Best: The Rocky Horror Hoss Fight
The badassness of the Mankind/Undertaker feud really overshadowed how sweet Goldust/Undertaker was. They sort of had an auxiliary feud that resulted in a few matches but nothing really consistent. But Goldust really brought a cool element to Undertaker and made himself look great, too. It’s only when Goldust is standing next to Taker that you realize how legitimately huge Dustin Runnels is. This feud really went a long way to showing how much physicality he had when he’s not being all Goldust-y.
The match itself is hoss fight glory, which I didn’t really expect in the beginning. I can’t say enough how much I’m learning to re-appreciate Undertaker’s 1996. It’s really the most important year of his career as this transition from Saturday Morning Slam character to someone who works within the confines of a more realistic product. Here, the sit-ups and no-selling are kept to a minimum and he’s having a straight-up wrestling match with one of the most talented guys on the roster.
Wanna know something else that’s great? Every match so far has been a clean ending. I didn’t even know this happened in the 90s.
Best: A Worked Shoot That Works
Before we get to why you’re all here, I want to talk about a moment in the Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind match that legit screwed with me. A few minutes into the match, Shawn Michaels gets whipped to the turnbuckle, turns around, looks for Mankind who wasn’t there and turns around yelling at him. Then Mankind slaps Michaels and they have a scuffle in the middle of the ring that looks real as hell. It also plays off of Michaels’ real-life tantrums he throws in the ring including him spazzing on Vader last month for not moving during an elbow drop. When you watch, it’s easy to second-guess and wonder if they’re actually fighting for a second.
Well, if you believe anything Shawn Michaels said in his Shoot Interview from back in 1999, that whole moment was Mankind’s idea because Mankind is the most brilliant person of all time. This is the definition of a worked shoot if there ever was one, not Tommy Dreamer tweeting about finger popping Dixie Carter and showing up on TV the next week. Here’s Shawn talking about the match at the 30 minute mark (surrounded by a bunch of lying ass lying).
Shawn Michaels Shoot Interview: Part 2 by RatedREdgeHead316
Fast forward real quick to 2014. John Cena feuding with Bray Wyatt heading into WrestleMania. The basis of the feud was Bray Wyatt wanted to make Cena turn into a darker version of himself who now uses chairs like he’s been doing his whole career but this time it’s real. The story made zero sense especially in light of Cena always using weapons and this “dark side” story is an annual tradition. Then little possessed kids showed up and things fell off the rails completely. But even before then, it didn’t really work.
All of this is illuminated by going back to 1996 and seeing that Shawn Michaels and Mankind told that story through the course of 30 minutes. There’s the pretty boy Clique leader who wanted to moonsault and skin the cat his way into our hearts and a guy who was totally opposite who wanted to remind him that you have to actually fight to win sometimes. Sure, he had a No Holds Barred match with Diesel a few months before, but it was still cartoonish with fire extinguishers and prosthetic legs. This, though, was different. And it’s perfect. As the match progresses, Shawn gets darker, wondering how far he has to go to win. So he vertical suplexes Mankind’s knee into the steps. He slams his head into the concrete. He puts him through tables. And we learn that despite all the dancing and heartthrob BS, Shawn Michaels really just wants to win and continue being champ. He puts that title above catering to fans and being a good guy. It’s the character development that makes his eventual heel run make sense.
As for Mick Foley, his greatest gift was figuring out what a character was missing and fixing it. Rock is a soulless a-hole? Give him a buddy cop personality to give him some heart. HHH needs to look like a legit winner? Have him win a few hardcore-style matches. HBK needs some character depth and an edge? Put on what might end up being the best match of 1996 that challenges his status quo.
The best part about the match is that it stands the test of time. It’s 18 years old and it’s as crisp and compelling as it was back then. Of course the ending was trash and overbooked but it’s IYH where every main event ends in a DQ so deal with it.