“The moral of the story is that when Vince blocked Starrcade with Survivor Series, it was a good business move. When he ran the free Royal Rumble opposite the Bunkhouse Stampede, it was nothing more than sabotage. When Crockett ran the Clash against Wrestlemania, it was retaliation.”-Dave Meltzer in the April 11th, 1988 Wrestling Observer.
While the Clash had a stout lineup with Sting/Flair, Horsemen/Windham and Luger, Road Warriors and Dusty/Powers of Pain against Ivan Koloff, Midnights/Fantastics and Jimmy Garvin/Mike Routunda, it paled to the momentum the WWE had. It also didn’t help that Dutsy cut a promo threatening to beat up kids if they didn’t watch the show, recruiting Eddie Haskell as a big celebrity guest and four matches were announced with a week to go. Going into the Clash, Vince event bought ad time for WrestleMania under a fake name and aired four commercials and one for the hotline. For those of you wondering, they did air during the Clash special. Heck, the next day CNN gave the WWE five minutes of coverage while the Clash got zilch for coverage Yet, the Clash blew WrestleMania out of the water critically putting on a fantastic Flair/Sting match, a great Horsemen against Luger and Windham match, and a fantastic Midnight Express vs Fantastics match. The six man wasn’t even that bad and neither was Garvin vs Routunda.
So, just what in the hell went wrong?
You have to remember, the WWE had a hugely successful television special as thirty-three million viewers watched Hogan and Andre go at it. The twin Hebners angle was an original angle that drew such praise since everybody expects Hulk to retain. Meltzer says that whoever booked it should get a raise, it was an original finish. So, today we’re going to look back at just how a potentially huge show from the WWE ended up being one of the worst WrestleMania’s of all time. Coming off of the controversial Main Event finish, the WWE needed a hook to get fans interested in a card in-which Hogan wasn’t defending his belt. The idea came for a sixteen man tournament and it was pretty inventive how they handled all of it. Until Tunney made his announcement, it was mandated on television that no footage or references to The Main Event finish be made on any WWE television. Any mention would be censored which lead to Ventura walking off a show, a take on Dan Rather walking off CBS News the previous year. The tournament is the first reason as to why WrestleMania IV ended up being such a bad card.
The Tournament: One of the smart things that the WWE did was matching Hogan/Andre up right away. It was a way to get fans to buy the card to see a heavily hyped third bout, but there was a problem. With the concept of the tournament, the WWE essentially devalued Hogan, fans wanted to see Hogan get his revenge on DiBiase, not have to go through a tournament. Hogan became just another wrestler in the tournament instead of Hulk himself being the selling point. It also didn’t help that the only guys cared about in the tournament were the big four (Hulk, DiBiase, Savage, Andre) with no underdog or dark house to get people interested. Steamboat would have been perfect for the role, but he was on a bad standing at the company so it was a one and done to Valentine. The seeds of the Jake Roberts and Rick Rude feud was planted but the resulting tournament match could put even the worst insomniac to sleep. Bigelow was coming off surgery so he was working a much slower pace killing what people had loved about Bigelow. Overall, the wrestlers themselves sell the card, not a concept like a tournament.
The Non-Tournament Card: With most of the big talent in the tournament, the undercard wasn’t bad, but did little to inspire much confidence. The battle royal was pretty much a waste outside of Bad News attacking Bret, Hercules two match streak of good Mania matches died, Honky Tonk Man and Beefcake was never going to be a classic but the tag title match was good and the six-man was fun. It was just that the non-tournament aspect didn’t have a match to get people interested.
The Location and the Crowd: Before the announcement that the Trump Plaza would play host, it was rumored that the Superdome or the Thomas and Mack Center. In the end, Donald Trump paid a lot of money to get the next two WrestleMania’s. The amount wasn’t announced but I’d presumed that it would be in the seven figure range and it resulted in a dead crowd. Vince trying playing up to the high rollers with obscene ticket prices (Best seats went for $150, 55 rows priced at $100.) Compared to the Silverdome which thanks to more space resulted in tickets being priced for nine dollars and the most expensive was $100. What we ended up with was a crowd that essentially sat on their hands, popping only for Hogan and Savage. In the end, those high rollers more or less reacted to the show in the similar way that watching 120 Days of Sodom with your mom, dad aunt, uncle, and grandparents. Or showing your eight year old nephew who is a huge John Cena fan his match with Brock Lesnar and telling him that all the stuff he heard was horse hockey. Don’t look at me like that. If WrestleMania IV had been held in Vegas or even New Orleans, you probably could have a good gate but with a crowd that actually interested in what they were watching.
We’re going to take a look at two sub reasons that also might have derailed the card.
DiBiase’s Dry Run: No doubt, the Million Dollar Man was a great worker and it seemed the WWE had the intent on being their answer to Flair. In the immediate aftermath, DiBiase was given a dry run as the top heel and the results were not pretty. DiBiase defended his belt on a west coast run against Bigelow and the numbers were not pretty. DiBiase didn’t have much help for back-up and the LA card against Bigelow drew at paltry 3,000 fans at the Sports Arena. Numbers from the other shows aren’t available but cards without Hogan, Savage or any other big name tend to not draw well. Then, there was an MSG card that he was headlining against Bigelow that drew less than 10,000 fans the lowest in years. This run more or less sealed DiBiase’s fate and regulated him to being a challenger than champion.
Leaks: Today, if the result of a match leaks out before the event occurs, you can chalk it up to the internet outsmarting Vince. In 1988 however, this was unthinkable but the WWE managed to screw up badly here. Usually when a big title change happens, they’ll do something to the champions to explain why they don’t have the belts like getting attacked or having the titles stolen at the taping. The television taping that happened before WrestleMania saw Andre work the card taking him out of contention and DiBiase worked two matches. It made it a lock that Savage was winning since Hogan was going to film his movie and he didn’t work the taping. Another one was that the WWE Magazine printed the result three weeks before the event even happened. ABC News even picked up on it, ridiculing the WWE for making this error the day after.
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