(Here’s the link for the match on the WWE Network: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31348419?contextType=wwe-show&contextId=wrestlemania&contentId=67696930&watchlistAltButtonContext=series )
Oh goodness, we’re entering the Top 10! My journey through the WWE Network’s 100 Best Matches To Watch Before You Die has taken me over two years…but I’m nearly there!
I’ve mentioned before during my reviews of the WWE Network’s 100 Best Matches…List that the original version of a gimmick match is, more often than not, the best version of it. Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber, Ladder match…all the originals are superior to what came after them. Not only that, but they usually involve Shawn Michaels as well. However, Shawn Michaels failed to make the inaugural 60 Minute Iron Man Match better than what succeeded it. The Iron Man match between Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle, placed at #53, is far better than this one (click here for my review). It’s a match of two halves. The first half is as dull as waiting for a bus. The second half is action-packed, but the wait was so long for the action that it’s hard to feel excited for it.
Part of the mystique surrounding this match is that it’s the culmination of Shawn Michaels’ boyhood dream of becoming the WWF Champion. Just look at his entrance, descending from the rafters like the Second Coming of Christ. The WWE was in the doldrums at the beginning of 1996. It needed a saviour. Bret Hart had carried the Championship since Survivor Series 1995, and had held it on occasions previous to that. It was a classic matchup of a veteran against new blood to decide the future of the company. HBK won the Royal Rumble to secure his chance for the World Title.
But for some reason, Hart vs Michaels was made an Iron Man match. Gimmick matches are usually reserved for feud-ending matches, aren’t they? This wasn’t finishing a feud. It was a strange choice. But surely you could rely on two of the best workers in the 1996 version of WWF to put on a great match? If you judged the match by the first half an hour, you’d be wrong. HBK may outwrestle Hart in the time-tested story of a wrestler using his opponent’s strengths against him. HBK is the flashy wrestler, Hart is the technical one. However, it’s HBK who uses a technical strategy. But it’s played out in a dull manor. HBK applies an armbar for an interminable amount of time, Hart breaks out of it. Hart applies a headlock for an interminable amount of time, HBK breaks out of it and so on ad infinitum. Or so it seems to the viewer. The only thing of note in the first half hour is Michaels accidentally super-kicking the timekeeper.
People are visibly walking out. There isn’t a pinfall for the first half hour, nor for the rest of the Iron Man match (it goes to Sudden Death). Michaels and Hart find their working shoes in the second half, and ramp up the action. The psychology of the first half is forgotten about, as they hit big moves in order to regain the crowd’s attention. But it doesn’t work. All signs point to the match being a draw. Think about it. Hart doesn’t have a finishing move. He has a finishing submission, but would HBK really allow himself to tap to the Sharpshooter? In the same manner, Hart has to be protected as well.
Even during this action-packed second half, my mind began to wander. If the Iron Man match was abandoned, and the second half was what we saw instead, that I’d regard it as a classic. It’s exciting, stuffed with false finishes and big moves. However, it’s undermined by the boring first thirty minutes. They sap all your enthusiasm out of the bout. Almost every other 60 Minute Iron Man match since the inaugural one has managed to keep up excitement and enthusiasm from the opening bell. In fact, I’d be tempted to get rid of this match completely on the 100 Best Matches…List. I’d replace it with the 60 Minute Iron Man match between Triple H and The Rock at Judgment Day 2000 (but move it further down the list. Neither this match nor The Rock/HHH Iron Man match deserve to be in the Top 10)!
VERDICT: 6/10. The inaugural Iron Man match is a match of two halves. The first half is incredibly boring, the second half a very good wrestling match. But by that point, you don’t really care. An overrated bout by any standard.
Does this match belong in the WWE Network’s 100 Best Matches To See Before You Die? Leave your comments below!
Click here for my review of #11 Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat (NWA World Title, NWA Chi-Town Rumble)
Click here to view my list of reviews of the WWE Network’s 100 Best Matches To See Before You Die
10 thoughts on “Review: WWE Network’s 100 Best Matches To See Before You Die: #10 Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (WWE Title, 60 Minute Iron Man Match. WWE Wrestlemania XII)”