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1. Shawn Michaels vs Diesel – In Your House: Good Friends Better Enemies
Sometimes circumstances can help make a wrestling match better – Shawn Michaels vs Diesel was planned out to be the big WWF feud of the summer with Bret Hart going away... then Diesel handed in his notice. It curtailed a summer long program (one that likely would've involved 2 or 3 matches) into a straight blow-off. The anything goes stipulation allowed both guys to brawl around ringside, including a great visual of Shawn getting encased in monitors as he went crashing through the announce table. The match finished with Diesel whipping off Mad Dog Vachon's false leg, before Shawn superkicked him with it, then the real thing to emphatically retain his title.
2. Shawn Michaels vs Mankind – In Your House: Mind Games
The In Your House pay per views can sometimes feel like filler shows, with little star power to go around at this point a monthly pay per view meant that sometimes main events needed to be manufactured, rather than built. Shawn Michaels vs Mankind was just that, a filler selection for a September show with Shawn theoretically still feuding with Vader and Mankind occupied with Undertaker. What we got, on an otherwise dire show, was a barmy 25 minute main event complete with Mankind putting his body through hell and a pace that rarely relented. The big spot was a countered belly to back where Shawn ended up planting Mankind through a table on the outside. It eventually ended in a run in, but for the crazy action before that, this one earns its place.
3. Bret Hart vs Steve Austin – Survivor Series
To think this match (and feud) never would've happened had Bret joined WCW in 1996. Still, on his return he called out Steve Austin and lit the touch-paper that would see Austin as the biggest star within the industry within two years. While Austin was beginning to tear it up on TV, it was this match that really started it all, the one where he finally looked like he belonged. While it's not a criticism, at all, not that much happened in the match, for a match that's so highly revered this stands out because of its efficiency – Bret and Austin just working a really good match for 25 minutes, with Austin more than holding his own in Bret's first match on American soil since Wrestlemania. Perhaps overrated by some, but this is a fine match and one that absolutely achieved what it set out to.
4. Shawn Michaels vs Owen Hart – In Your House: Rage In The Cage
In another example of a filler pay per view, IYH: Rage In The Cage was sandwiched between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania after a Rumble show where Bret had retained his title and Shawn had won the Royal Rumble. This show setup Bret defending his title against Diesel and Shawn Michaels, arbitrarily, putting up his Wrestlemania shot because Owen Hart goaded him into it. Shawn billed it as the biggest of his career (even though he never had to accept it), and fit that billing perfectly by dancing to the ring and exchanging pleasantries with fans. This was really nice, both guys were entertaining and the action built as both attempted to out-do the other. After Shawn reprised the collapse angle from a few months earlier (that justified the match) he hit Owen Hart with a sweet chin music for the emphatic three.
5. Shawn Michaels vs The British Bulldog – King Of The Ring
The main event of the WWF's best pay per view in 18 months, the re-match after Shawn and Bulldog both perceived they'd let themselves down after their aborted encounter at the In Your House: Beware Of Dog show. This was just a really fun match, Shawn is great (if you can't tell already by how often he's appearing in this list) but Bulldog has the ability to look a million bucks (or should that be pounds?) in with the right opponent. Bulldog uses his arsenal of power moves on a guy of the size who can really do them justice before Shawn puts him away with a big superkick.
6. Shawn Michaels vs Vader – Summerslam
Seriously – you could dine out on Shawn's PPV matches in 1996. If this match wasn't so overbooked, it really could've been match of the year – Shawn getting the opportunity to work with a much bigger guy who has the ability of Vader doesn't happen very often. Still, the action here was excellent and Vader kicking out of the superkick (probably the first guy to do it) was a great touch. But the count-out -> restart -> DQ -> restart (Vader won both) followed by Vader losing after missing a moonsault was, while quite good storytelling, of slight detriment to the overall match. More the shame, really, that we never got to the rematch; they were clearly planning it.
7. Shawn Michaels vs Sid – Survivor Series
Well, as if this match was far better than it had any right to be? Going into the match at Madison Square Garden, all interest was on how the audience would treat both guys, given that Sid by this stage was arguably the biggest face they had. The reaction they got at the start when they came out was pretty even, but by the end it was overwhelmingly pro-Shawn. The match, it should be said, was just really fun to watch. A perfect storm of Shawn having his working boots on and Sid being motivate knowing what was coming. A really fun match and one that, even if the finish (Jose Lothario having a fake heart attack after Sid hit him with the camera) was probably a bit overdramatic – we got a big pop for a title change. Quite right too, this was a better finish away from being higher up the list.
8. Shawn Michaels vs Bret Hart – Wrestlemania
Shawn's seventh and final appearance in this list, and perhaps a little controversial. The hour long match with Bret was a massive gamble and one that, in all honesty, probably didn't pay off. But we cannot overlook that, in the circumstances, this is a highly memorable match and one very different from almost everything else going on at the time. Shawn and Bret went for an hour without a fall and the match stayed in one piece. Sure it had its flaws, it was predictable too quickly and Shawn's insistence on not going for his finish (before hitting it twice in ninety seconds of overtime) was a bit odd, but it would be wrong to have a list like this without including it. I wrote a full piece on the match here.
9. Mankind vs The Undertaker – King Of The Ring
For what was, by some margin, the best feud of 1996, Mankind and The Undertaker really only had one really good match. For the boiler room brawl – which was a bad match, and the buried alive match – which was OK – this was really the only quality pairing these two had, more the shame to an extent that it was their first. The major change up here from your standard Undertaker match was that, as he was losing, he was on offense for most of the match – which was a real improvement, particularly as Mankind can go. A proper walking brawl with a clean finish as Mankind puts Undertaker away with the Mandible Claw.
10. Shawn Michaels, Ahmed Johnson & Sid vs Vader, Owen Hart, Bulldog – In Your House: International Incident
One more appearance for Shawn, I suppose! Couldn’t keep him away that long. This match was meant to see The Ultimate Warrior team with Johnson and Michaels before Warrior got suspended. Given how the WWF tapes TVs, they basically had to completely splice in a storyline reveal of their new partner – pulling a rabbit out of the hat getting Sid in for the match. Cut forward to the match and Sid, inexplicably, is the most over guy in the building. Given the state of the rest of the card and how stacked the main event was, this match had time and it ended up being a show saver and a really fun match. Every participant got lots of time in a match that ebbed and flowed, and thanks to a bit of interference from Jim Cornette Vader picks up the pin ahead of his match with Michaels.