Welcome one and all to another edition of Mania Main Thoughts, where I write a whole bunch of words about a past Wrestlemania main event. Do you like words? Do you like futility? Do you like Nell Carter?
Today’s edition is going to be extra – well, special might not be the word for it. Extra long maybe? Let’s just say it’s different. Today we’re looking back at Wrestlemania IV.
WMIV is notable for a few things. First, it was the immediate successor to WMIII, which took the WWF to new heights thanks to the massive success of the Hulk Hogan/Andre The Giant feud. The feud was so big that the Fed kept running with it after Mania, and it helped birth the brand new PPV Survivor Series later in 1987.
At the 1988 Royal Rumble (which was the inaugural Rumble, but was shown on free TV to steal viewers from the NWA’s Starrcade PPV), a big segment was setup where Andre and Hogan would sign the contract for a rematch, which would take place on the first episode of the The Main Event. The Main Event was the Friday night version of Saturday Night’s Main Event and premiered live on NBC on Feburary 5, 1988. The show was a homerun and acted as a network TV advertisement for Wrestlemania, which the WWF had to love.
For the big WMIII rematch, Andre was accompanied by relative WWF newcomer “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and his manservant Virgil. DiBiase had been rebuffed by Hulk prior to the show when he attempted to buy the WWF Title from the Hulkster. When Hogan refused, DiBiase threw in with Hulk’s big rival.
The match ended famously when the referee counted a pinfall on Hulk even though his shoulders were up. It turns out that the ref was a BLOODY DOUBLE, the evil twin brother of referee Dave Hebner – EARL HEBNER. Evil Earl had been paid off by The Million Dollar Man to ensure that Andre walked out of the match with the title. And that’s exactly what happened, for about 45 seconds. Andre immediately handed the title to DiBiase. While Hogan had refused the Million Dollar Man’s money, Andre was happy to screw Hogan over and take a year long cruise on Teddy’s dime.
It was the perfect plan until WWF President Jack Tunney had to meddle. Tunney announced that the WWF Title was not up for sale, and that by handing over the championship, Andre had in fact vacated the title. This effectively meant that DiBiase wasn’t champion, Andre wasn’t champion and Hogan wasn’t champion. No one was champion. Instead, a 14-man tournament would be held at Wrestlemania IV to determine the undisputed WWF Champion. The tournament would be single elimination, with Andre and Hogan getting a first round bye, only to face each other in the quarter finals.
So the scene was set for WMIV, which would be broadcast live from Trump Plaza (actually the Convention Hall) in Atlantic City, NJ. The event would be advertised as the first 4-hour mania, and the card was filled out with a few other choice matches, including a big 20-man battle royal and The Ultimate Warrior’s WM debut against Hercules. The non-tournament matches would be used to break up each round of the tourney, which was a smart way to rest the winners.
So usually, here’s where I start telling you about the show’s main event, but I’ve decided to switch things up for two reasons. 1) The show was sold on the tournament, not a match in particular (if it had been, it would have been the Hulk/Andre rematch). And 2) the main event match was really a culmination of the entire tournament. So today, we’re going to look at all of the tourney matches.
Personally, I remember this Mania as being a bit of a dud – there were just too many matches crammed into one show and some of the finishes were terrible. I think maybe looking at it as one long entity instead of one finals match would be a better way to evaluate this one.
The tournament proper kicked off with Robin Leach, the host of Lifestyles of The Rich & Famous (WM loves celebrities) reading a “special proclamation” that sums up what I just spent like 6 paragraphs telling you. Maybe they can get Robin Leach to start doing these if he’s still alive (you can Google that if you care).
The first match of Round 1 featured the Million Dollar Man taking on “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. “Hacksaw” had enjoyed a pretty big first year in the WWF and had just come off of winning the first Royal Rumble match. It was interesting to see both of these guys come out without entrance music (in 1988, entrance music was still a special thing). Speaking of the soundtrack, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to the WMIV announce team of Jesse Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon. There have been so many great Mania announce duos, but Jesse and Gorilla could arguably be called the best. Ventura antagonized the faces better than anyone ever.
