If you’re like me, first of all, I’m so, so sorry. Secondly, it means you’re getting lots of mileage out of the recent Saturday Night’s Main Event uploads to the WWE Network. I’ve already rhapsodized at length about the greatest moments in the history of the show, and seeing them again only affirms my love for the greatest 90 minutes you could ask for in professional wrestling.
On Friday night, February 5, 1988, WWE Champion Hulk Hogan battled Andre the Giant in a colossal WrestleMania III rematch on free television, drawing a 15.0 rating and over 33 million viewers that champed at the bit to see the much-hyped showdown. No wrestling program before or since can sniff that audience number.
If you don’t know the further significance of the match, it was the end of Hogan’s four-year (yes, year) reign as champion, via an incredibly convoluted plot twist where Ted Dibiase, employing Andre as a mercenary, had a complete stranger undergo plastic surgery to make himself look like referee Dave Hebner (in reality, it was Dave’s twin brother Earl, fresh off jumping from Jim Crockett Promotions), and this evil ‘impostor’ counted Hogan down, even though his shoulder was up.
The moment was a shock to everyone that had witnessed it; Hogan had been champion since before WWE even aired on NBC, and the superhero had been screwed over by a treacherous faction. Making matters worse to a largely still-real-to-me audience in 1988 was that Andre, adhering to the villainous plan, immediately surrendered the title to Dibiase, who had bought Andre’s contract from Bobby “The Brain” Heenan for a million dollars, solely to get the belt off of Hogan.
The stunning sight of Andre and the ‘evil’ Hebner raising a cackling Dibiase’s arms, after Virgil applied the gold around his waist, is an indelible image in WWE lore.
Soon after, the tournament for WrestleMania IV would be booked, after President Jack “On the Take” Tunney (credit Heenan for that gem) declared the Andre handoff to Dibiase invalid. As such, WWE’s own title histories and all others don’t recognize Dibiase as a champion.
Now, for the sake of indulging in the wrestling I love on something other than a hyper-critical, hard-to-please level, I’m going to let my own inner mark out, for an exercise in playful advocation. Something tells me a number of you will be agreeing with me, even if you worry about my sanity in providing an argument for a ‘fake sport’.
Indulge me, will you?
I think, for the sake of making wrestling history better than it already is, WWE should recognize Dibiase’s reign as WWE Champion.
FACT: Dibiase was officially recognized in arenas as champion. The following day, WWE ran two shows, both televised: a matinee in Boston on NESN, and a nightcap in Philadelphia on PRISM (Motto: we’re CSN without Ben Davis’ turgid hair). At both events, Dibiase teamed with Andre against Hogan and Bam Bam Bigelow. In both cases, Dibiase was recognized as WWE Champion, and brought the belt with him to the ring. In fact, at the Philadelphia event, it was announced that Dibiase would defend the strap against Hogan when WWE returned to the venue on March 12.
FACT: Dibiase actually defended the belt. On February 8, three days after The Main Event, Dibiase is known to have put the championship on the line against Bigelow in Los Angeles, winning via pinfall after Virgil knocked out Bammer with the belt. While doubtful that the match was recorded by any video means, the match is on record as having happened.
SIDE-FACT: Although the Rockers’ WWE World Tag Team Title reign in October 1990 is whitewashed by the top-rope debacle, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty did indeed defend the belts at subsequent house shows against Power and Glory. But that’s a column for another day, if I feel like writing it. Michaels and Jannetty had bigger title reigns ahead, but Dibiase’s being robbed of true glory in this instance. I intend to right this wrong, damn it.
FACT: The following men are recognized World Champions under the WWE banner: The Miz, Jack Swagger, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, and The Great Khali. The fact that any of these men were entrusted with a major belt is more far-fetched than Dibiase’s evil referee plastic-surgery scheme. Granted, title changes were less frequent in the 1980s as opposed to the oversaturated present day, but given the above evidence, wouldn’t further validating a consummate and important wrestler like Dibiase be worth it, especially in the face of the ones listed here? I mean, the Charlotte Bobcats couldn’t come up with a worse starting five than that.
FACT: WWE is not adverse to ret-conning history, especially in the name of a work. Just watch the 2009 Saturday Night’s Main Event DVD, where Mean Gene Okerlund tells the viewers that WWE jumped from NBC to FOX in 1992 as part of a bidding war, instead of being honest and admitting that NBC dumped WWE like John Mayer would after three or four dates. Lying to the audience is nothing new for this company; what would it hurt to call Dibiase a former World Champion?
This whole article is merely just a half-baked, silly argument anyway. Maybe it’ll spur some sort of underground movement that WWE will recognize in order to garner some good press. Maybe it’ll be flushed into the commode of history like Dibiase’s phantom reign, the Rockers’ phantom reign, and the reigns of every women’s wrestler that beat Fabulous Moolah between 1956 and 1984 (whoops, not supposed to bring that up…).
WWE Network: defibrilating our Mondays, and our memories.