Mankind vs. Shawn Michaels (Mind Games)

INY Mind Games

Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Mankind for the WWF Championship
In Your House: Mind Games
September 22nd, 1996
Philadelphia, PA

by: Mitch Nickelson

In need of another match review, Al N. Jaxson challenged me to review this classic match. Unfairly to him, I challenged him to review any match that has Alex Wright in it. I like Alex Wright well enough, but he never achieved the level of either Michaels or Foley by any stretch of the imagination.

Mankind comes to the ring by way of druids in a casket. Paul Bearer is with him. The Mankind gimmick was really creepy in the early stages. He seems so psychologically tormented. Shawn Michaels has a classic entrance. From the music that he sings to the flex with the pyro, it’s all good stuff. He’s joined by Jose Lothario. Earl Hebner holds up the WWF Championship. The announcers are Vince McMahon, Mr. Perfect, and Jim Ross. Great announce team.

The two lock up early and Mankind hits an elbow to gain advantage. The brawling starts us off, leading to that patented clothesline over the top rope that causes Mankind to go over with him. He pulls up the blue mat outside the ring, but Michaels dropkicks it and Mankind falls to the concrete. Pinned between the mat and the concrete, Michaels stomps on his opponent.

While Mankind is still on the ground, Shawn climbs the corner turnbuckle.  Mankind makes it to his feet but is met with a crossbody that flattens him onto the concrete. Foley never really cared much about his body.

Shawn slams Mankinds head onto the concrete again. Back in the ring and Shawn delivers a double ax handle off the corner.  More brawling controlled by Michaels. He goes back up the ropes and delivers his signature elbow drop. Looking for the super kick early, but Mankind escapes the ring to avoid it.

Bearer brings the urn over to his client to motivate him or whatever supernatural effect that it is supposed to have. Back in the ring and they tie up in the corner. They trade punches and it leads to more brawling. Michaels is looking very aggressive, matching his opponent.

While rolling around on the group, Foley does that creepy pig shriek noise. His character definitely hit the psychopathic tone at the time, but I respect it more as an adult. He was so deranged. Mankind throws Michaels back outside the ring. Mankind wants a table but Michaels leaps over it to gain advantage. This leads to the killer suplex spot into the steel steps. It looks like Foley’s leg hits the corner of it and it has to hurt.

MG Into Steps

Michaels chop blocks Mankind as he tries to get back in the ring. This leads to brawling above the casket. Once again, Shawn looks aggressive. Mr. Perfect mentions how he’s never seen this side of Shawn before. It’s a straight up brawl that really showed the fans a new side of Shawn. He wrestled Foley’s style and was awesome at it. It really helped make his title reign that much more memorable.

As I type about how much of a brawl this is, The competitors lock up in a figure four just to prove me wrong, Foley rolls himself out of it. Michaels drop kicks Mankind’s injured knee and goes to work on it. He gets into a single leg Boston crab for a momentary rest hold. Bearer holds the urn next to the ropes and Mankind makes his way there to break the hold.

MG Boston Crab

Shortly after, Michaels looks to go for a Frankensteiner on Mankind, but Mankind fell back (possibly because his leg gave out) and hung up Shawn on the ropes.

Mankind must not have gone too long without doing something freaky, so he decided to stab himself in the leg repeatedly with a pencil. He had pain in his leg and that was his twisted way of dealing with it. He was a such a great villain and played up the idea that he had screws loose perfectly.

Mankind gets control and chokes Shawn over the casket. He slams Shawn’s head against it and he rolls out of the ring. Mankind tries to shake off the pain in his leg again and Shawn comes back into the ring. He’s selling the injury so well.

With HBK laying against the bottom turnbuckle, Mankind charges at him and strikes his knee to his face. Since Mick Foley has a brilliant wrestling mind, he falls to ground after this to sell the fact that he hurt his own leg. Mankind bites Shawn’s face. He then slams his head down to the mat a few times.

Michaels hits a back body drop out of desperation and evens things out. He brawls back, but is stopped by a kick from Mankind. Shawn’s back is sweaty at this point. It actually looks sparkly. His character was a little effeminate at this point in his career; I guess those could be sparkles.

With a head of steam, Michaels goes off the ropes and baseball slides through Mankind’s legs. He uses this chances to trip him. A little more brawling happens and then he tries to Irish Whip Mankind into the corner. Mankind reverses it and Shawn does that cool corner flip thing he always does. He’s left hanging and Mankind dives onto him. He then drops another running elbow.