As for the DiBiase/Duggan match, it was a fairly short affair. DiBiase was accompanied by Virgil and Andre (looking like the true boss in a suit), and you just knew Hacksaw was gonna get screwed. Duggan got in some good brawling moves at the onset, but also got in a rare sunset flip and hit an atomic drop that DiBiase sold like he’d been shot point blank with a cannon. The crowd was definitely into Duggan’s “HOOOOO!”s, which Gorilla called “Yo’s”. These kids and their slang.
The finish came when Hacksaw was setting up for his 3-Point Stance finisher and Andre tripped him up from outside. Hacksaw turned around and grabbed Andre, but you don’t put your hands on the Boss’s suit. Duggan ate a fist from the Giant and, one fist drop later, Ted DiBiase was advancing. A furious Hacksaw brought his 2×4 into the ring and DiBiase and company hightailed it to the back while the Million Dollar Man looked at the camera and proclaimed “That’s One”.
The first round continued with a face-off between 1987 WWF’s version of “big guys”, Canada’s Strongest Man Dino Bravo with Frenchy Martin vs. “The (Original) Rock” Don Muraco with former WWF Champion “Superstar” Billy Graham. Interesting note, both of these men got entrance music, though it was actually their managers’ music. Of course, the WWE Network doesn’t pay for any musical rights, so “Superstar” was overdubbed with some generic stock music. The only thing I hate about the WWE Network is they never use anything but in-house WWE music.
Anyway, Muraco was getting a big rub from Superstar at the time (which was working, the crowd was definitely into The Rock, and Graham, who had just been forced to retire, was still very much over). The match itself was nothing to write home about. If you like long spinning toe holds and botched body drops, you’ll pop a couple of times. Bravo would end up putting Muraco in his own finisher (the piledriver), but The Rock kicked out (Jesse Ventura postulated he took less damage from the piledriver due to his thick neck). A second piledriver attempt by Bravo led to a reversal into a double clothesline. At this point, Dino felt he needed some help and pulled the ref in between he and a flying Don Muraco. The ref died (of course) and Dino was able to hit his own finisher – a side suplex – in the confusion. When the ref recovered, he called for the DQ, and it’d be Don Muraco heading to the quarter finals to face The Million Dollar Man.
In the third match of Round 1, it was veteran Greg “The Hammer” Valentine with his manager Jimmy Hart facing fan favorite Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Steamboat had torn the house down at WMIII against Randy Savage in what many consider the greatest Mania match of all time. It was certainly influential to a whole generation of wrestlers. Steamboat had stated on WWF TV that he hoped Savage would make it to Round 2 so they could have the big rematch.
As for Round 1, Valentine didn’t even get a televised entrance, but The Dragon had music (crappy canned WWE music since God forbid the Alan Parsons Project make any royalty money) and Ricky also brought his son Richie, referred to as The Little Dragon, to the ring. Little Richie looked like he’d rather be pretty much anywhere else in the world, but at least he got that cool matching robe.
The match was decent. Lots of back and forth with the Dragon hitting some big moves and Greg Valentine really milking what I can only assume was his signature “delayed fall like a tree” selling. Seriously, he did it like 5 times in the space of a 9 minute match. The crowd was hot for Steamboat, and the finish came when The Dragon hit a high crossbody from the top rope. The Hammer was able to use Steamboat’s tights to roll through and get the 3-count. The Dragon complained to the ref and then gave a goodbye to the fans. It would be over 3 years before he’d be seen again in the WWF.
The next match would be “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. “The Natural” Butch Reed, determining who would face Greg Valentine in the quarter finals. I guess Butch Reed was “Natural” in an ironic way because he dyed his hair blonde? I have no idea. Then again, what makes Ric Flair a “Nature Boy”? Anyway, Reed’s biggest accomplishment had been bringing his manager Slick to the WWF. A big win at WMIV would have at least added to his WWF resume, but he would have to do it against the Macho Man, who had parlayed his on-screen friendship with Hulk Hogan into becoming the #2 face in the company. Reed used his scary growl and power moves to methodically beatdown Savage, with Macho only getting in a reversal or flurry of offense here and there. With the match seemingly in hand, Reed decided to take the longest trip to the top rope of all time, taking a few minutes to jaw at Savage’s manager Miss Elizabeth (maybe proposing some sort of Paige/Xavier Woods/Brad Maddox thing? We’ll never know). Savage recovered and tossed Butch from the top rope, then hit his flying elbow drop finisher for the win. The crowd roared with approval.
