James Dixon: Yet another Shawn Michaels release from the WWF, in an era when profile tapes were something of a rarity. Yep, HBK sure was the golden boy alright.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Razor Ramon
An often dismissed classic starts us off, and unfortunately we are joined in progress, though only a few minutes in. Obviously they were looking to capture lightning in a bottle for the second time with this, following their legendary contest at WrestleMania X some 16-months prior. The difference here is that they are not allowed to directly use the ladder as an offensive weapon. That makes for some really clever spots, such as Shawn accidentally clocking Razor when he picks it up and ‘The Bad Guy’ doing the same, only far more intentionally, later on. They can use the ladder as a landing pad though, and take turns slamming, throwing and whipping each other into it. A little known fact is that it was actually Triple H who pieced most of the match together, as Michaels and Razor were out of ideas due to the stip, and Trips came up with a lot of it in their hotel room prior to the show. Michaels’ presence in this far surpasses his position on the card, and you can tangibly feel his stock rising as the match progresses. It was obvious for most of 1995, but certainly after this performance, that he was destined to be the WWF’s top star. In reality, he probably should have been passed the torch a year earlier than he was, because he was untouchable from 1994 onwards. The high spots in this are no-where near the same ridiculous levels as in ladder matches of the Attitude era and beyond, but the match doesn’t need them because two more important things are there; selling and psychology. There are still high spots of course, but they are all logical to the match and make sense when they occur, without contrived selling and setting them up beforehand. You can do as many silly flips off a ladder and through a table as you want, but what is the point if none of it means anything? Thankfully, everything in this means something and it is an absolutely barnstorming affair because of it. Razor brings a second ladder into play and the drama really cranks up a notch, then elevates further when Razor hits the Razor’s Edge to prevent Shawn climbing the ladder. Both are exhausted as they climb ladders parallel to each other, with Shawn knocking Razor off of his and making a dive for the belt… and missing. Some think this is a botched spot and he was supposed to get it there, but I am not sure. Even if that was the case, so what? It added to the drama and the realism of the contest, with Shawn unable to make it due to exhaustion. Razor gets backdropped out of the ring on a Razor’s Edge attempt and Michaels climbs again, but this time he is out of position, and can’t reach the belt. Ok, that was supposed to be the finish. Vince covers it well by saying “he can’t do it” and again to me, that adds to the realism of it all. Shawn has a temper tantrum because he was a bit of a prick in 1995, and then climbs the repositioned ladder to grab the title to retain. I think it is a very pernickety and incredibly harsh to give this a lower rating because of a slightly mistimed finish. Like I say, it added to the drama and made sense, even if it wasn’t perfect. It doesn’t matter that one spot was slightly out, because the rest of the action was a 25-minute thrill-ride that broke new ground as far as what is expected in a ladder match. I have said before that I don’t believe in the theory that a match has to be “perfect” to hit 5* and I stand by that. Anyway, maybe they planned the finish that way, and all of us have been worked this whole time? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, this is a stunning effort and a match I have always been a huge fan of, and to me it deserves to be up there as one of the greatest. For that it gets full marks from me. Just think; the WWF nearly ran Michaels vs. Sid instead…
Final Rating: *****
Shawn Michaels vs. Yokozuna
This will probably be a bit of a comedown. The match takes place the day after the 1996 Royal Rumble, which Michaels of course won, eliminating Yoko along the way. A few minutes in, Owen Hart turns up in the aisle to confab with Yoko and Cornette. He was working Shawn the following month at IYH with Shawn’s recently acquired WWF title shot on the line. They had been feuding for a few months after the famous angle where Owen hit an enzuigiri that made Shawn pass out in the ring. Heavy clipping here, and Owen inevitably gets involved in Yoko’s favour. Michaels spends a long time on the outside of the ring without getting counted out, and Yoko is so exhausted from waiting for him that he applies a nerve hold when Shawn does make it back to the ring. This has been alright, but surely there are many better matches from Michaels to put on a tape than this? In fact, I know that there are for certain. This is all strictly formula, with Michaels mounting a comeback and then hitting the Sweet Chin Music for the win after Owen Hart’s interference backfires. Fine for what it was I guess, but a poor choice of bout for inclusion.
