Recap from David Arthur:
Bret Hart, though his stardom and stock were on a tremendous rise, it seemed unlikely he would reach the level of WWF Champion. Until he actually did. I have to admit even I was surprised when it happened, and I was only 15 at the time. During his first World Title run, he would play the role of the proud, fighting champion willing to defend against all challengers. In this match he would face someone whose stardom and stock were also on the rise, current WWF Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels.
The match begins with Shawn trying to out wrestle Bret. The poor fool. Bret had a counter for everything Shawn tried. Each hold Michaels would execute would be met with a counter. Bret made Shawn’s arm his focal point. Like any smart heel who was being shown up by his opponent, Shawn resorted to dirty tactics. At first referee Earl Hebner (or perhaps it was Dave), was quick enough to check the suspicious movements of Shawn’s hand while Bret firmly had him viced in a headlock, to keep Shawn from trying to pull Bret’s hair. Eventually Shawn would begin moving around to keep the referee’s view obstructed while he attempted to take the advantage back by utilizing the pulling of Bret’s hair, but to little avail.
For almost 10 minutes nothing Shawn did seemed to gain him any ground in the match until he caught Bret on an attempted leap frog and guillotined him on the top rope (Eddie Gilbert used this exact move to win matches, he called it ‘The Hot Shot,’ and later on it would be renamed ‘The Stun Gun,’ by a young Steve Austin). Shawn began to control the match and attempted to wear Bret down. Bret would briefly take the momentum back with a spinning neckbreaker, only to be cut off again by Shawn. Later on, Bret would once again find the opportunity to regain control after countering a whip with a boot to the face and hitting Shawn with a ublldog from the corner, but his hope would come to an abrupt end upon missing an elbow drop from the middle rope.
Shawn continues to wear down Bret, mostly by locking him in a front chancery. Bret manages to maintain his wits, fight up to his feet, and after an exchange of nearfalls, Bret catches Shawn on a leap frog and slingshots him into the corner post. He then begins to use his well know offensive repertoire dubbed by fans (and us wrestling nerds), as the Bret Hart 5: the Russian legsweep, followed by the middle rope elbow smash, the backbreaker, the middle rope superplex, and the sleeper (instead of the Sharpshooter). Shawn frantically backed Bret into the referee and both into the corner. After Bret blocks a kick attempt by Shawn, they trade waistlock reversals and Bret gets shoved through the ropes to the floor. After an nearfall on Bret by Shawn, Bret gets a nearfall on Shawn with an O’Conner Roll, only to be caught by a Superkick. Shawn then performs his finishing move at the time: The Catapult Suplex. I haven’t seen this move executed in a wrestling match in ages. The move appears to be a combination of a Saito suplex and an Olympic Slam. Bret blocks it, but Shawn hits the move on the second attempt, but just can’t put Bret away.
Shawn then gives Bret a whip and is caught on the way back with an elbow, knocking Shawn back and tying him up in the ropes. Bret charges at him, but Shawn manages to escape the entanglement, causing Bret to hit the ropes and crash back onto the mat. Shawn then goes up to the middle turnbuckle to execute a dropkick, but upon delivery Bret catches him by the feet, and applies his finishing submission hold (and final move in the Bret hart 5), The Sharpshooter, forcing Shawn to submit, and retaining The WWF Championship.
Although Shawn Michaels has been called the greatest in-ring performer of the decade of the 90′s, he was just beginning to come into his own as a top level performer at this point in his career. One of Shawn’s greatest strengths as a performer was his ability to bump and sell in a manner that borderlined on outrageous but made the man he was in the ring with look like a million bucks. It was a perfect catalyst for one a Bret’s greatest strengths as a performer;: the gift of being able to have a great match with anyone (which is a rare talent found in today’s mainstream television wrestling). This match in an excellent example of both men’s ability to tell a great story in the ring, but their ability to connect with the crowd in their roles as performers is what really makes this match special. The audience believed in the champion and challenger so much that everything from Bret applying the simplest armbar on Shawn, to Shawn using any dastardly trick to take back the advantage at Bret’s expense, was met with ecstatic cheers and enraged jeers.
This match is almost 20 years old, and it still stands the test of time. Despite it not being as critically heralded as their Iron Man Match from WrestleMania 12, I think any fan of wrestlng, any fan of Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels, and anyone who wants to become a wrestler would do well to see this gem, learn from it, and enjoy it.
Thoughts from TJ Hawke:
This match was a treat to watch, as I had never made the effort to see it before. Hart and Michaels, whatever their personal issues, always had great chemistry in the ring. I definitely prefer their Iron Man match, but this was an impressive effort. Check this match out!
Match Rating: ****