The WWF promoted the Iron Man match between Brat Hart and Shawn Michaels, at WrestleMania XII, as the “greatest title match in WWF history”.
Vince McMahon, being Vince McMahon, was hardly going to yell in that soaring bluster “It’s something of an experiment, quite frankly!”—but this carny hype-job was warranted. The main event pitted the two premier workers in North America against one another, under a unique stipulation that, on the surface, aimed to emphasise their respective strengths: Bret’s strategic long-form storytelling, and Shawn’s big-bumping athleticism and stamina.
The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer attended the show live. In his review of the replay, he wrote “After watching the same match on television and concentrating more on their performances as opposed to the crowd’s reaction to the performance, it was an excellent match.” He rated it ****1/4. Without additional editorial, PWTorch’s Wade Keller awarded the match with the same rating.
Scott Keith—a man viewed as a total contrarian Shannon Moore > Hulk Hogan meme now, but who was deeply influential in 1996—went higher in his rating. “****3/4,” he summarised, before adding “Can’t go the full monty for this one because of Bret’s attitude problems.”
All three men lamented the dead crowd, and seemed to blame them for a failure to comprehend the logic behind the holds. Those pond scum WWF fans don’t know an armbar from their ar*ehole.
That is not an exaggeration. Meltzer wrote “The fans who came to the first house show of their lives didn’t know the various submission holds or understand working a body part,” even though Bret Hart had, for a good five years of singles competition, attacked more legs than the Ultimate Warrior attacked homosexuals. On the subject of the Warrior, his destruction of Hunter Hearst Helmsley drew a far bigger reaction than the realisation of Shawn’s Boyhood Dream. And yet, that was a “burial”, and this is a “classic”.