From Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, NJ
March 27, 1988
A young comedian walking out on stage after George Carlin has performed doesn’t stand much of a chance in topping the performance of the predecessor. The same holds true at a music festival, if some wet-behind-the-ears pop singer has to croon after Eminem has destroyed the place with his energy and intensity.
Point being, WrestleMania III was going to be a tough act to follow, no matter what the fourth incarnation of the event had in store.
The WWF was in an unusual position, and a self-inflicted one. On February 5, 1988, Hulk Hogan had lost the WWF Championship that had been his for four years. In the highest rated wrestling event in American television history (33 million viewers), Hogan lost his title to Andre the Giant, with a finish that involved twin referees and a Ted Dibiase-orchestrated conspiracy.
Andre, as per the terms of said conspiracy, surrendered the championship to Dibiase, but WWF President Jack Tunney ruled the transaction invalid.
With the belt vacant, a fourteen man tournament was instituted for WrestleMania IV.
But much like the “following greatness” analogy, the question remained of whether or not any potential ‘new suitor’ for the championship could carry the ball the way that “The Hulkster” had in the previous four years.
The WWF was gambling on creating a second savior to walk the earth alongside Hogan, but would it pay off?
In the vein of a tournament, a handful of superstars are going to have to work several matches apiece. In all, WrestleMania IV would boast sixteen matches over the course of the night, with eleven of those contests taking place within the World Title Tournament.
As a result, other than Hogan and Andre possibly settling their score in the second round, there weren’t very many “money” feuds to build the show with. Instead, Vince McMahon was banking on the lure of a new champion, as well as Hogan and Andre’s third encounter, as being the show’s drawing points.
That’s not to say that the other entrants in the tournament were to be ignored. Although the other twelve men had yet to be crowned World Champion at any time in their careers, the likes of Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat were among the WWF’s most popular stars. Villains like Ravishing Rick Rude and “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase were perfect foils for the fans to boo vociferously, and would add entertaining layers to the brackets.
Of course, standing out a shade above the pack was “Macho Man” Randy Savage. One year prior, he was a ruthless malcontent who lost the Intercontinental Championship to Steamboat, with the fans rejoicing at his defeat. Now, still flanked by the lovely Miss Elizabeth, Savage had worked his way into the people’s graces, thanks in large part to his relentless pursuit of current Intercontinental Champion The Honky Tonk Man, as well as his unlikely friendship with Hogan.
Although the tournament was certainly the focal point of the evening, a few curious sideshows were offered, with varying levels of build. For one, The Ultimate Warrior, a rising star due to his unparalleled intensity and bizarre charisma, was matched up with middling heel Hercules, in an attempt to showcase Warrior without wasting him with a tournament loss.
In addition, in one of the most strange storylines up to that point (but certainly topped many times since then), The Islanders kidnapped Matilda, the mascot of the British Bulldogs. In an act of revenge, the Bulldogs would team with fellow animal lover Koko B. Ware to face the Islanders and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan in six man action.
In addition, both of the other major titles would be at stake, as The Honky Tonk Man, fresh from fending off Savage’s challenges, would defend The Intercontinental Title against Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake. Also, Strike Force would be putting their World Tag Team Titles on the line against a pair of rising menaces in Demolition.
Just to pad the show with paydays for the remainder of the roster, twenty other combatants were shoehorned into a twenty man battle royal for a giant trophy. No specific reason was given for why these men were fighting for a trophy, but it was a nifty way to get everyone available involved.
Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura would, once again, expertly call the action with the dramatic gravitas that so many other announcer pairings lack. Bob Uecker would be appearing to introduce the main event for the second consecutive year, although replacing Mary Hart as eye candy would be Wheel of Fortune’s own Vanna White. TV host Robin Leach presented the new World Title belt, and Gladys Knight sang ‘America the Beautiful’.
