Gimmick Some (Wrestlemania) Lovin': RestholdMania!
In each edition of Gimmick Some Lovin', we take a look at one iteration of a gimmick match available on the WWE Network. Some are iconic for their success, others for the extent to which they flopped, and some just... happened.
We defined a "gimmick match" as, in any way, adding a rule/stipulation to or removing a rule from a match, changing the physical environment of a match, changing the conditions which define a "win", or in any way moving past the simple requirement of two men/women/teams whose contest must end via a single pinfall, submission, count out, or disqualification.
This week, we gather up our snacks and blankets, put our phones on the charger, and settle in for a long winter's night to look at (currently) the longest match in Wrestlemania history: the Iron Man Match from Wrestlemania XII between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart.
A Tough Spot
Wrestlemania XII found the World Wrestling Federation at a very unique time in its history. Emanating from the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, CA, the future site of another Gimmick Some Lovin' entry, on March 31, 1996, this was the first Wrestlemania of the Monday Night Wars era, and the last Wrestlemania to occur before World Championship Wrestling would kick the war into gear with the start of the New World Order angle.
The show also represents the last Wrestlemania of the "New Generation" Era of WWF history; while the Attitude Era hadn't begun in full by the time 1997's spectacular rolled around, the product was decidedly different from what was on offer in the early spring of 1996. Some of the elements that would define the late-90s in Stamford were on display (namely, the chaotic and subversive sides to the Goldust-Roddy Piper Hollywood Backlot Brawl, which wasn't enough of a "match" to fully cover here), but the WWF relied on a great deal of traditional storytelling, and Wrestlemania stalwarts, to carry a thin roster.
Featured prominently are major heroes and villains of past Wrestlemanias like Piper, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Yokozuna, Undertaker, and The Ultimate Warrior; Vince McMahon relied heavily on these veterans' presence to boost pay-per-view buys and, in a possibly symbolic move, had Warrior no-sell Hunter Hearst Helmsley's devastating finisher to squash the blueblood in under two minutes.
Today's contest is partially the product of that depleted roster; on a card from the three-hour era of The Grandaddy of 'Em All, the packages, entrances, match, and the aftermath of this contest takes up between a third and a half of Wrestlemania XII's total runtime. Only five other matches make up the main card, which also lacks a great deal of the pageantry and celebrity involvement that marked previous events in the show's history.
Besides the Iron Man Match, the only other contest that feels like it has the Wrestlemania-worthy buzz and marvel is the far-better-than-expected Undertaker vs. Diesel; everything else feels thrown together (the six-man tag, Warrior-Helmsley), undeserving of a Wrestlemania spotlight (at that moment, Steve Austin vs. Savio Vega), or a better-in-concept time-filler (the Backlot Brawl).
Thus, the Iron Man Match had a lot of weight to carry in order to save this show. Its success at doing so has been pretty hotly debated over the past 22 years; we'll see for ourselves today how the only match of any real weight from Wrestlemania XII stands the tests of time and scrutiny.