Slick hung out in the ring for his next client, the One Man Gang, who was set to take on Bam Bam Bigelow in the next Round 1 match. Bam Bam entered second (to more awful overdubbed music) accompanied by his manager Oliver Humperdink. With a name like that, I can only imagine Oliver had a terrible time in school. This match was a total slopfest, and that hurts me to say because I’m a Bam Bam fan. At about 2 and a half minutes in, Slick pulled the top rop and caused Bam Bam to spill outside of the ring. The ref started the 10-count, but Bigelow was up by 3. Bam Bam made his way onto the apron, but Gang started fighting him from inside the ring. The ref kept counting, which I wouldn’t even think was a thing. Maybe I need to get the WWE Rule Book. Anyway, the ref hit 10 before Bam Bam re-entered and the match was called a countout. Bam Bam and Mr. Humperdink looked confused and everyone else pretty much shrugged.
Next we had Mean Gene Okerlund in the back with Hulk Hogan to hype his Quarter Finals match with Andre the Giant. I wouldn’t normally mention this quick interview, but it’s actually one of my favorite Hulk Hogan promos due to it’s complete weirdness. Hulkster promises to pick Andre up and slam him again, just like at WMIII, only this time it will break the fault lines that run from New York City to Tampa, FL. This will cause all of Atlantic City, or perhaps the entire US eastern seaboard – Hulk was not clear on this, to fall into the ocean as Andre and Hulk’s next two opponents in the tournament sink to the ocean floor. In the aftermath, and I’m paraphrasing here, Donald Trump himself will be left hanging on to the Trump Tower by one hand, with his other arm holding his family. And only when Trump lets go of his worldly possessions will he be able to dog paddle to safety and save himself and his loved ones. However, Hogan promises that, should Trump run out of energy before he makes land, or should any other Hulkamaniacs do the same, they can climb onto his back and he’ll dog paddle OR backstroke them all to some safe harbor.
The final match of Round 1 saw “Ravishing” Rick Rude (with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who was set to take on The British Bulldogs later that night) against Jake “The Snake” Roberts. My memory has this easily being the best match of the first round, but my memory must be a little faulty. On paper, it may have been the most interesting matchup, and it was cool seeing the 1988 versions of Rude and Jake, but the match itself was fairly boring. Rude had Jake in a reverse chinlock for about half the match. Even the announcers noted how a “wear down hold” like that didn’t make a lot of sense in a match with a 15-minute time limit. (Pro Tip: Whenever the announcers mention the time limit, you’re going to the time limit). To play the devil’s advocate, using a rest hold could be a good strategy since it would require less effort from a competitor in the early rounds, leaving you fresher for the later matches, but you’re still banking on wearing down your opponent very fast.
The match finally got hot and Rude hit Jake with a double-leg takedown and attempted a pin with his feet on the second rope. The ref counted 1, but the bell rang – yep, time limit draw. So neither man would advance to the quarter finals and One Man Gang would find himself with a second round bye.
A hush fell over the Atlantic City crowd as Mean Gene polled Vanna White for her Round 2 predictions. In case you’re wondering, Vanna chose Hulkster to advance and said she liked how Macho Man and Elizabeth worked as a team. Vanna also stated that she didn’t like the Million Dollar Man because she didn’t like people who think they can buy anything for anything. I’m pretty sure Vanna White is not a capitalist.
Round 2 kicked off with the match everyone had been waiting for, Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan. Andre made his way to the ring with Ted DiBiase and Virgil in tow. Hulk’s music hit, and Hogan hit the ring loaded for bear (is that right? I’m assuming you have enough ammunition to take down a bear, which would be like, the maximum amount of ammunition). Hulkster didn’t even pose or rip the shirt, he dove into the ring…right into a beatdown from Andre. The Giant hit Hogan with multiple chops and elbows, beating down the crowd’s hero. I should also mention that Hogan was getting massive pops at this time – there’s a reason he carried the whole company on his back in the second half of the 80’s. Hulk finally made a comeback and got Andre tied into the ropes, giving him just long enough to rip that shirt off, brother.