Bad News Brown won a twenty man battle royal, last eliminating Bret Hart, in 10:40
(If this match happened now, Bret would be known as “the battle royal runner up king” on IWC, and would have millions of smarks claiming he was held back. You know it’s true)
(Featuring Andre the Giant at ringside, in a suit. If that suit ever turns up on E-Bay, I’m cleaning out my PayPal account to have it)
Round One: Don Muraco def. Dino Bravo by disqualification in 4:53
(Superstar Billy Graham or Frenchy Martin: who was the more useless manager? By the way, when anyone of substance happens, I’ll let you know)
Round One: Greg Valentine def. Ricky Steamboat in 9:12
(Ah, there we go. Really good match, even if two pros like Steamboat and Valentine did blow a roll-up spot. When these two blow a spot, it’s a bad omen)
Round One: Macho Man Randy Savage def. Butch Reed in 5:07
(When you have Savage, Slick, and Miss Elizabeth at ringside, you really don’t need a whole lot else. Savage was at his awesome apex here, using the rare “hook one leg/use my leg to hook his other leg” pin technique. Dude was feeling it)
Round One: One Man Gang def. Bam Bam Bigelow by count-out in 2:56
(Bigelow’s other WrestleMania memories include beating up a midget clown, and losing to a football player. Now there’s a resume for you)
Round One: Rick Rude fought Jake Roberts to a draw in 15:00
(Speaking of resumes, I’m not sure what good having this on a resume would do for a man. The formula for this match is like listening to a white noise machine after downing shots of NyQuil)
The Ultimate Warrior def. Hercules in 4:29
(Just a harbinger of things to come. Before long, Warrior would become the #3 babyface in the company, and after Savage turned heel, #2)
Quarterfinal: Hulk Hogan fought Andre the Giant to a double disqualification in 5:22
(Well, there you have it: the biggest announced match for the show and it’s a shade over five minutes. It was nowhere near as good as the prior two contests of their epic series, and, to top it all off, Hogan posed for several minutes after the match, despite not winning. A feel good moment, sure)
Quarterfinal: Ted Dibiase def. Don Muraco in 5:44
(The good news is that Dibiase won and would get a bye into the final round. The better news is that we didn’t have to see Billy Graham for the rest of the night)
Quarterfinal: Macho Man Randy Savage def. Greg Valentine in 6:06
(The winner of this good, but abbreviated, match got to carry One Man Gang in the semis. Either man could do it, too)
WWF Intercontinental: Brutus Beefcake def. Honky Tonk Man by disqualification in 6:30
(Only note: Beefcake cut Jimmy Hart’s hair, and Hart ended up wearing a Ghaddafi hat for months)
The Islanders/Bobby Heenan def. The British Bulldogs/Koko B Ware in 7:30
(I liked Heenan’s dog trainer outfit, as well as the Islanders’ soothing theme music. And that’s about it)
Semifinal: Macho Man Randy Savage def. One Man Gang by disqualification in 4:05
(Ever notice that the 1980’s were littered with disqualifications? But I’m just happy it’s over)
WWF World Tag Team: Demolition def. Strike Force in 12:33 to win the titles
(In modern terms, this would be like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan beating two John Cenas, if you base it on fan gut feelings)
Finals: Macho Man Randy Savage def. Ted Dibiase in 9:27 to win the WWF World Heavyweight Title
(Short match, but still great, thanks to the outside antics of Andre and Hogan. Dibiase’s master plan was thwarted, giving the show a happy ending. Besides, Savage was the hardest working man in WWF at that point. He was more than deserving of this hard-earned moment)
ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
The show is always going to be associated with the tournament, as well as it being Randy Savage’s finest hour . Stars like Ultimate Warrior, Demolition, Bad News Brown, Bret Hart, and Ted Dibiase also established themselves out of the pack with definitive moments.
However, the show dragged onward like a rotting corpse of a squirrel being pulled behind a Mongoose mountain bike. The crowd was nearly comatose by the end, and unless Savage was involved, the air went out of the sails slowly and painfully. Savage’s win in the end was a big pick-me-up, but there was little else to scream over.
A lesson here that Vince McMahon seemed to learn was that booking concrete matches (instead of having tournament outcomes determine the remainder of the card) was a surefire way to keep interest as the night went on. Fans need matches with feuds to look forward to. After all, are you shifting in your seat over Dibiase vs. Muraco, or even Savage vs. Gang?
It’s appropriate that WrestleMania IV was at Trump Plaza, because McMahon gambled on a concept that is bizarre in hindsight, as well as a bad idea for a four hour showcase of his talent.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.