Is it? Is this WrestleMania the best? That’s the great thing about truth, isn’t it? It’s personal. And this is my truth. It was 1988. I was younger. That’s how time seems to work, curse it; I didn’t have to hobble the first 4 steps after getting out of a chair, I wasn’t attending to hair from my nasal cavity and the WWF and WCW were the biggest boys in wrestling.
I loved both, one for wrestling, one for entertainment but there was no doubt that WrestleMania, before the In Your House monthly PPV’s devalued those events, was the granddaddy of ’em all. For razzmatazz, Starrcade didn’t come close.
So why is this one the best?
They Made An Audacious Choice
The WWF Heavyweight Title situation was in flux. It was held up. And this was the result of a long angle.
Yep, it happened in those days. You could say that this one had been brewing since the year before, WMIII, when Hulk Hogan slammed Andre The Giant and reclaimed his title. Since the seismic shift was Andre turning heel under Bobby Heenan’s management, a one-match blow-off was never going to cut it.
Ted Dibiase, that chortling ‘Million Dollar Man’ (Well, it was 1988) proclaimed that everybody had a price and everybody was going to pay because the Million Dollar Man always got his way – a simple mission statement. And he wanted to prove it by buying the Heavyweight title from Hogan, but the Hulkster was a real American (ignoring the capitalism that was running wild in this Reaganomics era) and wouldn’t play ball. But Andre and Heenan would.
They hatched a nefarious plan, to get the three count even though Hogan’s shoulder was up and 2.75. And then it was revealed that Dave Hebner, respected ref, had a brother, Earl (henceforth referred to as ‘Evil Earl’), and a switch had been made. There were theories ‘that DiBiase had paid someone to receive plastic surgery to look like Hebner and impersonate him during the match’ as Wrestling Rumors reminded me but despite Dave seeing the match and only coming out afterwards, despite him being the official…erm official for the match, the decision stood.
Sounds ridiculous but at the time was wrestling angle outrage and that fed into the even more heinous crime. Andre gifting the storied belt, the aspiration of so many WWF and WWWF wrestlers like Bob Backlund, Bruno Sammartino, and, well, The Iron Sheik, making it into a commodity. How dare he?
Of course, Jack Tunney, the WWE kayfabe president, held the belt up. And it would be fought for a WrestleMania.
This had never happened before in the WWF and was such a big event to build the major WrestleMania PPV event round, it added such excitement; a new Heavyweight champ would be crowned, a wrestler would be given the nod by Vince McMahon, – or would this be a coronation for Hogan?
That power struggle was delicious. Was it time for Hogan to step back? He was getting into movies, WWF movies, the risible ‘No Holds Barred’ came out the following year, but was this a dimming of Hulkamania, or would this tournament just show us that it was still running wild, brother?
What a great and ballsy WrestleMania idea.
The Tournament at WrestleMania IV
It threw up some surprises and some rather good, short matches. As Writebase said in their review; ‘Therefore, the stakes were high throughout the night, as the cream of the WWF’s crop gathered to battle, not necessarily knowing who they would have to conquer in order to reach the top of the WWF mountain’.
Rick Rude and Jake The Snake Roberts went to a draw in a continuation of their feud, a really knockdown and drag-out affair with an extra bit of hot sauce, it went back and forth and was the best match of the tournament.
Greg Valentine went over Ricky Steamboat. Yep. By wrestling. And ring smarts. Steamboat put him through it, Valentine doing the delayed falling over spot multiple times, but he refused to stay down for the 3 and eventually rolled a pin-up to sneak one. Smart, see?
Battle Of The Big Boys, One Man Gang, and Bam Bam Bigelow had a go, Bam Bam was able to showcase his cartwheel and got the big(ger) man down but crashed spectacularly over the top rope as One Man Gang’s manager Slick pulled the rope down and strangely the match was awarded to OMG as a countout even though the match had been continuing after Bam Bam was out of the ring. Hmm…
In fact, The Gang was thought to be the fave after getting a bye to the semis. DiBiase had a bye too and showed his wrestling smarts beautifully throughout. Randy Savage, another favorite, was playing the hard-working, hit-upon survivor throughout matches with Butch Reed, Valentine, and the Gang.
DiBiase Shows His Quality
We knew that Ted was a well respected, well-received wrestler in territories like the UWF and particularly the mid-South region, he could do it in the ring, was good at turning angles and had the ability to pick up the ‘Million Dollar Man’ persona and run with it, to the annoyance of fans who loved to hate him.
At WrestleMania IV, he melded those wrestling skills and heel nastiness perfectly to go over Jim Duggan and Don Muraco, using Andre’s help of course (Virgil was there too…) but also bamboozling them with his wrestling talent and ring smarts, even using Muraco’s impetus to carry him over to the ropes in a guillotine slingshot for the pin.
He deserved his place in the final, by dint both of his talent and knowledge.