The match continued back and forth until Virgil distracted the referee and DiBiase hit Hulk with a chair. The ref didn’t see it though, so Hulk (totally no-selling the chairshot) wrestled the chair away from Ted and gave Andre a good smack with it – right in front of the referee. I should note that the ref DID NOT call for the DQ at this point. In the most biased, BS thing I’ve ever seen a ref do, he just started counting Hogan, I guess to release the chair. Andre yanked the chair away and then hit Hogan with it, which drew a double disqualification.
Just to recap, the big match that the entire tournament was predicated on lasted about 5 minutes and ended with neither man advancing.
A livid Hogan chased DiBiase out of the arena, who used Virgil as a human shield. Hulk picked up Virgil for a suplex and about halfway through just decided, screw it, and dropped him on the ground. Basically Hulk had a moment where he didn’t care at all if Virgil died (to be fair, the universe has been having that moment for decades). Hulk returned to the ring to slam Andre (who did not sink to the ocean floor), then did a very long posedown for the crowd, which actually lasted longer than the match.
I should note that, as crappy as all of this sounds, the crowd was loving every second of it. There were no boos about the lackluster ending – they legit just wanted to see Hulk get revenge on his enemies. Even Donald Trump was on his feet to see what was going to happen – the whole world was filled with Hulkamania in 1988.
Moving on with the quarters, Don Muraco makes his way out with Superstar Billy Graham to take on the Million Dollar Man. This would be a key matchup, logically, since the winner would get a bye right into the tournament finals. DiBiase made his way back to the ring without Andre or Virgil, who were both selling the crushing effects of Hulkamania. The Muraco/DiBiase match was just a basic, back and forth wrestling match, with a few threatening moments from Billy Graham for spice. On an interesting note, Ted DiBiase would pick up the win with a move that Steve Austin would later popularize as the Stun Gun. Since Austin would find himself as DiBiase’s protege about 8 years later, it’s cool to see this little moment. Also interesting to note that neither of DiBiase’s matches ended with him hitting a finisher.
With DiBiase on his way to the championship match, Mean Gene interviewed Macho Man and Elizabeth (both having made wardrobe changes after the first round), as Macho proclaimed that the other half of the Mega Powers (his tag team with Hulk) would be going home with the WWF Title tonight.
Next, One Man Gang is brought out to the ring to announce that he has a bye into the semi-finals, I guess in case the audience didn’t understand how things work.
Gang would have to face the winner of the final quarters match, Greg Valentine vs. Randy Savage. For most of the match, Valentine put a major elbow-based beating on the Macho Man. The match pretty much mirrored Macho’s Round 1 match with Butch Reed, where he took a beating for most of the match. Savage was able to get in a double axe handle from the top rope, but Jimmy Hart interrupted the count. Valentine hit Macho in the throat on a second axe handle. This led to Valentine setting up his finisher, the figure four leglock, but Savage countered with a small package and scored the 3-count.
Mean Gene polled Vanna White again to get her feelings on the Semis. Vanna stated that she still thought Hulk Hogan was “the one” and reiterated her appreciation for how Savage and Elizabeth worked as a team. I’m starting to think Vanna wasn’t paying much attention.
Bob Uecker was backstage and bumped into Andre the Giant, who revealed that the plan all along was for DiBiase to get to the finals. All Andre had to do was stop Hogan from advancing, and that’s what he did. Savage.
Back in the ring, the Million Dollar Man was brought out to announce his bye into the finals. DiBiase would face the winner of the only semis match – Macho Man vs. One Man Gang.