Final Rating: *¼
Shawn Michaels vs. Tatanka
A rematch from WrestleMania IX, some three years later with the roles reversed. This was taped the next night for Superstars, but the commentators are hyping Shawn’s match with Yokozuna that we just watched “this Monday on Raw“. Argh, why can’t they just put things in order!? Is it really so hard to comprehend that it makes sense to show things chronologically? Ok it was taped the next day, but in TV-land it happened prior! Headaches abound! Tatanka was coming towards the end of his four year spell with the group, and it has to be said he had far more longevity with a mediocre gimmick than anyone had any right to expect. He sucked something fierce as a heel though. Tatanka’s manager Ted DiBiase uses the Million Dollar Dream on the outside to give Tatanka the advantage, so cue the rotten heel offence. Michaels has no interest in sitting around in chinlocks and selling weak looking stomps, so he quickly mounts a comeback and causes Tatanka to hightail out of the ring. Just like in the previous match, interference backfires and Shawn takes advantage straight away with the Sweet Chin Music to win it clean. As if it was ever in any doubt! They did about 6-minutes and that was quite enough.
Final Rating: *¼
The chronology takes another hit, as we go to highlights of Shawn’s Royal Rumble victory. Logic is clearly out of the window here. I have probably seen this Rumble match more than any other, because I taped it on Sky Sports and watched it repeatedly. It was a simpler time. I always enjoyed it and considered it to be pretty good, but looking back it is very slow-paced, certainly compared to some of the better ones. The guys left at the end shows how bad the roster was at the time, with “New Generation” remnants Isaac Yankem and Kama clogging up the ring. The finishing sequence is really good though, with Michaels and Diesel cleaning house, as Mr. Perfect on commentary screams “How does he DO this, McMahon!?” It captures the mood, erm, perfectly, and the whole story going into the Rumble with Michaels was expertly done. It made it completely obvious who was going over of course, but that doesn’t matter a generation later. Michaels superkicks Diesel to win it, and it is a very popular decision with the crowd.
Shawn Michaels vs. Owen Hart
Shawn is putting his WrestleMania XII title shot on the line in an effort to spike the buyrate for this show. It didn’t work. Michaels’ motivation for accepting was revenge, with Owen as mentioned being responsible for putting him on the shelf in storyline terms with that enzuigiri. Owen got a bit of a bad rap for that when you think about it, because it’s not like he did anything illegal or untoward. All he did was hit a standard wrestling move. Ok he gloated about it afterwards, but that is hardly enough for Michaels to be this aggressive in response, to the point he would risk his “boyhood dream” just for the sake of some vengeance. Mind you, no-one realistically thought Owen had a chance of winning this, as his stock had fallen significantly throughout 1995. Still, the thought of a Bret-Owen Iron Man Match at WrestleMania XII is certainly a mouth-watering prospect. Matches of that kind between those two do actually exist, and they contested a few of them in 1994 on big house shows. I’m sure at least one of them will turn up when we get to Volume X: Rare & Unreleased. Michaels and Owen were both supreme workers, but for me they never quite had the same chemistry with each other as they did opposite Bret. While this match is very good, I think it sometimes gets slightly overrated due to the players involved. Either that or I just don’t like it as much because there is no real drama. I know it is nearly two decades later, but I thought that when I watched it at the time as well. Owen never had a chance of winning, and it hurt the match. Still well worth a watch though, and you can read all about why Arnold Furious does think it is so good in his Spring Explosion ’96 review in Volume #3 of these guides.
Final Rating: ***½
Summary: Only four matches, but it is hard to complain too much when one of them is ***** and takes up half of the tape, and another is very good too. The two TV matches in the middle don’t damage the score too much because they are short and inoffensive. There is nothing wrong with them as such; they are just basic throwaway TV matches. For an hour tape it is very watchable, and a perfectly good representation of Shawn Michaels in 1995-96. Of course, if you already own the two PPVs that the best matches come from, then you can change to score to around 25/100 and take a pass. For fresh eyes, this is near enough spot-on and comes very highly recommended.