Not Too Many Missed Out On A WrestleMania Payday
Why? The good old rumble or battle royale. Yep, this was the first WrestleMania IV match-up, though occasionay missed out on subsequent videos, and it didn’t half pack in the talent; it’s a veritable who’s who of ‘oh yeah, remember them?’. Not all of the particpants are in that category as among the entrants we have Bret Hart, Bad News Brown, the Rougeau Bros, The Killer Bees, Hillbilly Jim, Sika, The Russians Volkoff and Zukhoff, Ron Bass, Harley Race during his King period, George The Animal and, yep, Dangerous Danny Davis, Sam Houston and The Young Stallions, the few that really slipping my mind. And I remember Abe ‘Knuckleball’ Schwartz…
It was a mess, as rumbles often are, not a lot happening and precious little time to see alliances being formed until Hart and Bad News agreed to work to eliminate Junk Yard Dog and his nasty headbutts – I loved the word ‘Thump’ on the back of his wrestling tights – but as soon as he was gone, Bad News hit the Ghetto Blaster inzegueri and Bret was outta there.
The Bad one didn’t have long to enjoy the apparently 7-foot tall gaudy trophy though, Bret attacked him and destroyed it – the crowd didn’t know how to take a heel acting like a face…a portent of what was to come for Bret.
Bobby Heenan Outwits The British Bulldogs
He didnt call himself the Brain for nothing, Bobby Heenan, the best manager since Eddie Creatchman, could manipulate those fans and play the hubris game like no one else in wrestling.
And tonight? He had success. He was wrestling with the Islanders, something Jesse Ventura, on commentary with Gorilla Monsoon, was keen to see. But the Bulldogs, joined by Koko B Ware, had their bulldog Matilda with them and Bobby had previous with the animal.
So? He wore and wrestled in a dogcatcher’s outfit covered head to toe in burlap and padding, he got some licks in and was even lifted by his team and dumped on Koko for the pin. Well done Bobby!
Bob Eucker, Vanna White And The Flashy Feel
WrestleMania IV was from Atlantic city. It was from a Donald Trump facility. The Donald sat in the front row with Ivanka, not holding up a foam finger or anything but you know, there. And the whole thing was reds and cerises and velvet and sparkle and just looked overstuffed, in a good way, as this was the period of conspicuous consumption, big hair and big shoulder pads; it has to look sumptuous.
Gorilla and Jesse Ventura sparred beautifully, there always seemed a friendly edge between then and Jesse was at his uncompromnising best, even at one point standing on the desk high atop the venue taking the adoration of the sold out crowd, strange that the show stopped just for that, but he was a bit of an icon…
And then there was baseball legend Bob Eucker, well dressed, tanned, 2nd WM appearance, a perky, funny fall guy. He had to cope with an extended gag about trying to find Vanna White, who is also there discussing the tournament board with Gene Okerlund, a good time to make a cup of coffee; Eucker kept the gag about Vanna wanting to meet him going until right at the end when he rather blew the punchline – have a check back and tell me I’m not right.. The sight of Andre’s big hands around his neck is a wonderful moment though.
Hogan v Andre Part II!
And although it was short, it was very sweet. Andre showed his nasty side, chops, punches, even when Hogan had him down he reached up and grabbed him by the throat. And some marvellous ringcraft too, Andre was always breaking his choking at 4, aware of being DQ’d. His money man, Dibiase, didn’t seem to care though when he brought a chair in, Hogan swung it at Andre, who returned the favor with a rather nasty smack on Hulkster’s head.
And they were DQ’d. it saved face certainly, but it didn’t seem cheap, the year-long angle of their compretion fed into their enmity in the match and as if dawned that Hogan was out of the Heavyweight compettion, it also dawned that WWF has a new dawn.
So What Happened?
Well, on the WrestleMania night Randy Savage was given the nod, he won the tournament and was the new WWF Heavyweight champ. But he didn’t really win.
Who did? 2 men, Ted Dibiase and Hulk Hogan.
For Dibiase, he was shown as a big layer, someone who was part of the angle of the year for WWF and who demonstrated his wrestling talent and command of character. He may not have won, but he didn’t need the title to be a winner; it was about influence and he certainly had that.
And Hogan? Well, he won because the WWF couldn’t really push the button. They couldn’t get off the Hogan train. And so he was involved in the WrestleMania IV main event, even asked to come out by Savage, he even used a chair which led to the Savage win.
What a way to start the reign of a new heavyweight champion. Stepping into the shoes of a popular champ whilst he was still in them. When Savage celebrated, Hulk was there. He may have directed the camera to the new champ, but it was clear that he was still real champ.
It all screamed ‘transitional!’ And so it was, the Mega Powers formed which allowed Hogan to stay in the main event with the new champ, they then ‘exploded’ and a year later, Savage was dropping the title at WrestleMania V and turning heel with a more, shall we say demonstrative manager in Sensational Sheri and an anger that would not be satisfied; it was a great run. So he won too, eh?
Nope, he’d already been shown as the one who was chosen to carry the torch. But then someone had to hold it with him, the implication being that he couldn’t hold it on his own.
That brings a taint. I didn’t care, Randy Savage was a stupendous bad guy, but after all the big moves holding up the title and creating a special event on the biggest WWF stage of the year, they didn’t tie it up.
It was all there in this WrestleMania IV. They just couldn’t make that last step.