Gang made his way to the ring with Slick, then Macho Man and Elizabeth came out (after another wardrobe change) to a big pop. The match was fairly back and forth compared to Savage’s previous rounds. The announcers played up the fact that Gang had a lot more time to rest since he had a bye in the quarter finals. The finish came as Slick tried to interfere and Savage went to take him out. Elizabeth tried to help, but the ref stopped her. With the ref indisposed, Slick tossed One Man Gang (ha! I just realized his initials are OMG) his cane and Gang wailed on Savage with it. Unfortunately, OMG wailed on Macho too long and got caught by the ref, forcing a DQ. So Macho Man would be headed to the finals, but he also got beat on with a cane. Kind of a tough trade-off. To get his revenge, Savage hit Gang (who was hugging Slick in the ring for some reason) with a double axe handle from the top.
Mean Gene polled Vanna White on who she thought would win the finals. She said she had to get out to the ring. It would’ve taken her like 1 second to answer.
So all of the celebs (Uecker, Vanna & Robin Leach) make their way to the ring for the main event finals match. Leach presents the WWF Title (the winged eagle belt, which was still pretty new at the time). Donald Trump gets a look at it – he approves. The Million Dollar Man is out first, flanked by Andre. I guess Virgil was still selling the Hulk-a-plex. Randy Savage and Liz are out second, sporting their fourth matching outfits of the night. I love that the couple was so confident – there was no question if they’d actually make it to the finals and need all four outfits when they were packing.
The match is back and forth at the bell, but it becomes clear that Andre is going to be a problem for Macho at ringside. Savage tosses DiBiase out and goes up for the double axe handle, but The Giant stands in his way. Macho goes over and whispers something to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth rushes to the back. The crowd starts going nuts because they know what’s coming.
A few minutes later, Hulk Hogan comes out (in red tights) and pulls up a chair right outside the ring. The crowd is going bananas for the Hulkster. Andre makes a face like he knows this will be a problem.
The finish comes (yes, this match was only about 9 minutes long) when DiBiase puts Macho in the Million Dollar Dream. Andre pulls the rope so Savage can’t reach it for the rope break. The ref goes to admonish him and Hogan hits the ring with the chair, cracking the Million Dollar Man over the back. He’s dead. Savage doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, goes up top and hits his flying elbow for good measure. 3 seconds later, we have a new WWF Champion.
The Mega Powers celebrate in the ring, as Macho Man lifts Elizabeth, who is holding the WWF title belt, on his shoulder to create one of the iconic images of the era. The crowd goes home happy.
Take a moment to let that all sink in. That was a lot to write about.
This is a tough one to rate, taken from the perspective of the entire tournament. None of the matches were that good – not even the final face-off between DiBiase and Savage. However, the overall booking was pretty smart. I like the way DiBiase got to breeze out of the quarters into the finals, especially knowing that Andre was paid off to keep Hogan from making it to a possible Million Dollar Man/Hulkster match by any means necessary.
I also loved the story of Savage, overcoming odds in every match and then getting beaten down with a cane by One Man Gang before heading into the finals. And the whole Hogan/Andre thread was used pretty well to give the rub to DiBiase and Savage. It’s pretty much the exact right way to use your established stars to make new stars. No doubt that Randy Savage’s legendary status can be traced right back to this moment, and to a lesser extent, the Million Dollar Man’s.
Still, it’s perplexing why the matches were so short (the PPV had 4 hours, but only runs 3 and a half on the WWE Network). So many of the tournament matches ended weird and quickly. I don’t know if the answer is to give them more time though. Then again, there were like 10 future Hall of Famers in this 14-man tournament, and that’s not even counting the managers. I just don’t get why the matches were so bad.
If I can do a little fantasy booking, I would’ve gone with an 8-man tournament. I’d still put Hogan/Andre in the first round, and have DiBiase face either Hacksaw or Muraco, since both were equally big at the time. I’d put Savage against Rick Rude in the first round and Steamboat against Valentine, with Steamboat going over. That gives you the big Savage/Steamboat rematch in the semis. You could still have Savage beatdown by One Man Gang or someone else after the match, and reveal that DiBiase paid them off. That stacks all of the odds against Savage, taking on DiBiase in the finals after DiBiase only wrestled one match.
I feel like that shorter tournament would tell the same story, but have better matches getting there. In the end, it’s hard for me to have a perspective on this one because I didn’t see it live – I always knew who was going to win. As it stands, it’s still a great story, one that made a star our of Randy Savage.
Final Rating: 5.5 (Take It or Leave It)