. We see a more aggressive side of HBK, which adds a different slant to the match. The question before the bout was: “How can Michaels cope with the unpredictability of Mankind?” The answer? Be just as unpredictable. What results is probably the best WWE match of 1996 (yes, it is miles better than the inaugural Iron Man match that is #10 on the Best 100…List!).
Right from the beginning, you can tell there is in-ring chemistry between the two. Their interactions seem effortless, as if they’d memorised a plan of the match before going out (however, there are on moment in the match where Michaels sets up for a springboard crossbody, but Mankind is in the opposite corner. Michaels shouts angrily ‘Come on!’ and punches Mankind stiff a few times. Is it the famous Michaels anger at hand here? Or was it a planned miscue?). Michaels first targets the knee of Mankind (forcing Mankind at one point to stab himself in the knee with a pen), and later targets the fingers of Mankind that were used for the Mandible Claw. Mankind lifts the mat up in the opening moments, only to have it dropkicked in his face. Then Michaels stomps on the mat, therefore a him, a few times.
Any match with Mankind in during that era of WWF has a chaotic feeling about it, and this one is no different. But Michaels up the chaos with his change from flashy wrestling to brawling. As usual, Mankind is on the defence for much of this match. He’s thrown back on his head on the concrete. He’s suplexed kneefirst on to the steel steps. He’s thrown into the steps and the barriers. Mankind does get offence in, and when he does, it’s usually hard-hitting (like a neckbreaker on the concrete, for example). The two wrestlers’ great work in marred by a very, very messy ending. Vader belatedly interferes, missing cue, so Mankind has to improvise. Then it all descends into madness.
It’s a shame, really, because without that ending, this match would surely be higher in the Best 100…List. Or maybe not. It had little build, being little more than a way for HBK to pass the time until the WWF found someone suitable to beat him for the WWF title. It’s usually a forgotten classic, because it was merely a one-off match. But it shows Mankind keeping up with the super-worker HBK to create something truly special. The match is twenty years old, don’t forget, and it could main event any PPV now and still stand out. Personally, I’d swap this with #21 on the Best 100…List, Mick Foley vs Randy Orton. #21 is a great match, no doubt about it, but it’s also a typical Foley/Mankind hardcore match. Watch this if you want to know what Foley was really capable of in his prime.
VERDICT: 9/10. A shoddy ending could not prevent this from being an instant, if somewhat forgotten, classic. Michaels and Mankind were both in their prime, and Mankind proved that he was not just a hardcore wrestler. He could go toe-to-toe and keep with ‘The Showstopper.’
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Click here for my review of #45 Chris Jericho vs. Rey Mysterio (WWE Intercontinental Title vs. Mask, WWE The Bash 2009)