Mankind leg drops the back of Shawn’s head. A couple of stiff kicks and Shawn gets knocked back out of the ring. Some guy in a green shirt is really mad as Foley walks around. He puts his finger in Mick’s face. Foley then charges Shawn, who moves out of the way. Foley then hits the steel steps leg first and he topples over them.

Jim Ross says that this match is like a demolition derby, only instead of cars they’re using their bodies. Shawn proved his point by drop toe holding Mankind’s face into the steel steps. Ouch. Shawn is back in the ring and McMahon confirms for me that that is glitter on Shawn’s back. I think Goldust wrestled the match before, so that’s where it originated.

They go for a suplex attempt that gets reversed a few times. They both end up on the ring apron as a result of it. Mankind charges at Shawn as he dives into the ring to avoid the charge. Mankind goes face first into the corner post and I genuinely flipped out after seeing that. I remember a lot of the spots from this match, but not that one. I forget how people flipped out like I just did for all of the spots when this first aired. This is definitely a classic. Wrestling can be so much fun.

Michaels throws Mankind off the rope and hits a spinning elbow. Mankind responds with an elbow of his own from the corner. Spinning power slam by Shawn. Pin attempt and only a 2 count. A couple more Irish Whip attempts that end with Foley caught in between the top two ropes by the neck. Holy cow, that looks brutal. As Shawn comes over to him, Mankind somehow puts the Mandible Claw on him.

MG mandible choke

On the outside now and Mankind applies the mandible claw again. Shawn pulls Mankind by his clothes and sends him into the guardrail to get out of it. A Spanish announcer is knocked out of his seat in the process.  Shawn grabs a chair and uses it to block a punch. He hits Mankind in the injured leg and ends the exchange with a chair shot to the hand he uses for his Mandible Claw.

Michaels pulls him into the ring and bites his hand. He repeatedly slams his hand down and then starts stomping in. He brutalizes the hand, trying to take the Mandible Claw out of the equation. Mankind tries to pull himself up off the ropes and twists his fingers to make them look disfigured.

Shawn then runs full steam and Mankind send him flying out of the ring. Shawn got a good amount of elevation on that, or it was just really quick and smooth. Mankind rocks back and forth in the ring, writhing in pain. He then does his elbow drop to the outside. Mankind does a swinging neckbreaker onto Shawn outside. He trips up Shawn as he tries to get into the ring and then does a double underhook DDT in the ring. Pin attempt for a 2 count.

Mankind then did a piledriver that failed to keep Michaels down for three. Mankind was frustrated to not have put him away. He threw a few chairs into the ring and opened up the casket. He rolled Shawn into the casket, who battle out of it. They fought back into the middle of the ring, off the ropes, and Shawn hits a diving forearm to Mankind’s head.  He kips up and the crowd is going nuts for him.

He strikes and kicks Mankind into the corner. Body slam and he goes upstairs. Crossbody into a pin and only a 2 count. Up the turnbuckle again  but Mankind crotches him. Mankind goes up with him and BACKBODY SUPLEXES HIM OUT OF THE RING AND THROUGH A TABLE. Amazing.

MG Thru Table

Mankind brings a chair up the top rope but Michaels charges toward him, jumps off another chair, and does a Van Daminator to him. Jim Ross calls it Sweet Chin Music, but it was definitely a Van Daminator. RVD didn’t exist yet, so what can you do?

RVD

Vader comes into the ring to interfere at this point and that ends the match. Michaels knocks Vader out. Bearer uses the urn onto the back of Michael’s head. Sid comes out now and battles Vader to the back.

The urn is raised as Mankind gets to his feet. He puts the Mandible Claw on Michaels and drops him. He calls for Paul to open the casket. When it gets opened the Deadman himself, The Undertaker, emerges from it. He comes into the ring after Mankind. He throws Mankind by the neck over the top rope and creepily chases him backstage.

Michaels is by himself in the ring and slowly gets himself up. He is announced as the winner and still the WWF Champion. Earl Hebner raises his hand in victory. He poses and the fans cheer him on.

Final thoughts:

Such a great match. One of the best matches ever. Shawn Michaels was the champ, but Mankind elevated him to a new level in this match. There were moments that were brutal and not safe for young viewers to see. The psychology of how the two men interacted was so enjoyable to see. These are two of the best ever, no doubt.

The ending was wacky and a shame to see. It was really convoluted to have Sid, Vader, and the Undertaker all get involved. A solid, definitive ending would have helped this match quite possibly get a perfect score. Instead I’ll take off a half of a star. My final score is 4 1/2 stars.

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